Hacking Growth Without the Hacks

For many — growth is synonymous with ‘growth hacking.’

For me, hacking tends to imply something quick, something inelegant, and certainly something fleeting. In my humble opinion, a nearsighted mindset when it comes to growth. Growth, on the other hand, for me implies building long-lasting relationships predicated on trust.

Okay — so you might be rolling your eyes four sentences in to this post, thinking it’s just semantics.

But before you discount the title of the post as good ol’ click-bait, this subtle, nuanced distinction highlights the exact essence and beauty behind the rapid growth of WeTransfer to 40M MAU.

The subtle change in perspective of how ‘growth’ is perceived shades the very way any team or organization thinks about how to increase growth in usage of their product. Is it a growth at all costs mentality? Or one that places growth in a larger context of providing users the best possible experience imaginable.

Or even better — let’s distill things to its first principle. Are you pursuing growth from the perspective of ‘how can this benefit us?’ or from an angle of ‘how can this benefit our users’?

Asking yourself that very simple question can be incredibly revealing about which approach you and your team have and continue to optimize for when it comes to growth. It can also help you run a quick sanity check on all your growth initiatives.

As with anything that has self-interested motives as a starting point that optimize for quick wins today, short term ‘hacks’ may momentarily lead to more of what you were aiming for, but that growth is more often ephemeral at best. Especially when you think about how we, as consumers, are all more sophisticated than ever when it comes to sniffing out self-serving BS. At best, we may fall for a hack, but we come back more sophisticated than ever in our ability to sift through crap. Only when something continues to charm us will we continue to engage with the products and services we eventually grow to adore.

To take a recent growth initiative at WeTransfer as an example, we looked into the conversion rate of readers from This Works, our editorial platform where we feature the stories behind the artists that we showcase on WeTransfer, to WeTransfer itself.

The growth team approached the task from the perspective of how can we i) provide more context to our first-time readers ii) while also creating additional access points to WeTransfer for those that’d be interested in learning more about the people behind This Works iii) but without negatively impacting reader engagement?

In other words, the part that focuses on reader engagement is absolutely critical. The experiment would be deemed a failure should it have increased bounce rates or decreased read time irrespective of whether conversion rates would’ve improved. The rationale for that being rather simple — anything to the contrary would be increasing the conversion rate to the direct detriment of our readers’ experience on This Works. Something that we will not compromise.

Trust is the currency of long-term success in anything that involves people. Growth is no different. Hacking your way to success may work for a period of time, until it simply doesn’t.

Perhaps the biggest hack of all is that very point — growing through building meaningful goodwill and well-meaning relationships with your community of users. But I suppose — that’s no hack at all since it’s achieved by a commitment to the long term, a commitment to an elegant user experience, and a commitment to durability.

Remember — growth is equal parts acquisition and retention, of which retention serves as the foundation. There’s no meaningful growth if there’s a leaky bucket no matter how much you manage to throw in at the top of the funnel.

In that sense, growth implies a long-standing, recurring relationship. Something that you simply cannot wisely hack.

To close, I’d like to share one of my favorite quotes from Jeff Bezos:

“If you want to get to the truth about what makes us different, it’s this: we are genuinely customer centric, we are genuinely long term oriented and we genuinely like to invent.”

At first glance, customer centricity, long term oriented, and inventiveness may pop out. But I’d contend that being genuine is the key takeaway here. In a time in the world where communication has never been made more convenient and easy, there’s been a real proliferation of chatter.

It’s easy to say an organization is customer centric, long term oriented, or inventive. It’s certainly the popular thing to say. And for PR, it’s probably the right thing to keep saying. But it’s another thing to have these traits so deeply rooted in your cultural DNA where it’s impossible to do otherwise even through the most challenging of times.

Because it’s simply not genuinely you.