In the age of a-startup-for-everyone, founders are hard at work trying to make something people want. Then the hard part begins — figuring out how to let people know about it. For engineering minded founders, the first part is fun. The second part is a chore. Understanding and optimizing your message takes skill and a lot of practice, while requiring a distinctly different skill set.
Thus, the growth hacker was born. It’s a logical compromise between boring old marketing, and data driven engineering culture.
For what it’s worth, while most people find the job description of “growth hacker” distasteful, I think it’s great. As someone with a background in marketing, and an engineers brain, it strikes the right mix of pragmatic and strategic. “Of course!”, I tell myself, “building systems to automate growth is the best way to build a sustainable business!”
But the profession in general has fallen on hard times recently. In the short time since its inception, growth hackers at large have gone from pioneering creative ways to increase distribution, to falling back on spammy, sinister bullshit from the early days of the Internet.
The most recent high-profile offender is @appmeerkat, the real-time video broadcasting app that’s taken over Twitter.
I was perturbed to discover that they made me follow them on Twitter during signup, without telling me. Super. Lame.
Not too long ago @crossfaderapp, we shipped an update that forgot to include an email opt-in button on the sign up form. As a team we decided to accept the fact the we weren’t giving users a chance to opt-in, and thus didn’t add them to our marketing email list. It sucks from a growth point of view, but we decided it was a better user experience.
While it’s never the easiest choice, I think we made the right one. It is more important to respect our users and value their attention, than send them email they didn’t directly ask for. I implore everyone who is responsible for their startup’s growth to do the same.
Make the best choice for your users — say ‘No’ to shady tactics. Instead, focus on making the best product you can, and find natural growth opportunities.
We all now about how Airbnb leveraged Criagslist. The found a clever way to leverage the scale of the incumbent rental listing server. And for their forward thinking, they were rewarded with an influx of traffic and customers.
In that regard we should all strive to be like Airbnb. By being first to identify mutually positive growth opportunities for our users, not just spamming them, or secretly making them follow us on Twitter.
P.s. — In fairness to the Meerkat team, @benrbn was open and honest about their decision to auto follow on Twitter. Props to him for being transparent about it.