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3 Growth Lessons From Rupa Health's $20M Series A
learning to build a rocketship 🚀
Besides from my initial cold email, I don’t know if I ever really made a formal introduction on my Substack, but hi my name is Koby and I lead the Growth team @ Rupa Health.
Today, I am extremely proud to announce the fact that Rupa Health has raised a $20M Series A round.
I came onboard more than a year ago as the first growth/marketing hire at a time when the ONLY channel of growth at Rupa was word of mouth. I had never ran a growth team before, I had never even had “growth” in my title.
I lucked out a little bit because I think I came into the role with the right mix of raw ingredients, previously working on marketing campaigns up to $5M/mo and some basic product chops thanks to Y Combinator and my previous startups.
Working on really large marketing campaigns however is drastically different than taking something from basically nothing, to significant scale. I don’t know how else to put this, but after struggling to figure out my career in marketing for the last 10 years, working at Rupa has taught me how the “profession” of Growth can help me find harmony between marketing, product, engineering, and sales.
It’s a little bit cliche, but as we pass this milestone I wanted to share a few of the most important growth lessons I learned that I think helped Rupa get to our Series A.
Hire friendly people who are excellent at what they do.
The startup world is obsessed with Product Market Fit, finding traction, and metrics, but all too often it completely overlooks the humans who are building & growing the product.
Culture is top down, and I could not even begin to talk about any ounce of our success without mentioning our incredible CEO/founder Tara and her cofounders Ben & Rosa.
I took this job because Ben was one of my best friends, and Tara refused to let me do anything else. I had multiple offers at companies with more proven products and traction, but I ultimately came to Rupa because of the people.
I think this statement is probably true for most of our organization.
We have 2 bars for hiring at Rupa. You have to be technically A+ at what you do, but you also have to be A+ friendly (to clarify, extroversion is not the same as friendly).
I think this friendliness is the secret weapon of not just Rupa but many silicon valley startups that I only truly encountered when I moved to San Francisco. I have constantly seen the advantages of a friendly organization play out in so many ways in the last 12 months.
People want to do business with friendly people.
It gives you an advantage when you’re hiring.
It gives you an advantage when you’re creating partnerships.
It gives you an advantage when you’re fundraising.
It gives you an advantage when you’re doing PR.
All companies deal with painful problems that are no fun. When you’re growing at a neck breaking pace, these painful problems are even more glaringly obvious and tedious, but when you’re working with an organization just filled with A+ friendly people that you love being around, it makes everything worth while.
Friendliness lubricates the friction of growth.
Growing is painful. At scale all of your processes break down. What used to work for a team of 10 will make your hair fall out with a team of 50. Your product will break down, your systems will break down, it’s a well known stereotype that everything breaks - and it’s 100% true.
Nobody wants to solve hard problems with a group of people that they don’t really enjoy. It sounds like a fluffy soft skill, but only hiring friendly people, who are also great at their job, will give you an incredible growth advantage.
Product Market Fit isn’t measured in growth.
Rupa has one of the most incredible examples of Product Market Fit I have ever seen in my life, but when I came onboard the growth rate was flat for the previous ~4 months.
I don’t know how many times it was drilled into my head before joining, “explosive growth is the most obvious sign of Product Market Fit”. I have been told that by hundreds of investors & articles on conventional startup wisdom.
This lesson is the main reason that I started this Substack.
All users comes from channels.
PMF is the combination of “a good product” and “a good market”. The product can be absolutely amazing, but if the startup hasn’t figured out how to connect it to strong channels, there isn’t going to be any growth.
This was the reality that Rupa was in 12 months ago. It was this amazing SaaS health-tech product that solved a critical problem for practitioners, that was growing organically through word of mouth, but had started to flatline because word of mouth was the only channel.
Here’s how to actually judge if a product has PMF.
How much do users love the product? What’s the NPS or super human survey scores.
Is the retention really great?
Are people willing to pay a lot of money for the solution?
When you’re trying to understand how good the product is, growth can actually be really confusing. Founders do an incredible job of launching on Product Hunt, Hacker News, Twitter, at “pushing the bolder up the hill” even when there isn’t actually PMF.
Looking at growth doesn’t actually tell you how much users love the product, or even how many users exist within a market.
The confusing bit lies in the fact that the better the product is, the easier it is to grow. The danger lies in the fact of assuming that a good growth rate means that the product is good. Growing users and building a good product that provides value to people, while connected, are two completely different problems to be solved.
Product Channel Fit is the key to real growth.
Build things and sell things, repeat the process. When you connect amazing products to strong channels of growth, truly incredible things happen.
I’ve told this story a few times but while I was going through Y Combinator they asked us who here is a software engineer or could code, and about 90% of the room raised their hands. The early stage startup world is incredibly biased towards people who can build things.
It makes a lot of sense.
If you can’t build a product, you’ll never have anything to grow. It also results in one of the most common ways that I have seen startup founders with incredible products fail, they build these amazing things but have no clue how they are going to actually grow.
What’s worse is they often buy into the myth that if you just build an amazing product for a big market, growth is the inevitable result.
People know to reject the phrase “build it and they will come”, but it is hardly ever taken to heart. They hire outsourced agencies to run their SEM, burn through marketing hires and sales people.
There’s a reason why marketing has more turnover than any other industry.
To get to Product Channel Fit your organization has to deeply understand both the product, but also the channels that will drive users to it. They have to build their product around their channels, hire people who are experts in those channels, and learn to defend them at scale.
This is the true goal of Growth, at least how I see it at Rupa. Not to run growth hackey experiments trying to optimize everything into oblivion, but to deeply understand all of the possible channels that can drive growth for our product, and then understanding how to optimize the product to best fit our channels.