Doing things the right way.
How investment can corrupt. How growth hacking can be used for good and evil (or at least ‘meh’). And how doing things the right way might give you all the success you can handle. Growth at all costs?
Can companies like Snap maintain growth and integrity?
David Heinemeier-Hansson, general good guy, creator of Ruby on Rails and 37 Signals founder penned an essay that caught our attention this week. He believes that Silicon Valley’s thirst for exponential growth is devouring and corrupting businesses and entrepreneurs. If you start with the end in mind — and that end is a business worth hundreds of millions in an IPO, you have to build in a certain way. That brilliant people with brilliant ideas are corrupted early with ‘growth hacking’, ‘virility’ and the ‘hockey stick’ gross revenue chart expected when they put their business under the scrutiny of serious investors. It’s a chicken-egg problem: investors demand astronomical returns because failure rate is so high. Failure rates are so high because businesses are built with only the end in mind. DHH thinks that we’re building the wrong way: for growth rather than customer happiness. We won’t go on about it, but it’s one of our favourite articles in a long time. Do your future-self a favour. Grab a Coke. Sit down. Give it a read.
Doing things right.
What we can learn from Hotmail: the original growth hacker.
It’s 1996. Netscape is king, and if your computer has more than 256 colours you are technorati. Email is taking off, but it’s likely tied to your personal computer unless you relented to one of those tiny AOL CDs. Hotmail brought a webmail product to market. It followed a standard Silicon Valley model — free, until critical mass. In a famed meeting, founders, Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith, sat across the table from Tim Draper, the famous venture capitalist. They kick around ideas on how to get the word out there. Billboards. Radio Ads. All too expensive for a little company. Then Draper asks whether a message could be tacked to the end of an email. The final suggestion: put ‘P.S. I love you. Get your free e‐mail at Hotmail’ at the bottom.”
That’s when Hotmail really took off.
Growth hacking has become synonymous with startup culture. It can produce phenomenal results for cheap, if done right. But stories like this often lead entrepreneurs to the wrong conclusions. Engineers love it, because it sounds engineer-y. Dig around in the data. Fiddle with a few knobs and switches. Do, measure, repeat. But Hotmail’s success was not down to a clever hack. It’s because they addressed an acute need (email sucked in 1996). They found a way to let happy customers spread the word while minimising friction to do so.
Growth hacking is just marketing, really. Have a little browse through Ryan Holiday’s Growth Hacker Marketing book if you want some hard truths. It’s good, inspiring and much more balanced that the clickbait articles you’ll find littering Google.
What we’re saying, is don’t let the hype fool you. Maybe 90% of startups don’t fail, but few make it big. Start with the customer in mind, not the end. Understand them, then Test, Test, Test. That’s the secret to finding your groove.
Getting Sh*t Done
Don’t be a slave to the scorecard.
Our last article of the week comes from Mark Suster. Serial entrepreneur, VC and blogger at bothsidesofthetable.com.
We love lateral thinking. If you really get down to it, that’s what our customers pay us for. Cutting the complexity, the bullshit and the battling the norm. Getting into what really matters and doing something about it.
Mark’s latest article resonated for us. His motto is “doing the right things is more important than doing things right.” We couldn’t agree more. But it’s not easy.
Pressured by investors, by management, by customers — a leader can become a slave to delivering metrics. It’s tough to take a step back. Should you live or die by Facebook likes, unique visitors or sales? Or are smaller numbers of likes, visitors or sales to the right people a more valuable tactic? Is reducing the number of inbound complaints a key metric? Or is increasing the number of great reviews better for your business? In the end, we believe it comes down to understanding your customers and where you want to go as a company. Only then you can align your actions to focus on the right levers for growth.
Perspective is a great thing, no matter what you do in a business. Everyone likes a doeer, but if you’re going to do things, do them right. It might give you more success than you can handle.
Need more inspiration? We’ll leave you with W+K’s oldie-but-goodie on doing things right in marketing, in case you haven’t seen it.