This column is authored by Arash Asli, CEO of Yocale.com
Of all possible hacks, growth hacks reign supreme. Facebook, Uber and AirBnB are just a few of the top companies that were built by growth hacks.
Some of the top Saas Companies were, too.
Growth hacking is all about getting as many users as possible by spending as little money as possible and doing so in a way that continues to grow your business over time. Again, they key is to do so without needing to spend much of anything.
Growth hackers trade away traditional advertising in favour of more innovative (and cheap, self-perpetuating) “hacks.” Growth hacking was once considered a buzzword, but it is clearly here to stay.
While you have to shell out for the execution, growth hacking is like a gift that keeps on giving.
Top SaaS companies used these growth hacks to get them to where they are today.
Slack, the workplace messaging app, has earned the title of being the fastest SaaS business ever. As such they deserve a spot at the top of this list.
From its launch in February of 2012, Slack had thirty-threefold growth in a single year, up to 500,000 daily active users and getting tens of thousands of new users on board every week. It’s currently valued at over 3 billion.
Consider, too, that users are using the app more than 2 hours a day. In other words, that’s nothing short of an incredible engagement. All of this has managed to get Slack a lot of attention from investors. Naturally, it begs the question, how did they do it?
Slack did a few things very early on that provided them with a strong foundation, helping them experience this unprecedented level of growth.
First, you have to take a look at the market. Slack is an interesting one because they had a handful of competitors (Skype, for example) and yet had to simultaneously create and/or define the very market. That was because the market was poorly defined.
By “poorly defined,” we mean that offices and other workplaces were certainly using an assortment of tools to communicate, whether Google Hangouts or Skype Chat, etc, but didn’t realize their need for them.
Slack had to create the need. But, there’s more.
It wasn’t about selling an office messaging app because, as founder Stewart Butterfield pointed out on Medium, they wouldn’t have been able to do it – there wasn’t a demand for it.
Instead, Butterfield said it was about “sell[ing] the innovation, not the product,” which, for all intents and purposes, is not actually a new concept.
What they were specifically selling, according to Butterfield, was “organizational transformation.”
In other words, they weren’t selling an office messaging app, they were selling “making decisions, faster” and “75% less email” and, ultimately, in the grand scheme of things, productivity and stress relief.
More than half of Slack users didn’t even think they needed Slack or any other type of office messaging app in their lives.
Beyond creating the market and selling the innovation, what also made Slack so successful is the fact that it created a useful, high-quality product.
Slack checked all the boxes in terms of ease of use, compatibility with other platforms, reliability and, above all, focusing on its core features and doing those things really well, to near perfection.
For Slack, those three things were search (finding things easily when they were needed), synchronization – users could pick up the app wherever they were, regardless of the device being used – and lastly, quick and easy file-sharing.
As for marketing, Slack used Twitter and word-of-mouth to also hack their growth. Slack’s reliance on the freemium model also can’t be ignored. The freemium model is a classic growth hack.
In this model, users sign up for the service for free; if they want access to more features or more storage, they pay for those services.
Put all of these growth hacks together and you get nothing short of accelerated growth. Slack makes it look easy.
Take a look at few of Intercom’s impressive numbers: 17,000+ paying customers, an annual recurring revenue of over 50 million and investors like Mark Zuckerberg.
They have had faster growth than Shopify, HubSpot and many other big wig Saas companies. Slack is the only company to outdo them.
If you’re not familiar with Intercom, although you probably should be, Intercom is a customer messaging app.
Just like Dropbox, as you will see (spoiler alert), they managed to hack their growth without spending nearly anything on advertising and marketing. But, how? We will get to it.
OkDork has broken a lot of this down, but a key takeaway that allowed Intercom to have such accelerated growth is through SEO and, in particular, examining its referrals. Remember, there are many tools in the growth hacker’s toolbox and SEO is just one of them.
Essentially, they have a “powered by” statement on those referral sites. In this case, they power the chat service these referral sites use.
Once that chat pops up, users can click the “Powered By” text to go to a landing page for Intercom. They combine this with dynamic keyword insertion in the headline on the personalized landing page for those very referral visitors.
This way, they use their top referral sites to attract more attention to themselves, and once people click and end up on their landing page, those visitors are greeted with dynamic keywords to increase the likelihood of further engagement.
Dropbox is now worth over 10 billion dollars as a company, which they did with very little advertising. When it comes to growth hacks, Dropbox is definitely a company with more than a few tricks up its sleeve.
Dropbox actually took a traditional marketing approach – get your customers to market for you through their referral program – and then took it up a level as growth hackers do.
The basis of their referral program was that when you referred a friend, you got to increase your own storage – in short, they incentivized their referrals.
