Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown are the world’s leading experts on growth hacking. The two first worked together at Qualaroo, a marketing SaaS solution they grew to millions in recurring revenue before Ellis sold the company in 2016.
At the same time they were working on Qualaroo, they were also building a community of innovative marketers on Ellis’ GrowthHackers website. With Brown serving as the interim Head of Growth, the duo built GrowthHackers into a definitive learning platform, software solution, and talent pool for companies that want to supercharge their growth.
Ellis and Brown sat down with me to chat all things growth hacking. In our conversation, they explain why marketing is crucial for startups, detail how they built the GrowthHackers community through hard work and commitment, and illustrate the transformational impact successful growth hacking can have on your business.
If you’d like to dig deeper into growth hacking tips and strategies, you should check out Ellis and Brown’s upcoming book on the subject, Hacking Growth, which is scheduled to be released on April 25. They’ll also be speaking at the GrowthHackers Conference 2017 on May 24 alongside the Heads of Growth from high-profile companies like Spotify, Pandora, Uber, and more. Finally, I highly recommend GrowthHackers’ GrowthMaster Training Course, which you can enroll in at a special discounted rate by visiting growthhackers.com/training.
In this episode with Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown, you’ll learn:
- Why marketing makes or breaks startups (4:31)
- How great business partnerships can begin unexpectedly (9:14)
- Tips for making big business decisions (23:17)
- The hard work and dedication required to build a community (29:49)
- Hacking Growth’s playbook for companies looking to scale (35:19)
- How growth hacking principles created a breakthrough for LogMeIn (40:10)
Please enjoy this conversation with Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown!
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Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown Quotes from This Episode of Powderkeg:
“With big business decisions, you have to go on gut, instinct, and the limited information you have, pick A or B, and go down that path.” — Sean Ellis
“You shouldn’t be hesitant and wait for perfect information, because it doesn’t exist.” — Morgan Brown
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Welcome to Powderkeg igniting startups episode 25 with Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown, two of the smartest startup marketers, I think it’s safe to say in the world. These two marketing minded tech entrepreneurs work together in growing marketing tech company Qualaroo, which Shawn sold in 2016. To focus on building growth hackers.com, which is where shine Morgan built this incredible community of startup marketers in a movement of innovative approaches to startup growth. Lucky for you, they’ve co authored a book set to release on April 25 2017. And it’s called Hacking growth. And we were so fortunate to get both of them here on the show first, to share their best stories and insights. All here today on powderkeg igniting startups. I am your host, Matt Hunckler. And I’m the founder and CEO of Burj, which is the network of local communities with global reach for tech entrepreneurs, investors, and top talent. And as my team and I have grown ViRGE over the past seven years, we’ve hosted more than 1000 entrepreneurs at our events around the world. Those founders have gone on to raise more than $500 million in capital. Collectively, they’re disrupting industries creating wealth and changing the world. And they’re doing it in areas outside of Silicon Valley. You can find me on Twitter and on Instagram at Hunckler. And that’s Hu NCKLE are and what I want you to do is let me know how verge powder keg, and I can help you with your entrepreneurial journey. This week’s episode of Powder Keg is brought to you by developer town. These guys have been friends of ours for years, they’ve helped so many startups take their ideas to market gain traction, and build and grow and meet customer needs. But something you might not know about developer town is that they actually help enterprise companies move like a startup. Corporate innovators often work with developer talent to explore software solutions that support their business needs. And now the cool thing is developer town leverages all of their years, you’re working with startups, and they can help companies better understand the viability of potential software solutions, apps, products that they’re doing digitally, and quickly bring them to market. Developer towns created this proven sprint to market process so that large enterprises can move like a startup. You can find out more about developer town read up on them at developer town.com/powderkeg. That’s developer town all one word powderkeg. All one word. Again, that’s developer town.com/powderkeg. Developer town start something. As I mentioned, our guest today are Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown, co authors of hacking growth, which shares how today’s fastest growing companies drive breakout success, and listen at the risk of sound like a total fanboy. I wanted to share that I’ve relied very heavily on the blogs and Twitter feeds of both these guests, because they’re total pioneers in startup marketing. And while I was leading marketing at various startups before starting powderkeg, and even now today as we grow our audience and grow our community, I relied so heavily on the principles of both these fine gentlemen, Morgan Brown is the CEO of Inman News, a leading real estate and technology news publication, and he’s led growth initiatives at several companies, including those of our other guests, Sean Ellis, Sean is one of the most prolific thought leaders in the field of startup marketing, and he’s the founder and CEO of Qualaroo as well as growth hackers.com We’re both today’s guests teamed up to make waves in the marketing world and when I say make waves, I mean freaking make waves. Qualaroo is a marketing software as a service company that Shawn built and grew with Morgan’s help to millions and annual revenue. Later, they sold the company in 2016. To focus on what they call their true calling app growth hacker Shawn is now building the leading community for growth professionals with software talent solutions and services to help companies manage what they call an agile growth process is backed by leading VC firms like Polaris True Ventures, Index Ventures and First Round Capital and they’re just growing like crazy. But before Shawn built his software companies before he wrote a book, Shawn was leading marketing and growth at companies like Dropbox, Eventbrite and LogMeIn, where he really discovered his passion for growth hacking.
