How to growth hack a startup? Do Less

A Startup is like riding a unicycle. You don’t know when you are going to trip. There are certain times when you got to hack the growth of your startup. However not necessarily traditional wisdom or old school techniques would work. The secret is out to hack your startup. Do less.

think and think more

The best part of being in sales is you get to be the guy with binoculars on the Titanic looking out for icebergs — you learn a lot and then you get to share it with people.

I am not a growth hacker but I thought this phrase sounds cool and since its all over the internet used it to describe what are actually “simple ideas” to have a different perspective on Sales, Business and Growth.

Extremely fortunate to have interacted, worked one-one and consulted with startups and some amazing founders since the last 4 years — startups that sold ERP, web development, software testing, e-commerce and physical products.

I love when Tony Robbins says that “Knowledge isn’t power but what we do with the knowledge, that becomes power”.

In his book “Money Masters” he mentions that it’s a misconception that businessmen and entrepreneurs take huge risks to seek high rewards.

In fact the businessman is constantly looking for “asymmetrical” gains where the risk is less and the rewards are high.

Was fascinated by a financial product called Structured Notes which obviously the super rich have access to and it creates asymmetric rewards for them.

Coming back to the topic.

Some of the commonly asked questions and problem statements from startup founders are-

  • How do I do lead generation
  • Where is my market
  • I can target everyone
  • Will they do business with me
  • How will they find me
  • How will I find them

Having sold to multiple geographies, from cell phones to line of credits to high end computing and from paralegal to outsourcing services, I have had the opportunity to detach from the entire process and observe traits and skills that can take a startup business a position of power and assurance.

The typical natural evolution for startups and founders is to start with some skills, market the skills, replicate across other people and then we have a “business” at hand.

Now comes the cold-water-on-face moment. Your market doesn’t know you and vice versa.

Now let’s look what I feel are some “asymmetrical growth hacks” that should challenge your status quo.

Find an under-served market and over-deliver

How would you react to this ad — ”Conference for Entrepreneurs”. Well, fine, there are tons of such events and who are they calling out to.

I don’t want to sit in a conference where I am not sure if it’s targeted to me and my business.

How about “ Conference for Women Entrepreneurs”? Now I know who this conference is meant for.

How about “Conference for Christian Women Entrepreneurs”? Now we know exactly who are they shouting out to. (By the way there is actually a similar conference happening somewhere in the US)

Startups make the mistake of targeting everybody like, “everybody needs a website”. Yes everybody might need a website but maybe not from you.

Let’s look at this thought process. Instead of saying we test applications, say we test applications for HR companies.

In fact we can go even deeper. Say we test applications for HR tech and employee expense management companies.

The idea is to consciously dig deep within your market, see who is not serving them and be that guy who can deliver it for them.

Recently, I came across an amazing opportunity for a Dental Cosmetologist and I happen to notice that they need leads and aren’t using any digital marketing agencies.

Imagine if you have a digital marketing business and package a solution for this type of business. You become an expert in “Digital Marketing Agency for Dental Cosmetology Clinics”

You build your own mountain, climb and conquer it, instead of waiting in a queue to climb a single large mountain.

Some of my favorite quotes are “Riches lie in Niches”. “The brain surgeon makes more money than the general physician.”

So look for lesser markets — to sell and dominate.

Startups should copy powerful marketing styles of large companies. 

Expect less and give more

The giver always wins!

Here is a story about a young realtor who had just obtained his license in the US and hungry to close deals and make huge amount of money.

He just wasn’t successful and years were rolling by.

In the meanwhile there was a garbage strike in his community, where most of his prime target real estate was located.

It was day 37 and it was a hell. He got an idea to hire a private garbage collector contractor and get all the trash removed, and charge some money from each household.

That was going to be good money and a noble intention as well.

He went to his mentor and asked if it was a good idea. The mentor loved this idea however told him to do 2 things — ”Don’t tell anyone in the community that you did it and don’t charge anything from them”.

He was taken aback however he went with his mentor’s suggestion. Fast forward 20 years, the young man has a real estate empire of close to a billion dollars.

Why?

People eventually came to know who was behind this clean up and he become a hero, even though he didn’t seek fame.

Then people came to know about his small real estate business and they wanted to do business with him, because they considered him authentic and a man of integrity.

People can sense authentic and genuine people.

Giving is the best way to promote yourself as an authority and trustable figure.

The money doesn’t lie in the direct transaction, it lies somewhere else in an “asymmetrical” way.

If you are a services company, give out your best content free.

I love what Jeff Bullas does. He has everything that a startup needs in content and digital marketing available at his site for free, completely free. And they are of high quality and adds tremendous value to our lives. But he won’t charge us.

But when he does offer something, we do make a beeline to buy from him because he is the guy who has helped us without expecting anything in return.

Your Startup should be all about Innovation and Marketing

The two biggest pillars of today’s business are stated above.

“Belief is a poor substitute for an experience”.

Service based startups struggle to sell what is actually a promise that we-can-deliver because the marketplace doesn’t know you, doesnt trust you and doesn’t care about you.

