1. Interview a growth hacker with Mike Greenfield

    Practically understanding and implementing growth can be a real challenge. I sat down recently in sunny Palo Alto with Mike Greenfield, Growth Hacker-In-Residence at 500 Startups and co-founder of Circle of Moms, to talk about living a growth minded culture and his work experience at some of the fastest growing companies in the valley. Here is what he had to say.

    Mike Greenfield Growth Hacker

    Tell me about your past and how you came to be a growth hacker.

    I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a growth hacker, but I’ve certainly come to appreciate the importance of growth, and I understand a number of the dynamics that make it happen.
    LinkedIn hired me when they had 250,000 users and the scale of their data was becoming interesting. Reid and company knew that virality and growth were important and that data would be valuable, and they brought me on to help formalize that. At the time, there were no cleanly defined terms like “growth hacker” or “data scientist”, so I was figuring things out as I went along (and going back and forth between being growth-y and scientist-y).
    LinkedIn was where I really started to understand the dynamics of growth. I spent a lot of time figuring out what was convincing users to sign up for the product and what channels were effective at bringing them back. I became a big advocate of A/B testing within the company, and I tried to encourage others to focus on the little non-flashy pieces of a product that can facilitate growth. I reluctantly wrote copy that I thought could make emails more effective, but I never took that on full force.
    I left LinkedIn in 2007 and started a company that initially built a Facebook app called Circle of Friends (similar to what Google would later launch as Google Circles) and then morphed into Circle of Moms. As co-founder and CTO for Circle of Friends and Circle of Moms, I was writing code and writing copy, and thus directly structuring products so that they could grow. I came to deeply understand many aspects of growth: how to structure a signup flow, what people will and won’t click on, how to build an A/B testing system, and lots more.
    How would you describe growth hacking?

    To me, growth hacking means doing what it takes to drive product usage and distribution. Product marketing is part of it, but it also requires a facility with data, an understanding of underlying technology, and an intuition around how to get people to use a product more. To be good at growth, it helps to be metrics-driven and iterative.

    How does a growth hacker fit into a team?

    It depends the makeup of the team and their needs. It’s important that the person or people who are focused on growth are encouraged by the company leaders to make changes and take intelligent risks. That’s easier if one of the founders understands growth him or herself.

    Does a growth hacker need technical chops?

    The ideal small company growth hacker is someone who can build product, implement A/B tests, and iterate independently. That person can iterate quickly and not be slowed down by other parts of the team.   

    In a larger company, it may make sense to have a growth team of people with complementary skills.

    What is the most essential tool to a growth hacker?

    Anything that will allow depth of understanding of how people are using a product and how/where they’re coming in.  I’m not one for fancy tools, so for me that’s often a MySQL command line.

    Are growth hackers needed at all stages of a startup?

    It’s important that consumer-focused companies understand the dynamics of growth at all stages. Early on, it’s most important to get the big stuff right, but you don’t necessarily need to be as sophisticated about measuring and tweaking. If and when you start to get scale, the little stuff becomes more important and it’s useful to have someone who can tweak and optimize well.

    How is growth hacking different from normal marketing?

    To me, marketing is about applying a certain set of techniques — describing and telling people about a product — for a variety of reasons (growth, branding, etc.). Marketing is becoming more metrics driven in response to the amount of data available and resourcefulness of entrepreneurs, and there’s a subset of marketing that’s also a subset of growth hacking.

    However, growth hacking is about the end goal (the metric), not about a specific skill set. And the best growth hackers are those who can figure out and apply the right techniques to meet a business goal. That might entail building out optimization technology, digging into data, or redesigning a signup flow, and I’d argue that none of those things would typically fall under the realm of a marketing team.

    What advice to you have for startups who want to growth?

    If you’re a small team, focus on one or two metrics at most. For example, spend the next couple of months trying to keep new users engaged.  That’s a more manageable problem than increasing the number of monthly uniques, and it’s more likely to lead to something sustainable.

    Second, discipline is a big piece of growth. The term “growth hacking” seems to imply that there’s some magic elixir that will make you grow. There have been one or two cases where this was true for a company, but more often it was lots of little things that led to a good product that had the right dynamics for bringing on and retaining users.


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    Thoughts on growth hacking with m.greenfield.
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