The problem with shortcuts is they are usually not repeatable or scalable. For example, a viral video or website can provide a boost of growth, but you can't predict if the next thing you produce will also go viral.
What you want to find is a predictable way to generate sales where the economics work. The economics work if the cost to generate a sale is 1/3 or less of the lifetime value of the customer. Even if it takes a lot of effort to generate the sale, if you have a predictable way to generate leads, and you know how many leads you need in order to produce a sale, and you make a good profit on that sale, you are golden. You can then ramp up your lead gen and you know your sales with grow faster. It doesn't take any luck to display more ads, send more emails or hire sales reps.
This is the strategy we used to grow from $0 to $1M in ARR in six months. We could then go to a VC and tell them that if they invested $X, we could turn that into $Y in ARR. It made fundraising pretty simple for us.
tl;dr Treat sales and marketing like a science and design a repeatable process.
Test on a per-channel basis, ie. marketing spend per customer acquisition, immediate customer value, (conservative) value over customer lifetime. Frankly anything but the initial sale is largely bullshit, but investors love it if you can show nice numbers here. At my first startup (China-wide multilingual hotel reservation platform) I had an angel work through this with me and come to the same conclusion I did: we'd tried pretty much everything, so customer acquisition was either going to be very slow organic or expensive and cashflow negative / capital intensive, save some kind of channel partnership deal.
Direct sales and paid ads are both solid channels. Others that I've seen work are SEO, Content Marketing, Social Media Marketing, Partnerships, API Integrations, Meetups, Conferences, Engineering as Marketing, Viral Design, Affiliates, PR, Newsjacking, Branson-style Stunts, User Incentives (like Paypal giving people $20 for signing up), etc...
What works depends a lot on what your price points are, what your competition is doing and your stage of growth. The worst thing is when a startup's ideal channel—and it usually is just one or maybe two channels that will work really well—happens to be one that the founders dismiss without even realizing it. In fact, a lot of technical founders would dismiss the exact kind of direct sales that worked so well for you.
for software engineer's approaching marketing for the first time.
That was a mistake that we made. We started by hiring smart people and trying to let them figure out how to sell. I strongly recommend NOT doing that. In startupland, time is your greatest enemy and you don't have time for people to learn. Also, you probably aren't a sales expert, so you can't teach them what they need to know to be great.
Another mistake we made was hiring people who were good at selling other things. Medical device sales, consumer product sales, SaaS sales to SMB, SaaS sales to enterprise, etc. Once again, great sales people in other types of sales can learn to sell into your market, but it can take a long time and you probably don't have the expertise to teach them.
We spent 12 months trying to use smart people with no experience and sales people that were great at selling into different markets and generated essentially $0 in sales. We were ready to give up. Finally we hired a senior sales person from a competitor that was selling a very similar product, into the same market (med-large business) and we've taken off since then.
Your growth hack/shortcut was in the end, to poach a sales guy from a competitor who had clout with a bunch of customers in your field.
I thought sales was just sales and if you could sell one thing, you could sell anything. What I didn't realize is that selling B2B to a small business and selling B2B to an enterprise is as different as a skill set as writing compilers and building web scale applications. It takes years to get really good at each one of those things.
I've also learned that as a founder/CEO, most of my time is spent selling. I was a software engineer for 10 years and now I pretty much spend all day every day selling. Selling investors on why they should buy 25% of my company, selling potential hires on why we are the next big thing, selling the board on our new plan, selling customers on our product and selling employees on the company vision.
Once we had someone who knew how to sell SaaS to medium and large businesses, we just started doing what they considered obvious and fundamental. It was a revelation to us. :)
We started using software to send emails, track opens and clicks and then call prospects that did any of those things. You have to do a lot of dials, but eventually, someone answers. Of course they're not interested, so back to dialing. After 30 answers you'll get one that is interested.
Sales is just a numbers game. It's hard work. It's hella hard work. But send enough emails and make enough calls and you'll make some sales. And there is nothing like the feeling of closing a sale after grinding it out. Over time the sales add up, and before you know it, you are having a party with silly string and noise makers because you passed $1M in sales! (That was a fun day!!!)
We made close to 3 Mill. EUR revenue in 2016. We acquire 90 % of our customers via SEO and about 10 % via Google Adwords. We don't do any direct sales.
