Growth Hacking is for Smart Marketers – Not Just Startups

Startups live and die by their ability to drive customer acquisition growth.  Of course many startups are doomed to failure and can’t grow because they never reach product/market fit.  But even with product/market fit, traction is tough. Startups are under extreme resource constraints and need to figure out how to break through the noise to let their target customers know they have a superior solution for a critical problem.

Breaking through the noise is very difficult when well-entrenched companies have the resources to dominate traditional channels.  The best a startup can hope for in traditional channels is to siphon off a few early adopters that are always on the look out for the latest emerging solutions.

This resource-constrained desperation is exactly the scenario that Malcolm Gladwell suggests leads underdogs to extreme innovation.

Desperation Leads to Innovation

For meaningful growth, startups must completely change the rules of traditional channels or innovate outside of those growth channels.  They are too desperate and disadvantaged to adapt to the old rules of marketing. They have to dig deep creatively, and relentlessly test new ideas.  If they don’t figure it out quickly, they will go out of business.

Some people would just call this marketing.  I call it growth hacking.  And the best growth hacks take advantage of the unique opportunities available in a connected world where digital experiences can spread rapidly.  Since most growth ideas fail, it becomes critical to test a lot of them.  The faster you can hack together an idea, the sooner you can start testing it for some signs of life.

Growth hackers don’t have time to waste around a white board strategizing marketing plans.  They are desperately testing trying to find something that works.

It was in this face of desperation that I was part of the team that invented the first viral embeddable widget.  We were a lightly funded online game company in the mid 1990s competing against the number one advertiser on the entire Internet – Sony Online Games.  Not only did they spend more money on banners than anyone else, they blanketed their television assets with promotion.  You couldn’t watch Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune on TV without knowing that they offered the game play experience online for cash prizes.  And those shows had massive audiences.

At Uproar, we tried to spend on banner advertising, but even with obsessive optimization it was clear we would never catch them playing by their rules.   That’s when we decided to widgetize parts of our game play experience and make them free for any website.  We even offered to pay an affiliate bounty to those websites where people started the game and eventually played on our site.  These games spread virally to 40,000 websites.  Within a couple of years we were beating the 800-pound gorilla and had become the worldwide leader in online games (we were acquired by Vivendi Universal in 2001 who quickly killed the viral widget program).

Stories like this have been replicated in every startup that I helped build, from LogMeIn to Dropbox and Lookout.  You can also see similar patterns in the early days of almost any massively successful company to emerge in recent years.

How Traditional Marketers Have Reacted To Growth Hacking

The majority of traditional marketers like to say “that’s exactly what I’ve been doing – that’s just marketing.”  But rarely do I see any of them having a track record of building truly innovative, rule changing programs for driving growth.  Most just don’t have the need or motivation to change the rules or innovate new channels.  Unlike startups, big companies are rarely a magnet for risk takers who like to innovate.

However, some marketers at traditional companies and agencies have looked at the unprecedented growth rates that come out of emerging startups and have said: “Awesome! How can I build an innovative growth team in my organization and achieve similar transformative growth results?”  I don’t know the answer, but I’m certain that it is the right question for any large marketing team or agency.  Large companies have always looked for ways to improve their ability to innovate like startups (recently many have embraced lean startup principles).  I’m not surprised that the smart ones are now looking to replicate the innovative growth discovery approaches of successful startups.

Growth hacking was born out of startups, but it is something that every smart marketer should embrace.

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Growth Hackers Conference Recap and Slides

Yesterday was the third time the Growth Hackers Conference was held in Silicon Valley.   It’s humbling to be a part of the speaker lineup at this conference. The collective knowledge and experience of the speakers comes from driving growth at companies like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Quora, Dropbox, Eventbrite, Square, AirBNB, Tickle, Lyft, Udemy, Wealthfront, etc.   Each speaker shares specifics from their roles about what was critical for driving growth and the underlying process and principles that led to these discoveries.

It is one of the few conferences where I’ve spoken that I’m truly excited to attend all the other sessions.  Most other conferences just aren’t worth taking time away from focusing on my company.

