We spoke to the fantastic Anuj Adhiya, author of 'Growth Hacking for Dummies', on how to optimize growth in a measurable, valuable way.
It would be great if we could start off today by having you give us a little bit more of a thorough introduction to yourself?
Oh, boy. I guess I'll start with the fact that my degrees are in chemistry and biochemistry, which may seem like it's as far away from the world of product and growth as possible until you realize that all growth is, is applying the scientific method to product. So if you've ever been in a chem lab and run experiments and blown up a few things, I'm happy to report that you know how to do growth, because that's exactly the way we do it.
I was lucky enough to learn all about it from Mr. Growth Hacking himself, Sean Ellis, where I worked with him to grow the growth hackers community into a book, product, conference, training, a lot of fun. Since then, I've been on a journey of multiple stints trying to, let's just say test my BS meter a little bit at different kinds of companies.
I've tried e-commerce, virtual workspaces, B2B, SaaS, all in an attempt to understand more about what it really takes to make a business grow sustainably. That was what I guess gave me some of that impetus to then write Growth Hacking for Dummies, during which I discovered all sorts of things, one of which is the topics for today.
Could you take us through why you undertook this research into growth, an overview of the research, and a bit more about the project as a whole.
This began when I was actually writing Growth Hacking for Dummies. I started with the bit that I was familiar with, which is the process stuff that everybody talks about. I think I want to preface this a lot by saying growth is a lot about process. It's not all the tactical stuff you keep hearing about, it's not about the top five Facebook headlines. It's not about whether you have a to-do list in your onboarding flow, it's about a more holistic approach.
The one thing as I was fleshing it out, that struck me was for a field that's as obsessed with data, there was nothing about the people and what makes a great growth person, which struck me as odd. Everything you ever read on this topic is extremely anecdotal. It's "Oh, they're very creative". And "Oh, they're very analytical. They're this amazing combination of left brain and right brain".
What the heck does that even mean? And how do I use that to analyze, am I a good growth person? Would I make a great growth person? Or if I was looking to hire somebody, what should I really look for? This went beyond personalities, as well, this as I found out has a lot to do with specific work styles. I was extremely fortunate at the time to be working at a company that was all about work style behaviors. It was the perfect tool to go and analyze and survey growth PMs and great growth leads around the world.
To then for the first time, I think, get data on what truly are work style behaviors of growth PMs? How do they really behave? What is their impact on the team as a whole? What does that mean for the team's ability to achieve its growth priorities? Because let's face it growth is not just one thing that Rose sitting in the corner does, it's something the entire team, the entire company is engaged in.
So what does that really mean in terms of not only what impact this one person may have, but what does that mean for the overall team as well? That's the path I went down, I clearly illuminated a lot of patterns and approved and disproved some hypotheses that I went in with.
It's such an interesting concept to try and bring something that is fundamentally subjective, to give it an objective nature and bring some data behind it. What were some of the key traits that really stood out and characteristics of a great growth hacker?
So I will say that when I first went into this, my initial hypothesis was that there'll be one common pattern. I actually based this on Sean Ellis himself, because I had an opportunity to work with him for many years so I had, "All great people are like him". It turned out that was partially true and what I found were three patterns.
Let me just provide a little bit of context here. The tool that I used was one called the predictive index, and it has multiple products, but it has this one specific work style assessment. If you're familiar with assessments in general, most people know about Myers Briggs but that's a personality test, that doesn't predict work styles.
So this tool by the predictive index is specifically geared to analyze work style behaviors, and depending on the way you answer them, you could be one of 17 different work style patterns. They're not neat boxes, there are overlaps, but I feel shockingly accurate. You took this yourself, right? You tell me?
Yeah, it was incredibly accurate. All expected results came up.
Right. So each of these patterns, they have names themselves. And the pattern that I had a big hypothesis on, that would be the most common one would be the one called the maverick. And if you're as old as me, you know Maverick from Top Gun, and it's literally just like that person. Very innovative, very outside the box, a rule-breaking sort of person, undaunted by failure.
Even the kind of person that as more and more challenges are piled onto them, they respond really positively to all of the pressure. Then at the same time, they're extremely visionary in the way they think. But at the end of the day, despite all of these things, they're very goal-oriented. So I went in thinking that almost everybody will be a maverick type pattern.
It turned out that there were three common patterns from the research that I did. This was, at first, I was like, "What the hell is going on?", but it made a lot of sense as I dug into it. The second pattern that I found was one called the individualist and a common characteristic there was these are really highly independent but really persistent. They're like bulldogs. They just will not let go no matter what.
This is really important because while yes, you need to think outside the box because growth comes from being creative and thinking about different ways of doing things. If you've spent any time as a growth PM, you run a lot of tests, a lot of them fail. Yes, failure is learning and all of that is true, but most of your experiments will fail, and let's be honest, that can get really demoralizing.
