I’m Bernard, the co-founder of Mushi Labs, a boutique SEO agency based out of San Francisco. Before that, I was the growth hacker at 42Floors (a YC / venture backed startup), played online poker professionally and used the money that I made to buy a restaurant. I’ve co-founded and been a part of many early stage startups where I learned about the importance of growth.
So, what’re we going to go over today?
First, we’ll take a look at “what growth hacking is” and the different startup stages. Then, I’ll go over some of my favorite tactics for each stage (early, mid, late) and then sum it all up!
What IS growth hacking exactly?
I believe that growth hacking is a mindset, a different way of thinking about marketing through data and experimentation.
The scientific method is a great way to think about growth hacking because then you can think about growth as a series of experiments.
When it comes to growth, every experiment begins with a clearly defined objective that is different for every startup. Typically, what you might want is more
more app installs if you’re a mobile app
or more prospects if you’re looking to make people’s websites mobile friendly
but, if you’re a marketplace then you’d want more users
as a consulting business, I know we’re always looking for more clients.
After we’ve clearly defined our objective, then we need to figure out a hypothesis or way we think we can achieve our objective. Which means, If I _______, then I’ll get more of what I want.
So, for SuKolay, they were able to hustle themselves some press which I’m sure drove 1000s of app installs.
Or, if you think twitter will get your more prospects, then you’ll be experimenting with it
That’s also the same for creating unique content and posting it to Facebook to get more users.
And pitching my friends SEO services in hopes that I’ll get more clients for Mushi Labs.
After we’ve figured out what we want and how we think we’re going to get it… it’s finally time to run the experiment. When doing an experiment there’s 2 important things you need to remember - analytics and statistical significance.
Without analytics, you’re basically flying blind in your experiment because you won’t know whether something is working or not. Here’s a famous quote of mine from Lord Kelvin which says “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it”.
Here’s an experiment that I ran where I was able to 10x the amount of subscribers I was getting. If I wasn’t using any analytics, I wouldn’t be able to know how well my experiments were doing.
The other important thing to remember when running an experiment is to make sure you’ve collected enough data to make your results statistically significant.
Here’s why getting statistical significance is important. I once ran an ad with the same ad copy against itself. I didn’t run it for very long but Adwords is telling me that the click through rate on Ad #2 is ~2.5x better. You don’t want to end up making conclusions on this data to early because you could end up with a result which doesn’t have enough data to make the results conclusive.
At the end of your experiment, you get results. Did your experiment work as planned? But, more importantly, what did you learn by doing the experiment?
The key to successfully growth hacking your startup is to continually iterate on your experiments. Maybe incentivizing social referrals, instagram cross promotion, and posting content to forums like reddit / quora didn’t work for you. But by doing all of these experiments, you learned that your target users are on Facebook and what kind of content they want to read.
When thinking about growth hacking. it’s important to know what stage of startup you’re at
Startups can be categorized into 3 distinct stages - early or problem / solution fit, mid or product / market fit and late (or time to scale)
It’s important to take into consideration where your startup is because growth tactics will change as you transition from 1 stage to another.
How do we get our initial customers and validate that they’ll pay us money?
Let’s take a look at the types of growth hacking that should happen in the early stage.
The early stage is about getting in front of potential customers and learning if they actually want your stuff. The process is usually very manual and involves many 1:1 interactions.
Manual outreach is the most important activity to get your initial customers. 2 of my favorite outreach tactics for getting customers are exporting LinkedIn contacts and scraping potential prosepects from business directories.
Are you a sales hustler? Initial customers almost always come from sales. Selling through your professional network is usually easier than cold sales.
I mean, what’s the point of having a professional network if you don’t use it?
After taking all my contacts, I sent everyone a quick note on what I’m working on right now.
When I sent the notes, I made sure to personalize each email - don’t just slap everyone into MailChimp and expect good results. To my friend Jakob, I knew he was working on a fundraising tool from the last time we spoke, so I made sure to ask on the progress of the tool. Turns out he was looking for some marketing help!
Don’t be afraid to continue to follow up with potential customers. If they haven’t told me to stop emailing them, then I’m going to continue to email them until they become customers or tell me to shut up. Here’s an email chain with a lead that I was chasing - we started talking in March of 2015 and caught up once every 3 months...
Until he finally become a client just this year. Persistence is one of the keys to success.
If you’re just getting started and don’t have a strong professional network, then scraping contact information for potential prospects and contacting them also works.
Paid someone on upwork to go through Yelp and pull out all the contact information for a bunch of potential customers I was targeting.
Then I cold emailed everyone our sales pitch.
