What is Growth Hacking?

Key Takeaways

Growth hacking is marketing + coding. It includes things like: landing page optimization, SEO, public relations, advertising, and copywriting.

Three things that a Growth Hacker might do in a typical day:

  1. A/B testing landing pages
  2. Capturing emails before you launch your product
  3. Optimizing the virality of your product so that more people use your product.

How to Learn Growth Hacking Today

  1. Read “Growth Hacker is the new VP Marketing” by Andrew Chen (5 minutes)
  2. Read “Find a Growth Hacker for your Startup” by Sean Ellis (5 minutes)

Additional Resources

  • Growth Hacker TV — Over 100 episodes where the experts on startup growth reveal their secrets. Multiple new episodes released every week.
  • One Month Growth Hacking — learn growth hacking in 30 days or less with Mattan Griffel

Creative Email Campaigns: Why an Online Education Company Sent an Email About Football

Can a coding company send a relevant email about football? Or will we just spam our friends and students?

Every week, over team brainstorms how to reach out to people in clever, funny, and interesting ways. We don’t want to clog up your email inbox (annoying!) or send messages that just push sales (boring). Our aim is to inspire, delight — and just maybe deliver something unexpected in your inbox. Our company is focused on accelerated learning, experimentation, and a little bit of quirkiness.

Last week, our team had to think about how to connect over football. (At least American football, because the Super Bowl was this weekend — some of us are soccer fans, or what the rest of the world knows as “football.”)

“I don’t understand football, honestly,” I admitted sheepishly to my colleague.

He laughed — “Me neither!”

“Wait,” I said. “Can we go with that?”

What if I sent an email about football and asked people to teach me what they knew? We crafted an email to reach out to people and sent the following:

What happened next was pretty cool. Over 200 people wrote back to me, and I spent Saturday morning hanging out and writing replies back to folks.

A lot of people had REALLY funny things to say, and I have to say, you taught me a lot about football. Moreover, I got to know several hundred faces in the One Month community and get to know a lot about who reads our blog, what they’re interested in learning, and — of course — what they know about football.

The thing is, we’re always learning here at One Month, and when there’s something we don’t know much about (like football), we want to learn from each of you. Thanks for taking the time to write in and teach us. It was a great way to learn about y’all.

Here are some of the highlights of what you shared and taught us about football:

“Football to me is all about memories, nostalgia and loyalty. Just like a group of developers get together and nerding out over the latest grunt or rails package, football is a common thread that we can all get behind to rally for — regardless of race, religion or any other preference.” — Andrew

“It’s like a new episode of a TV show every Sunday and Monday, except it’s a very real business with very real people.” — Shafiq

“The Super Bowl is like Thanksgiving in February: Your family wants to do a big dinner and bring everyone home for the weekend while you secretly wish you were drunk with friends watching the game without having to talk about what you’re thankful for.” — Saif

“I felt similarly to you, until I was watching the Ravens take on the 49ers in the 2013 Super Bowl. Suddenly, I saw the strategy, the patterns, how each team used each play to advance further along the board. Each player had a role, a specific skillset and position. The coach and quarterback coordinate to take control of the game. The game is even more complex, as each position is dynamic with injuries and individual player performance. In order to win, you must keep track of a strategy that is constantly changing in response to the other team’s moves, players, and the end objective to move along the board and win the game. I’m now a fantasy football addict.” — Melinda

“It’s a national ‘Sickie’ day in the UK on Monday for those that stay up to watch.” — Howard

“You mean the Katy Perry concert? The show opened and closed by some soccer thing?” — John

“Loving a football team is like working at a company. So when your company/team does well you feel like you did well. Even if all you did was cheer in the stands or write emails asking about football, you share the glory of your team’s success.” — Taylor

“It may not look like it, but there is real grace and skill behind it, both individually and on the field and as a team. The things these players execute are as athletic and sometimes as elegant as figure skaters or gymnasts, even on the Offensive or Defensive lines (the pile up).”

