One of the biggest challenges of an unproven, early-stage business is its ability to attract users to its platform or product. The success of Airbnb, Facebook, Dropbox, Twilio, etc. has brought the concept of "Growth Hacking". In short, to growth hack is to employ low-cost, highly scalable, and innovative methods to build a brand and supercharge growth. This is in line with "lean" methodology that is applied to the other aspects of startup development.
You’ve definitely heard growth hacking techniques employed by some of the companies that blew up over the past few years. Airbnb engineered a "post to Craigslist" workaround without using any Craiglist API. This allowed them to leverage a big platform to grow their own. When Hotmail got up and running, they included a "Get your free e-mail at Hotmail" tag at the bottom of every message sent using their service. This method proved to be extremely viral and within 1.5 years, they had 12 million users. There are many other growth anecdotes that you can read about on the internet, stories that make you go "oh, that’s very clever".
But a common misconception about successful tech startups is that the user base grows from 1 to 1 million overnight. This is a façade fueled by all the attention and press given to the Airbnbs of the world after they have blown up. Here at Lob, we focus on small daily attainable user targets instead of trying to get thousands at once. We do this by focusing on the basics. Outlined here are a few of the ways we have been thinking about attracting users to use Lob.
Developer Community Engagement - Lob is an API company, so we love to communicate with developers by answering questions, bouncing ideas, and discussing all things tech. We are always actively posting relevant content on sites such as Reddit, Hacker News, Quora, and other forums. The goal here is to reach and engage as many developers as we can so we know what they want and how they want it. We learn a lot from doing this and can apply a lot of that to how we build our product suite. By putting ourselves out there on these communities, there is a chance that our name reaches the right developer that happens to need what we are providing.
Conferences and Events - Hackathons are awesome. Where else would you be able to find 1,000 developers all hanging out in one place during one weekend? We love getting involved with as many hackathons as we can. The fun and exciting products built in such a small time frame consistently amaze us. It really speaks to the level of talent and innovation that is out there. By attending these events, we can meet developers, provide mentorship, and also evangelize our API. Our goal isn't for all the developers to somehow use Lob over that weekend, but we do want them to think of us when they run into problems at their next job or venture.
Blogging - When we get excited about our work, our accomplishments, or really anything, we like to share it with the world. If we do something well, we want to be able to help others who are facing similar challenges. When we screw up, we like to own up to our mistakes so that we can learn from them. The goal is to open dialogue about our journey with Lob. Our vision is to work with as many developers as we can, so we want to build a developer friendly brand.
Social Media - Engage with people on Twitter and FB. People follow you for a reason. Give them something to read about and when they initiate a dialogue – respond. Promote other companies and events. Retweet interesting and relevant stories. Build a robust social web that you can use for communication.
These are just a few things that virtually every startup can start focusing on today to help gain traction. The little things add up. Aim for 3 users a day then, 4, 5, etc. We believe that if we stay focused on doing these things well, we will get to where we want to be down the line.
Moving Forward & Getting Creative
One thing to note about our efforts is that many, many things have failed – and we learn from them. On Father’s Day, we allowed people to send a free Father’s Day postcard via our API. It seemed like a great idea at first, but we soon realized is that this was not what our users wanted. It bombed and nobody used it.
We learn from our mistakes, but we are not afraid to keep trying new things. Some will fail, but we never stop believing we'll knock it out of the park our next time up. We are working on some interesting things on our side. Whether they succeed or fail, we will keep you posted so stay tuned.
Hopefully we can show you a nice growth curve when this is all said and done. The key here is to understand your users – Who are they? What are their likes/dislikes? Where do they hang out?
Once you get into their mind, find a way to reach out to them and make a meaningful connection.