Explaining The Real Growth-Hacking. Yes That’s Really The Title.

You might associate “growth” with “growth-hacking”. But you’d be wrong, well at least partially.

Growth hacking isn’t about PR or some great viral loop or ‘insert _______ tactic here’. It’s a discipline, a practice, a process.

 

Real Growth Hacking = Growth Hacking Process.

 

Any way you slice or dice it, your objective as a company is to grow, right? And yes, usually this takes the form of profits and revenue.

Your whole reason for existence is this goal of business growth, yet while everyone’s responsible for contributing to it in a traditional business model, no one is directly and solely focused on it.

That was, and still is, a huge problem.  However, Facebook and Google changed that by popularizing the concepts of a growth team and a growth process that owns the entire company funnel.

And, as we all know, the Googles and Facebooks of the world outpace their peers —the Fortune 500, titans of industry and, yes, even other tech companies — by quantum leaps.

 

Image Source: Visual Capitalist

What’s even more astonishing is how quickly these Silicon Valley tech startups accomplished this feat. We’re talking about a pace of growth previously unheard of and perhaps not even thought possible a few decades ago.

Take Airbnb vs Marriott for example. In 2016, eight-year-old Airbnb eclipsed Marriott’s valuation by almost three billion, decade-old Facebook became worth more than half-century-old Walmart, and seven-year-old Uber’s $62.2 billion dollar valuation made it worth more than Honda, Ford, or General Motors.

When was Ford founded again?

1903.

 

Image Source: AFI

It took a Marriott-Starwood merger, two hospitality industry giants in business for over 135 years combined, to give Marriott a chance at being worth more than a nine-year-old tech startup. And, realistically, this advantage may only last a few years at best.

Even if you compare the Facebooks, Airbnbs and Ubers to other high market cap tech companies like Microsoft or Apple, there’s a huge speed to value disparity.

It took Apple and Microsoft 30 years to reach valuations these companies reached in just 10 years.

Obviously, the Facebooks of the world are doing something radically different.  So if you want to achieve unprecedented growth then, quite simply, do it like they did.. and iterate from there.

 

The Fundamentals of Facebook-Style Growth Hacking aka Growth Process.

 

Distilling this practice of growth into its core fundamentals has been a fun challenge for me.

 

“Growth process is a system for getting companies to work holistically towards achieving one business objective at a time. By using scientific-like experimentation and research methods, this systematic approach results in much faster gains compared to conventional methods.”

 

It’s this growth process that helped propel Silicon Valley superstars, now the world’s fastest-growing companies (think Facebook, Google, Airbnb, Uber, Dropbox), toward achieving unprecedented gains and breakthrough results.

So, why are so few companies practicing growth? Real growth process I mean.

The short answer? It’s under still the radar and widely misunderstood.

Growth process is not about a bunch of A/B tests to increase CTR on your Facebook ads. It’s not a bag of tricks. And it’s not a silver bullet.

True growth hacking is making growth process an integral part of your business strategy.

And growth process is still just a baby… an emerging discipline. One that’s often confused with short-term tactics rather than a true business process like hiring a new employee.

Similar to what lean principles did for manufacturing, or what agile did for software development, growth process is a business-changing paradigm shift.

 

The Core Components of Real Growth Hacking aka Growth Process

  1. Integrated Strategy
  2. Rapid + Experimentation
  3. Quantitative and Qualitative Insight

 

1. Integrated Strategy

With some quick Googling, I learned the world’s fastest car is the Hennessey Venom GT (you can see I’m not a car person, I thought it’d be a Ferrari).

Apparently, it can go almost 300 miles per hour. What makes a car go really fast? Is it the design? Is it the weight? Is it something else?

Image Source: GIPHY

If it’s aerodynamic but heavy, it’s not going to be the world’s fastest car.

If it’s light but it’s front-wheel drive (i.e. heavier in the front), it’s not going to be the world’s fastest car.

If it’s rear-wheel drive but the front isn’t aerodynamic enough, it’s not going to be the world’s fastest car.

Boost power without torque? You might be fast, but you’ll be in the ditch.

Get where I’m going with this?

Integrated strategy helps companies avoid the darn ditch.

Everyone involved in engineering the Hennessey Venom GT has one goal — to make it the fastest car out there. Likewise, with integrated growth strategy you usually have one business growth objective at a time — whether it’s revenue, users, active usage, NPS, or profit.

To engineer the world’s fastest car — or any car for that matter — Hennessey has to break down all the components that go into the car and engineer an integrated vision from design to mechanics.

Without this holistic approach, it is virtually guaranteed that they will not produce the world’s fastest car.

The same thing applies to building a high growth company.

You look at the company’s entire growth funnel and determine the most relevant overall objective (common ones are MRR, MAU, NPS, etc.). Then, you direct initiatives and execute programs across the whole company — from marketing to customer success to product — focused on optimizing that one objective.