One of the things I really liked about the conference this time was that most of the speakers acknowledged that growth hacking is really hard and that most of the things we try don’t work.  But it’s through relentless testing that we find meaningful growth hacks that deliver valuable experiences to prospective customers.  Many speakers also shared the importance of instrumenting the right kind of customer tracking and engaging your customers to truly understand their needs.

It was also fun to chat with a bunch of attendees from the GrowthHackers.com community who travelled to the conference from all over the world.

My presentation this year was on the power and importance of conversion rate optimization to building an effective growth engine.  Here are my slides:



Deconstructing PR: Advice From A Former VentureBeat Writer

Guest Post By Conrad Egusa 

I want to begin by thanking Sean for the opportunity to write this guest article. I came across Sean’s website Startup-Marketing.com many years ago, and to this day I don’t believe another resource has had a larger impact on my career.

Most business owners intuitively understand that PR is important. Before the days of Google Adwords and the internet, the media was one of the few ways for companies to access distribution.

Unfortunately, today PR remains one of the most misunderstood marketing channels. As a former VentureBeat writer, it’s hard for me to listen to the false assumptions that persist to this day.

As an example, many entrepreneurs believe that in order to be receive press, that they need to be friends with journalists (not true), or that they need to hire a $10,000 a month PR firm (also not true).

The aim of this article is to deconstruct the PR process for entrepreneurs, in the hopes that you will be able to better optimize your chances for coverage in the future. If you can understand the process in which journalists write articles, then you will understand exactly what a writer needs and can greatly improve your chances of coverage.

In this article, we’re going to deconstruct the 7 steps of the PR process:

#1: Deciding on your story
#2: Enter the press release
#3: Creating the email
#4: Deconstructing the media industry
#5: The Exclusive
#6: Furthering coverage
#7: Repeating the process

To best help you in this process, I’ll be walking you through my PR recommendations for one of Sean’s ventures, GrowthHackers.com.

PR

Step #1: Deciding on your story

The media is not as confusing as many presume. At its core, publications and journalists look to write about meaningful new announcements. It is important that these announcements be new. As the saying goes, “Nothing is as old as yesterday’s news.”

The majority of stories written, whether on TechCrunch or the Huffington Post, are about story-lines. These stories are meaningful events that are worthy of notation. If you are looking for the story-lines of articles, these are often easy to identify as they tend to be the first line in the article.

As an example, for a VentureBeat article I wrote here, the first line (which is the story announcement), is here:

Online ad network Rocket Fuel announced today that it has raised $6.6 million in funding.

With PR, a story needs to exist before an article is written. Therefore, if you are looking to coverage, it’s important the you propose a story line to a journalist.

This is important, because not all announcements are press worthy. If you are re-designing your company website, I am sure this will be interesting to some followers of your company, but a TechCrunch journalist will likely not be interested.

If you are wondering which stories are newsworthy, we have a list below. These announcements are effective at generating media coverage:

- Company Launches
- Product Launches
- Fundraising Events
- Acquisitions
- Milestones

Let’s revisit GrowthHackers.com. GrowthHackers.com’s launch has not yet been picked up by the media, and therefore this “Company Launch” will be the company’s first PR announcement.

Step #2: Enter the press release

Once you have chosen an announcement we move to the next step, which is developing the press release.

When a company has a newsworthy announcement, it notifies the media by sending a press release. These press releases are emailed to journalists and publications. Companies can use services such as PRWeb, which distribute these releases across many websites, however writers will rarely look to these for story ideas.

The majority of stories written about originate from press releases. You should also know that editors at the largest publications do read the emails sent, particularly to their “tips” email. I remember at VentureBeat roughly 50% of the story ideas being generated from emails sent to tips@venturebeat.com.

If you are wondering why your company has not been receiving press, you should ask yourself, have you emailed any press releases to the media?

Once you do begin writing these press releases, the challenge becomes that journalists are pitched dozens of stories everyday. If your press release does not stand out from the beginning, chances are that it will not be read. The most important part of a press release, then, is the first line.

The first sentence of any press release should provide a journalist with a clear understanding of why the announcement is important. This is what we call the storyline, and this is where you should discuss your story announcement.

For GrowthHackers.com, here is the story line we recommend:

Startup Marketing Godfather “Sean Ellis” Launches GrowthHackers, Aims To Re-Imagine The Way We Learn Marketing

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Please notice that we aim to make the startup’s mission purposeful, however we want to leave some information so journalists will delve farther into the press release for more information.