Our #1 growth strategy was creating well designed and highly targeted landingpages for all relevant keywords. For example if potential customers search for certain type of jobbers in certain German cities, these are some of our landingpages:
I can't remember what Madison Avenue Ad man (aka Mad Men) is responsible for the quote "in tits we trust". Ogilvy ? It's a tasteless quote, but I can think of many companies, like GoDaddy, that use this strategy shamelessly at first. The links above are by no means that extreme, but I suspect it did help your marketing success.
Thinking of my own marketing, I don't even have a photo of a human being using our product. I'll work on that.
edit: added Mad Men reference.
And we make sure that our jobbers not only upload high quality pictures but also write their personal experience in a targeted and concise format. For example we now started other verticals such as temporary chefs and on these pages you see mostly middle aged men with cooking experience:
edit: same content but better english
And on this landingpage you show some of our "oldsters" who are based in New Work and who have marketing experience. And in addition you show your platforms USP on this page and create Call-to-action button on how to get in contact with an "oldster". You obviously have to check yourself what kind of businesses are in your target group, what keywords they would search and what kind of landingpage could attract them.
edit: same content, but reworded my english
1.) The first CTA should be above-the-fold, visible to users right away without scrolling.
2.) If it is a longer page, the the page should contain multiple CTAs, so the user does not need to "scroll back" up.
3.) The CTAs should be visible and standing out from the rest of the content
The label of the CTA is very important. We use "Unverbindliche Buchungsanfrage" which can be roughly translated to "Non-binding booking request". We try to convey, that clicking on the button is risk-free and free-of-charge.
The first CTA on the page gets the most clicks, since a lot of customers do not scroll down.
As a European VC, this is not the kind of opportunity we are looking for. Please don't contact me again.
Edit: see replies below.
I am adding this reply to make crystal-clear that the above is SATIRE about how hard it is for European companies to raise money from European investors. (I'm not a European VC.) You guys are killing it. I hope investors believe in you too.
Or did you not have too much trouble and got fair valuations, terms, could close quickly etc?
(If you don't mind sharing.)
This was our pitch deck by the way (not meant for marketing but for context): http://www.instaff.jobs/download/InStaff_Pitch_Deck.pdf
We don't need money, because we have been cashflow positive and growing for a while. And since fundraising was hyper time consuming we will not get back to fundraising again.
But I don't want to "rage" against the VC scene here. To each his own and I wish everybody who raises money successfully to grow his business all the best.
You don't have to follow up, but if you do: what valuation were you seeking and what's the highest low-ball offer you received?
For me the lowest valuation given your numbers and model would be $10m - but I am certain you were seeking a much lower valuation, and did not even get that. So what were you seeking and what offer did you get?
(By the way, the way I analyze your story it's not a social proof question: it's that you weren't in silicon valley.)
If you don't want to reply here you can email me at the address in my profile. Thanks.
Example: You book a promoter for 3 days. The promoters works 7 hours per day and earns 10 EUR per hour. Then his total gross wage is 210 EUR and our markup is 90,30 EUR (43 %) on top. So you as customer pay a total of 300,30 EUR to us.
We compete with traditional employment agencies who usually charge a markup of 50% to 200%.
> And if you book staff, you only pay the gross salary of the employee plus the InStaff service fee which ranges between 21 %(for Professionals) to 43 % (other Staff) - there are no additional costs.
It wasn't a start-up but a consulting company I worked at that had stagnated for about 7 years.
6 months later we had redone our whole marketing setup. New site, new branding, new software, lots of advertisement $ shifted.
A year later revenue was almost 3x. We raised our rates so profitability was even more than that.
The problem is finding a great marketing expert is just as hard as finding good coders. The company blew through countless consultants and 3 "marketing majors" with no returns until they found me and we turned it all around.
I would say marketing and coding are equally important for a start-up, easily the two most important things. If you have two founders one should be a marketing guru. If you don't your first employee should be.
Another thing is don't hire any marketing expert that can't code. The actual marketing setup is more than 50% coding. You need to find a coder that loves marketing
The reality is that marketing is an increasingly specialized and technical domain requiring knowledge of coding, data, etc. and it can be hard enough as it is to help people trust we're not all scammers (particularly a technical audience such as this one) and that there are in fact good marketers who have ethics and deliver results.
