Isaac Newton once said “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants”. Hence, you better go where the giants are.
Within the area of growth, one of the places where they gather once a year is 500’s Weapons of Mass Distribution (WMD).
WMD has attracted some of the most skilled and experienced people within this new discipline called growth. We are talking Brian Balfour, Andy Johns, Sean Ellis, Dave Mcclure and Patrick Campbell. These guys have seen some action and know their stuff.
Another key thing that WMD has got going for it is its focus. This is something I have realised just lately. The Web Summits of this world are a waste of time, at best. Sometimes, you can even get more confused by attending them. Hence, go to focused/vertical events — the talks are better and the attendees are pros.
So with this in mind, 2 weeks ago I went to San Francisco to attend WMD. Below you can read about my main takeaways from this event. Note, my summary does not cover all the talks and event activities. It is what I found relevant and that I was able to attend when I wasn’t caught up in a meeting, talking to random people or just drifting into the classic conference slump of getting distracted doing something else.
1. Forget B2B or B2C, it is all H2H — humans to humans
Ryan Deiss, founder and CEO of digitalmarketer.com, made a really good impression as he underlined a much overlooked point:
“ABC is bullshit!"
What? Remember you are talking about the legendary words of Blake in the movie Glengarry Glen Ross.
Ryan’s point was, essentially, “Don’t tell a girl you like her on the first date!”. In a perfect sale, online as well as offline, you should allow the customer to fall into the sale. It’s all about the ideal sales conversation — the ISC.
In essence, you need to carefully consider and plan the optimal preceding actions that will lead to a perfect sale.
And no, a sign-up for a demo pop-up is not an optimal preceding action! Ryan compared the notorious landing page pop-up to sending dick-pics after the first date… there is probably a better time and place for that!
Basically, there are three things that you need to consider in order to create the frame for an ideal sales conversation:
- Who is there?
- Where is it taking place?
- What are you talking about?
Here, the “What are you talking about” is especially key.
“The job of marketing is not to close sales — it is to start the perfect sales conversation.” — Ryan Deiss
It is important to recognise that the conversation, as in every other social setting, starts with understanding the particular situation. You should always relate your intro to something relevant. The same goes for marketing. Make the intro natural, e.g. “So, you just did this…, wouldn’t it make sense for you to also do this… ?”. Or in content marketing, “You just downloaded our quick guide, are you still interested in following up on…”.
Referring back to the dating analogy above, your job is to make sure that, at the end of the “process”, the obvious next step is…marriage.
This of course is Ryan’s view of marriage; I am much more romantic!
2. Why do you wanna grow?
Romantic is though not how I would describe George Lee. That is to say, at least not when it comes to growth.
Growth is not just something that happens, it is optional and most important it is intentional — it is a choice.
“When you are in, you are all in.” — George Lee
George Lee, by the way, is the guy that took Instagram from 250 to 500m+ users.
Based on his experiences from his journey at Instagram, he has defined three laws of growth:
Law of intentionality — growth doesn’t happen on its own:
- Don’t grow until you have Product/Market fit (PMf) — a classic and somewhat true piece of advice. More about that in my next blogpost on pre-PMf “growth”.
- The head of growth process should be part of the management team and hence should report to the CEO. Facebook, George’s former employee, was a pioneer in this regard.
- Focus on that part of your audience which is not yet made up of the users you want them to be.
Law of awareness — you must know yourself to grow yourself:
- Have counter-metrics prepared. If not, growth can create a much more serious set of problems for you.
- Fix forward. Product evolvement is not bad. The best thing that can happen for growth is that the product changes in some material way. If not, growth will stop at some point in time.
- Be quantitative and qualitative. Don’t just look at data — talk to people.
Law of consistency — motivation keeps you going, discipline keeps you growing:
- The psychology of roadmap frequency: roadmaps help you to not panic!
- Roadmaps beget roadmaps. If applied right, roadmaps actually allow people to think and plan for themselves, which leads to ownership and finally engagement.
- Keep calm and carry on. Growth is hard. As George puts it “When everything is bad — you are bad. When everything is good — why the hell is it good? Learn to live with it”.
George Lee didn’t hide his dedication to roadmaps and I’m a fan too. Of course, Instagram is a large and mature ship, but I actually think there is even more need for structure and process in small and young companies. In a startup you are constantly trying to find your way in the dark. You will, for sure, have a better chance if you have some sort of plan or roadmap in place.
At the end of the talk George was asked if he could be more specific on the structure of the roadmaps. In Instagram growth is conducted in 8 week sprints. Time is split accordingly: 1) Two weeks of research 2) Produce overall roadmap 3) Six weeks of execution.
There are no shortcuts, it’s all about preparation and structure.
3. Copy your competitors
Another one who believes in doing proper preparation is Steve Dupree from Trinity Ventures. And not only when you are at Instagram’s size, but also when you need to figure out “How to spend my first $10K on marketing?”. Steve listed 10 pieces of advice; here are the ones I found the most relevant:
- Invest in zero cost channels — SEO, content, social, PR, etc.
- Pull through active seekers — identify sources of active seekers and catch the future customers already looking.
