Startups that exploit… Win!

In my recent post called Growth Hacking Will Kill Startup, I summarized what your early growth strategy should be:

  1. Build a product that solves a real need.
  2. Define your core value proposition.
  3. Make sure your onboarding experience delivers the core value proposition as quickly as possible.

Once you’ve tested and are satisfied with the performance of your onboarding experience, it’s time to press on the gas pedal to get as many quality users as possible.

But acquiring users can be really difficult and expensive, and with limited budgets we all try to do it as cheaply as possible. When I ask startups how they plan to do it, the most common answer I hear is “we’re going to use viral marketing.” Viral products are amazing because it’s free and explosive, but viral marketing isn’t a strategy, it’s a result.

Viral marketing isn’t a strategy, it’s a result.

Viral growth is the result of a great product, so great that people want to share it. We all aspire for it and make constant tweaks to our product to get there, but very few manage to pull it off.

We can all relate to our first experience with Dropbox.

You tried it and you loved it. You wanted more space so you shared it with your friends. When they got the invite, they loved it too and thought you were really smart for having found it. They wanted more space and they wanted to look smart too, so what did they do? They shared it with other people.

Of course we want viral products, but if viral isn’t a growth strategy, how else do you scale?

I believe one of the most powerful ways to scale is by exploiting the success of another business to grow your own. If your product can complement the offering of a rapid growing business, a successful integration can mean really rapid growth for you too. Deep integrations can be a huge growth engine as long as what you’re offering isn’t on the radar of the business you’re exploiting.

The key for this to work ties back to the second item of your growth strategy, a clear and deep understanding of your core value proposition. Why? Because leveraging someone else’s growth to driving users to your product under the right circumstances can be very powerful, but the users you drive from that product must come to yours with the correct understanding of what it is your product offers.

Often I hear startups getting massive traffic from another service, but without a complimentary offering, which means people are coming to their product with false expectations, ultimately driving poor conversion and retention. This is not a positive exploit, and, in my opinion, a complete waste of your time. This is a hack for traffic, and you know how I feel about those.

Here are the three things that lead to a powerful exploit:

  1. Complement the product you’re exploiting with something it isn’t focused on.
  2. Make sure the users you’re getting from the exploit reach your product under the right circumstances.
  3. Be one of the first to exploit that fast growing service.

When I was building my own business in the Valley, we were one of the first to successfully exploit Admob to drive millions of users (notice I didn’t say traffic) to our product. Exploits for the win!

Exploits are perhaps your best shot a rapid growth, but by all means, they’re not easy to achieve. In fact, I’d venture to say it’s incredibly difficult to launch a win-win integration, but they’re money once achieved.

When you look at the startup landscape today, it’s clear someone will successfully exploit its way to success off the back of massive success stories, like Slack or Uber. Any guesses which startup that may be?

If you like this post, tell me and let the world know too by recommending it. It would mean a lot to me.

*this post originally appeared on montrealintechnology.com

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