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Ben McRedmond and Stephen O'Brien discuss the problems with “hacking” versus thoughtful team design, strategy, and tactics. Using examples from their work at Intercom, the two offer insights into what it takes to build a great Growth team.

  • SE

    Sean Ellis

    about 4 years ago #

    The initial premise of this presentation is wrong. In it they say that growth hacking lacks a process. Only a minute before saying this they quoted a line from the post where I coined the phrase growth hacking in 2010 (http://www.startup-marketing.com/where-are-all-the-growth-hackers/). The post clearly says "An effective growth hacker also needs to be disciplined to follow a growth hacking process of prioritizing ideas (their own and others in the company), testing the ideas, and being analytical enough to know which tested growth drivers to keep and which ones to cut. The faster this process can be repeated, the more likely they’ll find scalable, repeatable ways to grow the business."

    They also shared my quote: "a growth hacker is someone whose true north is growth." Then they condescendingly say "we don't really know what they means." But the next sentence in the article is "Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential impact on scalable growth."

    Finally they laugh at the GrowthHackers.com community saying that everyone implements referral programs because it was effective for Dropbox. Most of the community members I know realize that ideas shouldn't be blindly implemented but rather they should be tested. And a referral program is something that makes sense for a lot of different businesses to test.

    I'm excited for the team at Intercom.io for their growth and success to date. Fortunately most of the team hasn't let the early success go to their heads. I spent some time with founder Des Traynor last week at Startup Festival and think he is a genuinely smart, down-to-earth guy (and took a ton of notes during his presentation). Growth is often a function of a great product in a great market. This is potentially the case with Intercom, since most of the growth team lacks a track record of success with growth at other companies. Maybe they are the reason for growth or maybe they are just along for the ride...

    I get it that some people don't like the term growth hacking. And I agree that a lot of clueless people have self identified as growth hackers and contribute to the misperceptions of the term. But if someone is going to quote my original article on growth hacking, then they should base it on the whole article and not just take quotes out of context. My article says it's a process and that it should be done after product market fit. I recommend everyone look at this post by @samuelhulick https://growthhackers.com/if-by-growth-hacking/ . The growth process at Intercom sounds very similar to the process I use - regardless of what they call it. The only real difference I saw was that they emphasize strategy over speed of learning.

    One last note... Growth is a humbling endeavor. In my 20 year career I have been humbled many times by failed tests but each has been an important learning experience. Despite being the first or second marketer at 5 companies that have reached billion dollar+ valuations, I still feel more humble than many of the growth hacking term bashers. Important for all of us to remember to not let success go to our heads.

    • JB

      Joseph Bentzel

      about 4 years ago #

      I'm really not surprised to see this kind of thing anymore. And it's definitely not a very substantive or constructive critique given its reliance on 'straw man' arguments and mischaracterization of Mr. Ellis---as well as the kinds of conversations occurring in the GH community.

      Let me come at this thing from a slightly different perspective, i.e. that it's not about growthhacking per se---that it's the kind of marcom or 'thought leadership' thing that a company like Intercom---a martech tool company---thinks it ought to do to associate their product with the word 'growth'.

      After all, many leaders in the growthhacking movement are associated with, and/or lead, martech tools companies. So it's just them throwing a conceptual sucker punch in public and then they get publicity for their product as a byproduct. So that's par for the course. It's like for years Benioff had the NO SOFTWARE thing as his logo--even thought SaaS actually IS software.

      And let's not forget the Intercom vision is itself highly disruptive to and competitive with many other categories of both marketing and support---and I would add---customer success software products. I quote from the video transcript.

      "What is Intercom? It is a single communications platform for the entire company to talk to its customers. I guess this is in contrast to more traditionally having five or six tools that the company use to talk to people. Maybe one for support, maybe one for marketing automation. Intercom says that that's actually one problem, and you should use one tool for all that."

