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AMAs

We're starting a series of AMAs with speakers from our Growth Hacking Conference in London centered around their presentations. First up we have Zack Onisko, currently the Chief Growth Officer at Creative Market (Autodesk) This AMA will be centered around his presentation: "Gaining Early Traction by Doing Things that Don’t Scale (Hustling)" Bio: Zack Onisko started his career over a decade ago at a startup called Tickle where he worked with growth pioneers James Currier, Stan Chudnovsky, Michael Birch and other really smart people growing one of the fastest growing sites of the early 2000's. At it's height, Tickle was a top 20 website in the world and had over 200mm registered users. The company was acquired for over $100mm. He then went on to start a company called BranchOut with Tickle co-founder Rick Marini. At BranchOut Zack formed a Growth Team and lead the company to convert over 25mm users in around 90 days. BranchOut raised $49 million from top Silicon Valley investors and was acquired by Hearst Corporation earlier this year. Zack is currently Head of Growth & Marketing at Creative Market (https://creativemarket.com), where he has helped lead 20% month over month revenue growth for the past 2 years. In February, Creative Market was acquired by Autodesk. Ten months post-acquisition Creative Market is still growing like a weed with no sign of slowing down anytime soon.  

  • MB

    Morgan Brown

    almost 5 years ago #

    Hey @zack415 thanks for jumping in and doing this with us. Can you talk a little bit about the concept of doing things that don't scale to get traction, but then building out systems to scale it when you find something that works?

    I thought your example of the free digital goods to encourage sign up, plus the system for designers to select goods to be free and go into that flow a really brilliant example of this idea.

    • ZO

      Zack Onisko

      almost 5 years ago #

      Sure. The "Hustle Stage" as I call it, the stage between product market fit and scalable growth is all about finding signals for which channel or tactic your particular company can double down on and take to the next level. During this middle stage it's important to quickly diversify your channels and ideas for reaching potential customers and get signals back in a short amount of time.

      Most companies find that they have one channel that will account for 90% of their growth. For Creative Market, at least during our first year, that channel was SEO (accelerated by content marketing and social).

      The Free Goods platform is an example of a signal that we saw pre-launch where people swarmed to site up for our site in order to download a small selection of free products. We put together those first Free Goods manually by reaching out to designers personally. After launch however, we built out a platform where Shops could submit their products to our queue of Free Goods in exchange for free promotion. Every week we send out our Free Goods email with a new selection of Free Goods and to this day it's one of our main retention mechanisms and help drive a substantial percentage of our revenue.

      • MB

        Morgan Brown

        almost 5 years ago #

        Thanks @zack415 for taking the time to do this and to share your experiences. Super valuable. Took a ton of notes then and going back through them to see where I can apply a bunch of this thinking.

  • TM

    Tom Masiero

    almost 5 years ago #

    Howdy @@zack415 .. big fans of you guys over here at BuySellAds.

    Could you flesh out a bit how paid acquisition as a channel can be valuable to site like Creative Market?

    • ZO

      Zack Onisko

      almost 5 years ago #

      Hey Tom – Sure thing. I've experimented with quite a bit of paid marketing channels. Most of them, especially display banners are expensive and really hard to see an ROI for Creative Market. We do very little with display ads these days, however we do run some on select networks of design related blogs and websites, but I chalk those campaigns up as brand awareness. We don't see a positive return on that spend.

      However, we have been able to successfully scale search ads. Every month we increase our search budget about 10-15%. We started very conservatively around $5k and I think we're spending around $75k a month now on AdWords and Bing and we're doing so profitability. We have also been able to buy sponsored blog posts on larger design blogs that have shown a great return.

      Andrew Chen wrote a great post on 5 ways to scale (http://andrewchen.co/theres-only-a-few-ways-to-scale-user-growth-and-heres-the-list/) and his definition for scaling paid marketing is spot on. Generally, every $1 you put in to PPC, you need to get $1 back... Then you can throw money at it all day long and scale the channel. More specifically though, you need to know the lifetime value of your customer and track each PPC channel as a separate cohort to see how much that segment spends. At the end of the day you want to buy a new user for about a third of that cohort's average lifetime customer value.

  • LS

    Logan Stoneman

    almost 5 years ago #

    @zack415 Thanks for joining us today!

    A lot of your growth strategies revolve around heavy interaction with potential customers in order to spur growth. With time being my startup's most valuable asset, my question for you is:

    When pursuing growth, is there such thing as a bad customer or user? And if yes, then how do you avoid wasting time on things that don't scale with those customers/users?

