Atif Awan, LinkedIn VP Growth and International Products, spoke at Traction about the story of LinkedIn, and the key lessons to take away from its exponential growth over the past 13 years.


A Short History of LinkedIn




At its conception, LinkedIn was too small to have a dedicated growth team. “When you’re a startup, growth is essential,” said Awan. But the growth was entirely up to the founder, who essentially is the growth team.

LinkedIn tried to build growth into the product, starting off with well-connected and influential industry professionals being invited to join the network.




A little more focus could be given to growth—they identified drivers for key channels and optimized accordingly. They also began to expand internationally, seeing more than a 100% growth in most markets when translated into a local language.




At this point, LinkedIn was expanding quickly— they were now actively involved in the acquisition, activation, connections, retention, and resurrection of their members, and also working on notifications. The focus had now shifted from signups to quality signups and finally, to engaged quality signups. Mobile expansion continued to be a key part of the business, particularly in China and India, while heavily investing in mobile and partnerships with international brands.

Today, LinkedIn is working on product integrations in a partnership with Microsoft, and new products will be rolling out later this year.


Lessons to Takeaway


Principles vs. Tactics


In the battle between principles versus tactics, principles will win. According to Awan, tactics—any tried and tested sales strategy, no matter how polished—tends to have a short shelf life because the second something gains tractions, people hear about it and begin implementing it poorly. However, if principles are your guiding focus, then you can adapt to changes and develop your own tactics, one that works for your specific case.


Find a North Star Metric


Awan says, “Growth is about accelerating the realization of your vision, not moving metric up and to the right.”

This is why he suggests choosing one metric that will be your focal point of measuring success. If it’s impossible to choose just one metric, have as few as your possibly can.

This metric must:

  1. Be linked with the success of your business
  2. Measures value that is being delivered to users
  3. Be summable

Everything that happens to your company should tie back and measured against this north star metric.


Prioritize a Good Product Before Growth


Awan advises not to waste resources on growth before you have a good product. The product’s quality should be measured with long-term retention and customer feedback.


Invest in Multiple Scalable Growth Channels


According to Awan, depending on a single channel for growth is a strategic liability and should be avoided. On the other hand, investing is new platforms and having some venture bets are good options if you only have one core channel. This, he says, will largely multiply your odds of success.

His final piece of advice to your startups is this: The companies that we build in the future should be careful not be satisfied with the stories of others. They should continue to push the envelope and aim to “unfold your own myth.”