“They are trying to open up or close down gaps where someone might run or throw the ball, and like sumo wrestlers, they push against each other to do so, leveraging their bodies to knock the opposing blocker down. The game is also deeply rooted in American history. Listen to this week’s Radiolab for the full version, but it does come out of a tradition where guys had to show they were tough…because previous generations of men had The Civil War and wars in the west against native Americans to really show their toughness. Teddy Roosevelt had to intervene to make the game less brutal (people were dying on the field playing the game)…the biggest thing to come out of that era was the forward pass.” — Ian

“Every play is an opportunity for strategy. It’s like playing a more complicated version of rock, paper, scissors. Whatever both players just picked will affect each player’s decision in the next round. And both anticipate the other side’s anticipation of their own behavior, leading to a sort of strategy arms race.” — Peter

“I’ll probably get punched for saying this, but one of my favorite things about football is honestly the food and beer/whiskey, then onto friends and family and lastly it’s the game.” — Brandon

“At a basic level movies are great because they transport you to a different world (the willing suspension of disbelief). Football fans experience something similar; when your team is on the field nothing else matters, you’re in a different world.” — Michael

And if that doesn’t convince you, maybe these videos will:

In addition to all of the helpful commentary, we also got a bunch of links, videos, and references. Radiolab did an exceptional piece on American Football, and the YouTube videos we got were hilarious. Here’s a few of the best:

Andy Griffith explaining football in this 1953 commentary:

Bad British NFL Commentary:

And a Guide to American Football:

What about the haters?

As Taylor Swift says, “Haters gonna hate, hate, hate …”

You can’t please everyone. As a marketer and a long-time communicator, I’ve learned this through trial and error. You simply cannot please everyone. One of my favorite branders and designers says that it’s better to have a brand that’s both loved (and hated) than to have something that people feel indifferent about.

With emails — the only way you can have zero unsubscribes is if you have no one on your email list, or if you never send any emails at all. We track all of our open rates, subscribes, engagements, and unsubscribes and we learn from every campaign. (The highest opened email of all of our blog campaigns so far has been the “Drunk Mode” video release.)

Everyone has different opinions, and for the football email we got a couple of replies (just a few, thankfully) that sounded like someone got out of bed on the wrong day. (In that case, I just crank out the T-Swift and keep going).

In one instance, someone said:

“Who the *bleep* is Sarah?”

Right. So, hey y’all. I’m Sarah. I joined the One Month team to help them with creative writing, copywriting, marketing, and content creation. You can see all the awesome people on the One Month team on our about page or check out the recent talk Mattan and I did on content marketing last week in our free webinar (info below). I’ve been writing a few blog posts and I’ll be writing new essays on accelerated learning, growth, and ideas here on the blog. (If you want us to cover anything specific, or you have a question, just leave a note in the comments or reach out to me by email, happy to chat).

Another person more politely asked: what’s the point of this email?

Emailing is a conversation — it’s not just blasting information and shouting at people. If you use it creatively, it can be a way to get to know more of the faces at One Month, including many of our students, friends, and alumni.

Out of 200+ responses, we had three grumps, hundreds of awesome explanations, and a lot of conversation. As a marketer — which to me, means conversationalist, you’ve got to hold space for dozens of conversations with tons of customers, students, and people engaging with your brand. How do they interact with you? What’s the overall tone and reaction?

Several people cheers us for not selling anything —

“Great (and engaging) email. Way to not sell anything, and not be offering anything, but still be interesting. Well done!” — Josh

“I admire your willingness to dive in and learn about this wonderfully complex game. I hope that you received some clever tutorials.” — Jay

In addition, being able to explain a game — a process, a strategy, a theory, a team — is much more similar to understanding coding and creation strategy than you might expect. Here at One Month, we think learning new things is fun, and we might continue to surprise you every now and then — with new classes, interests, ideas, and questions.

Or email campaigns.

In all the responses I got, I learned so much from everyone, which resonates with our own spirit of wanting to learn, well, everything. Lee is practicing to become a world-champion DJ, and Mattan is teaching himself to play piano. Chris and Mattan take improv classes and I just signed up for my first singing lesson. What can I say? We’re nerds who like accelerated learning.

Thanks to everyone who played along! Hope you enjoyed the sport, the entertainment, and the conversations. We had a blast doing this.

We’re constantly experimenting with what we send people — developing a style and then testing out new things to see what we can tweak, improve, and better. If you want to learn more about content marketing and how to communicate in a way that’s different, unique, and fun — check out our content marketing free webinar or our upcoming class launching the last week of February.

In the end, the highest email open rates come from creative emails.

