Hit a growth plateau? Rethink the problem you’re solving


The first years of startup life are a challenge. Getting your idea up and running to start attracting customers. The constant battle to find where your next chunk of money is coming from. Building a team and figuring out how it all works. Finally, you start to see the reward and get an initial spike of growth.

But what happens when that growth starts to plateau?

In this current crisis – when everyone is under increased pressure – new growth measures might seem counterintuitive. But it’s a good opportunity to take a step back and assess if you’re addressing the right problem for the customers you need in order to grow.

You might consider expanding into new markets, adding new features, striking partnerships, spending big on marketing or really focusing on optimising your existing funnel. But it’s hard to know where to start.

We’ve been helping a number of scaleups (as well as big businesses) do just that: identify new growth opportunities and rapidly design the products that will help reach them. Here are our thoughts on how to start finding those new growth areas when you start to plateau.


1. Bring customers back to the heart of the process

Your early adopters may be happy with your product, but what do you need to appeal to the mass-market? Even if you regularly talk to your customers or conduct regular user testing, looking for new growth opportunities means you’ll need to do this even more – and with a different approach.

Go back to basics: identify where these customers might be, deeply understand their problems and behaviour, and design a product that focuses on these specific needs.

It’s why Slack added an enterprise product that went beyond changing their brand or messaging; these new customers had more stringent security demands, a different set of tools that would need integration, and ways to structure a workspace that reflected corporate organisational patterns.

When we do this kind of customer research, we’re looking for inspiration and signals: uncovering the unexpected, things we didn’t know that we didn’t know. It’s broader and more expansive, exploring the edges of your product’s current possible reach.

Here are some of the ways we might approach research:

  • Ask yourself: what problems are your existing customers asking for help with? What are the most common feature requests? Do you really understand why people are asking for them?
  • Speak to customers that signed up and then dropped out, as well as your most active customers.
  • Spend time with people who aren’t your customers but you think should be, and find out the problems that are stopping them.
  • Example: A new proposition to expand the robo-investment market

    We were tasked with helping an investment scaleup find new audiences. We started by looking beyond the reasons why people are fearful of investing, to explore the problems they have when it comes to even being able to save. It was a vital first step in making the proposition more accessible to more people.


2. Ruthlessly focus and prioritise

So you’ve spotted some opportunities for growth. Now what? Quickly getting the best ideas to market and finding out if they have an impact is more important than taking months to rigorously examine all the options.

Quickly getting the best ideas to market and measuring their impact is more important than examining all the options.

Customer research should give you a good idea of what might work. We try to pick our best bets sooner rather than later and test them in more quantitative ways. These could be demand tests or ‘MVP’ launches to a pilot group or existing customers.

Just like building your first MVP, or proof of concept, the point here is to distil any ideas down to the absolute heart of what makes them valuable. Be honest about which things are likely to have an impact, the risk involved and the potential pay off. You want to be making informed – but bold – decisions about what to try first.


3. Make it feel urgent

When exploring new growth opportunities you need a set project timeline and expectations for clear outcomes on short timeframes.

A big advantage of working with a design and product studio – like Idean – is the sense of urgency it brings. It can be helpful to bring those same constraints to internal teams to ensure they are focused, able to put down their ‘day jobs’, and give this the attention it requires.

Regular gateways should be set up beforehand whilst accepting that they may need to change as the team uncovers new problems and ideas.


4. A fresh perspective

It’s important to identify ways to forget what you think you know – at least for a bit. The advantage of having an outside team helping you explore opportunity areas is that they won’t have all the weight of your past experiences. This can feel a bit like revisiting old ground, but it can help you see old ideas in a new light, listen to your customers with a more open mind, reimagine where you are in the market and find new excitement for new problems.

Relying too heavily on past knowledge and research will likely lead you down similar paths that narrow your field of view, rather than extending it. You want to think of it like setting out to create something new all over again – and then deploy what you’ve already learnt at the right time to quickly deal with risks or delivery.

Finding and exploiting new growth opportunities is extremely hard. Doing it for a second time can be even harder. Hopefully I’ve provided a fresh perspective, but if these challenges resonate then please get in touch. I’d love to hear how you’re tackling them.

Fiona McLaren
Product Director
Fiona McLaren
Fiona McLaren
Product Director

Fiona likes helping businesses bring new customer-centric products to life. She’s been known to call a roadmap a coddiwomple (look it up).

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