And made sure to follow up with everyone until they told me NO or I had already followed up 3 times.
And, I was able to get 2 paying customers from about 200 emails - not bad right?
Now that we’ve proven that people want what we have, how do we get more customers?
Let’s take a look at the types of growth hacking that usually happens in the mid stage.
The mid stage is about trying new ways to acquire customers. Typically, you’ll want to try the easy stuff first and borrow as much of other people’s audiences as you can.
Here’s a couple of my favorite tactics (paid and hustling). Paid channels are an easy way to quickly test if they make sense for your business. Instead of going through the pain of ranking in Google organically, you can pay and see which keywords are profitable for your business. Borrowing other people’s audiences is a great way to get your product in front of many people who are interested in specific interests.
Adwords is typically a very high quality traffic source for many businesses as long as keyword targeting is done with care. You’re limited by monthly search volume and because everyone knows about it, it can be rather expensive. But, I think it’s a great way to test if the search channel is a good way to drive traffic for your startup.
Facebook can be a good source of traffic depending on your persona targeting and target audience. Since people aren’t going on Facebook to look at your ads, advertising on there can be a disruptive experience. Since it’s relatively new, CPCs are still relatively cheap.
You probably won’t find many great B2B leads on Facebook but it can be a great way to drive traffic for B2C startups. Giveaways, free tools and promos can spread virally if done well. Here’s an example of a free tool that we built that did really well and used FB ads.
PR is a hustle game but can be very rewarding if done. In my experience, I just asked my friends for intros to journalists… but creating cold pitches for relevant writers also makes sense.
Our play was to give an exclusive cover to a media outlet we wanted to be in. After a few rounds of following up…
We got our article published, which drive ~10k page views and ~1k user sign ups.
Here’s an example of how I hustled an influencer for a board game that I was making. I first talk about how I loved her content about board games and that I can’t subscribe to her newsletter. Then, I ask if she’s willing to help us play test our game when we launch. I add value and I make the pitch personal.
Although she doesn’t promise to be a playtester, she knows tons of other people that she’s able to introduce us to.
Another way to borrow audiences is to go to places where people are used to going. There are tons of people who are asking questions on Quora that your product or service can probably benefit.
As long as you are answering the right questions, the quality of traffic from Quora is quite high. If you look at the user engagement metrics of my Quora hustling, you can see that the bounce rate, pages / session / avg. session duration is 1.5 - 2x better than the site average.
Now that you have more customers, how do you scale?
Let’s take a look at the types of growth hacking that happens in the late stage.
When it comes to the late stage, it’s about optimizing and amplifying what’s already working in your business. Another really important thing to remember is how to keep your customers around. Because the late stage looks so different for each startup, I’m going to just broadly look at the two topics - optimization and retention
When thinking about optimization, it makes sense to divide the problem into 2 categories - traffic and conversion. If you’re getting 20k visitors and you have a conversion rate of 10%, you’re getting the same amount of users as 10k visitors and a 20% conversion rate. Look at where you can improve inefficiencies in conversion rates or traffic.
Customer retention becomes extremely important in the late stage because it can cost companies up to 5x more money to acquire new customers vs. keeping old ones.
So here’s a recap on growth hacking in different stages
What stage startup are you? In the early stage, talk to people and make sure they want to buy your stuff. In the mid stage, try new ways to get in front of customers and convert them. In the late stage, make what you’re doing better and focus on customer retention.
Remember that growth rarely happens overnight. Keep experimenting, learning and iterating.
I’d be happy to connect with anyone of you who wants to learn more growth tactics. Please contact me any of these ways and good luck on your startups!
Growth Hacking: Different Tactics For Different Stages
Different Tactics for Different
I am Bernard Huang
I’m a co-founder at Mushi Labs, a boutique SEO agency.
I was the growth hacker at 42Floors, played online poker
professionally and co-owned a restaurant.
You can find me:
THE IMPORTANCE OF
Don’t end your experiments before collecting enough
data to make your results statistically significant.
Ad #1 and #2 are the SAME.
But since we haven’t collected enough data, Adwords is
telling us that Ad #2 is ~2.5x better?!
Did your experiment work as planned?
More importantly, what did you learn?
The key to successful growth hacking is to
iterate on your experiments non-stop:
● incentivize social referrals
● instagram influencer cross promotions
● posting content to forums (reddit, quora)
● facebook cpc to homepage
● facebook page post engagement to content
ITERATE, ITERATE, ITERATE
Try new ways to get in
front of potential
customers and convert
Make what you’re
already doing better
and focus on customer
WHICH STAGE ARE YOU?
Talk to people and
make sure they want to
buy your stuff.