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4 min

Focus Solves Unsolved Problems: Interview with Brian Balfour [Reforge]

Brian Balfour is an entrepreneur, speaker, advisor, and the Founder/CEO at Reforge. He has been a co-founder of 4 companies in the past 10 years. Now he is focused on finding the next company he wants to build, and in the meantime he is advising a few select companies on growth.

Magda Wąsowicz

Brian Balfour's essays on growth and user acquisition have been featured in Forbes, Hacker Monthly, and OnStartups. He also writes on his popular blog Coelevate. He lives in San Francisco, but often visits LA, Chicago, Boston, and Michigan to spend time with friends and other entrepreneurs.

Magda: How do you see the place of a growth marketer within a company?

Brian: Every company has a different definition of what a growth marketer is to them.  My personal opinion is that the way we grow software companies is different than previous types of companies which has given birth to the term „growth.”  

The key is running cross functional teams of engineers, marketers, product, and data analysts to solve growth problems across the funnel.

Growth marketers are people on those cross functional teams with the marketing skillset.

No matter where you live within the company, I think anyone who wants to focus on growth needs to focus on these seven things to maximize their career.

Magda: What are your favorite growth hacks?

Brian: I don’t have any favorites.  I think everyone should fall in love with running a growth process, vs individual hacks.  Focusing on individual hacks is problematic because you are falling in love with a prescription. 

Every company, product, market is different therefore you need to focus on uncovering the unique combination of tactics that is right for your unique situation, and ignore everything else.

Magda: Can you name 3 channels that are crucial for growth marketers?

Brian: The channels for each growth marketer depend on their product, company, and model.  So rather than naming specific channels, here are three things to focus on instead:

1.  Choose your customer acquisition channels by being diligent about prioritizing scale, competitiveness, cost, time, and other factors.  

2.  Don’t think about channels in isolation from product.  Products are built to be distributed through specific channels.  You need to think about them together.

3.  Make sure you channel fits your business model.  If you have low ARPU, you need to focus on low CAC channels like virality, SEO, etc.  If you have high ARPU, you are better off using higher touch/CAC channels like content, sales, etc.

Magda: What advice would you give to people trying to build their own business today?

Brian: One word.  Focus.  Focus wins.  I look back to all of my startup mistakes and most of them are due to a lack of focus.  Focus enables you to solve unsolved problems. 

Solving unsolved problems is how you create a valuable business.

I see too many entrepreneurs working on too many things and struggle to say no to opportunities.

You should be saying no to 10 things for every one thing you say yes too.

Magda: What has been the biggest challenge thus far in your career?

Brian: Finding an authentic connection with the business I’m working on. 

My first VC backed company was in social gaming.  It was a great business opportunity, but I wasn’t a gamer nor did I care about games.

My second VC backed business was a similar story.  Today, I’m working on Reforge and I finally feel like I’m working on something that is more than just a good business opportunity to me.  It stems from a much deeper place. 

We help ambitious professionals fulfill their potential with advanced professional education experiences.  This connection is really hard to find for a lot of entrepreneurs.

Magda: What does your typical day look like? 

Brian: There is what my ideal day looks like, and what my typical day looks like.  My typical day I wake up around 7am or 7:30am. 

It takes me about a half hour to get out of bed.  I work out for about 30-45 minutes typically a short run combined with some weights.

I then get ready for the day.

The final couple hours of my morning are spent having coffee and doing the most intense work for the day (typically writing, decision making, etc).  In the early afternoon I will do email and lighter weight things.

All of my meetings are 4pm and after.  Everything is designed around utilizing my best energy for the most difficult things.

My common traps are email, TV in the evening, and not getting a good nights sleep.

Magda: Thank you for the interview, Brain! 

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