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Don't Growth Hack Me, Bro!
Posted on May 4th 2014
Growth hacking is awesome. Long live growth hacking.
But don’t growth hack me man! And don’t scrape, mine or harvest me either.
I admire so many of the great people who practice the tenets of growth hacking. People like those on Growthhackers.com and Growthhacker.tv do it well and do it right. But as anything that becomes suddenly cool, profitable, black magicy and SEO worthy it has quickly grown a bit out of control and attracted a seedier crowd.
Definition of growth hacking from Wikipedia:
Growth hacking is a marketing technique developed by technology startups which uses creativity, analytical thinking, and social metrics to sell products and gain exposure. It can be seen as part of the online marketing ecosystem, as in many cases Growth Hackers are simply good at using techniques such as search engine optimization, website analytics, content marketing and A/B testing which are already mainstream. Growth hackers focus on low-cost and innovative alternatives to traditional marketing, i.e., utilizing social media and viral marketing instead of buying advertising through more traditional media such as radio, newspaper, andtelevision. Growth hacking is particularly important for startups, as it allows for a “lean” launch that focuses on “growth first, budgets second. [4 Facebook, Twitter,LinkedIn, AirBnB and Dropbox are all companies that use growth hacking techniques.
At its core, growth hacking is marketing for companies with limited resources. Those limited resources could be people, time or money. Sean Ellis says that “Growth Hackers true north is growth.” One of the implied counter points in that statement is that marketing in general is NOT focused on growth but instead focused on branding, awareness and ‘share of voice’ and other softer items that bigger brands care about more. Obviously in reality all companies are focused on growth and all marketing slaves to the master to growth. One of the ideas of growth hacking’s obsession with growth (users, revenue etc) is that they don’t care about branding or awareness, only getting more users. Growth Hacking is almost exclusively aligned with SaaS business models since they have almost no cost and growth is the only thing that matters in today’s acquisition frenzied SaaS marketplace. Branding, awareness, customer service, employees and the like are not much-needed if your true north is growth over anything else.
Hyper growth is good. Especially if you are an investor of other people’s money.
I absolutely believe that all companies must grow to thrive, even if that growth is tiny. it instills momentum, excitement, hope and direction into the entire team. I focused on growing every one of my companies. I tried to focus on smart growth that was long-term.
I am not convinced yet, that growth at any cost and for its own sake is the best long-term answer for every business. And even less convinced it is good for the world outside of that growth company or even for all of the people inside the company.
The obvious outgrowths of the over obsession on the growth hacking mindset are two-fold:
- Far too many self-proclaimed ‘growth hacking ninjas’ have resorted to spam like tactics
- It fosters the belief that if you grow exponentially you will be a Billionaire regardless of what or how you grew
Has Growth hacking become spam?
When you read lots of articles and comments about many of the growth hacking techniques they use words like “scraping”, “hacking”, “mining”, “blasting” and other similar terms. By themselves, none of these are bad or even necessarily spam. But you combine them with the crazy obsession with hyper growth that investors mandate and the massive success and growth that spam and scams have on the internet and you have a recipe for unpleasantness. There are so many awesome professionals doing amazingly awesome things using the best growth hacking mindsets and techniques. Check out the killer examples at Growthhackers.com. It is not those professionals that I refer to, it is the sideshow hangers-on who lack the vision and strategy and only focus on the tactics. Without strategy, vision and integrity those tactics will slide into spam and scam. That’s just human nature.
Can Everyone be a Billionaire?
The other outgrowth of the last 15 years of internet booms and busts and disruption combined with the focus on growth and growth hacking is the pervasive idea that gets spouted constantly:
Anyone has the opportunity to make it big and can become a Billionaire, that’s what makes the internet and America so great!
Opportunity does not equal success. Just because you have the opportunity to become a billionaire does not mean that you will become one. That sounds simplistic and obvious but it’s not. When you look at freakishly successful business leaders like Jobs, Zuckerberg, Ellison, Williams et al and then people say inane things like: “See they were nobody and they made it! You can too!” they fundamentally misunderstand what made that person and that team successful. Many people focus on the actions or tactics that the person did and think that if they do those same actions they too will be successful to the same degree.
That’s like thinking that if you also wave your arms around in the air and grimace you will be a martial arts master and become Bruce Lee.
Actions and tactics, outside of the context of vision and strategy are nearly meaningless.
The truth is: Not everyone can become filthy stinking rich. No matter how much you focus on growth you are still exponentially more likely to fail than to succeed. For every awe-inspiring Stanford rich-dads son rags to riches heart-tugging story of success there are approximately 1,430 wimpering failures and at least 72 epic startup failures (ALL of whom grew like crazy) . And most don’t even go out with a bang. There are thousands of examples of startups who grew like kudzu and were seemingly unstoppable. They used every growth hacking trick in the book and they grew like hell. And then failed just as hard. Growth does not guarantee success. Nothing guarantees success but success.
Do not stop pushing, striving and stretching to reach your goals just because the vast majority of the time you will fail. Stop pushing, striving and stretching to reach your goals because they are the wrong goals to reach for.
The growth hacking mindset and tool set can be used to achieve fantastic results. I have used them consistently over the last 10 years and they have gotten more refined and improved over the years. So YES growth hack the shit out of your startup! But make sure that the reasons you are seeking to grow are the right reasons, wrapped in the right vision and built upon the correct strategy. Leave the spammy, scammy tactics to spammers and scammers and stay on the high road.