My Notes from the Growth Hackers 2017 Conference

Steven Cox
May 26, 2017 · 14 min read

I attended the Growth Hackers conference in LA this past week, put on by Sean Ellis and the fine folks at Growth Hackers (check out their site at

Here are my notes, unedited. You’ll find that I wrote notes on how to apply what I learned to my own business, TakeLessons, so they may not be clear, unencumbered, and useful to you in all aspects. But if you read through them, I’m sure you’ll find gems you can use.

If you quote any part of these, make sure you’re giving credit to the speaker instead of me. Thanks!

I can be reached on my site, Steven Cox.

Growth Hackers Conference 2017

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Summary of My Biggest TakeAways

Knowing our Customers

A point I heard over and over was that we must know our customers, their pain points and their motivation. I feel this is a weakness of ours on both sides. Do we really understand our users and are we using it to inform our product decisions?

Our North Star Metric

To me, our NSM is “Monthly Sessions”. That number culminates all the other things we want: quality Partners, retained students, sales, traffic, Live, After School, and revenue. All of can be accomplished if we continuously provide value. That value is measured by Monthly Sessions. Takeaway — move towards one big number that we can rally our team behind.

What should drive our decisions.

Revenue cannot be the paramount driver to our decisions. We should focus on delivering more value to more users.

People hate studying, but they love to play games.

The talk by Gina G of Duolingo resonated with me. They have built a learning community of 150m people with zero advertising. They have done this through gamifcation, badge systems, “Streaks”, and continuous positive feedback using positive psychology principles. Takeaway: For TL Live — we should institute the idea of STREAKS


As a company, we’ve done a crappy job turning users into fans into evangelists. We need to get WOM religion. Really spend time on knowing their problems and solving them. We want to blow people’s socks off with a 10x product, help them understand our mission, and then giving them the tools to help promote us.

Takeaway: community, referral, WOM moves up on the roadmap. Think about how we can utilize our community to help activate and retain other members through their own content.

Partner Onboarding Takeaways

  • Make sure our onboarding is extremely quick. Get the user in the product. Educate them when they need it vs. upfront.
  • Drop them into the UI and prompt them to take the first key retention-correlated action. In order to do this, we have to know what that action is.

Partner Retention Takeaways

  • Help partners learn how to keep their students longer.
  • Minimizing churn (with Partners and students) and maximizing re-engagement is more important than sales.

Takeaway: Make Big Bets

It’s important to make big bets. Small iterative changes are good, but we must take some big swings. One big bet can be more of a game changer than 100 small things.


Experiment with Bots within FB messenger for the Partner community.

Sean Ellis — Busting the Myths of Growth Hacking

Definition of Growth Hacking

  • Rapid experimentation across full customer journey with a clear hypothesis.
  • Scrutinize everything by its impact on driving sustainable customer and revenue growth.
  • ** Must know your customers and what motivates them.
  • Different than marketing. Marketing generally is limited to external channels, landing pages, and email. GH is cross functional effort.
  • Dev skills are helpful, but not critical. A growth team should include a rapid prototype developer.
  • Able to run tests anywhere along the customer journey so as long as it moves the North Star Metric.

What matters for sustainable growth


  • Product Market Fit. You must have the right product required for sustainable growth. Our product cannot be a nice-to-have. It needs to be a MUST HAVE.
  • North Star Metric (NSM): It’s the aggregate value that people get from our product. AirBnB — Nights Booked is their NSM
  • Growth Model. The relationship of variables that move the NSM
  • Leverage. What are the best opportunities to accelerate growth
  • Testing. Discovery and optimizations of growth drivers


  • Analyze — Ideas — Prioritize — Test — Repeat

Platform Knowledge

  • The deeper we understand specific channels operate turns into a huge competitive advantage


  • Focus on delivering more value to more customers. Use testing process to discover and optimize tactics.
  • More testing = more discovery (it’s critical to test at a high tempo)

Jamie Siminoff — CEO Ring (

  • Clear Mission — To Reduce Crime in Neighborhoods This is their key to growth.
  • Their best ad is emotional vs. product features.
  • Your breakout will probably not come from following the crowd.
  • Make yourself accessible. It gets rid of filtered information. Keep my ear extremely close to the ground.
  • To breakout, have a gut instinct — even when the numbers don’t show what you think they will.
  • Brand is important to win market share