In our free webinar, Mattan and I chat about our top ten quick-wins for making content that actually gets shared. We break down the definition of content marketing and share ten strategies for engaging with your audience in a more meaningful way. In our upcoming class, we’ll be breaking down what content marketing is, who’s doing it really well, and how to construct email campaigns, experiments, and incentives so you can grow your own business, brand, or project.

And last but not least, the email winners:

Also, I have to announce the winner!

We had so many creative replies. Congrats to Craig Morrison for having the funniest response. You made me laugh out loud.

Here’s what Craig wrote:

The best part about football is the singularity of the sport.

It’s just you, versus your opponent.

You’re both surrounded by thousands of people, staring down at you as you play, all intensely watching your every move.

It’s intoxicating, knowing those players and the pressure they’re under.

Seeing them play what is much more a mental sport than any kind of physical one.

The sweat on your hands, the racquet slipping from your grip as you swing.

The pain in your knees you barely notice as you sprint across the court to take a last ditch effort at hitting the ball back to your opponent.

Wait that’s Tennis, football sucks.

PS: Don’t get me started on football, with all those different clubs and the tiny white balls. It’s barely even a sport.

And congrats to the following people who also sent amazing emails:

Also, bonus congratulations to Melinda Pandiangan for your awesome storytelling and sharing that football is about patterns, strategy, and complexity. Scott Johns explained that that football strategy is more like game theory than crushing humans, Caroline Bagby for sharing her evolution from not caring to learning all about the game to becoming a marketer for the Patriots (and subsequently learning all about the game), Jeff Charleston for giving some insight into the game (having played a super bowl himself!), and Yonathan Ayenew for reminding me to stick to my guns and read a book if that’s what I want to do next. You all rock!

What’s the best email campaign you’ve ever received? What do you love getting in your inbox?

7 Quick Ways To Step Up Your Email Design Today

How many emails do you receive a day? Ten? Twenty? Fifty? Now, how many of those emails do you quickly skim and immediately delete? In today’s on-the-go, instant gratification world, we want to get the information quickly and make sure it serves a purpose in our lives. We tend to fill more and more of our time connected to our devices, and we want to make sure that our time is being used wisely.

This means that the likelihood of your email being read from start to finish by readers may be slim to none. Don’t be disheartened; email marketing is still one of the most valuable, not to mention free, resources at your disposal. Before the email you are getting ready to send ends up in the junk folder, make sure your email design has been carefully crafted.

Make sure your message is clear. You may only get one shot to connect with a potential customer, influencer, or colleague before they’re already on to the next message in their inbox. Once you have their attention, you need to make sure your email is designed to convert and engage.

You don’t have to be a graphic designer or an expert to put together an email with a high open and click-through rate, but you should put enough energy behind your campaigns to ensure their success. Rework your current email design by taking the following ideas and applying them to your brand and messaging.

Break Up Blocks of Text With Imagery

No one wants to wade through large blocks of text, especially in an email. The majority of people will be reading your email on their mobile device and will quickly lose interest if there is not something eye-catching. It can also be difficult to read long drawn-out paragraphs on your phone so breaking things up into digestible blocks of text can work wonder on your user’s experience.

Go Mobile Friendly

With about 50 percent of emails read on smart phones you can really miss the mark when you ignore users on mobile devices. While we love to see the rise in responsive email design, it is important to remember that not all mail apps, namely the Gmail app, support it and this can result in a pretty sloppy looking email. Instead of going full-on responsive designers can use mobile-friendly design elements such as easy to read text, appropriately designed buttons, and minimal layouts into their email design.

Have a Clear Call to Action

Nothing is more frustrating than sending out an awesome email, seeing that a good amount of people opened it but few people click through to your site. Often, we have a tendency to squeeze everything into one email making it hard for readers to sort through all the information at hand. Instead, lay everything out nice and clean making it nearly impossible for them to miss the mark. Think of each email as a landing page and pay attention to the flow of the design being careful not to oversaturate the user with content.

Select a Good Typography

If you are already have a specific font that you use for your branding, keep with the theme and use as part of all your email campaigns. However, if you haven’t chosen one, select a font that is reflective of your brand, but is also easily readable. Also, if you add banners and or call-to-action boxes in different colors, make sure that the text is legible. Less is typically more when it comes to email when things get too busy readers tend to lose interest. Remember that most readers are on a mobile device so a font that is hard to read when scaled down to size is a clear red flag.

