Behind every high-growth business, there is a stroke of a genius kind of idea that put the wheels in motion.
If you talk to any entrepreneur, they’ll tell you that a great business idea without a tangible growth plan is worth as much as a car with an empty gas tank. You won’t get far. In fact, you won’t get further than your own garage.
So to really kick their business into higher gear and avoid being checkmated by their opponents or unfavorable market conditions, startups must go through a rapid trial and error phase to uncover the strategies that pump life (and money) into their idea.
Let’s be clear, though — navigating the choppy waters of growth hacking is a demanding task and not all unorthodox experiments lead to discovering the recipe of startup success. Unable to achieve sustainable growth, as many as nine out 10 startups fail. That’s terrifying.
But stay calm and read on. This time I set out to collect the most effective growth strategies from startups of all types and sizes and I’m returning with a whole bunch of ideas that worked for ambitious startups. Feel free to test them yourself.
“Former employers, colleagues and partners can be your first initial customers.”
Gil Allouche, founder of data-driven marketing engine Metadata, says the company’s most effective growth strategy is all about key stakeholders.
Former employers, colleagues, partners and customers: If you treated your former managers, colleagues and customers right – chances are one of these group can be your first initial customer. When I started my consulting business, Qubole (my former employer), Rich (my former boss) and Concurrent (my former partner) were my first clients. They already knew my quality of work and trusted my brand.
Current client’s referral: If you concentrate on doing good by your first few clients, chances are they’ll send you more clients just like them! we got two to three referrals from every customer and ended up making many of them our clients.
Focus on ICP (ideal customer persona): We simply analyzed our first 10 clients – what locations they are (Boston, Palo Alto, etc), industry, technologies (e.g. Salesforce, Hubspot), job titles of buyers (Director Demand Generation, VP Marketing), seniority, the places they found us and created a new list of 500 companies who look just like them.
Content: Good content makes for good marketing. We publish our daily blog about data driven and account based marketing and get an average of 60 to 70 shares per post, it pulls readers in and some convert into prospects, or share the content for a viral loop.
Ads: We advertise to people who visited us and expressed interest, but didn’t take the plunge to sign up and retarget them with content until they convert. :)
Outbound sales: We have a target list of accounts and our sales team relentlessly goes after them with email+phone — offering high quality content (e.g. blog post) or a case study if they show interest.
“Documenting our own startup journey has been incredibly powerful.”
Sean Kim, the CEO of language learning platform Rype, says his most effective growth strategy is all about remembering where you came from.
“For us, documenting our own startup journey has been incredibly powerful. We have a dedicated column on our digital magazine where we share all our lessons, successes, and mistakes while building our company. Even though it has nothing to do with language learning, it has helped us build a loyal audience of creatives, entrepreneurs, and digital nomads that eventually become our customers.
More importantly, I think it differentiates us from our competitors because we’ve built an emotional connection with our readers. I’d encourage more entrepreneurs to share their journey with their customers, because this transparency is what will turn customers into fans.”
“I create a funnel for everything I do.”
CMO at Webydo and a co-founder and CMO at Zest.is, Yam Regev, says his growth strategy as entrepreneur comes from the basics of the marketing performance methodology – funnels. He creates a funnel for everything he does.
“First, lets understand what a Marketing Funnel actually is. A model describing the various stages of a prospect’s journey from the first interaction with your brand to the ultimate goal: conversion. Conversion rate optimization is about moving people through your marketing funnel, turning them from prospects into raving, repeat customers.
How do I use this model to grow my startup? I believe that this model is good not just for acquiring and converting traffic to users and then to paying clients. I use it for anything that we do and that requires an optimization process.
Let’s take, for example, funding money for your startup. Just like any marketing strategy plan, I’ll do the following:
- Create a list of all potential investors
- Divide them by groups (e.g. VCs, PEs, angels, crowdfunding, etc..)
- Add score parameters to each potential investor in each group and sort them by the highest score to the lowest. Score parameters can be how they are relevant to you, how well you know these investors, whether they are investing the right amounts to your startup, stage, etc..
- Now list all the channels that you can use in order to connect with these potential investors. A channel can range from you personally reaching out to them, a mutual colleague that can intro you, a cold email / phone call, etc..
- Start reaching out to each and track your success and failure. Learn from what works for you and optimize your actions for each group and type of investors.
You will see that eventually you will create an “Investors’ Acquisition Funnel” that works like a machine. It is a guaranteed method to increase your “investors conversion rate” and save your pitch energies to only the most relevant investors with the highest chances of being converted and who will invest money in your startup.
As I said, I use the same model for everything I do: from HR and hiring processes, through content marketing and bloggers collaborations, to vendors I work with and tools I use in my startup.
That’s my 1.8 cents on the subject.”
“Over 70% of our customers come to us from a friend’s recommendation.”
Markus Villig, CEO of Taxify understands the value of recommendations.
“Over 70 percent of our customers come to us from a friend’s recommendation, so most of our effort goes into making the service as great as possible and giving people a reason to talk about us. That means being active in local communities and supporting events.
