How Gamma Acquired 10 Million Users in 9 Months
Their founder shares 8 keys to their massive growth
Not many founders will ever know what it’s like to go from 0 to over 10 million users — let alone to have it happen in 9 months.
But Grant Lee does.
He co-founded Gamma 3 years ago as an alternative for slide decks, but growth only took off last year when he supercharged their product with AI-powered instant content generation.
Now their mission has expanded to make it frictionless and effortless to create any type of content — not just slides. What if a prompt you wrote could be turned into a slide deck, interactive website, or image carousel for social media, all at once and in seconds?
I sat down with Grant this week and he shared the 8 key factors behind Gamma’s massive and rapid success.
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Build Products without Ceilings
A year ago I wrote about how Elon Musk approaches problems from first principles, and how it leads to truly innovative solutions.
Grant similarly called out how founders can identify true 10x opportunities — by looking for problems that don’t have ceilings.
For example, Microsoft PowerPoint has been adding features for 30 years. If you’re just trying to create a better version of a slide deck, you’re going to lose. Even if you are 10x better on one dimension, chances are you’re lacking in ten others than PowerPoint has covered.
You just won’t get to true parity fast enough to capture their market.
Instead, look for what limitations existing solutions have by nature of their design. What can they simply not do, due to how they're structured? Slides don’t adopt any advantages of modern web tooling (responsive design, interactivity, malleability).
In Gamma’s case, this meant thinking of slides in terms of primitive building blocks that users could mash together — much like they do in newer productivity tools like Notion or Canva.
This added level of direction for users, combined with the ability for AI to create the finished product simply from a typed-out prompt, has created a new and faster experience for users — and also opened Gamma’s market up beyond just slides.
With this approach it may not be obvious early on that your solution is going to be right. You need to be ok with that ambiguity, and just build on your hypotheses over time. But it does give you a shot to create something big.
Creators Kickstart Organic Growth
Grant shared that over 80% of users say that they discovered Gamma from a friend or via social media, and the remaining 20% is largely organic search engine results (they haven’t done any intentional SEO yet).
They’ve achieved this by leveraging creators. The limited amount of paid spend they’ve used has been to use creators in the AI space to kickstart the conversation.
Since people have loved Gamma once they’ve discovered it, this strategy means they haven’t had to ramp up spend in order to ramp up growth — every dollar they spend has compounding returns that have led to millions of new users in a short period of time.
This is exactly what hundreds of our early users are using my new product Megaphone for, by the way. It lets you get big, reputable creators in your niche to expose your product and content to their audiences on social media.
A Cashflow-Positive Mindset Leads to Critical Thinking
During the ZIRP era it was too easy for founders to use spending on growth to avoid having to answer questions about whether or not their startup had true PMF.
Constraints breed creativity.
By running your startup with the stated goal of being cashflow positive, you force your team to take ownership of every dollar just a bit more and consider outside-the-box solutions earlier. It also can influence team members to be willing to go beyond their stated areas of ownership to get things done.
This allowed Grant and his team to optimize their onboarding flow:
By introducing AI-generation into the flow, they ensured that every new user would actually see the product in action. However, this could have gotten expensive quickly. Having capital to experiment let them invest in different configurations — testing out top-tier model and output quality (which increased conversion), vs cheaper versions that reduced it — which led them to the optimal balance between conversion and spend.
It was refreshing to hear this from a venture-backed founder who’s undergoing the insane growth.
The typical advice you hear is that when growth spikes is to aggressively double down as much as possible, especially when you’re in a competitive space like Gamma is.
But it’s important to run your startup with consistent principles. And if you’re seeing a spike in users, you’re also likely seeing a spike in revenue. So you should be able to reinvest without losing touch with being cashflow positive.
Having Cash Allows for Experimentation
A better use of some of that capital is continued experimentation.
In a world with an emerging new class of startups, the Silicon Valley Small Business, thinking of investment capital specifically as a means to learn more about your users faster through experimentation is worth considering.
The more you learn, the more you’ll be able to iterate to a better product that people will spontaneously share with friends. And as Sam Altman says, that’s really the goal of any startup — and it’s really hard to do.
Communities Keep You Accountable
Gamma received an investment from the early-stage accelerator / community South Park Commons and the previous two startups Grant worked at both went through Y Combinator.
He mentioned how critical having a community of founders has been.
Having founders 1-2 steps ahead of you who’ve recently solved the same problems you’re solving now helps you move faster, and being around founders who are at the same stage you’re currently at creates an environment where you can ask any and all “dumb” questions.
Everyone’s going through the same set of challenges but with slight variations or in a different order.
Additionally Grant mentioned that communities help founders stay accountable to their goals. That’s actually why I launched our monthly One Big Thing accountability challenge as part of my founder community.
Members share their one big goal for the month and post daily updates. We track every update and support each other:
One random person who hits their goal and misses less than 5 daily updates gets a shoutout in the newsletter and on my social channels! You’ll see January’s winner here soon.
Build Relationships, Don’t Speed Date
Common advice during the ZIRP era was to “run a process” when fundraising, which basically amounted to meeting as many investors as possible within a few weeks and trying to convince them you had a hot deal to make them invest out of FOMO.
This still happens for some truly very hot deals, and there are advantages for founders to minimize the time spent fundraising rather than building or talking to users, but in general this isn’t how fundraising works in 2024.
Grant’s strategy has always been to “build relationships early and often” regardless of whether he’s looking to bring on more capital or not.
This helps him build trust with investors and also gives him clarity on who to go talk to when he actually is looking to raise.
He also uses this approach for hiring — specifically by always spending 5-10% of his time talking to potential candidates or experts in areas he may need to hire for in the future.
There are a ton of benefits to this. Primarily that you
Immediately level up your own knowledge and can use it to improve your startup before hiring someone
Build a warm network of folks who may be the right fit down the road, or know someone who is
Side note: Grant also mentioned he’s hired folks this way by setting up paid work trials, which allow you to actually work side-by-side with someone for a period of time before formally hiring them. Lenny Rachitsky wrote a great piece on work trials recently, inspired by the process Linear shared publicly on X.
Issues are Blameless
Even if you’re not growing from 0 to 10 million users in 9 months like Gamma did, you will likely experience growth spikes that cause parts of your product to break.
When this happens, don’t cast blame on members of your team.
Grant mentioned a concept we used when I was building products at both Uber and Airbnb — a blameless post-mortem.
A post-mortem is a process you run once an issue has been fixed to understand the root cause of it. Typically you’ll have a doc template the person leading the post-mort will fill out, identifying the cause.
The port-mort gets shared with the team, often in a meeting where it is discussed.
You want to go beyond fixing the issue, you want to understand it — this helps ensure you never have the same type of issue happen more than once.
Most importantly, though, having this process be inherently blameless keeps trust high on your team. At a startup things are going to break no matter what and assigning blame to a specific member(s) of your team will only lead to others trusting them less and/or them second-guessing themselves.
This is a big topic — I’d recommend reading The Pragmatic Engineer’s guide to port-mortem best practices.
Team Continuity Matters
Grant started Gamma 3 years ago before the recent AI boom, and has iterated on the product multiple times up until Gamma took off in 2023 but he’s been able to retain key members of his team over time.
Having that continuity is a competitive advantage.
Every startup has a historical decision tree that has led them to where they are today. The more people who know that decision history, both on the technical side and business side, the less time you’ll waste chasing the wrong rabbit holes.
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