Growth Hacking has become a mainstream term. It’s no longer relegated to to a dozen or so companies in Silicon Valley. Even the former Director of Marketing at American Apparel Ryan Holiday recently wrote a book about it.
In his book he explains how leveraging the network effects of the internet gives even the smallest of companies the power to go from 0 to 100,000 customers in a matter of months.
That is impressive and inspiring for aspiring entrepreneurs and scary for incumbents.
Ignoring these techniques can be dangerous. Ignoring these techniques means a company with a $0 marketing budget will be looking to take over your companies market using the power of technology today. Not next year, but today.
Thankfully the principles of growth hacking can be learned. By applying a few basic frameworks, you no longer have to worry about launching a product and constantly hitting refresh on your sales page to see if it’s working. You can be the data-driven guerilla whose company is experiencing rapid growth and fending off requests for “how you did it”.
Understanding growth hacking means you can be the one logging on to your email account, seeing the whole screen filled with unread message alerting you of new users and customers. You can go to work and have people say to you, “what’s in the pipeline” because they think of you as someone who sees the future.
The Growth Hackers Framework for Seeing the Future
Growth hacking inverts the traditional go-to-market strategy. It’s not build a product and then market it. It’s find a market and then build a product.
The core principle breaks down like this: Find a problem, propose a solution, validate solution utilize an existing platform where users who have that problem are, see if they like your solution, THEN build the product!
How Airbnb used this framework to scale massively
When the founders of Airbnb rented out their living room for a design conference in their town they had a feeling they were on to something. Instead of building a website, setting up a Facebook page and trying to raise funding they did something genius. They went to the market to see if their solution was a good one.
They went where tens of millions of people looking for accommodations already go. They went to Craigslist. The quickly started listing properties on Craigslist and validating that market would respond. And the market did.
Let’s unpack what they did step-by-step with advice on how you can follow.
1. Observer a problem or pain point
Airbnb realized when a design conference came to town and properties were scarce that a lot of people wanted reasonably priced housing for short-term stays.
The key for anyone looking to replicate this is to look around and find a market (short-term travelers) with a problem (can’t find reasonably priced lodging).
2. Propose a solution you can test quickly
In Airbnb’s case, they had extra space and realized they could rent it out to those going to the conference. They tested this out by actually renting out an extra room in their house and seeing if someone would actually pay for it. Instead of theorizing about, or building a website, they went to see if they could actually do it.
What solution can you offer today that someone might pay for? If you offer to solve the problem you observed from Step #1 will three people pay for it? Try it out, but make sure to do it quickly. The key here is to connect problem and solution as quickly as possible.
If this step doesn’t work you need to review your solution. If you fail after providing 3 – 4 solutions you need to go back to step #1.
3. Find a large platform that has your market and integrate with what people are already doing on that platform
Airbnb went to Craigslist and exploited a small loophole in the Craigslist sign-up process. They recognized that listing was an onerous process and they simplified that process with a simple web form sign-up. This allowed them to present their business model to massive amounts of customers. Because they had already validated their solution they knew what the market was looking for and were able to experience explosive growth.
Once you have validated your problem and a solution you need to find existing platforms with an established user base. That user base will have existing behaviors. Diagram those behaviors and find the most logical place where your business model fits.
4. When you have users integrated into your business model, build the right reinforcements into the product
As an example, Facebook looked at the data and discovered that if you connect with 7 people upon signing up to Facebook you are much more likely to become an active user. That’s why when signing up to Facebook they suggest a number of people for you to connect with.
Once you have an established user base and have delivered your solution to your market, investigate what causes them to stick and find subtle ways to do more of that. It’s crucial to getting your users to continue using your product.
Does this work in every case?
The principles of find a market with a problem, propose a solution, validate that solution and leverage an existing platform is a pretty tried and tested formula for successfully growing a new business.
However, the market, problem, solution, validation methods and platforms will all be unique. This isn’t paint by numbers. As someone looking to grow their business this is about connecting with your market and not building a product and forcing that on your market.
You won’t be able to follow airbnb’s path directly. If it were that easy, everyone would do it. In fact, overtime most marketing strategies become played out and start to not work very well. People don’t want to be marketed to, they want their problems solved.
Is it ethical?
Just like you have white hat and black hat SEO, you will have white hat and black hat growth hacking. There is a line that some companies will cross to obtain user growth.
There are some obvious ones like installing an app that downloads all of your contacts and proceeds to spam them.
Then there are gray hat examples, like LinkedIn’s ‘People You May Know’ section. LinkedIn surfaces contacts from your inbox who have not signed up for LinkedIn as though they are members of LinkedIn. When you click to say you know this person, it sends an invite directly to that person’s inbox as though you are inviting them to join LinkedIn. This is probably a borderline case that overtime may serve to annoy some people.
Growth hacks work really well when not a lot of people are using them. Businesses will eventually abuse them. The businesses that succeed are those where the core value of the product is still there.
You can go viral in a weekend, but if the core value of what you’re offering isn’t there your business will fall apart. All of your effort will be for nothing and you’ll be left staring at a fallen house of cards. Always remember that a great product is the best growth hack of all.