The 5 Growth Levers in a Business


Yong-Soo Chung from and the host of the First Class Founders podcast.

Yong-Soo is a serial entrepreneur bootstrapping his business from nothing to $20m over eight years.

Now, he’s on a mission to help founders and creators build an audience, create irresistible product offers, and grow their businesses.

The 5 Growth Levers in a Business

In this episode, he shares the five growth levers and uses the example of building a newsletter to get specific on each topic.

1. Organic Content

Post to hone in on your voice and values to see what works and what doesn’t work.

Have an email set up immediately when you start your business. 

2. Partnerships and Collaboration

This is like what we’re doing here – podcast swap, email swap.

3. Earned Media and Virality

Give people an incentive to share your content, like perks, gifts, or giveaways.

4. Paid advertising and Performance Marketing

See the numbers of what’s working and what’s not with traffic, clicks, etc.

5. Direct Sales

Larger sponsorships with bigger audiences, or an affiliate deal with a connection.

Follow @yongsoochung on X to learn more about Yong-Soo Chung.

Speaker A, Christina:


This is a really cool episode because one of the 5 growth levers is being exemplified in this episode, and that’ll make more sense when you listen to it. But you’re gonna hear from Yong Seung Chung, and I normally don’t have guests on my podcast. You’re just getting lucky with a guest last week and a guest this week, and you are going to hear why I and having a guest and how it all came to be. Because a lot of times people will pitch me to be a guest on this podcast, and I always tell them, I don’t have guests. So you will notice that when Young Soo gets into why he is on the podcast and the agreement we have worked out, why you will sometimes see a guest on my podcast or why you will sometimes see somebody with a shout-out in my newsletter. It is all part of these growth levers in a business. And Young Soo, he knows what he’s talking about. He has bootstrapped a business from nothing to $20,000,000.


He did this in 8 years, and now he’s on a mission to help founders and creators build an audience, create irresistible product offers, and by default, their business will grow. You are gonna learn a lot from this episode. I will advise you to visit because you’re gonna want to have these things written down. These 5 things are gonna act as a checklist when you are creating your marketing strategy. And, of course. Earned media is a part of all of this. Right? Enough of me. Let’s get into it with Yong Soo Chung from


Yong Soo, welcome to Become a Media Maven. I’m excited to learn from you today.


Speaker B, Yong Soo Chung:


Christina, thank you so much for having me. I’m super excited to talk to you today.


Speaker A, Christina:


And let’s get right into it. Like, let’s grow our businesses. You have 5 ways to do that. And I want you to share those 5 ways, but I’m probably gonna interrupt you throughout and just ask for, like, super specific details and examples to make this tangible so we can actually walk away with a list of things to do. So let’s get started.


Speaker B, Yong Soo Chung:


Awesome. Yeah. So, the 5 growth levers, I would say in any online business, are essentially, organic content, like social media content. And then the second thing would be, like partnerships and collaborations. The 3rd growth lever is, earned media and virality. And the 4th lever is, direct sales, and the last 1 is is paid advertising, or I guess, It would be performance


Speaker A, Christina:


marketing. Okay. Well, you know I love number 3, earned media, because that one is my jam. I also love organic content, partnerships and collaboration. That I feel like is such a good way to grow, but that you gotta do some work there. Direct sales, you gotta be good at it. And then paid advertising, you gotta have money for that. So these are, like, 5 amazing things.


And in a perfect world, we would be doing all 5 at once. But, realistically, these things take time. If you don’t have money, you gotta focus on that number 1 lever where you’re focusing on your organic content. So let’s break these down 1 through 5. I mean, we could do a 1,000,000 episodes just getting into the nitty gritty, but why don’t you use yourself as an example when you go through these 5? Because you’ve bootstrapped a business from nothing to over $20,000,000, and you’ve done that in just 8 years. So if you wanna use your experience and share specific examples we go through each one of these, that would be


Speaker B, Yong Soo Chung:


Yeah. So you know what? I’ll do an example, let’s say, using, like, a newsletter because I feel like We really wanna apply this to a certain circumstance or scenario. 


I love this. Okay. Yeah.


Speaker B, Yong Soo Chung:


And so I know you’re you’re big into newsletters right now. I, saw that you did a couple episodes on newsletters, so I thought it’d be perfect to just kinda, like, overlay these 5 growth levers, in the context of growing a newsletter.