From this story line, you will develop the remainder of your press release. A standard press release is broken down into the following:

  1. Title (which is the storyline)
  2. Two to Three sentences that highlight notable parts from the press release
  3. First Paragraph: Discusses the larger mission of the company
  4. Second Paragraph: Discusses the specifics of the product.
  5. Third Paragraph: Delves more into the details of the product
  6. Fourth Paragraph: Begins discussing larger trends that this story ties into
  7. Fifth Paragraph: Discusses the background of the company. For company launch stories, this could include a quote from founder about why the company was started.

To give you a better idea of this, an example press release for GrowthHackers.com is below. For the below, we wrote the first sentence of each paragraph (the numbers correlate with the information above).

(1) Startup Marketing Godfather Sean Ellis, Who Coined “Growth Hacker”, Launches GrowthHackers.com, Aims To Re-Imagine The Way We Learn Marketing

(2) Sean Ellis launches the “Hacker News of Marketing”

(3) November 7th, 2013 – GrowthHackers.com, founded by Sean Ellis, who had earlier coined the term “Growth Hacker”, announces its launch, aiming to re-imagine the way we learn marketing.

(4) The brainchild of Sean Ellis, GrowthHacking.com seamlessly integrates community-learning through a Reddit-like format, enabling users to uncover the best information on marketing.

(5) When Sean Ellis was first getting involed in startups, he realized much of the information on marketing was not relevant because it focused on companies at later stages.

(6) Increasingly companies are turning to community-models for growth. As an example, venture capital firm Union Square Ventures (USV) in New York recently relaunched their website with new community features.

(7) Growth Hackers was founded in 2013 by Sean Ellis. Says founder Sean Ellis about the company’s founding, “The idea for Growth Hackers.com came about…”

Step #3: Creating The Email

Once the press release is finished, this will be emailed to a journalist. If you want this email to be read, it should be personalized.

You should also include social proof and presume that a journalist does not know anything about you or your company.

For GrowthHackers.com, we have an example email below for TechCrunch:

Hi Sarah, (Sarah Perez from TechCrunch)

My name is Sean Ellis (LinkedIn), I am an entrepreneur based in San Francisco (I was the first marketer for DropBox, Xobni, and LogMeIn). I am writing because I recently read your article on marketing startup XYZ, and I wanted to write on behalf of the startup I co-founded, GrowthHackers. GrowthHackers.com, which was founded by myself (I had earlier coined the term “Growth Hacker”), is launching and aiming to re-imagine the way we learn marketing.

The startup is announcing its launch, and we were wondering if you would be interested in an exclusive for November 7th.

GrowthHackers.com can be considered the “Hacker News of marketing.” Our product seamlessly integrates learning through the community, empowering users to help one another. I thought it may be interesting to you that Increasingly companies are turning to community-models. As an example, venture firm USV in New York recently relaunched their website with community features.

It’s hard for me to emphasize how much we were hoping to be on TechCrunch. I have attached a copy of the press release and am happy to follow up on any information.

Best,

Sean Ellis

Image 3 (1)

Step #4: Deconstructing The Media Industry

Once you have written the press release and email, it is time to move forward. Before we do this, we need to explain how the media industry operates.

Particularly with new media, the news cycle is all about speed. Publications large and small compete with one another for the opportunity to break stories.

To show an example of this, last year when one of my companies was featured on TechCrunch, I emailed TheNextWeb that day to see if they wanted to write about the announcement. A journalist from the outlet wrote saying that she would have written about the story, but TechCrunch had already covered it and she was no longer interested.

To combat an incident such as this occurring, entrepreneurs implement something called an “embargo”.

In its simplest form, an entrepreneur will reach out to many media channels and will ask, “Are you interested in this announcement? If so, you have to agree that this will not be published before a certain date and time.” If the journalist agrees, the entrepreneur will send all of the information.

This is the embargo, the agreement that no media channel can publish the story before a set time.

Step #5: The Exclusive

The challenge with the above embargo method, is that if you are a TechCrunch journalist receiving hundreds of emails a day, there is little incentive to agree to an embargo.

