“Oh, you’re doing that Growth Advising thing, right? How’s that going?”
Glad you asked - it’s true. I’ve gone fractional. Everybody’s doing it.
Unlike those greenhorts, I am now somewhat of a fractional elder statesman, having been on this grind for an entire 15 months. Long enough to write a “year in review” piece, even. Read on to see if you too should follow my footsteps, move to Tokyo and start an Advising practice focused on Growth Engineering.
This year in review is broken into three parts:
- How did 2023 go? Review the raw numbers & see what worked.
- What did we learn? Things like, “what to do when the guy you were hired to advise gets laid off on your first day.”
- What’s next? Spoilers: more of the same, but better!
How did 2023 go?
- 12 articles published about Growth Engineering this year, including collaborations with Darius Contractor and Elena Verna
- I worked with 10 client companies.
- I issued a total of 41 monthly invoices, averaging 3.5 clients at a time.
- Lead Sources: Clients came through a combination of
- Focus: I originally thought I’d be helping start Growth Engineering Teams and level up existing ones. This was mostly right, but I also got pulled in more than expected to help with MarTech & act as a Domain Expert for companies building tools for Growth.
What have I learned?
In short, Elena Verna is basically right and I should just do what she says.
1. Bill on a monthly retainer, not hourly.
With my first couple of clients, I was billing hourly, which felt fair: “use as much Alexey as you need, don’t pay for what you don’t use.”
This turned out counterproductive for both parties. For me, it meant I got busy stopping & starting a time tracking Chrome extension instead of focusing on work. Also, how much time should I bill for coming up with a solution in the shower?
For clients, knowing that I was hourly led to a sort of “hoard potions in video games” problem. I’d be rationed the same way as lawyers - “yes, this is an interesting question, but is worth Alexey’s time?” Once we moved to a monthly retainer model, this largely went away.
2. To help with engineering, start with product
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat. “I don’t much care where–” said Alice. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,”
- Alice in Wonderland
At many companies, the Engineers working on Growth are frustrated by technical concerns (tech debt, data quality, lack of automated tests, infrequent releases). Early on, I was asked to work with these engineers directly. As we investigated, lack of product context hindered us from addressing the issues: why were we in such a rush, what kind of trade-offs might be required, etc.
These days, I seek context on product priorities before getting in the weeds on engineering. In fact, training engineers to proactively seek product context is part of the solution.
3. No plan survives contact with the enemy.
In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable.
- Dwight D. Eisenhower
With every client, we make a comprehensive list and schedule for what I’ll be doing and when. Things rarely go according to plan. People get sick, priorities change, teams get pulled in directions. At one company, I went through 6 different “point of contacts” within the span of a year. At another, the Engineering Manager I was meant to advise was let go as part of a layoff the day he finished my onboarding paperwork.
What did I learn from the experience? The importance of maintaining a sense of humor.
You live and learn. At any rate, you live.
- Douglas Adams
4. Example > Theory
Some of the most helpful work I’ve done for clients has been hands on: running meetings, writing draft documents, reviewing PRs and even writing code. Contrast that with simply explaining a process at a high level, getting a “thank you” and then hearing the exact same question come up, from the same person, a month later. People retain concrete examples better than abstract explanations.
And yes - I realize the irony that I don’t have a practical example to illustrate this. Shame on me.
5. The advising + writing growth loop is real
Questions that clients ask tend to be a great source for writing material, and have led to guides from understanding statistical significance to getting to the truth about conversion attribution and debating what deserves to be an experiment.
Often, clients that come in through introductions will mention the articles as additional evidence for choosing to work together (👋).
6. It’s OK to focus on Quality over Velocity (for Writing)
Most Growth thinkfluencers are out there on the grind posting on LinkedIn at least weekly. For a week in March, I tried this approach. It was fun and productive, but exhausting and ultimately not right for me; I prefer to do more drafts on longer pieces. Even this year in review is so long.
After the March experiment, I ended up refocusing on longer-form guides, publishing 4: prioritization, management, lifecycle, and stat-sig, and have several in progress. The warm reception these longer pieces have received has been validating.
Plans for 2024
2023 was a transition year, in both the work and living in Tokyo. Next year, it’s more of the same - but better!
You keep reading & I’ll keep writing Taking the solopreneurship path forces prioritization like no other, since adding headcount is not an option. Writing remains a high-impact way to help growth engineers, so expect more guides (and potentially a course) next year.
Keep advising, experiment with format
Helping companies for a few hours per week has given me great breadth of context (and I’ll keep doing it). However, I miss owning the actual outcome. In 2024, I’ll explore taking on a proper “fractional / interim” role, where I explicitly own the relevant metrics and run a team directly for a limited time. If you’re in need of Growth Engineering leader and open to a fractional
ly-useful, remote ly competent leader, get in touch!
Visiting The Bay Area Finally, I haven’t been back to the Bay Area since leaving in 2022, back when we were worried about COVID and not AI. I’ll be popping by for a visit in late March - message me & let’s grab coffee!