June 2020: Two years ago on a long plane ride, I wrote these notes for myself and my friends. Sharing here with some light updating for anyone else who finds it useful.
This is a living document summarizing some of the practices I’ve personally found to enable (1) peaceful / calm work practices that are (2) effective at accomplishing difficult projects which (3) have measurable, positive impact on myself, my team, and my customers.
“If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.”
That’s probably what Fidelity and Vanguard are trying to tell their customers right now after nearly every other brokerage cut trading commissions to zero in an attempt to choke out Robinhood.
But this is also a popular refrain for those disparaging advertising-based business models in favor of the ever-popular SaaS that VCs dream about. We’ll leave that discussion for another day, but suffice to say it’s easy to “be willing to pay” when you’re in the top 1% of global income.
Gary Vaynerchuk gets 2k to 60k views when he publishes an article on LinkedIn. But what about the rest of us? Is LinkedIn content marketing an option for those of us who aren’t already social media celebrities? Enter Louis Profeta. This ER doctor isn’t a household name. He’s got less than 200 followers on Twitter, and in 2010 he published a book that currently ranks #210,312 on Amazon. And yet, Profeta’s LinkedIn articles have collectively been read more than 3 million times.
Just over three years old, Clash of Clans rakes in more than $5M 1 2 3 each day and consistently charts in the top three grossing apps4. It’s the app that new game developers look to for inspiration.
However, the future didn’t always look so bright for the game’s creator, Supercell. In mid-2011 the year-old company realized their web- and Facebook-first strategy would never generate the hit game they needed 5 (this was late in the Facebook game fad), so they quickly shifted to a tablet-first strategy and killed all their old games6.
Marketing’s not a technical field, right?
Think again. As growth hacking has proven repeatedly over the last few years, a data-driven approach to marketing achieves stronger, more reliable results than traditional marketing.
The mad men of the future will combine creativity with rigorous analysis. (tweet this)
Despite a plethora of outstanding tools that handle much of the analysis, the best marketers will understand enough statistics to explore deeper insights from Google Analytics, enough SQL to access product usage logs without waiting for IT to build a special interface, and enough programming to effectively communicate requests to engineering.
Product Hunt is where people go to talk about the best new products. Each day, members uncover dozens of new product launches and discuss their merits. In just three short years since launching in November 2013, Product Hunt has sent over one hundred million product clicks and views to the thousands of products on the site1. And just recently, Product Hunt was actually acquired by AngelList for a rumored $20M2.
Your company doesn’t need a blog. In fact, starting a blog (aka, “content marketing”) is probably a bad idea. But, you say, isn’t content marketing one of the most powerful free growth techniques? Yes and no - writing can be a powerful top-of-funnel strategy, and a fair number of startups have turned it into a strong acquisition channel. But more often than not, blogs never get much traffic, draw potential customers away from your homepage, and damage your brand with low quality “marketing” posts.
Good marketing boils down to two primary areas: perfecting standard processes (like AARRR metrics) and uncovering new innovations (popularly termed “growth hacks”). Hopefully this series on clever growth hacks will inspire new ideas that push the envelope. Airbnb’s founding team became growth hacking royalty when they managed to sell enough politically themed cereal to keep the company afloat. But while this strategy gave them more runway, how did they actually make Airbnb a success?
In 2014, Tim Ferriss logged into Aweber and discovered a 300k email list he never knew existed - thanks to a landing page he’d built years ago. Since then, he’s poured incredible energy and fantastic content into his email newsletter to the point that this is now his primary way of communicating with readers. But let’s go back to the beginning. In 2006, Tim Ferriss built a landing page for his first book - fourhourworkweek.
Despite an highly developed existing landing page, Highrise HQ managed to drive a 102.5% improvement with an A/B tested redesign. Far too often people use percent improvements to make minor shifts in small numbers look important. “We had a 200% increase in sales” = last month we sold 1 book, this month we sold 3. But not so in this case - Highrise HQ was already a successful product with plenty of people signing up.
Good marketing boils down to two primary areas: perfecting standard processes (like AARRR metrics) and uncovering new innovations (popularly termed “growth hacks”). Hopefully this series on clever growth hacks will inspire new ideas that push the envelope. Casey Neistat - two years ago he was a decently well known innovative filmmaker. Today, he’s one of the best known YouTube celebrities. His channel has over six million subscribers, and his videos regularly get one to four million views each.
