Startup life is hard. You know that already don’t you? getting the MVP ready, launching it right, finding the right teams, getting the initial customers and building a pipeline. So much happening all through. and even after all that most startups land up in the startup valley of death. Growth hacking can change this !!

I. Why founders need to understand and know growth hacking:

First thing first, growth hacking is no magic pill that helps you get from zero to hero in a jiffy. It’s just a way of achieving more with less or rather very less. The secret is – constant experimentation.

As a founder, I refrain from calling myself a growth hacker but in practicality, it is an unsaid need for the job. A growth hacker is something we founders need to be at various times, especially during the early days.  Time is pressed, money is less, team size small – Frankly we don’t have the luxury and bandwidth like established companies do.

I’ve often found myself chatting with fellow founders on growth hacking, what works and what doesn’t. How sometimes serendipity plays a role and other times its just smarts. This article is just getting all my understanding of this in black and white and in the process maybe also help a stumbling founder along the way!!

So, whatever be the case, step 1 to the journey is to have a marketable product. Ensure your product is something that is easy to talk about. You can’t be talking like you’re selling nuclear codes and selling Goat milk soaps.

What it takes to begin on the growth hacking journey

I’ll begin with the 6  key tenets that always help in growth hacking:

1. Inciting Curiosity – Humans are curious beings. They want to know the why or how behind every what if they can manage to. Use this to your advantage while designing a campaign.

2. Being Creative – If you’re doing what a hundred or thousand others are ding, your prospects have nothing to be wowed about or remember you for. Go for the unusual. Across regions or geographies is still okay but keep a tab of what’s happening around in your ecosystem t avoid coming across as a copycat.

3. Being focused – Working hard to get people from point A to B is the key. Don’t go for spray and pray here.

4. Understanding psychology – If you can figure out how a stranger might react you can be prepared to offer a certain tailored experience. To sharpen this skill, read as much as you can, talk to as many people as you can especially from your target audience.

5. Data. data. Data. – Well, what’s a growth hacker who cant talk data and quantify the tasks and results !! To begin, sharing a list of analytics tools you can find in the resources section.

6. Technology – You cannot avoid using technology in the growth hacking space. You mostly need to be a genius at tracking how stuff works but it’s not an absolute necessity either. You don’t need to be programming here but knowing the right tool stack to use for your gains is a major plus.

Remember growth hacking isn’t something scalable and repeatable most times. e.g. what works once may most likely work because your target audience was caught in a surprise, but you can’t repetitively surprise with the same thing, right ? or you may not just have the funds to be creative constantly with a massive prospect base. Catch the drift there?

III. Some pointers and direction on growth hacking:

What I’m sharing ahead is not a checklist or manual. It’s a just a train of thought to help you onboard the growth hacking mindset. It will get you to start thinking of what different you could do with what you already do.  and only the stuff that could help you get there in front of your prospects.

James Currier, the founder of Ooga Labs, identified three general types of acquisition channels growth marketers must focus upon (Source: HBR)

  • Owned Media: Email, Facebook, Craigslist, Twitter, Pinterest, Apps
  • Paid: Ads (Mobile, Web, Video, TV, Radio, SEM, Affiliate), Sponsorships
  • Earned Media: SEO, PR, Word of Mouth

emails:

You’d say emails are something everybody is doing. Yes, I agree but have a look at Jon Buchan from the Charm Offensive and you’ll know there are tons of things more that you can still do with emails (and subject lines). Jon is doing with emails and subtle humor and storytelling. he got 653 B2B leads from a single Reddit post.

Writing emails may not work. Getting creative with them always does.

Letters:

Not talking about a newsletter but an actual physical one. In the age of email and Gmail we almost never get letters and if we do, we tend to open them out of curiosity if not respect for the sender. In some cases, this really works.

and there are websites like mail a letter that help you do this for a pittance

Websites:

You can use innovative ways to bring in people to your websites. Case in point is Mailchimp’s did you mean campaign which harnessed the fact that people tend to confuse names. It humorously took the bull by its horn by addressing 9 ways one could mispronounce or confuse Mailchimp eg Fail Chips! Some might consider this campaign a gamble but nonetheless, people were drawn to the website to check it out. The company succeeded in building an image of being approachable and relatable.

Mail-chimp-nail-champ

Image credit – Mailchimp.com

Move to real life:

There’s a reason some things just remain. Remember in 2014 how everybody was doing the Ice Bucket Challenge? It was probably one of the greatest growth hacks to support a cause.  The aim like every other year for the American ALS society was to raise funds, but in 2014 they took it far, wide and deep with the challenge which piqued people’s curiosity with a silly, funny and doable dare failing to do which you had to contribute to the fund. For whatever reason people did it or not, the society raised $15.6 million – an 800% rise in funds that year.

Now don’t just think of this as a game but understand the dynamics at play here – The challenge asked people to nominate three people specifically which made the challenged people like being challenged directly. the Social pressure would lead them to act. Secondly, they asked for 3 people which is the right number of shares for any content to go viral online.

Technology Twinkles:

Well knowing a little bit of programming – a basic level would be extremely helpful if you can manage it. In my previous venture where I ran a media company, there was a time when I wanted to game the system and created a VB script that ran, posted and shared articles from various Facebook IDs. The aim was to have higher share and like velocity to make a post go viral.