The strategy I recommend is that an entrepreneur offer an exclusive to a leading publication. For the tech industry, these publications include TechCrunch, Mashable, VentureBeat, GigaOM and a handful of others.

An exclusive means that a particular publication has first right to publish the article. After the article is published, the entrepreneur can wait a short period of time before contacting other media outlets.

The advantages of offering an exclusive are the following:

  1. For the largest publications, an entrepreneur can improve his or her chances for PR coverage
  2. Even if an entrepreneur is featured on one publication, it is common practice for publications to take stories from one another
  3. Being covered on a top tech publication opens doors into mainstream media

For GrowthHacker’s launch story, I recommend the startup write to TechCrunch with the exclusive. If TechCrunch is not interested, it could then offer the exclusive to VentureBeat or another publication.

One myth we want to dispel is that entrepreneurs need to be friends with journalists to be covered. This is not true.

I know this is not true because I have tested this by emailing journalists on behalf of myself, on behalf of clients, and on behalf of partners who have no relationship to a journalist. Journalists at these publications appreciate the exclusive, and if you approach media in the right way you will receive responses.

Step #6: Furthering Coverage

With GrowthHacker.com’s startup launch, the aim is for a TechCrunch journalist to write, as an example, “Hi Sean, we will be publishing the article on Wednesday in the afternoon.”

When the articles comes online, the team should promote the press to friends, investors, partners, and more. They should then email hundreds of other publications to further coverage. There are many media outlets, for example Tech Cocktail, which have large readership bases but are not as recognized as Mashable or VentureBeat.

If you are looking for where to find the emails of these publications, we spent 100 hours creating a free Tech Reporter Contact Database.

It’s important to remember that even if one publication receives an exclusive, the announcement can still be picked up by other publications. As an example, we had a client called Causora featured on TechCrunch here and VentureBeat here. You can see from the articles that the exclusive was given to VentureBeat.

Step #7: Repeating The Process

Your startup, if it followed the above steps, should aim to be featured on a number of leading publications, as well as dozens of smaller publications.

Your goal is to repeat this process every 10-12 weeks, or whenever your company has its next announcement.

As an example with GrowthHackers.com, perhaps in 3 months it raises a $100,000 angel round.

It could then launch its next story, which is:

GrowthHackers.com, founded by Sean Ellis, who coined the term “Growth Hacker”, raises $100,000, continues its mission to change the way we learn marketing online.

With this story, it could give the exclusive for the announcement to VentureBeat, Mashable, or another publication.

The above approach is so effective because if you approach the media in this manner, looking to be featured on a top publication every 2-3 months depending on when your company makes an announcement, and then furthering coverage through smaller publications, your company will not be in the top 10% of startups receiving press, it will be in the top 1%.

Many thanks again to Sean for the opportunity to write this guest article. I sincerely hope that the above demystifies the PR process, and that readers will feel more comfortable approaching the media going forward.

I am happy to answer any questions in the comments section below or at conrad (at) brownsteinegusa.com.

Conrad Egusa is the Founder of the marketing firm Brownstein & Egusa, the Co-Owner of Colombia Reports, and the Co-Founder of Espacio. He is currently a mentor at The Founder Institute and he was formerly a writer at VentureBeat. Conrad can be reached at conrad(at)brownsteinegusa.com and can be followed on Twitter here. 

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Check out The Beginner’s Guide to Conversion Rate Optimization

FACT: Conversion Rate Optimization tops the Digital Marketing Priorities for 2013 according to the Econsultancy Report: “Quarterly Digital Intelligence Briefing: Digital Trends for 2013″

Looks like the big guys are finally getting it!  I’ve been highlighting the benefits of conversion rate optimization to startups for years.  It’s nearly impossible to grow any startup without at least some systematic effort to improve your conversion rates.

The challenge with conversion rate optimization is that many people go through the motions, but fail to get close to their optimal conversion rates. People forget that conversion rate optimization is more than just random tests and numbers.  It’s about understanding the needs of visitors to your website and where your website falls short in delivering on those needs.  And a real conversion is more than simply a click to the next step in the funnel.  To effectively convert someone you need to get them to a must-have experience with your product.  If you don’t have a must-have experience, then conversion rate optimization doesn’t really matter anyway.  Read this post for more information about creating a must-have experience.