Speaker A, Christina:


Oh, that’s perfect. Because I’m sure almost all of my listeners have a newsletter, and we should all be growing them. So this is


Speaker B, Yong Soo Chung:


great. Alright. So When we first start out, my best the best growth lever, in my opinion, is just getting your content out there. And so, you know, This is more about when you first start, it’s more about yourself more than, you know, the external performance of the post. So let’s say, You know, you post on x slash Twitter, and, like, nobody views them. Like, that’s okay. Because basically in the early stages, you want to essentially, Hone in on your voice and hone in on, like, what values you stand for. And so it’s really hard to do that, you know, when you first start.


Speaker B, Yong Soo Chung:


You have to continuously, like, Iterate and see what works, what doesn’t work. But one of the biggest mistake that I that I see people making is not having, a, an email sign up Immediately when they first start out. And so a lot of people might argue like, hey. Like, you know, I don’t have anything to say. Like, I’m not I don’t have a newsletter that I’m posting every week. Like, why would I need an email sign up? Well, I’ll tell you why. It’s because the hardest part about newsletter growth is going from 0 subscribers to a 1000 subscribers, let’s say. And so that 0 to 1,000 is such a grind that I always recommend people to, You know, have a email sign up flow or have a email sign up page at the very least when you first start out.


And so the 1st growth lever is gonna be about organic content. Post, you know, post whatever you feel, test what’s working, what’s not working. And then the second Growth lever that I would that would advise is, is partnership and collaborations. And so once you hit about a 1000 subscribers, Then you can you know, you have more leverage. So you can go back to somebody and say, you know, oh, I have a 1,000 subscribers. Like, let’s do a cross promotion. You know, shout my newsletter and your newsletter, And I’ll do the same vice versa. Right? And so


Speaker A, Christina:


That’s what we did.


Speaker B, Yong Soo Chung:


got that. Exactly. So exactly. So this growth lever Obviously, if you have, like, I don’t know, 200 subscribers, like, no one would no one’s really gonna do a cross promo with you at, like, 200 subscribers. Right? So, It really starts to work around the 1,000 subscribers in a newsletter. And so the key is to layer all these growth levers on top of each other. And so you’re gonna continue to post stuff on social media. And then once you hit about 1,000 subscribers, you’re gonna layer that partnerships And collaborations layer on top.


And then, the next layer here is the virality and, earned media, which I know, Christina, you’re a huge fan of. And, the that part is essentially like You know, once you get content and you should be writing your newsletter here, like, more of a weekly basis, you wanna hone in on what’s working. And then, essentially, like, you wanna gamify, I guess, you know, sharing. So, like, the the the referral program that, I use Beehive. ConvertKit is also very popular. But you can essentially have, perks for people to to share your content. And so what you’re trying to do is kinda gamify that, like, virality component. Like, oh, like, you know, your content is is is so good.


Like, if you share it with 5 friends, you can get, you know, I don’t know, like a PDF file that is only available to your, like, inner community people or whatever it is. Right? And so I think the the the the earned media is is obviously, like, people just talking about your work without you having to ask them for it. And so there, I think the more important part is that you’re actually you know, you need to make good content. And so if you make great content and And and you put it out in the world, people will actually share it because it makes them feel smart when they share it with their own audience. And so, I think that’s kind of the the the 3rd growth lever there that you’re stacking on top of the partnerships, collaborations, and then the organic social content that you’re posting. So those are 3 growth levers. The next one I would layer on top there is is performance marketing. And so performance marketing is just you’re running ads, and so you can grow pretty Predictably when you run ads and the grow the the good thing about performance marketing is that, it’s very, like, I guess, sustained.


And so, like, for example, you know, when we talk about cross promos, like, we don’t know The results. Like, we don’t know how it will do, but with perform performance marketing, like, you know exactly what you’re getting. You know the numbers. Like, oh, I’m getting a dollar or $2 per subscriber. Like, you can control that metric. And so paid advertising, I feel like, honestly, for a lot of small business owners, they they don’t look at it, as a growth lever. Like, they they just kind of ignore it. But to be honest with you, like, if you calculate what your lifetime value of your, Let’s say subscriber is.


And let’s say you’re acquiring a subscriber at $1, and you’re going out there and selling sponsorships or whatever, selling your own courses, And you’re getting your value per customer or per subscriber is, like, $5, then you have a huge arbitrage play where you should be just going all in on, like, Getting subscribers at $1 because you’re gonna be earning $5 for every 1 subscriber. Right? So that that’s the performance marketing. And then finally, direct sales. So direct sales is, really good for b two b transactions. And so b two b transactions are more like sponsorships and larger partnerships you do with, let’s say, like, You know, people creators with huge audiences. And so what I found that works well is, like, you know, if you find a partnership that works, or you find a creator that’s really resonating with your content, then you can reach out and actually do, like, a deal, like, almost like an affiliate deal. Like, hey. I’ll send you a dollar for Each subscriber you get me from your audience because our content and our audiences match so well.


