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#03 Growth Hacking: How soundcloud grew from 1 to 100 million users – Thom Cummings

Thom Cummings CMO of Grover, responsible for all things marketing, product and design. Having joined in August 2016, he has overseen a transformation of the brand, a rethink of the product experience and a 10x growth in revenue.

A lapsed statistician, turned marketer, Thom’s focus is on growth and strategy for early stage business, helping to grow SoundCloud from <1m to >100m users and previously at Betfair and MadBid.  He also acts as a startup adviser through his work at Seedcamp, Techstars & Founders Institute.


  • The guest, Thom Cummings, discusses his experience in scaling companies and growth hacking strategies.
  • He started his career in customer insight for an insurance company and later joined SoundCloud when it had under a million users.
  • At SoundCloud, they focused on educating users about the concept and value proposition of the platform, aiming to be the audio infrastructure of the web.
  • Thom describes the growth of SoundCloud as a roller coaster ride, emphasizing the importance of experimentation and a strong experimentation framework.
  • When scaling a team, Thom prioritizes hiring great people with entrepreneurial values and maintaining transparency and communication between different departments.
  • Grover’s growth hacking strategy involved focusing on customer acquisition and retention channels.
  • They conducted a lot of experimentation and testing to drive growth in various areas, including traditional channels like search and social media and newer ones like content and video.
  • The company built a partner network to integrate their services with major retailers like Media Markt and Conrad, driving significant growth.
  • Developing a subscription and retention strategy was essential for Grover, as they aimed to retain users, expand subscriptions, and upsell them to new products.
  • The process of partnering with big players required persistence and a long sales cycle, proving the value of their business before integrating with them.
  • The company’s culture valued entrepreneurial attitudes, fluid mindsets, transparency, and open debates among team members.
  • To overcome challenges in scaling, Grover focused on increasing capabilities, empowering team members, and decentralizing decision-making.
  • Balancing work and personal life was crucial for personal growth and effectiveness as a leader.
  • Grover encouraged diversity of perspectives and appreciated the value of introverts in an extrovert-oriented world.
  • The company’s CEO emphasized understanding one’s strengths and niche, making tough decisions, and embracing internal conflict.
  • A recommended book is “Quiet” by Susan Cain, which explores the value of introverts in society and business.
Interesting Quotes:

„Your Value Proposition comes from different angles.”

„Growth is a roller coaster it’s unpredictable.”

„Growth needs to be owned.”

„Embracing internal conflict more rather than going with the flow.”
Book Recommendation:
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking – Susan Cain

#Balance between work and life for empathy, #Deal with change,  #entreprenuerable values, #Get shit done,  #Growth Focused People, #Growth need to be owned

more about Grover

Grover, founded in 2015 and headquartered in Berlin, Germany, offers a novel approach to technology access. It operates as a subscription-based platform, allowing customers to rent various tech products monthly instead of purchasing them outright. This model includes over 3,000 tech products like smartphones, laptops, VR gear, and smart home appliances. Grover emphasizes the circular economy, aiming to maximize product value and reduce e-waste. As of April 2021, the company had saved 4,000 tons of CO2. Key figures in the company include Founder & CEO Michael Cassau and CFO Thomas Antonioli. Grover has secured total funding of $159 million

more about Soundcloud

SoundCloud, an online audio distribution platform, was established in 2007 by Alexander Ljung and Eric Wahlforss. Headquartered in Berlin, Germany, SoundCloud has become a popular platform for users to upload, promote, and share their own music and audio content. The platform is known for its large community of independent music creators, offering over 375 million tracks from 40 million artists as of 2023.

The company experienced rapid growth in its early years, reaching 150 million registered users by 2015. However, SoundCloud faced challenges in generating income both for itself and its creators, leading to a struggle with profitability. This situation resulted in interest from companies like Twitter and Spotify in acquiring SoundCloud, but these plans were eventually shelved.

SoundCloud’s journey has involved navigating the complexities of the music industry, including copyright issues and balancing the interests of independent creators with industry partnerships. These challenges led to occasional removal of content due to copyright infringement, reflecting the ongoing tension between maintaining its open, collaborative ethos and working towards profitability.

Management changes have occurred over the years, with Kerry Trainor replacing Ljung in 2017, followed by Michael Weissman taking over in 2020. These changes aimed to increase SoundCloud’s revenue, which indeed accelerated in recent years. By 2021, SoundCloud generated $271 million in revenue.

Key aspects of SoundCloud’s strategy include an innovative pay model for artists called “fan-powered royalties,” introduced in 2021. This model aims to benefit smaller independent artists by allocating royalties directly from the subscription and advertising revenue generated by their listeners.

SoundCloud remains an influential platform in the music industry, especially for emerging artists and independent creators, despite the challenges it has faced


[00:00] Florian: Today, we’re joined by Thom Cummings, an expert in scaling businesses. Thom, currently based in Berlin, has a rich background in customer insights and internet business models. He’s here to share his journey and insights.

