02/12/2017 12:00:00 AM
“The key to explosive growth is process not Hacks”
There is no single silver bullet to growth hacking your startup to explosive growth. The sooner you come to terms with that and focus on building a sustainable growth hacking process the sooner you can start growing your company and making sure it keeps growing month after month after month.
“Do this one thing to help your startup become a unicorn”
The word growth hacking has become synonymous with magic. Startup founders read growth hacking content online with flashy and click-bait type titles promising to give founders this one little magical secret hack that will make their startups reach “Rocket Ship” status. In so, founders think to themselves “Why can’t I get lucky?”, they roll-up their sleeves and start digging online with the hope of finding this one overnight success hack. This growth hack is usually expected to lead to explosive growth in an extremely narrow timeframe - a week or month - as promised by the author who is in fact a consummate content marketer for a marketing software company or entrepreneurship-focused online publisher.
This approach to startup growth is what I like to call the “founder growth hack illusion”; this happens when a founder focuses too much on the outcome which is usually achieving fast and overnight growth; and too little on the process of how to get and stay there. We need to be more critical when we read content about how growth hacks worked for startups. Overnight success is rare, many of those magical results you think are magical were months or even years in the making.
Focusing on process that is driven by inputs; targeting each layer in the user-funnel can help you build a sustainable growth model that is scalable, predictable and repeatable. Outcome based models have very little predictive and analytical power. They are actually based on hope rather than reality.
In Growth, process comes first and hacks come second. Period.
One of the best examples of how adopting a growth process for your startup can help you grow exponentially is the Twitter story. Twitter grew substantially and skyrocketed from Q1-2011 to Q4-2012. The product experienced traction and growth in the number of its monthly active users (MAUs) by an average of 243 fold after adopting and implementing a growth process that increased weekly growth tests’ averages from 0.05 to 10 weekly tests. Twitter’s growth was not the result of black magic but due to the fact that they changed their approach to growth by focusing more on the process and less on the outcome.
A growth process has done wonders for Twitter and while the growth process in and of itself is almost always the same – Agile process. Once you’ve put a process in place you still need to go one-step further. You need to go back to hacks to deliver on that process, but you need to customize these hacks to your startup and here’s why:
- Every startup has its own unique DNA:
The growth hacks you read online might have worked for someone else’s startup, but there are a number of reasons it most likely won’t work for you. It may be because your business model is different, your customer journey is different, your audience is different, your product is different, or your startup is different. The list can go on forever. Again, you can use other startups’ experiences; as inspiration, but ultimately what turns a startup into a successful business is putting a unique set of variables together to create an unbeatable blend. Startup founders who win are not those who copy others. They are the ones who are original in their search for new channels, new audiences and new business models. In Zero to One, Peter Thiel argued that “The next Bill Gates will not start an operating system. The next Larry Page won't start a search engine. The next Mark Zuckerberg won't start a social network. If you are copying these people, you are not learning from them”. In the same vain, growth hacking strategies need to be custom built to help unlock the unique set of variables that make your startup great.
- The rate of change in the digital space is very fast:
The content you read online on growth hacks is never forever, it will become outdated and ineffective sooner or later as the world of acquisition channels get more and more complex every day. Take Google and Facebook for example: Google posed as a dominant and consistent traffic source for the biggest international publishers for years, this trend started to shift in October 2014. In the period from May to July 2015 Facebook accounted for 43% of prominent publishers’ traffic and Google accounted for 38% of their traffic. This dynamic shifted growth marketers’ focus from SEO to social media marketing. Another example is Airbnb’s infamous growth hack; Airbnb team offered users who listed properties on their platform the opportunity to post them as well on the popular listings site Craigslist, in return, this growth hack boosted Airbnb’s user base and listings. After a while, Craigslist engineers managed to block Airbnb’s listings, but by then it was a little too late. The lesson here is that startups need a growth process that allows them to continue to experiment, uncover acquisition channels and tactics that work and identify channels/tactics that worked in the past but are no longer effective. It’s a constant feedback loop. Much like how startups A|B test product changes or updates, so must they do with growth hacking.
There is an inclination in the startup growth hacking communities to talk about and seek tricks or hacks which contributes to the myth that there are silver bullets to startup growth. In fact growing a startup is all about adopting a process that unlocks your startup’s unique set of variables and keeps you agile and adaptive in the face of a fast changing digital world. A growth process is the key to sustainable growth. We should never forget that. We should, without a doubt use the growth hacking content we read online as inspiration but certainly not as a silver bullet type growth strategy.