I joined caught early stage startups early in my career, and you see people in a startup working really hard to try to make a difference with whatever product they’re building and it however great the solution is it only makes a difference if it gets in the hands of the people who need it. And so, to me, distribution is just as important as a great product and just as important as solving an important problem. And so that’s that’s what got me back passionate about it early on. And, and then as I started to do it, I realized that it’s actually a lot of fun as well that you do get a, you do get kind of an instant feedback loop when you especially in online marketing, where you can see, see the effectiveness of the actions that you’re doing and how they work. And you can test in small amounts, and whatever works, you can scale it and so that I found that to be really fun. And then the kind of cross functional growth part. It was just a natural evolution that came particularly when I was at LogMeIn trying to work acquisition and and, you know, out in the channels, getting new customers and realizing that it’s going to be impossible to scale our spend if we don’t figure out how to convert, retain, monetize, and all the other things that often sit outside of the hands of the marketer outside of the influence of the marketer. But without doing those things correctly, you’re gonna have a really hard time out in the channels competing and scaling customer acquisition?
Well, I definitely want to make sure we dive into that you know, how you compete how you set yourself apart? Obviously, we’ll get into some growth hacks and tactics there. But Morgan, I was wondering, is it similar for you? Is it something that’s always been fun for you? Or what was it that kind of hooked your attention and has captivated it and gotten you to pour your whole life’s work into this?
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I think I’ve always been excited about bringing great ideas, to the people who could benefit from them, you know, and I’ve worked, my first.com company that I worked at was right out of college in 1999. And I’ve just been hooked ever since of you know, entrepreneurs building really incredible products that that have incredible potential. And like Sean said, that potential isn’t realized until it gets into the hands of people, people that that need it. And so that was the I mean, that’s what’s drawn me to startups and new companies, my whole life, just products that that inspired me, and wanting to see them be successful. And then I think the the growth hacking part of it, it was just a realization that the way that startups grow is different. You know, it’s different than traditional marketing, I would read all of the MBA business books, I would talk to my friends who worked at, you know, Pepsi and IBM, and all those kind of companies. And what they were doing on a daily basis looked much different than what I was doing on a daily basis, even though we shared similar job titles, and functions. And so for me, that kind of realization that there is something different going on, in the way that marketing is done at new companies versus established, you know, kind of fortune 500 companies was kind of the impetus for kind of running down this path. And then I was lucky, lucky enough to come across what Shawn had written about growth and growth hacking, and it just instantly resonated with me, because it was something that had stuck out in my mind that there was there was something different going on, and that my job, my responsibility as a marketer was actually much different than kind of the popular understanding of it. And so fortunately, our paths crossed, we both live in Southern California, which is about as lucky as it gets for for someone like me. And so I had the chance to go work with him and really build out this framework and, you know, dive deep into different companies, different successful startups and really build out kind of this hypothesis, this framework, this mindset into into really a structural kind of thing that anyone could pick up and do. And that’s, I think, where we got to,
well, Morgan, talk to me about how you first connected with Shawn, because you guys are now like peanut butter and jelly, right? You guys go together so well, you know, assuming you like peanut butter and jelly. And I’ll let you decide to decide and fight over who gets to be peanut butter. But I’m curious how you guys, actually, you kind of glossed over it, you know, you cross paths, and you had a chance to work together. But I feel like those are real pivotal moments and sort of those inflection points in, in careers. And and, you know, really, life and trajectory. How did that actually happen?
Yeah, absolutely. So it’s funny early, probably in about 2010 or 11, I had this brilliant idea that I was going to start a blog called Startup marketing, because I had had been there, you know, in that role, and I was like I have I had blogged successfully before that and I was like, this is a great, great tactic. So I went to try to find the URL and there was already a great blog. They’re by a guy named Sean Ellis. So I started reading. And that’s kind of where I first kind of encountered Shawn online. But I think when I really met him, so I was working with a couple of companies, and I had kind of built a deck on growth hacking, a PowerPoint presentation on growth hacking that I get for a talk that I gave at an Orange County product, meet up. And like any good web denza, and I shared the deck online, you know, on SlideShare, and then posted it to LinkedIn. One night, I was sitting on my couch, next to my wife, and I was looking at LinkedIn, and I got a little notification. And it said, Sean Ellis has sent you a message. Like is suddenly all the blood in my body went to my feet, I think. And I looked at I didn’t open it, I looked at my wife. And I said, How did the guy that created the term growth hacking just sent me a message about my growth hacking deck 5050, whether or maybe even worse odds, whether he thinks I’m brilliant, or a total jackass, so I’m going to open this message and find out. And so she kind of just said, Good luck. And so I was sweaty palms kind of open the message. And fortunately, it was more that he thought it was reasonably well articulated, wanted to get together because he was hiring for a growth role at Qualaroo at the time, so and that, so I went and met him and we had a great conversation and kind of went from there. So but it was, it was definitely a lucky break. For me.
