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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Lerner

Four bad growth ideas that sound good.

Startups have tons of ideas, but very little time or money, so progress is deciding what not to do. Here’s 4 expensive ideas that get way too much airtime in the startup world:

  1. Consistency - Some people argue that consistency is critical, so they want to re-do everything because “we need to be consistent.” However, if you search every one of Lenny Rachitsky’s amazing case studies, you won’t find a single startup where their "silver bullet” was consistency – it's a luxury for post-PMF companies.

  2. Brand building - Some people invoke the fuzzy term “brand” to justify expensive projects with no clear payoff. To make things more concrete, think of your brand as a promise to help a specific customer achieve a specific goal in a specific situation in a specific way. Finding product/market fit means figuring out those specifics, and until you do that, it’s impossible to define a winning brand, let alone scale it.

  3. Going big - Some people believe that business outcomes scale as a linear function of spending, but in startups, they don’t. They’ll push you to pour cash into unproven marketing campaigns (sometimes because they earn a percentage of that cash as commissions or management fees.) Remember: “bullets before cannonballs.” Find things that work on a small scale before you go big.

  4. Following the leader - “It worked for Nike.” (Or Apple, Airtable, Zapier, etc) Once companies are famous, they can employ an entirely different approach to marketing, building on assumed customer knowledge. (And if it fails, they can afford to waste $5M on an unsuccessful campaign.)

These ideas are not objectively bad, they just don’t make sense for a startup. So how do you spot and avoid bad ideas that sound good?


These 4 ideas stem from a single bad assumption - you can’t apply generic big company tactics to a startup. Or, as @Steve Blank says, “A startup is not a small version of a big company.”


Great ideas don’t come from big companies, they come from discovering specific new insights about customers and developing new ways to satisfy their unmet needs. In short, run your own race.


Specific next step

Pull out your list, look at your best ideas and ask “On what specific customer insight is this based?”


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