So assuming you have a product that hits the mark, how do you effectively execute a conversion rate optimization program?  One choice is to hire an expensive conversion rate optimization agency.  While they are expensive, the good ones (such as Conversion Rate Experts) are well worth the money. But startups can rarely afford a world class conversion rate optimization agency.

Fortunately my team and I at Qualaroo have just completed the most comprehensive guide to conversion rate optimization that I have ever seen.  It contains twelve chapters of conversion rate optimization best practices.  It draws on inspiration from several of the best articles written about conversion rate optimization and links back to those articles.

The guide includes the following topics:

  • Chapter 1: What is Conversion Rate Optimization?
  • Chapter 2: Why Conversion Rate Optimization is Important
  • Chapter 3: The Basics of Conversion Rate Optimization
  • Chapter 4: Building a Testing and Optimization Plan
  • Chapter 5: User Experience and Funnel Optimization
  • Chapter 6: Landing Page Optimization
  • Chapter 7: Reducing Bounce and Exit Rates
  • Chapter 8: Myths About Conversion Rate Optimization
  • Chapter 9: Tools to Test and Optimize Conversion
  • Chapter 10: Measuring Conversion Rate Efforts and Calling Winners
  • Chapter 11: Bonus Advanced Tips and Hacks for CRO

The magic of conversion rate optimization is that it makes all of your marketing work better.  Getting users to your site is expensive, whether you pay real dollars or it’s just effort and creativity.  If you don’t make the most of their attention, they are unlikely to ever give you a second chance.

Even if you already consider yourself a pro at conversion rate optimization, the guide includes plenty of nuggets to make you even more effective.  Of course if we missed anything, please share some suggestions in the comments of this blog post.  I don’t even mind if you are a consultant and include your contact information to attract prospective clients.  And if you have any questions, please post those as well.  I’ll check back frequently to try to answer them.

Click here to read The Beginner’s Guide to Conversion Rate Optimization for FREE

My Future Marketing Blog Posts

Focus is the most precious asset for any startup CEO.  As much as I love blogging about startup marketing, it just isn’t a very good use of my time these days.   So for the foreseeable future, I’ll be taking a hiatus from blogging on Startup-Marketing.com.   The most important thing you should have taken away from Startup-Marketing.com is that startup marketers need to focus on doing what’s important at any given stage in a startup.  My short post on The Startup Pyramid gives a good breakdown of the marketing priorities that matter most for startups.  It’s worth re-reading if you’ve read it before.

Now Blogging at blog.qualaroo.com

If you do everything right in the early stages and you’re lucky, startup marketing eventually just becomes marketing.  Established companies have many of the same challenges as startups.  They still need to stay on top of who loves their product, why they love it and how to get many more of the right people into a must-have experience.  The effective emerging tactics for connecting with the right people and onramping them to your product experience are the same for startups and established companies.

At blog.qualaroo.com I’ll be exploring observations and lessons learned in a way that is hopefully useful to all marketers, not just startup marketers.  My most recent post explores why online marketing keeps getting harder every year and what you can do to keep up.  Below is a brief excerpt followed by a link to the full post.

The Online Marketing Arms Race

Online marketing was pretty easy when I first started doing it in 1996.  It wasn’t rocket science that you should test ads for response rates and measure conversions.  But surprisingly a lot of people weren’t following this process.  Considering that there was less than $20 per year competing for the attention of each US Internet user, this little edge made it easy to profitably acquire lots of customers online.

Dollars spent advertising to each USA web user

Marketing is Getting Harder

But in the last few years, online marketing has gotten much harder. Marketers now pile in more than $140 per user in advertising each year.  To compete, today’s online marketers must seek READ FULL ARTICLE 

 

Are Marketers Now Required to be Engineers Too?

As much as I hate to admit it, online marketers with engineering backgrounds often have a significant advantage over non-engineering marketers.  They are simply much more capable of “getting stuff done.” The rest of us waste a lot of time and creative energy figuring how to get the obvious stuff done.

Not only are engineering marketers more capable of getting the essentials done, they can use their reserve of time and creative energy to be scrappy about building marketing experiments.  And of course the experiments they build on their own can be much more interesting than us non-engineers.