The 3 steps to any business lies in Visibility, Credibility and Profitability.

Most startups make the mistake of jumping straight to Profitability without having created any visibility or trust with your audience.

Innovation needn’t be always a “tech” thing or some iterations to product development.

Try Integrating 3 simple Marketing hacks to look like Innovation.

Pricing, Fear,and Aspiration

Pricing

One of the coolest innovation from a services based company I came recently was that they increased their prices and started charging more. How innovative can that be?

They believed that their customers and prospects perceived them to be “cheap” hence thought that the team can’t deliver. From the time they increased their rates, they were seen as a premium service provider.

According to Simon Sinek, in his book he mentions that the pricing game is like consuming cocaine, there are short term highs but long term damages. It reduces everything to a “commodity”.

No wonder we don’t appreciate web designers and graphic designers charging us more because there is always another guy who can drop his pants and give you the best pricing.

Fear

Let’s say you are a cyber security company, your message should evoke fear amongst online business owners that they aren’t doing something to protect their cyber assets and you are the person who they should reach out to.

Insurance companies and fairness creams do this all the time.

“Heart attack every 1 minute” “If you aren’t fair, you are going to dumped and not get a job”. The audience is used to be being manipulated and evoked fear in their minds of losing out on something.

Aspiration

Who has more functions and features and is ”more loaded”. Android or Apple phones? Obviously Android phones.

But have you seen people forming queues in the middle of the night to buy Android phones? No. They are seen outside Apple stores.

Apple is an aspirational brand — that’s a fact. However the thing to learn from Apple is “simplicity”.

Any person on this earth regardless of race, gender and age can just pick up an apple phone and start using it. It’s that simple.

Can we package our services and products into such meaningful forms that the end customer “just gets it”?

Hunt less, farm more

Once we start a business, we have a perception that we need to unleash a pack of wolves into the market, who would scamper out and bring back flesh. We call them the Sales team.

Business is about human transactions and humane interactions.

Requesting you to not call your sales people as “hunters”, because that makes your customers as preys. They aren’t preys. They are very existence of your business hence they are your soul.

Stop calling your relationships as “deal done” or “closed deal”. No.

They are starting points of your growth and your customer’s as well.

Sales is one of the most honest professions because it involves simple human behaviours and actions such as showing, telling and seeking approval.

In one of the podcasts Dean Graziosi mentioned that during a revenue dip crisis, he dismantled his Inside Sales team and took the best customer service reps and called them relationship managers.

They had no pressure to sell or cross sell. All they had to do is to listen, provide solutions and leave them with an assurance that someone is listening to them.

Their churn rate, return rate and irate feedback, all dropped.

Cliched as it may sound but keeping a customer is easier than seeking new customers.

Still cliched is “people do business with people”.

This comes back to the principle of “doing less”. Go out and show people how your service and product would impact their lives. Share stories of how others have loved your product and your team.

Give them a reason to do business beyond your product or service.

The best businesses are run with high standards and values; bottom lines and profitability happen as a result of such behaviours.

Settle less, slog more

In one of the interviews of a famous mentor I heard him say, “ if you are a startup founder or any business owner and want to know why you wake up everyday, try these 2 things.

  1. Think that you are going to be put out of business every single day.
  2. Secondly, debt is a good thing. When you owe someone else money, you know why you need to wake up.”

Wow!

Referring back to Tony Robbins, he says just like our weather, there are 4 economic weather as well, that repeats itself. The winter is the toughest.

In our generation we have seen many economic winters — the 80s stock market crash, the 90s SE Asian crash, 2000s dot com crash and very recently 2008 subprime mortgage crashes.

But the strange thing is in each winter the best of companies sprung up.

  • 61% of Fortune 500 companies were formed during such “winters. Namely, CNN Disney FedEx Pizza Hut Apple.
  • Facebook, AirBnB and Uber incidentally were products of this recent winter.

The better entrepreneur is the one who loves winter because there is no toil required to go through summer and spring!

This is again a cliched hack but would stay true for some time at least. “Work ON your business and not IN your business”

During my interaction with a very smart entrepreneur from Delhi, I stopped him in the middle and told him blatantly — Stop falling in love with your product.

Most entrepreneurs are artists –they just love what they have created — its like their baby, their labour of love.

It clouds their vision and delusion starts setting in. They don’t see the speed breaker ahead or the winter that is going to set in shortly.

All that matters is, how many lives is your product impacting and how much scale is your company achieving.

One of the recent examples are Sony Walkman, Nokia and Blackberry phones. Each single day, product lifecycle is shrinking and only innovation can keep a company fresh and relevant.

Coming back to “working on” the business, we all start ventures so that we become financially free and end up reclaiming our time.

How’s that working for you?

The question that we should be asking is “How do I start a business that doesn’t require me.”

Growth hacks are not some tools which takes our company to another level. It’s a process and a state of mind.

What is your relation with your product, your employees, your customers and the vision that you initially set out to.

 

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