    • ZO

      Zack Onisko

      almost 5 years ago #

      Segment. As you diversify your marketing channels, you should be tracking everything and you should know how much a customer who came from AdWords is worth (or even a specific campaign in AdWords), from a customer who came in organically, from a customer who came from the conference that you sponsored, from the customer who came in through one of your blog post.

      A big part of finding your product market fit is discovering who your initial niche of customers are. You should start small with a very specific demographic (for us, freelance web and graphic designers) and then expand into other segments as you grow (for us, startups, marketers, crafters, scrapbookers, soccer dads and so on).

      Don't jump into the water and think that everyone on the Internet is a potential customer, especially with your paid marketing spend. Start small. Find out who loves your product and who doesn't. Then double down with the niche who loves you and crank growth!

  • DL

    Dylan La Com

    almost 5 years ago #

    Great to have you on @zack415! Really enjoyed your presentation at the GH conference.

    What are some things you've done internally at the companies you've worked at to create a culture focused on growth?

    • ZO

      Zack Onisko

      almost 5 years ago #

      Hey Dylan – In my experience, there's two sides of the table in product teams. There's the camp that are heavily focused on delivering the ultimate user experience and designing a beautiful interface and there are the growth minded folks who are motivated by building a big company. These two camps don't always have their incentives aligned, but both need each other for each camp to be successful. Usually when I hear the question about how to make a company more growth focused, it's because the company is widely thinking about building the interface and not thinking about the people who will be using it and how to get more of them. It's important to have a head of marketing or head of growth on the team who is passionate about taking the company to the next level. This person is responsible for communicating to the other team members the importance of growing the company. Often this is the CEO in the early days.

      In my experience, how I've helped shape a more growth focused culture at Creative Market and my past companies is that I make sure that I send out weekly emails to the entire company showing all our key performance indicators (KPIs) for the week, the week-over-week change and the trend over the past months. It's important to me to be completely transparent with the team and to report the good and the bad. When there's a dip, the numbers help institute a sense of urgency across the company. When we're growing, the team feels proud and wants to continue the pace.

      The other thing that is worth doing is to introduce an optimization ideas doc where anyone in the company can submit A/B test ideas that could move the needle. The growth team can then reference that list, set experiments live and report the finding back to the person who originated the idea. Getting the entire team fired up about getting constant feedback from users and constantly making iterative improvements to the product is the fastest way to build a growth culture internally IMO.

      PS. James Currier has talked a bit about growth culture. His talk at Le Web last year is worth watching. YouTube it. :)

  • AP

    Albert Palka

    almost 5 years ago #

    Hey @zack415 ! Thanks for doing the AMA.

    My question isn't directly connected with growth marketing techniques. How would you introduce growth hacking in a country that is not heavy on start ups and Internet business in general? In which market segments could GH be useful?

    • ZO

      Zack Onisko

      almost 5 years ago #

      Hey Albert – As a startup, you have a limited amount of time before you become profitable, run out of money or raise money to extend your runway. At the end of the day, growth hacking is about growing or dying. It's about prioritizing your opportunities and executing them in the shortest amount of time possible, looking back at your experiment, learning, rinse and repeat. I think the idea of growth hacking can be applied to any country, culture or business. If your country isn't hip to the concept yet, you should consider it a competitive advantage and you should start hustling today! :)

      • AP

        Albert Palka

        almost 5 years ago #

        Thanks! I guess I should, but first I need to switch from doing just marketing and PR to working with excel, analytics, paid ad campaigns and online marketing :)

        Cheers!

        • ZO

          Zack Onisko

          almost 5 years ago #

          The most fun part about running a startup is that you get to wear all the hats, at least for a short period. This gives you a better understanding of how all the gears work in the machine of your company. Plus, when it comes time to hire an expert to take one of those hats from you, you'll have something to talk shop about. :)

          • AP

            Albert Palka

            almost 5 years ago #

            Unfortunately, Poland has very few startups worth working for, but I constantly look for new opportunities and join great communities such as this one to learn from others and share experiences.

  • NK

    narek khach

    almost 5 years ago #

    Hey @zack415 thanks for jumping on here! I dig the conference deck on gaining early traction, I am at early stage right now with our product so this is super relevant to me.

    Two-part question: How did you go about tracking your progress and turning all this into process? And with that, how do you decide which efforts are most worthy?