Choose an Appealing Layout

Email marketing services, such as MailChimp, create easy step-by-step tutorials for setting up email templates. Scroll through their templates and examples when you’re in need of a little email design inspiration. Then, take the time to create a few to use whenever you are sending a new campaign.

When the time comes to send an email, it’s easier to build when you only have to swap out content and images and an email design from the ground up. You can use a newsletter format for weekly or monthly emails with snippets of information in different sections or you can use a more basic template for when you want to blast out a brief announcement. Think about the kind of content you’re creating and what makes the most sense for your brand.

Send a Test Email

Just as you would proofread any professional email before you send it, run your email campaign through a QA across all browsers and mail applications before hitting the send to all button. Email a formatted test, so you can see how it appears in your browsers. Did the text become skewed? Is the image populating correctly? Did it grab your attention? To avoid looking like spam, make sure all features of your email are functioning and the spacing is aligned.

Let the Numbers do the Talking

The key to any successful email campaign is to continue to iterate and run tests to see which subject line, content, design, etc. is resonating best with your users. Don’t just go with your gut, run some clear split tests that play around with different layouts and designs to see which one is truly generating the most engagement.

A good design aesthetic immediately captures the user’s attention and lays out your message in an appealing way. Gauge your analytics to determine what kind of emails your subscriber list tends to open most. Switch up your design, even if they are small changes, according to the audience feedback you are receiving. It can seem like trial and error for a while before you find the right formula. As long as you keep your audience in mind, you’ll have success in connecting with them and increasing engagement with your brand.

6 Tips to Get You Started With App Store Optimization

Launching your app? Learn the best app store optimizations to improve visibility and increase downloads.

The moment has come, you’ve put your blood, sweat and tears into building your app, and you’re ready to launch. Once it finally launches, there is nothing worse than all your hard work translating to disappointing performance. Downloads are stagnant, and what you thought would be a huge success is quickly fizzling out. What happened? Why do some apps take off quickly while others fail?

The answer is simple: It doesn’t matter how great your app is if customers can’t find it. The majority of apps, 63 percent, are discovered through app store searches, according to Forrester. With more than 1.5 million apps available, if you aren’t found through basic searches, you are missing out on a core segment of your audience. Rising to the top of search results, however, is made easier through app store optimization.

What Is App Store Optimization?

For years, developers have used search engine optimization (SEO) to drive more traffic to websites. ASO is similar in strategy; however, instead of driving traffic to a website, it’s focused on driving traffic to your app through increase rankings in app store search results. You can think of ASO as app store SEO.

The primary goal of ASO is to increase the visibility of your app. Once you start driving more traffic to your app page, downloads will naturally start to increase, which will provide additional traction for getting found in search results. But to accomplish this, you must understand the language potential buyers are using to find your app, and then carefully integrate those keywords into your app promotion.

Getting Started With ASO

Getting started with ASO requires you to stop thinking like a developer and start thinking like your customers. Really think about who you expect, or want, to download your app. And moreover, understand the words they will use when searching for your app. Once you have a grasp on this, it’s important to integrate that information into the right places. Here are a few app store optimization tips to consider:

Title. Keywords should be used in the title. In fact, apps that use keywords in the title rank 10.2 percent higher than those that don’t. But you might be wondering about keywords. Should you just use your best guess, or is there a more exact way to find them? One approach is to use a keyword tool, such as Sensor Tower and App Annie.

Description. When uploading your app, you can include descriptive content about your app. This is very important and serves two purposes: helping people find your app through using the right keywords, and encouraging people to fully commit download your app. Pepper keywords into the description, but also ensure that the content is engaging, informative, and provides enough information about your app to get users to download it.

Category. Apple recently broke its app store into subcategories, which allows apps to rank higher in search results for specific areas. Since you can select only one category, it’s important to select carefully. Look for categories less saturated with competitors that fit your niche market.

Getting Found: A Few Other Considerations

There are typical on-screen criteria for ranking high in search results, such as title and description. But other criteria can also weigh heavily on your visibility. For example, how many times has your app been downloaded? At first, this number will be low. But over time, as you get more downloads and that number rises, so will your rankings in search results.

Another important factor is ratings. When people download your app, what do they think of it? Are they giving your app a good rating? If so, this will also help you get found. One way to influence ratings is through the use of a plug-in that prompts users to review your app after using it. If your app has a solid user experience you should see some positive results!

