When is the right time to hire a growth hacker? Should you wait until after you have designed the perfect product? After your product has been launched? After you’ve reached a certain number of customers? After traditional market channels have stopped generating the leads you need?
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One of the fundamental characteristics of growth hacking is to build growth into the product itself.
Growth hackers know how to listen to the market. They use data mining, web scraping, and extensive testing to figure out what people are already asking for. They use this information to help companies design products that people can’t live without.
The best growth hackers are not just marketers and data analysts--they are part of the product management team. They are involved from the beginning, using the rich data they collect to optimize product offers for maximum uptake and user satisfaction.
Growth hackers are also system designers and analysts. They understand that a business is nothing more than a collection of many subsystems, all of which can be analyzed and optimized so that they work for you. The most successful, fastest growing businesses work hard to ensure their systems work flawlessly.
And so the correct answer is: It’s never too early to get a growth hacker on your team.
The Biggest Product Pitfall
The traditional product launch sequence goes something like this:
1) You design an awesome product.
2) Right before launch, you get your marketing team to make some noise and spark interest. You give them this “finished product” and they are tasked with creating a market for it.
3) They design a beautiful, expensive campaign to plaster all over billboards, Facebook, Instagram and you-name-it.
4) The product launches. It sells like crazy.
… Or, 5) it completely flops.
We liken this model to the movie industry. Movies cost a lot of money to produce. And it is very difficult to know in advance whether they will be successful or not. As a result, many movies are spectacularly expensive failures, costing the industry millions of dollars.
(This is why every other Hollywood movie is a sequel right now. They mitigate risk by building on stories that are already proven sellers.)
The lesson here? Just because you think you have an awesome product or service doesn’t mean there is a market for it. Accepting this reality early on will save you lots of trouble.
Entrepreneurs and product designers tend to fall in love with the products they create. When sales fall short it can be difficult to let go. Many fruitlessly spend all their time, money and energy pushing something for which there is no market.
Why let this be you?
Fact: The #1 reason why startups fail is that they are offering a product nobody wants!
Here’s an idea: What if you first figured out exactly what it was that your customers were craving, and then tailored your product specifically to meet those needs? Growth hackers call this getting to Product Market Fit (PMF), and it is the foundation for achieving exponential growth.
Sounds obvious right? Few people actually do this.
Now, of course you should already have some idea of what you want to produce or achieve. The term “minimum viable product” (MVP) is often used to describe the bare minimum you should start out with. An MVP is a product with just enough features to start gathering data and continue its development.
Having a minimum viable product gives your market research a clear direction. It allows you to take what you have and make improvements based on data and feedback.
Growth hackers thrive in this stage. Give a growth hacker an MVP and set them loose. Through rapid experimentation and data mining, they will provide you with the information you need to adjust your product--maybe even your business model--until it is perfectly aligned with your customers’ desires.
But for this to work, you must be willing to continually tweak, pivot, and adjust based on feedback.
If you want to entice a growth hacker to work for you, you need to show them this willingness. And you should also have a minimum viable product. Growth hackers are currently in demand, so be aware that too much uncertainty regarding product ideas or company vision may turn off some qualified potential candidates.
Have You Built Growth Into the Product Itself?
The best results are achieved when a business thinks about growth from the very beginning of product development. The perfect scenario is to start with understanding the desires, fears and hesitations of your customer segments and (re)fashioning your MVP to create something your customers can’t live without.
Then, a growth hack should be implemented into the product itself. A growth hacker is always thinking about how they can spread the word, create awareness and gain customers using features built in to the product itself.
Remember Hotmail? It was the first big, free web-based email service. Their breakthrough growth hack was programming every email to include at the bottom, “PS: I love you. Get your free e-mail with Hotmail.”
This simple product feature turned every single email into a free advertisement and resulted in skyrocket growth. Best of all, it was all trackable and cost virtually nothing to implement. Both Apple and Blackberry later adopted the same technique (“Sent from my iPhone”).
The idea here is to turn your customers into your sales team. If you have PMF, and they really love your product, they will share it. Your job is to make this easy for them.
Dropbox gave users 250MB of free space for every friend they invited who subsequently created an account. This hack, combined with the amazing product they offered, caused their signups to skyrocket.
Can You Afford to Make Assumptions?
Growth hacking is often called lean marketing. It’s great for companies that don’t have the funds to waste on marketing guesswork but are ready to start running experiments and basing business decisions off of solid data.
This often leads to new, creative marketing channels.
If your company is not ready to switch away from traditional, expensive marketing channels (TV, billboards, front-page ads) and try new ones, you’re probably not ready for growth hacking.
Growth hacking is about finding ways to grow your business without spending all your cash on expensive campaigns when you don’t even know yet which marketing channels will be effective.
