When people talk about “growth” these days, the concept is frequently associated with the cut-throat, investor-based world of Silicon Valley. Companies that must grow exponentially from their inception just to survive and be considered successful. These companies have dominated the growth conversation because they need to be so focused on rapid growth that it isn’t a phase or a strategy, it is part of their very DNA. The people in charge of that growth have even spawned their own nickname: “Growth Hackers.”
Not all of these growth-based businesses succeed. Some fail in epic, explosive fashion. But some make it work. And anytime we see businesses doing something successfully, it bears closer examination as to what they are doing and how they are pulling it off.
For most established companies, this focus on growth feels dangerous and even reckless, and a business not in that do-or-die kind of environment may not be willing to take the risks involved (perceived or actual) in implementing some growth hacking strategies.
But for those willing to give it a shot, there are some important lessons we can glean from the growth hackers:
1. Data Vigilance
Growth hackers live and die by data and analytics. They use it as their road map, their car and their gasoline. Every step of every part of the business generates data which can be analyzed and used to an advantage.
Data analysis helps paint a clearer picture of what a company’s strengths and weaknesses are, which, especially for an established company, can sometimes be surprising, especially if you haven’t taken a hard look at them in a while. The weaknesses revealed by the data should be your first areas to focus on when looking to improve, and the strengths should hopefully provide some insights into what is working and effective.
By continuing to collect and analyze data throughout the implementation of every strategy, you can find your way to the best strategy more quickly.
2. Willing to Change
Of course, just analyzing data all the time won’t really do much for you if you don’t open yourself up to the idea of making a change, and then another change, and another, and so on.
For growth hackers, everything is on the table. There is no best practice too established. There is no status quo.
The point is to provide constant challenges to the ways that people are used to doing things. Throw stones, pull threads, force your business strategies and practices to hold up to scrutiny.
This is one of the hardest adjustments to make for established businesses. We are trained to think that old mantra, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But when your goal is growth, you have to treat everything like it needs fixing, and potentially not just once, but continuously adjusting, tweaking and optimizing.
Because startups need to grow fast, that means doing everything fast. Growth hackers aren’t ones for patience. They will make a change, see if it works, and if it doesn’t then try something new. When rapid growth is a priority, there isn’t time to sit around and wait for seeds you’ve planted to take root and flourish.
When it comes to product launches, this might mean launching a minimum viable product, one that you know isn’t perfect, and then making changes and adjustments based on feedback and data you get from its performance in the marketplace.
This is another strategy that feels very risky to established businesses that have worked hard to gain customer trust and expectations which they don’t want to damage. But while there is a time and place for implementing patient, long-term strategies, the value of a speed-first growth hacking approach is that it forces lean and efficient behavior and thinking. When there isn’t time allowed for excess or frills, the most important things get done first.
4. Many Hats
Part of working quickly means not having to wait around for someone from another department to come do something for you. Growth hackers reach beyond the traditional boundaries of their job title in order to work more quickly and effectively.
Growth hacking expert, Andrew Chen describes growth hackers as “a hybrid of marketer and coder.” This can be taken literally to mean that growth hackers should possess both marketing and development abilities and be able to think like both. Or, more generally, the more skills that a single person can command and the more they are encouraged to use and develop those diverse skillsets, the more able they will be to come up with creative solutions to problems on their own.
5. Great Product, Great Growth
Growth hackers recognize that having a great product that people actually love using is directly related to growth.
This is a particular challenge to established businesses with established products, who may want to think about growth as more of a marketing issue than a product issue. But applying the same principles of data analysis and openness to change based on that analysis to your products could potentially lead to a better user experience, which in turn increases conversion, and inspires customers to become advocates.
Growth hacking strategies may seem risky to implement for an established business, and they won’t be right for everyone. But if your company is willing to take the risk, implementing a growth hacker’s mentality can help bring a Silicon Valley tech startup type of growth to businesses of all kinds.
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