And so if you do that, then, you know, a direct sale there is, like, You know, you’ve you’ve now established this partnership with a, you know, a big creator, let’s say, and, yeah, and they’re getting paid for it. So direct sales and The paid performance advertising kind of like work hand in hand. And so if you do it correctly, you can engineer this like crazy flywheel where You’re working on sponsorship deals. Right? So you’re getting you’re getting money in somehow, and then you’re also selling to your own audience like your courses or, you know, your cohort, whatever mastermind thing you’re selling, and then you channel that money back into your, into Paid advertising, and so you’re growing your audience. And so your audience is is is growing, and then that will enable you to sell more courses. We’ll get more sponsorships. So you got this, like, really nice growth flywheel going, with those, the the last 2, growth levers there. So I know I I I talk a lot.


Speaker A, Christina:


That was good. That was good. I was following. I was following, and I’m taking notes. So all of the listeners can go to become a media and see some text to what we’re saying here. And I love that you mentioned the flywheel. A few months go, I did an episode about a content flywheel and how 1 piece of content can lead to the next and lead to the next.


But this is a great growth flywheel. And I like how we start with things that are free, and we don’t start paying for things until we have the money. Because those first 3 things we’re doing, we’re gonna be doing those strategically, and we’re gonna see success. So then we’re gonna have money to invest in that paid advertising and performance marketing and direct sales. So I love that. I wanna share a couple of things that I do and will speak on my newsletter going through all of these, thinking like, I’m not sure if I can hit every one, but organic content I mean, hello, the cast. I tell people all the time, go to to get on my newsletter. And I do the same in my blog posts, which really are just repurposed forms of the podcast.


Speaker A, Christina:


I do it on social media, so I have the organic content thing covered. Partnerships and collaborations. That is what we are doing. When we are done here on become a media maven, we will go on to 1st class founders, and we will do your podcast. So we’re doing a podcast swap. We also did an email swap. And I don’t even remember who approached 2, but I love an email swap, and I remember that was, I think, the first thing that we did. And Mhmm.


I don’t even know how I got on your list how I found you, but then we just discovered, oh, we’re both in the lab with Jay Clouse too. So


Speaker B, Yong Soo Chung:


That’s right.


Speaker A, Christina:


It’s it’s so easy to do these email swaps and podcast swaps. It just takes time to find the right people and ask people and find some connection and make sure the audience is in alignment. Earned media and virality. I mean, this is pitching yourself to be a guest on a podcast. So maybe you’re not doing a podcast swap. Maybe it’s just you being a guest on a podcast. Maybe it’s somebody shouting you out in their newsletter. Maybe it’s just you being quoted somewhere, and you get a backlink your website and you make it very clear, hey.


This is a sign up for my newsletter. The paid advertising and performance marketing, this is where I don’t do a ton, but I have actually sponsored some newsletters to grow mine. Because if somebody’s already subscribed to a newsletter and their audience is a match for me. I’m going to assume that they would like to be subscribed to another. So I have bought ads in Justin Welch’s newsletter before. I have paid for ads in, Josh Spector’s newsletter before. So I have purchased ads. That’s paid advertising, performance mock marketing.


And direct sales, I think this is where, newsletter wise, I haven’t really done a lot. I did pay I feel like there’s a lot of gray area here with paid advertising and direct sales. I have paid to speak on stage before, and I paid to speak on stage because I was selling an online course. So I turned a profit for that. But I guess could you maybe break down the difference between paid advertising and direct sales?


Speaker B, Yong Soo Chung:


Yeah. Absolutely. So pay I wouldn’t I would say paid advertising is more about, you know, doing things that you can measure. So things like, you know, you run an ad for your newsletter on Meta or or x, And then you see how it does. So it’s it’s really about performance marketing. And so you can still do that with, like you know, you mentioned you sponsor some newsletters, and so you can say, okay. Well, I paid x amount for, you know, for this sponsorship, and I got, I don’t know, like, a 100 subscribers or and and then you can calculate, was that effective? Right? And so performance marketing is really about, you know, measuring how a campaign does. And and then I would say direct sales is more like it’s it’s a little bit less about performance marketing.