In my decade in the field I've observed almost zero correlation between marketing-specific education and ability. Experience yes, but education no.
It's a frustrating profession to be in sometimes because often only great marketers can spot other great marketers. Meanwhile sh*tty ones ruin the field's rep for everyone else.
And yes, I agree it takes a great marketer to spot others. It would be a like a designer interviewing someone for a coding position. They might say lots of technical jargon type stuff and you'll have no idea what is made up, what is buzzwords, and what are signals that say a person is good at what they do.
I wonder if companies would pay for a marketing consultant to help them hire.
Basic working knowledge of how code works on the web, and how data flows from Point A to Point B is a bare minimum in my mind.
Then you're often dealing with a data warehouse, BI tools and the modeling hell that comes with it, etc.
Beyond that, there is using code to improve performance directly. Speeding up page load times directly impacts SEO these days with Google. Knowing where and how tracking breaks (ad blockers, cross-device cookies dropping, messed up UTM params, cross-domain tracking setup, cross-channel attribution, etc.) and the million "gotchas" that come with any analytics platform is also quite technical.
Then outside of the tracking there's things like media and ad buying. There's some crazy work that goes into bid algorithms used by all the big search and display platforms.
The other poster's point about getting it into all the nooks and crannies of your marketing channels is spot on. Involving marketing and adding tracking to every single new feature is a requirement for product development. Linking all marketing systems under one roof and determining a SSoT is critical, but often Sisyphean, task.
In terms of a basic tools/languages list, I'd say...
- HTML, JS, CSS
- Whatever stack you're working on...so common ones probably have some PHP or RoR
- Google Analytics and/or Omniture, or some other solid analytics platform, as well as their respective APIs for dealing with events and other goodies
- Other pieces in the marketing stack such as data warehouses (Redshift, etc.), email platforms, CRMs, bid management platforms, ad servers, tag management systems, CMS's, etc. These all need to be linked together in an ideal world.
Feel free to ping me if you have any other questions. Contact info is in my profile.
You will eventually need to write stuff to connect a bunch of different systems together and aggregate data in special ways. Basically classic integration and database work. Similar to enterprise programming in a lot of ways.
What happens quickly with marketing is that you need tracking. Not soon after you need custom tracking because you need to track customer interactions like phone calls, page visits, clicks, form filling, appointments, emails, sales(and how much)... It really goes on until you've integrated the sales pipeline into every corner of your companies interaction with customers. It's very unrealistic to find a piece of software to integrate all this stuff for you so that's where code comes in.
The ultimate data driven marketing system tracks every interaction with every person your company ever talks to(or visits your site) and assigns a value to each one of those people to get you an estimated ROI you can feed back into your advertising channels to see how much money you make from X campaign or advertisement relative to him much it costs.
Some companies achieve this nirvana, most with a horde of people and a thousand spreadsheets, and a few smart ones automate it entirely
2) Started writing interesting content. Truly good content is a PITA and you need to be a decent writer to make something compelling, but our first good article got us more traffic than the entire site with over 100 content pages.
3) New tools. everything linked together to see where our sales were coming from. Phone system, website, live chat, in person. All of our leads funneled into one system. We could see what was getting people and what wasn't
4) Online advertising. Locally first, expand AD reach as campaign becomes more nationally competitive. Make sure all the tools you setup continue to track where all these leads are coming from
5) Better "convincing" of clients that we're legit. Company T-Shirts and swag. Hotel-type exaggerated pictures of our team and office. Meet the team page. Professional website like I mentioned earlier. FB, google maps, yellowpages, wherever we could get a free listing. Automated scheduling systems for client meetings, phone tree for calls, tons of previous work repurposed as marketing material for clients to see. Listing our bigger clients on our website. 800 phone #. All the hallmarks of a big successful business even though we weren't exactly gave clients a much bigger confidence in our abilities and enabled us to charge more.
6) Marketing toward high value targets-- we needed to get the ear of C level and VP's. Concentrating on the fact that we were a US company without outsourcing. Marketing to wealthy areas "doctorville" we called it. Targeted marketing to business corridors. We went deep, going as far as checking the AS of your IP address and whether any services were running on it. A surprising amount of the time would could link an IP back to a company, so we could quietly market to your company just from you visiting our site.
