Some three or so years ago the digital business landscape changed when a new breed of self-defined marketers appeared -- Growth Hackers. They realized that focusing on being a deep expert in a single discipline was too restrictive and not agile enough to get the results needed for the businesses that they worked for. These Growth Hackers started to focus on living each day with a creative approach to finding critical insights in big data and exploiting technologies/platforms in new ways to connect with new and existing consumers. They started to hack the online landscape, tools, data and find methods for acquiring customers through cultural and technological means.
Hotmail was one of the first to realize that humanizing your personal email by appending "PS: I love you. Get your free email at Hotmail" to each email sent. They realized that it helped drive growth in a more efficient and effective way than billboard and magazine ads and resulted in an exponential growth and 18 months after launch, and when they were bought by Microsoft for an estimated $400 million, they had 12 million users (there was only 70 million people on the Internet at that time in total).
Another great example is the online accommodations platform Airbnb. Their engineers worked out how to post from their platform into Craigslist. There was no API so they worked out that by parsing the URL that gets generated by Craigslist they could post directly into their from their own user base. Very smart, creative and an elegant technical solution. They augmented this with a program of people reaching out on Craigslist as well -- which was controversial but still did not contravene Craigslist terms and conditions. Taking these chances helped Airbnb memberships explode. In addition, they hired hundreds of contract photographers to ensure the site represented each property beautifully. They now have had over 25 million guests staying in over 34,000 cities across 190 countries.
Linkedin is getting stronger by the day now and we know that they are expanding into education through the acquisition of Lynda.com for $1.5 billion. At the beginning they struggled to grow large quickly but soon realized that there was a challenge when people started using the Internet. Individuals were hard to find through search engines and people wanted recognition and the ability to promote themselves so they optimized their platform to help everyone. They grew from 2 million to 200 million users by allowing users to create public profiles so the search engines index their profiles and show up organically in search results. Prior to LinkedIn, it was indeed hard to find yourself in the top five search results on Google unless you were a big shot with many mentions in news, blogs, on company sites and the suchlike. Another smart move was prompting users to connect to their address books and email invite all of their friends as well. People are wary of that now, but at the time it added millions of users.
So, growth is possible with creative growth hacking techniques and the right people to make it happen. I chatted to Ray Walia from Launch Academy, a Vancouver-based startup hub to see if there was a similar culture of growth in the startups here in Vancouver. He sees a gap:
"There is a wealth of knowledge and experience, particularly around traction and growth (in the North American market), that doesn't currently exist in Vancouver."
But, why not? There are many technology startups in Vancouver doing some smart things. Sure, companies focus on growth but often lack the investment in growth hackers and data scientists spending time researching and trying out new things. I chatted to a few companies and soon realized that Growth Hackers were few and far between up here. Even companies with a deep data culture are not hiring skilled Data Scientists to really take advantage of all of the insights that can be gathered and acted upon. Now, if you go down to Silicon Valley, you can't move for growth hackers and Data Scientists. It's core to the growth ethic that drives multi-billion dollar companies.
I looked further afield and spoke with Lloyed Lobo who manages strategic partnerships, marketing, and PR at Boast Capital and is a partner at Plug and Play Canada, an accelerator and seed-stage investor down in Silicon Valley. He works with many start ups and is focused in mentoring and helping them grow.
"Technology companies like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Freelancer, Hootsuite etc. have achieved billion dollar valuations at record speed, largely due to having a growth mentality. The most successful businesses are always trying to find scalable and repeatable methods for growth, and their marketing strategies and tactics are rooted in data and technology. While Canada has amazing talent, I feel our startups are more focussed on building amazing product vs. getting traction and growth."
So there needs to be some work to redress that issue. To help with this Lloyed and Ray have teamed up to bring many founders and growth hackers to Vancouver at the Traction Conference, June 18th, to talk about how best to operate and grow in the modern world.
My prediction is that, in the next two to three years, and with the right kinds of risk-taking and mentorship we can increase the culture of growth here in Vancouver. With investment in more Growth Hackers and Data Scientists in Vancouver and we will start to see more billion-dollar companies emerge.
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