February 20, 2012
So you’ve built a first release of your product and you’re ready to get it into the hands of users. The feature set seems solid for this first iteration, but is it? If you haven’t put together a solid plan for how your product will grow, you should take a step back and figure it out because an engine of growth is your most important core feature.
It’s taken a few passes at doing products for me to finally come to this realization. An engine of growth is so important, that not having a good one would be enough to stop working on any future product I do.
So, what are common engines of growth? Here are some, in no particular order, that are popular ways to get your product in front of more eyeballs and growing.
Advertising has long been used to draw attention to products, whether it’s laundry detergent, a new car model, or a web application. There is certainly a place for advertising, but the biggest problem with it for startups is that it drains a precious resource: cash. Advertising is expensive and unless you can get your cost of acquisition down, then you’re wasting money and potentially a lot of it.
The other problem with paid search is that with many startups, their users don’t even know they need what you’re selling. Depending on your product, this can limit the effectiveness of advertising considerably.
Do whatever you can to leave paid advertising to the big brands in the world that need to maintain their brand, not grow their business.
Recently, content creation and inbound marketing have been hot trends in marketing. It’s so hot, there are even startups popping up that help businesses make more and more content. Search engine optimized content is great because if you’re doing it well, you’re educating your potential user and building their trust. If a user has gained value from your writing, then they will likely feel comfortable with your product and want to give it a try. It might take a while to get to that point, but it can be very effective. Just look at KISSmetrics to see a prime example of how creating and spreading useful content (blogs, infographics, tweets, etc) gets people into their ecosystem and turns them into users.
The problems with inbound marketing are that it takes a ton of resources and time. As an entrepreneur, you probably want to be spending time on your product, not creating content to attract people your way. But, going the content creation route means you’ll either need to spend your time producing that content or spending money to have it created. Also, there is no way to know how long it will take to convert readers of your blog to customers of your product. Months or years could pass before a reader consuming your content becomes a paying user of your product.
I’ve never been a fan of the art of selling (either as the buyer or seller), so I can’t claim to be an expert. That said, some products need a salesforce. In my experience, these products that need to be sold by a sales team are expensive because they need to have high enough margins to justify the expense of the sales force itself. Expensive products need rich customers, which is why enterprise products usually work very well with a sales team leading the effort to get new customers.
If you’re relying on sales, I’d get ready to do the sales by yourself in the early going. When money’s tight and your product needs to get in the hands of customers, the light will be shining very brightly on you.
With Onepager, we were very lucky and appreciative to get some great press early on. We have a story that reporters are interested in and they feel fits well into their streams of content. The spikes of users after various mentions in articles have been impressive and incredibly motivating to our team. We’ve also generated lots of new free and paid users from press. I definitely encourage any startup to get the attention of press when they want a traffic boost.
The problem with press is that, as I mentioned, it’s a spike and isn’t very sustainable. I look at press as a bonus and not as much of a long-term strategy. After a day or two, new visitors will drop from the press you’ve received. If you haven’t devised a good way to keep a portion of those users engaged with your product (maybe you were able to get their email address or they’ve created an account), then your opportunity will be largely lost.
Word of Mouth
A trusted friend telling you about a product they use and enjoy is powerful. There probably is no more convincing way to have a user learn about your product. Your users are selling it for you, which is an amazing effect.
We’ve experienced a good deal of “word of mouth” advertising at Onepager. It’s helped us grow and has also contributed to our very passionate user base. The problem we have is that there isn’t a logical way to incorporate this user to user spreading into the product itself. There are certainly ways to do that, you just need to have the right type of product to make it happen effectively.
The digital version of “word of mouth”, inherent virality allows users to spread your product to their friends and peers just by using it. Their usage of it is an endorsement and is the best way to get a large amount of users and achieve the coveted network effect. The best things about incorporating virality into your product is that it’s free and highly effective.
Virality is the engine that’s powered many of the biggest sites on the internet (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc). If you’re aiming to have a huge user base, user to user spreading is the most effective, if not the only way.
The challenge with this approach is that you need to be able to incorporate viral aspects into your product. Invites, follows, sharing. All of those work, but not every product can incorporate any (let alone all) of the viral techniques used. It is especially challenging if your product doesn’t have a free option.
This isn’t a comprehensive list of all the ways to grow your business, but it’s a good base to think of when envisioning how your product will grow after launch. Be sure to think about which mix of growth engines you’ll use before you launch so you can get into your growth pattern as soon as possible.