Growth Hacking: The Agony & the Ecstasy

After meeting hundreds of people at events and conferences this year, I’ve realised something — most people have no idea what I do for a living.

I daresay that growth hacking just isn’t widely understood all over the world, more so in Asia, which is still comparatively nascent to the startup boomtowns of Silicon Valley and Israel. Startups that hit the jackpot definitely have a clear grasp of it, but those are the exceptions to the rule (90% failure rate, remember?).

So let’s straighten this out right at the start — growth hacking isn’t just clever digital marketing and coding. Growth hacking as a concept and process runs the gamut of topics in Startup 101, from product and customer development to user acquisition and referral strategy.

The nature of growth is all encompassing, so shouldn’t it make sense that growth hacking covers every aspect of startups and business?

The Approach

If you want growth, you need to map out your route, and figure out how to drive this machine as efficiently as possible.

The first thing that should be done, is to validate the product and customer development, because growth in any way, shape or form will be impossible without product-market fit.

Failure is inevitable if you want success, and I suggest that you fail fast. The experimentation process sets growth hacking apart from any other form of digital marketing or growth strategy. Get your team together and go wild — create a whole spreadsheet of ideas to A/B test, and never fear that an experiment will fail to deliver results. Sure, it didn’t work any magic on your conversion rate, but now you know just a little bit more about your potential customers’ likes and/or dislikes. That is invaluable, and no book or article on the Interwebs can ever give you that information.

Tracking key metrics throughout the entire growth process is crucial to ensure you’re actually getting results or learning from your experiments. Think of these metrics as pitstops along the journey — they will tell you how much you’ve progressed, and how to make the best move to get to your next or final destination.

Sound difficult? That’s not even the half of it.

The Agony

The average entrepreneurs’ selection of mailing lists and Medium posts will tell you that startup life is hard. It’s true —but it’s not just nights without sleep and less time with your friends and family.

To be a growth hacker, you need to be creative, unafraid of failure and be able to emotionally detach yourself from the product. Most importantly, you will have to tread the fine line between taking constructive criticism and ignoring your naysayers, because you’re going to meet people who will:

  1. Resent you because it may seem like you’ve rendered their services/capabilities irrelevant.
  2. Scoff disbelievingly at your ideas or strategies because they just can’t wrap their minds around the fact that growth works in mysterious ways.
  3. Respond angrily and ignore you when you proffer suggestions or tweaks to the product, because they’ve fallen in love with it.

In my personal experience, negative people surpass failed experiments as the biggest Debbie Downers. They brush me off, and cast doubt on my abilities and what I believe in.

It doesn’t anger me, but to be honest, it does sting when what I do is dismissed or dumbed down.

These barriers to personal and startup growth may sound tiny now, but on a bad day, they can really get you down in the doldrums and make you feel like you’ll never hit that jackpot no matter how hard you try.

The Ecstasy

When you stay focused and get results/learnings from your endless experiments though, it’s exhilarating. It’s amazing when an experiment that you thought was totally ridiculous, ends up driving great quality traffic or converting the most paying customers.

I imagine many of the great inventors of the world might have felt the same sensation of blood rushing to their cheeks, and being overwhelmed by the need to fist-pump someone.

Apart from these little wins though, another thing that excites me is the knowledge that Asia is a playground for growth hackers.

The Asian market as a whole is hungry for innovation, and its supply of and demand for startups that will churn out real value on a global scale is growing exponentially. The markets that make up Asia are so segmented in their wants, needs and psyches, that it may not be entirely possible for the American or European models of growth to work their magic on us.

New technology and business models pop up like toadstools every single day, and the opportunities to growth hack any of these are mind-bogglingly lush and ripe for the taking.

The beauty of an inconstant trade and the ever-shifting Asian market, is that I am never bored. I practically live outside of my comfort zone, and I am learning something new every day.

Thus, despite the setbacks and sleepless nights, I find myself jumping out of bed and raring to start my day every morning. The regular hiccups I encounter don’t throw me — on the contrary, I emerge from every failure and dismissal a stronger person and growth hacker.

I intended for this piece to provide a little peek into the heart and mind of a growth hacker, and it nearly killed me to keep it to a reasonable length. The possibilities for growth hackers are endless, be it in our careers or in our personal growth.

Perhaps, despite the agony, some of you will join me in exploring the potential that is nestled within Asia and ourselves.


Annette LimAnnette Lim is based in Singapore, and is currently the Content & Growth Strategist at Growth Hacking Asia. She has had prior experience developing and driving a growth strategy for a cybersecurity business, and now leads growth consulting projects for startups and SMEs. Apart from being completely obsessed with learning new things, Annette loves long train rides and is an avid collector of animal hats. The perfect lion beanie continues to elude her.

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