It’s it’s so fitting that inbound marketing is what ended up creating the connection between you to Shawn, do you remember what it was about that presentation that made was so compelling that you had to reach out to Morgan,
when you’re in Orange County, there’s not a lot of tech down here, it’s getting to be a lot more. But you know, at that time, I just started looking around on LinkedIn to see does anybody know anything about growth hacking and came across Morgan’s deck. And it was by far the best deck that I’d seen on growth hacking better than anything I had put together from a from a deck perspective. And so it was, it was just lucky. And I don’t think I took the direct approach to saying, hey, Morgan, I’m trying to hire come and come work with me, I just said, this is a great deck, let’s get together for some coffee. And as we as we got talking, I realized, Morgan’s got, we’re really complementary to each other, because Morgan’s got a, like a much sort of broader skill set than me is it’s kind of weird as that sounds, I think he is a fool. I guess maybe that’s a deeper skill set, even a full stack marketer where he can, he can go in, there’s nothing that Morgan kind of, doesn’t put his mind to that he can’t go and get done where I guess I probably could as well. But he’s, he’s drawing on existing skills where I’d have to go out and develop them. And so, you know, it became pretty clear when we, when we met that he he would, he would be an awesome addition to the team. And so we were able to get something together wasn’t a full time role, because Morgan was was had a couple of other commitments out there. But it was about in, in a halftime role he got more done than most people would get in to full time role. So it worked really well for a few years.
That’s awesome. You know, I think that that, that’s a question that startup founders often have is, you know, with my first marketing hire, and even subsequent marketing hires, do I go with someone who is you know, quote, unquote, full stack, meaning they’re, they’re broad, and they’ve done a lot of things they can, you know, put their mind to something and get it done? versus someone who is an expert at, say, email marketing, or an expert at CRO conversion rate optimization? And do I go hire that person first to kind of build a proficiency? Or do I build the the full stack, you know, master of? Well, I don’t want to say Master of None, because that’s totally fine.
I’m a Master of None, Matt.
I would answer I would, I would look at it as the as the first part that that ultimately, in a smaller company, you need really dynamic people that, you know, whatever, whatever comes out there, they’re not sort of like oh, that’s not my job. They’re the each person on your early team needs to be dynamic enough to jump in and do what needs to be done. And so Morgan was a perfect early person on the team because he could Morgan even actually went out and and handled building the first the first growth hackers.com website, and when we we ended up bringing some internal skills to take it across the finish line, but he just like, this looks like a great idea. I’ll get it done. You just you just don’t see many, many people with a marketing title. Yeah, like jumping in and saying, Yeah, let’s I’ll find a way to get it done. Well, I
think that the launch of growth hackers.com is so interesting, because at the time you were working there Gather on Qualaroo, you know, the the software company for conversion rate optimization, which I’ve had a chance to play around with, but haven’t done full campaigns with. But you decided that starting this growth hackers.com website would actually be a good way to sort of build audience around what you were doing, can you? Can you talk to me a little bit about that decision? Whose idea was that? So it was,
that was shot.
I mean, it was mine. Yeah, I wanted to do it for a while. I mean, part part of it was kind of a passion project, part of it was, Morgan had actually kicked off on something we call it VIP program, where we realized that when Qualaroo runs on a marketing website, it you know, and we actually, before I forget to mention, we sold Qualaroo, about a year ago. So we’re all in on growth hackers now. But at the time, we realized that when Qualaroo ran on a marketing site, it has branding on it, it, it actually led to a pretty high conversion rate to new customers signing up when they actually interacted with the survey unit on other marketing sites, if it ran on Disney, it’s the wrong audience, obviously, to convert a bunch of kids to become customers, that wouldn’t have worked. So we realized there was a void for a site where people could really come and be inspired and connect with other inspirational growth and marketing people. So that was, that was sort of the we thought there was a void for that type of community and content. And and we knew that when we run quality real on a site like that, it’s really good for that core business. So that was, those were sort of the two impetus for building it.