Tips for Getting More Downloads

Downloads affect visibility, but how can you encourage more people to download your app? One strategy is creating a more engaging experience than your competitors’. Here are a few considerations:

Create an app video. Many people are visual. They want to understand the look and feel of your app before downloading it. Developing a quick trailer can move the sales process along. Be sure and showcase the usability and key features users will get when they download.

Provide a screenshot of your app. At a minimum, you should screenshot your app so people can quickly see what it looks like. From the buyers’ perspective, the less mystery about what they’re downloading, the better. Buyers want to be educated.

Create a demo. If your app is not free this is a key step. People want to play with your app before paying a fee to purchase. Create this experience through a demo, which will ultimately increase downloads — and rankings.

Upload an app icon. This will create a consistent brand experience for the user as they quickly recognize your app. This becomes increasingly important as you gain word of mouth traction and people begin to seek out your app.

The Next Steps

When thinking about ASO, it’s important to realize that it’s not a perfect science. You may not get it right the first time, and that’s okay. Using this strategy takes time and a lot of experimentation as you figure out which keywords your audience is searching for, and how best to enhance your app’s performance.

But the time you invest is worth it, because as you monitor and tweak over time, you’ll achieve the right balance. As a result, you’ll significantly enhance your app’s ability to get found in searches.

Key Takeaways

  • Be patient. Successful ASO requires experimentation, and trial and error.
  • Be willing to invest time. You likely spent a lot of time developing your app, and by investing time in ASO, you will solidify the long-term success of your app.
  • Make ASO an ongoing process. Continue to tweak the keywords that you’re using and see what performs best.
  • Keep tabs on the competition. What keywords are other people using in your niche? Could you borrow some? Or can you differentiate and use completely different keywords to get found?
  • Focus on a high-quality experience in everything you do. This will lead to more positive reviews and downloads, and help you rise to the top of search results organically.

As you launch your app consider all of the suggestions and refer back to this handy app store optimization guide to be sure you have all your bases covered.

Does Your Startup Need A Growth Hacker

Does every startup need a growth hacker?

Most startups find themselves facing the same problem: they build a product that very few people end up using.

Let’s say that your startup, Startuply has an idea for a new photo-sharing app. You assemble a team and start building it.

At first it’s awful, it’s simply embarrassing. Your team encounters bugs and it takes much longer than you expected. Finally, six months later, you have a product you’re happy releasing.

In the days leading up to your launch, you get more and more excited. You figure that your app has all the features that the mainstream photo-sharing apps are missing — the ability to edit photos on the fly, more filters, Foursquare-integration, and the ability to easily curate and share other people’s photos.

This is going to change everything.

When that day finally comes, you launch and… nothing happens.

Okay that’s a slight understatement. You get a writeup in TechCrunch and several thousand users, but most of them stop using it after a few days. Nothing like the tremendous viral growth you were anticipating.

What do you do? Do you pivot? Are you continuing to release new features? Do you experiment with other marketing channels? Try to target a different demographic?

This is the problem most startups find themselves facing. It what Paul Graham calls the “Trough of Sorrow”:

You know you need to change something, but the question is what? This is a dangerous situation. It’s dangerous because the inclination most startups have is to keep developing and shipping new features.

There’s a feeling that something is missing and once that thing is added, your users really will start to come.

Continuing to ship new features is probably the worst thing you can do at this point.

Why? Because it just compounds what the real problem was in the first place. That you don’t know what’s wrong. Are people not interested in your product? Is your product good, but missing an important feature? Are people just not hearing about your product? Are you targeting the wrong audience?

Most startups that fail don’t know the answer to any of these questions because they were in too much of a rush to release their product in the first place.

A proper growth hacker looks at any decision that is being considered at a company and asks the following question: How will we know if it’s working?

Of all the improvements in technology over the last few decades, I would argue that the one that has had the biggest business impact is the ability to collect data in real-time and make decisions based on that data in real-time. As Tony Haile, CEO of Chartbeat, said at the Mashable Media Summit, people are really bad at making predictions more than a few weeks out.

The ability to get data and respond to it quickly was what revolutionized the car industry when it came to lean manufacturing, and it’s now revolutionizing are products are developed. It baffles me that most companies waste so much time and money blindly releasing new products and features. They don’t know how to measure the impact of what they’re doing and how it affects customers.

