It took me 15 years to truly scale my first startup.
And while I’m proud that a public company ultimately acquired us, I wouldn’t have minded reaching that level of success sooner.
The story with my second business—a gaming company called Solitaired focused on making classic games more engaging and educational—has been a little different. Thanks to the lessons learned from false starts and wrong turns my first time around, I developed a process that’s accelerated our growth. Fewer than two years in and without outside investment, we’re profitable with over a million games played daily.
Here are the rules I’ve sworn by this time around—and my tips for other entrepreneurs for growing and scaling their businesses quickly.
1. Find low-investment ways to test and verify your business ideas
When you start a company, time and resources work against you.
Even before you take the time to write a business plan, you want to find simple, low-risk ways to test your business ideas for new products, services, and offerings before investing too much into them. Rather than setting a hypothesis and running with it, you can get actual data on what will and won’t work.
I swear by the painted door test.
If you’re not familiar with this product management approach, here’s the gist: Instead of building out an entire feature, you build a button or fake landing page for the feature to see how many users engage with it.
If it’s a hit, you build it! If not, you’ve saved time.
For instance, we thought multiplayer games might be an exciting addition to the product at my gaming company. So, we added a button offering a multiplayer option to investigate how many people clicked on it.
It turned out that fewer than 2% of our users clicked. Instead of spending months building out a complicated feature—only to then find out no one would use it—we were able to quickly nix that idea and move on.
Compare that to my first company, where we spent over $1 million and months building an entire feature… that only 1% of our users engaged with.
I’d much rather find out quickly where to focus my resources.
If you’re looking for insights on something that’s not product-related, you can still take the spirit of the painted door test and look for inexpensive, low-effort ways to test the waters. For instance, if you’re trying to determine the right framing for a marketing campaign, try spending $100 or so on Facebook ads to see how your audience reacts.
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2. Cut your losses quickly
As you experiment, you must be practical about what’s working and what’s not—and quickly stop investing in things that data shows aren’t succeeding.
People always talk about failing fast as an entrepreneur. This is what it looks like in practice.
Here’s an example of what not to do: At my last company, we had a B2C (business-to-consumer) model that worked, as well as a B2B (business-to-business) model that was struggling to gain traction. We tried to straddle our resources across both for years, sinking valuable time, resources, and brainpower into growing the B2B model.
But it simply wasn’t working. And when we finally stopped straddling and put all of our focus onto the B2C side, we unlocked a ton of growth.
Yes, it’s tough—you may want to hold onto an idea because you thought it was going to be critical for your business or because you’ve already sunk time and resources into it—but if you want to grow, you’ve got to be ruthless.
Do these low-cost experiments, so you don’t feel too invested, carefully examine the data to remove any emotions, and then don’t overthink moving on from what isn’t working.
By letting go and cutting your losses quickly, you’re opening up space to invest in something that might work even better.
3. Experiment with out-of-the-box ideas
Like most entrepreneurs, you’ll often be wrong in your hypotheses about what will help your business grow. Probably nine times out of ten, the strategies you’ll try won’t work—even if you’ve seen them work for other companies.
The entrepreneurs who succeed persevere long enough to find that golden 10 % of ideas.
By doing rapid experiments, you’re shortening the amount of time it takes to cycle through enough hypotheses to reach the right ones. But it’s also going to take an incredible amount of creativity to move beyond the obvious and dream up new possibilities for scaling.
When trying to figure out how to market our games, we ran through many standard options that weren’t getting a lot of traction: from reaching out to publications to try and get them to write about our product to marketing on social media.
Finally, we decided to try partnering with non-gaming businesses to create custom-branded games—and it ended up being a surprising boon. The partners loved promoting them. We gained access to their audiences, and this helped us grow quickly.
4. Double down on what’s working
Once you’ve hit on the tactics that are working, you’ve got to focus your energy and investment on those tactics.
I know, I know: Entrepreneurs are notorious for having shiny object syndrome—after all, what if your next idea is the best one?
Plus, any smart business does want to leave room for innovation.
That’s why I recommend giving yourself some parameters for where you’ll allocate your resources.
Aim to spend most of your time and money—80 to 90%—on what you’ve already seen work for your business.
Lock in and keep doing what you’re doing.
But then leave 10 to 20% to try new experiments. If another tactic emerges and seems to be succeeding, compare the data to your existing strategy to decide if it’s worth reallocating your investment.
For instance, if you’ve found that content marketing on Instragram is a powerful way to find new users, great! Double down on it and make it an essential part of your brand strategy—invest in an agency or paid media manager so you can get the most out of it. But then leave some room in the budget for tinkering with TikTok or any other newfangled concept that comes your way.
By giving yourself some parameters, you avoid spreading yourself too thin while still leaving space to give other potential strategies their due diligence.
The best part of this whole process? It’s a flywheel you can keep using over and over again. From significant product road mapping decisions to figuring out your marketing strategy, it can help you make intelligent decisions and find new ways to propel your business forward.