The second day of GamesBeat Summit 2021 offered attendees a look at companies that skyrocket from startup to big success, and how they faced the challenges and opportunities of rapid expansion, on the panel “Scaling the right way: When a startup is no longer a startup.”
Katie Jansen, CMO at AppLovin and Katie Madding, chief product officer at Adjust, spoke about their career trajectories at startups, going from early employees to company leaders, as well as the journey of the companies themselves. Jansen was AppLovin’s first hire on the marketing team about eight and a half years ago, and now leads several teams. Madding, now chief product officer at Adjust, started at the company seven years ago, and was the third employee in their San Francisco office.
“Our internal mantra has always been, your growth is our growth,” Madding said. “We never wanted to get to a point where we would have to start nickel and diming our clients.”
The company made the decision early on, in terms of infrastructure, to go bare metals rather than the cloud, which she admitted isn’t the traditional way companies scale. One of the primary reasons they chose to go with their own internal infrastructure from the get-go was that cloud computing was going to be prohibitively expensive with the goal of tracking as much of their customers’ data as possible.
“A big piece of advice I’d give to other companies is to make sure that when you’re making some of those huge decisions that will carry on with you throughout your growth stages, make sure they’re there to support you, and they’re in line with your business values from the start,” she said. “It’s been a key to our success and our ability to support our clients’ growth. Not just our own.”
Along with that, data and quantitative measurement matters in every way, shape, and form, she adds, and should never be the last thing you think about as you scale, but the first.
“I can’t stress enough that giving democratized data to every person at your company, so they can be smart and intelligent about what’s going on, feeds every single team, every department,” she said. “It’s huge, and very critical.”
Hiring for those teams, and making sure those practices and goals are strong from the start, is another huge piece of scaling a company. For a startup that’s gone global, it’s important to assemble a group of employees that still embody entrepreneurial spirit that drives the company toward growth.
“It’s identifying those types of people that aren’t just seeing the problems, but are coming through with solutions,” Madding said. “That’s an entrepreneurial spirit, that mentality of, if we spot something, if there’s an opportunity there, let’s go and get it done. Finding those people that feel similarly and have those similar values was always something I tried to look for at the beginning, and I still look for today.”
There are risks in growing the brand and evolving the brand message and product, and losing yourself along the way. Madding’s best advice, especially for scaling your product, is knowing and understanding your personas and your segments — not your vertical and your country, but identifying what clients you’re going after, and what their business models and their interests are. If you have a unique opportunity in that area, you should absolutely grow your product to fit that business need, but when you’re growing globally, that can result in a ton of noise versus signal, and demands from every side.
“As a strong product leader that understands why you started this company in the first place and what your customers’ needs are, you have to say no to certain things,” Madding said. “In your gut you typically know when something is perhaps exciting, but also still not in line, long term, with what your clients are actually going to drive growth and value from. Without that, then you have a diluted product that tries to fill the need for everyone and misses the mark on all counts.”
The branding perspective is very similar, Jansen said. Your brand voice needs to start clear and stay clear; you can’t try to make the brand speak to all customers at all times. As you evolve your brand, you want to apply your overarching message to your growing customer base, and then segment it out for the individuals.