- Copy your competitors. Here, I have to mention Ahrefs.com, which is an amazing tool for understanding what your peers are doing.
- Harass your early adopters. Pick up the phone and call two people a day. Who are they? Where do they live? What books do they read? What trade shows do they attend?
- Get free press coverage. Tap into the running news. But note, your story has to be relevant to what is trending right now.
I think this topic, what to do pre-PMf, is one of the most interesting within “growth”. Note, here I put growth in quotes, but when you are spending your first $10k you will not be doing growth — you will be doing “traction testing”. I’ll write more on this and learnings about how to nail it in my next post.
I asked Steve what type of channel he would prioritise at this early stage: The sustainable, but hard to control, organic traffic like SEO, content marketing and community building - or the less sustainable and expensive, but highly controllable paid marketing, like SEM and SoMe ads?
He answered that he would start with organic, i.e. with friends of friends, hackernews, Medium etc. His reasoning was that if you can’t even get customers in that crowd, you will struggle even more in paid marketing where the customer is often even further up the funnel.
I don’t fully agree and our experiences at Founders tell me something different. But as always, it may be a case-by-case basis and I’d love to get more people’s comments on the topic.
4. For the love of god — talk to your customers!
How do you build a sustainable business? Patrick Campbell (CEO of Price Intelligently) had some pretty sharp pointers on the back of a survey including interviews with 90 failed tech companies.
Patrick started out by underlining that it has never been easier to start a company — but it has become dramatically harder to build a company. The market is becoming increasingly saturated and unit economics are under pressure.
The main challenge, he says, is that acquisition has dramatically changed over the past 5 years. The survey suggests companies that focus on “acquisition-based growth” are being left behind; whereas, companies that perform so-called “balanced growth”, meaning not only acquisition focused but also paying attention to ARPA and retention, perform much better.
The main mistake he sees acquisition-biased companies making is that they don’t talk enough with their customers, and / or that they talk to them in the wrong way.
What you need to do is to quantify your buyer personas. And don’t ask them to score from 1 to 10. Instead, apply the MaxDiff approach. In other words, ask them what is least important, and what is most important.
5. Empathy for customers = accelerated growth
Almost echoing the thoughts of Patrick Campbell, Everette Taylor, Chief Marketing Officer of Skurt, also considered the most effective weapon within growth was emotional intelligence.
Alright this is it, this is BS, you might think.
But give it a chance. His point is that no matter how much data you have, you need to understand your customers. And that means to understand them on a deep, deep, personal level.
“You need to know your customer beyond data.” — Everette Taylor
This will enable you to understand what emotions you can play towards.
So how do you go about this in practice? Everette gave four concrete suggestions:
- Trust gut instinct but back it up with data.
- Build diverse teams with people from different types of background to be able to understand different types of customers.
- Build your EQ by travelling your ass off to meet people that are different to you.
- Get out of the “Silicon Valley bubble” to be able to sell to the masses.
6. Be a platform!
Last person on stage… Brian Balfour.
For those who do not know who this guy is, read his blog ‘Coelevate’ on how to perform growth in the 2010s. Period.
Brian recently quit as head of growth at HubSpot and is now running his own growth “academy”. He is bringing the fundamentals of growth thinking into the management rooms of the more established companies.
This change of direction could be seen in his talk this year. It was a very interesting “what have I learned so far” type of presentation.
First, he made a very good and somewhat needed point. The constant search for the one tip, one hack, one tactic is very unhealthy. It’s an addiction and it won’t lead to sustainable growth. Say no to this. Instead, focus on solving unsolved problems, one at a time.
“We learn the most and create the most value by solving unsolved problems.” — Brian Balfour
One of Brian Balfour’s most famous articles was about how you as a growth-marketer need to be T-shaped. This does not mean that you have to be a Swiss army knife. This is a misinterpretation. It is not about you knowing all the disciplines and channels there are — user psychology, facebook ads, adwords, data analysis, content marketing, email-marketing, etc. — you will only ever be able to scratch the surface. Instead, it is about you having a good understanding of the fundamentals of growth. And concurrently, ensuring that you keep yourself up to date. So what are these fundamentals? Brian defines them like this:
You also need to be aware of which types of tasks you can solve in an organisation. Brian’s experience has told him that you should always go for “High impact — Low popularity” types of tasks. And you should do that for 3 reasons:
- You learn a lot.
- You become a rare expert.
- You make yourself visible.
Finally, Brian brought up an oldie but a goodie: the 20–80 rule.
For him, a clear outcome of applying this rule is his blog. It has been a major factor in bringing him to the level he is at today. He sums it up like this:
“Be a platform!” — Brian Balfour
I doesn’t matter whether it’s a blog, podcast, slideshare, etc., etc. You have to find the format that fits you and that you can scale.
So, my main takeaways on WMD:
First, “Do your homework. Prepare! Nine hours to sharpen the axe, one hour to cut it down”.
And second, “Know your customer!”.
It’s that simple.
That is “growth hacking” for you right there.
(If you want to do your own learning, all the talks are available on YouTube — e.g. Brian Balfour’s is here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ehZn-Ma1Ow)