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Is Growth Hacking a Magic Stick for a Startup? Q&A Session with an Expert

growth hacking

We invited Ewoud Uphof to get an insight on his one of a kind experience in growth hacking and share it with all those for whom a term “growth hacking” is slightly vague and scary at this point.

Spoiler alert: it won’t be the case by the time you are done reading.

At Moqod we work a lot with startups. Most of the young businesses ask regular questions when they begin their journey of entrepreneurship. How do we grow? How to ensure proper market fit? Where to get new customers?

Ewoud started working with affiliate websites for smartphone and travel insurance when he was still in university becoming one of the first growth hackers in Holland. He started a digital marketing agency as a result of his work on the affiliate website. After Google hit all affiliate businesses with an update they turned their work into an e-commerce branch of a media company. Ewoud’s knowledge is based on building his own brand, so he started doing it for others.

Moqod: There are a lot of definitions for what growth hacking really is. What is your own definition and mostly what is NOT growth hacking in your opinion?

Ewoud: Interesting question because I don’t believe in the term “growth hacking”. The term is a growth hack in itself! It is just data marketing that smart entrepreneurs have been using for decades. Today it is a new thing because there is more data.

Growth hacking is optimizing for really deep into the funnel. For e-commerce, it is not optimizing for the transaction but for who is behind the transaction. Is it a customer who will buy with you more often? Are they becoming loyal? Is it a client who will be with us in two years? It was hard to connect that data before.

For me, “growth hacking” is: do more of what works and stop doing what doesn’t work.

Moqod: What qualities should a person have to become a successful growth hacker?

Ewoud: Curiosity is a very important one. My job is asking the question: “Why?”. Very often it is about the obvious things that companies either know but don’t do or that they simply miss.

To start with growth hacking, you need to talk to customer support people or to your customers directly. A lot of entrepreneurs haven’t spoken to their customers in over a month. This is bad because then you start creating your own reality in the meeting room. Any sales model is just a simplification of the reality. The reality is how do people buy from you? What is the friction?

Remove the friction and keep in place what works. If you’ve been posting on LinkedIn and it works — put it in your calendar.

Moqod: What about startups? Where do you start when you have no data yet?

Ewoud: I would recommend talking to your customers or to the customers of other people.

For example, at the moment I am an advisor to a new company that is looking at the sales funnels of the SaaS businesses. There is no product or sales funnels yet.

We are doing interviews at the moment. I ask the “Why?” question. We start with asking who the customer is, what problem they have and how we can solve it. The product doesn’t really matter.

If you find the product market fit, you will speak to people because if the problem is large enough, people will want to talk about it. Even if you don’t have a solution but the problem is there, people will never say no when you want to talk about it.

I’ve been growth hacking for eight years, and I am still amazed by how much people will tell you.

It’s amazing, but You don’t need a product, data or customers. Call up people and talk about problems. Sometimes you need to speak to someone who has solved the problem and ask how they did it. You could use this information to build a product or a funnel.

Another way is to call up the customers of the competitors. You can always find them among the case studies on the competitor’s website. Call them up and tell them that you saw them on the website of the company and ask them to tell you about it. You can do it right away.

People are happy to talk about it as long as you are not selling anything. When there is no product, there is nothing to sell.

To sum up the answer, I close feedback loops. I get information and I use it somewhere else. This is the core of growth hacking. You can do it with numbers but talking to customers is way more powerful, even if there is nothing to sell yet.

Moqod: Do you know any mistakes people make when they start GH even if they are ready, and they accept the challenge?

Ewoud: The main challenge is scaling the business. The main mistake is that people start scaling their business when the product is not ready.

I wrote a guide on how to find a product market fit (in Dutch), which is a stage of growth hacking and this is the main “first” you have to figure out.

What problem are you solving and for who? The answer is usually very niche.

I cannot say that I do growth for every company. It is way too broad. What we do is “market automation for e-commerce brands”, which is a specific type of e-commerce business. Even “doing marketing for e-commerce” is too broad.

There are companies that specialize in doing Facebook dental ads in certain regions. The more specific you get, the better you solve the problem.

Moqod: Are there any specific mistakes in the way that people try to gather data? When we read about growth hacking, we know that during the interview you shouldn’t ask “Would you buy it if it existed?”. Still, I hear people ask all these questions at the end of the interview. Is it a problem for you?

Ewoud: Definitely. Should you ask people if they want to buy it? No. What people say and what they do are two different things. Especially if you know people you interview, they will give you the answer you want to hear. This is called “The Mom Test”. If you start a business and you go to your Mom and share your idea with her, no matter what the idea is, she will encourage you.

“Mom” is the archetype of friends and family. When you get an idea, make sure you are not in an echo chamber of people agreeing with you and saying it’s a great idea.

“Would buy” doesn’t work. We need certainty that a person will buy your product.

Moqod: You say that it is like marketing but more specific. Where do you see it going in the future?

Ewoud: For me the trend is that there is more data. Machines will be able to trace trends that we cannot. The Social Dilemma has just launched a documentary on Netflix about it. I realized how much I was in a bubble when I watched it because none of my friends knew that was possible. This is what growth hacking is – using data to optimize for a goal. You as a user is not always a goal.

Data will be bigger and machine learning will be a thing.

Secondly, because we have data, we will be able to personalize more. The ads will be highly targeted and everybody will be seeing different information. It will be like selling one-on-one.

Also, there will be more transparency. People will stop buying the tricks, such as: “Five more people are looking at this room right now” on Booking.com.

Moqod: Thank you so much for your answers and your insights! Thanks to you, we will keep the customer in mind, and we will always start by asking “Why?”.


Watch the full version of our conversation with Ewoud.

Even if “the customer is always right” statement can be arguable, what we can agree on is that he is definitely right when he is looking to solve a problem, and it would be very wrong of us to not keep him in mind when working on a new product. Now we know exactly how to proceed.

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