Yeah. And, Matt, I think the really interesting insight that Shawn had, and I think this is actually really valuable for any marketer or entrepreneur is that as a as a software as a service company, one of the things your quote unquote supposed to do is content marketing, right? We you know, inbound marketing, and we looked around and every SAS company, every marketing technology company was was doing content marketing, blog posts, webinars, white papers, I mean, the internet is awash in marketing technology content. And Shonda has a really good perspective that, hey, you know, Morgan with you half time, the core team only, you know, a few people at that point Qualaroo can’t compete, just by pumping out as much content as possible. But you know, what, if we put a layer on top of the, on top of this ridiculous river of content, and be a filter that that bubbles, the best stuff up to it, and we can kind of aggregate filter rank, and then people can come and discover us or come to growth hackers to discover the best of everything that’s out there, as opposed to having to sift through all the noise, they can come to growth hackers, and find the best stuff at that those are really, you know, valuable insight to kind of flip what everyone else is doing on its head and look for the opportunity, you know, in that environment,
when it’s such a valuable space, you know, as someone who is an entrepreneur, as a growth marketer, you know, I frequently even if I don’t go through and read all the articles, I find myself going in at least a few times a week to at least, you know, even in the craziest weeks, you know, read the front page of it, just to see what’s new, what am I missing, you know, what new feature is out that I’m not taking advantage of. So it’s a really cool space, and you clearly found the right space at the right time. So I’d love to talk to you about how you built that community. But first wanted to maybe dig in a little bit deeper on Qualaroo. Because I know you sold that back in February of 2016. In a space as you mentioned, the marketing technology and marketing SAS space. So so crowded, so many conversion rate optimization tools, was it the growth hackers community that really set it apart and made it something that excelled above the rest to actually be acquired? Or was it something else?
It was there’s definitely challenges with the business and one of the things with with service, like insights for conversion rate optimization is that most people most people approach it as a as an episodic use case. So they they use it for a little while they feel like they know what’s going on and then they stop using it which for a SaaS business, that’s actually kind of a challenging situation. So we were able to we were able to grow it pretty pretty substantially to millions of dollars in recurring revenue, but it was something where, you know, the side project of growth hacker started to take off and focus is such a such an important asset for an entrepreneur that we just found. Here we were we were being pulled in two different directions and had to had to pick a lane and so being able to get the cash and put it into growth hackers was you know, not just the cash but the focus just seemed like the right move for us. But I think Qualaroo itself, we what we were doing is we were generating pretty good cash flow off of that business and really putting it into the into the growth hackers business, to the point where to the point where if we kept that up for much longer, we were going to kill the business. And so we basically, for us, it just made sense to we were passionate about what what Qualaroo was doing. And so we wanted to have a focus team who could take it to the next level. And so when we found the right acquirer for it, it worked well for us. But we, I think we we kind of we took the business with partial focus about as far as we could take it and abet a team with full focus when and talent we felt like could take it to an even better level.
It’s such an important decision. And I’ve certainly made the mistake in the past for hanging on to businesses for too long. While I’m kind of writing that line, and and so kudos to you guys to seeing that and saying, Hey, let’s let’s find a place for this to go and live on and continue to thrive. Was it? Was it an opportunity that you went out and found or did the opportunity come in and find you,
we had a number of companies over the years approaching us to buy it. And what I realized was I had one company where for a whole year, we were in discussions, and nobody wanted to put a price because in negotiation, you’d let the other guy put the price went up price finally hit the table, it was like we were on such different pages that I thought to myself, I just got distracted for a whole year. So basically, with this time, when I decided it was the right move to sell it the first time someone showed some interest, I very quickly, very quickly took it to a conversation where I said, I think this price gets it done. And I even kind of low balled it to some degree, just just to actually have just to actually have a like a stalking horse or whatever you would call that where somebody somebody has the price and and is interested. And then I already had a list of people who I thought would be good acquirers for it and just went out to them and said, Hey, I’ve got somebody interested in buying it at this, we there’s a good chance we’re going to do the deal, Bob wanted to at least let you know that, that we we have someone else at the table, and then I got interest from from a number of others. And we we finally got it done. Unfortunately, it was still it turned out to be take a lot longer and be a much bigger distraction to get a transaction done than I originally thought it was gonna be.
That’s such a self reflective thing for you guys to do. And for you to already know your number when that conversation came about. Sounds like you’ve already you had already put some time to thinking through that strategically. Yeah, it
was we were really trying to optimize for speed rather than price. It just you know, if if the idea is focus, cash is an important resource but but time and focus are also an important resource. So we just we we saw the potential for a billion dollar plus business on on growth hackers, if we could really focus and execute on it. And I still see that potential, it just, you know, and the difference between X million versus 2x million, like not necessarily that big of a deal, because we had cash on the balance sheet still from from venture capital that we’d raised,
it seems to me that so much of the focus on growth hacks, or even in sort of like growing businesses is sort of on the tactical side of things, meaning, you know, a lot of content out there kind of zooms into the execution and how to optimize and following the metrics and making decisions, you know, based on dashboards. But the thing that’s kind of coming through to me, as you’re telling the story is that you both are able to kind of zoom out and be like, Hey, listen, this growth hackers thing is actually where our passion is. And you know, time is a valuable resource. So is focus. So if we can get a little bit of cash, we’re going to be wealthy in the focus and time. How do you guys zoom in and zoom out like that? Because I know, you’re still running growth hacks, you know, on building growth, hackers and growing Qualaroo at the same time, but you’re also still able to zoom out and think strategically, is there something that you guys do some sort of pattern? Are you journaling? Are you talking to one another, you know, as sort of like, co founders and partners in crime as peanut butter and jelly? What’s what’s what is it that allows you to do that?