    In an ideal world one can do all you prescribed with full force. But I'm doing full stack marketing and product myself, so I'm extra sensitive to prioritizing my time.

    Thanks!

    • ZO

      Zack Onisko

      almost 5 years ago #

      The most important thing to do is TRACK EVERYTHING! :)

      The second most important thing to do is PRIORITIZE!
      You could use Asana, a Google doc, a whiteboard or whatever, but list out all your growth ideas and stack rank them by estimated impact to the company and the time/effort to get it live (create assets, build feature, etc.). This is your roadmap, but it should be fluid and revisited daily or at least weekly to be reprioritized as new opportunities surface. Test fast. Fail fast. Double down on your wins.

  • CO

    Chris Out

    almost 5 years ago #

    Hey @zack415, I really loved you talk at the Growth Hacking Conference. It even was the inspiration for my personal theme of 2015: The year of hustling.

    My question to you: How would you balance the time between learning new things / inspiration / finding new growth hacks and hustling / execution?

    The reason for this question is that I tend to be pulled to the first category and would love to know how a professional like yourself is balancing his time.

  • ET

    Everette Taylor

    almost 5 years ago #

    Hey @zack415 - glad to have you.

    My question pertains to your 3 stages of startup growth, the first of which is Product Market fit. Recently Phil Libin has called product market fit "bullshit" concept.

    How do you combat a statement like that?

    • ZO

      Zack Onisko

      almost 5 years ago #

      I haven't read Phil Libin's argument for why product market fit is BS, but from my experience and observation, the #1 reason why 90% of startups fail is because they are building a product, company or service that people don't want. Without product market fit, without creating something that people want, need, love... You will fail. You can throw all the growth hacks in the world at it, you may see some short term growth, but in the end, you will fail.

  • SE

    Sean Ellis

    almost 5 years ago #

    Really appreciate the AMA @zack415 ! It seems most of your experience is with network effect businesses that require some kind of critical mass to deliver value. How important is hustle in a network effect business even getting product market fit?

  • DB

    Drake Ballew

    almost 5 years ago #

    Hi Zack,

    When you worked with Tickle, why didn't you build this?

    http://www.usetickle.com/

    That's all I want to know.

  • DL

    Dylan La Com

    almost 5 years ago #

    @zack415 do you have a general rule of thumb for the amount of time you spend coming up with and implementing new growth ideas vs scaling channels that you've already proven to be effective?

    • ZO

      Zack Onisko

      almost 5 years ago #

      If you are scaling on a certain channel, truly scaling, it's time to focus your energy there. I'd say it's an 80/20 rule or something like that.

  • ZT

    Zetong Teoh

    almost 5 years ago #

    Thanks for doing the ama, @zack415.

    Your background with growth and hustling is amazing. Everyone seems to be very data-centric these days to make their decisions.

    Going forward, do you think a growth hacker would need some sort of technical skills?

    • ZO

      Zack Onisko

      almost 5 years ago #

      Yep. I think what separates a Growth role from a traditional online marketing role are additional needed skill sets. I think that you need to have a core online marketing skill set to be a great startup growth expert (See Brian Balfour's T-Shaped Marketer post: http://www.coelevate.com/essays/customer-acquisition), but beyond having a strong understanding of conversion optimization, email marketing, content marketing, viral marketing, SEO, etc., you also need to be well versed in analytics, UI/UX design, user psychology, a strong understand of front-end coding (HTML, CSS, Javascript, Jquery), MySQL query skills, business development skills, sales skills, etc. You don't have to learn all these things at once, but with every new project, look to take on a task that will earn you a new skill set once you're through the other side. Good luck!

      • ZT

        Zetong Teoh

        almost 5 years ago #

        @zack415, appreciate your reply! I'm doing a digital marketing stint and it constantly bothers me what my skill set should be. Your long list of suggestions and T-shaped Marketer structure totally nailed it, hah, long way for me to go! Thanks!

  • T@

    The Apps You Want @appsuwant

    almost 5 years ago #

    Hi, @zack415!

    Growth *is* a part of my day job but I want to ask what growth tactics you would apply to building an audience when you *aren't* trying to sell a product. Specifically, this novelty Twitter account I've created to post (mostly) parodic ideas for smartphone apps. [Side note: Thanks for following, btw.] It's simply a creative outlet but also a social media experiment, of sorts.

    What are some advantages you see from there not being a sales pitch involved and what tactics would you use to leverage that position? Any disadvantages?

    Thank you in advance for your insight and I hope this is an interesting question for you.

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