In this week’s episode of Growth Interviews, we invite you to join our podcast conversation with Sean Ellis and Sean Sheppard, some of the most successful digital entrepreneurs and two of the most prominent authorities in growth hacking.

Welcome to Growth Interviews!

Welcome to Growth Interviews, the fun, stimulating and engaging series of conversations driven by digital business growth. Our mission is to provide valuable insights from the eCommerce arena, and each episode is a fascinating quest into the best-kept business secrets and money-making strategies of an insightful world-class expert.

Sean Ellis is the co-author of Hacking Growth, which was published by Crown Business in 2017 and has been translated into 16 languages. He coined the term “growth hacking” in 2010, after using it to ignite breakout growth for several companies including Dropbox, Eventbrite, LogMeIn, and Lookout – each now worth billions of dollars. Today Sean helps companies around the globe accelerate customer and revenue growth through training, workshops and keynote presentations. His work has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, WIRED, Fast Company,, TechCrunch and MSNBC.

Sean Sheppard is a serial entrepreneur, investor, top 20 sales influencer and HuffPo contributor. He is super passionate about growing a company from scratch and he helped bloom dozens of early-stage companies across a wide variety of products and markets. As a founding partner, he currently leads the market development strategy for the GrowthX portfolio of companies. 

This is probably the best and most complex talk on how to build success in digital entrepreneurship. Be sure you’re not missing anything!

Here are the biggest takeaways:

  • First steps in digital  entrepreneurship – 00.12
  • The most overlooked aspect in tech entrepreneurship – 01.38
  • Is their place of birth still influencing start-ups? – 03.40
  • Is entrepreneurship becoming a buzzword? – 07.21
  • Is it healthy to look only for growth? – 14.41
  • The story of creating and selling a company  – 17.13
  • Three most common problem entrepreneurs meet – 21.45
  • The last good tactics to overcome big investments in advertising – 26.30
  • Next best digital trends from How To Web 2019 event – 33.25

First steps in digital entrepreneurship

Starting a new business, like any new beginning really feels like starting an adventure and the mindset has to be more on the discovery part than on the part of the future gain. Becoming an entrepreneur is most of the time like going into uncharted territories and many entrepreneurs, no matter how successful they are, declared that the path chose them and not the other way around. For Sean Ellis, one of the guests we had the pleasure to interview for the latest ‘Growth Interviews’ episode, the start was a pure leap of faith in the future of technology which proved to be very successful.

Beginnings are different and so are all success stories out there. With a personal heritage from living and growing up in the Valley, Sean Sheppard’s start in digital entrepreneurship was a natural choice. 

The most overlooked aspect in tech entrepreneurship 

In Sean Sheppard’s opinion, the number one thing is that upcoming entrepreneurs have to define a use case that generates value for someone, that solves a real problem. A successful business should always offer something unique and be of real service to people because otherwise, it’s worth will not be recognized by potential customers. ‘People spend a lot of time focusing on the product and the cool tech and the bright shiny stuff that comes with that. But unless you can actually solve a real problem with valuable and actually make a profit from it you know it’s not going to work.’

The importance of people and how they create value to products is strongly emphasized by Sean Ellis. Implementing cool technologies and starting tests on systems is very attractive for any new entrepreneur in the digital field but the most important is how well the product fits with the target market, how it is being perceived and understood. ‘So, start with who needs the product why they need it. Do they even need it? And then start figuring out what’s preventing them from getting value from the product. Start running tests to get people to actually experience the value of the product more often.’, points out Sean Ellis.

Being in touch with the potential market and testing it doesn’t require a lot of technology. Equally important is being clear about how well will the business do in the near future, being empathetic and understanding what the real needs are there and how can the business and the product better meet those needs.

Is their place of birth still influencing start-ups? 