Gina Gotthilf — Head of Growth at Duolingo @ginag

  • 150m people, no paid advertising
  • Education helps people get ahead. Supposed to equalize the playing field.
  • Learning a language can double or triple people’s earnings
  • 1.2B are learning a language right now
  • Learning English for a better opportunity
  • Many are poor

Two problems

  • It’s hard to learn a language
  • They have millions of data points that help them see the best way to learn. In 34 hours on Duolingo, it is the equivalent of a college semester.
  • How to get people to do it.
  • People hate studying, but they love to play games.
  • They have found continuous positive feedback works to retain.
  • Badge system is showing increases in DAU’s, D7, retention, and “add friends”
  • ** STREAK. Coach + Streak = 5% DAUs
  • Notifications — another way to drive usage (DAUs)
  • All of these changes combined, Day 1 retention has gone from 15% to 50%

Discoverable Worldwide

  • App store images, international localization
  • SEO must be landing page for the topic and an explanation of what the company is.
  • They used PR as their main growth hack
  • PR around the world

Solve the right problems

  • Look at the potential return (1–4) vs. the resources we have to put towards it (1–4). Then stack rank.

Nelon Peiris — VP Growth Transferwise @nilanp

  • The growth curve is inverted with more money spent. It flattens out. The infinitely scalable marketing channel doesn’t exist.
  • What is the problem marketing is solving?
  • Start with this. “Be transparent on how much consumers are getting charged when they use exchange rate”
  • Affiliates
  • Find websites that have built audiences with our target demographics. Sit down with them and show them why our systems/products is better.
  • Don’t build marketing teams that are focused on spending money. Instead, spend time on the problem we are trying to solve and spend our effort and time there.

Getting to traction using WOM

  • WOM is the only way to get more users at a cheaper price
  • “NPS Richter scale” — by moving up on NPS, it exponentially increases WOM.
  • Optimizing for NPS is one of the best ways to increase viral coefficient.
  • Promoters > Detractors = Growth
  • We must figure out how to BLOW PEOPLE’S SOCKS OFF. This comes from the company mission.
  • 80% of users for Transferwise came from WOM.

Why do people recommend the product?

Rational — Product (fast, cheap, easy, price, speed, convenience). Must be an order of magnitude better than the alternative.

Emotional — Make money move instantly for almost nothing.


10x product + mission = Big WOM

  • Build a 10x product.
  • Solve a really hard product that hasn’t been solved before.
  • Highly empowered teams

Thibaullt Imbert — Adobe Spark @thibault_imbert

“Building Growth Mindset Inside Adobe”

Spark is an easy way for small businesses to create content

  • It all starts with building a product that people want. You can’t grow a crappy product.
  • Get people on the Growth team who geek out on results vs. tech
  • Automated reports pushed to Slack

Modeling at Mozilla — @chrismore

Step 1 — Inputs

  • Acquisition and Retention are the inputs
  • Active Users = Acquisition — Churn
  • What are the characteristics of these users? How did we acquire them?
  • Who is leaking out the bottom and why?
  • Look at acquisition differently than retention — measure both over a certain amount of time

Step 2 — Build Cohorts

Step 3 — Outputs — Building a predictive growth model

  • The model will show us when growth is going to stall out, based on the cohort analysis
  • Stall is when we reach an equilibrium where inputs = outputs

Then — run scenarios that give our best shot of fixing stall before we reach that stall point.

  • What if we…
  • Optimize onboarding? What’s the effect on the stall?

Remember, short-lived top of funnel acquisition campaigns decline over time, while retention improvements compound over time. To continue, you must improve growth metrics.

Using Data to figure out who your best users are | Lisa Sullivan Cross — VP Growth Pandora and CMO

  • Data centric marketing allows us to be personalized for our users

Data Science for Targeting and Measurement

  • “Right Person, Right Time, Right Message”
  • Set up ‘Retention/User Segments” — bucket people differently according to their usage. Goal is to move people up into the next segment.
  • Other Models: Likelihood to Purchase, Likelihood to Repeat Purchase, Churn Probability Score, Lifecycle Buying Patters

New User Acquisition

  • Data rigor increases efficiency
  • Do negative target active users, look-alike segments based on attributes of buyers or repeat buyers


  • Study the data of our users. Reach users with the highest probability of returning and converting into a purchase.
  • Define what our high value segment is based on product usage, demographic, and third-party data. Then use retargeting to reach them.