[00:42] Thom Cummings: My career began in statistics and economics, focusing on customer insights in the insurance sector, then moving to Betfair, a P2P gaming company. My journey brought me to Berlin, where I joined SoundCloud in its early stages, helping it grow from under a million to over 100 million users.

[01:27] Florian: That’s impressive growth. What’s your current project?

Thom Cummings: Currently, I’m the CMO at Growver. We’ve expanded rapidly, offering flexible subscriptions for consumer electronics. It’s a fresh take on accessing technology without outright ownership.

[02:08] Florian: So it’s similar to car leasing but for tech products?

Thom Cummings: Exactly. We’re embracing an access-first model, moving away from ownership and reducing environmental impact.

[03:17] Florian: How did you approach customer insights at SoundCloud?

Thom Cummings: The internet era brought rich user data, transforming marketing into a data-driven function. At SoundCloud, we focused on user profiling, segmentation, and building strategies around this data.

[04:35] Florian: What were your initial strategies for driving growth at SoundCloud?

Thom Cummings: The key was leveraging SoundCloud’s organic community growth, focusing on education about the platform, and making sharing as seamless as possible.

[06:32] Florian: Can you elaborate on developing SoundCloud’s value proposition?

Thom Cummings: It involved understanding user perceptions and aligning these with our core purpose as a company. We aimed to be the audio infrastructure of the web, supporting all forms of audio communication.

[08:31] Florian: How did you balance focusing on the community versus broadening SoundCloud’s scope?

Thom Cummings: We adopted a step-by-step focus, initially catering to specific music genres before expanding into other areas like podcasting. Effective communication and segmentation were crucial.

[10:33] Florian: Describe the growth journey at SoundCloud.

Thom Cummings: It was a rollercoaster, marked by flexibility and rapid adaptation. Organizational scaling was as significant as user base growth.

[12:07] Thom Cummings: Key growth factors included focusing on specific communities, capitalizing on mobile app growth, and innovative strategies in the app store.

[14:17] Florian: How did you integrate the growth team within SoundCloud?

Thom Cummings: The growth team initially operated in isolation. We eventually integrated it more effectively into the product team, supported by marketing, to align with company resources and strategies.

[16:20] Thom Cummings: Our focus was on demonstrating how growth metrics were interlinked with the company’s overall objectives.

[19:17] Florian: How did you set up and manage the growth team?

Thom Cummings: We prioritized resources, autonomy, and a data-driven culture. The team members needed to be aligned, creative, and committed to iterative improvement.

[20:39] Florian: If you were advising a small startup, say a hipster shoe company, how would you approach growth?

Thom Cummings: The approach should combine top-down market analysis and bottom-up customer insights. Initially, focus on understanding your current success and scaling from there.

[23:48] Florian: How did you drive organic growth at SoundCloud?

Thom Cummings: SoundCloud’s growth was exponential, driven by a combination of product quality, effective communication, and user-driven marketing.

[26:43] Florian: What was your hiring strategy for the growth team?

Thom Cummings: We looked for a balance of creativity and analytical skills, team players, and strategic thinkers. The key was having people who could rapidly test and adapt their ideas.

[29:33] Thom Cummings: We used an experimentation framework with an ICE scoring system (Impact, Confidence, Effort) to prioritize ideas and maintain a culture of rapid testing and optimization.

[32:51] Thom Cummings: Implementing this framework effectively requires commitment and adaptation to different contexts.

[34:10] Florian: Are there limits to this system?

Thom Cummings: It’s less effective in environments with slow turnaround times or where it’s hard to estimate the factors in the ICE model.

[38:07] Florian: What’s driving Grover’s recent growth?

Thom Cummings: Our growth at Grover is driven by a strong online marketing strategy, partnerships with retailers, and a focus on subscription and retention strategies.

[41:17] Florian: How did you establish partnerships with major retailers?

Thom Cummings: It involved long sales cycles, using our network for introductions, and demonstrating the value we could bring to their business.

[43:15] Florian: What are your current challenges at Grover?

Thom Cummings: Our challenges include scaling the business further, exploring international markets, and adapting our internal structures to support rapid growth.

[44:33] Florian: How did you manage the transition from a small to a larger team?

Thom Cummings: The key was hiring capable people, decentralizing decision-making, and fostering a culture that retained startup speed while adapting to a more complex organization.

[48:09] Florian: How do you maintain your company culture?

Thom Cummings: Our culture values a proactive approach, open debate, fluidity in adapting to change, and collaboration across the organization.

[51:01] Florian: Lastly, how do you invest in yourself?

Thom Cummings: Balancing work and life is crucial. I focus on well-being through exercise, meditation, and reading to bring creativity and empathy to my work.

[52:23] Florian: Any advice for your younger self?

Thom Cummings: Understand your strengths and be true to yourself. Make conscious career choices rather than just going with the flow.

[54:41] Florian: Can you recommend a book?

Thom Cummings: ‘Quiet’ by Susan Cain, about the power of introverts in an extrovert-oriented world.

[55:20] Florian: Thank you, Thom, for the insightful conversation.