(This essay first appeared on my blog.)
Quick! What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you see the following headline?
How this startup grew from 250 to 5,000 users in 24 hours with this simple growth hack
Most of you would probably say, “Whoa! How can I do that with my startup?” It’s an amazeballs kick-ass result. Nobody can deny that. But the danger of this is that a lot of recent popular articles on growth hacking is focused on sensationalizing results instead of focusing on the daily grind in getting those results.
Look at some of the top posts in growthhackers.com for 2014:
- How we Figured Out What Makes People Love Ghost 1,000% More
- 15 Twitter Hacks That Will Turn You Into a Twitter Ninja
- 10 Brilliant Marketing Stunts That Put Startups On The Map Read
- The 3 hacks that got SpringSled 138,790 users in less than 40 days
- How to Gather 100,000 Emails in One Week (Includes Successful Templates, Code, Everything You Need)
I betcha you clicked on one of the links above ☺
It’s so tempting, right?
How the hell did they get 138,790 users in 40 days, or make people love their startup 1,000% more, or get 100,000 emails in 7 days? I want to know! I want the same results for my startup.
This is why the word “growth hack” has become synonymous with magic. Other people have found the magical beans that turned their seedling of a startup into a giant beanstalk. Why can’t you get lucky? So you roll up your sleeves and start digging everywhere hoping you find that one nugget of gold that will turn your fledging startup into a rocket.
The reality is that entrepreneurs who are really focused on growth focus on the process instead of chasing the outcome.
Focus on The Process, Less On The Outcome
People focus too much on outcome and too little on the process of how to get there.
A lot of people like to look at the outcome and think that it’s an overnight success. Don’t be fooled. Overnight success are rare. A lot of “magical” results were months or even years in the making. So be careful when you read what growth hacks worked for others.
That’s why you should focus more on the process and less on the outcome. Here are a few reasons why:
1. The Growth Hacks You Read Online Will Probably Not Work for You
First, a growth hack or trick that worked for someone else’s startup might not work for your startup. An entrepreneur was once telling me through a 1-on-1 mentorship call that a growth hack he found on a blog wasn’t work for him. I looked at the blog post. It was a growth hack for a B2C startup. His startup was B2B. Obviously it wouldn’t work!
There are other reasons why the growth hacks you read online won’t work for you. It could be because of different business model. Or you could be in the same business but your target customer segment is not the same. It could also be because your startup is in a different market or country or region. There are a TON of reasons why a growth hack that worked for someone will NOT work for you.
Actually, it’s safe to assume that most of the growth hack you read online will NOT work for you. Then work towards proving that wrong.
2. Growth Hacks Don’t Last Forever
Second, growth hacks or tricks are never forever. The stuff you read online right now will become obsolete sometime in the future.
A good example of this is the Craigslist hack that AirBnb founders used to propel their startup. Airbnb offered users who listed properties on Airbnb the opportunity to post them to Craigslist as well — despite the fact that there was no sanctioned way from Craigslist to do so. AirBnB also used multiple gmail accounts to spam craigslist and grow their listings quickly and at almost no cost. But, Craigslist engineer got smart and started blocking airbnb.com link.
The lesson here is that channels for growth don’t last forever. In the tech space, things change and move really fast. Customer demands and needs are ever shifting. More and more startups (i.e. competition) are saturating the same customer acquisition channels that your startup depends on right now for growth. There will be a point when you need to start looking for new channels for growth.
3. Don’t cheat yourself of learning
If you focus on the outcome and copy-and-pasting the growth hack or trick you read online, you cheat yourself of learning. At the end of the day, those who win are not those who copy the solution of others. They are the ones who find new channels, new customers segments or new business models. And you get there by continually exploring and feeding your own natural curiosity.
Growth hackers are curious about everything, so it’s only natural that they possess multidisciplinary knowledge. They study marketing, products, and engineering, and are often experts in at least one of these disciplines.
Growth is about experimenting
At the early stage of a startup, founders need to focus on finding a scalable and repeatable business model. Most of you use the Lean Startup principles and scientific approach to find a problem, deliver value to target customers and gain traction in customer acquisition.
Once you’ve found product/market fit, the next step is to grow really fast. You can use the same methodical, rigorous and experimental approach of the Lean Startup to grow your startup
With the hundreds of entrepreneurs I’ve helped through 1-on-1 mentorship calls, I don’t call it a growth hack. I call it a growth experiment. A growth experiment process I use is as follows:
1. Ask the right questions. Examples are:
- What will make people come back to my app everyday?
- How do my users become passion evangelist?
- Are my users seeing my unique value proposition right away?
Note that these questions should have no easy answer. That’s why you’re going to craft an experiment to find answers.
Also, really dig deep with your team. Don’t settle for shallow questions.
2. Pick a metric and set a goal to help you decide the success or failure of your experiment. Read Lean Analytics book about picking good, actionable metrics vs. vanity metrics.
3. Pick a customer segment to help you answer your questions. Not all users are created equally. Are you targeting new users with your experiments? Maybe, you’re targeting users who have added items to their cart but haven’t completed their purchase. Or maybe you’re targeting your customers in a specific geography. It’s important to pick a specific customer segment for your experiment.
You can segment your users by geography, channels, behavior, demography, purchase history or activity. You can find out more information about different ways to segment your customers here.
4. Craft a falsifiable hypothesis statement.
We believe that
[doing this / creating this experience / exploiting this channel]
[for this customer segment]
will achieve [this outcome].
We will know we are successful when we see [this signal from the market].
5. Run the experiment for a certain time period. Gather and learn from your results.
You repeat these steps as many times as necessary. This growth process can help you find an acquisition channel,
Why The Growth Process Is More Important Than The Growth Hack
I’m reminded of the story of Thomas Edison in his biography “Edison: His Life and Inventions”. He would spend hours, late into the night in his laboratory at a bench about three feet wide and twelve to fifteen feet long, on which there were hundreds of little test cells that had been made up by his corps of chemists and experimenters. He was seated at this bench testing, figuring, and planning.
One time his long time associate Walter Mallory found out that Edison had made over 9,000 experiments in trying to devise this new type of storage battery, but had not produced a single thing that promised to solve the question.
In view of this immense amount of thought and labor, Mallory asked, ‘Isn’t it a shame that with the tremendous amount of work you have done you haven’t been able to get any results?’
Edison turned on me like a flash, and with a smile replied: ‘Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results! I know several thousand things that won’t work.’
That’s the same attitude you need to approach growth. Growth hacking is not a magical bean stalk, a goose that lays golden egg or a unicorn that poops rainbows. It’s a methodical, rigorous and experimental approach to growth.
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