3 Signs Your Startup Isn’t Ready For Growth Hacking


I recently met with a startup founder who told me that his app was ready for launch, so he just needed to focus on growth hacking.

“Why growth hacking?” I asked, interested in his response.

“Because I need to market my app” he replied.

OK, time out.

There’s a huge misconception when it comes to growth hacking and marketing.

Namely, that growth hacking is a replacement for marketing, or that a couple new tricks can propel you into the ranks of Facebook, Dropbox, and Airbnb.

Don’t get me wrong, growth hacking is a powerful force. When implemented correctly it can help to quickly scale a business, obtain a large user base, and crush your churn rate.

But that’s assuming that you have a business, and that you even have users to churn.

Early-stage companies — the ones that need growth the most, are the ones most likely to reach for the “growth hacking” kool aid.

They want to start a referral program, change a button color, add a snippet of code, and see massive growth.

Unfortunately, the world doesn’t work that way. Real growth requires a foundation to build on, a product that works, and a market that’s ready to receive it.

If you’ve tried growth hacking unsuccessfully in the past and you’re not sure why, it might have failed for one of 3 reasons…

Your Product Isn’t Developed

In order for there to be any component of virality around your product, your product has to first be available, and second, not suck.

This might sound obvious, but the second point is a lot easier said than done.

If we take a look at a typical viral loop for a product, we see that there are four distinct phases a user will go through: Discover, Try, Get Value, and Share.

Growth hacking can only help in the Share, Discover, and Try phases. Outside of helping to incentivize distribution and optimizing for conversion, growth hacking cannot give users value where there is none.

Even with all the growth hacks in the world, if you’re core product isn’t up to par with what you say it is, or if it simply doesn’t provide enough value, then no amount of growth hacking will ever help.

You Haven’t Found Product Market Fit

Finding product market fit is the building block of every successful business, yet many entrepreneurs seem eager to jump over this step and go straight for the glory.

Big mistake.

Trying to growth hack a product without product market fit is like trying to sell ice cream to a horse.

Do horses even want ice cream? I don’t know, but you should probably find out before you start buying Super Bowl ads.

Early stage companies that are still on the fence about product market fit should spend time talking to customers, iterating their product, and refining their audience until they know what they’re selling and to whom it’s valuable.

Sean Ellis’s Startup Pyramid

Until you’ve reached this point, leave growth hacking on the back burner.

You’re not clear on your USP

Your unique selling proposition (USP) is what separates you from your competitors. It’s how you describe your company in an elevator pitch. It’s the core differentiating factor that makes you stand out from the crowd.

If you’re not clear on what your USP is, how can you expect to communicate effectively with customers?

Even if you’ve developed a solid product, if you’re not sure how to position it in a way that’s enticing to prospective customers then no amount of growth hacking can give you success.

One tip to start to give some clarity on your USP is to test different headlines and messaging on a series of landing pages. Assuming you have the right type of website traffic, running quick A/B tests can be a simple way of gauging how well users are understanding your product, and how well they are responding to your USP.

Wishpond’s A/B Testing Platform

Once you’ve conclusively determined what type of messaging converts best, you can then apply it globally across your entire product (or specific product lines).

Growth Hacking as a Phase

Part of the difficulty of growth hacking is understanding that growth hacking is a phase rather than an underlying startup strategy.

While many start ups can utilize growth hacking, exactly when they should use it will entirely depend on where they are in their startup journey.

Startup Growth Phases – Graph from Growth Huddle

Getting back to what I told the startup founder who asked me about growth hacking for his new app, here’s what I told him:

  • Focus on your product
  • Focus on finding product market fit
  • Focus on developing and understanding your USP

Then, and only then, can you focus on finding your growth hacking silver bullets.


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