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Achieving rapid growth through word of mouth with Immad Akhund

The Mercury CEO goes under the hood on how the company quickly gained prominence and earned an esteemed reputation.

By Adam O'Donnell, Sit Down Startup podcast host

Last updated November 17, 2023

Mercury, a banking service for startups, was launched in 2019 and has since grown to 357 employees and tens of thousands of customers. CEO and co-founder Immad Akhund joined us to share some advice on classic strategies, ambition, and how to spread the word about your business. Here are his tips.

Encourage your investors to talk about you on social media

Mercury was founded to provide banking for startups. To attract startup founders, Akhund took an organic approach to marketing. “What worked for us was Twitter,” he says. Mercury had 60 angel investors at the seed round, and Akhund asked all of them to tweet about the company. The impactful tweets from A16z, Elad Gil, Justin Kan, and other tech influencers helped drive the initial growth.

As an experienced entrepreneur who founded multiple companies, Akhund knew that most startups were dissatisfied with their business bank accounts. He was confident Mercury would win customers because it fulfilled an obvious need in the tech industry. “That bit wasn’t hard—the hard bit was trust,” he says. “Do you trust your hard-earned business money to a new startup that just launched? Getting these relatively well-known tech influencers to tweet about us gave us distribution, and it also helped bridge this trust gap that existed. That was very important.”

Akhund also knew the organic approach was key to getting Mercury in front of founders. He explains, “We deliberately targeted startups because the way founders make a decision about whether to use a tool is not through a Google search—they ask other founders.”

According to Akhund, this word-of-mouth approach continues to be successful, driving about 55 percent of the company’s growth.

Make sure your message encapsulates the scale of what you’re trying to achieve

While the investor tweets certainly helped to spur Mercury’s growth, Akhund insists that messaging matters, especially when it comes to organic marketing. He has been a member of the startup founder community since 2007, so he understands that creating interest in a startup relies on two key factors: ambition and simple messaging.

“I think the important thing is to be doing something ambitious. We were like, ‘Hey, we are building a bank.’ That’s something that is ambitious, and it’s a hard thing to think about.” Although introducing and explaining a new banking service can be difficult, Akhund developed a straightforward message that he used throughout his organic marketing campaign. “The message was ‘banking for startups.’ We wanted people to say that over and over.”

Participate in podcasts or start your own and chat with other founders

Organic marketing was so effective for Mercury that Akhund pursued any opportunity to talk about his startup. “When it comes to early marketing, I am a big fan of trying lots of stuff,” he says. “I don’t think you can really know what’s going to work and what will scale—you have to throw a lot of stuff out there. I went on a bunch of podcasts, and we ran our own podcast. My thinking was, ‘The Twitter thing worked so how can we generate more tweets?’” He invited subject matter experts with large followings onto the podcast to gain more exposure for his company while educating his audience.

Akhund also developed a platform called Mercury Raise, which helps founders fundraise and network. He says, “One of the things to do to drive marketing is to do the things that don’t make you money. When it’s all about, ‘I am going to personally make money from this thing,’ it’s easy for other people to tune out. But if you do a helpful thing that is educational for the community, that drives marketing for free. It is cheaper to do that than to spend millions of dollars on billboards.”

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