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Chris Lamontagne on the Growth Game

Author Matthew Birchall

“The main goal of a growth team or growth function is to be constantly six months ahead of the business. If you think of a rail network, the growth team is responsible for building the tracks: without the tracks in place, the train simply cannot progress.”

“I believe vocational training can be incredibly useful but you also need a practical outlet to stress test it. So, I think you should invest in vocational training which is completed alongside full-time work.”

Chris Lamontagne is renowned for keeping growth simple. With a Stakhanovite work ethic and a shrewd business sense, the Head of Growth at Hambro Perks, London’s premier boutique advisory and private investment firm, has marked himself out as one of the industry’s most innovative players. So what’s his key to phenomenal growth? And how can people acquire the necessary skills to excel in the growth game? To answer these questions, the team at Learnerbly sat down with Lamontagne to discuss his journey so far.

So, tell us about how you got to Head of Growth at Hambro Perks…

I founded my first company when I was twenty. The company grew very quickly, and I was able to exit the business when I was just 23, winning the Entrepreneur of the Year Award with the Prince’s Trust in the process. Off the back of this, I turned towards technology, a huge passion of mine, and founded two tech startups in two and a half years. One was a spectacular failure: it was a marketplace for construction companies; the other was based on automotive car sharing and electric vehicle car sharing. While they were very different industries, they were both big industries ripe for disruption. 

After two years of being entrepreneurial, I decided to go and gain some experience in a more established startup. I was fortunate enough to join GetTaxi just after they had received $40 million worth of series A funding for their launch in Moscow and London. I joined as part of their London team and worked there for just under three years, during which time we saw incredible growth at around 400% per year. 

“My speciality at GetTaxi lay in launching new markets and thinking about how we targeted these new markets: How could we target customers in new geographical regions, for instance? And how could we tailor our strategy to capture customers who were offline?” 

As Head of Growth at GetTaxi I was given a lot of responsibility and free reign to do what I wanted. After some very successful work for the firm, however, I decided that I’d achieved pretty much all I wanted to there; I felt ready for a new challenge. Hambro Perks approached me and I was immediately interested. They are unique in that they are a funding and investment vehicle who also have the ambition to incubate new business ideas – this dual aspect of the business really excites me. I subsequently joined the company in what is quite an open role: there’s a certain degree of freedom in being able to pursue my own ideas alongside the pre-existing portfolio work we do.

Would you classify yourself as a Growth hacker? 

I think we’ve got to be very careful when we look at the term “growth hacker” because it means many things to many people. Instead of being a job title I view growth more holistically – I see it as an approach to business rather than something that goes on your CV. Some aspects of my personality have certainly allowed me to thrive in growth roles. I believe that my ability to think outside a given company’s current boundaries and push the business on in different ways is where I add real value. 

“The main goal of a growth team or growth function is to be constantly six months ahead of the business. If you think of a rail network, the growth team is responsible for building the tracks: without the tracks in place, the train simply cannot progress.” 

But how exactly do I define myself? I don’t necessarily classify myself as a growth hacker because I don’t really classify a growth hacker as one specific thing; instead, I’m all about how I can push a company harder – I like to think that I fit in with the aggressive part of senior management. 

Who are some of your heroes in the industry?

Some of the big US firms have been really pioneering in their approach to growth. I think what Rocket Internet has done is fantastic. They’ve been quite ruthless in how they’ve grown, displaying a huge amount of ambition and aggression in the new markets they’ve entered. That’s certainly interesting. But I also appreciate people who specialise in change management, people who can go into a company or organisation and make it work more efficiently. To that end, Sir Clive Woodward  is a big hero of mine. His ability to go in and turn England Rugby into a winning unit is something I admire, and it’s something that I am always seeking to replicate in the business world. 

Do you teach or present at any industry events? 