Most people want to jump right in because they assume that they’re right and that measuring is a waste of time. The problem is that there are at least a few hundred potential failure points along the way to building a successful product. Maybe users like the way your product looks, but they don’t like the signup process, or the features listed on your homepage are unconvincing.

Let’s say that, at best, the decisions you make at your startup (in both product and marketing) are right 75% of the time — trust me, that’s incredibly optimistic and you’re probably not even close. The problem is that with no feedback system in place, you don’t know which 25% is wrong. (As the old advertising saying goes “I know that half of my advertising dollars are wasted… I just don’t know which half.”)

Growth hacking introduces a system for measuring the effect that startup business decisions have on product usage. Growth hacker can be a position at a startup, or it can be a mindset.

I think that even if you don’t want to hire a full-time growth hacker, you’ll want to train someone at your startup on growth hacking methodologies. This could be your head of engineering or your CEO. Your growth hacker helps ensure your company is actually making progress.

At the end of the day, it’s the only way to get out of the trough of sorrow besides pure luck.

Confessions of a Growth Hacker

I want to come clean.

I don’t always practice what I preach when it comes to growth hacking. It’s easy to say test everything. In the growth hacking community, testing is dogma. At One Month, we can’t possible test everything that we’re doing. The reality of a startup hits you hard: whether you do it explicitly or not, you have to decide what you’re going to test, because you can’t do it all.

Instead of doing another post about all the things you could and should be doing to growth hack your startup, I want to talk about some of the problems you’re going to run into trying to follow the techniques that growth hackers (like myself) have talked about.

Implementing tracking systems is hard. Like, really hard. Your data is going to be off from the real numbers, no matter how hard you try. If you’re running Javascript-based tracking, it’s going to fail to load in some cases (because people are using adblockers, broken browser extensions, and some just disable Javascript). All a result, the numbers you see in various dashboards will be off from what you see internally in your own logs.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

Which system should you trust?

To this day, the conversion rate that we see in Mixpanel is different from the conversion rate that we see in Optimizely, by about 0.5%. That may not seem like a lot but it is when you’re talking about the difference between 2% and 2.5%.

Consistency is key here. Of course, try to get your data to match up as much as possible, but once you’ve gotten close enough, just pick one data source for your experiments and stick with it.

Building and automating a process around these systems is hard.

It turns out that the more data you’re tracking, the harder it is to keep up with each one. Eventually you reach a point where you’re spending all your time analyzing data and not actually acting on it.

Which brings me to another point:

Who’s responsible for monitoring the data?

For a long time, we were tracking a lot of stuff but never looking at most of it. Even today, there are some metrics that we only check monthly or even less frequently.

Acting on the data.

I wish I could say we’re running multiple A/B tests and have a running log of tests to run once those are done and validated. We’re not. We haven’t tested our homepage in weeks, because we’re testing paid ads, course landing pages, and our new learning library.

Tracking your validations and learning.

Your experiments take place across all these different tools from Optimizely to After a while, you lose track of what you’ve actually tested. And how do you make sure your learnings actually gets distributed to the rest of the team, so that they learn from your experiments? Just managing your data — the systems, process, and evaluation — becomes a whole ordeal, which is hard to justify spending time on when you’re already trying to build one company.

We try to do this with a Google document archiving all of our experiments, but it’s a pain to keep up to date and other people don’t always refer to it to see what they can learn. I know a few companies are trying to build solutions to this problem but I haven’t seen one that is very compelling.

Doing the real A/B testing that matters is extremely technical.

Sure, tools like Optimizely and Unbounce make it relatively easy to test superficial stuff on your pages by manipulating the page itself with Javascript. But what about that new feature you’re thinking of releasing? How do you make sure half the users keep seeing that new feature? How do you track the results of that over a long time? That test actually has to be written into your code, which can be quite difficult.

Prioritizing tests.

You can’t test all the things. Some people argue about whether you should even test most things. Should you only test optimizations? What about changes that are obviously going to make the product better? We regularly roll out changes that we strongly believe in without testing them in advance. There are only so many things you’ll have the time and resources to test.

Getting caught up in the stupid shit.

I know that there’s a method for identifying the problem in your bottleneck (I’ve written about it before). I also know that companies should focus on engagement and activation when building up traction, not acquisition. But I still end up getting caught up in the buzz of PR articles, social media, and driving traffic to our site. I still crave those small spikes in traffic because they feel good.

