While a little more geared to businesses selling products or operating under a SaaS (Software as a Service) model, I did thoroughly enjoy Hacking Growth by Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown. I will definitely be applying some of the principles and ideas into trying to grow BentoSMB.
Both Sean and Morgan have long histories in the startup marketing and growth strategy world, with Sean in particular owning quite an impressive resume. Prior to founding GrowthHackers.com, he helped multiple companies obtain massive growth, to the point of large valuations, and/or acquisitions. This list includes DropBox, Uproar, LogMeIn, Eventbrite, and Qualaroo, as a number of impressive examples. If anyone is qualified to write a book about quickly growing a business, it’s Sean Ellis.
I’ll provide a short summary of some of my main takeaways from the book, but I won’t go into too much detail. This is a book you will almost definitely get value from if you’re trying to grow a business, so I encourage you to find a copy of it and give it a read.
The main points that I personally took from this book are:
To round out the post I'll discuss how I plan to implement some of these ideas at BentoSMB.
Traditional organizational structures tend to silo departments and responsibilities. They may have a person, or department, in charge of marketing, another in charge of engineering, another looking after sales, and another providing customer service, but how often do those teams actually communicate? And not just communicate, but work together with the common goal of leveraging each other’s strengths to help grow the business?
One of the examples provided is that of a popular startup who hired Annabell Satterfield as Product Marketing Manager (PMM). The business was stalling in the face of consumers moving from desktop to mobile. The company was structured according to typical business silos, such as those mentioned above (marketing, engineering, etc.).
Upon slow adoption of their new mobile platform, Annabell shifted some of her focus away from her assignment of growing awareness and acquiring new customers (traditional PMM responsibilities). She began working with the product team to drive growth elsewhere, such as from current users. Further work with the product team, as well as delving into customer data, made clear to her that some of their best growth opportunities laid in “making the most of the customers they already had”. This led to the once separate teams within the company working together, and driving massive growth.
There are many more details to this example, but the simple point is that, by breaking down silos and stepping outside of the traditional role of the Product Marketing Manager, Annabell was able to leverage her teams’ talents, and grow the business.
The book puts a lot of emphasis on building teams that support growth. I know that sounds like common sense, but many businesses really don’t operate that way (see traditional silos above).
As I mentioned before, the book is geared more towards startups selling products or SaaS companies, so the specific roles listed don’t necessarily all apply to our business, but the thinking behind it does. As they state:
“Growth teams should bring together staff who have a deep understanding of the strategy and business goals, those with the expertise to conduct data analysis, and those with the engineering chops to implement changes in the design, functionality, or marketing of the product and program experiments to test those changes.”
Their example of positions that should be included in a typical startup growth team, include the Growth Lead, Product Manager, Software Engineers, Marketing Specialists, Data Analysts, and Product Designers. The size of the team depends on a number of factors, including the size of the business, and the size of each department.
At Bento, we’re only a small team of 4, which means we’re all on our growth team. While figuring out ways to grow our business is literally in my job title, it’s everybody’s job to contribute to the process.
Our Project Manager’s main job focuses on managing client accounts and the projects that relate to them. That doesn’t mean, however, that she can’t contribute valuable ideas and feedback to help us grow our business and create more revenue. On the contrary, she’s the one who deals with our clients on a day-to-day basis. Who better to understand what their needs are, and how we can appeal to more business owners like them, as well as potentially create more revenue from those existing clients?
The same thinking applies to our Design Lead. She coordinates with existing clients to help bring their branding and web design needs to life. She has an in-depth understanding of the values and needs of our clients, and a lot to contribute to our plans around growing and attracting more of them. That understanding, combined with her expertise in crafting a brand’s voice, makes it a (seemingly) no-brainer to include her in the “growth hacking” process.
It’s all well and good to have a growth team, but if you’re not using them properly then what’s the point? The “growth hacking process” is defined by a four stage cycle. 1. Data analysis and insight gathering; 2. Idea generation; 3. Experiment prioritization, 4; Running the experiments, and then leading back to stage 1 and data analysis (page 44).