Sean Ellis believes that geography matters much less than it ever used to. The best example is the famous Silicon Valley which was for a very long time the best place to start a tech company. The Valley offered everything, from networks of highly trained people to information and first-hand advice from established professionals. With the rise of the internet speed, everything moved online and it got easier to access valuable information, first hand. The online environment rapidly became the place of information and communication and facilitated the birth and fast development of a plethora of tech start-ups all over the world.

Sean Sheppard points that ‘we now live in an era where the world is getting smaller and it’s getting flatter and it’s easier for people to get access to that kind of information and that kind of network.’ The new generation of start-ups has an absolute advantage by being able to access everything they need from the online environment without being forced to be in one particular place, like the Valley. Both Sear Ellis and Sean Sheppard agreed that start-ups should be focused on developing their own ecosystems, be geographically close to their early customers and pay attention to the early lessons of their market launch.

Entrepreneurship. Business or buzzword?

For both Sean Ellis and Sean Sheppard entrepreneurism, like anything through modern mediums, has been overhyped and overly romanticized as something that’s amazing. What is to be understood in our Growth Interviews guests’ vision is that people really need to understand all the implications the entrepreneur life has, because, as Sean Sheppard emphasizes ’it’s an emotional roller coaster. It can be a very isolating a lonely experience if you don’t know what it’s like. The ups and downs are crazy’

The perception of entrepreneurship is heavily romanticized and very few people who want to take this direction fully understand what they are getting into. The flexibility, the natural capacity of adapting to new and many times contradictory information and situations are mandatory qualities that naturally are at the core of an entrepreneur and not all of us are equipped with them. Situations are diverse and, as the business grows, there are more and more hats to be worn.

Sean Ellis mentions that ‘I think a lot of people underestimate is that being an entrepreneur is not just sitting in a room and solving problems but as you start to get a team around you. So much of your time that you would spend solving problems and figuring out the business gets replaced with managing people and hearing their concerns and getting them to buy into the vision and the dream and keep believe in and keep working and it’s exhausting and it’s hard and it’s often not why we became entrepreneurs.’

Opinions about entrepreneurship are diverse and the hype around this phenomenon is here, but what both guests emphasized is that all entrepreneurs, no matter how many things they have to learn and how much harder their life gets, are choosing this path because they feel for them is the only way and they feel they can bring something valuable to the world. These two are the strongest motivators, playing the role of the compass no matter how hard or easy the life of an entrepreneur gets at times. 

Growing healthy business

In the trajectory of growth of the business more important than the revenue is the added value the products’ bring to society and communities, real problems they solve and which are the strategies to accelerate the ability of those products to reach the people who really need them. For Sean Ellis, who is also a serial investor, it’s not about the economic value, because the economic value is ‘a byproduct of solving a lot of problems in an economically viable way’ but more about ‘that meaning to know that I’m truly driving impact on businesses that have product-market fit.’

Growing healthy businesses, for both Sean Sheppard and Sean Ellis it’s about helping companies drive more value quicker, accelerating their ability to solve problems and deliver value. A healthy business is not exclusively money-driven, although that is one unit of measure to determine the success of a product in the market or in a mission-driven organization. At the same time the mission, the scope, the end goal of a company is important and it shouldn’t be money. If a company can create value in the world and it can be productive, it is a part of and had a great impact on the advancement of humanity. Moving humanity forward through technology with the end goal of making everybody’s lives better is the very definition of a healthy tech company.

The story of creating and selling a company 

Building a company cannot be explained in just a simple phrase and the experience is definitely different for each entrepreneur. For Sean Ellis, the most important thing was to create something meaningful that has and brings value to the community, and on this principle, he has built Qualaroo. Qualaroo is a SaaS company that enables companies to gain valuable insights from their prospects and customers in real-time and is the most successful of Sean Ellis’ babies. 

While building Qualaroo, Ellis also started Growth Hackers as a side project, but after a short time, he realized that is very important to focus on only one. Putting all the energy into building one thing at a time is not only important from the point of view of the focus, speed of development, product testing and implementation but also from the point of view of the influence on the team. No matter how small a company is, leading the team is a complex process that involves not only how an entrepreneur manages the day to day business but also how. Showing the team the commitment for the development of the company and its wellbeing and positive results is the biggest motivator a leader can think of.