7) competitive research. Found our biggest local competitors. Quietly outbid them on all their ad keywords. Even more quietly made sure we had all the backlinks they did on search. Got a list of their clients one way or another, marketed directly to their clients already knowing their weaknesses from our clients who previously worked with those competitors. One competitor hosted their own servers, so I figured out who owned the IP and tracked ownership of the company through their email server. Another put their email address at the bottom of all public sites they wrote, a simple targeted google search returned all/most of their clients' sites. Another had a "client login" page setup on all of their sites that had a redirect to their main page. Searching for backlinks using SEO tools revealed most of these client sites.
Lots more. It took a lot of creative thinking and some failures :)
What was different with that piece of content? Was it only the content or did you also promote/tailor that content to new channels?
The difference was that the rest of our content was bland marketspeak whitewash garbage stuff. "Expand your client list 5x TODAY" type bs. Also useless PDF whitepapers on project we completed. Pro tip, nobody reads PDF unless it's the only content available, and on Google that's rarely true :).
The new articles were all focused on specific issues that our clients would have. Some favorites:
"TWC business modem speed up"
"AdWords tracking conversions"
"Choosing the right software development company"
"Pros and cons of outsourcing development"
"Online marketing for small businesses
"AdWords overview for CEOs and VP s"
"How to hire AdWords expert"
"Company outing locations in (cityx)"
"Most popular CMS for company websites"
"Small business tax audit guide"
Articles with a clear purpose and tailored to what our kind of client, and person, would be searching for. Admittedly this takes some really creative thinking but the results can be amazing.
Not all of our articles were related to what we did at all. They were built so that our target customers would search for them. Business owners, especially local. People looking for custom software even if it's not what they initially have in mind.
Our only channel for these articles was google search. In all, about 95% of our traffic went to new articles straight from Google. We trailered content mainly to our location, and this is probably a wise choice for any small business.
The content raised Google's opinion of how good our site was, even when the article wasn't bringing in sales. Most of the time they would be first page for targeted keywords, about 40% of the time the first result. Some of them are years old now and still first on Google, if that gives you an idea of how powerful well written pieces can be.
Writing the actual content: make sure the article is long and well written. The times/WSJ/new yorker should be a guide for what kind of writing google likes. Long form and extremely focused on a subject. Pictures help too.
Google looks at how many people view your article, for how long, and whether they go back to search afterwords if it wasn't what they wanted. They track future searches related to the article they just brought you to, to see if it has stimulated the person to read more into whatever your article was talking about. So for example the best CMS article. Did the user that read your article end up checking out the CMS you mentioned? They track how often users return to the same article, and probably whether they bookmark it. They even know how deep your knowledge is by comparing the distribution of uncommon words in your article to more trusted sources like journals and high quality books on the same subject. This is all admittedly speculation but google is extremely good at rating the quality of your content. The new AI processing google uses probably doesn't even know why an article is good, it just knows that it is.
The thing that helped me most writing the good articles was a deep background in the subject. For things I didn't know as much about, like managing the business, I would pick the brain of somebody that did know a lot for an hour or two then put it to writing.
If you don't have much knowledge about the things you should be writing about you need to find a decent writer that does.
If you don't want to deal with all that just pay google money for ads, and get really good at "the game". AdWords is extremely competitive and you need somebody with the drive to win at any cost, because the road from the start of your first campaign to something profitable will be expensive and hard.
Channels are overrated IMO :) you can reach around 90% of all web users on Google alone, and close to 100% on Google+fb. To start out at least, just pick a few very pervasive platforms and get really good at using them
Google is my main traffic driver and I never had much luck with content shared through social media or any other channels. For me, it's 90% Google as well and some articles are there for 8 years already. 3-5 articles out of a hundred or so drive 80% of new signups.
I treat my articles like shopping windows: I revisit and refine them whenever I see fit. I write new content mostly to show Google that something is happening on my website. I lost rankings on some articles, because I didn't publish a lot through 2016.
Anyways, your comment is a good description on how one can succeed by making their customers' problems their main SEO/traffic strategy.
I feel like a lot of these strategies could be used with small bootstrapped businesses with some tweaking. Especially #5, appearing legit is too often ignored in smaller businesses.