I’ll give a quick answer. And then Morgan, I think, you know, now he’s CEO of a business. I think he’ll have some interesting perspective on this as well. But my, I can tell you that like a lot of it, I have a really good board of directors where, you know, a lot of it was things that we hashed over with the Board of Directors because it’s a pretty big, that’s a big decision. And, you know, like, like, ultimately, you never know if you make the right decision because it’s unlike an A B test where you’re actually testing both A and B, a lot of kind of big business decisions like that are basically you have To go on, on gut instinct and the limited information that you have, and pick a or b and go down that path. And when you use to split testing things, it can be kind of tough. But I think, you know, being able to make a decision and be committed to that decision is probably, even if it’s the wrong decision, it’s probably more important to make the decision and be committed and go all in on it than it is to hedge and, and just sit on the fence for too long, because that’s when that’s when both opportunities end up drying up.
That’s a really good point. And I imagine, Morgan, you’re finding the exact same thing, as you’re growing in the news of the CLO there, can you talk to me a little bit about what the change has been like going from something that is sort of more sassy, or, you know, software based to something that’s more of a, you know, publication?
Yeah, and, you know, I had a real incredible learning experience being on, you know, kind of leading marketing quality and working for Shawn and, you know, being on the launch team at growth hackers, and luckily, for me, it turns out that growth hackers is, in some ways, you know, at least the community when I was there, and obviously, since then Sean’s built a bunch of tools and training and stuff off the back of it, but when I was there was it was purely the community. And it turns out that a community is very much like a media company. In some some regards, you know, that there is a, there’s kind of a content and editorial need, there’s an audience building need, there’s a, obviously a retention need, there’s a content production and sourcing need. And so it turns out that, you know, the growth hackers, my experience maps really well to a media company, and then my experience with the quality product on the SAS side maps really well to Inman, because we are a subscription news product. So while it’s not, you know, while you have different kinds of churn benchmarks, and you know, different customer and different, different buying behaviors, ultimately, it’s a subscription business. And so I’m worried about many of the same things, customer lifetime value, how much it costs to acquire a customer, versus the value we get from them. You know, what our customer retention looks like? How do we activate customers to ensure long term retention and that type of thing. So a lot of those skills and the things that I’ve built up over time just trying to build audience and retain and monetize audience maps really well, to the Inman business. And, you know, just to kind of piggyback on what Sean said about the decision making, you know, obviously, selling your company is a really big and really big decision, and one that’s not easily reversible. But for the most part, those types of decisions I found in business are actually pretty rare. You know, most decisions aren’t Do or die, you know, you can adjust course, and usually you do adjust course. And so knowing that most decisions are not life or death, you should make them faster than you’re comfortable with. And I think one of the big things we talked about also, in our in marketing is kind of how I run the business, like velocity is a key performance indicator, right? Like we need to, we need to move fast. My you know, at Santa Barbara, I studied zoology, which is kind of a weird background for a tech marketer. But you know, you kind of learn that in an ecosystem, either you’re big, and then you can be slow. But if you’re small, you have to be fast. And if you’re small and slow, you’re someone else’s lunch. And I think the same is, is true in business, that if you’re a small company, you need to move fast, because agility and speed is, is one of your key competitive advantages. So, you know, I was funny, Jeff Bezos just released his letter to shareholders the other day, and he even said in it that, you know, most decisions should be made with somewhere around 70% of the information you wish you had. If you’re waiting for 90%. In most cases, you’re being too slow. And I really feel that velocity of decision making and action is is critical to success, because you’re of course, correcting the whole way. So you shouldn’t be you shouldn’t be hesitant and waiting for perfect information because it doesn’t exist.
Well and Morgan, you were on the launch team for the growth hackers website when it launched. And I’m sure you were making just crazy amount of decisions every day, following a little bit of gut a lot of data probably, what were some of the, the right decisions that you made that kind of made that magic and Shawn, feel free to chime in here. That kind of built the foundation for that community.
