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How Marvel grew to a Series A: lessons on acquiring, hiring, and building a great culture [Podcast]

In this episode of Secrets for Scaling, we spoke with Murat Mutlu, co-founder and head of design at Marvel. Marvel is a free platform for simple design, prototyping, and collaboration. Here’s a quick company overview:

  • Founder experience: 4 years
  • Team size: 31 team members
  • Traction: 1 million users, adding 1,500 new users/day
  • Company founded: November 2013 (3 years old)
  • Stage: Series A

Having recently raised a Series A of about $5 million, Marvel is in a critical stage of growth. They recognize that they need to find what works for them and have developed processes and frameworks early on so they can scale their business and culture. Learn more in the full episode below!

Photo by Joe Watts.

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Episode highlights

Know when to build vs. when to buy. Marvel has made a few crucial acquisitions that made their product more valuable to users and doubled their growth. If you’re looking to build a complicated feature that would take a lot of design and development resources, it makes more sense to make an acquisition. But if it’s something your existing team can build better than what exists, then build it.

Create a viral loop in your product. Free Marvel users have a “Made by Marvel” badge on their mockups that people can click through to sign up. This and the product’s collaboration features have resulted in significant organic growth for Marvel. High ratings in the App Store based on reviews and usage also contributes to organic growth.

Let your team leads make their own processes. Marvel has recently broken their team out into the core departments needed. Each team split out has its own mini-culture and way of working, with a leader assigned to each. They leave choosing the best tools, processes, and collaboration techniques up to the teams and their leaders.

Have a clear path for each new team member’s first 90 days. When you onboard a new hire, have a clear and defined plan for what they’ll do in their first three months. Marvel’s COO developed a helpful framework for hiring new team members that Murat adapts for each hire depending on the team they join.

Hire a great operations lead to set up processes early on. To the above point, hire someone who’ll set the company up for success with repeatable processes and frameworks. This will make growing your team go much smoother in the long run.

Keep your KPIs (key performance indicators) simple. At the stage Marvel is at, they’ve found it most effective to have each team focused on one or two core things at a time, then move onto the next. Murat knows they’ll eventually need to roll out KPIs at the individual level. But for now, they’ve found that the team self-assigns responsibility well, as long as they know their focus.

Keep your metrics visible. Marvel uses Geckoboard dashboards in addition to a Slack integration connected to their analytics tools for each team member to see how things are going without having to log into a piece of software. There’s no way they can be left in the dark and they stay focused on what matters.

Building a culture is everyone’s responsibility. Murat says your culture needs to be democratized, not defined from the top, down. You have to make it a part of everyone’s goals by engaging them and getting them involved. A great culture is about hiring right, the stuff that happens outside of and inside of work, and giving your team the ability to express themselves. Have people inside the business who love socializing and who’ll engage with their team members. Give them the resources and budget they need to make culture building happen.

Every culture is unique. Do what fits best for your company and the founding team. If you try to copy another company’s culture or framework, it’s not going to work.

Hiring right plays a huge role in building a strong culture. Marvel has a three-step process to ensuring a new hire is a cultural fit. Candidates answer a few questions that give them insight into their personality. Then they have a culture interview with the founding team for them to assess if they have the values they aspire to. Finally, they’ll interview with the potential future team members.

Spend time building relationships early on. Murat says the one big thing he would’ve done sooner is focus on building relationships that come in handy for help down the road. For finding advisors, investors, developers, and other new hires. “It’s really important to surround yourself with experienced people and smart brains.”

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