Growth Studies



Written by

Ethan Garr & Sean Ellis

Helping Five Million Millennials Become Investors

Growth lies at the intersection of product-market fit and mission, so it comes as little surprise that Acorns, a company with a clear mission to provide simple tools to help millennials overcome the challenges of investing, has grown into a platform of more than 5 million passionate investors.


In this growth study, we dig into Acorn’s approach, learning how they have balanced and organized teams, processes, and brand, to drive continuous and powerful growth. In their story, you will find concepts and strategies that can be applied and repurposed to help any organization ready to make the transition from product-market fit to breakout growth.


What is Acorns?

When they founded Acorns, father and son Walter and Jeff Cruttenden, saw the challenges Jeff’s generation faced in saving and investing money. With skills from Walter’s financial investing experience and Jeff’s digital acumen, they set about creating a solution. They started with a product targeted towards Millennials that saves and invests a few pennies each time you make a purchase. When you buy a $1.69 coffee, Acorn rounds up to $2 and automatically invests the remaining $.31. Appropriately called “Round-up”, it had the key ingredients of Product-Market Fit.


Millennials often think they don’t make enough money to invest, they worry they do not know where to start, and they fear their inexperience will lead to costly financial mistakes. Acorns identified these pain-points, and offered a solution that would eliminate all the fear and risk for this market. From there they could show users their progress, make them feel good about saving and investing, and build trust. Eventually, with that trust capital in hand, they could offer more advanced features and options including an IRA Service called Later and a debit card service called Spend.


The authenticity of the Acorns mission is apparent in every aspect of their brand, and even their subscription tiers of $1 to $3 per month reflect the company’s commitment to building this safe environment for its young audience. With that authenticity, it is easy to understand how growth has primarily been driven by brand advocates, and why on iOS alone, Acorns has garnered nearly 500,000 reviews with an average rating of 4.7 stars.


Acorns’ Growth Engine

Their organic growth is a testament to that convergence of product-market fit and mission, but their overall breakout growth is the result of an intentional growth process. As a financial tool Acorn’s activation process requires users to connect their bank accounts to the service without getting scared away by required regulatory and compliance disclosures. The growth team has mastered a relentless focus on testing and optimization to overcome these and other hurdles.


As a primarily mobile app experience, experimentation has to follow the company’s rigid release schedule. Every two weeks the product development team submits a new release to the app store. The growth team must bundle their experiments into each release. Despite this challenging schedule, smooth onboarding, impressive engagement, and elegant referral loops showcase the effectiveness of the team’s growth testing program.


Interestingly, these nuances of Acorn’s organization also demonstrate how breakout growth is a function of the collective efforts of the broader team. As another example, Acorn’s growth team did not replace the company’s marketing team, which manages brand and Public Relations efforts. Hila Qu, VP of Growth, attributes the ability to grow with these kinds of team compositions to a strong sense of mission across the organization. She believes their relatively young team has a true kinship with its user base, which leads to the passion for the mission that drives the company’s alignment and success.


In just over five years, with an approach to growth that takes friction and fear out of the savings and investing experience for its 5 million users, Acorns has become an outstanding example of breakout growth.


You can learn more about their incredible journey, and how it might apply to your organization by listening to Sean Ellis’ Breakout Growth Podcast interview with Hila Qu, VP of Growth at Acorns.