This article originally appeared in the May 22, 2017 print edition of Techopia. So, y'know, don't blame us for being late on it.
The fifth-annual Accelerate Ottawa event offered valuable insights into growth hacking, a marketing and tech hybrid that emphasizes creative, empirical methods to rapidly test and evolve ideas while relying on data-driven metrics to keep what works and cut the rest.
Here are Techopia’s top four takeaways to help your startup master the art (or science) of growth hacking.
1. Experiment more
True to the growth hacking ethos, Klipfolio founder Allan Wille had this to say when asked what he would do differently if he could start over again: “I would have probably experimented more.”
“That’s something that we’ve adopted over the past five or six years,” he said. “We experiment like crazy. I don’t think anything goes out the door that we cannot somehow measure. I mean, we’re a dashboard company.”
He added that having a culture of experimentation in the early years would have helped his company grow more rapidly.
Fellow Ottawa startup founder Alain Goubau of FarmLead agreed, but emphasized that the low-tech route can be just as efficient. He gave the example of trying out a new marketing idea, but instead of spending the time, money and effort building a complete technical back-end to support it, a quick hack might be to create a simple online sign-up form for customers. In this scenario, the form emails the information to a staff member who then manually sets up an account.
“We can put this up in a day, and within a week we’ll know if this is going to work.”
2. The best salespeople are investigative journalists
“Why? Because objectively, their job is to get to the truth,” said Sean Sheppard, founding partner of GrowthX Academy. One mistake startups make is to assume they know what the customer is thinking. An important skill is to encourage potential customers to tell the truth about what they need.
“The words have to come from their mouths, from their fingers, not yours,” Sheppard said.
Indeed, speaker after speaker stressed the importance of doing background research and getting the source to reveal more information – a time-honoured journalistic method.
Sheppard put it most eloquently when he explained why many startups fail (Hint: it’s not running out of money): By not doing the research, “you’re spending time with the wrong people, having the wrong conversation at the wrong time, about the wrong shit.”
3. Forget the pitch script. Tell a story
Techstars’ Eamonn Carey told the crowd that if you have a great idea, don’t keep it to yourself.
“Tell people your ideas,” he said. “Talk about your ideas, talk about the problems you are having, talk about the solutions that you’ve found.”
However, he also underlined the importance of avoiding what has come to be the default setting of many first-time entrepreneurs when explaining their idea to other people, especially your fellow entrepreneurs.
“It’s not a pitch,” he said. “You’re opening a door, you’re building a relationship.”
4. Get your customers to do your marketing for you
Mark Organ, founder and CEO of Influitive, advised entrepreneurs in attendance to practise what he calls “devotion hacking.”
“If you are a founder today and you are considering building a company, you should start first and foremost by thinking about who is your community,” said Organ. Indeed, he said, your first product is community. By understanding who they are, when the time comes to build and sell your product, you can mobilize them to help sell it.
Organ has come up with what he says is a systematic way to have customers do your marketing for you, including cultivating the feeling of exclusivity amongst your advocates.
Make sure to let your advocates know they are making a meaningful impact on the growth and success of your company.
“If someone’s written a guest blog post for you, or created some other content (such as a) five-star review, let them know that, yeah, that really worked for us,” he said.
Above all, to make your advocate program work, it needs to be fun.
“It shouldn’t feel like work,” explained Organ.