When you run test after test, week after week, and just nothing is moving the needle, you need somebody to say no matter what I'm just gonna keep going at it. That's a certain kind of person that can do that while still being a very creative problem solver, and still being goal-oriented and still being able to challenge the status quo no matter what.
The third pattern was one called the persuader. As the name might suggest, these are people who are great influencers and as we were just talking about a few minutes back, growth is not something you do in the corner, growth is something that everybody is along for the ride for, everybody rowing in the same direction. Everybody aligned to a common goal.
This is the sort of person that yes, while also driving change and challenging the status quo is also really motivating, a really stimulating communicator sort of person. The extreme of this would be somebody like Steve Jobs, they could communicate their point of view, and everybody's "Yes, that's the way we're gonna do it, I completely buy-in".
And growth really is about buying in. What's common with all these patterns, while they have these little differences where some people are just crazy maniacs like the maverick, but you've got highly bulldog type personalities, also extremely influential personalities, they all have a common characteristic of being super goal-oriented, and all about challenging the status quo.
This is really important because there are some people who don't like challenging the status quo, who are extremely fine doing things the way they've always been done. That's fine for certain kinds of roles. It's not fine for a growth role, which is all about charting new paths all the time.
Just listening to those initial results, the first thing that really stands out is that even though they're getting to the same objective, and they all could be working towards a similar goal, one side of it is very individualistic, but then the other, like the persuader persona, surely relies on being in a solid team and their influence on that team to achieve that goal. So it's actually completely different routes to the same endpoint.
Completely. This is not to say that if people didn't fall into these categories, that they couldn't be good at growth. At the risk of suggesting that I am great at growth, I'll be the last person to suggest that, the reason I even have a chance of being good at it, even though I myself don't fall into any of these patterns, is because I have now a certain level of self-awareness as to my strengths, and my weaknesses and the kinds of behaviors I need to exhibit and being aware of the kinds of traps I'd fall into with my own work style behavior.
To then be able to account for those either through training, either through sticky notes that I have in there that say, "Don't overthink it", or, "Don't wait for consensus, just go do it", whatever it may be. But I think that first step of, do you even realize the way you're hardwired to behave normally? And then take whatever steps are appropriate to exhibit the kinds of behaviors that a role specifically like this needs?
So kind of leading on from that, is there a project or a standout example, where you've seen a really successful growth program that you can share with us? And why?
Yeah, I'll pick one from my first experience, which was with Sean, which was really probably the best growth experience I've had. This was when Growth Hackers started out as just this passion project community. Over time, we started to realize the reason people are coming to Growth Hackers was for daily growth inspiration. They wanted ideas for what can I test next? And they wanted to understand more about "Okay, once I had these ideas, how do I put this into practice?"
Just that insight, alone, led to Growth Hackers evolving from just a community into also having a SaaS product, where you could now capture ideas from the community directly into this product. Then the product almost became, think of it like a JIRA or a BaseCamp for growth that you could use to manage the entire experimentation process.
The way we worked at Growth Hackers was everything rolls up to one north-star metric, which is the one number everybody cares about. At the time, the growth PM we had, that was their sole focus and that focus broke down into multiple growth objectives. One that came from, how do we boost acquisition from the community because hey, people are already coming and how do we get more people into the product?
And the second growth objective that then said, okay, once we get people into the product, how do we make sure we get them using it? What that entailed was holistic-break-down-the-wall sort of approach that this growth PM had to take to make sure that when sales are doing demos, let's make sure they have the right kind of message so that when they come to use the product, the promise they were just made in the demo is one that's met.
While at the same time, and I played this role as well, where I would be the onboarding manager for a little bit, to understand and take insights from the person managing retention, to understand why are the people that continue to use XYZ down the line, what's different about them that everybody else isn't seeing? Let me bring that forward as well into the onboarding process to make sure that they do the right kinds of things that will retain them further.
All of this to say that growth is, by definition, a multidisciplinary role, your entire job is to break down silos. The only reason this worked, and I'll tell you what happened and just go back to this in a second is, because of this process, not only were we able to grow the community into a SaaS product, but as a consequence of learning about who the right kind of person is that would want to use the product, we realized that there were two kinds of users.
People who are great at growth and just need a better way of managing the process and people who want to be great at growth, have no clue how to do it, but would love to do it. Which led to a whole new revenue stream of online training, at the time, which was an opportunity that wasn't even on the horizon.
But all of this could only happen because the growth PM was there soliciting input on a weekly basis from sales and from marketing and from customer success, at the same time and synthesizing that in this weekly growth meeting that we'd have, where we would look at all of our metrics, all through the lens of how is what anybody is doing, whether you're doing sales, customer success, community marketing, whatever it is, how is any of that helping move the needle on our north-star metric?