Oh, I’ll take the first shot at it. But I think one of the most critical insights was really figuring out how we were going to grow it, you know, like, which what channel what source of customer is really going to be the one that that drives initial interest in growth hackers, you know, Shawn had a, you know, Shawn, you know, obviously, running a survey company was like, Hey, we should talk to some people and figure out, like, let’s talk to our, our core audience and see where they’re currently discovering this type of information, this type of growth, marketing content. And so, you know, really, almost informally, we started asking people that we respect, you know, asking people on Twitter, asking people in our community via email, you know, hey, where do you typically find the growth marketing content that you really rely on and value? And overwhelmingly, the answer came back Twitter. And so for us, we’re like, hey, these people are looking for this stuff on Twitter, this could be a really powerful distribution channel to bring, you know, for the growth hackers.com content and community and bring people in. And I think that was a really critical first, first decision. So Shawn, I don’t know if you want to allow
Yeah, just say, Yeah, additional thing is that it helped that I came into launching growth hackers with with a decent Twitter following already, I think I was about maybe 10,000 At the time, but you know, having 10,000 People who had organically grown, because they were interested in the same types of marketing and growth content that I was interested in, turned out to be a pretty good asset for launching a community around that same topic. And so, you know, I would advise anyone else who was doing something similar today to go and build your build your audience on another platform first, and then, you know, at the same time as you’re building out your kind of key platform, because it takes time. And I think one of the things that I, like, people talk about an MVP, minimum viable product when launching a new product. And I think that that first version of growth hackers was, was, you know, sticks and gum and the tinfoil connecting it together. And it was, it was not beautiful, but we had a scrappy little team, it was, like four of us that were that were hammering away at it. And, and, you know, probably probably less than kind of the technology decisions was just the brute force work of making sure that if somebody posted a comment, or somebody, somebody interacted in any way that we gave them, that perception of community that we interacted with them, they don’t need 10,000 people to interact with them, they need one person to make it feel like that they’re not alone in a ghost town. And so it was it was seven days a week for probably three or four months till we till we could finally kind of let off the gas a little bit and the community had had, you know, built enough momentum where it could, it could keep itself engaged. And but it’s it’s hard work kind of priming the pump on something like this. And I think technology doesn’t necessarily doesn’t necessarily replace it. It’s just good old fashioned hard work that that is needed in the beginning to teach something like this. Yeah, it’s
it’s definitely a recurring theme in these community based companies. You know, we had Alexis Ohanian on talking about how we built Reddit, and same sort of thing, sort of just through sheer brute force. And some Alter Ego user accounts.
Yeah, we studied Reddit. So I mean, read, it was definitely part of our inspiration and how to approach the launch of growth hackers.
Oh, nice. Nice. Well, and then the other thing you touched on is what Brian Clark from Copyblogger, shared on Episode 24, of powderkeg. And just that, having that audience before you launch the product is so so important. It’s clear that you just kind of talking through and sharing what you were learning as you were hacking growth and building startups to have that initial sounds like Twitter was that was the thing at the time. You know, that Twitter following that you knew you could get some initial traction with it was probably really, really important when I
think I also had a couple of blog posts on my blog that had reached maybe 150,000 reads on them. So I haven’t had an audience across these different platforms that I’d kind of built on and so being able to be able to transition that audience to something else I think was was a big advantage but if I had tried to do it by myself, I think we wouldn’t have been as successful as literally having four scrappy people doing whatever it took to to bid I mean we literally like took turns Manning Okay, you got it Saturday, you got it Sunday, like just 24 hour coverage on a on making sure that if a comment went on there, that person was going to get a reply, and, and just priming the pump for it. So it’s, you want to leverage every asset you have. But at the same time having a good team having having a dedicated team and just you know, and then finally, that brute force to tip, it was really important. Well, I’m
sure a lot of these stories you’ve captured in your new book hacking growth, can you tell me a little bit about how you formatted this book, and what an entrepreneur or product marketer could expect to get out of it?
Each company has its own set of unique challenges, you know, obviously, going after a different audience segments with different value propositions, and kind of what what Shawn and I saw out there is, you know, most of the stuff written about growth hacking, and is like you mentioned earlier, Matt, is very tactical, right? It’s a very, it’s a very kind of a list of things to try. And, you know, those things, you know, that’s trying to take what someone else has done, and applying it to your business without thinking thinking it through is, you know, essentially applying someone else’s solution to a different problem to your business and hope that it hope that it sticks, and we don’t think that that’s, you know, a super effective way to go about, you know, no great business was built off the back of a listicle. You know, and they serve their purpose, though, right, don’t get me wrong, like, they’re great for inspiration, you know, finding new ideas to kind of synthesize and in turn into your own, but I think too many people just kind of take them, you know, verbatim and say, Oh, we have to be doing that, which I think is kind of a head fake. So this book is not that, right, this book is not a recipe, book of all the things that you are the tactics that you should try, what we have tried to do is build really more of a playbook, which shows you one how to build a team focused on and drive that is focused on and can drive growth, and what that looks like to you know how to set yourself up for growth. Because there’s lots of companies that even though they want to grow, they’re not set up for growth, either their product isn’t something that people love, you know, there, it doesn’t deliver a ton of tremendous value yet, which is just the cold, hard truth of building products is some you know, they don’t always hit the mark right out of the gate. And then also having the data and the infrastructure in place to be able to experiment at a really high velocity and figure out what’s working and what’s not working. And then you know, how to run the growth hacking high tempo experimentation process, which gives your team that velocity of learning and experimentation. And really, that philosophy is about learning as fast as possible, so that you figure out what works in the shortest amount of time. And that you can build on those successes. And that’s really the first half of the book. And the second half of the book, we look at each stage of the customer lifecycle their journey from acquisition to monetization. And we apply that that high speed experimentation and discovery framework that we call the growth hacking process to each stage of that customer lifecycle and show how it can be used to find new opportunity for growth. So hopefully, people can get it and you know, hopefully, it’s kind of teaching some people to fish rather than, you know, giving them the giving them the fish and we tell lots of stories from successful companies from our own backgrounds. So you know, hopefully, there’s some some things that people can, you know, go and try right away, but hopefully, more importantly, it gives them the framework for thinking about and executing on high velocity experimentation that that leads to growth that so many of these breakout companies
on Morgan I love the focus on strategy and the teaching people to fish as opposed to just giving them a ton of fish, fish after fish after fish. But I also love that you are bringing it to life with stories. You know, we had Gabriel Weinberg on a podcast episode nine with his book on traction, which I imagine would be just like a great companion reader for your your book that’s coming out. Yeah, absolutely. traction, you probably love hacking growth. Yeah, I
would think of us as like part two to traction and traction is an awesome book to start with for super early stage and then for scaling and managing growth as a team, we can definitely help take it to the next level.