Sequels are always worse than the original, and they always make more money. Captain America: Civil War brought in the most box office cash worldwide of any movie in 2016. It’s the third Captain America movie in 6 years, and it brought in 58% more than the second sequel.[2. 2016 WORLDWIDE GROSSES] Doing something new is always a risk while repeating something that already worked comes with a pre-made audience.
After being disappointed in their personal search for affordable luxury watches, two brothers decided to start the Warby Parker of watches1. With backgrounds in fashion and operations management, they began exploring the world of Italian watch manufacturing, and launched their first line of watches on Kickstarter2. Achieving fairly strong success, this first Kickstarter closed at just under $1M from 6k backers3. After the standard delays and challenges usually faced by first time manufacturers, they appear to have shipped watches about 10 months later (7 months past the initial promise)4.
I’m addicted to spreadsheets. My friends know that I build spreadsheets for everything: I’ve got one for my to-do projects (Getting Things Done style). One to manage my stock investing. And of course I’ve got one for this blog. In the world of data-driven marketing, spreadsheets let us do so much before we have to break out SQL and databases. The beauty of spreadsheets of course are the formulas - you can practically write a new operating system if you just make enough tabs!
Good marketing boils down to two primary areas: perfecting standard processes (like AARRR metrics) and uncovering new innovations (popularly termed “growth hacks”). Hopefully this series on clever growth hacks will inspire new ideas that push the envelope. A small furniture chain in southern California noticed that 75% of their potential customers started online rather than in-store. So naturally they decided to look for strategies to increase their online conversion rate.
We all want a silver bullet. ”If you just follow this marketing strategy, you’ll get a million users in 30 days.” ”If you just use these words in your headline, you’ll get a 100% CTR on your ads.” “If you just sign up for this work from home program, you’ll make $20,000 per month.” But the reality is there are no silver bullets. A free trial might make your company, or it could drive up your acquisition costs.
Marketers are supposed to drive leads for sales to close. Or bring in orders for shipping to fulfill. Or bring in SaaS users for product folks to service. Once the customer is signed up, they’re moved down the customer lifecycle and handed off to a different department. But that’s forgetting arguably the single most powerful marketing channel: word of mouth.
Let’s look at CD Baby Back in 1998, Derek Sivers built CD Baby after seeing how many of his fellow musicians needed help getting their records on this new thing called the “internet”[1.
Dropbox is one of the celebrities of the growth world. Like Airbnb and Hotmail, it merits a mention in nearly every “growth 101” book or article ever written. And well it should - Sean Ellis identified many of the most foundational growth principles during his tenure as head of growth at Dropbox1.
But as much as we’ve heard about their viral video, their epic referral program, and their invite-only launch, I started to wonder if perhaps we were only seeing part of the picture.
Good marketing boils down to two primary areas: perfecting standard processes (like AARRR metrics) and uncovering new innovations (popularly termed “growth hacks”). Hopefully this series on clever growth hacks will inspire new ideas that push the envelope. Sometimes seemingly small choices can have outsized effects. Where I live in London, the food delivery industry is quite competitive with global players like Uber Eats as well as local players like Deliveroo and Just Eat.
Stop trying to drive “traffic” to your website. You don’t need more “traffic”, you need more customers. In the growth community, we talk a lot about optimization. Optimize your ads, your landing page, your checkout page, and so on. But here’s the tricky thing. Optimization only matters if you’re working toward the right metric. If you optimize your ads for clicks but not conversions, you might very well drive massive numbers of clicks from the wrong types of customers.
Lean out. Lean in. Roll out and arch. Freefall 13,000 feet above the ground. A mosaic of British farmland stretches beneath me and the North Sea sparkles on the horizon, but I notice nothing. Despite 6+ hours of ground training, my mind empties as my body accelerates to 120 mph in just over 15 seconds. But not for long. Between nudges and hand signals, the two instructors holding me tightly on either side quickly bring the drills flooding back into my mind.
Good marketing boils down to two primary areas: perfecting standard processes (like AARRR metrics) and uncovering new innovations (popularly termed “growth hacks”). Hopefully this series on clever growth hacks will inspire new ideas that push the envelope. As the famous AirBnB/Craigslist case study demonstrated in 2012, integrating a new product with a larger, established community can lead to massive growth.