One way I have worked around my engineering deficiencies has been to hire the skills onto the marketing team.  For example, in my last long-term VP Marketing role I hired a front-end designer/engineer to design and code landing pages and a dedicated DBA to build reports and run ad hoc queries.

Tools are Leveling the Playing Field

Fortunately the playing field has begun to level in recent years so that non-engineering marketers can be much less dependent on engineering help.  For example, I now use KISSmetrics to build my own reports and run ad hoc queries.  And because it is so easy, I spend a lot more time digging into things like event-to-goal correlations.  This helps me know the events I should be promoting to website visitors in a given lifecycle stage. In the past, I was just seeking visibility into the marketing campaigns and landing pages that were and weren’t working.  KISSmetrics allows me to get much deeper and identify additional levers to improve results.

I’m also no longer dependent on front-end design and development help.  Not only can I build extremely effective landing pages with Unbounce, I can also very easily set up and manage A/B tests. This takes me beyond the stuff I even bothered asking for in the past.  For A/B testing landing pages, I previously had to replicate every ad to point to different landing pages.  It doubled the amount of time it took to set up any new ad campaign.  Now with Unbounce it is all automatic.

Even more empowering, I can actually manage all the content and design updates for our entire website using Optimizely.  This proved to be very useful a few months ago when Qualaroo lacked a front-end developer.  Despite limited HTML skills and no design talent, I was able to make all the necessary changes and still keep the key design templates that were custom created by a talented designer.  Finally, Optimizely made it a no brainer to retain the old version and run it as an A/B test.

What’s Next?

I’m very excited about the range of tools that will emerge over the next few years to further empower marketers.  Eventually I see a time where an individual marketer will have the ability to identify and control all of the most powerful levers for driving growth, even from deep within their website.

An important step that is also taking place is automation of the marketing programs that work.  All of this will continue to free up more time for creative marketers to build marketing experiments that truly push the envelope on results.

Pioneers Festival in Vienna Austria

This week’s Pioneers Festival in Austria was a great surprise (I wasn’t sure what to expect).  It’s very hard to make time for events, but I’m really glad I did for this one.  Stepping back from day to day execution helps with perspective on my startup – especially when it’s with a bunch of other startups in a 300 year old castle in Vienna Austria!

Forbes compared Startup Pioneers very favorably to Le Web:

Pioneers Festival is what LeWeb used to be and by the talk at the event from investors, start ups and journalists, it’s surpassed LeWeb in terms of quality of speakers, venue, networking and topic matter you can sink your teeth into.

Fortunately for everyone who couldn’t attend, Startup Festival provided professionally produced videos of all the speakers.  I highly recommend checking out this video of Alexander Osterwalder‘s presentation.  Here’s the recording of my presentation. Skip the first minute or two of crowd pumping up exercises…

Finally, if you just want the slides from my presentation, here they are:


New Book on Startup Marketing

I recently worked with Hyperink to publish a collection of the most enduring articles from my blog. We carefully curated and compiled the articles that will remain relevant to startups into the future.

This book builds on the original goal when I began blogging about startup marketing. At that time I couldn’t find books that offered useful guidance for a resource-constrained startup striving to achieve hyper growth. I knew I had many valuable lessons to share that I learned growing two startups to IPO filings and taking several more startups to market that are now worth billions of dollars collectively.

The book won’t give you a single silver bullet that makes success easy. Growing a startup is hard and the odds are stacked against all entrepreneurs. But this book will help you understand key growth principles and prioritize efforts needed to build a foundation that supports long-term sustainable growth. And when necessary, it will help founders hire the right kind of person to lead their growth efforts.

What makes a startup scalable? Why is product/market fit so important? What defines a “must have” product? What 3 common optimization failures can lead to a startup’s downfall? What’s the best business model for a startup’s goals? You’ll find the answers to these and other questions all in the book.

It is now available on Hyperink, which provides DRM-free copies in PDF, EPUB, and MOBI formats; Kindle; and Nook .

The Risks of Growth Hacking and How to Build Authentic Sustainable Growth

It has been a couple years since I wrote the first post on growth hacking.  The term didn’t gain much popularity until Andrew Chen wrote this post back in April of this year.

