Drive Growth by Picking the Right Lane — A Customer Acquisition Playbook for Consumer Startups

One of the most common startup failure modes is investing in too many channels at once, and as a result not investing in any one channel enough. As an example, betting big on both SEO and virality feels like a really good idea (“We’ll grow twice as fast!”), but in practice it rarely works. And it’s often not clear that either of these routes are even the right channels for your business to begin with.

In our experience, founders are often surprised to learn that there are very few routes to scalable new customer acquisition. For consumer companies, there are only three growth “lanes” that comprise the majority of new customer acquisition:

1. Performance marketing (e.g. Facebook and Google ads)
2. Virality (e.g. word-of-mouth, referrals, invites)
3. Content (e.g. SEO, YouTube)

There are two additional lanes (sales and partnerships) which we won’t cover in this post because they are rarely effective in consumer businesses. And there are other tactics to boost customer acquisition (e.g PR, brand marketing), but the lanes outlined above are the only reliable paths for long-term and sustainable business growth.

Below, we’ll share our framework for picking your lane, walk you through three case studies of companies that became world-class at a lane, and then tackle some frequently asked questions.

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