What’s Growth Hacking? Are You a Growth Hacker?
We discuss what growth hacking is and how you can integrate this mindset into your business. You’ll also hear how Twila lost her growth hacking virginity with diabetic sugar-free gift baskets.
Things We Mention:
- Sean Ellis – http://www.linkedin.com/in/seanellis
- McDonald’s – http://www.britannica.com/topic/McDonalds
- Uber – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uber
- Lyft – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lyft
- AirBnB – http://www.businessinsider.com/how-airbnb-was-founded-a-visual-history-2016-2
- YoungLiving – http://www.youngliving.com/Essential-Oils
- Kate Chernis, Lately – http://www.linkedin.com/in/katebradley
- Spanx – http://www.spanx.com
TK: Hello, and welcome to the Third Paddle Podcast. This is the show for business owners who are all about getting unstuck. On this episode, if you ever wondered what the hell is growth hacking and who is a growth hacker, well, that’s exactly what we’re going to help you with today. Because on this week’s show, you’re going to learn all the basics of growth hacking. I can’t wait for this one, Jen.
Announcer: You’re listening to the Third Paddle Podcast. Recorded at the Vandal Lounge in the beautiful Southeast Portland, Oregon. [00:00:30] Why the Third Paddle? Because even the most bad ass entrepreneurs get stuck in business shit creek. Tech strategist Jen McFarland and business strategist TK are your third paddle, helping you get unstuck.
TK: Hey Jen.
Jen McFarland: Yeah, Twila.
TK: This is favorite topic. We are in my wheelhouse today talking about growth hacking. What is growth hacking? There’s a lot of talk about it. It’s a great buzzword that’s been going [00:01:00] on since what, about ten thousand ten when Sean Ellis coined the phrase growth hacking, right?
Jen McFarland: Right.
TK: What is growth hacking? Let’s just dig in and talk about that because I’m sure our listeners want to know.
Jen McFarland: Well the definition that Sean Ellis actually gave is that a growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth. It’s as simple as that. That’s it.
TK: They’re all about growth. The way they think, the [00:01:30] way they operate, the way they build their business, the way they make their business decisions, everything is centered and focused on, what Jen?
Jen McFarland: Growth.
Jen McFarland: Okay, so thank you for listening to the … no, we’re going to keep talking about this?
TK: Yeah, we’ll keep talking about this. A little bit longer, maybe about five minutes or so?
Jen McFarland: Okay, okay. Yeah.
TK: Yeah, thanks.
Jen McFarland: You might be thinking, “Well, I’m all about growth,” right. Everybody’s business wants [00:02:00] to grow.
Jen McFarland: But it’s also about thinking about and finding that space where you’re redefining something, right?
TK: Right. Right, exactly. It really is about having that mindset, the mindset around what’s the bigger picture? What is the multiplication about all of this? I love this because when I talk on this subject, when I give speeches on this topic, [00:02:30] I actually talk about Uber and Lyft where I know in a recent article with … I know it was Neil Patel and I think it was Russell Taylor, that they talked about growth hacking in a recent article. They used the case study of Airbnb. Whether you want to look at companies like Uber and Lyft, or you want to look at companies like Airbnb, they’ve really modeled growth hacking, where there’s [00:03:00] two ends to the means, which means that with Uber and Lyft, not only did they provide an innovative service to end user customers, but they also provided an income stream to a different set of end user customers, their drivers.
Jen McFarland: Exactly. The thing is, before it was all called growth hacking, it was called disruption. That’s [00:03:30] where I think that my personal confusion came from when I was first considering this topic as more than being just a buzzword. The thing that’s so dynamic and exciting about companies like Airbnb, about Lyft and Uber is that they … and if you go back in time, you can think about McDonald’s …
TK: Right, exactly.