      So they want to disrupt and or displace the other "five or six tools" used for customer communications vs integrate them or enhance them in some way. Classic disruptor value prop vs what I call an "asymmetric marketer" who market hacks incumbent installed base customers and drives growth via integrations and partnering.

      Personally, I wouldn't lose any sleep over this particular critique of growthhacking. There will be fair, objective and constructive future deep dives into the GH mantra. But this isn't it.

      And if I was running marketing at any marcom tools company that competes with Intercom, I'd pay attention to this shot across the bow of just who is trying to own the 'religion of growth' and why.

    • BM

      Ben McRedmond

      about 4 years ago #

      Hey Sean,

      I want to be clear, we’re disagreeing with and positioning ourselves against the idea and term, this was not intended as a personal attack in anyway. Sorry.

      I believe that differing opinions, values and the conflict that can create is where the best ideas come from. It’s how we move forward. I’m genuinely grateful for your thought leadership in this area; while you may disagree with our position and thoughts - they might not exist without the work you’ve done. So, thank you. (I’m serious)

      I don’t want to initiate an internet comments flamewar… but I’d love to chat through our positions at some point. Maybe we should set something up. :-)

      • SE

        Sean Ellis

        about 4 years ago #

        I appreciate the response Ben. As I wrote below, I think the primary angle of your presentation was to leverage a click baity title as a hook. This is often an effective tactic, so I don't mind that. But you guys made it personal in a couple of places and included a lot of misinformation about my perception of growth hacking that are clearly disputed in the article you quoted. At min 3:26 you quoted me out of context and then both laughed. You were disrespectful to both me and the GH community. Thank you for apologizing to me. I agree with @platformula1 that hopefully you'll apologize to the GH community. Nobody deserves disrespect, so I tried to be respectful in my response (it wasn't easy).

        I'm all for differing opinions, but most of the things you said about your approach I actually agree with. The problem was that you attributed a misleading definition of growth hacking to me and then poked holes in it. That's not differing opinions, it's misinformation and makes me look like an idiot. I ignored your anti growth hacking post last year ( https://growthhackers.com/its-time-to-rethink-growth-hacking/#comments ) because it didn't feel as personal. This was a lot harder to ignore.

        I would love to sit down with you sometime in SF (I'm there next Thursday). I think you'll find that we actually agree on most things. I have no problem with people not liking the term growth hacking - in fact I like that they don't like it. But it's the concepts behind it that I think we'll largely agree on. And areas where we don't agree will likely be a rewarding conversation for me because I'll probably learn something.

      • JB

        Joseph Bentzel

        about 4 years ago #

        Not just about Sean Ellis at personal level or creative conflict in abstract as a driver of 'the best ideas'.

        You guys disrespected THE GH COMMUNITY as well. As if the whole tribe here is running some Dropbox growth hack from yesteryear. Gimme a break!

        That's really where the "Sorry" needs to land. To the community. My 2 cents.

  • SE

    Sean Ellis

    about 4 years ago #

    Please vote this post up so we can correct some of the misperceptions about growth hacking.

  • MB

    Morgan Brown

    about 4 years ago #

    I'll simply add this: hubris is the enemy of growth.

  • AR

    Alain Readman Vali..

    about 4 years ago #

    Last week at startup festival the 2 best and most actionable talks were growth hacking by @sean and product strategy by @destraynor. I think both talks were in many ways similar: in process and in what seems to animate the thinking behind the process.

    To come to this video today seems very out of style compared to all communications written by intercom through Des. The tone is highly different, the topic is a bit far from the usual content and the approach is way off.

    I guess I just sincerely hope that this talk is not a reflection of what is to come from intercom in the future that would keep me at bay..

  • RS

    Rob Sobers

    about 4 years ago #

    Disclaimer: I haven't watched the whole video yet.

    BUT, having lived inside marketing teams that practice a growth hacking discipline (or whatever the hell you want to call it) and undisciplined non-experiment-driven marketing teams, I can say with absolute certainty that growth hacking is not BS. If you want to believe that it is BS, that's fine, but you're at a severe disadvantage.

