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Growth Hackers

William Griggs is marketing communications manager at Mass Relevance and host of The Startup Slingshot podcast.

The second annual Growth Hacker Conference in San Francisco, run by Gagan Biyani and Erin Turner, features some of the smartest growth hackers from the world’s biggest tech companies, such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube. Collectively, the products they’ve worked on have acquired billions of users/customers and created loads of value for customers and investors alike. The conference happened last week, and videos of speakers should be available on Udemy in the near future, but I wanted to share what I leaned in the meantime. (And if you attended, I encourage you to share what you learned in the comments at the bottom of the post.)

Below are six key lessons I took away from the conference:

1) Order of operations is paramount

As in math, order of operations is important in growing your company and acquiring customers. Executing tactics, programs, and campaigns in the wrong order or with the wrong goal can be disastrous. In his keynote, Khosla Ventures investor Keith Rabois shared the optimal order for growing a tech startup he learned during stints at Square, Slide, and Linkedin. Here’s the order of operations:

  1. Develop a product
  2. Iterate & establish your product’s value
  3. Grow your customer base
  4. Experiment with growth hacking

2) The path to growth follows a process

In order to follow the plan Keith laid out in his keynote, you will need a better understanding of what growth looks and how to achieve it. In his talk, Sean Ellis, CEO of Qualaroo shared the phases of growth that he learned while working with Dropbox, Eventbright, Xobni, and LogMeIn helping to grow their customer base. Also, check out this blog post for more info. But just to break it down, here’s the path to growth:

  1. Product/Market Fit
  2. Transition To Growth
  3. Growth

3) Sustainable company value only comes from real user-engagement

When most people think of growth hacks they think of short-term tactics that drive large spikes in key metrics like usage or customers. While these short-term tactics help drive startups, Greg Tseng, CEO of Tagged explained that sustainable company value is all about real user engagement. In short, focus on tactics that increase real user-engagement, not vanity metrics.

4) You can validate your product in under 48 hours

Noah Kagan of AppSumo challenged the audience to figure out ways to validate businesses like Square and AirBnB in under 48 hours. After a lively conversation with seat neighbors, audience members shared ways they could validate each business, proving it could be done without any coding, design, and in most cases money. He followed this challenge by urging the audience to see if they could make their first dollar with the business idea they’ve been noodling on. Also, Kagan put together this handy resource outlining this topic that’s worth checking out.

5) Inception is not just a movie, it’s a growth hacking strategy

Josh Elman, Principal at Greylock, knows growth and shared his learnings from his time at Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter with the audience by outlining a three step framework (Purpose, Inception, Adoption) for growing a startup’s customer base. While Purpose is fairly straight forward, Josh spent a good bit of time elaborating on the concept of Inception. This step covers how you make people aware of your product and the problem it solves. In his talk, Josh emphasized you need to train people to get the most out of your solution by spreading the right messages via your product (think how you can optimize your signup flow) and external communication like press (what story you are telling).

6) There are 3 ways to optimize for growth

Many marketers find it easy to get bogged down in how and where to optimize your product. To make it easy, Elliot Shmukler of WealthFront revealed three ways you optimize your product. Opportunities to optimize include:

  1. Reduce Friction — Make stuff easier to do
  2. Increase Incentives — Sprinkle in social proof and do a better job at communicating your products value
  3. Increase Exposure — Ask people to high value tasks in your product more often, more prominently, or in more places


Overall, I enjoyed the conference and I appreciate all the work that went into this event by both the speakers and the conference organizers. Their hard work paid off.

Top photo credit: Jim Scheinman/Twitter

William Griggs headshotWilliam Griggs is obsessed with helping startups acquire customers. Currently, he is spends his time helping Mass Relevance (Austin, Texas) scale their marketing operations and acquire customers. In addition to his work helping startups, William writes about his experience for publications like VentureBeat, Mashable, ReadWrite, and Under30CEO. He also hosts The Startup Slingshot, a podcast that delivers actionable advice to startup founders.

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