Jen McFarland: … for example, or other franchises that have redefined an entire market, is they approach things from this really ingenious [00:04:00] place, where they’re like, “Okay, I want to do what other people are doing but I want to do it in this different way,” because they’re trying to find that niche. We talk about niche all the time, but when you find that innovative way to deliver goods, as long as it isn’t Crazy Town, you might be growth hacking and finding a quicker to get a product in a person’s hands.
TK: Hands, and you’re really exponentially growth hacking when [00:04:30] you can double side that growth just like companies like Uber and Lyft and Airbnb, and McDonald’s, like you said, did. I mean not only did McDonald’s redefine the fastfood industry, but they gave a sector of public a company, a business, a way to grow themselves and their families.
Jen McFarland: Yeah, franchise.
TK: Franchise, right, an income stream. That’s what Airbnb has done, it’s what Uber Lyft has done, and [00:05:00] many, many other companies. If you look at even some of the, dare I say, multilevel marketing type of companies, there’s been growth hacking in that, that even some traditional product-based companies that were doing traditional sales and marketing, I look at companies like Young Living Essential Oils out there and how they did it. They actually sold their products direct [00:05:30] to consumer first, and then they decided to come into the multilevel marketing world so that they can exponentially grow their market and their place in the market, but not just that, but give other people opportunities to have businesses and income streams as well.
Jen McFarland: Yeah, I mean I think that that’s … when you redefine an industry … like nobody talked about essential oils before Young Living and then later dōTERRA came along the scene. [00:06:00] It was very small, very localized, I think type of product.
TK: Right, and Mary Kay did the same thing with cosmetics, right?
Jen McFarland: Right, and when you think about things like Airbnb, there are all these companies out there that allowed you to rent out your place, like VRBO, for example, was around for years, and they just hadn’t ever considered what it was like to expand into these other markets and to consider things [00:06:30] and flip it on its head …
TK: Right, and use other platforms like Airbnb did with Craiglist.
Jen McFarland: Right. What I love about … it’s kind of an interesting love-hate, I would say, with some of the disruptions is when you’re disrupting a market, and I want to go back to the Uber and Lyft example, what you’re actually doing is you’re also hiring an army of lawyers to deal with the fact that nobody is really ready for you. Governments [00:07:00] are not ready to handle things like Airbnb and Lyft because it’s such a disruption that they’re just going to tell you no and you have to be prepared when you’re growth hacking at that kind of scale to handle the no and to really advocate for policy change so that you can actually deliver goods in the way that you want to.
TK: I mean look at our own social media platforms, they’re having to do that on a daily basis as well.
Jen McFarland: True, yeah. You’re seeing that with [00:07:30] all of the laws around GDPR and things like that around protecting people’s identities, which is also causing all of us, anybody with email lists and stuff to really reconsider how we are growing, and readjust …
TK: And redefine.
Jen McFarland: … and redefine some of our growth. I just want to clarify a couple of things, because we talk about [00:08:00] hackers all the time …
Jen McFarland: … and when we talk about-
TK: Those little spies that get in and take your information and mess with you, right? But it’s not always about that.
Jen McFarland: Right, and when we’re talking about growth hacking for your business, we’re not in any way suggesting doing anything that is illegal, we’re not suggesting that you become sort of a software hacker or anything like that. What we’re actually talking about is more about being creative and thinking about new ways [00:08:30] that are clever or innovative, how to really innovate and redefine what you’re doing so you find a new path. The last episode, we talked about there’s more than one way of addressing problems in your business, so growth hacking is finding the new ways of addressing things that are quicker, faster, and more direct, and blazing that trail that will really help you grow.
TK: Right, and it’s not always about, you know, you talk about innovation and things like that, and [00:09:00] a lot of people have associated growth hacking with thinking outside the box. It’s not at all about thinking outside the box, it’s about thinking from a different box, an entirely different box. We’ve been talking about redefining, disrupting, and redeveloping, blazing that trail where no one has gone before, we feel like we’re on a Star Trek adventure here, right? That trail that no [00:09:30] one has done before, and life you said, sometimes the market isn’t even ready for you, much less government entities and regulation agencies and all of those that maybe even your marketplace, your audience isn’t quite ready for. But you just have to believe, as that growth hacker, that they’ll catch up.