I do quite a lot in terms of talks and practical case studies, and I also write a regular article in the Daily Mail’s “This is Money” section. In addition to this, I try and do a lot of face to face instruction around understanding what companies are trying to do and how they’re trying to achieve growth. I work hard on helping them create new ideas so that they can generate growth. In terms of specific events, the Web Summit  is obviously the big one to attend. I personally tend to prefer slightly more intimate events, such as talks to companies like KPMG and Accenture. 

What’s been your best learning experience? 

Trying to manage GetTaxi’s growth and maintain 400% growth year on year was an incredible learning experience. Learning from the Israeli approach to business while at GetTaxi was also fascinating. The culture they have in Tel Aviv is incredibly aggressive, and there’s very little regard given to the competition. When I started I was still thinking about what Uber or Hailo were doing. By contrast, the senior management team at GetTaxi were so resolute about what made us better than the competition that that in itself was an incredible learning experience. This became really infectious going forwards, and I started to ask why we couldn’t go harder, why we couldn’t go stronger. 

“When we looked at launching in new markets the initial brief to me was that we should only launch in one city. I argued that instead of one new market we should do twenty!” 

The optimism and enthusiasm that seeped into me in this fast moving environment was great. 

What’s your view on vocational training versus the more traditional academic route?

I’m very much a sink or swim character. When it comes to people I manage, for instance, I expect them to have a certain degree of capability and a certain degree of functionality. If they don’t know something I expect them to be proactive and find out. Practical know how is a must. 

“I believe vocational training can be incredibly useful but you also need a practical outlet to stress test it. So, I think you should invest in vocational training which is completed alongside full-time work.” 

For example, if we get some of our growth team at Hambro Perks to enroll in vocational training or even online courses, we expect them to complete it alongside their full-time role. Although this can be a lot to take on, I feel like the learning is so much quicker and effective. 

What do you think growth people should be aware of in the tech industry? 

Keeping up to speed with all the online tools is a must. These tools are being released virtually every day, and I think that anyone working in growth or marketing should be acutely aware of this. There are a lot of plugins for the likes of Instagram, LinkedIn and Snapchat that are coming out daily. The role of a really good growth hacker, if that’s what you want to call it, is to try these tools as soon as they come out and get the free demos. If you’re clever enough with how you use these tools you can run a business for free.  You’ve just got to be a very good manager of your time. 

“I don’t think the growth industry is experimenting enough with these tools. It’s easy to be lazy and say, “we’re just going to advertise on traditional digital channels,” but I think that only gets you so far.  Experimentation is the key.” 

I always tell my team to try and get by without a budget: If we had to launch tomorrow with no money, how would we do it? And you know what, we did it at GetTaxi despite having 150 million dollars in the bank. It’s a really small business mentality, but it’s one that can be applied fruitfully to much larger businesses.

Are there any tools in particular that you recommend? 

There’s a huge bank of tools that we try and experiment with. Instagress is a really interesting bot for Instagram which automatically follows people based on what they hashtag [Editor’s note: Instagress has since closed down]. Dux-Soup  is another. It’s a plugin for LinkedIn which allows you to automatically view up to 7,000 profiles a week. I also like Twilighter  because it allows people to really tend to traffic acquisitions: people can tweet a given piece of text straight away. Pay with a Tweet  is also great, as is Typeform,  a simple tool which allows you to create interactive forms. 

Data visualisation tools are certainly worth investigating. I’m really interested in how data can be presented in a beautiful way. Some people in the industry tend to forget that not everyone knows how to read data, so making data more easily palatable is absolutely critical. Another tool worth checking out is Periscope, a data analytics plugin. If you want to be at the top of your game, however, then you’ve got to learn where to find these various tools. There are great forums where you can learn all this stuff, but the reality is you’ve got to go out and spend the time trawling the internet.

Are there any resources that you would recommend for people wanting to learn more?

