(Startup) Growing Pains: What You Need To Know

Yup, that’s growth for you.

When you’re in the business of growth hacking, about 90 per cent of the people you meet think that you can work your magic on anything just through creative marketing or something equally outrageous.

That is such a misconception.


There is no blueprint

Growth hacker, growth marketer, or growth lead — call us whatever you want — we have our fingers in the digital marketing, conversion optimisation, UX, and more, pies at once. We use creative marketing and virality to achieve our goals, but these are merely a fraction of the entire growth strategy.

Customer acquisition guru Neil Patel was spot on when he said, “The truth is that you cannot dedicate your marketing resources on a bunch of growth hacks you read in an article. There isn’t a blueprint or a checklist that you’ll find, even in the deep corners of the internet.”

I know that listicles are easy to digest (maybe because they’re numbered?), and seem to be a compendium of all the important things we need to know in order to take immediate action. However, I have to agree with Neil on this one — listicles that give you ’10 Growth Hacks’ or even the bumper ones that list 100, are very unlikely to give you the results you want.

They tend to be very misleading — to be frank, there is no such thing as one or two or even ten nifty hacks to growth or success floating around on the interwebs.


How do you achieve growth then?

My team and I have thought long and hard about the core principles of growth.

We have had long discussions on Google Hangouts and on Slack, over weekends and margaritas, to try and condense our mindset and practice into easily digestible and actionable nuggets.

It’s taken us a few months, but we’ve managed to narrow it down to four areas every business absolutely needs to focus on in order to get ‘growth’ right. We’ve presented it in a list, if it makes you feel better:

1. An understanding of your customers

You need to find out what kind of problems your customers have that are related to your product or idea, how they want them to be solved, what your direct and indirect competition is doing, how they are doing it, how big your potential market is, and where to find your customers online. Get under the skin of the people who will eventually pay you cold hard cash. Without this, failure is pretty much imminent and pretty much assured.

2. A value proposition that your customers want

One of the biggest reasons why 90 per cent of startups fail, is because founders fall in love with their product, not the problem they’re meant to solve. So what if your product is pretty and has the coolest app? If it doesn’t clearly address a problem that your potential customers are facing, you will never be able to achieve snowball growth. It is possible to generate revenue and growth with even a plain Minimum Viable Product, if the value it brings to the user is clear.

3. A basic retention strategy

Once you have amassed a sufficient number of users who see the value of your product, reel them in. Make sure your product is easy to understand and use, and make sure you deliver whatever it is they expect to receive. If the whole process related to your product isn’t pain-free and if they don’t have an “Aha!” moment, they will never make that transition from free to paid, let alone build your user base for you through referrals.

4. The right Key Performance Indicators

Identifying and monitoring the appropriate metrics are absolutely necessary to give you a full understanding of how users are using your product, and will pave the way for future strategies and overall success. Make sure to focus on specific actions that map out the customer journey in your business. For example, e-commerce businesses could track the number of accounts created, number of active users and number of purchases made per user. Comparing these metrics across a reasonable time period will allow you to identify the causes of user churn, and will lead you to the conversion optimisation solution.


I have shared this with many, and at this point, several have told me that the three most important things we have identified sound more like Startup 101, compared to what they were expecting from Growth Hacking 101. That’s true though — any growth hacker worth his mettle will testify that the first pieces of data they look at are the ones that confirm that your product is something that users want or that easily solves a problem for them.

Growth, especially at unicorn scale, will never happen without product-market fit.


Growth is always going to be a hotly contested topic, with many brandishing tried-and-tested ways to achieve it, and with others insisting that it’s down to sheer dumb luck.

Both are wrong. That kind of success doesn’t come easy, and it definitely doesn’t happen by following the status quo.

For everyone new to startups and growth — this mindset required for growth and growth hacking is here to stay.

Written by Annette — Content & Growth Strategist, Growth Hacking Asia

An abridged version was contributed to The Working Capitol’s Capitol Press publication (Edition No. 4, 15 April 2016)

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