Requiring all United States customers to sign up via Facebook, Spotify made it easy to then share your tunes with your Facebook friends.
[This is the first in a series of articles exploring the driving factors of high-growth companies. Palantir in particular is interesting because of their B2B business model and their lack of traditional marketing or sales teams1.]
They helped convict Bernie Madoff 2, analyzed roadside bomb patterns in Afganistan, and are rumored to have helped locate Osama bin Laden3. They’ve worked with the FBI, CIA, Marine Corps, Air Force, and at least 8 other government organizations4.
In late 2014, WeWork raised $335 million[1. Q4 2014 Startup Investment Dollars at Highest Point In 10 Years, Driven By Mega-Rounds and Private Equity] at a $5 billion valuation[2. From Kibbutz To Empire: WeWork Building $5 Billion Global Startup Community]. Then s months later, the company raised $400 million more at a $10 billion valuation[3. WeWork’s Valuation Soars to $10 Billion], making it the 11th most valuable startup in the world according to The Wall Street Journal[4.
Ever heard of Game Neverending? How about the very similar Glitch? No? How about Flickr or Slack? Over a decade ago, Steward Butterfield started working on a game concept he called Game Neverending. It didn’t take off, but people loved the photo features in the game. He pivoted to that one feature and built Flickr. After selling Flickr to Yahoo back in 2004 for north of $22 million, Stewart eventually got back to the game he really wanted to build.
“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” - Mark Twain
Earlier this week, I was listening to Tim Ferriss’ podcast during my evening commute home. As he chatted with his guests, Tim mentioned that one of his life rules, if he has them, would be to question the things everyone else assumes. We assume food is essential to life (probably true), we assume a penny dropped off a tall building is lethal (not true), and we assume that reported earnings are the best measure of a company’s value (more on that later).
We’re used to Nike sponsoring athletes. From their first deal with a tennis player to the ongoing partnership with Michael Jordan to last year’s World Cup ad, Nike has excelled at inspiring us through star endorsements. But the traditional celebrities no longer monopolize our attention. Self-made celebrities today command flocks of Twitter followers and small armies of Facebook friends. The traditional marketing world is just beginning to realize the opportunity of these new superstars.
You know that trope about being alone in a city full of people? In a place as busy as San Francisco, it can be hard to find new friends. Julie Krafchick knew this and started 500 Brunches to help like-minded people connect over meals.
Like any business, Julie wants 500 Brunches to grow, but she’s more concerned about making the experience great than she is about scaling it as fast as possible.
Good marketing boils down to two primary areas: perfecting standard processes (like AARRR metrics) and uncovering new innovations (popularly termed “growth hacks“). Hopefully this series on clever growth hacks will inspire new ideas that push the envelope.
For every ten customers who make it to checkout, the average ecommerce site loses just under seven1. That’s massive!
So if that many customers drop out in the final step, just imagine how much can be gained from (1) making checkout easier and (2) bringing back people who almost made it.
Spotify integrated with Facebook, Uber works closely with local partners, Moz built a massive community, Dollar Shave Club launched a viral video. The history of growth marketing is riddled with brilliant growth hacks. Yet so many of these growth hacks have a short shelf life. Facebook has changed it’s algorithm, local partnerships rarely scale easily, new communities don’t start easily today, and viral videos have always been unpredictable. The first few companies to promote apps on Facebook drove a lot of downloads at an amazing CPA.
What is a “growth hack”? So what exactly is a growth hack and how is it different from a normal marketing campaign? Is a billboard campaign a growth hack? What about an online Adwords campaign? To uncover the answer, I scoured GrowthHackers.com to understand how people generally differentiated growth hacks. Here are some common recognized attributes of growth hacks:
scalable product-driven data-driven optimized adaptive cutting-edge customer lifecycle focused So for the purposes of this article, my working definition of “growth hack”:
I’m frequently approached by people who want to know more about data-driven marketing.
They’ve seen the power of growth marketing in companies like Facebook or apps like Flappy Bird, but they don’t know where to start learning.
The internet has lots of great resources (GrowthHackers.com and GrowthHacker.tv are two of my personal favorites), but it’s hard to learn growth from just blog posts and interviews.
Over the last five years, I’ve read literally hundreds of books about marketing and business.
