By Kirill Bensonoff
Growing your startup in the early stages can be tough. It’s difficult to market your business when you’re a new entrepreneur and aren’t sure what strategies will work.
However, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in multiple entrepreneurial ventures, it’s that there is no guaranteed roadmap for success.
Growth hacking is the perfect fit for startups because it throws out the traditional marketing playbook and encourages pursuing users and growth through testable, trackable and scalable methods. Anybody can growth hack like an experienced entrepreneur if they embrace extremely focused and inventive methods that have the potential to snowball and create self-sustaining growth.
While there are no strict rules for growth hacking, I have learned three valuable tips:
Tip 1: Reach Product-Market Fit
Marc Andreessen, the entrepreneur behind Netscape, Opsware and Ning who also sits on the board of directors for Facebook, eBar and HP says:
“Do whatever is required to get to product/market fit. Including changing out people, rewriting your product, moving into a different marketing, telling customers no when you don’t want to, telling customers yes when you don’t want to, raising that fourth round of highly dilutive venture capital — whatever is required.”
This is the most important lesson an entrepreneur can learn: You will never be successful trying to growth hack a product or service that people don’t want. Even a good product can fail if there is no market or demand for it, or if your product doesn’t meet the specific needs of that market.
Learn when to tell customers “yes” and “no.” Andreessen talks about an important aspect of achieving product-market fit when he mentions telling customers saying both things when you don’t want to. This comes back to going after the right customers and the right market. Early on at ComputerSupport.com, we lost our largest client and I thought it was a death sentence. It turned out to be the best thing for our business, because that client wasn’t a good fit for us and we may have been tempted to change our services just to keep them around. Instead, we refocused on the clients that were a good fit, said yes to their needs, and ended up growing the company by 50% over the next year. Tailor your product, say “yes” to the customers who are in your ideal market and say “no” to the rest.
Collect customer feedback. Basing your company’s growth on customer demand requires you to have a very good indication of what their needs are. At Unigma, we created a public roadmap to collect suggestions for product improvements and share the improvements currently in progress. This allows us to collect specific ideas from our market and prioritize improvements based on which ones have the most demand.
Tip 2: Go Guerilla
It’s important to understand that there are no guarantees of results for entrepreneurs trying to growth hack on their own. I’ve had many growth hacking successes and even more failures. The key is to invest in many inexpensive growth hacking strategies and only continuing with the tactics that you see a measurable ROI from.
• Look for unorthodox marketing opportunities. Traditional marketing is not only crowded; it’s expensive. Look for niche sites that nobody else is advertising on, up-and-coming social networks and unproven methods of pulling in your ideal audience.
• Be creative and spontaneous. In our daily standups, we welcome any and all ideas, whether they seem outrageous or not. You never know if something will work until you try and test it. Be open to trying outside-the-box ideas, and be quick to jump on opportunities as they present themselves.
• Sell into your network. Your first and best customers aren’t going to come from any advertisement or marketing gimmick. Both of my companies started with me personally reaching out to people in my network that I knew would be great fits for the product. These people will be the most receptive to adopting your solution, and more willing to advocate for your brand.
Look for other startups to sponsor or partner with. One of the best, inexpensive ways to extend your network is to partner with other startups that offer a complementary product or overlap with your market. As long as their audience is a good fit for you and vice versa, you can both benefit from cross-promotion.
Tip 3: Build Virality Into Your Product
When Airbnb was first starting out, they coded a set of tools that allowed renters to seamlessly cross-post their Airbnb listing on Craigslist. This gave them free distribution on one of the most popular websites in the world.
The most important aspect of this tactic is that it allowed existing Airbnb users to share the platform without requiring any additional work or investment from Airbnb. Growth hacking shouldn’t just be a set of marketing tactics you test to try to grow your users. It should be baked into your product and everything you do: This is the best way to turn your initial users into brand advocates that will help you reach even more users and so on.
There are many ways to build virality into your product. Here are a few more examples to help you start thinking outside the box:
iPhone and Android include “Sent from my X phone” at the bottom of emails sent through their phone.
Spotify integrated with Facebook so users could share what they were listening to.
Dropbox offers free storage space for every friend they refer
Each of these tactics requires no marketing budget and allows your existing users to beget more users.
While growth hacking like an experienced entrepreneur when you’re new may seem like a disadvantage, it’s actually a strength. Throw away any preconceived notions about marketing and instead go after new, scalable ideas that you can see real growth from.