Shawn, did you have a favorite story in the book?
Um, you know, I think like some of the some of the stories that we share early on are you know, from my own experience at Dropbox and LogMeIn but you know, I learned a ton from from the various stories everything especially like some of the bigger companies that we’ve looked at in there like like Microsoft and, and Walmart and some of that some of the things that they’re doing. I think it’s a lot harder to apply a high tech But testing process in in some of these bigger companies, but they’re they’re showing us the way the ones that are that are starting to get it right. So I yeah, I there’s there’s a lot of stories that I like in there. And again, as Morgan said, They’re not about just take the tactics from this company and apply them in yours. But we go deeper to the principles behind why that tactic worked in that company. And when you understand the principles, you’re, you’re in a lot better position to apply it in your own company.
Yeah. And Matt, you know what, I think Sean’s being pretty modest. Because one of my favorite stories in the book is are from Sean’s experience. He’s got a great story in there about his time at LogMeIn where they’re able to, you know, kind of use this experimentation framework across the entire customer journey to figure out how to be able to increase their paid advertising spend from, you know, $10,000 a month to millions of dollars a month, kind of getting outside of the traditional marketing role. And that’s, that’s certainly one of my favorite stories in the book is Sean’s experience on that front.
And that for what it’s worth, that was kind of my aha moment on the importance of really what we call growth hacking today that that experimentation across the full customer journey, being able to see the impact it had in a company that had stalled on growth, and then suddenly growth shot to the next level when we started doing this.
Can you talk to me a little bit more about that, Shawn, what was it at LogMeIn? That was that big breakthrough? Aha, like, how did that come about? What was it that you did?
So what we were, we were taking the approach of a normal marketing team, where we went out and, you know, we, we generally knew what the value proposition of the product was. So we went out and started to spend some money on Google AdWords and bring people into the site. And, you know, I knew that if, if I could get control of landing pages that was going to help my marketing. So I fought the hard battle, we were small enough that I could I could get get control of landing pages, but we had to kind of carve out a subdomain and had a growth engineer on the team who would who would manage those landing pages, because Unbounce and others weren’t around at that time. But what I saw was that the majority of people who signed up, never actually use the product. And that’s all of your return on investment comes from people using the product, all of your word of mouth comes from people using the product, we were going to have a really hard time growing the business. So fortunately, I had a really good CEO, who I brought the data to and said, Here’s here’s the reality is that we, we lacked the leverage to effectively spend money until we can figure out how to activate people who sign up and actually get them using the product, this, this business is going to stay small. And so he looked at the data and said, you know, we’re not, we’re not going to work on the product roadmap that we have, right now, every single person in the company is going to focus on getting that customer journey, right. And, and so we, we ran experimentation all the way through the funnel. And as Morgan said, we basically got it to where we had about 1,000% improvement over the next few months in the number of people who signed up and actually use the product. And what that did, from a channels perspective, we hit the wall on channels at about 10,000 a month, were no new creative ideas of what we could do and channels would really make much of an impact. After we did that we went back and tested the exact same channels. So no new creativity just went back and tested the same channels. And now they scaled to over a million dollars a month with a three month payback on on that million dollars. So we could we could cycle for a million dollars a year without until we were cashflow positive the whole time through our through our NASDAQ IPO listing from from like day one of scale through it, which is pretty unheard of for most SaaS companies. And it was all about getting experimentation through the full customer journey, really understanding what value was to the customer and having the full team not just the marketing team work on enhancing value for the customers in a in a measurable way.
But I think that really clearly illustrates what it means to truly hack growth. So I really appreciate you sharing that Shawn and Morgan for the context to on the book. If people want to get the book, where can they go.
