The Do’s and Don’ts of Growth Hacking

The Do’s and Don’ts of Growth Hacking

Since 2010, growth hacking has changed the way we used to think about marketing.

Traditional marketers and marketing strategies faced a tremendous shift towards a different, a holistic approach of things.

Startup businesses and large organisations have changed the way of driving growth for their innovative products and services.

In this article, we are going to present the do’s and don’ts of one of the most critical business frameworks of our time.

Let’s get started.

Contents

Do #1: Focus on the Quality of your Product

Do #2: Make Quick Decisions

Do #3: Focus on the Quality and Not the Quantity of your Experiments

Do #4: Track Only What Matters & Optimize your Experiments

Do #5: Be Consistent With your Growth Hacking Process

Don’t #1: Spend a Ton of Money on Advertising

Don’t #2: Focus on Only One Stage of the Funnel

Don’t #3: Use Growth Strategies from “Successful” Case Studies

Don’t #4: Try to Find Product-Market Fit

Don’t #5: Invest in Long-Term Strategies

Last Thoughts

Focus on the Quality of your Product

One thing that goes unnoticed by the overwhelming majority of startup founders and marketers is the quality of the product.

Many startup (and established) businesses falsely believe that growth hacking can work regardless of the quality of the product.

But, this is just wrong.

Do you think that companies like Dropbox, Airbnb, Hubspot, LinkedIn or Quora made it to where they are today just because they are using cool growth hacking techniques?

The quality of your product should be the starting point of your growth strategy.

Especially when you are about to launch a new product — regardless if it is a B2B SaaS or a consumer product — you should pay extra attention to the quality of the product.

The onboarding process should be smooth, new users have to find it easy to navigate through the UI, and you have to provide them with a stellar experience overall.

Make no mistake about it: startup growth can only be attained through a great product experience.

Make Quick Decisions

Growth hacking is all about the moment, and growth hackers are people who take advantage of the momentum to attain exponential growth.

Don’t wait for the ideal — in fact, the ideal is objective.

Making quick decisions don’t require know how or technical knowledge.

All you have to do is accept the fact that growth strategies need immediate action and quick decisions.

This is also one of the main differences between traditional marketing and growth hacking.

Set up your experiments, pick up your growth hacking tools and apply your growth hacking techniques without having to wait for more data —

Because, as Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos puts it:

“Most decisions should be made with somewhere around 70% of the information you wish you had. If you wait for 90%, in most cases, you’re probably slow.”

Focus on the Quality and Not the Quantity of your Experiments

As you probably know, growth hacking is:

Growth hacking is a process of rapid experimentation across channels, stages of the customer journey, product development paths and sales processes that help us identify the most efficient ways to grow a business.

The growth hacker (or the growth team) is responsible for setting up new experiments, using a/b testing to optimise experiments, monitor the conversion rate and oversee the whole procedure.

Successful growth strategies come up not when we implement as many experiments as we can —

They come up when we set up:

  • The right experiment
  • At the right time
  • And, with all the essential quality characteristics

Thus, make sure you set up and run the right experiments and that the hypotheses you are testing can actually help you drive growth for your startup.

Take Wistia as an example, and discover how by setting up a nice experiment, they managed to add value and lift their onboarding performance metrics by 15%.  

Track Only What Matters & Optimize your Experiments

From social media metrics to SEO and sales metrics, there are several metrics a startup (or established business) could be tracking to measure growth.  

Depending on the type of your business, you can track things like:

  • Number of new users
  • Number of new signups
  • Signup-to-free-trial conversion rate
  • Free-trial-to-paid conversion rate
  • User base % change
  • Churn rate
  • New Email subscribers

A growth hacker’s business is to find the one metric that defines the overall startup growth and develop a tracking system based on that.

This metric, also known as North Star Metric (NSM) is a well-known concept in the Silicon Valley. According to Sean Ellis from GrowthHackers.com, the NSM is:

Sean Ellis

The North Star Metric is the single metric that best captures the core value that your product delivers to customers.

The NSM and all the other metrics that will come up after it, differ from business to business, depending on how every business defines growth.

Here is an example of a North Star Metric tree for a wellness App:

North Star Metric Tree

To track the metrics that matter and optimise your experiments based on that you can use tools like Kissmetrics or Google Analytics.

Be Consistent With the Growth Hacking Process

Growth hacking is all about consistency.

Most failed startups wonder how success looks like because they stopped trying just before they see the first results coming.

A growth hacker has to be consistent with its efforts of driving growth.

Established business like Dropbox, Hubspot or LinkedIn didn’t have a unique know how when they first started — but, they were consistent with their efforts.

Consistency is what separates winners from losers.

There are many growth strategies and growth hacking techniques you can study and learn from, but if you are not willing to be consistent, nothing of all these will help.

Same as with traditional marketing and digital marketing, you have to be consistent to start seeing results.

Of course, being consistent doesn’t mean to waste time waiting to see results rather than follow a process that will allow you to learn how to drive growth for your startup.

Don’t Spend a Ton of Money on Advertising

Some of the most successful companies like Dropbox have spent little to no money on advertising, comparing to its current valuation.

But, how did the Dropbox managed to go from $233 – $388 Cost per Acquisition for a $99 product, to an IPO and an excessively high valuation?