Taking big risks is hard.

We know it’s good for us, but there’s a temptation to just do the safe thing and not try the crazy stuff. It takes courage. We follow the conventional methods far more than we should, and we often assume we’re more likely to be right than we actually are (see confirmation bias).

Having one person manage the entire growth process is almost impossible.

It’s too massive. The whole thing ends up getting split and different people focus on different parts. But when you’re small you have to monitor both acquisition and retention at the same time. And then your attention is divided.

Growth hacking is like spinning plates. If you take your eye off of one for too long, it starts to wobble.

But that’s okay.

That’s the reality of growth hacking. It’s not always as clean and easy as people say it is. The truth is, you’re going to fuck up a lot.

You won’t be able to measure everything you do. Finding the right data and the right things to measure is sometimes way harder than people say it is. Organizing the systems to keep everyone looped in and to take action after you run experiments takes a significant amount of energy.

Just try to do more good than bad. As long as you do more good than bad, you’ll probably be fine. And make mistakes. That’s what it’s all about anyway, right?What have you learned about growth hacking? What’s working well — and how’s reality treating you?

Thanks to Justin Mares and Sarah Kathleen Peck for reading drafts of this

Y Combinator and The One Metric that Matters

It’s been a little while since I’ve written about growth hacking and I wanted to write about my experience with growth hacking since going through Y Combinator with One Month.

Y Combinator is known as an accelerator for a very good reason: it accelerates the growth of your startup tremendously.

So what are the things that Y Combinator does to make its startups grow so fast?

They force you to focus on one metric — growth — and look at it week over week.

According to Paul Graham, growth is the only essential thing you need to be a startup. Everything else follows from growth. This is why they don’t really accept companies at the idea stage. Y Combinator isn’t a place for building, it’s a place for growing. This is why every time you meet with Paul Graham, he’ll ask…

“How much did you grow last week?”

When you eliminate all the other factors, things get much simpler. You’re expected to grow at least 7% every week while you’re at Y Combinator. Ideally we’re talking about revenue here, but if you’re pre-revenue then user growth or some sort of engagement metric is fine (ideally as far down the lean marketing funnel as you can get).

This sounds easy enough at first. Just have everyone on your team post to Facebook and you’ve hit your numbers. Time for beers.

The problem is that week after week the bar gets raised and you’ve got to hit consistently higher numbers. On top of that, a few weeks in you’ll start to exhaust easy acquisition channels like friends of friends. That will force you to start thinking long-term and focus on consistent acquisition channels and levers (like increasing your on-site conversion rate).

The stress of growing

The stress of having to grow week over week is mitigated by the fact that the end is in sight: Demo day is 12 weeks out and you want to have a growth chart that looks like this:

This is an illusion, because once you’ve gotten the money, you now have to report to investors and there’s an additional level of responsibility. But that’s for another day.

The advantage of focusing on only the growth metric is that it doesn’t lie. You’re either growing or you’re not.

Most startups spin their wheels on things like redesigning their app, building new production features, and other things that don’t really matter. Often t’s because they’re afraid of actually having their dream shattered when they try to grow, so they’re trying to build up the best product possible for launch. Paul Graham says…

“Launch when you have a modicum of value for some people.”

As soon as you start focusing on growth numbers, company decisions start falling into place. Should we take on an intern? Release that new product feature? Get a new logo? Only if it’s going to help you hit that 7% growth for the week.

On our wall at YC we had a big sign on our wall that said, “Will this help us grow 7%?

It served as a constant reminder and we were always pointing to it when someone had a new feature idea or suggestion.

Admittedly this is short-term thinking, and there’s debate about whether this kind of mentality is healthy for a startup in the long-run, but I think long-term thinking is the luxury of a healthy startup. You can worry about that stuff once you’re certain that growth is under control. There’s no point in thinking about the logo of a startup whose user numbers are going down.

Do you need YC to grow?

So do you have to be at YC to do this? Obviously not. You can hold yourself accountable, but there’s something about the environment they’ve created that makes it all easier. You’re getting constant reminders from the partners to focus on stuff that really matters. You are competing with and trying to grow faster than all the other incredibly ambitious startups in your batch. You’re in the middle of nowhere with very few distractions.

So if you’re at a startup, pick a growth metric and focus on that first and foremost. Put it up on a whiteboard for everyone to see, and hold your entire company accountable to it.