It’s more about, You know, I guess, paid partnerships or paid, opportunities that come from 1 on 1 actions with you know, there’s just, like, a really good synergy between 2 companies, and they’re like, okay. Let’s do something, but then the value exchange has to make sense on both sides. And so I would say, like, The direct sales is more like, you know, it’s more of a less on Kind of like the numbers game, and it’s more about, like, relationships and trying to get the value exchange to really, to match up. So I think that’s kind of the the big difference there.


Speaker A, Christina:


Got it. Got it. Okay. That’s very clear to me. I feel like then with direct sales, the ROI would be higher because it’s almost like you’re you’re getting warm leads. And I feel like with paid advertising, you could be reaching out to cold leads. So I like that. I like the direct sales more than the performance marketing.


And it’s funny because everybody I feel like this is what I experienced as the owner of a PR agency when I speak to potential clients. They all love the performance marketing because of the numbers. They can see their ROI down to the decimal point, down to the penny, and I’m like, yes. You can see all of that. You can see the results, like, line by line. However, that doesn’t mean the organic stuff, the partnerships, the earned media, and the direct sales doesn’t work better. Just because you can’t track it the way you can track clicks, doesn’t mean it doesn’t work better. Because in my belief, that stuff works better because it is more of a warm audience.


It’s more organic. People pay more attention to it. You get the authority. You get the credibility. But for some reason, people put so much weight on those numbers and those KPIs and all of that, which, yeah, they can be helpful, but, like, there’s more to marketing than the numbers. There’s referrals and word-of-mouth, and many times that stuff is so hard to track.


Speaker B, Yong Soo Chung:


Yeah. Exactly. So I I would say, direct sales are, I would say, bigger opportunities in a lot of ways, but it’s not as, Let’s say predictive and, you know, it’s hard to track performance. Right? But, there’s way more upside. If you find the right partner and you guys out a way to do it. Like, exchange value in a way where it makes sense, then, you know, it’s a win win, and the upside is way higher.


Speaker A, Christina:


Yeah. I love that. Okay. So people have their marching orders. Like, look at these 5 growth levers and decide what you are going to do in each one. And let’s, like, pick 1 call to action. Like you said, the goal is to build a newsletter, for example. Like, you don’t want to pick 1 to build a newsletter, 1 to build your podcast, one to get more people to download this lead magnet, one to get more sales calls here.


Like, then you’re focusing on way too many things, and you’re only gonna be doing a little bit here and a little bit there. I think the best way to attack this is have 1 goal and write down what you are doing for each one of these growth levers. Is that what you


Speaker B, Yong Soo Chung:


suggest? Yeah. You know, I also like to stack these growth levers. And so it’s almost like you can think of it as, Like, for example, you wanna do the organic content, and that should be kind of an engine. Right? That, like, that should never stop. But then you add on the layer of, you know, partnerships and collaborations. Right? And then you lay layer on the the virality or media. Like, think about these things. Right? And then And then you add on, like, the performance marketing and then the direct sales.


Like, so these are things that are that you stack on top of each other. And so I would really urge, like, your audience to, like, think about okay. Do I have a a channel for for partnership and collaborations? Like, am I doing them frequently? You know, am I Am I trying to engineer more and more shared media, earned media? And so, like, for example, like, what I like to do is I when I bring on guests for the podcast, I like to, you know, ask them to to share the episode, and, like, I’ll do a really good job on the The episode editing, like, I have a you know, producer is amazing. And usually, the guests will share the episode because it’s like, it turns out really well. And so That’s earned media. Right? And so you can kind of, like, think about different ways to engineer these, like, mechanisms to help you grow. And so I think it’s really important to think about this holistically from all 5, growth levers and stack them on top of each other because that’s what that’s how you’re gonna The hockey stick growth curve that everyone loves. Right? So


Speaker A, Christina:


That is awesome. Thank you so much, Kyungsoo. This was so helpful. Tell us where people can find out more about you. Obviously, they can visit 1st class Since you’re here in the podcast app, visit them, because he’s got a great podcast. And and what else? You have an amazing newsletter. What else, Yongsoo? Where else can people find you?


Speaker B, Yong Soo Chung:


People can find me on x Slash Twitter at, Yongsoochungs. It’s y o n g s o o c h u n g. And, Yeah. Christina, you’re gonna be coming on my podcast soon, and so I would urge your audience. Obviously, They love you, so, that’s gonna be a fantastic episode. So definitely, tune in to the podcast episode, with Christina.


Speaker A, Christina:


And you can see this growth lever number 2, partnership and collaboration in action. Like, this is how it works. 


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