I think about people like Kate Chernis that we’re going to have on the show at a later time, who developed Lately, and certainly that [00:10:00] was growth hacking because even though there are other social media scheduling tools out there and curation tools out there, none of it compares to Lately simply because of the AI that they have behind it, and what that can possibly do. I think about people like her in growth hacking as well. I mean it’s-
Jen McFarland: Oh, definitely.
TK: It’s blazing that trail and thinking completely differently about [00:10:30] something similar.
Jen McFarland: Yeah, growth hacking comes up a lot in the startup community, right?
TK: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jen McFarland: I see it in the startup community but I also think that there are a lot of opportunities for existing businesses and small business owners to rethink and reframe what they’re doing so that they can grow exponentially. I think that when we talk about it being an entirely different box, that might scare people a little [00:11:00] bit because they’re already kind of doing their thing, but what we’re actually saying is what would happen if you stripped away all of the assumptions you’ve built around your business and you didn’t have all those rules, all those self-imposed things that you’re placing on yourself, and that was the box.
TK: Right, exactly, and you just allowed yourself to think bigger and better than you’ve ever thought about your business before. [00:11:30] Like you were saying, strip all that away, strip all of those assumptions and all of those rules and … well, you know, this person tells me I have to do it this, and I have to do it this way and I have to do it that way and I have to do it this way … what if none of that was there? What if you didn’t have to do it any way but your way?
Jen McFarland: Exactly. Nobody knows your business as well as you do. Nobody understands your product and how you distribute it, and honestly, nobody knows how hard certain [00:12:00] things can be. A lot of times, growth hacking comes and I think Kate will speak to this, sometimes growth hacking comes out of that, like there just has to be an easier way.
TK: Right, absolutely. I think that’s the most common way that growth hacking comes from, is that there has to be a better way, there has to be an easier way. There has to be a better time, a better solution than this. [00:12:30] That’s how some of the greatest inventions came about, is somebody just sitting and going this has to work better, there has to be a better solution to this.
Jen McFarland: Right, but even Edison had to do how many tests. It wasn’t overnight that we had-
TK: Thousands, right.
Jen McFarland: … a light bulb.
TK: That we had a light bulb, right.
Jen McFarland: It’s so crazy, you know. I think we’ve talked a lot now about what growth hacking is. You’re focused on true north, [00:13:00] that’s growth, that’s more revenues, that’s more customers, that is however you define growth. Growth hacking is finding-
TK: It’s an entire process, it’s not just one thing, it’s everything. Every part of your business — the sales process, the marketing, the customer service, the delivery, all of it.
Jen McFarland: It’s all of it, and making it quicker. I think it grew out of startups because they need to grow quickly or they’re gone.
Jen McFarland: Because they don’t have … they’re [00:13:30] like the rest of us, they don’t have infinite funds and infinite everything.
Jen McFarland: So, do we have anything to say about what the hell growth hacking is?
TK: I think we’ve about covered it. If you have any questions about it, you can always email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, but I think we’ve covered what is, so let’s talk now about who. Who are growth hackers? Who are the growth hackers that is out there, and is [00:14:00] that you? Are you a growth hacker?
Jen McFarland: Exactly. I think that because it uses the word “hacking,” again, people tend to think that that means you have to be super techy, maybe a programmer or something like that.
TK: A developer …
Jen McFarland: Developer …
TK: Engineer or whatever, right?
Jen McFarland: Yeah, that it can simply be that you and I are growth hackers.
TK: Right. [00:14:30] When in actuality, it can. I mean I didn’t look at myself as a growth hacker until after Sean Ellis had coined this phrase, what, six or seven years ago, and I didn’t even hear it until about three or four years ago and really started looking at it. Even in my own business, after losing my brick and mortar retail business and nearly everything that we owned, and sitting in quiet [00:15:00] desperation, did growth hacking come then. I went, “Wait a minute,” one of our biggest product lines was sugar-free diabetic-friendly gift baskets, and I have a ton of inventory for that, and my game in my head at that point in time was who can I sell this inventory to so I can make some cash and we can go out to dinner maybe, after we just filed bankruptcy papers in the attorney’s [00:15:30] office. Because they have all of our money now, we can’t go to dinner anymore, how can I get some cash in my pocket?
I went to our trusted friend Google and went on the search engine and started searching for sugar-free diabetic-friendly gift baskets, and there was only one company that popped up. I contacted her and before the end of the conversation, no, I did not sell my inventory. [00:16:00] I bought hers and her company, because what sparked during our conversation is a new idea, a new way to do this, a way to take it and make it bigger. Within a year of buying her inventory and buying her company, we were the largest wholesale manufacturer and distributor in the nation of sugar-free diabetic-friendly gift baskets for 166 other online retailers and big box stores. [00:16:30] That in itself, growth hacking right there, so who’s a growth hacker?
Jen McFarland: Yeah, you went in with one thing, you saw an opportunity, you seized on it, and exploited it.
TK: Right, exactly, and it was something that no one else at that time was doing, so we blazed the trail for that. Now you see those manufacturers and wholesale drop shippers all over the place.
Jen McFarland: Right, and so I think one of the things that we can say is you don’t have [00:17:00] to be a programmer, you just have to be smart and pick your spots, and when you see that opportunity … you know, you can be analytical even on a phone call, and think it through on a phone call and know that you’re positioned well for entering into a market and making some changes.
TK: Absolutely. I think what it takes as well to be a growth hacker is vision.
Jen McFarland: [00:17:30] Absolutely.
TK: Right, you have to be that visionary type of person that can see something when it’s immediately in front of you and can see opportunity where other people can’t see it.
Jen McFarland: Absolutely. I think that where I have blazed a trail as a growth hacker is in the analytical side. It is in looking at something and saying, “Okay, what’s the quickest way [00:18:00] that I can get to XYZ based on this vision?” Based on what I have in front of me, based on what I know, and all of the players involved, and making it happen. A lot of that for me is that I have a framework that I plug a lot of things into, and if I can plug things into it even mentally, check all the boxes, I’m ready to go forward. I don’t need to do a big full-scale analysis, I just kind of do the mental mechanitions or whatever, [00:18:30] moving forward …
TK: The mental checklist.
Jen McFarland: The mental checklist so I can get through it and then say, oh yeah, I can make this happen, or I can at least start this process and see it through to a point. Then maybe I have to pause and do a little bit more research, because that’s what I do, I am a researcher. But I have found that it is extremely successful to be able to jump into something based on just [00:19:00] a little bit of knowledge. If I have enough knowledge of a product or a distribution or something like that, then you can navigate this pretty easily and make things happen.
TK: Absolutely, and I think … personally, I think where entrepreneurs especially, small business owners, get stuck and lose their ability … we all have what it takes to be a growth hacker, let’s just get that out there. But I think where we get bogged [00:19:30] down and where we stop ourselves from being growth hackers is that we’re so busy and so deep in the weeds of working in our business.
Jen McFarland: The day to day.
TK: The day to day, that we can’t … it’s very difficult, not that we can’t, but it’s very difficult for us to peel back those layers and look at it from the standpoint that we were talking about earlier, of what if all of these rules and [00:20:00] all of that were gone, what would I see for my business and what direction could it go in and how can I just blow this thing out of the water? We’re just trying to survive the day, is what we’re trying to do.
Jen McFarland: Exactly. If you don’t have a team around you or if say you’re a consultant on your own and you don’t have an assistant taking care of some of the heavy lifting so that you have time for visioning, then you find yourself almost [00:20:30] depositioned from being a growth hacker because you haven’t allowed yourself the time to really play and be creative with some of these ideas. You’re too bogged down by this and that, revenue, got to make the money, got to move things forward, when growth hacking really happens in that creative space.
TK: Absolutely, and when you look at people like Kate with Lately, or you look at things like Spanx and different [00:21:00] products that have come on the market and just totally blown an entire market to smithereens and people are like, “Whoa, wait, where did that come from?” They weren’t tied down in the day to day. They stayed visionary, they surrounded themselves with a team of people, they went out, they got the funding, they did what they needed to do so that they could take care of … so other people could take care of those daily businesses, and [00:21:30] they forged a way. Richard Branson, growth hacker. I mean …
Jen McFarland: Right, yeah, it’s about picking your spots and taking the time. I’m not saying you absolutely have to have a team, but you have to make space for it.
TK: You don. You have to make space for that creativity, that innovation, that deliberate visioning. You have to make space for it.
Jen McFarland: Yeah, so you can flow. Like if you can’t get into the flow of possibility, [00:22:00] then you’ll find yourself in the day to day and continuing to get stuck in some of these areas that are really bogging you down.
TK: Absolutely, and I think one of the ways that our listeners and our clients and people that we help who are entrepreneurs and business owners and business leaders who get stuck in all of this muck of shit creek, right, it’s why we’re called the Third Paddle, [00:22:30] is that you have to free yourself up for that creative time, for that visioning time, for all of that, and you have to really sit back and look at are there ways that I could get funding for a certain thing or a certain part of what I’m doing so that that frees me up to do what I’m really trying to do?
Jen McFarland: [00:23:00] Absolutely, and again, this is making space for yourself to kick all of those assumptions out the door and so if you think you don’t have any way to get funding, or if you think that you absolutely can’t step away and do some visioning, I want to challenge that assumption right now and say, well, perhaps it’s that you are not making growth hacking a priority.
TK: Right, [00:23:30] right. As business owners and enterpreneurs and business leaders today, our true north should be growth, always.
Jen McFarland: Absolutely. If you’re not growing, you’re not adapting and you’re not changing. We’re not asking you to be the next Airbnb …
TK: And you’re not sustaining.
Jen McFarland: And you’re not sustaining, it’s not sustainable. It’s about … and it’s not just about marketing, it’s about [00:24:00] this wide span of growth. When you’re looking at things holistically, when you’re pulling yourself back and you’re saying, “What do I really want to do? What do I really see as the vision for my company? How can I continue to grow and change so I can be the best aspects of that vision?”
TK: Absolutely. When I do VIP days with clients and we plot out their vision and we map their income and their profits and all of those [00:24:30] things, this is one of the key areas that we focus on. Because if you don’t have all of this as part of your plan of thinking about every area of your business, even when you’re just getting off the ground, if you don’t think about your onboarding, your customer service, your delivery, your sales, your marketing, your standards of operation, your foundation set-up, your business set-up. [00:25:00] If you’re not thinking about all of those things, then you’re doing yourself and your business a disservice. It won’t be sustainable.
Jen McFarland: That’s right, and if you’re bringing somebody in like me and expecting technology to be the panacea of what fixes everything, then that’s a misguided assumption.
TK: As my Dad would say, you’re shit out of luck, because that wouldn’t happen. [inaudible [00:25:25]
Jen McFarland: That is some serious [00:25:30] Idaho showing right there.
Jen McFarland: I would say that technology can help you for a while, but then it will run out and it will fail you if you do not have a growth strategy behind it.
Jen McFarland: If you don’t think it through and how it all aligns with, you know, getting back to the last episode with who you are as a person, if it also doesn’t align with you in an authentic way, if it cannot represent you authentically [00:26:00] which is what we talked about the episode before that, then the technology-
TK: And it can’t meet your vision.
Jen McFarland: And it can’t meet your vision, then technology is not going to fix everything. It’s not going to set you on to true north. Technology is a tool. It’s a tactic, it’s a tool. Your whole strategy can’t be around technology. Technology is not going to pay you.
TK: Right. Even technology [00:26:30] companies don’t hang every strategy on their technology. They are still a business, they’re still a company, they’re still an employer, they’re still all of these other things that they have to focus on at the same time. [inaudible [00:26:44] adjust their technology.
Jen McFarland: I know that AI is a big deal and all that, but as far as I know, there’s no robot that’s going to pay me.
TK: Right. Not yet, anyway. Not sure there ever will be.
Jen McFarland: [00:27:00] I’m not going to rule anything out.
TK: We might be paying them, you know, have the robot come in and clean my house, I might be paying them.
Jen McFarland: I guess what I’m saying is when people say I have this thing set up and technology is paying me as I sleep, it’s like … well no, technology’s not, customers are. When you think about things like growth hacking, a key element of that is how are you making things easier for your customers? [00:27:30] Because if you’re not thinking about that, you’re not thinking about growth holistically. If you’re thinking that one thing is going to save you from everything, you’re not really thinking about growth holistically. You’re looking for a savior, that’s not the same as growth hacking.
TK: Right, and I think where a lot of the clients that I work with and people that I talk to for business consulting and growth strategies, they [00:28:00] see growth as just making more money. If I make more sales, if I close more sales and I make more money, I’m growing. Um, nope, that’s not true at all, because you can go out really and make all the sales you want and make all the money you want, but if nothing else is working around that and you’re not actually delivering to those customers, you’re not following up, you’re not consistently looking at new [00:28:30] products and programs and promotions to keep those customers in the loop and to keep them continually buying from you, then you’re one and done. You might as well just, I don’t know, put up a tent at the farmers’ market and sell stuff out of your garage if you’re just wanting to make more money, really. I mean come on.
Jen McFarland: Right, or if you’re looking for a solution from somebody like me, a tech strategist [00:29:00] and you’re expecting whatever that set up is to generate money immediately without some testing and analytics and looking at things and measuring things and knowing that how you communicate and the way you use all of these tools might not be correct the first time … if you’re expecting just a quick solution and you just want things to work the first time …
TK: Damn staples easy [00:29:30] button. It kills us every time.
Jen McFarland: Every time. When you think about growth hacking, it has to be what’s the thing that I care about that I’m willing to go back and go back and go back? Remember Edison, again, light bulb didn’t turn on the first time and what if … seriously, what if he hadn’t kept trying?
TK: What if? We’d still be living by kerosene lamp, right?
Jen McFarland: I don’t really want to think about that.
TK: I don’t, [00:30:00] that’s kind of depressing. You killed the mood here, boo, you killed the mood.
Jen McFarland: I didn’t kill the mood, what are you talking about?
TK: Way to growth hack this conversation. You just killed it. That’s what we’re talking about, right? We’re talking about when you … great segue is when you get stuck in those weeds and you get narrow minded, narrow visioned, tunneled [00:30:30] on only one thing and you’re not thinking about everything holistically, and yore not looking at your company with that true north compass focus of growth, then you’re getting heavy. You’re getting weighed down, you’re getting depressed, and pretty soon you’re going out of business.
Jen McFarland: Wow, now who brought us down?
TK: Now who brought us down?
Jen McFarland: We’ve reached the end of the Third Paddle podcast. [00:31:00] I’m not trying to end us on a downer, not at all, but we’re starting to tiptoe into the tulips of the next episode a little bit, which is the tactics to help you focus on growth.
TK: Yeah, so before we leave, I just want to ask you out there, the listener, our audience: Are you a growth hacker? I think you are.
Announcer: Thank you for listening to the Third Paddle podcast. If you like our show and want to learn more, check out our website at www.thirdpaddle.com or [00:31:30] leave us a review on iTunes. Send questions or topic ideas of email@example.com, and don’t forget to tune in each week to get even more technology and business tips to help you navigate business shit creek.
The Third Paddle podcast is sponsored by Foster Growth online at www.fostergrowth.tech and TK International Online at www.twilakaye.com.