Our 4 favorite growth lessons from Sean Ellis and Andrew Chen

Jennifer Carney
Jul 13, 2016 · 4 min read

The startup world is a noisy place. It’s filled with products and ideas that explode seemingly out of thin air, spin up dozens of imitators, and force everyone to innovate to keep their edge. Finding ways to grow in between states of coexistence and disruption is not impossible, but it takes some creativity. And traditional marketing can’t do it alone.

Enter growth hacking. There are countless opinions about what it is and how to do it well, but we’ve been fortunate enough to speak with its originators and biggest champions: Sean Ellis and Andrew Chen. Here is a handful of the most powerful growth hacking lessons they shared with us.

“You can’t focus on the tactics, because eventually they become useless.” — Andrew Chen

Individual tactics will run their course. Coupons were once cutting edge, now they . To avoid customer fatigue, Andrew told us, you have to be on the bleeding edge. To combat burnout, you’ve got to do things that nobody else is doing. How do you do that? Sean Ellis might have the answer:

“If you’re not running experiments you’re probably not growing.” — Sean Ellis

A culture of experimentation is what creates the fuel for growth marketing. If you’re not experimenting, you’re letting theories and assumptions rule your business instead of data and results.

Long-term, however, when you’re not experimenting, you’re also not generating ideas from the results of your experiments. Experimentation leads to inspiration. Without experimentation, your company is only as good as its hunches and not much beyond.

Growth is a magnifying glass. If you have a tiny diamond and you put it under a magnifying glass, then you’ll make something big and great. But if it’s just kind of a tiny piece of shit, then it’s just going to be a big piece of shit, right?” — Andrew Chen

The ultimate growth hack is the simplest one (and it’s advocated by both Andrew and Sean): if you don’t have a good product, no amount of “growth hacking” will make it better.

First get that all-important product/market fit, then find people who love your product. Which brings us to our final lesson:

“If customers ultimately don’t have a good first experience with your product, there is no second experience.” — Sean Ellis

Sean agrees with James Currier’s recommendation that you should invest ~50% of your product development resources into customer onboarding on an ongoing basis.

Because growth is a function of a customer’s first experience, you will have a hard time growing until you get customer onboarding right. Make that first experience something special and the only limit to your growth is the edge of the universe.

Want to learn more about growth hacking from Sean Ellis and Andrew Chen? Check out our profiles of Sean (Part 1 and Part 2) and Andrew on The Signal for in-depth thoughts and analysis from two of growth hacking’s forefathers.

Artwork by MakeOffices and Mike Licht, and are made available under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license and an Attribution 2.0 Generic license respectively.

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