Sean and Morgan are of the opinion that growth team meetings should occur once a week, and exist as a forum for managing testing activity, analyzing results of previous tests, and determining what ideas should be tested next.
The Growth Lead should run this meeting, and assign tasks to different team members based on what ideas are to be developed and tested next, and should stay in regular communication with team members between meetings.
Again, it sounds like common sense, but as they say, common sense ain’t too common. The book is chock full of examples of teams deciding (eventually) to actually to talk to their customers, leading to an insight that drove huge growth.
I witnessed a perfect example of this in my current binge-show, Silicon Valley (hilarious by the way). Spoiler alert if you haven’t seen it yet, but the team in the show develops a state of the art platform and sends the demo to all of their friends and colleagues for feedback.
The reviews were fantastic and they decided to launch the product, but were shocked when most users found it confusing. The issue? All of the feedback the team collected was from computer scientists, engineers, coders, etc. They didn’t get any feedback from the people who would actually be using the product. It seem obvious, but it's an extremely easy oversight to make.
The same idea applies to your business. Pre-launch you need to make sure there’s actually a market for what you want to sell. Sometimes you can actually create that market yourself (for example, most people likely weren't asking for computers in their pocket before smartphones became ubiquitous). Generally speaking though, you need to gauge that your market actually exists.
Post-launch, when you have customers, it becomes even easier to draw insights on their wants and needs. One example from the book is from a company that couldn’t understand why people weren’t upgrading from the free version of their product.
After actually talking to customers they found out that those customers didn’t even know there was a paid premium version. The product team thought the two distinct versions were clear to users, but all it took was asking them to find out that wasn’t the case. A change was made to the presentation of the free and premium versions and growth followed.
After a couple of months with Bento, and time spent learning our products and services inside out, it’s time to implement some of the Hacking Growth principles and apply them to our own business.
While this will likely evolve as our business, team, and experiences grow, here’s how I envision this process playing out.
For starters I’ve created a Slack channel and a shared Google doc, dedicated to growth idea brainstorming. The Slack channel serves as a quick dumping ground for ideas, while the Google doc provides more space for team members to flush out their ideas.
Starting this week, once a week (or potentially 2 weeks if deemed appropriate) we’ll meet as a full team to go through the 4 step process outlined above. I’ve set up a scrum board in the office with the following columns: backlog, to-do, in progress, complete good, complete bad.
All ideas go on a sticky-note and get placed in the backlog section on the scrum board. Once the team has had an opportunity to discuss the idea, it either goes in the garbage, stays in the backlog section (to be revisited later), or moves to the to-do section. Ideas in the to-do section are prioritized, and moved to the in progress section as appropriate.
We’ll need to keep an eye on how best to balance the in progress ideas. Too few and we’re not moving fast enough. Too many and we may miss something. We also run the risk of confounding results, and attributing growth results to the wrong idea. I’m not as worried about this for us as I would be if we were a SaaS company, literally trying to drive millions of users though.
Once an idea’s implementation is complete, we determine whether or not it had a positive effect, and whether or not we should continue/re-do it, or throw it out and move on.
I’ll also take a few minutes after each growth meeting and update an online version of the scrum board using Trello. I’m a little old school, in that I prefer hard copies and physically writing things out on whiteboards, but there’s no denying the handiness of having information available anywhere. As our team members occasionally work out of the office, using Trello will give all of us access to the growth scrum board all the time.
The actual Project Management of the growth ideas (assigning and following up on tasks) will be managed by myself, using our Project Management software (we’re using Podio after recently switching from Zoho Projects).
Hacking Growth definitely got my growth brain turning, and I'm excited to implement some of the ideas from it over the next couple of weeks. If you're trying to grow your business it's definitely worth a read.
We’ll see how this process goes. If you have any thoughts or ideas on how to better optimize it, or on the book Hacking Growth, feel free to share!