If you're not doing something that is helping move the needle, then you're obviously working on the wrong thing. Now, easier said than done. But again, all the characteristics we spoke about were on display there, because even there our growth PM, I had her do the assessment as well and she turned out to be an individualist.
She was just like this where we would run three experiments a week and most of them failed. She was like, fine, let the data guide us, it's fine, let's not be deterred from our goal, we're learning, we're smarter every week. That was sort of our mantra, it was like are we learning even something about what not to do? That tells us where we might want to take a bigger swing on, which is where you are demonstrating more of these sort of Maverick attitudes.
But at the same time, week after week, test, test, test not working, not working, pure individualist that she was, but with these weekly growth meetings, her soliciting everybody's input, making sure people weren't siloed, understanding why activities in certain groups were important towards the greater whole. But I think that's probably been my best experience with having somebody managed that process really well.
It's always told time and time again to have such a clear vision, such a clear goal, but literally defining everyone's weekly success rate against one metric, there's nowhere to hide from that. So I guess having that completely pure goal spread amongst the team, no matter what department you're in, it's a great way to streamline everyone's projects.
Yeah. And this is a problem that you see normally elsewhere, as well, where let's say marketing, they're just focused on leads, or product is focused on releasing new features. And customer successes focused on tickets closed. Engineering is focused on the number of bugs they quash.
All of those are important but all of those need to be in the service of our north-star metric because that's how we measure the value we deliver to our customers. And ultimately, that's how we build sustainable businesses is by growing the value we deliver and so the entire name of the game is all about focus.
To the point where even our daily standups, which can get pretty meandering if you've been in daily standups, but even those got cut down and all of our updates only were through the lens of our current objectives. It wasn't just "Hey, I'm doing emails today. I'm having meetings today". All of that is great. It's what "What are you doing today to help move the needle on our north-star metric?" Yeah, sure, everybody has administrivia and things you need to do, great.
But if you've gone two days without saying something specific about how you're helping move that needle, you're clearly focused on the wrong things. That helps you reorient. So there's great power in having this one unifying number, not only from an individual perspective but also from the team-wide perspective, and helping everybody align and row in the same direction.
I guess we've been through a lot of advice so far, but what are some of the immediate actions people can employ from today to take their first steps towards becoming a growth leader?
Yeah. I think the first thing I would say to anybody, and this is the first thing I do whenever I start a new growth rule, or I'm working with somebody else, is, do you understand how your product delivers value to your customers? There are times when companies don't know this because they've never been asked the question. When I joined the Predictive Index, and admittedly, they have a pretty complicated product but nobody could answer for me how they quantify the value delivered to the business, including the CEO of the company.
It's not that they didn't have an answer, it's that everybody had different answers. I'm like, if there is this much disconnect between the executive team, forget it for everybody else. I think that is probably the highest impact thing you can do. Because that, I think, aligns literally everything and everyone in the business.
The second thing I would do is almost try to understand why people do what they do. Because a really common trap, especially when you start with new roles, or when people try to implement new growth initiatives is maybe do more of the same. Or to do things that are incremental improvements on a machine that's already working. Whereas the entire thrust behind a growth initiative is to take big swings and understand where the next big step change is going to come from.
Logically doing incremental things gives you incremental gain. So if you want to identify the next big thing for you, you need to do something radical. The first step to that is understanding, why do we do things the way we do them? Sometimes you find that it's a legacy process and a person left five years ago, and we're still doing things the same way.
The third thing I would do is, literally go and talk to everybody in the company you can. The reason for this is, growth is all about trust. Because it can be seen as, "Hey, this person's coming in, and is going to tell us to do things differently now". That's absolutely not the case, the entire goal is to literally break down the walls as much as possible.
The only way to do that is to establish trust within the organization that this is not about me, this is about the company as a whole. And how do we work together to help the company achieve its objectives? Because in theory, we've all bought into it. It's as much as me helping you as it is you helping me, for the greater good. So I think when you tie these three pieces together, understanding how the company delivers and measures value, for itself, why they do what they do today, and then establishing trust with the key stakeholders in your organization.
I think that starts to then let people understand where you're coming from as well and what you're trying to do and how they fit in. It's not about taking their power away, if anything, you're trying to 10X their power. But when you come in as this growth person because let's face it growth people get to have a lot of fun because your whole job is about experimenting and trying new things, whereas everybody else is sort of working on established processes.
It's literally like, why the hell do you get to not follow the rules? That's a real thing. Or, when you run all these experiments, and let's say you want to try something new with an onboarding flow for your product, you need to be in close contact with the Head of Product as to, "Hey, we want to try something like this. I want to try something like that". You just can't go do it.
Because that's the easiest way to make sure that person hates you for the rest of their life because now you've just mucked up their work. Even on the backside of the equation, when you've run tests, and now you found these little things, changes that work, whether it's a landing page thing, or whether it's something deep in the product, you need to get those changes systematized.
That's not something you can do. You need ultimately, the person who manages those departments to be on board with not only "Yeah, okay, if you find a win I am going to systematize that win", but then also be well-positioned to put in some sort of buffer in their own workstreams, to say that when a win comes to the door, we will have the right kind of resource availability to implement those because otherwise, you've just done all these tests, you've gotten these wins, and you can't capitalize on them.
It's as much about that initial, can I do things permission stage, let's be collaborative about trying new things. But also, when we find these wins, how well can we work together to implement those and make sure we can capitalize on all the gains that we've just gotten a great signal for.
To me, it seems like a growth program, done badly, is incredibly confrontational and disruptive. But a growth program done well is disruptive, but through collaboration, because you're there to disrupt, you're there to bring the changes of areas that people have never even considered changing before. But it's so interesting when you actually picture that, and how important it is to have good relationships across the whole business.
Right, and if you tie this back to the work style patterns that we were talking about, this is where the persuading style is so important. Everybody needs to come on board. But then you also need that sort of Maverick-y and visionary ideas to pitch people that you're trying to convince people off.
But at the same time, just because you thought of an idea and tested it, it doesn't mean it's going to work, so you're gonna have to keep at it. All of those attributes are key to a program not only getting off the ground but moving along sustainably and not dying a premature death before the organization's even had a chance to appreciate the value of this.
I like the underlying characteristic between them all is persistence, because it's a job that is never going to be finished.
And it's probably one of the most high-stress jobs you could have. Because I mean, growth doesn't just mean “I increase the conversion rate on my landing page from 10% to 20%”. It's growth for the business, it's growth to value delivered.
That's everything from moving the needle on, let's say, I had more of X done, great, did that translate to business value? Because if it didn't, that's not growth. And CEOs being CEOs and God knows I love CEOs, but at the end of the week it's like, "What have you done for me lately?" Right?
It never stops.
And believe me, and again, this is not a ding on anybody, because everybody has different work styles. But if you can't handle that sort of stress and pressure, you should not be doing a growth role, or you certainly shouldn't be looking to start your growth career in a very senior growth role.
There's being outside your comfort zone, and then there's being out there too regularly, it's not constructive.
Yeah, you're right because there are no rules, really with growth. In fact, you're creating the playbooks as you go along. So if you're the kind of person that needs a lot of structure, you need a lot of guidelines, maybe growth is not the right place for you. Before you've learned more about how do you make up for what you're hardwired for?
It's not something to jump right into. Believe me, there are some roles that are awesome for that sort of workstyle, people who do operations and make sure everything is ticking just right. Awesome. This is why I think it's great to talk about all the process stuff of growth. But without this right person, everything's going to fall apart.
I think it kind of goes back to the first point of that self-awareness. And that being a great first step into any kind of possible career development, career move, involvement in a growth project, or whatever it might be. The first step is self-awareness.
And look at it from the flip side, where sometimes you just think oh, person X is great at that role, and person Y is not great at that role. It may not be that they're not great at the role, it's just that the way they are hardwired to work isn't a fit for what this role is demanding of them.
So that awareness, I think, is needed as much at our own individual levels, as it is for our managers and our teams to understand, are we really even putting the right person in the right seat? This is why they say growth is everybody's responsibility. And that responsibility is everything from picking the right person to doing the right things.
What are some of the things you look for to know when to move on from or kill the test?
I think this for me, translates to the kind of tests that I'm doing. There are two kinds. They'd fall into what we call either discovery tests, or optimization tests. When you're doing something for the first time, and you're taking this giant swing at something, it's not as much about, "Hey, did we reach statistical significance on something?" You're trying to get a read on “is it even worth spending time here”, if there is a signal?
There should be enough signal to say, "Okay, let's put more effort here". All the follow on tests are just to double down on that signal. So think of it as a game of battleship, where you throw your thing out, and you hit the ship. Great. Let's now throw more things right around that region, and at some point, what's going to happen.
The rule of thumb, and this, I think turns out to be true is when you've found something where there is a signal and you're trying to extract the max out of it, you probably have extracted most of the gains out of it in a quarter. But you don't want to wait till the quarter is up to understand, "Hey, did we extract the max? Or did we spend the right amount of time here?"
So what we do is generally take up these objectives on a month-by-month basis. Okay, we're gonna run a lot of tests around this specific objective for a month and what we're looking for is, are we crushing our objective metrics? