Category Archives: Business

The First Rule of Growth Hacking


I don’t know if you’ve noticed lately, but the digital marketing space has been blowing up with talk about “growth hacking.”  From Neil Patel’s “Definitive Guide to Growth Hacking” to the entire Growth Hackers website, it’s clear that the term is making a strong case for being awarded the “Marketing Buzzword of 2014.”

But let me add my voice to the conversation.  In my opinion, the first rule of growth hacking should be… don’t talk about growth hacking!

Don’t talk – do.  You don’t need to hire a growth hacking expert to grow your business and you don’t need to brag to your startup buddies about how much you’re in favor of growth hacking.  What you do need to do – each and every day – is to implement the following principles that form the foundation of this new hot topic:

Step #1 – Identify strengths and weaknesses

Before you can begin hacking anything, you’ve got to know where you stand in terms of your startup’s strengths and weaknesses.  Let me give you an example to show you why this matters…

I’m currently working with Bridge U.S. – a startup that provides a TurboTax-like interface to help people navigate the U.S. immigration process.  It’s a really cool idea, and because we’re the only ones in the immigration space providing this type of solution, we have a big advantage in terms of capturing potential market share.

That said, we’re also facing two major weaknesses.  First, we’re a new company, which means that nobody has heard of us.  As a result, we have to do a good job at providing trust signals and answering customer questions about what our solution does.  And given that the immigration process is complicated enough on its own, we’ve got to answer even more questions to get potential customers to trust us with their business.

Because we know where our strengths and weaknesses lie, we can develop a growth hacking plan that focuses on our specific needs over a general growth process.  Clearly, in our case, focusing on minimizing churn isn’t the right fit for us at this time, as our energy and efforts are better spent on early education and maximizing our onboarding and customer conversion processes.  Your business might have completely different goals, but you’ll only know what they are if you take the time to figure out where you’re at now.

Step #2 – Define timeline and goals


One of the guiding principles behind growth hacking is the ability to make massive improvements quickly.  And when it comes down to it, you can’t do that if you don’t set a combination of goals and timelines.

For example, at Bridge U.S., our first goals are to get our software to a state where people can understand it by May 1st and to achieve a 3% conversion rate by June 1st.  By clearly defining what we want to achieve and when we want to achieve it by, we avoid the trap of taking weeks or months to test things that should be done much more quickly.  If we just set the goal of attaining a 3% conversion rate, we could still be working on this particular aim at the end of the year!

Use your own strengths and weaknesses to set measurable goals for your business, but then tie these goals to specific timetables as well.  Sure, you may not hit your goals according to the timelines you set.  But by giving yourself a “check-in” point at which you can reevaluate your progress, you’ll waste far less time than you will if you meander aimlessly towards your goals without a defined timeline in place.

Step #3 – Add analytics and tracking tools

So you’ve got goals and you’ve got timelines – now you need a way to measure your progress!

No matter what types of goals you set for yourself, there are ways to measure them.  Continuing with my Bridge U.S. examples above, our goal to optimize usability could be measured with everything from traditional marketing focus groups to online eye-tracking studies.  Conversion rate could be tracked with analytics programs like Google Analytics or KISSMetrics, or more complex marketing automation suites like Marketo or Pardot.

The particular tracking system you implement will depend on a number of factors, including your budget, your technical knowledge and the time you have to implement an analytics solution.  While more advanced solutions may give you tons of valuable data, keep in mind that the time needed to get them up and running could blow the timelines you’ve set out of the water.  Don’t risk compromising your growth hacking progress by wasting time implementing solutions that are more complex than you truly need.

Step #4 – Carry out experiments

science experiments

Experiments are the heart of the growth hacking process because they give you the data needed to make major improvements as quickly as possible.  As above, the specific types of experiments you’ll want to carry out will depend on the goals you’re measuring and the programs you’re using to track them.  But as a general rule, one of the best tools in your growth hacking arsenal is the split test.

Whether you use A/B or multivariate split testing, the core concept of this process is pitting two or more different versions of a screen, web page or other resource against one another in a live environment.  In the case of Bridge U.S., we could use split testing in combination with eye tracking or usability studies to determine how presenting different pieces of information within the program affects user understanding and adoption.

We could also use split testing when it comes to optimizing conversion rates, sending traffic to multiple landing pages promoting different benefits and features to see which sales messages resonate best with our audience.  Iterating these experiments quickly by replacing “losing” pages with new test variations would give us valuable information about our audience in a timely manner, increasing our ability to convert new prospects into customers.

Step #5 – Lather, rinse, repeat

Pay attention to that last point – the idea of iterating quickly.  Anybody can set up a split test, gather data from it and make a few changes based on the results.  But true growth hackers know that the first experiment is only the start of the process and that there’s never a true test “winner” – just another opportunity to pit a new competing alternative against the reigning victor.

At Bridge U.S., we’ve planned for 10 sprints consisting of roughly 3-4 days of development – 2 days for driving traffic and 1-2 days to analyze our CTR, gather feedback and make improvements for the next series of tests.  It might sound aggressive, but doing this is the only way we’ll be able to generate data and identify the winning combinations needed to meet the 30- and 60-day goals for ourselves.

Your approach might not be quite as fast-paced – or it might be even more so.  But whatever your situation might be, use our example to challenge yourself to drive change even faster.  If you’ve set a 2-week period for your experiments, what can you change to get the same amount of data in a single week?  Pushing yourself or your company to gather results and make changes faster is what makes you a growth hacker – not some fancy title or buzzword-laden statement of goals!

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Business Lessons Learned From One Day of Navy SEALs Training

Navy SEAL photo downloads

I thought I was tough…  I’m a fit guy who’s able to run 10-15 miles at a time and knock out 2,000 pushups in a day.  But recently, I had the privilege to train with the Navy SEALs for a day and in just an hour’s workout, I got my butt whooped.  Despite my sore muscles (and bruised pride), the experience taught me more about myself, my limits and my approach to business – not to mention how intense the SEALs are! Continue reading

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10 Startup Companies to Watch Out for in 2014


Last year was something of a mixed blessing for growing tech companies.  While some young startups achieved multi-billion dollar valuations (for example, Snapchat and Uber), others struggled when it came to obtaining the funding needed to power growth (as evidenced by both Fab and Rdio’s staff layoffs).

Will 2014 be any different?  It’s tough to say.  The success of the recent Twitter IPO seems to have increased investor interest in social and tech IPOs, which could lead to more money rolling in to promising startups.  Given how fickle the tech investing world can be, it’s difficult to determine exactly where this interest will lead.  But based on current trends, I’ll be keeping an eye on all of the following startups: Continue reading

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Hitting the Reset Button (and Doing What Makes You Happy)

hitting the reset button

A few months ago, I woke up on a Saturday morning and found myself staring down a mountain full of work.  Sure, my inbox was empty, but I’d gotten so busy that I could no longer finish my work between the usual 9:00am to 6:00pm window I gave myself.  I had just wrapped up a 60+ hour work week and felt like I hadn’t finished anything – even though I was working weeknights and weekends just to try to keep up.

WTF, right??

For all of the changes I’ve made to make my days as productive as possible, I had to own up to the fact that my life was spinning out of control.  With the example of Buffer’s CEO Joel Gascoigne – who periodically fires himself from his company – in mind, I finally got up the courage to ask myself the tough questions I’d been avoiding for months.  What am I doing with my life, and – more importantly – why am I doing it?  If things are obviously this broken, how do I go about fixing them? Continue reading

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17 Unexpected Places to Find Inspiration Content Ideas

content inspiration ideas

Content truly is king these days.  If you aren’t actively putting out blog posts, videos, interviews and other content pieces that build your brand and establish your authority, there’s a good chance you’re falling behind to a competitor who’s taking advantage of these powerful tools.

But that said, becoming a round-the-clock content creation machine isn’t easy.  Finding inspiration for all the different content pieces you should be producing can be challenging, which is why I’ve put together the following list of unexpected sources of content inspiration.  Stop back and read through the list whenever you need help! Continue reading

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A Comprehensive 7-Step Process for Launching Great Ideas

making good ideas happen

So you think you’ve come up with the next great idea?  Well, I hate to be harsh, but… so what??

The sad reality of the business world is that great ideas are a dime a dozen.  What separates the great entrepreneurs from their would-be competitors is whether or not they’re actually able to successfully execute their visions!

I’ve been through the ideation and company creation process a number of times, and I’ve come up with the following system for getting started on great ideas.  Depending on the specifics of your unique idea, you may not need all of the steps below or you might wind up tackling some of them in a different order.  But whatever the case may be, I hope you find this process helpful when it comes to launching your next venture! Continue reading

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10 Startup Expenses You Shouldn’t Waste Money On

wasting money

While I’m happy that Single Grain is now in a financial position to support two individual offices – both filled with full-time employees and the latest tech gadgets – I can easily remember back to the days when we were a bootstrapping startup like so many other companies out there today.

If you’re in startup mode yourself and haven’t yet received the million-dollar financing rounds you hoped for, you’re going to encounter plenty of temptations to spend money you don’t have.  If you want to keep yourself going and make it past that critical first-year hump, I’d highly recommend avoiding the following ten expenses until you’re on more stable financial ground. Continue reading

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23 Must See TED Talks for Entrepreneurs

ted talks

I’m a big fan of motivational videos (which you probably already know if you read my post on my productive morning routine). Because of this, I’m hugely grateful to the TED Talks organization for putting out so much great material that inspires me and keeps me going on my toughest days.

If you’re new to TED Talks, finding great videos amongst the thousands that are out there can be challenging. That’s why I’ve put together the following list of my favorite 23 “must see” videos (note – I’ve added the run time beneath each video so that you can pick one to watch based on the amount of time you have available). Bookmark this page and then come back whenever you’re in the need for a little motivation! Continue reading

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Are You Leading or Managing?


When we talk about organizational structures, the words “manager” and “leader” tend to be used interchangeably.  However, these two roles are actually quite distinct – and both are necessary for a business to grow.

Take a second to think about Apple during the Steve Jobs era…  There’s no doubt that Jobs’ big ideas played a tremendous role in the company’s success, but he can’t take all the credit for Apple’s industry dominance.  Without managers to take his ideas and translate them into action items, the company might still be operating out of Job’s parent’s garage in Los Altos, CA.

Clearly, you need both a leader and one or more managers to work effectively.  Here are a few of the different characteristics you’ll find in these two groups of workers: Continue reading

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Everything You Need to Know About Managing a Remote Team

Remote work and the transition of employees from the cubicle to the home office is something of a hot topic in the business world right now.  But the truth is, the fact that Single Grain is a remote office with 15 people working from either their homes or one of our two physical offices didn’t happen because some business publication recommended we try it.  It actually happened entirely by accident. Continue reading

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