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Ask GH: How did growthhackers.com get their first 500 users?
Short Answer: Sean Ellis
We were lucky to have someone like @Sean who had already built a great reputation within the industry through his earlier work at Dropbox, Eventbrite, LogMeIn and others + his own blog (http://www.startup-marketing.com) in which he had amassed a nice following. This allowed him to build a pretty solid amount of followers on social media platforms like Twitter.
We reached 500 users just from Sean publicizing the website on Twitter and word of mouth. It took us 18 days to reach 500 active users on the site. But those who were there from the beginning know that we did a pretty soft launch of the site originally.
What's a startup to do if they don't have Sean at the helm?
I have an answer that might seem silly but I strongly believe in it: if you don't have a Sean Ellis, you build one.
The founders of Quora were early Facebook employees, which gave them experience, high status friends, etc. Xianhang Zhang wrote about this beautifully with an essay titled 'Disregard Ideas, Acquire Assets'.
That's a great essay. This quote kinda stopped me dead in my tracks: "I'd like for people to focus first on making real contributions to the world before feeling like the world owes them a startup success."
What also helped was our case studies. We spent a lot of time writing and distributing these and they drove a lot of traffic from social media and other sites.
By the 18th, we had published 2 case studies, @everette wrote one on Square, and @sean on Belly. We kept up a good cadence on these for the first few months and had a few that even made the HN homepage.
Speaking of content, efforts made by our team along with early adopters like @anujadhiya @nichole @lincolnmurphy @conrey @caseya and others in the beginning to submit high quality content went a longggg way.
Thanks for the shoutout @everette.
To your point, having @sean was clearly an "unfair advantage".
That is why to me, the more interesting question is - what did GH do to retain it's users?
The work the GH team put in to make this space valuable enough to the point where it became a habit for many, is a case study in it's own right for others thinking of building their own communities.
I agree that the "habit" part is extremely important for a community. I think the potential for a community to become a habit is largely based on the need it is fulfilling. A large part of our premise for launching GH was that growth hackers and marketers need daily inspiration in their jobs (we needed it anyway).
I learned the lesson of the importance of habits the painful way when my team launched CatchFree in 2011. We were able to attract lots of visitors, but repeat visit rates averaged two months. This meant that most people never came back because they forgot about the site. When people were on the site they said they loved it. But the need we were fulfilling (find free apps for specific needs) only occurred a few times per year.
Agree, the growth studies were part of our plan from day one to help us get traction. And they have proven to be really important.
Haven't had to worry about that problem for a while now @hannahkalvarez =)
Interesting. Diving deeper, what types of communication would @sean and the early team employ? Passive "oh btw, I have this over here" or more aggressive "hey @friend, I think you will really like this."
Was twitter the preferred medium for invitation? Were any emails sent?
Did anybody internally pre-seed conversations before everyone started sharing the site? I imagine you would have to, when did you know that you had enough pre-content?
Finally, what was the cadence of posts of the early team? Was it explicitly defined? Or was that a measure of "if there is value they'll share"?
SSshh - we quietly launched http://t.co/wZsXljvtN7 an hour ago. It's early but would love your feedback.— Sean Ellis (@SeanEllis) September 30, 2013
SSshh - we quietly launched http://t.co/wZsXljvtN7 an hour ago. It's early but would love your feedback.
I remember this tweet!
So glad I clicked on that link...easily one of the top 5 smartest things I did in the last 12 months....
We did some pre-seeding of content and conversations, but it was pretty light. If I recall correctly we didn't start sending out emails for a few months. Initially we shared content on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. But an early survey showed that the majority of visitors used Twitter to finding useful marketing related articles, so since that survey we've focused the majority of our social efforts on Twitter. But email has also become an important retention channel. Our top day each weekly is the day we send out the Weekly GH email.
Wasn't GH Sean's idea to bring more targeted traffic to Qualaroo?
Part of our goal was definitely to use Qualaroo on GH so we could "demo" it and hopefully generate some additional trials. But we also thought there was a void in the market for a site like GH.
Hard to say for sure, but I'm pretty sure I would have launched GH even if Qualaroo didn't exist.
I created Bootstrappers.io a site similar to Hacker News and Growth Hackers. I got my first 500 users by ranking on Hackers News on my launch day. I got 300 additional users by blogging about how I built Bootstrappers.io. So far, in my different side projects, getting to 500 "users" (people who register for your site), is not very hard. The challenge is sustaining growth.
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