Online Marketing Redefined

Some people love the term “growth hacker” and some hate it. The term is not important. What is important is that people are tuning into the fact that traditional marketing techniques are often not very effective for driving growth in online businesses.

When I first started advising startups on growth a few years ago, most startup founders asked for help with driving awareness.  I wrote this blog post in response: Awareness Building is a Waste of Startup Resources.

Occasionally I’d connect with the in-house marketing person at a startup and see a plan that looked like a template from a Marketing 101 text book.  That’s not surprising since most marketing job descriptions for startups also looked like they came out of a Marketing 101 text book.

Today people are realizing that the best startups have approached growth in a very different way.  There are now over 450 active openings for growth hackers listed on SimplyHired.com alone. Two years ago, most of these job descriptions would have been for traditional marketers. It’s very exciting to see this revolutionary change in the way online startups think about growth.  And it’s not surprising that more established online businesses are beginning to adopt these approaches as well.

Evolving Definition of Growth Hacker

I recommend that people don’t get caught up on the term “growth hacker” or even a specific definition for it.  Focus instead on the concepts behind it. The fastest growing companies on the Internet have a growth focus rather than a marketing focus.  Try to understand how businesses like Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, Linkedin, Eventbrite and Groupon are driving growth and you’ll begin to understand the meaning of “growth hacker.”

I also recommend that you Google the term “growth hacker” and read the articles. Not everybody agrees on the exact definition, but most of the articles contain gold. The alternative is to read 1000s of pages in marketing text books, which will give you very few insights about how to drive growth in an online business.

Stay Authentic to Value Delivered

The best growth hackers are constantly testing and tweaking new growth hacks.  During this process it is easy to lose sight of the big picture.  When this happens, growth eventually falls off a cliff.

Sustainable growth programs are built on a core understanding of the value of your solution in the minds of your most passionate customers.  Your drive to develop growth hacks should be based on a burning desire to get this “must have” experience into the hands of more and more of the right customers.  Growth hacks built from this frame of mind are the ones that build large sustainable businesses.

Fully grasping your must have experience isn’t easy.  The presentation below is a step-by-step guide for uncovering your must have experience and calibrating your messaging and flows to that experience.  The process should put you in the right frame of mind to build sustainable growth programs.

Update Oct 2013 - If you want inspiration for developing effective growth hacks and would like to engage with other growth hackers, check out our new project at GrowthHackers.com.

Creating an Unforgettable Name

One of the requirements when we acquired KISSinsights was that we change the name.  As much as we loved the KISSinsights’ name, a new name would gives us the flexibility to extend beyond collecting insights.

Having been through naming exercises several times, I realized it would be an opinionated, emotional process.  All startups want a name that will help success, or at the very least won’t stand in the way it.  And unlike most startup decisions that are temporary and iterative, naming is a lot harder to reverse.

So we began our renaming exercise with some trepidation.  Like most companies, we were tempted to go with a cookie cutter name. Finalists included SnapTabs and BuzzBits.

Our VP of Product, Jason Meresman, suggested Qualaroo.  My initial reaction was “We can’t have a name like that!”  It went against my conservative nature to blend in…  Then I realized that blending in is the last thing a product should want to do.

Jason laid out a compelling case for Qualaroo.

  • It’s unique
  • It’s fun to say
  • Qual can mean qualified, quality, qualitative
  • Roo can connect to a memorable kangaroo image

Of course, like all important decisions we wanted to get input from some customers and peers.  We shared several potential names and asked for feedback and/or suggestions.  Most people had the same reaction that I initially had. They gravitated to names that sounded “ordinary.”  A few people sent persuasive support for Qualaroo, but they were in the minority.

Qualaroo logo small

So we were left with the decision to go with a safe, cookie cutter name or something more distinctive.  Not surprisingly, we chose Qualaroo.  It seems to strike the right balance of whimsical and serious.  And most importantly, tests show that people really remember it.

We also decided to make the free version much better (custom questions, 3X more responses per survey, full targeting functionality), so expect to see the Qualaroo kangaroo hopping up on a lot more websites…

Pop up with Qualaroo

If you are going through a naming exercise, I recommend that you fight the urge to blend in.  Here are a few resources on naming that were useful for us: