D.I.Y. Growth Hacking

A Scientific Review


Anyone taking a casual read of growth-related articles would be forgiven for wondering if they mistakenly landed on Scientific American online or a local university medical research series (with better design and a friendlier font). References abound to case studies, A/B tests, lean experiments, and various types of cohort analysis. Some posts will even include charts outlining impressive correlation coefficients — and if you’re lucky, the underlying calculations will actually be correct.

But how would an actual scientist or medical researcher tackle the challenges faced by today’s international growth hacker community? Unlike these fields and even within traditional marketing, growth strategy takes many unpredictable nonlinear forms and often has little direct relevance from one case study to another — both across industries and inside them.

How do you know if you’re truly optimizing at growth with no way to guarantee the sustainability of your tactics? How about when you have limited sample sizes for your experiments? Nobody will deny the genius of Dropbox’s or Uber’s now legendary hacks in the consumer segment, but what can we learn from them? Is growth as scientific as we want to believe? Is it even a skill?

As Head of Growth at InVenture, the best way I can address this is with some examples from my daily work — specifically around my most recent trip to Kenya, which is currently our biggest market.

While planning for the expansion and evolution of Mkopo Rahisi, the team at InVenture launched a process that included the exploration of numerous online and offline channels — Facebook, Twitter, Google, billboards, radio, TV, you name it. Anything you can attach a CPM to, we had on the board. However, we knew competing in the open waters of the internet or the offline advertising world couldn’t be the sole path if we wanted to achieve our goals. We needed to be more creative, and perhaps a little lucky too.

Lean and Extreme

Upon landing in Nairobi, we encountered a talkative taxi driver (as is the norm in Kenya) on the way to our standard AirBnB digs. We quickly realized that he was an ideal customer for us: he had a smartphone and steady income, but often still experienced the pain points that we find in our key markets. Similar to the 2.5 billion people without a functioning credit market, not always having cash on hand for simple expenses like fuel and car repairs is a serious obstacle to economic prosperity.

Additionally, this is someone who talks to hundreds of passengers a week. An idea and a proposal quickly formed — perhaps we could recruit him to not only try our product, but to be a brand ambassador for us.

The next day, we were walking through a local Maasai market when we noticed a similar trend: most of the shopkeepers had smartphones and steady incomes, but often had trouble paying for inventory up front even when they knew they would be able to sell it. The next step at this point was both natural and purposeful.

Soon we had a vastly-expanded Mkopo Rahisi team exploring the streets of Nairobi recruiting our newest customers and brand ambassadors. We set up a series of challenges — those who referred the most would be entered to win interest free loans and other rewards like incentives bonuses. Some worked and some didn’t, but within a short amount of time, a winning structure emerged which remains in place today.

In a market like Kenya, trust is King (or Queen) and a peer referral inspires a different kind of response than an internet or billboard call to action. From engaging directly with our market with the right message and the right tone, we were on our way to building a bootstrapped affiliate program full of happy users.

Network Solutions

These types of interactions among our users have been a consistent source of growth for our business. In fact, to date, word of mouth has been our key to success. As with many high-growth companies, our challenge now is how to accelerate and scale the positive conversations that are happening in small networks — and ideally transition those to larger and more influential circles. We ask ourselves where the existing ecosystems and communities are that fit with our value proposition and what the right structure is to align interests and create a win-win collaboration.

This is where differentiation can be most evident. And this is also where growth trajectory can be the most binary. We can look at a company like Stripe that scaled through enterprise-level partnerships or GoPro that launched its hugely successful products through multi-channel multi-platform influencers, but what does that mean for our businesses?

The fact is, these case studies are better for inspiration than an actual roadmap. Partnerships need to be approached on an individual level, both from the perspective of your business and by thinking about how your business can help prospective relationships. For example, a financial institution may need help sourcing more qualified leads for larger loans while a telco may be searching for a way to increase the loyalty of their customers. The key to success is understanding the main objectives of a potential partner or influencer and ensuring the incentives are aligned for all involved parties.

The Best-Laid Plans

Last but not least, what if you are just starting out — either a product launch, a product expansion, or a replication into a new geography. What is your first move?

While our instincts as entrepreneurs skew towards execution (and growth hacking is no different), it does pay to have a plan. A haphazard approach without an appropriate amount of user research and the right tools to enable constant measurement will rarely get you the results you need. My general rule is to have a plan while also knowing there is close to a 100% chance that the plan will change.

In the case of InVenture, the plan around growth starts from the top down. We make sure we understand the macro-indicators in every possible target market (Android penetration, mobile money adoption, and demand for credit to name a few) in order to develop a view on whether our entry timing is appropriate. It’s especially crucial to understand not only what the market is like now, but how it has changed over time. This enables us to forecast how it will evolve and therefore how to prioritize our tactics and resources.

Our next step is to validate demand for the product through a series of potential user surveys, “fake door” tests, and landing page trials. Once we hit a pre-determined milestone, we then survey potential channels to understand potential reach and contact local experts to expedite execution.

This process never ends. Whereas a scientist may look for conclusions from all of these experiments, we know from continuous replication assessments that it pays to dig deeper, and then keep digging more. In the midst of a procedure as fickle as growth hacking, your current strategy from your current research may be working — but you still need to be plotting for the next strategy in real-time.

So What Are Your Findings, Dr.?

Growth is without a doubt a key skill, and may be the most important part of strategy in the early days of a high-growth business. But it’s not necessarily something you can learn in a class or a book. And it’s certainly more of an adventure than an art or a science.

Setting the right process for discovering the optimal structures to achieve your goals is something we should all be thinking about, both before, during and after our strategies are set in motion. This is one way past experience will help with future success. More importantly, have an open mind about what is going to get you ahead in the future and where you will find your next creative win. Today’s formula is easily tomorrow’s failure, and the only correlation you can be assured of is the one between hustle and success.

As always, three simple truths to take away:

  1. Don’t be afraid to try things that may not initially get you big scale.
  2. When structuring deals, find a way for everyone to win.
  3. You can learn from other growth hacks and success stories, but there is no formula that can be copied to work for you.

Twitter: @amigosalia

Email: ami@inventure.com