There are no silver bullets - don’t quit firing the lead ones!
I love LinkedIn, but sometimes I find its constant flow of advice pieces and blogs that talk about ingenious ‘growth hacks’ slightly tiresome. Like many others I’m sure, the suggestion that there’s some magic alternative to the day-to-day hustle and grit it takes to build a business from the ground up makes me feel uncomfortable. Occasionally I find myself muttering at my screen “but there’s so much more to successfully growing a business than that!”.
As Ben Horowitz eloquently put it in his book The Hard Thing About Hard Things - “there are no silver bullets, only lead ones”. This message is borne out by the stories of some of the world’s most successful businesspeople.
I’m a big fan of the fascinating How I Built This podcast series, in which the founders of some of the best known brands in the world tell presenter Guy Raz how they came to found and scale their companies. The routes taken are pretty much unique to each individual but there are some common themes. Most attribute their success to a combination of hard work and luck, and to my knowledge not a single one has mentioned growth hacking.
“The audacious growth hacking approach implemented by Airbnb was directly responsible for its success. Airbnb utilized Craigslist customer base as a springboard to success through a converse engineering combination that merged the customer base and creating [sic] an exponential online growth with Airbnb becoming a leading brand when it comes to house listings.”
To me, it pretty much implies that Airbnb recognised that there was significant overlap between users of the more established Craigslist platform and their own target customer base. On this basis you can understand how leveraging information on Craigslist could be of significant benefit to Airbnb in its early stages.
What the blog doesn’t say is:
How many different ideas or approaches were tried before someone hit on this idea
Whether it was technically difficult to get usable data once they decided to try it
That for the hack to be successful, Airbnb had to have a better product than Craigslist to convert new leads and then keep them on the platform
You see where I’m going with this, but I’ve saved the best point for the end. On How I Built This, Joe tells a great story about a time early on in the development of Airbnb when they realised that many of their New York hosts were underselling their properties with poor photography. So the team flew there for a weekend, knocked on their doors and took better photos for free. Then they stayed a while to chat with their hosts and got lots of useful product feedback to boot.
To me, that’s a much better example to set to new and aspiring entrepreneurs about what it takes to turn your dream into reality.
Understand that you will most often feel stuck in the mud, spinning your wheels, with no obvious firm ground in sight. Don’t lose faith. Stick with it. And eventually, when you finally do find an “engine of growth”,hit the gas.
And when you’re a gazzilionaire, looking back and posting advice to LinkedIn, please, for my sake - make sure you tell us about the first bit of the journey. Not just the ‘growth hacks’ that helped you down the home straight ;)
What’s the best business advice you’ve received?