Growth Design at Big Co. vs. Early-Stage

Fast, fun, impactful – Is growth design at an early-stage startup for you? (Originally published on

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Mar 1, 2023

Feb 27, 2023



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Growth Design at Big Co. vs. Early-Stage

Big Co. vs. Early-stage – What’s the Difference?

(Originally posted on on March 1st, 2023)

So, you're a growth designer?

Welcome to the club! Now, where do you go to practice and deepen your craft? What type of company fits your work style, preferences, and personality? 

As one who’s worked at companies across the maturity spectrum (seed, early-stage, growth-stage, late-stage, and public), I’ve seen how each affects how growth design can be practiced. At the outset of my career, I didn’t realize how much the company stage determined the day-to-day reality of a growth designer. Now, over a decade later, it’s apparent that it affects everything. 

If you’re considering your next career step, I recommend resisting the natural inclination to merely choose from the options that you see on this week’s job board. Instead, take personal inventory with yourself. Reflect on how you enjoy working and what means the most to you. To help with this exercise, I’ve outlined 3 important considerations below. Also, download the full decision framework to really figure out what you’re wanting.

As you can see, working at a startup gives you growth skill sets that you can’t get at larger enterprise companies. And, in fairness, the same is true in the reverse – you can deepen your craft at larger companies that startups just can’t offer you. 

Download full pdf, includes 9 categories to consider.

Key Takeaway – Breadth of Focus

An important aspect to point out is that early to mid-stage startups may require growth designers to split a portion of their time on core feature design, rather than pure growth experimentation. This is expected for two reasons: 1) startups need generalists due to tight resourcing, and 2) most large ‘growth leaps’ come from launching new product capabilities (see Lenny’s newsletter).

Generally speaking, the earlier maturity of a company, the more likely the core feature sets are still being built. Therefore, companies may prioritize big ‘growth unlocks’ by simply prioritizing core value delivery. Your role will more likely blend into standard product design the earlier a company is in age.

Conversely, the later-stage a company is, the more likely it will require you to fine-tune and optimize flows to help users find value faster. Hence, these ‘growth unlocks’ require more precision and scientific experimentation.

Which early-stage startups should I consider?

You’re sold, right? Growth at a startup sounds like the perfect fit for you – fast, fun, and big impact. Exciting stuff! Now what? How do you narrow in on which companies to look for? 

B2C Startups

Consumer product companies are the creme-de-la-creme when it comes to growth. Strategically speaking, most B2C products make their margin based on the volume of users. 

These companies typically have low average revenue per user (ARPU). Consequently, they optimize for viral acquisition tactics, among other growth loops (see Reforge article to learn more). 

B2C startups will likely invest heavily in growth teams over time. Getting in early is a great call, as you can grow with the team, which will be critical to the success of the company.

Product-led B2B Startups 

PLG is all the rage in B2B SaaS nowadays (see OpenView’s primer). And for good reason – who wants to use crappy enterprise SaaS tools anymore (I’m looking at you, Concur). 

The good news is that startups employing a PLG sales motion have become quite commonplace. Most every industry vertical seems to have a bottoms-up, PLG competitor nipping at the heels of old-school, sales-led incumbents.

These startups need growth designers and will invest in the team. It’s critical for them to invest in growth design to best sell their product or service. 

All that to say, positioning yourself at a PLG startup is a sure bet for rocketship career trajectory as a growth designer.

Be Wary of Traditional Sales-Led B2B Sales

Probably stating the obvious here, but I’d be remiss not to call it out — If a top-down, B2B SaaS startup is advertising a role as growth, you will be sorely disappointed, as you will be hard-pressed to do true growth design there. The business model just doesn’t afford much room for our craft…unless you consider pumping-out sales prototypes as growth design.

Let funding be your guide

Last, but definitely not least. When deciding on a startup, always research the funding stage (Crunchbase is your best friend here). 

The amount of capital raised can vary drastically from startup to startup, and, realistically, is less important. However, the stage is a solid indicator of what type of work you’ll be doing. 

For instance, startups that are pre-product-market-fit (e.g. angel, seed funded, most Series A companies) don’t need growth teams. If these companies are advertising growth design job reqs, then call BS! You’ll likely be spending your time pivoting the product to find PMF instead.

Series B, C & D is the sweet spot — there’s a reason they call this the growth stage of a company lifecycle. These companies have found PMF and are scaling up the company, hence the pivotal need for a growth designer. 

You will have a massive impact at these stages of a company. If you can deal with some inefficiencies and organizational growing pains, then these companies are a great spot for you. 

Concluding Thoughts

You are the captain of your growth design career. Joining the right startup at the right time will be magical. Best of luck as you dive into startup land! 

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