It’s sometimes as simple as riding the wave. e.g. Facebook changed its algorithm to remove the power of pages and instead focus on Groups – You do that. LinkedIn’s algorithm is on promoting videos sine recent days. So what do you do, well you make videos and post them on LinkedIn itself (Assuming you’re aware that Facebook and LinkedIn inhibit the reach of posts that have links in them because that means traffic moving out of the networking platform.)

 The Social media Juggernaut:

Understand what social media channel is working for you. e.g. Twitter is super active in the Crypto and Gaming space so if you’re in that industry that’s the social media channel to follow. ( Source: Vin Clancy, Growth Hacker) Similarly, many SaaS companies find LinkedIn to be reaping the most benefits and some find Facebook or Instagram doing the job. Figure the social media cocktail that works best for you and thereafter get into its basics. e.g. Can you get micro-influencers to partner with you?

Social selling is quite the new content marketing today so understand it and strategize upon it.

Facebook-algorithm

Source: Vin Clancy, Growth Marketer

Competitions:

Humans are competitive by nature. Competitions bring that out. Use it to your advantage like YouTube did in the early days. It would host competitions of best videos and User generated content (UGC) and offer prizes like an Apple IPod which was trendy back then (the Apple IPod I mean).

This, of course, is more relevant to certain industries and lesser to some so understand how you can make this work for you.

Product Placement:

Sometimes when low on budget, you just have to be creative with where to place your ads and promotions to let the users do the talking for you.

genius-funny-ad-placement

Image source: Mad over Marketing

Blogs:

Writing on your own blog is a nno-brainerbut getting creative and getting yourself noticed and featured in the right blogs is a massive deal. In its early days, Buffer founder Leo Widrich wrote amazing guest blogs on third party sites to build a name for Buffer and eventually bring in a 100, 000 users. There is no denying the role of quality here but to also note that what

Lead magnets

These are popular avenues of lead email collection which work on a simple premise – Understand the target persona. Create a Guidebook or quiz that the target persona would be interested in and deliver it to them for free. Well not completely free, in exchange of an email ID.

Video courses:

Video courses are a great way to capture attention of the target audience if you can zero down into a specific niche and thereafter teach how to solve the Target audience’s pain points. It obviously takes a lot of effort and consistency to be right there offering non stop value.

Hubspot has created a Free for all Content marketing certification course. It’s a pretty neat course from what I hear. Now the key is a person who signs up for such a course is already the target audience of Hubspot who are a marketing automation platform. People who have engaged with this course would be fed constant examples on how Hubspot does a and b and c. So later on when the marketer is wanting to choose the right marketing tool for themselves, guess what tool would they be drawn to choose?

and all Hubspot needs to do is to maintain quality content that’s relevant with the changing trends.

Crowdfunding:

This might sound like an unconventional growth strategy, but it actually works. Recently a fellow alumnus from my business school had the most interesting update to share about a new venture he was involved in.

Andi-piftor

Andi’s facebook post’s screenshot

Launching on Kickstarter not only helped them get in funds via crowdfunding but also provided a great platform to showcase their product to a new audience and create noise around the product.

Referral program

Referral programs are one of the best ways to exponentially grow your reach. We’ve all heard how Dropbox harnessed the power of referral marketing. The key here is the right incentive. If nobody knows you, the proposition has to be super attractive for prospects to lap it up.

growth-hacking-funnel-referral

Image Source: Growthhacker.org

You could offer them money like Paypal did in its infancy or provide additional storage space like Dropbox did or provide some really lucrative company freebies etc. something that makes a user’s mind go wow!

If you can have FOMO attached to it even better!

Group discounts

Before you offer a group discount, it’s imperative to know your profit margin, break-even point and markup percentage.  Once you have that figured out, go where your audience is. e.g. if you’re a SaaS company you could be offering a discount to x number of licenses bought together or if you’re an agency you could offer a discount of 30% if the user signs up for y amount of work for the year.

Gamify the system:

At Alore CRM we have a fun aspect to what we do. We buy pizzas every weekend for one of our customers any place on the planet he/she may be. It’s not the Pizza that’s valuable but the fun quotient around it as to who gets the pizza this week and for us onto who we deliver it to this week and how. it creates a momentary buzz and breaks the monotony of the Alore customer’s life.

When you’re gamifying the process, you’re building a certain image of the brand and also connecting with your users at a personal level. Through your customers, you’re also reaching into their network in some way and strengthening and widening the brand reach. Worth a try for sure.

III. Some valuable resources – internal and external to figure out channels and ways to hack growth.

Web analytics and data analysis tools that B2B companies need to succeed

Double your business with a thorough Twitter marketing strategy

LinkedIn for business – How and why it should be part of your marketing plan!

42 sites offering free stock images and 16 paid ones

51 Inspired Examples of Growth Strategies & Techniques From The World’s Most Innovative Businesses

Growth Strategies: How 43 Founders Landed Their First Customers

Facebook group Ideas That Scale  talks about growth and sales hacking

and if you’ve read this article this far – just drop in an email at vik@plash.in with the subject line “I want to be a growth hacking founder too” and here’s what I’ll send you.

1. List of 70+ popular bloggers and influencers with their email IDs

2. List of 35+ sites that provide stock videos

3. List of popular SMM Panels should you ever want to understand more on this black-hat-ish strategy

4. Seven ways to build your sales funnels.

5. Cheatsheet of fifteen tools that help you hack growth unconventionally and keep your pipeline full.

Happy Growth hacking my fellow founders!