Growth hacking is not a very easy concept to grasp. Most people have said that it will replace traditional marketing methods especially for Saas startups and web based products in the future. Seemingly, it’s becoming more urgent to learn about growth hacking, and not only learn but practice it for several startups around the world.

Evidently, startups like Facebook, Twitter, Hotmail, Airbnb, Dropbox, and Zapier have been at the forefront of examples of companies’ that have made it using growth hacks that happened to push them from only few thousand users to millions, hundreds of millions and in cases like Facebook, billions.

Considerably smaller companies but big in their own right; the likes of Basecamp, Convertkit, Slack, Buffer, Crew, Unsplash, Hubspot, Eat24, among many more, are examples of even more companies that have implemented various appropriate growth hacks to nail their growth and get up the ladder of success.

For other startups, and several I must add; growth hacking remains a shadow they cannot lay their hands on. Like all other companies they try to crack their minds but the whole thing just keeps eluding them. To dissect their problems a little bit, I ask? What are the reasons that the growth hacking techniques implemented by these startups fail? And as the startups painstakingly continue to spend more money and time looking for loopholes and where they might be going wrong, the following reasons should help them see where they are going wrong:

1. They don’t know their audience

No amount of growth hacking can make you useful if you don’t know your audience. Not knowing your target market always puts you in such positions where you are spending time on the wrong audience. Sometimes startups think they know their audience, but upon further examination, it turns out that they know what they think is their audience yet it’s not really their audience.

Most of the times, a well-executed growth hack works very well if it’s the right audience at the right place. Delve into researching who your real target market is. Find out by digging deeper into your product and your current customers.

2. They don’t focus on data and analytics

One problem with the startup environment is that it drives people into thinking that the product is all they have to care about. In the process, they miss a lot of quality information that could improve their product.

You only get quality information if you pay attention to your data, metrics and analytics. To get this data, you have to invest in tools, resources and people who will source this data out in the right ways.

Data and analytics always reveal several statistics and information that will help you build a better product for your customers.

In my opinion, continuously building a product without focusing on the information coming from the market is equivalent to developing and growing a product. One day, the company and the product will fall in a ditch.

Before implementing the growth hack, get your data and facts analysed and properly presented to you. Once the growth hack works or doesn’t work, again get all the data and find out why. Proceed to build your product and make changes to your strategies from this information.

3. They aren’t keepers (retention rates and metrics)

What is your retention rate like? If you can’t keep the leads, what’s the point of going all out to get ‘em?

It’s possible to think that a particular customer acquisition technique isn’t working when in reality you are having a problem retaining your customers once they come on board.

Twitter is one of the companies that was famously known for high numbers of initial sign ups, yet a fraction of monthly active users. Most people used to sign up and never go back again. All efforts ever since have gone to ensuring that they keep as many people who sign up as they possibly can. Their improving numbers have shown that they have recently been able to curb the problem boasting over 300 million monthly active users.

Work on retaining your customers by collecting data to know why they don’t stay long after they have signed up. The retention numbers don’t have to be perfect, they just have to be high enough to make business sense.

4. They haven’t tried side projects

Several companies have struggled to find the ideal hack to bolster their growth. Some of these companies therefore decided to develop side projects that would funnel users to their core products.

For instance, Crew is a designer and developer sourcing community who long months of trying to improve their revenue got them only 3 months of payroll left. The team had many photos taken by them, but which they had no use for. So they started a side project called Unsplash where they would give 10 free high resolution photos every 10 days to anyone who signed up for them. Remember, the internet loves photos, especially if they can have them for free.

Now they have more than 11 million monthly visits to Unsplash, and they found a way to make the main product benefit from this traffic. Once they saw that the side project had worked, they launched 3 more (Moodboard, Launch This Year and App vs. Website) and now their side projects lead to 40% of their traffic at Crew.

This is evidence that sometimes when all other means fail, a side project related to your core product could be the ideal growth hack.

5. They don’t experiment

Why anyone at a startup won’t draw experiments and try them out baffles me. When it’s a unique idea, the growth phase won’t be a replica of what another company did. Success is also based upon trying various ways of doing things.

Today’s startups shun the traditional ways of marketing. They want something with complex technology. But what if the traditional ways of marketing could actually be the growth hack you have been looking for? You wouldn’t know, unless you experiment.

DuckDuckGo is a search engine that doesn’t keep people’s information; no signups, no logging of IP addresses, locations, etc. Nothing. That’s unlike Google. DuckDuckGo’s founder erected a billboard located deep in Silicon Valley for 4 weeks costing him $7,000.

duckduckgo billboard growth hack

While the results were not that immediate, when privacy concerns hit the US public, everyone who had seen the ad went to DuckDuckGo’s search engine. The information was spread and shared and to be honest it’s still a very small company compared to Google, but to the Edward Snowden fanatics and people who mind their privacy, it’s now the go-to search engine.

6. They fight change

Change is the only thing that is constant.

Cliché? … I know.

I also know that there are many people who refuse to embrace change when it comes, and to take the opportunity it brings with it.

You can’t be that person in a startup. Change is good always; because change comes with a lot of new doors to enter and explore.

In our context, markets change, what got you to a hundred users might no longer be capable of getting you to a thousand. Change the technique and find what will get you to the new goals. A particular growth hack may only work for a while, after which, market trends render it outdated and useless. It’s upto you to see that and be optimistic.

7. They continue to build the core product instead of refining it

Despite the core product of Twitter being out and attractive the reason retention rates were low was it was not well refined as it is today.

Don’t be the person who says “build it and they will come.” That mantra doesn’t always work.

Once the minimum viable product is out, focus on refining it instead of adding more features to it. Don’t expand its footprint in a development sense, instead finesse its quality.

8. If it’s working, do more of it (don’t quit to try something else)

Peter Thiel emphasizes the importance of sticking with the one hack that is working in his Power Law description. It is working, don’t change it. The only time you change a growth hack to try something else is when it isn’t working.

If a particular growth hack is working, do more of it.

9. They don’t creatively attract their audience

Once you know your audience, what creative ways are you using to get them on board?

Eat24 a popular food delivery app and website realized that advertising on Facebook, Google and Twitter was eating through their budget so fast. They stumbled upon….ummm…. porn sites. Porn sites receive a lot of traffic. To add to that, the costs of advertising on these sites are a hundred times cheaper than advertising on Google, Facebook etc.

Eat24 created the following ad and made sure it went out during the night when traffic on porn sites is ideal.

eat24 creative growth hack ad

It’s a creative advert if you put aside the porn thing. Even if you are uptight as hell, you have to give it to them. It takes courage to do that. Still it gave them thrice as many signups and orders than what Google, Facebook and Twitter combined sent them over months. They let the ads run for more months after that, and that is Eat24 as now know it. I’m not saying you advertise on porn sites, just be creative with how you attract your audience.

Another example is The company did a video on YouTube called Our Blades Are F***ing Great. This video went viral in a few hours within which 12,000 people had signed up for the subscription service. In the video the company’s founder Michael Dublin urges men to buy his razor blades for a subscription fee of $2 per month.

The video which now has over 22 million views, 110,000 likes, and 8,800 comments is another example of creative advertising.

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