The importance of a Growth Mindset

Matilde Ricciardi, Google for Startups, interviews Nikolas Vogt, Founder & CEO of Growth Academy

Similar to the regular Growth Academy growth strategy programs, Growth Academy and Google for Startups designed an exclusive 10-week growth program for Brazilian startups. Original interview can be found here.

There is no one size fits all formula for the success of a startup's growth. However, there are frameworks that leaders can adopt in their companies that will guide them in finding the path for growth.

Growth Strategy is a ‘discipline’ that emerged in technology companies and has some particularities that distinguishes it from traditional marketing and product functions. It is 100% focused on customer or user growth, it is multidisciplinary, and uses constant experimentation to test which are the most effective paths for growth. It is important for all companies with digital products to have dedicated resources to growth, but specially for startups, since they typically have very aggressive growth goals to achieve in short periods of time coupled with the venture capital behind the investments.

Studies have demonstrated that companies that have dedicated Growth teams outperform those that do not. To embrace this opportunity, Google for Startups is bringing Growth Academy to Brazil for the first time. This is a 10-week program that aims to empower startups' leaders in proven growth approaches and strategies, as well as showcase how to apply them through Google's marketing solutions.

To discuss the relevance of a growth mindset within startups, I spoke with Nikolas Vogt, an expert on the topic and one of the program's facilitators and mentors. Check out the full interview with him below:

Matilde Ricciardi: Nikolas, tell us about your professional trajectory, what led you to become a growth advisor and founder of Growth Academy Europe?

Nikolas Vogt: I’ve been working as a growth lead with Google for the last seven years where I helped grow products like the Google Assistant from 0 to over 500 million users. While doing that, I realized Silicon Valley has a different mindset and a particular approach towards growth strategy compared to the rest of the world. That is why I founded my company, 'Growth Academy Europe’, to bring these growth strategy skills everywhere. We basically help digital professionals to identify and solve growth problems in a systematic and repeatable way.

“Successful leaders have a growth mindset and are able to establish it as part of their company’s culture.”


M.R. In your opinion, what are the main skills growth leaders should be looking to develop?

N.V. There are three important things. The first one is that you must have a strategy toolbox consisting of high-level frameworks, concepts, and tools, for example growth models, behavioral economics, experimentation, and loops. 

Secondly, you need to have a growth mindset and must be able to establish it as part of the company’s culture. For example, you have to know how to motivate and structure growth teams but also have to know about critical team values like psychological safety. 

The third pillar, and probably the most underrated, is cross-functional collaboration and leadership skills. For sustainable growth, it is not enough to know how to build a feature or run effective marketing campaigns, you have to know how to navigate and collaborate with different teams, as well as being able to advocate, throughout the entire organization, for the impact and importance of this project.

Growth is, in some way, an underlying competence that the entire organization has to have, to a certain extent. But, of course, not everyone in the company has to know all the growth strategy skills, but its leadership has to understand the importance of implementing growth-centric metrics, strategies and team values.

M.R. Which are the most difficult skills to develop? Do you have any tips on that?

N.V. To be honest developing these skills on your own without any guidance takes years. That’s why Growth Academy is so important for digital professionals: They can learn the ins and outs of growth strategy in a results oriented, structured, and time effective way. If I have to pick one skill that’s particularly hard to master, I would say it’s probably cross-functional collaboration. Because, as you know, everyone is busy, so you have to be effective at conveying and implementing your idea.

My main tip would be to uplevel your key projects and put them into strategic perspective. Applying tools like opportunity sizing allows you to estimate the impact of different projects and link it to the KPIs of all involved teams. Opportunity sizing basically looks at the projects on the table at a given moment and basically compares them amongst each other by estimating the impact that each specific project will generate. It is easier to convince people with numbers that show how much a specific project will contribute to their goals.

“Develop your growth strategy and north stars first, and only then work on tactics - not the other way round.”


M.R. What kind of shift do you usually see in startups after they start adopting a growth mindset or putting growth strategies/frameworks into practice?