It’s simple — not every company that scales have to use the paid engine of growth.

In his classic book Lean Startup, Eric Ries defines 3 engines of growth for every startup:

  • The paid engine of growth
  • The sticky engine of growth
  • The viral engine of growth

Lean Startup

What this tells us is that not every startup business has to spend a ton of money on advertising to drive growth.

It is only natural that startups use paid advertising to drive growth as it is one of the easiest ways to acquire new customers or new users.

But, with the cost of acquisition to be 5x higher in the last five years, you might want to test other ways to drive growth.

Profitwell Cost of Acquisition Increase

Don’t get me wrong, paid advertising works fine on several occasions.

The best practice here is to test and spend accordingly.

And, always keep in mind that: there are many growth hacking tools or channels that are free to use — like Airbnb and Craigslist or Hotmail with their infamous “PS: I Love You” signature.

Don’t Focus on Only One Stage of the Funnel

Let me take a guess — your No.1 priority right now is to bring in new customers.

There is nothing wrong with that, really.

But, acquiring new customers or new users and having a terrible retention rate is like turning your user base or customer base into a leaky bucket.

Leaky Bucket Theory

As Alex Schultz (VP of Growth at Facebook) mentions, a company can drive growth only if it retains the users it acquires.

Thus, when you want to attain startup growth, you have to care about the whole funnel, the entire customer journey and not just one part of it.

This is probably the most significant difference between growth hacking and traditional marketing —

The fact that growth hacking treats things in a holistic manner when traditional marketing focuses on one thing at a time.

If you want to attain long-term growth, you have to pay attention to every step of the funnel, from the very top to the bottom.

This way, your efforts will have an entirely different meaning and will definitely pay out.

Don’t Use Growth Strategies From “Successful” Case Studies

There is a reason why you should stay away from growth hacking tactics and growth strategies.

Trying to replicate or reverse engineer a company’s success is not always a safe way to drive growth.

Many growth hackers are obsessed by the idea of reverse engineering, but seem to forget that:

Something that worked well for someone else is not always going to work for you too.

Have no doubt about it: viral marketing and exponential growth is not something you can attain by copying other growth models.

What to do instead?

Define a process, set up your own experiments, learn (and fail) fast and do not be afraid of using unorthodox (but ethical and white-hat) tactics to achieve your goals.

All these conversion rate optimisation (CRO) and viral marketing experts who can brag about their case studies have failed countless times before having their first success.

Learn from their mistakes, but don’t try to replicate their success.

Don’t Try to Find Product-Market Fit

I am not going to reinvent the wheel saying that growth hacking comes after a startup has found a product-market fit (PMF).

According to Eric Ries, the product-market fit is:

“The moment when a startup finally finds a widespread set of customers that resonate with its product.”

Now, if you’ve ever worked in a startup before, you know that finding product-market fit can be extremely difficult and mentally exhausting.

Just watch this video by Segment CEO Peter Reinhardt, explaining the difficulties and business obstacles they had to overcome while trying to find PMF for Segment.

Peter Reinhardt

What that means, is that all the growth strategies and growth hacking techniques you have in mind can be applied after you’ve successfully found product-market fit.

When you launch a new product, you have to find a strong correlation between the perceived value of the product and the actual value of it.

When you do, having your customers’ behavioural data as an indicator, it means that you can start seeking growth.

Don’t Invest in Long-Term Strategies

Email marketing, inbound marketing, content marketing, search engine marketing (SEM) or search engine optimisation (SEO) are great ways to:

  • Drive awareness about your product or service
  • Acquire new customers
  • Activate your leads and prospects
  • Retain your existing customers
  • Monetise, by making cross-sells and up-sells
  • Turn paying customers to promoters of your business

All these combined gives you a nice list of channels to use in your growth strategy.

Everything you do or invest to though has to be short-term.

Why?

Because, you have to find the channels that work for you, to double-down on them and kill all the others that don’t work.

Thus, you don’t want to invest (and commit) to a long-term strategy, before testing and having data on whether or not this strategy can pay off.

This is a common mistake in many growth strategies and digital marketing strategies also —

People insist on spending money, time and resources in things that simply don’t work.

So, my advice is this: test first, make a commitment in something long-term later.

Last Thoughts

Every successful growth hacker has to remember one thing: failure is an integral part of any growth strategy.

The same, of course, applies to any marketing strategy, call Email marketing, online marketing search engine marketing or content marketing.

In growth hacking, failure is part of the process — delay, on the other hand, isn’t.

Sean Ellis, Neil Patel, Noah Kagan and other successful growth hackers, acknowledge experimentation and failure as a part of the process.

Simply put, it is of paramount importance that you learn and adjust fast.

Only this way you will manage to optimise your performance and discover the channels that can help you drive growth.

At the end of the day, it’s all about making progress and optimising your processes and channels.

Because, as Ryan Holiday, author of The Obstacle is the Way, puts it:

“Think progress, not perfection.”

About the Author: Aggelos M

I have over 8 years experience in Digital and Growth marketing. Currently, running Growth Sandwich, a London based Growth hacking Lab. Before turning in Growth hacking and viral marketing, I had the chance to pass by head marketing and head digital positions in Athens and London, work with numerous tech startups but also build and run companies. In my spare time, he is consulting ambitious startups about their Growth and Business strategy.