  • ET

    Everette Taylor

    about 4 years ago #

    You can celebrate your accomplishments and growth wins without putting others down. @sean & @platformula1 summed up a lot of my thoughts. the whole tone of the talk was blatantly disrespectful.

    I think it could have been an awesome presentation without all that. The biggest problem is that you guys push your own cynical definition of what you think "growth hacking" is and that's completely ignorant to me and unfair to all the growth marketers who do things the right way.

    A lot of the advice that you give is actually things that @sean and other growth thought leaders preach all the time. Much respect to intercom and the success you guys have had but respect was lost.

  • AS

    Adam Szabo

    about 4 years ago #

    Well, the whole presentation was boring (both the presenting style & the message), so I guess they just added this "growth hacking is BS" title so they get some views.

    The Dropbox example was very disrespectful. All quality articles I read on GH mentioned that there is no silver bullet for growth, you should test everything.

    BTW I learned so much from Sean, Morgan & the GH community, I don't care how they call their knowledge, it's amazing stuff anyways.

    • AS

      Adam Szabo

      about 4 years ago #

      P.S.: I got 50% off for Intercom by attending the Growth Hacking & Full Stack Marketing Workshop with the code IntercomLovesGrowthHacker**** (not displaying the last characters)

      Epic fail :)

  • JR

    James Ross Treacher

    about 4 years ago #

    Shame these guys didn't do more research on our community before knocking it. Most good growth marketers take a systematic approach, and our community clearly champions this: @bbalfour and @sean's process based content is often the most upvoted and discussed on the site.

    I'm annoyed that these guys didn't get that, I think the growth has gone to their heads!

  • TM

    Ty Magnin

    about 4 years ago #

    That's a bummer. Seems like they really don't get it.

    • SE

      Sean Ellis

      about 4 years ago #

      I personally think it's more of an attention ploy than not getting it. The early content of the preso needs to support their attention grabbing (click baity) presentation title. But the only way to do this is to ignore the 95% of my post that goes against their characterization of growth hacking. Unfortunately this perpetuates the misconceptions of the term. No problem if they want to call it something else. But they shouldn't redefine it just so they can poke holes in it.

      • KF

        Kieran Flanagan

        about 4 years ago #

        This is exactly what I thought about 10 mins into the presentation. I feel like they came up with the presentation title and then had to try make it stick in the introduction but did a really poor job of that. Once they moved past trying to make the title stick, the presentation had a lot of solid information around their growth tactics.

        I'm sure they'll learn from it. It's ok to pick a fight with any topic, I'm pretty sure most of us enjoy a healthy debate on any topic.

        • SE

          Sean Ellis

          about 4 years ago #

          Agree @kflanagan that debate is healthy and can even be fun. We're meeting for lunch this week, so hopefully this will give us a chance to understand each other's approach better. As I wrote above, most of what I heard them say about their approach in the video was very similar to how I approach growth.

      • JV

        Jacob Voncannon

        about 4 years ago #

        I Think one of the issues are the people outside of the community that hear the word "hack" and don't understand the strategy and methodology aspect of what growth teams do. I often have senior members of our team say, what aren't we using any "growth hacks" without realizing that with much of the testing and new programs we do align with Sean's vision. The word "hack" causes the issue and perpetuates a stereotype that many people outside of the community don't understand. I try to not use the word growth hacker at our company because it connotes that it is a quick fix to any problem.

  • AM

    Alex McClafferty

    about 4 years ago #

    Both the delivery and argument behind this presentation need work. @sean & @benmcredmond - any chance of an AMA to both 1) add some gravitas / depth to this position and 2) add some value to this community (which we're all proud to be a part of?)

    • SE

      Sean Ellis

      about 4 years ago #

      We had lunch yesterday. I think a debate would probably be pretty boring as it seemed we agreed on most stuff. But it might be fun to have a general conversation about growth on a Google Hangout and broadcast it. @benmcredmond has some interesting perspectives on a few things that would be fun to discuss.

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