Passion drives to success many times and so happened in the case of Sean Ellis who sold Qualaroo in 2016, the transaction being one of the most discussed of the year. For Sean, as for many other digital entrepreneurs, developing ideas out of passion is the most important and this is what drives them to always pursue something new. After selling Qualaroo, Sean Ellis focused his entire energy on Growth Hackers and taking projects one by one is what he recommends to all entrepreneurs.

Three most common problem entrepreneurs meet 

There are many problems entrepreneurs will meet along their journey, but which are the most common and which are those they can avoid? The most important aspect in Sean Sheppard’s view is that any entrepreneur needs to be not just the chief executive “you need to be the chief learning officer to be somebody you can learn quickly and effectively you have to love the most objective truth possible, you have to care more about the market than your product.” So, in order to avoid getting blocked, entrepreneurs should embrace a continuous state of curiosity and be permanent learners.

Another situation that can quickly become a problem is money. How an entrepreneur allocates the limited amount of money and resources is in many cases the deal breaker for the entire business. Running out of money too quickly or, being afraid to invest properly are two unbalanced situations that are very frequent. Getting help from a financial counselor is, for the inexperienced, the best investment when it comes to dealing with complex budgetary allocations, cuts and investments. As Sean states, ‘if you haven’t been through it you don’t realize how quickly those things could run out if you’re not careful.’

The third most common problem Sean Sheppard identified at entrepreneurs is “to be focused on identifying where your product fits in the market as quickly as you can. Spend most of your time there.’ The speed of decisions is of the essence when doing a market fit test or when preparing for a product launching. Keeping objective and cool-headed and caring more about what the feedback from the market is than the product itself are critical attitudes in assuring the success of the company.

Great tactics to overcome big investments in advertising 

Organic word of mouth is the biggest driver of growth for many businesses. Sean Ellis explains this phenomenon ‘that’s what happens when you have strong product-market fit and you have a really good way of taking customers who need that product and delivering them into an experience that they keep using and they tell other people about’. Still, the biggest challenge still is hard to overcome, especially for the young companies, and that is ‘ is how do I get those initial people in those expensive channels to come in and use the product’. The more efficient a company is at converting, monetizing and driving referrals, the more it can spend on that initial acquisition.

The high cost of already classic digital media channels, although hard and in a long time span, can be overcome with great word of mouth and the basis for that is quality content. The more a company writes about its products, the more a company is present where its prospects are, the more it will attract attention. If the product feels great and it is easily reachable, word of mouth is everything a company needs but the conversation must never stop.

Next best digital trends from How To Web 2019 event 

Romanian tech environment is developing at an impressive speed and both serial investors Sean Ellis and Sean Sheppard praised the energy of the Romanian entrepreneurial ecosystem

The passion that drives the tech community from How To Web 2019 event, as well as the technical acumen mixed with high energy, have been contagious. The enthusiasm for start-up technology in Bucharest is announcing the start of a new era for the country as Sean Ellis described: ‘I have been really impressed. I knew from my time living in Eastern Europe and starting companies in Eastern Europe that there are general energy and creativeness, that there are so many good math people and creative people across Eastern Europe. I wasn’t surprised to come here and see a really good entrepreneurial community and I can tell you that I think this event is probably one of the best-produced events that I’ve seen. There’s a great energy with it.’


The internet, along with powerful, inexpensive technology made huge resources widely and freely available. This phenomenon gave everyone the opportunity to rapidly develop a thriving business even without capital or connections. Even in these conditions becoming a successful digital entrepreneur depends on how well equipped a person is as the abilities and characteristics of the entrepreneur become the business’s most important assets. 

We hope you enjoyed our video interview with Sean Ellis and Sean Sheppard!

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