Product Managers should growth hack.

Most product managers I’ve spoken to or stalk on twitter seem to sneer at the term ‘growth hacking’. Maybe it’s a general misunderstanding of the role (spoiler: it is) or maybe it’s because the idea of growth hacking is slightly at odds with what we’re trying to achieve as a PM. The dream for product teams is to build an awesome pain solving solution that provides so much value that users can’t live without it and come flocking, isn’t it? So surely split testing button colour and hacking away at click through rates isn't needed?

Well, there’s the problem. Marketing is just an after launch thought for most companies and they lump ‘growth’ in to this too.

People still don’t fully understand the role of a growth hacker which isn’t helped by it’s vague job title and ambiguous job descriptions (sound familiar product managers?) and assume it’s all about landing pages and analysing data once a product is live.

Growth hacking and focusing on user growth is a mentality, not a set of skills and introducing some of that thinking into product management can be a major key in the success of products breaking through the noise.

There is one ‘growth hack’ that product managers should be considering.

The viral loop.

If there’s one key growth technique that should be validated as early as possible in the design process it’s the viral loop.

Growth hacking agency Growth Devil defines the loop as this — “The idea behind viral loops is that a company will have a core loop that is repeated so many times over different generations of users that it causes a tailspin out into unfathomable popularity i.e., becomes the thing that all the kids are talking about.”

This involves thinking of a growth driver as early on as a feature, engineering this loop somewhere into the product itself, turning one user signing up into one user that then brings more users with them. For gaming the candy crush example works fine but what about a SaaS product or B2B? Products like Trello that offer free upgrades to premium for a month for every user you bring on board are a perfect example of offering deeper engagement with a product in exchange for referrals. Not only does this reward the user for providing you more customers but using a few months of premium also acts as a way of hooking them to more features which if used enough are hard to lose. The user either refers more people or pays the extra to keep the premium services they have come to rely on. Win win.

Now if the viral loop was engineered in after the product was launched into the market it misses the initial wave of sign ups and the opportunity to gift them premium in reward for referrals. I am not sure if Trello had this from the start (they are awesome so probably), but an opportunity missed is an opportunity missed.

I know what you’re thinking. “But you need to have hit product market fit before growth”. I get it and I fully agree. There’s no point driving more users to a product that doesn’t solve a user problem or deliver any value…but to be honest, why are you releasing it to the market at all!? Use your mvp or prototype to validate first. But as soon as you solve that problem or validate that solution there is no time to hang around, grow! Fast!

I mentioned too about validating the loop before deploying fully. You can usually tell the startups that get the basic premise of the loop but fail to flesh it out. You’ve probably seen them too, they involve inviting someone to share a page on Facebook for no real reason in particular or, in my opinion the the worst one, offering money to share or refer. Assigning a monetary value as an incentive without any reward or value within the product is hollow and unless your LTV is high enough to reward the user with $100+ per referral then trading the contact details of their peers for pittance isn’t a viable strategy for you to take.

The best loops are self-fuelling actions taken within the product that drives users to invite others by increasing the value of the product itself.

Another strategy is that of Snapchat. Snapchat knows that you having as many of your friends on the app as possible is value enough for you to invite others. They list your friends that aren’t currently using snapchat with a quick ‘invite to snapchat’ button next to their name. Simple.

The benefits of the viral loop are obvious, cutting your customer acquisition cost dramatically if done correctly, but with growth often an after thought, missing the initial wave of sign ups when a product hits the market — if it’s introduced at all.

Key tweetable takeaway…

“PM’s should be focused on engineering growth drivers in to the product just as much as features.” — tweet me.

Agree? Disagree? I like writing to start conversations so I’m keen to hear your thoughts on the subject.