(Originally published on Blogcritics.org)
“Grow fast or die slow,” was the quote from growth mentor Samir Patel (@meetsamir) that Vincent Dignan used to set the tone for his presentation, “Growth Hacking Live: Boost Your Startup in Realtime.” Dignan spoke to a room overflowing with startup entrepreneurs at SXSW V2V, a four-day (July 19-22) educational event in Las Vegas. He knows that quote is true.
Dignan went from being “on benefits” – British English for on welfare – to one year later receiving $250,000 in startup money for an internet idea. “At that point, I didn’t know what growth hacking was,” he admitted.
He’s learned. His initial startup, Planet Ivy, is a lifestyle magazine website, similar toBlogcritics, based in the UK, but written by and aimed at 18-to-25-year-olds. In learning how to build it up from nothing, he also learned to growth hack, and shares that knowledge through Magnific, which claims to “put rocket fuel in your business.”
So, what is growth hacking?
In traditional marketing parlance, it is the development and expansion of quantitative growth channels. At one time this meant paying a teenager to pass out flyers in the parking lot. Now, it’s all about working the web, including social presence, content marketing, and, of course, email.
Dignan promised to show attendees how to grow a community online, ensure emails get seen and answered, create easy workflows, and do content marketing and user acquisition. I never received so much actionable information in two hours as I did at this session.
Dignan said that the golden rule of growth channels is that they should be scalable, repeatable and predictable. In other words, when you find something that works, you should be able to go big, do it over again and know it will keep working.
He added, “Growth channels work best when you find a new way to use [them]. The best ones are ones that no one knows yet.” That leads us to his first rule.
The Ten Rules
- You do not talk about growth hacking. “It’s like fight club,” Dignan explained. “When you find a new technique that works, you don’t want to broadcast it to the world, or everyone else will start using it and its effectiveness will be diluted.” Dignan makes an exception for trusted co-workers and for those with whom he shares a mentor or mentee relationship.
- You do not talk about growth hacking with investors or the public. It is called “hacking” and that has a negative connotation. Also you don’t want people bragging about how the company they invested in is building its user base.
- Speak to customers and define messaging before you go viral. This is classic marketing technique. Dignan emphasized that you need to understand the needs of your potential customers. He also said to test your messages in many variations to see which ones get the best response.
- Investigate and map channels: easiest to hardest. Not everyone needs a Facebook page or to be on Twitter. Find out where your potential users are. Start with the easier channels – short posts as opposed to a 90-page eBook – so you can further test and refine the message.
- Set S.M.A.R.T. goals. This is Business 101: goals should be Specific, Measurable, Accessible, Realistic, and Time-bound. You can read more about S.M.A.R.T. goals at here.
- Read the basics for your channels on growthhackers.com. Although this does seem to contradict Rule 1, it is a site for learning the skill. Dignan said that after you’ve mastered what you find at this site, you’ll discover things you don’t want to talk about.
- Don’t sweat the small things on day one. He stressed that you shouldn’t, for instance, waste your team’s time spending two weeks debating and testing whether the background on your website should be light blue or dark blue. “Get busy getting customers,” he said. “They’ll be time enough for the minutiae later.”
- Be a mixture of Mad Men and math men. Dignan recommended emulating the characters in the hit TV show. Try crazy and outlandish things. But you also need to be math men, who quantify and generate the data which will determine whether your efforts were really mad or genius.
- Pour more resources into the ones that work. Don’t keep trying alternatives when you find a technique with a good return. Time is not on your side.
- Rinse and repeat. Dignan emphasized the importance of finding what works and then keeping at it on a regular basis. He recommended emulating Airbnb, Buzzfeed or Genius in order to keep your message out there and expanding.
Dignan promised tools and he delivered more than I can detail here. I found the following particularly useful.
Content marketing means writing articles. To gain traction on search engines, an article needs to have a good title. The marketing company Portent offers a free title generator. I used it to generate the title for this article. If you are looking for inspiration or content to share, check the page Welcome to the Interneton Facebook.
In our digital world, person-to-person connections are still important. If you have a meeting coming up, you’ll want to get together with Charlie. This app will search your calendar for people you have meetings with. A couple of hours before the meeting is scheduled, Charlie will send you a one-page dossier on that person, so you know his or her likes and background. The person will be impressed. Browser add-in Discover.ly will give you similar information as you are browsing the web.
For developing reach and finding influential users of Twitter, SocialBro is the go-to site. If you want to know what hashtags and subjects are trending geographically on Twitter, Trendsmap can help. I just zoomed in on Wichita Falls, Texas. “Snake” and “mosquitoes” are big there. If you are looking for someone’s email address, two tools are worth checking out. Email Hunter returns all the addresses associated with a particular domain. This is good for finding peoples at a particular company. Voila Norbert will search by first and last name and a domain. I tested this on some emails I already knew. It works best on more unique names and smaller domains. If you’re trying to find a John Smith or even a Rose Nguyen at Gmail, you’ll get too many results.
Once you have the address you want and you send an email, Rebump will keep sending reminders until the person responds. The automated reminders look like you wrote them personally.
More Growth Hacking
If growth hacking sounds like what your business might need, or you think you could become the new all-star growth hacker, here are some resources. For more words of wisdom from Vincent Dignan you’ll want to check out his blog or look for him on The Huffington Post. For more general information about growth hacking, I suggest the book Growth Hacker Marketing by Ryan Holiday. Also, a list of beginner resources is available at Kissmetrics.