It is a highly data-driven process where all decisions are based on data generated through experimentation. Hypotheses are made, results are analyzed and theories are proven or disproven. Options are explored until the most effective methods are identified.
A growth hacker will typically put a small percentage of their marketing budget into a channel, such as paid AdWords, to see whether the customer acquisition cost is reasonable. If it proves worth it, more money goes in. Various iterations are tried until the optimum is found. If it’s not worth it, time to try something else.
The point is that everything done to boost growth should be measurable and trackable. Only through careful measurement can you know what exactly correlates with success, and what constitutes wasted resources.
If assumptions and intuition is the way you work, you’re probably not ready for growth hacking.
Data, data, data... Is the mantra of the growth hacker.
Ask a growth hacker, “How do I get customers for my product?” or “How can I gain more conversions on my website?” and they will answer with ideas such as A/B testing, landing page experiments, virality factor, and email deliverability.
Are Your Systems Working For You?
Growth hacking is largely about setting up and optimizing systems and processes that work in your favor. The best time to do this is at the beginning.
One of our lead growth hackers at RockBoost often says that the missing word is growth (systems) hacking.
Although sensational examples like Hotmail and Dropbox are popular, silver bullets like these are few and far between. Most of what a growth hacker does is test, analyze and optimize systems.
A business is nothing more than a collection of many subsystems. Each of these can be analyzed and improved. Weaknesses can be identified and exploited. Processes can be streamlined, removed or added.
Failures and successes don’t happen in isolation. They can rarely be attributed to random chance. Part of understanding systems is realizing that every event is part of a sequence. If we don’t see the results we want, it is almost always because of a system deficiency somewhere.
Highly successful people have their life’s systems managed and under control. Success is the natural outworking of well-managed systems.
By managing or neglecting the systems that govern our lives and businesses, we set ourselves up for failure or success. [Tweet That!].
Are You Prepared to Grow?
Every growth hacker’s goal is to achieve skyrocket growth. But with growth comes an inevitable increase in workload and operational complexity, and not every company is ready for this. To best prepare for such a scenario, it is vital to set up systems and standard operating procedures (SOPs) from the start.
SOPs enable you to standardize common processes for an entire team, allowing things to get done more quickly, consistently and with less energy. They help to remove the thought process behind common activities.
The discipline of developing and using SOPs will free up your team’s time and mental energy--especially when things get hectic.
The rule of thumb is - if anything needs to be done more than twice, it needs to be documented!
As you start documenting your systems and processes it will become increasingly clear where things are working and where changes are necessary. It will give you the information you need to tweak and optimize processes, and ultimately achieve your desired results!
Here is a quote from growth hacker Michael Hiles:
“As a founder, you’re consumed by simply trying to figure out how to hustle. Your mission is to survive and grow while working to establish a viable entity. It’s very difficult to work on your business while you’re working in your business – which makes it hard for founders to dedicate the time necessary for mundane activities like administrative documentation. But therein lies the problem. Once a startup begins to gain some traction out in the marketplace, unless there’s an established, standardized way of operating, the company will eventually hit a growth ceiling.”
We know how chaotic work at a budding startup can be and how little time there is for things like documentation and setting up systems. But, if you do invest the time at the beginning, you will be amazed by how much time you will save and how much confusion you will avoid.
Setting up good systems is an investment into your future success.
When everyone in an organization knows exactly how to proceed in any given situation, no time gets wasted as people sit around wondering what to do. Systems mean that you don’t have to think about what to do next. You can follow your established guidelines and focus your energy on activities that actually add value.
At RockBoost we love systems. Pretty much everything we do has a documented process behind it. It saves us valuable time and makes our work much more efficient. And any time we do something new, we write out steps for the next person to follow.
As a fast-growing company, if we didn't document all of our processes carefully, we would be spending all our time showing new staff the ropes rather than getting things done!
Ready, Set, Grow!
There are many reasons why your business may not be ready for growth hacking… But there are no good reasons. [Tweet That!]
It’s just important that you know what you are getting yourself into.
Today’s business landscape requires a different mentality and new skills to succeed and grow. Many of the fundamentals behind growth hacking are simply not taught in university marketing classes. They still have the old paradigm.
Methodologies like our 7-Pillars of growth were developed through the hard work of trying, failing, and learning what works.
If you bring a growth hacker into your business, you need to be ready to for some changes. They are not marketers. Don’t ask them to magically create a market for your “finished product.” In fact, they will probably tear your product apart.
But don’t be scared. It will be based on data, not on assumptions. And it might be exactly what you need.
Most importantly, do not be afraid of failures. Behind every successful growth hack are many failed attempts. Testing, failing, learning and optimizing what works is what it's all about.
So if you are willing to accept such involvement and explore some unconventional techniques for the sake of accelerated growth, congratulations. There is no better time than now!
Your business IS ready for Growth Hacking! :)
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