So the best best place is growth hacker.com So it’s like growth hackers.com But without the s and that’s that’s just sort of a page that we put together that gives an overview of the book and a link to where you can buy it from various sites. And that’s that’s a good place
to start. Awesome. I love the impact that you guys are making in the SAS and startup world. And obviously with marketers but but even with early stage entrepreneurs who are wearing the marketing hat. You’ve made such an impact with growth hackers and with your leadership at your various companies and initiatives. One of the things I love about you guys is that you’re you’re doing it all from you know outside of Silicon Valley. You know you’re there in Southern California. I don’t know a ton about the scene there. You know, we had Karen Nordmann on the podcast from upfront ventures. Earlier on she’s, of course in LA. I’ve got a friend Kyle Ashby, who runs Santa Barbara, co working space up there. But can you tell me a little bit about what the startup community in the last couple of minutes? What’s the community like there?
So I mean, what’s interesting, we’re in Orange County, LA is actually pretty hot. That’s where you’ve got Snapchat Dollar Shave Club, and you’ve got you’ve got some pretty hot companies. Sure. But interestingly, Orange County, I think, is starting to get on the map for really understanding growth and marketing. So the best agency that I know is client boost, and they’re just down the street from us. And there’s just there’s just a good pocket of good growth talent. I think, real estate, and mortgages. Were down here for a long time where some people got really good at SEO, I think, Morgan, you, you’ve kind of got started in that area. I mean, anything else you’d want to say about kind of seeing down here? Morgan?
Yeah, no, I think it’s, it’s very nascent. You know, I think one of the challenges with Southern California, it’s so big, you know, that Orange County is a huge County, you can, you know, take you a couple hours, you know, to go to each side of it. And so, you know, I think it doesn’t have kind of the density that maybe some of these other innovation centers have, you know, like Silicon Beach and LA and, and, you know, New York and Austin and these different Boston, so I think, skill set of digital marketing down here. And maybe it’s just self selecting, but there’s a lot of kind of interesting companies and agencies and people around that. And then we all try to get outside the orange curtain, occasionally up to LA and San Francisco and go see our brother and up there. So
but I think even just with with kind of your your whole focus with the podcast of outside of, of Silicon Valley, that what I think what you start to see is that companies that are outside of Silicon Valley, tend to be a little better at marketing, because they have to be efficient with the cash they have, it’s harder to raise money outside of Silicon Valley. And so as a result, the dollars that you’re spending need to go a lot longer. And you need to really be focused on ROI, where I did my years and in the valley as well. And I think there’s some great things around innovation up there. And there’s definitely a lot of talented people all have that access to money means that people don’t need to be quite as efficient and how they spend it. And so that’s where I think most interestingly, most of the really good marketing technology companies actually have actually emerged outside of Silicon Valley because their customer base is outside of Silicon Valley.
Absolutely. I mean, Indianapolis is a huge marketing tech hub with exact targeted sold target. Exactly. Yep, I can relate. And I think you hit the nail right on the head with just being more efficient with the capital that you have. Growth hacking and being good at product marketing is really important. So I hope people will go to growth hacker.com preorder your copy or drop a comment here on the show notes, which of course you can email@example.com on this particular episode, leave a comment we’ve we’ve pre ordered a bunch of copies. So we’ll be sending those out to people that are commenting on the show notes and in social. Sean Morgan, thank you guys so much for being here and taking the time to share your experience and all the knowledge that you’ve gotten with writing, hacking growth.
You’re welcome. And I do have an offer for your audience as well, if they want to take us up on some of the training stuff that we have at growth, hackers, growth hackers.com/training $60 off our our growth mastery training course. So some something to give back to the community as well.
Absolutely. Well, we’ll make sure we link that up in the show notes. I also know you’ve got the growth hacking conference coming up as well.
Yep, that’s in LA on May 24, heads of growth of Spotify, Pandora guy who just left Uber was Premier, previously running growth at international growth at Facebook. So some really sharp people who the people who I admire and learn from are all going to be speaking at the conference. So there’s still some tickets left. So it’d be awesome to get some of the audience go in there too.
Absolutely. We’ll link that up in the show notes as well, too. And I may see if I can get out there la sounded pretty nice in May.
Yeah, sounds good. I’ll hook you up with a good deal on a ticket.
I appreciate that. Sean Morgan, thank you as well. I like that. I love the stories and we’ll be following the whole book launch from afar. Really appreciate your time. Thanks
for having us. You bet. Thanks,
man. Good luck, guys. Bye. Hey, Matt Hunckler. Here again. That’s it for our conversation with Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown. But of course, you know that that’s not the end of the conversation. We keep it going. We always keep going. check them both out on Twitter. They’re at Sean Ellis and that’s S E A N. Ellis e l l i s at Sean Ellis. And at Morgan B, the letter B on Twitter. Please hit them up. Let them know so that you listen to the episode, you’re excited for the book. I’m really excited for the book, and then drop a comment on the show notes. Of course, you can find all the show notes on powderkeg.com. And then just hit me up on Twitter as well. always interested in your feedback. I want to know what you learned the most what was most helpful on this podcast but also what you’re missing? I love hearing from you and so do our guests. So thank you so much