Sustainable growth in crypto?

September 24, 2023

A few people have asked me if I'm going to pivot to early-stage consulting for AI and other emerging tech, or if i'll leave crypto to get a job elsewhere.

At the moment, no, because I believe growth in crypto is severely underserved. Specifically: sustainable, product-led growth.

Sustainable growth in 2023 means something very different than sustainable growth a year or even just six months ago. And with teams trying to expand their TAM and appeal to users beyond what teams are used to in crypto, there's a significant need to address go-to-market challenges and embrace new narratives beyond what's worked in the past.

With recent developments in scalability and infrastructure, on-chain products are now easier to build than ever before. An app like or a chain like Zora would not have existed even just a year ago. We've seen a plethora of everything from new L2s to Account Abstraction tools recently come to market despite market uncertainty, which means that certain variables now weigh more significantly in determining the go-to-market strategy for a product:

  • Product enjoyment and usability
  • User acquisition and segmentation
  • Quick experimentation

And other variables like the following are inherently less reliable:

  • Build it and they will come
  • Virality
  • Recycling old narratives and product dynamics

So how does one get serious about sustainable growth in crypto?

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but there are easily implementable strategies from a marketing and product analytics perspective that can serve many teams in crypto very well. Part of this means thinking about product-led growth from the perspective of different user segments. You can also focus on cutting out your unnecessary spend (ahem, endless conference sponsorships with low ROI) and focus on organic, word-of-mouth growth.  

A Spindl analysis of users' first touchpoints with Base's "Onchain Summer" campaign.

There are a few ways to implement this:

1. Accurate analytics, utilizing tools like Mixpanel and connecting them to on-chain events using Dune Analytics, Spindl, or Safary
2. User acquisition & refining your product messaging with growth experiments, with tools like Phi Land, Layer3, Galxe, etc.
3. Creating smart content and increasing your distribution channels, via e-mail, or on-chain notifications like Notifi and Push Protocol
4. Plus, bottom-of-funnel campaigns that go beyond traditional airdrop models, e.g. RabbitHole, Jokerace, DeBank, Zealy

In my time growing Layer3 from 3k to 550k+ total users at our all-time high, we kept marketing and growth spend to under $10k for the entire year and a half I was there. You can create organic growth if your product has a strong foundation, and if you have users willing to evangelize about what they can actually do with your product. 90% of this is identifying the users who would do this in the first place. And this is ultimately a process that requires a lot of experimentation, where you're identifying what parts of your product resonate with what types of users. To get more granular, you then tie the exact action that these users take on your product and see if you can replicate that behavior in users who may not be your top 1%, but have the potential to get there.

We also found that adding in growth-centric features like referral programs, collectible NFTs for user progress, and on-chain incentivization or participation tools gives your growth engine the lubricant for it to all run a little bit smoother. These are not catch-all solutions.

Regardless, growth only matters if your revenue or your net promoter score (NPS) is increasing along with it. I don't go deep into the differences in doing this for decentralized apps vs. protocols, consumer tech vs. infrastructure, B2B vs. B2C models, but the principles remain the same: How do you create a self-perpetuating engine where growth is built into user behavior? And how do you do it so that you don't have to be constantly pushing out streams of new products, features, and content to do so?

Is growth antithetical to decentralization?

This is a valid question to consider, especially in crypto-land, where growth at all costs isn't necessarily seen as beneficial—and sometimes even detrimental to your core product. It is true that a small number of early adopters can add value to a product or protocol leaps and bounds beyond what a large group of users may be able to provide in web2. This is, after all, the promise of decentralized networks.

But if one user or individual can create outsized outcomes, then you should 100% be thinking of how to get that one person to 100x those outcomes for you. And this doesn't necessarily come from Tokenomics design or thinking about the best way to reward your early adopters; it's almost as if we have forgotten about the ways that products can delight and surprise even the most utilitarian of users so that they feel compelled to share it. When analyzing user behavior, how much they want to share your product with others should be a core part of your analysis.

Thinking about growth doesn't necessarily subvert the core principles of decentralization, it just helps us build better on-chain products.

And sustainable growth comes in when you start thinking about how to ingrain growth into every step of the user experience, so that you're not the one constantly jumpstarting the engine again.