Everyone reads TechCrunch, so if you read that then you’re not going to get anything that the rest of the competition doesn’t have. There are some really good talks on TED: “How to Start a Movement” by Derek Sivers, “Everyday Leadership” by Drew Dudley, and “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek are all short but powerful talks. YouTube is a great resource as well, particularly the talks by Kissmetrics. They seem to lead the way in terms of growth hacking content. The content on LinkedIn is also getting a lot better: you’ve just got to know where to look. Meetups are a great option, too, and I attend a few. But before any meetup you should have a clear idea of who’s going to be there, as the last thing you want to do is waste your time. If you want to go to these events for networking then do your homework: go and target people. I appreciate it so much more when people come up to me and say, “I’ve seen you on LinkedIn, I like what you do, and I’d love to have a quick chat with you.” That’s always fantastic.

What about books and publications?

I’ve always felt that Clive Woodward’s biography Winning  is great. It contains plenty of insights on change management. The book talks a lot about the paradigm shift that occurred under his watch at England Rugby, and how he removed negativity from the team and created a winning culture. Woodward is very good at showing how these insights are applicable to business. Delivering Happiness  by Tony Hsieh is another really interesting business book. It’s all about how to put the customer first and how to step up customer service.

“At Zappos they used to measure the length of their phone calls as opposed to the number because they reasoned that longer calls boosted customer satisfaction levels. They built their business around being a customer friendly brand.” 

That’s such an important lesson to keep in mind, particularly given how competitive the startup world is right now. I also encourage our team to read reports such as McKinsey  and KPMG  reports; McKinsey have an app called McKinsey Insights  so you can access lots of information on your mobile, too. 

Are there any particular influencers you think we should be following on LinkedIn or social media?

James Currier  is a name that comes to mind. He’s scaled five or six businesses over ten million users, which is obviously exciting, and he has lots of content online. There’s another really top guy who used to be at Zappos called Golden Krishna, who wrote a thought provoking book called The Best Interface is No Interface

But because the growth community is still quite small, I would suggest that people cast their net a little wider and try and take something from leading operations people or really creative marketing and design thinkers. You’re not going to get a silver bullet for how to grow your company: it just doesn’t work like that. 

What advice would you give to someone wanting to get into growth? 

Demonstrating originality is key. Anything that distinguishes you, even if that’s something a little cheeky – that’s what I really like to see. I am always impressed by people who have tried to start their own business, regardless of whether they were successful or not. And do things full-throttle! If you’re going to do something make sure you do it properly. I would also recommend that people try and skill themselves up as much as possible. You don’t necessarily have to be a coder, for example, but you should be able to get things done quickly. A lot of businesses want things done within a short time-frame. Asking yourself how you can make an impact on a day-to-day basis is a great mindset to adopt early on in your career. At Hambro Perks we call this “day one thinking.”

What skills do you think helped you get to your position?

A lack of fear has really helped me. Coming from a small business background, I had to do a lot of public speaking early on, often to people who were older and more accomplished in business than I was. This was really formative, and I’ve never been in an environment where I’ve thought I shouldn’t be here. That confidence in my own ability has been crucial to my success. But the small business mentality has also been important because it has taught me the importance of making money. Being in an environment where I can learn has been equally beneficial. While I’m not particularly academic, I’ve been able to learn a lot from people. I also have a real belief in the value of work ethic. When first starting in a company, I tell myself that I will be the first in and the last out.

Are there any particular technical skills that you need in growth?

I wouldn’t necessarily say that you need any specific technical skills, but I think an understanding of analytics is certainly important. An inquisitive nature helps, too. In terms of practical skills, being able to build a presentation that communicates information in a visually appealing way is also sought after. This is actually something that has frustrated me in the past: I’ve had great people on my team who just haven’t been able to communicate verbally or through a presentation. An understanding of visual communication is something that I demand at Hambro Perks.

This sounds straightforward, but knowing your way around the Internet is also essential. Knowing how to make the most of the resource at your fingertips not only helps you source information: it also empowers you to go off and find innovative solutions to everyday problems. People who have the confidence to go off and do this impress me. I’m not a prescriptive leader by any stretch of the imagination, so when people encounter a problem I expect them to solve it. 

Author Matthew Birchall