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 defy.vc.
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.