Did you know the behavioral psychology of dance can make you a better marketer? I recently enjoyed a day of learning at the 2014 Design for Dance conference. Hosted by Stanford’s BJ Fogg, we explored the beautiful world of behavioral design with an impressive array of speakers. I’m still digesting everything I learned, but here are some of the key takeaways I plan to apply in my professional life.
“Good artists copy, great artists steal.” – Pablo Picasso
Picasso uncovered one of the great elements of product design: mental models. We all approach life with millions of expectations. Developed over a lifetime, each of these small expectations builds into a mental model that our brain automatically applies to make life easier. Rarely seen, these expectations permeate every detail of our life. When you open a milk bottle, you expect the cap to unscrew to the left.
You write a stunning blog post and craft a captivating headline. But is your article really ready to publish? Not quite yet. Just as the quality of your headline affects the number of readers clicking through to read, one other element also affects click-throughs and reading – your primary image. This often overlooked element will show on Facebook, Twitter, possibly within your blog archives, and definitely at the top of your post.
In 2006, Twitter was just a small micro-blogging startup. In 1976, Apple was just a few friends building computers. In 2005, Box was just a fledgling file storage company. What happened? They built amazing products and acquired millions of users.
“Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson (paraphrased)
As much as we’d like to think a solo inventor purely focused on making the best possible product can become an entrepreneurial success story, that kind of thing only happens in fiction.
Successful growth can only be sustained by happy customers. Tactics and techniques are useful, but only when they lead to the solving of real problems and the creation of happy customers. Elliot Shmukler, formerly at LinkedIn and now VP of Product at Wealthfront, has found that startups can grow in one of three ways: increase exposure, decrease friction, or increase incentive. To decrease friction, we simply must make it easy for our customers to find value in our product.
We’ve all heard that this “content marketing” thing can do big things for our businesses. It can drive new users, lower marketing costs, and keep current users interested. All of this sounds great, but what does it actually mean? How can I use content marketing for my business? In 2008, Marcus Sheridan ran a pool company, River Pools, and he felt the recession heavily. To shore up his falling numbers, Marcus turned to content marketing.
Adam Fishman recently visited us at Tradecraft to talk about his learnings as Director of Growth at Lyft (that’s their iconic pink mustache above). Over the last couple of years, Adam and the rest of the amazing team at Lyft have sustained tremendous growth and now offer on-demand ridesharing in 20 cities across the US. Here are the growth lessons I learned from talking with Adam.
#1 Focus on 1-2 key metrics To actually achieve growth, a company must focus on one or two key metrics.
A couple days ago, I attended the first ever GrowthHackers.com meetup, and we had a great time of getting to know each other plus learning from a Q&A with Sean Ellis. We covered a wide range of growth topics, and I came away with five main learnings to apply to my work.
#1 Perseverance is Key When I look at the results people like Sean have achieved, I often try to convince myself that they are simply “extraordinary” or “talented”.
For the last year now, I have been running the test prep company SpeedyPrep. When I took over, we had just seen a significant dip in traffic and revenue due primarily to SEO issues. Over the last year, we have seen significant growth, but in the last few weeks that growth has stagnated and even dipped slightly.
Gut Reaction: Do Everything Whenever I see something like this happening, I want to do everything at once: blogging, SEO, A/B testing, email marketing, bolstering retention, testing new marketing channels.
This is a short explanation of growth hacking that I assembled for my UX and Sales colleagues at Tradecraft. This guide is by no means definitive, but I hope it provides a good introduction to some of the basic growth concepts and frameworks.
Update: The embedded slide show no longer displays, but you can still find it here.
Over the last week, I’ve been studying various ways to improve my social media strategies, and I came across a number of statistics that take much of the guesswork out of Facebook and Twitter in particular. Each brand and audience is different, but these statistics provide some generally accurate guidelines. By applying these best practices and then testing to understand your exact audience, you can achieve amazing results. As always, the key is testing to discover what actually works best for your company.
I’m by no means an expert in growth hacking (I’m a growth rookie), but I have learned at least an bachelor degree’s worth in the last three months, and I’d like to help you do the same. After spending an estimated 300 hours studying the topic, here are the five shortcuts to growth hacking expertise that I have found thus far.
#1 Learn The Framework Before I could really dive into the nuts and bolts, I needed to learn the schema, or basic framework, of growth hacking.