#5 is a killer for so many places, maybe the most common big mistake. This is one place where "fake it till you make it" is absolutely mandatory for success. Selling yourself as a "freelancer" devalues everything you do. Selling yourself as a startup is similarly dangerous. Having the cutesy small business/startup vibe might sound appealing to customers and the valley but it makes you look disorganized and unstable to big successful businesses. These are the very customers willing and able to throw lots of money around.
I cringed at GitLab's unnecessary transparency recently because it makes their vulnerability and management missteps all more apparent. Their mistake is the kind of shit where the better choice from a business perspective is to be reasonably honest then give all your customers a free month or two so they stop talking about it. Their absolutely transparency exposes a lot of internal politics and missteps, especially mentioning people by name, A HUGE no-no in any kind of big business. If I was fortune 500, hell even INC 500, I would run away as fast as possible.
Love your no-nonsense pragmatic attitude :)
1) Modern website with seo
2) produce compelling content
3) reduce redundant tools and streamline processes
4) advertise your product
5) advertise your business
6) knowing your customers and decision makers and advertising appropriately
7) understanding your competition
What I got reading the groovehq blog post that was posted here was that you should be spending little bit of time on multiple strategies until you find one that sticks.
More importantly keeping experiments cheap, fast and not so time consuming to put out in the wild. I liked that <10hr approach from the other HN comment.
Two things I noticed. Your site can be made more optimized for highly impatient types. I recommend always showing a phone number that leads directly to a sales line with no wait, and a live chat bubble for those too skittish to give you any information.
I always found best results putting the phone number big at the top of the page and again near the contact form. Make it show a special tracked number when users come through ads and the business is open for calls, your regular office number for visitors that didn't come through ads, and a disposable phone number to your cellphone for people that originally came through an ad but tried to call when the business is closed. Make all calls coming through ads go directly to a real person. The justification for all this work is that you already paid good money for anyone that comes through ads so its financially worth a little spam to give them a direct line to a real person. You want your conversion rate as high as possible once you've already paid. If you are a local business use a local area code, 800 # for anything advertised nationally.
For the live chat bubble, make it automatically come up and say something friendly to anyone that has browsed site for more than X minutes or seen more than X pages. Make sure it only shows up when real people are available. Add something near to contact form like "or chat with us now" that automatically opens the bubble and notifies a real person of an incoming request.
In my experience you'll get around 20% of initial contact from calls and maybe 30% from live chat. A decent percentage of these will be people too lazy, paranoid, or old school to fill out your contact form. Email forms are increasingly used for annoying stuff like permission to view the rest of an article, so many users are weary of giving you a direct contact without knowing if their please will go into a black hole. The ability to contact immediately, through phone and especially live chat alleviates these concerns. It makes you real, legit in their minds, immediately.
Growth hacking = marketing. Life hack = common sense - or what used to be common.
Growth Hacking used to mean Marketing+Coding+Statistics
Now it just means marketing.
In my understanding, a growth hacker should basically be able to do all that themselves in addition to having the more traditional marketing skills.
Or maybe I just grew up in a bad, uninventive environment.
Our visitor to registered user conversion is 4%
Our registered users to paid user conversion is approx 10%
This seems ok to me, but not sure. What we really need is a cost effective way to move forward. What do we do!! Thanks for your help :)
1) Look for someone that has experience working big and small companies. Big brands will train comms, project management, procedure and how to think at scale. Small brands give 'getting it done' skills, generalist experience and show they can get technical/dirty hands. Larger brand experience typically looks more impressive but often work has been project management for agencies and doesnt suit hands on efforts or creativity. Likewise if you're business is big enough to run agencies if someone has always been hands on they often struggle as project managers and understanding how to communicate needs in a way that translates effectively downstream.
2) Dig into exact contributions for past roles. Ask for logic that lead to decisions. Often marketers talk about great campaigns results but really they were a body in a room with little input. Dig for detail and motivations to decisions and you will find out who is who.
3) Look for initiative with intelligence. Many solid looking marketeers repeat what is always done, optimising here and there. That suits some roles and businesses. There's an unrecognised value in the solid citizen employee. But for smaller business looking for exceptional results you need someone who will see the world independently of the compaineis previous activites, and most likely their previous roles. In this repeating and optimising wont work. Ensure you find people that introduce campaigns and activities with originallity if you need new oppurtunity and delivery.
