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Anthropic’s Austin Lau on Building your Growth Engine

Anthropic’s Austin Lau on Building your Growth Engine

You are hired to grow the hottest AI startup. What do you do during your first 90 days in the role?

Passionfroot was lucky enough to sit down with Austin Lau to find out.

Austin Lau is Anthropic’s very first growth hire. Experienced with growth marketing at productivity tech companies like Dropbox, Webflow, and Notion, he is now tasked with growing the user base of Claude, Anthropic’s GenAI chatbot that has recently outscored ChatGPT 4o.

During our chat, we discussed all things marketing and growth. In particular, Austin offered advice for how you can most effectively build your growth engine. Topics include:

  • Core principles to build your growth engine
  • Which growth channels work best short-term and long-term
  • When to start performance marketing

Here’s a recap of his insights and how they can be applied to your startup.

Austin with the Passionfroot team!

Developing your growth strategy in your first 90 days

When you first begin your growth role, you might be eager to jump straight into action. Austin recommends the opposite. There are many steps to take before you make any direct marketing actions. Here are the core principles to follow before you begin.

Align your goals

Talk to your team and understand your company’s immediate business priorities. Understand what is needed and do what will create the most impact, as soon as possible.

Austin: “In the first 90 days, I focus on understanding the business goals and how they translate into marketing or growth team objectives… The key is to identify gaps, align with business goals, and choose the right channels to focus on.”

At Anthropic, Austin chose to first focus on lifecycle marketing instead of performance marketing.

Be data-driven

Don’t do anything before you have the evidence to prove that it will work.

Austin: “A core principle I always stick to is being data-driven. It’s essential to base decisions on data to ensure you're making informed choices that can effectively drive growth.”

If you jump right into running various programs and channels without setting up any data infrastructure, all your work might end up amounting to nothing. Before beginning any project, it’s crucial to set up the proper data structures to evaluate your success or failure. You need to be able to showcase what you have accomplished to your leadership and investors.

Prioritize your time and experiments

While it might be tempting to do 100 different projects at once, it’s important to prioritize your time and experiments.

Austin: “Growth involves a mix of big bets and incremental improvements. It’s essential to focus on what you want to invest your time and effort in over the next 30, 60, or 90 days.”

If you are in a smaller startup, first determine what you want to achieve in the next 3-6 months, and break that goal down into actionable steps. Think about the big bets you can make in the next six months that will drive the most significant impact, and do the initiatives that are feasible and scalable.

Most effective growth channels for early-stage startups

Don’t rush into performance marketing

Your product is launched, there is some level of product-market fit, and it’s gaining some traction. Is it time to invest into performance marketing? Not yet.

Austin: “There's a lot that needs to happen before you can effectively run ads. You need proper measurement tools, creative support, engineering bandwidth for landing pages, and pixel implementation… Additionally, your product must be compelling enough to convert users, as ads come with significant costs.”

Without gaining strong ROI from ads early on, rushing into performance marketing can be a costly endeavor. Instead, focus on other channels for growth marketing.

Focus on long-term channels

Instead, work on strategic channels that take longer to build but pay dividends in the future.

SEO is a crucial example. Start investing in it early, as it is a long-term game. The sooner you start, the more benefits you'll see.

Austin: “At Notion, we didn't hire a full-time SEO person until a year ago, initially working with an SEO agency. As a result, we played catch-up with competitors like Asana and Monday.com, who invested heavily in SEO early on. SEO requires time, and you can't accelerate it by just investing more money.”

Focus on amplifying network effects through referrals or affiliate programs—turn your existing customers into advocates. Furthermore, consider strategic partnerships with other companies with similar goals. These channels can diversify your revenue streams and strengthen your growth strategy before diving into performance marketing.

Do things that don’t scale

Paul Graham, co-founder of Y Combinator, wrote a famous essay called “Do things that don’t scale.”

Austin: “As a new startup, it’s okay to do things that are not possibly scalable, which can seem counterintuitive but is actually very important early on. Focus on one-to-few efforts versus one-to-many.”

Host webinars, workshops, and community-led events. Educate your users about your product. By starting small, you can fine-tune your approach and understand if you're reaching the right audience and saying the right things. Once you have these learnings, you can scale up to larger efforts.

If you have a relationship with a big-name company with a strong logo, even better. Lean into co-marketing opportunities to get your company’s name out there. Credibility is a powerful tool that money can't buy.

Passionfroot x Notion event in NYC

How to pick your performance marketing channels

Have a more mature company? Ready to finally double down on performance marketing? Austin has great insights into the different channels you can take.

Austin: “There's no right or wrong channel, but there's a right and wrong time to use each, depending on your goals and stage of maturity.”

Google Ads

Google Ads are great at capturing demand. For Google Ads, you have the luxury of search intent, because whoever is behind that search is already looking for a problem, use case, or solution. Since people are already looking for what you offer, your return on investment (ROI) and unit economics are strong.

However, while you can target keywords, you can’t target specific demographics. Imagine you own a brand for running shoes. You could target everyone searching for running shoes, but there is a wide range of runners: marathon runners, casual runners, or people just starting to run. It’s difficult to zone in on one particular type of runner.

LinkedIn Ads

LinkedIn Ads are perfect for generating demand. LinkedIn allows detailed targeting by job title, company, location, and more. Because of this, the cost per click (CPC) of LinkedIn ads can be up to $20.

Instead of capturing the demand that is already there, LinkedIn serves as a tool to nurture and create this demand through content like white papers, reports, or customer success stories.

Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing is the strongest growth channel around. In fact, Austin is one of the early disbelievers-turned-adopters of influencer marketing—he says that he found YouTube to be the most surprising growth channel during his early Dropbox days.

Austin: “There's this experiment I conducted many years ago at Dropbox that surprised me with its success. It was an incrementality test involving YouTube, which at that time was considered a crap channel for ads. And it worked. When it worked out I was like, Wow, I cannot believe this actually worked!”

While people may think of influencer marketing exclusively with relation to B2C companies, B2B companies can utilize influencers to grow as well. Through the Passionfroot Partner Network, it is easy to discover and filter through thousands of knowledge creators to find your company’s best fit.

Key Takeaways for all Growth Marketers!

  1. Priorities, priorities, priorities.
    You can’t do everything at once. Understand what your business needs in the coming months and focus on what generates the most ROI ASAP.
  2. Data is your best friend.
    Set up all necessary data infrastructure to measure success before you undertake any initiatives. You don’t want to have nothing to report to leadership!
  3. Embrace the advantages of being a small startup.
    That means that you can do more diverse, creative things that won’t necessarily scale as you grow, such as workshops and partnered events. Plus, if you start your SEO journey today, your company will be way ahead and thank you in 3 years.
  4. Find your best marketing channel.
    Whether it is Google Ads, LinkedIn Ads, or influencer marketing, compare the different channels and see what is the best fit for your company’s maturity.

Want to kickstart your growth through influencer marketing?

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