This is a guest post by Casey Armstrong.
It’s 7am. You roll over and grab your phone to start checking on sign-ups.
Monday? Wednesday? Or is it Saturday night? It doesn’t matter.
As you wait for your coffee, you check your Google Analytics. Your internal dashboards. Your Twitter stream. Your company’s Twitter stream. ProductHunt. HackerNews. Reddit. And don’t lie: Facebook too.
Are customers signing up? Are they converting to paid plans? Are people talking about the product?
Are we growing?
You are focusing every waking hour on growth.
How many users did we acquire today? How many qualified leads did we capture? How much revenue did we add to our ARR?
How fast are we growing?
You need that growth to get VC funding. And you need VC funding to get more growth.
You need that growth to become cashflow positive. Or just to make payroll for one more month.
You need that growth to overtake your competition. Your product is so much better, right?
You need that growth to get featured on TechCrunch, so you can post that on your mom’s refrigerator over the holidays.
Plus, everybody else seems to be blowing up, right?
It’s a bit extreme and cliche, but “if you aren’t growing, you are dying.”
Growth. Growth. Growth.
You have all heard about “growth hacking.”
But nearly all articles published about growth hacking talk about the who, the what, the where, and the when.
Who are the best growth hackers? What was the growth hack? Where can I see that growth hack? When did they do that growth hack?
Or some variation of the above. Over and over. And there is nothing wrong with that.
But rarely do people talk about the why. And that might be paramount.
Whenever I am looking at potential growth hacks or helping others with growth, I always stress starting with “why” that worked. You can’t just copy others and expect their success, especially when you don’t really know how well, or poorly, it worked for them.
But that is not what I want to dive into here.
I want to zoom out even further.
Why is growth hacking even important? Why is that the solution?
The more innovative your product, the more innovative your marketing needs to be.
When you are building a disruptive product, you have to think differently.
You aren’t opening up another coffee shop or burger stand. That market and business model have been proven. And there you still need to be innovative to stand out from the crowd. For instance, Chili’s just spent $750,000 to make their hamburger buns more “Instagram friendly.”
You are likely entering a new market. Your product changes people’s behavior. The problem is not well understood. Maybe your customers don’t even know they have a problem to begin with.
Here is where traditional business methods and marketing channels fail.
Your product demands innovative mediums to grow. Both with how and what you get to the customer.
Let’s look at two of the fastest growing, and unsurprisingly innovative, companies on the planet: Airbnb and Uber.
Airbnb is the world’s largest accommodation provider. They own zero real estate.
Uber is the world’s largest taxi company. They own zero vehicles.
Think about that.
Plus, it doesn’t get much more innovative than trying to conquer the travel and transportation industries, but that’s what has happened.
For Airbnb, not only were they trying to disrupt the largest international hotel chains like Marriott and Hilton, they were going up against the seemingly immovable digital-giant, Craigslist, and similar sites like Australia’s Gumtree.
For Uber, they were diving head first into one of the most universally regulated industries, and taking on 100-year-old companies and governments simultaneously, not to mention actual physical attacks in countries across the globe.
How have they grabbed the throne against all odds?
Along with a great product, you need innovative growth engines that will feed themselves.
For Airbnb, how about piggybacking your product on a site where people are already looking for what you solve and using that as your initial distribution channel?
As one of the more famous growth hacks, that’s exactly what Airbnb did. They incentivized their users to cross-post their listings to Craigslist by building a bot to get around the lack of a developer API.
This allowed Airbnb to reach Craigslist’s massive user base like nobody else had done at scale (the how) and deliver a much more professional, image-rich, trustworthy product (the what).
For Uber, how about creating a 1-touch transportation mobile app that requires no physical monetary transaction and already knows exactly where you need to be picked up?
By sponsoring events and giving away free rides in the digital capital of self-promotion…I mean technology capital of the world, San Francisco, Uber was able to create a network effect that had people in other cities begging to be the next launch city.
This allowed Uber to build-up longstanding demand around the world through social channels, blogs, and word-of-mouth (the how) and similar to Airbnb, deliver a much more professional, easy-to-use, trustworthy product (the what).
Could Airbnb and Uber solely rely on the conventional marketing tactics of today or years past, such as SEO and paid search or TV ads and billboards?
Plus, those are now table stakes to “play the game,” but that is for another post.
Both Airbnb and Uber needed innovative marketing (read: growth hacks).
That is why growth hacking is important.
Casey is a full stack marketer who helped many tech startups in Silicon Valley with their growth strategies. He helped Mavenlink grow from 5,000 to 500,000 customers, while taking them from $0 MRR to six-figure MRR. He also led PaleoHacks.com, which attracted over 1,000,000 unique visitors every month and more than 25 million page-views annually, subsequently leading to an acquisition.
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