AI-Led Growth

Zero-Effort Customer Acquisition For Early Stage Startups Via Automation & Analytics

by Gavriel Shaw
Director, Cyclic Media, Inc.

Spoiler Alert: It becomes zero effort only once you have everything firmly in place... 

First — "product-led growth" simply means that you attract users and customers without needing upfront sales representatives. This typically means incremental pricing and carefully crafted engagement funnels that convert visitors into sales.  

AI-led growth adds smart automation into the mix. Join our daily executive briefings for the latest best practice. 

Beyond the popular model of Top, Middle and Bottom of funnel, let's add Strategy of Funnel, Operations of Funnel and Scale of Funnel.

Enjoy the breakdown!


This page is a little dense. 

Think of it more as a resource page than a quick read article. 

Find the areas you are least confident about and decide on some key next step actions to optimize those areas with your team. 

SOFU (Strategy Of Funnel)

risk management

Mitigating risk by using a decision-making framework to explore assumptions and expand awareness of contributing factors for success. No 'winging it to see what happens'.

value proposition design

Ultimately, 'only the test decides', but we have to start somewhere. Better to start with a wide array of value propositions that creatively uncover false assumptions so that we hone into a tested and comprehensive sales message. 


Data-driven profiling in Enterprise works, but when small startups create make-believe customer personas it bombs.

Favor an approach that explicitly explores the context or scenario of your customer by focusing on their 'jobs to be done' with regards to your product, and then researching how those people are reachable through sales, referral or marketing.

Don't mistake fanciful 'customer personas' for anything useful.  

product planning

With insights around market, tech, competition, understanding the full context of the end user or customer to produce a Jobs To Be Done framework that helps prioritize feature (experience) development.

Product planning should never be 'owned' by a central authority, not even the 'Chief Product Officer'. It is a multi-stakeholder affair. 

If you haven't confirmed 'problem solution fit' via real-world human to human belly to belly eye ball to eye ball conversations (interviews) with actual potential real-world users of your product, you don't so much have a 'plan as you do a pipe dream. 

Conduct UX interviews, build prototypes, and speak to real potential customers to understand their context. Fall in love with their problems, don't expect them to know the best solution. Books have been written on this topic. But Founders continue to get it very wrong. It's counterintuitive. Speak to experts. It's the R in R&D.

journey mapping

Both from a current customer perspective (to understand their needs and pain points) to a review of current product user flows, and also creatively exploring ideal journey maps to find 10X innovations.

brand Positioning

Not logo design and colour palette. That's the easy part! True branding comes from aligning with the position we need our target audience to hold about us in their mind.

TOFU (Top Of Funnel, not bean curds)

multi-media channels

From social channels through to live webinar events. Social Media is best approached as a conversation with your audience, not a boring brand channel. Speak to your customers with authenticity and you will build fans and benefit from social marketing. Social is for learning, not for scaling. 


Use the Cyclic Growth Framework's 3 pillars of customer development: 'identity', 'edutainment', and 'opportunity'. Align with their values, provide them worthwhile consumption content, and incentivize them with ways to be involved with your brand and mission. 

performance ADS

From low cost test campaigns through to hundreds of thousands in targeted monthly ad spend,  with Return On Ad Spend tracked across campaigns, products, creative, location, demographics, and more. 

When you think you have a worthy value proposition, do some test marketing with paid ads to help verify, split test, and advance. When you find a winner, scale the budget diligently. 

Chat Bots

They have come along way since Live Chat Bots became a fad 10 years ago. 

Today, Chat Bots using AI are like.... well, ChatGPT, and improvements are being made every day. Train your data models well and Chat Bots can help you accelerate sales. 


SEO on Alta Vista and Yahoo was different. Google bought Applied Semantics in 2013 and changed the game forever. Now 'search' includes YouTube, TikTok, and more.

Start SEO with a very specific focus on quality content and build from there. Don't prioritize 'search', prioritize content relevance for your target audience.  

MOFU (Middle Of Funnel)

lead nurture

Typically via CRM but can include social channels, paid retargeting, various content engagements such as podcasts or video. Allow prospects to self-segment into channels and topics of interest.