4) Experience counts. It's easy to be attracted to enthusuasm but confidence/enthusiasm and ability are often confused. Look for someone that has done things. When looking at people with higher level expereince ensure they can get thier hands dirty. Make sure they have the ability to learn and adapt vs puely strategise.
5) Don't go cheap. I often see startups advertising low paid marketing roles, while they pay for experienced developers. Half the price sounds great but they will bring a fraction of the value.
6) Find someone that can analyse data vs report it. There's a big difference in the 2 and the former is surprisingly rare.
7) Avoid anyone that shows narcissistic tendency or is generally 'me' focused. This personality tends to be bad comms people (especially with social) as they see the world from their POV, not the customers. Also your risking a tough working enviroment. Look for things like how they delivered on a job they felt was wrong or lacked value as well as the usual egocentric viewpoints when they discuss marketing examples.
8) Look for someone that lives marketing beyond thier job. A person that can talk about companies beyond their own and the role they've likey researched for. Look for interest in the wider industry/technologies vs focusing only on thier job.
9) Dont stress about direct inductry experience. Unless there is incredibly niche market knowedge or contacts needed a good marketer will be good regardless of product. Thats said you need the right marketing category. A EDM specialist can likely shift to PPC, but events, PR are entirly different. So people lump marketing together but the fields are entirely different.
10) Sales and marketing are not the same thing. Know what you need. They dont often come all-in-one.
11) While not an absolute I usually check linkedin contacts to skill endorsements ratio. Typically this ratio is higher for the people I know are good marketers. I wouldn't make my decision by this but is seems one of those soft indicators.
12) When you interview give a 10min exercise before to discuss and cover up real-time actual skills. E.g. show them some relevant to role campaign materials (e.g. landing pages/EDM's) and ask them how they would improve. Ask them what they would do with $50k. Typically I add in some spelling/grammar mistakes to also look for attention to detail as it tends to be a 'you have it or you dont' skill (like initiative) and not something you can train up.
13) Make sure they have a budget. Dont think the salary is the budget and then they can write viral blog/FB posts. Generally I'd say a 10-20x marketing salary would be a good rule of spend if bringing a permanent marketing role in.
14) Give marketers product input. They should have their finger on the customer pulse and valuable views on what sell/motivates users. Dont let tech side shut out marketing.
With the coding thing, I have to disagree there. In 15 years of marketing I've never seen that correlation. 100% agree being tech savvy is useful, especially in setting up testing and tracking tools but an actual coder... not from my experience.
TicketTitan.com - Patent pending software for price (legal fee) determination on traffic ticket cases. Developed in-house for my former employer and cannibalized (automated) his business was gained through future referrals, SEO and some Google ad word spend. Liquidation event.
Partnering for Community Care - Low cost concierge/Direct Primary Care for a physician office. Specifically not meant to cannibalize the existing practice/patients, but experiment to determine fit of business model/moving away from insurance based practice. Word of mouth to uninsured patients. Local hotel/restaurant owners caught word and filled up the available ~100 slots very quick.
MedicareMTM.com - patent pending practice management for medication therapy management (MTM). Initially had a 6 month pilot green lit by Walmart (thru LinkedIn cold contact), this was stopped due to a conflict. Currently, set up a pilot with an independent pharmacy and about half dozen local providers, the pharmacy owner started a network over ~1,000 Indian owned independent pharmacies...so again the natural word of mouth approach.
These are just some examples, and I know they may not fit into the true definition of startup. Still I think it is important to keep an open mind about the specific industry of the startup/business and not apply a one size fits all approach.
Concierge/Direct Primary Care is a model of healthcare where the doctor cuts out the middleman (insurance companies), more and more primary care and pediatricians are considering these business models for their practice. Benefits generally include less staff, no billing/coding, no appeals to insurers, and generally less patients/more time with patients.
The practice we worked with believes it could easily grow and sustain 2,000 patients per location and we could replicate the business fairly easily by converting existing practices (more complicated due to legal and ethical concerns of existing patients using insurance) or scaling providers in-house, say like UBER with/without brick & mortar locations.
