Forget about funnels and shortcuts that “bro marketers” and social media “experts” continue to push. If anyone even mentions the word “pivot”, our eyes glaze over and we immediately switch off. We are not here to listen to the most overused buzzword of the day. We want to build a long-term business on an ultra-firm foundation that empowers us to scale ten times faster. So how do ambitious companies craft ingenious strategies and processes that result in exponential growth rates? The answer is: Growth Hacking.
Sean Ellis coined the term, Growth Hacking in 2010 when trying to come up with a new job description. Sean is the OG (original growth hacker). As a consultant, he helped startup companies, such as Dropbox, achieve accelerated growth. However, when Sean would leave a startup to pursue new ventures, he had a tough time finding a replacement. Not only were they massive shoes to fill, modern marketers just simply couldn’t do his job because their focus and mindset was based around budgets, expenses, and conversions. A growth hacker is not focused on any of these things. Sean was looking for “a person whose true north is growth.” In this way, an engineer can be a growth hacker just as much as a marketer can. What matters is their focus.
When you read about the huge success of a business, it’s never because they implemented one single strategy and all of a sudden saw results. If that were the case, businesses everywhere would be thriving! Megabrands like Dropbox, Instagram, Snapchat, and Airbnb were barely a blip on the radar a few years ago, and now they’re worth billions, with relatively little spent on traditional marketing. No press releases, no TV commercials, no billboards. They relied on growth hacking to reach users and build their audience. Growth hackers have thrown out the old playbook and replaced it with tools that are testable, trackable, and scalable. They believe that products and businesses should be modified repeatedly until they’re primed to generate explosive reactions.
As businesses continue to suffer from the fallout of the pandemic, it is crucial that leaders take the initiative to implement effective growth strategies in order to help put them on the path to success. With more and more data available than ever before, there is an incredible opportunity to enable and empower everyone within the organisation (not just senior leadership) to affect real change where it counts. Due to the nature of the startup culture, Growth Hackers often have to use inexpensive, analytical, creative, and innovative methods to exponentially grow their company’s customer base. Startups are the ultimate lesson in resourcefulness.
“Headed to the top. The only question as I meet you on my way is if you’re coming with me or not.”
Your North Star Metric
A North Star Metric is the one measurement that is most predictive of an organisation’s long-term success. To qualify as a “North Star,” a metric must do three things: lead to revenue, reflect customer value, and measure progress. If a metric hits those three points, and every department contributes to improving it, the company will grow sustainably. Your ‘North Star Metric’ must be at the centre of your growth strategy. This metric best reflects the amount of value that your company brings to your customers. Your North Star Metric also gives direction to your organisation’s long-term growth versus short-term growth. Some well-known North Star Metric examples are:
Youtube = ‘Time spent watching‘
Airbnb = ‘Number of nights booked‘
Facebook = ‘Monthly active users’
Teams use North Star metrics to get everyone on the same page. Ninety percent of the world’s data has been generated in only the past few years. The plentitude of analytical possibilities means that every department, every team, and even every contributor can end up chasing their own metrics – something akin to herding cats. When each team defines a goal differently, teams can end up working against each other or double-handling processes. Growth hacking aims to reduce administration, simplify meetings, and align teams around a simple, singular goal of growth.
Organisations with complex business models can have multiple North Star metrics. The idea is to simplify the overall company strategy into a language that everyone can remember, understand, and apply. Just like Polaris, the actual North Star, it too is impermanent. When the Egyptians built the pyramids, the Earth had a different North Star called Thuban. As the cycles of time turn, the alignment changed, just as Polaris will also. Organisations are equally free to reevaluate their North Star metrics to ensure they remain on point and aligned with the organisation’s true north.
“It is mental slavery to cling to things that have stopped serving their purpose in your life.”
5 Steps to Find Your North Star Metric
To find their North Star metric, organisations must decide what is truly essential to the business. The larger the business, the greater the complexity. The proverbial needles in the haystack you’ll need to find are the pillars to the business that are, as a builder might say, load-bearing. If they alone failed, the organisation would be in ruin. For many organisations, it comes down to making customers happy, generating profit, and measuring progress toward those goals. A metric that simply makes money without satisfying customers will fail in the long run, as will a company that satisfies customers without being profitable. And a metric that doesn’t measure progress in a way that allows teams to act on its insights and change their behaviours is simply not useful. Here are 5 steps to finding your North Star Metric:
1. Client Success Moments
Your North Star Metric equals your client’s ‘success’ moments. If you do it right, your North Star Metric is close to the moment the customer receives what it wants from your business. For Instagram, that is the moment when someone feels heard (a like or comment on their own post) or that they are entertained (engaging with someone else’s posts). For Dropbox, it is when someone can effortlessly use their documents online (edit a file, comment, share, etc.), or for Airbnb, that’s when you’ve easily scheduled a trip away or your apartment gets booked.
2. Express Customer Value
A good North Star Metric guarantees that you always keep an eye on your other important metrics, such as retention and referral, and not just on your marketing KPIs. For example, “the number of orders made” is far too focused on marketing and not enough on customer satisfaction. The customer does not get any value from placing the order. A better metric would be “the number of packages delivered without complaints”.
3. Measurable Frequency
A metric, by definition, is measurable. In this way, something like ‘satisfaction’ is not measurable. What can be measured is the number of times a particular action is carried out, the number of times a part is visible, or the amount of time saved. You also need to measure based on a certain time period, such as an hour, day, week or month. In this way, you can clearly witness your growth over time. This would not be clear enough if you chose “the number of people helped ever” or “total number of planted trees.”
4. External Impact
Your North Star Metric must be within your control. It needs to be a number that is not really being influenced by other external factors, apart from your customers, because it reflects the bond between you and your customers. For example, “the number of 5-star holidays per month” for a travel company doesn’t work. As a travel company, you do not have influence over things like weather, flight delays or the mood of the local people.
5. Direct Reflection of Growth
As your North Star Metric grows, your business grows as well. This means it’s imperative to check your ego to ensure you have not selected a ‘vanity metric’. If your number has grown, and you can still say “Yes, but *insert excuse*…” then what you have is a false figure. For example, “the number of reports downloaded per week” is a dangerous North Star Metric because there is a chance that someone may have to download ten reports due to the first nine reports not printing correctly.
“Mindset change is not about picking up a few pointers here and there. It’s about seeing things in a new way. When people…change to a growth mindset, they change from a judge-and-be-judged framework to a learn-and-help-learn framework. Their commitment is to growth, and growth can take plenty of time, effort, and mutual support.”
— Carol S. Dweck
Growth Hacking is Not a One-Trick Pony
One of the biggest misconceptions around growth hacking is that it’s a trick, a tactic or technique that all of a sudden launches incredible growth for an organisation. While some companies might have stumbled upon a trick or two that gives them short-term traction, it is exactly that – short-term. Growth hacking is, first-and-foremost a process. It’s not a one-time thing or trick. It requires continuous analysis, ideation, prioritisation, and experimentation. The classic growth hacking process is more like a feedback loop, that continues to run over and over again.
When you look at a traditional sales funnel you can see how it creates silos within the organisation because it makes people think in terms of departments. In a traditional funnel, marketing and sales are in charge of acquisition. Account managers and product managers might be in charge of retention. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that growth can only be achieved by a few individuals who have it as a gift. Growth is a process. In growth hacking the whole funnel is in the hands of the growth hacking team, led by a growth lead which is all aligned around the North Star Metric.
“Imagination is a deadly weapon, it pays to keep it sharp.”
Lily-Livered Mindsets Can Walk the Plank - AAARRR
A great way to think about the customer journey is with Dave McClure’s Pirate Funnel, also called the AAARRR Framework. It’s used by almost every growth hacker as the main model to find their bottleneck and is seen as an essential growth hacker skill to master. The pirate metrics are the perfect starting point to identify where you lose the most people. The Pirate Funnel is a framework to cleave a company to the brisket. It shows you where to focus your attention. Focus is everything.
Awareness – How many people do you reach?
Acquisition – How many people visit your website?
Activation – How many people take the first important step? (Sign-up, install or comment)
Retention – How many people come back for a second/third/tenth time?
Revenue – How many people start paying? And how much do they pay?
Referral – How many people refer friends to your business?
Each stage of the ‘pirate funnel’ represents a step through which customers must flow and, by filling in the funnel, organisations address any ‘leaks’ in the flow. In this way, the numbers point to shortfalls as well as being a great way to measure the success of any subsequent strategies that are implemented. Growth Hacking then becomes a process of rapid experimentation across the Pirate Funnel. Driven by data, fueled by the growth mindset, unleashing creativity along the way, organisations can then unlock their growth potential.
“They look like they’re silver bullets, right? They’re full of unicorns and pixie dust and promises of like, ‘Hey, do these 9 things and you’ll get remarkable growth.’ No great company was ever built on the back of a listicle.”
— Morgan Brown
ROI = Ideation x Execution
Growth begins with the product. If you do not have a validated product or business model yet, stop right here! DO NOT PASS GO until this step is complete. Make sure you have a good understanding of your value proposition, cost structure, revenue streams, customer segments, etc. before continuing. The ROI of a growth process is ideation multiplied by execution. If you have a great idea, but it’s executed poorly, then the cost can blow out and it isn’t working to its full potential. If you have a bad idea that’s executed flawlessly, it simply won’t work. This is why growth processes are designed to make both ideation and execution smarter and more efficient along the way.
Growth without effort, growth without resources, and growth without spending money is a recurring theme. We want to be clear here: you are not going to find your next major growth breakthrough in a growth hacks listicle. The reality is that the successful growth hacks you’ve read about from tech superstars are merely the result of a finely-tuned process, over time.
“What people call a growth hack is usually running through
as many experiments as possible until we find something beautiful that works perfectly.
We call it the golden nugget, the silver bullet, the growth hack.”
— David Arnoux
The Ideation Process - Planning Your Next Big Idea
There’s no better moment than a ‘lightbulb moment’. One where you finally figure out a solution to a tricky problem, or come up with a cunning plan that puts you ahead of the curve. The euphoria is intense enough to make you get out there and shout about it from the rooftops. The only thing is that, at some point in the relative future, more ideas need to be thought of. And for those working in creative fields such as advertising, design, and software engineering, ingenious ideas must be generated on a regular basis. We’re talking daily! Here’s the thing: The notion that the innovation process begins with an idea is misleading. An idea is the output of the innovation process, not the entry point. So how can you and the rest of your team continuously generate stellar ideas? The answer is through ideation.
Ideation has been termed the ‘reinvention of brainstorming’ by William Donius, author of Thought Revolution. It’s is a structured problem-solving process based on the concept of time-based Sprints that build on a collection of ideas. Ideation uses brainstorming techniques that can be done individually, with a group gathered together in a physical location, or with a group working remotely. The Sprint sessions can be short and sweet or span multiple hours. They can be held once or as recurring events. With a skilled facilitator, sprints can build team-wide consensus without design-by-committee. Sprints can let us learn from our users without dreaded focus groups. Sprints can allow for an entire team to be active participants in the design process.
Playful and Productive
Ideation can be defined as ‘the act of forming or entertaining ideas’. A braindump of lots of ideas quickly, so you can select the best ideas to move forward on. An organised and structured form of brainstorming through engaging exercises. This is not a time to judge quality of an idea, merely to produce ideas en masse. Ideation sessions are an opportunity to relax and have fun with playful, productive, and inspiring idea generation.
Group of Individuals
Ideation begins with an ‘I’ for ‘individuals sharing their own ideas’ in the same space. This brings accountability and team coherence. In an environment where free ideas are encouraged, people naturally tend to ask the question: “How can I be a better team member?” Often, being a successful participant requires that they think outside the box and explore areas where they may be typically uncomfortable (Excellent! That’s where the magic happens!) Since each individual member will likely take more responsibility in the process, the chances of the process resulting in a breakthrough idea are much higher.
Using Your Whole Brain
The right side of your brain is your inner ‘Triple Threat’: your creative expression, emotion, and problem-solving ideas. The left side is your inner ‘Spock’: logic, analytics, maths, and science. Since it involves both the right and left sides of the brain, ideation encourages freedom from habitual and circular thinking. This kind of limitation in thought often occurs when ideas are channeled through confined parameters. Participants with the greatest results usually spend time prior to each session thinking about the topic. The process of ideation integrates the insights of the right brain with the logical ideas from the left in order to create new, fresh, and potentially extraordinary – yet realistic – ideas.
“The need to be right all the time is the biggest bar there is to new ideas.”
The Secret Sauce is the Process Itself
Successful growth hacks are rarely replicable. It’s first in, best dressed which means the first mover lands the greatest advantage. A growth hacker understands the reality that novel hacks have limited lifespans. If your solution is successful, it won’t take long before your competitors follow suit. This means you cannot simply learn popular growth hacks and apply them directly to your product, process or organisation. To master growth hacking you must learn the mindset. In this way you will be able to move at the same speed as a hacker. Growth hacking is a mindset. Anyone, in any business, in any industry, can do it right now. Typically, it’s a game of continuous small wins that add up over time. The best way to describe it is a feedback loop. The aim is to find small tweaks and wins across the organisation and then compound these over time as fast as possible. Once you find that golden nugget that works perfectly, celebrate the win! Then it’s back to the loop, back to work, and back to the process.
“Systems are never final, they must always be evolving”
Growth hacking is all about driving as much growth as possible without spending large amounts of time and money. Growth hackers love challenges – they are curious and brave. They come up with ideas and test them until they strike that beautiful “Ah-ha moment” which will lead to fast, viral and affordable customer growth. Driving growth doesn’t begin with your strategy or a test. It begins with your team and ensuring they are organised in the right way and have the right mindset to take on growth hacking. Often, that means breaking down silos. Without silos, we are better able to communicate and innovate. Once silos are broken down and people have found ways to work together to identify areas of opportunity, that growth mentality must spread to the rest of your organisation. The best way to do this is from the top – through the executive leadership team. Putting growth hacking into practice is not a simple task. Growth hacking is not about throwing a bunch of stuff against a wall and seeing what sticks. It’s about identifying opportunities to engage, innovate and increase your audience.
Some of us feel the need to wait for things to be “perfect” before we can take the first steps to change. Others begin but lose focus, get distracted and thrown off course. Others still never find their way and, as the years go by, their dreams become more and more distant until they simply give-up. It doesn’t have to be this way IF you are ready to commit to creating real change in your life and business today. If you’ve been struggling to begin, gain momentum or see the results of your efforts so far, you may have become trapped in a mind-body cycle of resistance. There are ways to release these blocks, to get back on the path and start seeing results. We know we are powerful beyond what we can currently comprehend, and yet we struggle to fulfill our potential. Many of us use this struggle to reinforce self-defeating patterns, old thought constructs and beliefs that keep us from tapping into the truth of who we are. We are all part of an infinite super-intelligent mind that has the capacity to create in ways we can only yet begin to imagine.
“It’s better to change and adapt, than to complain and remain.”
The brain – that place where we think our mind is stored – is actually just an organ, no different from kidneys, hearts, lungs and even the skin. The brain is part of the body. Like the muscles work out at the gym, the brain can be trained and conditioned, strengthened and used as a master organ to create vitality, longevity and joy. It takes self-mastery and a willingness to crack open the door to your perceived limitations to begin using your brain better than you’re using it now. Decades of research shows that you don’t have to be stuck in old stories, limitations and pain anymore. With proven techniques, we can liberate the body and the brain from the prison of our negative repetitive patterns. Our brain and DNA are much more plastic than we think and, with healthy practices and mastery, we can begin to change not only our perception of who we define ourselves to be, we can literally change the DNA of our cells.
You can decide to release the memories that are holding you hostage to a story that leaves you playing less of a role than you deserve. In doing this you unlock the potential you’ve been struggling with all of your life. Not only that, you change yourself on a cellular, genetic level. And you pass these changes on to your children…and their children’s children…and so on and so forth. As within, so without. By changing your thinking, you literally change the world. For the past year our attention has been held hostage by the emergency of urgent needs directly in front of us. Our lives collectively exploded so we have spent the last 18 months managing in the best way we knew how. The purpose of this event was not to “inconvenience” us. These explosions of energy have served to bring our awareness to the results of our patterns and conditioning. We’ve been seeing the material manifestations of our thinking, our choices and our actions – not only on a personal level, but on a collective level.
“To truly grow, you have to be ready to leave the version of you behind
that you once celebrated growing into.”
We Are the Ones We've Been Waiting For
This cycle of disruption and restructuring is only beginning, not ending. If you’re ready for things to get back to normal, we want to gently remind you that we’re not going back. And the “normal” you are craving will never return. And that’s a good thing! Cycles of disruption are essential for growth. When our way of life changes dramatically, it forces us to craft a new narrative about who we are. When our narrative changes, we are vulnerable. We are kicked out into a void where we may long to “go back” to the way things were. Because we cannot go back, we are forced to sit in this often uncomfortable place and contemplate who we want to become. If we aren’t who we were anymore, what new narrative are we going to craft that sets the tone and the direction for what we want to grow into. Who do we want to become?
We are asking ourselves where we might be resistant to change, where the pain, fear of the past or fear of loss might be keeping us from moving forward. What new stories do we need to craft that support us in releasing ourselves from the past. What or who do we need to forgive so that our path forward is clear? We are also invited to look at the “bigger picture” of our experiences. We are gaining a broader, more expansive perspective that allows us to find the lessons in the pain of the past, to acknowledge that even though things might have hurt at the time, our past pain was a catalyst to our growth. We are learning to love ourselves enough to open to the flow of support, love and abundance that fully supports our authentic self-expression. We are increasing what we’re willing to allow ourselves to receive and remembering that we are valuable and lovable simply because we exist. We are learning to define who we are on our own terms. Our lives are the canvas and we are the artists. We are collectively moving toward whole brain, living systems thinking. What we create with our lives IS the contribution we give to the world.
“Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness.”
– Eckhart Tolle
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