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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Lerner

Cross off 90% of bad growth ideas with these 2 questions

What I learned from Wise's first Head of Growth

Transferwise (now Wise) grew from zero to $1B in revenue in the past 10 years in a very competitive market. How did they find their big growth lever back in the early days? By asking two questions.


Their first head of growth Nilan Peiris (currently their CPO) kindly filled me in.


"In the very early days, you basically try everything,” he explained. "You have limited runway and you need to get good growth KPIs. So we tried everything – paid, viral, SEO, above the line. You name it, we tried it. But most things didn’t work, were too expensive, or both.”


They used these 2 questions to narrow down the list:

  1. "What is the theoretical maximum number of customers we can acquire through this channel?”

  2. "What's the limiting factor for this channel?”

“The first question helped us rule out things that could not be big,” Peiris explained. The second question helped them understand where to focus “in terms of opening up a given channel.”


Here’s how that played out for Wise

Wise had a low margin product in a high-trust category, so they quickly realized they couldn’t afford paid growth. SEO also didn’t make sense, as the search volume was limited and highly competitive.


But money transfer is an inherently social product, so they focused on word-of-mouth first. (Referrals also helped with trust, by the way. As Nilan explained, “It's expensive to get people to trust you. But it turns out it’s really easy to get people to trust their friends.”)


With the second question, the limiting factor for viral growth was the number of people each referrer could recommend, and how the team at Wise could increase that number.


After identifying their first channel, they focused on understanding the levers that increased their viral coefficient (price, experience, etc.), plus just being more interesting and memorable than the typical money transfer company.


If you’d like to hear more of Nilan’s story in the early days at Wise, Sean Ellis and I interviewed him for the Breakout Growth Podcast. (Apple) (Spotify)


Simple Next Step

It’s totally fine to try lots of things in the beginning. But it’s expensive, so make sure you're gathering data to help you narrow down the list quickly. Use Nilan’s 2 questions to help cross things off the list and focus on your point of highest leverage.

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