Growth is like a t-shirt...

How you wear it matters.

How you wear a concept matters 👕 #

Most startup concepts are like t-shirts. They're good in some contexts, like wearing your favorite graphic tee out to a local bar. And they're bad in other contexts, like wearing a hole-riddled undershirt to dinner without pants. (Please wear pants.) 👖

Growth is like a t-shirt, too. If you wear it at the right time, in the right way, it's good. If you wear it at the wrong time, or in the wrong way, it's bad. The same is true for growth hacking.

What to buy: the right time, the right way ✔️
The best growth hacks are effective, sustainable ways to grow your business. These hacks combine marketing wisdom, engineering application and product savvy. They're rooted in clear goals and meant for businesses with a solid setup. They're usually an old idea implemented in a new context and that's a good thing. Many old ideas, like referrals, are full of wisdom.

What to avoid: the wrong time, the wrong way ❌
The worst growth hacks are poorly packaged silver bullets. They yield some immediate success but at a high cost to startups. Like pissing off customers, weakening brands, or giving founders a manipulative reputation. They don't guide you to a specific goal (other than turbocharged, outrageous growth!) and they target unstable startups that still have a long way to go on their product.

These tactics contain some watered-down knowledge, but they lack wisdom. They embarrass founders about as much as going pant-less to dinner in a moth-eaten t-shirt.

Look smart, act smart - avoid false proxies! #

For the sake of your business, do everything you can to avoid the silver bullets.

Ethics aside, they're the worst because they're false proxies. They give you something that's easy to measure as an approximation for something that's hard to measure. For startups, this looks like a founder using # of Twitter followers as a proxy for idea validation. Or # of downloads as a proxy for perceived value.

Proxies are dangerous because they're addictive; they're easy to measure and easy to improve. But they miss the mark entirely. Don't fall for them.

Tune in to the right advice #

Sidestep the trap above by tuning in to the right advice. The writer-thinkers listed below will help you see past hacks and think in terms of systems, frameworks, and mindsets that accelerate growth.

  • Sean Ellis: The man who originally coined the term growth hacking in this post.
  • Brian Balfour: Former VP at Hubspot
  • Avinash Kaushik: A Digital Marketing Evangelist for Google. His posts dive deep into analytics and he'll always challenge you to tie tactics back to goals.
  • Hiten Shah: He's started three successful SaaS companies. Check out the blogs for those, as well: Crazy Egg, Kissmetrics, and Quicksprout.
  • Tomasz Tungunz: A venture capitalist at Redpoint and a brilliant thinker.
  • Steve Blank: Don't let the man's retro site deter you. He's an entrepreneur, author, and professor at Stanford.
  • Paul Graham: Still shockingly relevant.

Did we miss your favorite resource or person? Reply and let us know. We'd love to know who else is churning out good advice.

Get ready to sweat in that t-shirt 😅 #

We have to warn you. The ideas these people write about take hard work and focus. They require a solid product, satisfied customers, and an idea of what you want to accomplish.

That's the bad news. The good news is they're effective and sustainable. They don't trash your brand, stomp on your customers, or make you look bad. So, if you're ready, go ahead and grow. But make sure you're doing it for better reasons than "growth for growth's sake."

p.s. Not every startup is ready to focus on growth. If you need an MVP to define and refine your product first, we have you covered.

"Gaming the system is never the goal. The goal is the goal."
- Seth Godin

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