From Zero to IPO: How Growth Needs to Evolve at Every Startup Stage

Originally published on the First Round Review.

Brian Rothenberg’s career has spanned every stage of startup growth, from scrappy zero to triumphant IPO.

We’ll start with a snapshot of “zero”: It’s 2009, and Rothenberg and his SkillSlate co-founder Bartek Ringwelski are piled on the seat of a rickety Vespa knockoff, zooming precariously through the streets of Manhattan to their next pitch meeting. Fast forward nine years (plus one Skillslate acquisition and a stint at TaskRabbit later) to “IPO”: Rothenberg has scaled Eventbrite’s $5B+ growth engine as VP of Growth, and he’s watching the company surge to a nearly three-billion-dollar valuation as it debuts on the New York Stock Exchange.

Rothenberg is now putting that growth knowledge to work on the other side of the table: He’s an alumnus of First Round’s Angel Track, a master class for emerging angel investors, and is currently investing in and advising early-stage startups as a partner at

Growth is top of mind for the new founders Rothenberg works with: According to First Round’s 2018 State of Startups report, it’s the number two concern that founders say keeps them up at night. For the founders tossing and turning over customer acquisition and retention, Rothenberg’s opening up about the lessons he’s learned from supercharging growth at every stage of scaling.

The oft-overlooked key to sustaining startup growth, he says, is knowing how to evolve your strategy over time. “One of the biggest growth pitfalls I see is when smaller-scale, earlier-stage startups try to apply similar growth tactics as a late-stage startup, or even the Facebooks or Googles of the world. That’s not going to end well,” says Rothenberg. “There’s no one-size-fits-all advice: Your growth strategy should fit where you are in the moment. At each stage, you should be focused on different targets, according to your customers, your resources and the data you’ve collected.”

In this exclusive interview, Rothenberg discusses the core principles that startups at any stage should keep in mind as they develop a growth strategy. Then, he walks us through the three broad phases of the startup lifecycle, from humble beginnings to bolder bets, identifying the goals and perils particular to each phase. He shares how you can kick your strategy up to the next level — and he breaks down the growth tactics that companies have used as rocket fuel all the way to IPO.

Continue reading “From Zero to IPO: How Growth Needs to Evolve at Every Startup Stage”

Growth Lessons Learned, From Starting Through Scaling – Inside Intercom Podcast

Intercom’s Managing Editor, Adam Risman, invited me to their HQ to record a podcast on my experiences starting and scaling businesses.  We had a great discussion spanning topics including:

  • What I learned launching Eventbrite’s first cross-functional growth team and helping to scale the business around the world
  • How I co-founded my own marketplace startup SkillSlate, what I learned at TaskRabbit, and some of my thoughts on why Thumbtack was ultimately more successful
  • Some of my core growth philosophies, such as how a company’s mission and it’s approach to growth are inextricably tied

You can read the transcript on Intercom’s blog, or check out the podcast via Soundcloud below.

Starting and Scaling Marketplaces Discussion With Greylock Partners

I’ve been working on marketplace businesses for 13+ years, and have experienced every stage of marketplace development.  Along the way I’ve picked up a few lessons that I discuss with Casey Winters, Greylock Growth Advisor in Residence, who also has great marketplace insights from his experience at companies like GrubHub where he was the first marketing hire.  Check it out via Greylock Partners, on VentureBeat, or below:

Q&A With First Round Review On Scaling Eventbrite’s $5B+ Growth Engine

I recently did a Q&A with First Round Capital’s portfolio companies where I answered questions around how to build a growth team, and how growth strategy and tactics evolve from startup through scale stage.  First Round then turned our session into a post on The Review: Answers To Your Tough Questions About Growth — Learned While Scaling Eventbrite’s $5B+ Growth Engine.

It covers areas such as:

  • How to assemble your growth team — who needs to be on it, how to start it, and how to get the flywheel spinning.
  • The best ways to report and track your progress so you always know what’s working, and so everyone’s aligned around what’s next.
  • The tools you need to use for smart funnel analysis now and in the future.


A few quotes that I like:

Doing what your competition is doing, just better or harder, rarely leads to winning a market. You have to find ways to do things differently.  Ask yourself, “What’s our business’ unfair advantage?” Identify and lean into to your unique strengths rather than trying to do everything.


Carve out resources that have a sole charter around growth, and know exactly which metrics they should be moving. Always align your organization with the few key metrics everyone should rally around. Each person’s individual goals should directly ladder-up to at least one of these metrics.


Don’t run growth independently through a single traditional functional group like marketing or product alone. Growth is best driven through tight alignment and coordination between marketing, product, engineering and analytics.


Don’t try to scale too soon. “When I was working on my own startup, we tried to scale before having true product-market fit. We tried to brute force our way through rather than focus on core user value and engagement; it was a huge error.”


Realize that every business is different. There’s not going to be a one-size-fits-all formula. Tailor these tactics to your market, but always drive hard toward simplicity. It’s really easy to overcomplicate growth efforts. Start with straightforward targets. Explain experiments clearly so that everyone can understand them. When you report results, make sure they make sense to everyone and lead to specific, logical actions.