The Product Growth Story of Product Growth
The past, the present & the future
This might be my most requested piece yet.
People were shocked when I said I make more as a creator than as a VP of Product at a Unicorn. (And I wasn’t underpaid.)
The most common follow-up I got was: how did I grow so fast while working full-time? And where do I intend to go from here?
Given this is my first week full-time on the paid newsletter, I wanted to share the entire story - everything that’s worked, not worked, and what’s to come.
I’m not holding anything back. Over 4K words, we’ll focus on the story first, and then get to the growth loops and vision docs at the end.
Chapter 1 - Covid
2021-03 → 2021-06
It all started with Covid.
In March 2020, I was working at Epic Games in Cary, NC. With the 30 minute drive on each side, I was out of the house fully 11 hours of the day.
Then - companies sent their employees home. Me, too.
I first reacted by working even more. And that worked okay. I got promoted and gained more scope at Epic.
One of the things I liked to invest my extra hours in was an internal slack channel called #gaming-industry-news. But after a year of work from home, by March 2021, the water-cooler conversation had significantly subdued.
My First Piece
One of the ideas I had at the time, that Roblox could be the Shopify of gaming, felt interesting enough that I wanted to write about it. It would have normally been just for #gaming-industry-news, but I wanted more discussion.
At the time, Roblox had just gone public. But not that many people paid attention given the general IPO mania happening. So, I spent a weekend researching, and then wrote the piece. In March 2021, I published it.
Of course, no one saw it. No one came to my website. It was a disappointment for that level of work.
So - I posted the article to LinkedIn.
It was a Eureka! moment. A bunch of my network tuned in.
It was a rush hearing from old friends. I'll never forget the message from my old debate partner: 'Your article on Roblox opened my eyes!’
Altogether, it was enough to light the spark of writing within me.
Before that post, I had never posted on LinkedIn before.
It was a dopamine rush to get the flood of connection requests after each piece.
This helped motivate me to keep on going. I wrote on a variety of different topics that I was interested in:
Technology: The InsurTech $100B+ Opportunity
Product Management: Data-driven product teams
As I expanded with different topics, my reach didn’t decline. In fact, it grew. Each post performed better than the next.
I remember spending hours after each post just replying to comments. I had never experienced anything like it before.
I had used Instagram, Facebook, and MySpace to connect with friends as a kid. But this was the first time I was using it to meet new people.
The AI Catches On…
I loved it. My newfound hobby was beginning to not just take up my weekends - but my evenings too.
After several weeks of this, YouTube’s AI caught on: it saw me watching all these videos in a research-like manner and decided to AutoPlay a video from David Perell for me.
That’s when everything changed.
Chapter 2 - Write of Passage
2021-07 → 2021-09
It started with a steady slow drip of David’s videos eating into my writing time. It grew into tearing through his entire YouTube channel.
One that still stands out today is his livestream of writing his newsletter to thousands of readers in an hour:
At the time, I was actually starting to waiver on whether I should write or not.
Making the Purchase
But, the videos had the effect of simultaneously making:
Me better understand what’s possible from a reach perspective (Benefit)
While minimizing the time required (Cost)
So, I went to the course website and saw that there was a cohort coming up. And, as a plus: it would be during my upcoming paternity leave. That would be the perfect time for me to actually invest in the course.
It was enough to get me to pay the $4,000 course fee. Once the idea crossed my mind, I did it fast - so I wouldn’t back out.
Preparing for the Course
I figured paying so much would also get me to write a bit more seriously. In the run-up to the course, that panned out exactly as I had hoped.
Having dropped such a significant sum on the course, I wanted to get absolutely everything out of it I could.
I kept publishing regularly in the run up to the course. This helped me go into the course with over 15K LinkedIn followers.
Taking This Through with Momentum
Then, I tried to get the absolute most out of the course.
There’s so many things I could highlight, but the one I’ll focus on is: David has a powerful concept of the personal monopoly.
Here’s his public mini-essay:
This concept resonated deeply with me. I realized I needed to take advantage of in positioning Product Growth.
I love talking about tech, products, and growth. And my experience in those positions across B2B and B2C is my personal monopoly.
So, during the course, I kicked off my Substack on Product Growth, which is where I’m writing to you from now. My best performing pieces were all in the orbit of my personal monopoly:
As a result, my belief in the fundamental focus and strategy of the newsletter was solidified.
This allowed me to continue to grow the newsletter for a year and a half.
Chapter 3 - Steadily Growing
2021-11 → 2023-01
For most of late 2021 and early 2022, I was primarily focused on my work as Head of Product Growth at Affirm.
We were solving problems all across the business. In particular, 4x’ing the affiliate business (the highest margin business in the company). Everything from mobile IA, lifecycle marketing, transactional messages, and Anywhere financing APRs were in my domain.
Mainly on weekends and late nights, I would work on my weekly deep dives. They became a passion project.
It’s hard to believe it, given how crowded PM content seems, but in 2022, there were many more PM creators than in 2023. I was making friends and having fun.
The inflection point for follower & subscriber growth was going on paternity leave in the Summer of 2022.
I was traveling Europe with the family and writing short social media posts over Espresso while my son took a nap. They might have been the happiest two months of my life.
My social media and storytelling skills made a giant leap - as did my follower counts. I didn’t even open my laptop in those two months. Everything was done on a phone inside the Twitter app and Substack dashboard.
It was so magical. I can’t remember being happier:
Focusing at work
Returning to work brought a shift in focus. I wrote few deep dives.
But, then, chaos ensued at Affirm. I saw a leadership shakeup. My boss and boss’s boss were out.
Because my performance ratings were very high, I wasn’t out. I was re-allocated. I actually became head of 1/6th of the Affirm customer journey.
With the turbulence above, I read the tea leaves and went all-in on at work. I stopped posting online almost entirely.
The World Works In Mysterious Ways
By all accounts, my performance was strong.
But the turbulence in my section of Affirm’s product org continued.
In February 2023, Affirm let go of nearly one fifth of the company. My manager was affected, as well as me.
But, as the world works — it would turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to me.
Chapter 4 - Going Paid
2023-02 → 2023-05
The day the news broke, I restarted the newsletter and social media. In the few weeks thereafter, I saw stratospheric growth:
What made my content so successful?