Brand Building

  • BRAND — KPI’s are awareness, preference, and consideration with a secondary KPI of driving immediate orders
  • Use video to build the emotional connection with the buyer.


  • Without measurement, we cannot prove market value
  • Multi-touch and customer journey attribution
  • Follow cohorts over time to assess retention and LTV

In-App Retention | Dan — Growth Lab at Google


Identify your north star metric and figure out what moves it the most. Then, go fix that.

  • 75% of app users are lost within the first 3 days. Reason is that most download due to boredom or curiosity.

What causes early churn

  • Onboarding is routinely too long
  • Onboarding too focused on how to use the UI. Save it. User education must be when a user needs it.
  • Most apps have a one-size-fits-all. That’s not the right way to do it.

Fixing it

  • Design for retention, not just setup completion
  • Make setup as short as possible. Get as many on the front end as you can.
  • Know where churn happens. Figure out what the breakpoints are then fix them. Understand the user actions within their churn time — see what’s going on there — might be a problem there.
  • Understand what causes users to stick around. Know from the retained user what features they use.

New User

  • Forget everything you think you need to do around educating and introducing. Get them in the product, then educate.
  • Get users into the UI as quickly as you can and drive them towards that retention-correlated action or state

In-App Growth Patters

  • Drop the user in the UI
  • Prompt them to take the first, key retention-correlated action

Self-select model

  • If a user invests time/money, they feel more committed to it. Puts skin in the game. Give them choices that helps them tailor the experience. However, make those choices they make evident in the UI
  • “Keep nudging users toward a more engaged state”. Introduce users to features they haven’t tried at contextually-relevant moment

Sean Ellis | Ed Baker (head of growth at FB and Uber) — Fireside Chat

Minimizing churn and maximize reengagement is more important than even new sales/users.

  • Pick a north star metric for the entire company. It keeps the team prioritized. Growth team is held accountable for that number. For ours, it’s SESSIONS.
  • PM, engineering, psychological marketing, design, analytics
  • At Uber, the north star was weekly trips vs daily/monthly active riders — better because it was a 2-sided marketplace, so you had to take into account the drivers.
  • Scrappy people who are creative problem solvers. Must be able to mix the analytics with the art. The art is the trickier part — find someone who can keep thinking. Intuition matters. Can wear multiple hats.
  • ** It’s important to make big bets. Small iterative changes are good, but we must take some big swings. One big bet can be more of a game changer than 100 small things.
Ed Baker and Sean Ellis

Bengaly Kaba, PM at Instagram | How IG Activates New People

Set Up Team

  • PM’s — Data Science — UI/Design –

New User Journey

  • 400m daily actives

Our job is to decrease barriers to adoption

  • Understand who the actual user is and have empathy for the marginal users (IG knows their growth is coming from India where it’s very different than the USA)
  • “Why does this product matter to me?” — what is their ah-ha!
  • The gap between a new registration/resurrection and what’s required for a user to retain on IG is the focus of the ACTIVATION team.
Instagram Growth Loop

How We Define Activation

  • MAPs — monthly active people
  • Mission is to help people discover value and build habits. Deliver enough value until they are retained into perpetuity.
  • Discover Value → Build Habits → Discover Value
  • Our growth team is an advocate for the marginal user. Yes, the marginal user matters!
  • Day 0 and Day 1 are the most critical days in retention

Opportunity for Impact

  • Long-term retention rates are important. It means we have to spend less in acquisition over the long haul.
  • ** Ask yourself, “How do we provide the best journey for our customers??”

How do we execute

  • Understand — the data of your ecosystem, the user problems that exist, why your goals matter, and how to measure it
  • Identify — the most impactful opportunities to achieve that goal
  • Execute — perfectly on your plan. It must be perfect. If not, you cannot know whether you have the answer or not.
  • FB has an “Execute” and an “Understand” roadmap going at the same time. Understand is used to understand the next opportunity for the next sprints.