They increased their rewards as you referred more people, and also threw in more space for the referee than if that person had signed up on their own. Next, they put their “Refer a Friend” message everywhere they possibly could.
The reason why referrals are so effective is that friends and family are ultimately much more trustworthy than traditional advertisers.
In fact, their referrals increased their signups by as much as 60 percent. As you will see, Dropbox is all about rewards and incentivizing. They also do this via social media.
For every follow on Twitter or if you connect your Dropbox account with Facebook or Twitter, you can increase your storage space by 125 MB. Users get more storage space and Dropbox gets more advertising.
Just as Dropbox is all about incentivizing, they are also all about free exposure, as you can see. Dropbox makes it easy for users to share photos with family and friends by simply copying and pasting a link. As such, they get a lot of exposure by making file sharing simple.
But, they don’t stop there. When non-users see these photos, they are also met with a little message that emphasizes Dropbox’s ease of use. It also has a call to action.
Keep in mind, too, Dropbox also capitalized on its competitors’ websites that are overrun by ads, while being cluttered and difficult to use. Dropbox solved each and every one of these problems and outsmarted its competitors.
Dropbox’s “Dropquest” – a contest that sent users on a scavenger hunt with the top winners getting free storage and other swag – also generated a lot of buzz and publicity. This was not only a win for current users (more storage) but also gave Dropbox a lot of publicity.
Lastly, Dropbox also simplified their homepage, making it very sign-up heavy. It has remained that way since the beginning. They combined their sign-home page with an easy sign-up form, which users can even do on their desktop. They followed this up with a little nudge as to how to get started.
Dropbox is clearly a pro at growth hacks, with rewards and incentivizing being at the core. Throw in outsmarting your competitors and having a sign-up heavy home page and call it a day.
Evernote, the note-taker, organizer and “second brain,” has had a bumpy ride – at least in the beginning.
An investor backed out at the last minute and left Evernote with three weeks of money in order to keep operations going. That was until a single individual claimed Evernote changed his life so much that he invested half a million dollars.
Despite nearly running out of money and closing down, Evernote currently has 75 million users and 1 billion dollar valuation, getting each additional million users in almost half the time as the first.
The foundation of Evernote’s growth, above all, is simply a great product, with Evernote’s “Remember Anything and Everything” being at the heart of the experience.
Evernote serves as the user’s “second brain,” and in many ways, this echoes Slack’s innovativeness, selling something beyond itself. That is, Evernote isn’t just a note-taker or an organizer – it is your lifeblood.
A great user experience has also been Evernote’s mission from the beginning. Specifically Evernote set the bar high by creating native apps for every single platform.
They used closed beta to generate buzz, even though according to founder Phil Libin, they had never intended it as that. By the end of the beta, they had over 125,000 users. A lot of it was word-of-mouth.
Evernote also hacked their growth by using the classic SaaS growth hacking method just like Slack did through the freemium software model.
When you offer a product for free, initially you can get a lot of users, attention and, of course, people who will actually pay for your product. That’s because the value increases as you use it – at least in the case of Evernote, where it becomes part of your life.
Game apps, for example, don’t always experience as much success with the model because games only provide brief value before people get tired of them.
While the path to success wasn’t as smooth for Evernote as it was for Slack, they pulled through. These growth hacks continue to drive growth for Evernote today – the features, the word of mouth and the freemium model.
Bizible offers a B2B marketing attribution and revenue planning software. They used some of the following growth hacks to raise 8 million dollars in funding. The first growth hack they used was a proactive live chat. It asks the visitor a specific question after a given period of user inactivity.
However, not all prompts are created equal. Bizible used a prompt that communicated its value in combination with a plan for capturing emails. Bizible went with “In case we get disconnected, can I have your email address?” The method results in 25% of Bizible monthly revenue, making it their second top sales channel.
Bizible also has success with warming leads before emailing them. They broke down their prospects into two categories: high-value prospects and general. For high-value prospects, they targeted companies and job titles on LinkedIn. They created custom audience lists on Facebook for their general prospects.
Bizible also sent out request a demo emails to their leads, experimenting with different strategies. Although they were reluctant to send out an email offering an incentive (in this case a $25 gift card), this email generated the most success. Larger B2B SaaS use these incentive emails as well.
Lastly, Bizible created a free tool that aligned with their paid product, getting customers’ feedback on what tool they wanted most via Bing Ads Feedback. They created it, marketed it and the whole thing ultimately resulted in tens of thousands in new annual contract value.
Bizible is quick to note, however, that they couldn’t have just created the free tool and called it a day. Marketing on Bing Ads was a huge part of their success.
The Bottom Line
The freemium model is a classic growth hack that has worked for most of these companies. But most of these companies also had a quality product to provide a strong foundation.
What growth hacks is your company using? Let us know in the comments below – we’d love to hear from you.