 

At least part (and I’d wager a good part) of Facebook’s massive success can be attributed to Zuck’s [Mark Zuckerberg] laser-like focus on one growth objective at a time, executed strategically across all business functions. For many years, starting in 2007, that objective was (no surprise here) user growth.

We can’t design the world’s fastest cars or world’s fastest growing companies efficiently unless we take an integrated approach towards accomplishing one objective at a time.

Just to hammer this point home a little further, I’m going to throw another analogy into the mix (don’t worry, we’re mostly sticking with the car).

Think of an octopus — a live one in the ocean, not one on your plate. It has eight tentacles that are responsible for its movement.

What happens if a shark comes upon the octopus?

Obviously, the octopus has one goal… to get the hell out of dodge and avoid being dinner. It knows it has to move fast.

So, while the creature has one objective — avoid being supper — if each tentacle decides to go in a different direction, will it succeed?

Image Source: GIPHY

Nope, not even close. On the contrary. It will stay exactly where it is and be the perfect prey.

It is only if the octopus’ tentacles each do their part toward achieving the common objective that they have a chance, and hopefully a good chance, at succeeding.

Likewise, when building fast-growing companies (and avoiding being prey for competitors), a laser-like focus on one growth objective and all-for-one approach to get there can give you the best chance at succeeding.

 

2. Rapid + Experimentation

Back to cars. If integration is the whole Hennessey Venom GT, then rapid experimentation is the engine.

Experimentation

How fast a car goes isn’t the result of just one part (the engine), but a sum of a whole bunch of smaller parts (piston, crankshaft, etc.).

Likewise, high growth is the sum of a whole bunch of parts learning.

Ye who learns the most, wins the most.

Facebook and Google discovered the fastest way to learn is to apply the scientific method. Yes, the same one you were forced to learn in junior high. And the same one every scientist uses every day to make world-changing discoveries.

The idea is to apply a systematic and repeatable process that generates a high volume of growth “experiment” ideas [IDEA], efficiently tests these ideas [TEST], rigorously documents the learnings, and allows this learning to compound over time, eventually leading to (or continuing) high growth [LEARN].

 

“All life business is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Pursuing growth using an experiment-driven philosophy and framework means you’re optimizing for speed and quality of learning about your product, market, customers, and so on. Yes, that’s right. You’re optimizing for learning.

Why, you might ask? A few reasons.

1. What works for others, won’t always work for you. Optimizing for learning is your best chance at finding what works and what will continue to work for you.

2. What works today (be it a way to acquire customers or to increase their lifetime value) will either stop working entirely or will decline in effectiveness sooner rather than later.

There is a fast decay in tactical effectiveness. Like every time Facebook drops organic reach, for example. Or a new competitive alternative to your product emerges on the market. There was a time when a growth strategy would stay effective for decades; now its potency can wear out in a matter of months.

3.  If you’re not optimizing for growth across the whole funnel and across the whole organization (i.e. integrated approach), you miss opportunities and allocate resources inefficiently.

Experimentation is a way to not only hedge against these risks but to also allow you to optimize what’s already working in the meantime.

Rapid

I separate “rapid” from experimentation for two reasons.

First, an experiment-driven process for growth even without the “rapid” is better than many of the strategies being deployed today. And, if you’re not ready for rapid experimentation (for example, early-stage startups with no solid product-market fit), you can still use the “observe, idea, test, learn” experimentation system to help find product-market fit.

Second, the definition of “rapid” changes from company to company.

If a company has solid product-market fit or is well-established, I recommend Sean Ellis’ benchmark of three experiments a week as a rule of thumb (Ellis helped grow DropBox, Eventbrite, and LogMeIn). This velocity of three experiments a week is also known as high tempo testing.

 

3. Quantitative and Qualitative Research

If rapid experimentation is the engine, quantitative and qualitative insight (derived from research and analytics) is most certainly the fuel.

The Hennessey Venom GT’s engine won’t go anywhere… at any speed… without fuel or a solid push. (Unless perhaps you’re going downhill, but that’s never the case when you’re seeking high growth…)

The fuel for high growth is data. The art of collecting and the science of analyzing the right qualitative data, i.e. the why (e.g. customer needs, habits), with the right quantitative data, i.e. the what (e.g. usage, churn, retention, NPS). This data not only allows for better ideation for experiments and measurement of results – the very fuel to make rapid experimentation work – but it’s also key to prioritizing experiments, growth objectives, and product changes.

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Bottom line? The more efficient the engine (i.e. the more effective you are at driving experiment-driven frameworks across your company funnel), the faster the car goes.

And the better the quality of fuel (i.e. making sure the things you’re doing are the right things to be doing), the faster the car goes.

This is the discipline of growth (what growth hacking really is!) in a nutshell. And it’s a framework any company can use regardless of size, market, or vertical.