Keep giving them what interests them until they are ready to engage or buy. Focus on relationship and learning about your audience. Sales will come as a result of providing them with value and insight. 

campaign calendars

Beyond the typical one-dimensional drip-campaign perspective, look for ways to let the prospect access experiences that suit their level of buying readiness.

Always be publishing, but do so from a sales engagement or relationship development perspective not just a 'brand awareness' perspective. 


Singly the highest ROI marketing effort. Show website visitors targeted ads after they leave your website. Bring them back for a 2nd look, but make your ads and landing page valuable, not just a product promotion. Make it segmented and relevant depending on buyer interest and behavior. 

BOFU (Bottom Of Funnel)

pricing model

Whether it's transaction fees, freemium, free trial or front-end one-time or subscription pricing, understanding the users WTP (willingness to pay) while providing a cost sensitive way to acquire new users is the heart of product-led growth motions.

Sales Motions

Product led sales divided across 5 sales motions: conversion, retention, expansion (selling more of the same such as seats or  volume), upsell (selling something extra) and consolidation (typically as extended enterprise user agreements for economies of scale to the customer). The goal is to optimize every touchpoint throughout the buyers journey from beginning to eternity.

retention campaigns

Anything done to help strengthen the relationship with a personal level of access, keeping customers informed about updates, show casing success stories, and other content that may also be used in the Middle of Funnel stage but crafted for retention and customer engagement. Very important not to neglect existing customers!

referral engine

Have ways that customers can share positive experiences of your brand with their network, whether it be incentivized with reward points, discounts, free product capacity, or not. 

PREMIUM community development

Create premium experiences that a portion of your community will opt for, beyond your core product offering. This additional layer of service helps galvanize a true fan brand army. 

OOFU (Operations Of Funnel)

Process mapping and a cadence of meetings and transparent updates to build synergy and efficiency with execution. My approach is one of experimenting and making incremental improvements.

analytics & attribution

From paid ad attribution to help optimize campaign spend, through to acquisition conversion rates and then CRM and product analytics for user flow analysis to optimize retention and engagement.


The bread and butter of marketing. Writing ads captures the skill of product marketing to deeply understand the target audience, match the product experience to actual needs, and communicate the tangible benefits that makes the prospect take action.

No growth manager is worth their weight in salt if they can not write long-form ads that convert cold leads into sales. Ad writing (messaging) is the essence of growth. 

project management

Scheduling, resource planning, phased launches that add value to the audience and actionable intelligence to our team for alignment and re-prioritization of projects and tasks. 

ALWAYS BE testing

Tests matter more than opinions. Growth comes from operational excellence combined with counter-intuitive innovation.

Multi-variate split tests will develop your gut instincts, but also teach the humility to always verify through test campaigns before committing significant budget for scale. 

A larger power comes in the form of multi-variate testing, with rapid iteration cycles and demonstrable statistically valid improvements at each friction point of the journey for bottom line results. 

content matrix

From a product marketing platform of key brand messaging through to long-form content that progresses the sale. Landing pages. Email series. Ad campaigns. Everything connects. AI assisted content creation and syndication. 

product launch

There is no 'big splash' launch day if you want to get market traction.

Focus on a series of events that build early adopters and true fans for market validation before confidently rolling out campaigns more broadly.

agile coaching

Product and marketing teams work better with a culture adapted from agile methodology that supports the cadence of backlog prioritizations, CI/CD workflow, and continuous market announcements. 

SOFU (Scale Of Funnel)


Few growth marketers can actually lay claim to having been at the helm of rapid startup scale. 

Scale doesn't happen by accident, but it can be orchestrated by finding the essential user journey in a blaze of marketing tests anchored with real-world commercial experience.

Make sure your senior hires have strong commercial awareness if growth is your goal. 

market development

Regional growth depends on cultural adjustments to marketing and customer service.

Be sensitive to differences and be flexible in approach. What works in Japan does not work in Brazil. 

New Product Development

Beyond the original launch product, now's the chance to create products that serve adjacent markets. Aim for something complimentary perhaps in infrastructure or operations that justify the new direction with economies of scale. 


The best teams do not work in silos', nor feel sensitive about ideas coming from outside of each persons 'role'. See everyone as independent contributors, seek consensus, allow role owners to 'take the lead' by being accountable for taking action on group consensus.  

Focus each person with empowerment and accountability of role ownership with clear dependencies among peers for collective performance.