Areas of Focus

  1. Reduce Friction for Account and Content Delivery
  2. Encourage users to follow others in order to discover content.
  3. Strengthen Early Relationships on IG
  4. Accelerate and Simplify the Understanding of IG

Mark Organ | Growth at Influitive @markorgan

  • Surround your prospects with relevant social proof
  • Systematically find and use your ADVOCATES

Your Advocate

  • More than a referral
  • Increases trust with social proof, improved sales and retention
  • Get you product feedback
  • Write reviews
  • Shoot testimonials

Motivating Advocates

Be a part of an exclusive tribe

  • People have a need to be a part of something bigger than themselves.
  • Give your community a personality. Make them proud they are part of the team.

Meaningful Impact

  • People want to know how their work was taken.

Social Capital

  • Don’t underestimate the value of building social capital

White Hat Growth Hacking for Advocate Programs

  • Use game mechanics — use points and rewards
  • Ads perform better if you use your real, happy customers in them.

Inman News — BI for real estate — Morgan Brown @morganb — How to Drive Breakout Growth

Patterns that work everywhere

Here, Morgan focused on tried and true growth patterns that work in all businesses.


  • Your first goal: find product-market fit. Get there as fast as possible.
  • Ask, “What do our customers want?”
  • The best way to figure it out is in their behaviors
  • Data is the secret weapon

Build a Growth Model

  • Top of Funnel (traffic, conversion rates) X Magic Moment (create emotional response) X Core Product Value (solves real problems) = Sustainable Growth
  • North Star — the measurement of value delivered
  • Think about it as a leading indicator. Can’t be revenue.
Morgan Brown


  • Be optimized for learning fast. It will help you run laps around our competitors. THE FASTER YOU LEARN, THE FASTER YOU GROW.


  • Use data to learn
  • Collect a ton of ideas — unbridled ideation
  • Prioritize to find your best bets
  • Test
  • Use data to learn again
  • Huge wins are rare. Most are small, compounding wins.

You can’t learn from tests you don’t run

  • Aim for IMPACT — it has to be worth it if it works

==== Acquisition ====

Larry Kim, Wordstream Founder and Mobile Monkey @larrykim

How does selling stuff via social work?

  • Use social ads as a catalyst to get the ball rolling
  • They are the cheapest way to amplify the content

Top 7 Social Media Advertising Hacks

  • Only promote your “unicorns” (content that people really love). Most of your content will suck. Don’t promote content that is mediocre. Unicorns get higher relevancy score. Higher engagement rate = MUCH lower cost per engagement. For every increase of 1% in engagement, you get 5% decrease in cost. So only promote really cool shit. How to always get high scores:

Unicorn detector.

  • Audition all the content. Battle them out. Post them to twitter. See what the response is. Then only the victors get promoted.
  • Focus ALL FIREPOWER on posts getting +10% engagement
  • It’s becoming a winner-take-all strategy.

Social Post Creation Strategy

  • It’s more of a numbers game than we like to admit.
  • Find the great content — maximize the expansion. Post it everywhere. Do guest posts. Turn it into infographics and videos.

Custom Audiences

  • Do them. Go narrow! Figure out who would want to see our content.

Hacking ranking organic

  • Best way to get more clicks on organic is to do social media ranking
  • Combine search with social — RLSA
  • Use social from branding perspective. The more people know about the brand, the higher probability they will click on my ad, which lowers the cost over time.

The best growth hack? Be a brand that people recognize, know, and love.

Julie Zhou — Google, Hipmunk and YikYak | How to win with limited resources

  • Our competitive advantage is moving fast and taking risk
  • Follow the users — no matter where your users are.
  • Check out reddit advertising, including sub-reddits, Snapchat,

Check out alternative investments if we don’t have the cash

  • Relationships with partners or distribution networks
  • Be the partner that can make the big partner look good

Matthew Barby — Hubspot


  • Chatfuel
  • 80–90% response rates from messages through messenger
  • Ability to capture data, intent, and start to engage
  • “Stay updated with FB Messenger”
  • This allows us to auto-communicate with them
  • Make sure people are opting-in
  • Make sure they know it’s a bot


  • Most SEO campaigns are approached by just producing more content vs. getting the backlinks that go along with it.
  • Focus as much on authority as content

Making unsexy content linkable

  • On category pages, build out guides.
  • Tabbed content — auto generates an interactive infographics, super-focused on sharing. All tabs live on the same URL — even though the infographics is on a tab. Very clever.

Steven Cox

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