This means that you have to do things very, very cheaply. Think of each growth hack as a single tactic. Execute in < 10 hours of work. Push into the wild.
You cannot know what will work, before you try it. What worked for others won't necessarily work for you.
How do you live in a world where any one thing you do is 90% likely to fail? You do a lot of 'one things', very cheaply, and when one of them hits, you exploit it.
Growth is a process, one very much dependent on speed. Think in terms of a growth system, not growth tactic or hack.
(this is what I call a strategy)
(In marketing, the world of "everything" is pretty substantial, and few of the channels can be properly tested cheaply: paid and organic search, paid and organic social (which includes many different platforms), email, old-school (e.g., print, radio, and TV) media buys, ...the list goes on.)
A smart and experienced marketer will know the tools and techniques for deconstructing what channels are the most successful for direct competitors. They'll also be able to figure out the niche channels where the target audience "hangs out" that competitors haven't yet discovered.
tl;dr: Don't try everything. Hire a marketer who will help you skip the guessing game and target the already-proven channels in your market.
Last fall we finally hired a marketing consultant, built out a marketing website with a contact form, and are trying out some different pricing models. We've seen fairly consistent interest, which I'm reading as pent-up demand.
Lessons learned: I think the word-of-mouth angle was good for us at first. By keeping a closer control on our customers we were able to really make the product solid and understand the customer needs in depth, and how to segment the market with pricing and features. I wish we'd flipped the switch on the marketing website sooner, but there were benefits from waiting. The number one lesson if you're going to do that is give potential customers who hear about you a way to contact you—otherwise word of mouth has zero benefit. (I realize these probably seem obvious to most, but our market is a little niche and knowing that we wanted to market primarily to the national customers instead of their local affiliates pointed us in certain directions early on.)
Provide a exceedingly useful free service that naturally lends itself to aiding QA. We weren't clever in all this, the customers found us. We did however react when the opportunity presented itself.
We added features to make their use case easier and better. The free service takes a good deal of infrastructure but the brand and value provided make it worth it.
Consider this a testament to how exceedingly useful your free service is. I was actually able to run my whole gambit of tests with the free service, probably using 100+ addresses, and used one of the alias domains to avoid blocking, though it took a few tries before I found one.
Now a paying customer :)
My account is firstname.lastname@example.org
My advice is to read Traction and apply the framework to test out as many possible strategies as possible. There are tons of other blogs and strategies about growth but I find Traction to have the most practical and actionable format. Plus, I like having a hard copy. I've probably bought 5 copies of it for friends.
Create a Trello board to track your experiments and progress. You will find something that moves the needle–BUT it might not be what you expect. For example, I've had tons of success at trade shows in past projects.
BetaList and Reddit have been a big driver of signups as they have the exact audience we are looking to help (startups) and a wide audience.
Blogging has also been a big part of getting signups. Creating helpful posts on Medium with a small product mention at the bottom brings in a good amount of the right people.
Twitter is great for driving traffic to the blog posts which then in turn gets people interested in us and our product. Buffer is awesome, and Quuu is a great service that has a community retweeting your tweet for a nominal fee.
Overall our landing page conversion rate is 29.8% right now, so driving the right traffic really matters.
Keep in mind though that Reddit's hard to predict and quality of feedback varies. If you post something to Reddit, it's worth taking your time to write something useful with hard numbers. Even then, there's a chance the random question about drop shipping submitted just ahead of you will get a ton of responses and you might get nothing but crickets.
Another great channel for us is SEO. Here we also take the high quality over quantity route by building fewer but more insightful landing pages. We want people to spend more time on our content and get value from it.
I find that people also refer me the first week they sign up. Which is something that is a bit of a hack. I heard this advice a couple years ago and I thought it was crazy but it totally works and is awesome. Someone finally made the decision to buy my service and it's at that point that they are most excited about it and love to refer people.
We're experimenting with Instagram stories on our latest project: JQBX (https://www.instagram.com/jqbx.fm https://www.jqbx.fm). Having good content lets you get more eyeballs on your stories which, so far for us at least, haven't driven people to unfollow since the feed content is of a high quality.
You can check it out here http://www.oppsdaily.com/blog.
I share the stats on hacker news, indiehackers, reddit, and the solo founder slack chat.
Its been effective so far!