N.V. Teams that are starting usually dive right into tactics, without taking a step back and thinking about the growth strategy first. They still aren’t clear on what their north star metrics are, but are thinking about projects already. It should be the other way around. You should develop and define a north star metric first, and then connect that to the tactics. To sum up, to execute the right tactics you have to be crystal clear on what you want to achieve and what metrics to track.

M.R. Which do you think are the most important aspects of a growth strategy in order to succeed?

N.V. The strategy has to be tied to the company’s mission and the value proposition for the customer. In other words, you have to link the north star metrics to the customer value and the mission. This also means the underlying projects have to ladder up to the north stars. To be able to execute this, you need buy-in from the leadership of the involved teams. Of course, it’s easier if these stakeholders understand growth fundamentals. But the most convincing arguments are always based on data. My tip is to run scrappy small scale experiments first and convince people with the test results.

“To get buy-in run scrappy small scale experiments first and convince people with the test results.”


M.R. How much can a company's culture influence its growth?

N.V. For a growth strategy to work you need a growth-friendly culture. It becomes some sort of a “social glue” holding everything together. What I mean by that is that growth initiatives won’t go anywhere if you don’t establish healthy and informal communication, transparency and trust within the teams, and, most importantly, if you don't have team members that feel psychologically safe to talk about mistakes and crazy ideas in your work environment.

M.R. What, in your opinion, distinguishes a successful growth leader from the rest? 

N.V. You have to understand the goals and motivations of different people and teams. Another component is fostering a great team culture that allows for maximum psychological safety, with a 'fail friendly mentality'. What I mean by that is not that you want projects to fail per se. It’s more about moving fast, and making sure failing with learning is ok. You should never fail without learning from it. In other words, never make mistakes twice and iterate based on the learnings from these failures.

“Move fast and making sure failing with learning is ok. You should never fail without learning from the failures.”


M.R. How much can a company's culture influence its growth?

N.V. For a growth strategy to work you need a growth-friendly culture. It becomes some sort of a “social glue” holding everything together. What I mean by that is that growth initiatives won’t go anywhere if you don’t establish healthy and informal communication, transparency and trust within the teams, and, most importantly, if you don't have team members that feel psychologically safe to talk about mistakes and crazy ideas in your work environment.

M.R. What, in your opinion, distinguishes a successful growth leader from the rest? 

N.V. You have to understand the goals and motivations of different people and teams. Another component is fostering a great team culture that allows for maximum psychological safety, with a 'fail friendly mentality'. What I mean by that is not that you want projects to fail per se. It’s more about moving fast, and making sure failing with learning is ok. You should never fail without learning from it. In other words, never make mistakes twice and iterate based on the learnings from these failures.

M.R. From your point of view, how can Google best support growth leaders?

N.V. Google is probably the most important strategic partner for growth. Google gives you first-hand knowledge on who the right target audience might be and most importantly it gives you access to it. With Google Marketing Solutions you can reach almost every human being in a very effective way. To be able to do that you should be in constant contact with your Google Growth Advisors and tap into their expert knowledge on what audience you want to reach and how to do it in the most effective way.

M.R. What are your expectations for the Brazilian startups in this first cohort of the Growth Academy?

N.V. Being selected for Google for Startups’ Growth Academy program means that these startups and people show great potential and are solving substantial problems for their customers. I expect great ideas and innovative contributions during our workshops and expert lectures. But most importantly, a lot of fun!

M.R. What is your main advice for a startup founder that is just beginning its growth journey?

N. V. Talk to the people that love your product or service. Dig for insights that explain their actions and behavior and build on them. What is most important in the early stages is to really find what motivates users to do something in your product, and find experiences that drive retention. Once you figure that out, you should make sure to incorporate this throughout your customer journey, so you can make sure your product solves the right user problems in the most effective and enjoyable way.

If this got you excited about outcome-oriented growth strategies, make sure to check out our regular growth strategy courses designed by leaders from Silicon Valley and the European Tech Scene (Google, Amazon, TikTok, Spotify, Skyscanner, and more).