Our biggest difference with other platforms is that we’re treating drivers better, which allows us to offer better quality to passengers.”
“We see the huge potential of influencer marketing.”
CEO and co-founder of one-stop video entertainment hub Stremio, Ivo Georgiev, knows the power of influencers.
“We are lucky enough to offer a product that organically attracts fans and brand ambassadors. We see the huge potential of influencer/word-of-mouth marketing, and nurture our relationships with such users.
For example, whenever we’re working on a new feature, functionality or product related to Stremio, we make sure to give our hardcore fans sneak previews and let them see it before it’s rolled out officially. Our brand ambassadors appreciate the trust we have in them, and pay us back in loyalty and brand promotion.
Also, we do our best to keep an open line of communication between us and our fans and users. It is our community that often tells us what they want to see, and quite a few of our features are based on user feedback. Making people feel (and be) heard fosters brand loyalty and enhance growth.
We also have a clearly defined and segmented user acquisition funnel, which is, we believe, one of the most important factors for quick and sustainable growth.
Last but not least, we develop long-term partnerships with other companies within the entertainment video industry. These collaborations help us grow in a number of ways.
For starters, with them we leverage credibility (after all, it’s a fairly young product); together, we amplify our reach and manage to approach a much larger audience of potential users; we optimize our processes and products by sharing each other’s technologies and know-how, etc. Most importantly, we believe that in this particular industry, collaboration and synergy are crucial. Joining forces with similar, like-minded partners leads to win-win-win situations that are beneficial for the partnering parties, as well as for the end users.
At the end of the day, our users want to get quality video content, and with strong partnerships we are able to deliver more such content with higher quality.”
“Virality is the most powerful channel.”
Founder and CEO of an ecommerce platform Sellfy, Maris Dagis, knows the power of going viral.
“Virality is the most powerful channel that has helped us grow. We are in the business of helping creators and artists earn a living from digital products they make. Once they start publishing products, their peers immediately see that the store is powered by us and they also check us out.
Our focus on UX, coupled with the fact that it’s so easy to set up a store and start selling is another reason why this has been such an effective channel for us. While we only see about two percent of traffic convert to active sellers from this channel, when converted to absolute numbers – it’s our one sales source.
Our two source of sales is organic traffic. However, when we survey customers coming from search engines, turns out a lot of them saw some stores powered by Sellfy and decided to check us out when they needed to open a store.”
“We built a side project that compliments our main product nicely.”
Christopher Gimmer is the co-founder of graphic design tool Snappa.com. What’s his growth strategy?
“The most effective growth strategy we’ve used was building out a side project that compliments our main product nicely. The side project we built is StockSnap.io which is a free stock photo site.
Since many people use stock photos to create online graphics, we cross promote between the two.
This strategy fueled the vast majority of our signups in the early days of our startup and still accounts for a significant portion of our growth.”
“We built a product that provides value to our exact target users for free.”
Ivan Dimitrov, Digital Marketing Manager at pCloud.com, says that creating value at the first touch point is the key to success.
“One of our most effective growth strategies was to create an additional product that is connected to our main one and drive more traffic and users by itself.
You see, pCloud is a cloud storage company. This means that we help people share, access and collaborate with their files anywhere they go, on any device. We know that a problem many people have is to send large files via their email. Most of them are limited to 15 MB and most of the time files are larger than that limit. That’s why we created a separate product that helps users send files up to 5GB to 10 users.
Why is creating a separate product that is absolutely free good for our main business? Well, people that want to share and collaborate with files and use this product are exactly our target users. So with us giving them this option for free for our first touch point is a great idea.
That’s because any time we try to market them our main product, they know us and they have used a service that provided them value (helped them to do what they needed in that moment) and are a lot more likely to convert to users with our main product, too.
We found a way to integrate the marketing of our main product in without disturbing the users and the results are amazing. We constantly get high amounts of traffic and registrations that become paid users without doing very much.”
“The way we do our customer support is the most effective growth strategy.”
Florin Cornianu is CEO and co-founder of 123ContactForm says the companies most effective growth strategy is customer service.
“We try to understand the customer’s need and build a personal relationship with them. In addition, we make sure that at the end of the day he is happy because he reached his goal. Our customer support team is in-house, we don’t outsource this activity because we want to benefit from having it close to our developers.
Our vision is that customer support is much more than working through tickets. It means to make sure that users have a pleasant experience with our SaaS solution, which leads to a better product and customer loyalty.”
“Always plan two years ahead of where you are today.”
Naren Shaam, founder of unified booking platform GoEuro, believes in planning for the future.
- Put your users front and center. Build a product that solves a relevant problem for them.
- Understand unique market dynamics that allow you to scale.
- Focus on efficient digital marketing channels that scale across geographies. Use the breadth of online marketing channels to your advantage.
- Build an organization that reflects the diversity and values of your users.
- Always plan two years ahead of where you are today. Anything less is hard for many to scale and anything more, makes people removed from your everyday goals.