This certainly resulted in the opposite of growth, raw-customer-count-wise, but it's led to a legitimate, sustainable and growing business; streamlined our maintenance and support costs; and focused our product roadmap.
Similarly, if you write something that does well on small subreddits, a lot of times they will make it into Cooper Press email lists later.
The other half of the story was that Syncplicity basically replaced network file shares for small Mom and Pop companies that didn't want to hire a consultant every time the network file server. Its premium support was much easier and cheaper to work with than bringing in a consultant.
So, I would summarize as: Target a niche that your competitor isn't targeting, and at the same time, find a product to replace that your customers will be happy to see go.
I'm curious: Why did you think that? There are articles, from time-to-time, that decry this notion, and yet I find that young/first-time entrepreneurs often think this. Since it's such a common notion - I've become generally increasingly curious about how it (this idea) is spread. How it gets into people's heads. Any thoughts?
I think after putting a huge amount of time and effort into a project, you just kind of convince yourself that it's good enough to sell itself.
And I think Ralph Waldo Emerson obviously never built any mousetraps and has no idea what he's talking about.
Nonetheless, the saying does seem to apply well if you replace "Mousetrap" with "Donut" and "World" with "Portland".
If you can spot and build the next Google then you may not need marketing, but those opportunities are rare.
Frankly any account that falsely suggests a YC affiliation should be suspended without warning.
If you have 1000+ karma, please use a secure password. Warning: red herrings below...
It suggests "I want to keep my real address/identity private and created on specially to be reachable on HN", which is a completely sensible thing to do.
And even if you really weren't sure, just asking (or contacting the mods) would have been the thing to do.
I think it's not so bad that he didn't initially notice the satirical angle, so I did edit the original comment to clearly reference my reply which explains it (in case anyone missed it). But I wish he'd edit his comment to be more fair.
For what it's worth, another comment I made recently (on "An Email Thread Between a Developer and Gigster") was in earnest, i.e. I would not mind getting that exact email as a developer, but could be taken as satire.
So I think it's always fair to ask for satire to be pointed out explicitly. See Poe's law.
In this case though I was just making a satirical point about raising money from European VC's. (To me it is obvious and I just don't feel the need to edit it in any way, as explained in my reply.)
There are always a few clues as to whether something is being written in earnest or as satire, and if you read carefully you can usually figure it out. In this case, you can tell it's satire due to the glowing praise and then complete and final, non-sequitur hard pass, in a way that doesn't make sense in the context of the thread. It has to have another layer of meaning. I considered adding something obvious but I wanted the satire to remain fair and nuanced. This may be why it was taken seriously.
You can see another take from me on this same theme by reading this comment:
You can read that and then read my reply (scroll down to about the third comment), part of which I'll quote "you've given a lot of hard data but fail to draw the obvious correct conclusions, that the reason you haven't raised financing is because you're not located in Silicon Valley and don't have an office there."
Regarding the comment you just responded to: I purposefully made my comment extremely over the top (and insane), as satire. But I hoped the parent poster would reply by saying "if this is satire you are correct - this is exactly the reception we got. The last valuation we were offered is 1 million - and they wanted two thirds of the company." (Which would both be insulting, and kill the company.)
Anyway I am within my edit window but don't feel a need to edit my obviously satirical (by no means troll) comment.
Email me at the address I have listed (which likely on archive.org or elsewhere you can see has not changed in a long time), and I will confirm for you. I cannot emphasize enough that it is extremely obviously satirical - it makes fun of closed-minded European VC's. It was meant to evoke a sense of injustice. As clear and obvious satire - you can tell it's satire due to the facts it chooses to draw attention to, which are stellar. The "punchline", the second paragraph, is a total non sequitur. Given how - genuinely, really - amazing everything mentioned is, why would any VC want to rudely shut themselves out? Oh right - because they're a European VC, which was my satirical point.
Finally, even if for some reason you didn't get right away that it's satire, there is no other explanation because the parent poster didn't ask for anything, and even if they had this would not be the place to post a reply.
In case I have to spell it out, I'm obviously not a European VC and the post I replied to obviously did not try to contact me. I'd appreciate it if you made your comment less accusing.
I would also love to hear from paskster (the OP I replied to) with what their experience has been like building this kind of game-changing startup, specifically as regards venture capital funding.