Growth hacking may seem like a buzz phrase for marketing purposes, but in fact, nothing can be further from the truth.
Many startups and developing companies try to make a compelling product or service but have no clue how to manage their attention, what to focus on and when.
They are roaming through pitch darkness, and growth hacking is a like a pair of high-tech night vision goggles that makes them aware of their surroundings and allows them to take conscious, well-focused actions for driving steady growth and here is three reasons why You should start using it too if You haven’t already.
#1. It shows You the Big Picture.
Let’s assume that You are an alien – You have never been to Planet Earth and know nothing about it.
I will bring You here, take You to a gym and tell You to do this “thing” that increases inflammation, blood pressure, and heart rate.
Would You be up for it?
Hell no! That sounds like a terrible idea.
Still, that “thing” is called exercise and humans know it’s good for them – the issue is that You can’t tell whether something is good or bad when You are presented with only a piece of information out of context.
What I’m trying to say is that actions which seem very counterintuitive may turn out to be exceptionally beneficial for Your company or product in the long run.
But, obviously, You are not going to take action in the right direction without having an understanding of the big picture.
And this is a case where growth hacking comes into play.
HubSpot for example, a company that sells marketing and management software, changed its sales policy in a pretty controversial manner – by making a paid feature, which was an up-front product training, mandatory to an already paid product. So that their customers not only had to pay for the base product, but also for that feature.
Who thinks that was a good idea? I certainly did not! Well, not until I got acquainted with the story behind that decision. It turns out that HubSpot, via a thorough analysis of its user data, found out that customers who went through that up-front product training were retained much longer than those who didn’t. People at that company developed a big picture understanding, trusted the data and acted upon it. And the results were astonishing as the HubSpot grew its customer base at a rapid pace while increasing the revenues from $255,000 in 2007 to $15.6 million in 2010.
“If you can’t be extremely clinical and extremely unemotionally detached from the thing that you’re building, you will make these massive mistakes, and things won’t grow because you don’t understand what’s happened.”
-Sean Ellis, “Hacking Growth”
Do You happen to run a business and hire your own employees?
If so, I guess that You also must have established work and vacation policies like most other companies. You require from people to track the number of days they worked, and days they didn’t work, maybe also monitor their work hours. You need to know and micromanage what they do, because otherwise, they won’t do it, right? At the end of the day, it’s about knowing what You pay for.
What if I told You to stop doing that and set your people free?
Give them the freedom to decide when to show up for work, when to take time off and as long as they want. I’m almost positive that You’d tell me it’s a great idea about how to destroy a company because it couldn’t possibly function like that, let alone succeed on the market.
People would go crazy, wouldn’t they?
In 2004 Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix introduced that kind of idea in his company.
Since then his employees were allowed to take as much time off as they wanted, whenever they wanted, plus they didn’t have to track how and when they get their job done since the leadership was more results-oriented.
So how did it go?
Even though Netflix employees have a policy of “unlimited vacation” they don’t seem to go crazy with it, as the company revealed their workers take on average three to five weeks off during a year. What has changed is their performance – it turned out that when You give your employees trust, freedom and greater autonomy they will start to act more responsibly – which manifested itself by Netflix growing a market cap to $61 billion since introducing that seemingly bad idea.
Business is not a place for bias – You have to cut Your own bullshit (or how people in the field call it “invalidate lore”) and trust the data or You will unconsciously bring your product or company closer to failure.
#2. It tells You what’s the best way to accomplish a goal.
Imagine that You’re a soldier at a battlefield and your single goal is to stop an enemy tank charging at your camp. How are You going to accomplish it?
For the sake of simplicity let’s assume that You have a machine gun and an RPG at your disposal.
- A) You shoot from an RPG.
One aimed shot and BOOM! Your camp is saved, and it took You relatively low effort to accomplish the task.
That’s using the leverage – You know that launching a rocket will provide enough force to deal a significant amount of damage to either incapacitate the vehicle or even destroy it.
- B) You shoot from a machine gun.
Now physics dictates: because the bullets hit the tank, they are going to slow it down some, but . You won’t even notice, and the odds are that the tank will get close enough to devastate the camp before the bullets do any harm to the enemy.
I want You to pay attention to the fact that both methods move You towards accomplishing the goal.
The only difference is that one method is incomparably superior to the other one, both regarding required effort and effectiveness per unit of time, which begs the question:
If You had insights about what is the best way to get something done – what would change?
How much time and resources would You save?
Would You get more competitive as a result?
While the analogy with choosing the most efficient way to stop a tank seems obvious, it’s not always that clear what path yields the most results in the least amount of time when it comes to business. For that, you need to track and collect the data, parse it for useful insights and experiment a lot!
In 2015 eBay, one of the global e-commerce leaders, after splitting from PayPal, has struggled with stagnation and obtained unfavorable forecasts for the future from analysts.
The company had to do something to rapidly to attract buyers, increase the Gross Merchandise Volume that goes through their site and prove to investors that they can find new ways to grow.
But instead of dividing forces and blindly engaging in everything that could work, eBay chose a more strategic approach and decided to enrich the way they collect, process and analyze the data by bringing more artificial intelligence, machine learning, and big data analysis into its online marketplace through the acquisition of Expertmaker and SalesPredict in 2016. That move allowed the company to make much more accurate decisions about improving and creating new product experiences for sellers.
Eventually, eBay has proved that You actually can hack your way through the obstacles with the moment when the CEO Devin Wenig has revealed their 2016 first quarter earnings. They showed that the company started growing again, and as we can see, continued to do so throughout the whole year, totaling $22.3 billion in Gross Merchandise Volume and $2.4 billion revenue by the end of Q4 .
Growth hacking not only helps you determine the best path to achieve a goal, but also very often acts like a search engine for “great deals” by identifying small things that can be changed at a low cost, yet make a big deal of a difference.
Highrise, a customer relationship management product launched by Basecamp needed an increase in adoption, so the team did a simple A/B test of the copy on the sign-up page with two language versions: “Sign Up for Free Trial” and “See Plans and Pricing.”
The case with changed phrase to “See Plans and Pricing” resulted in 200% more sign-ups.
“That might seem like a rare case, but it’s not; in the companies, we’ve worked with we’ve seen hundreds of examples of other equally simple changes—revealed through A/B testing—that have led customers to the aha moment […]”
-Sean Ellis, “Hacking Growth.”
How much money & effort do all these things cost? Close to none.
How significant gains can they bring? Massive.
#3. Everyone can use it.
As I said at the beginning, growth hacking is not just some random buzz phrase or a more fancy name for marketing. It has a lot more to it and, in my opinion, the MUCH broader spectrum of people can use it, because it resembles a discipline of science and science is accessible for every human being with working neocortex, no matter what’s your profession.
Personally, I don’t care about being right; I care about what works, and the scientific process provides me with knowledge about whether something works or not.
“I know of no time in human history where ignorance was better than knowledge.”
-Neil deGrasse Tyson
The scientific method, for example, is a method of research with defined steps that include experiments and careful observation. Also, one of the most important aspects of this method is the testing of hypotheses by means of repeatable experiments.
A hypothesis is a suggested explanation for an event, which can be tested in an attempt to comprehend the nature of the tested subject.
That’s what the science-like attitude of growth hacking is all about – leveraging empirical evidence and aggressive experimentation, leading to outcomes predicted by analysis of the available data.
The more people using that kind of approach; the more crucial insights are available and better decisions can be made – for that reason growth teams are established.
According to Brian Balfour, “a growth team is a small, versatile, focused, data driven and aggressive group of unique individuals, who are constantly pushing themselves to learn and execute new growth strategies, tactics, and techniques.”
Those individuals could be engineers, data analysts, designers, product managers and so on.
Nearly every employee can and should run experiments and question the way things are done in order for the whole company to grow and sustain that growth.
Annabell Satterfield, a product marketing manager who joined the BitTorrent marketing team in 2012, was supposed to focus on boosting adoption of their mobile product, but surprisingly, she also requested to be able to work with the product team. Why bother with the rest of the funnel?
Because growth hacking is applicable everywhere, as it turned out to be when Annabell revealed the results of a survey she has made to the product team. The survey asked users why hadn’t they upgraded to the Pro version of the app. Can You guess what the most frequent answer was?
The product team certainly could not and they were astonished to discover that users of their product had no idea there was a paid version. So the team immediately added an upgrade button to the app’s home screen – simply changing that increased the daily revenue by 92%.
Growth hacking is designed to easily fit the needs of startups and companies of any size and stage of growth which means that the growth team doesn’t have to be a separate and dedicated unit – it could be made up from an existing staff.
Uber for example, at the early stages, established one team focused on driving the growth of the business. At the start it consisted of two designers, a few engineers, product managers, and analysts.
Adapting a growth hacking approach by their staff doesn’t seem to hurt their development since the company operates now in 570 cities worldwide, generating $6.5 billion in revenue.
“No company today has any reason not to establish a growth team – or multiple teams as the case may be – and doing so doesn’t require abandoning traditional organizational structures or traditional marketing strategies.”
-Sean Ellis, “Hacking Growth.”
Hopefully, now, You can see how misleading it could be to think of growth hacking as of a tool just for marketers. It is much more universal and powerful than that, equally useful to everyone, especially now, when the previously distinct lines between product development, engineering, and marketing are getting blurred out, requiring everyone to work together.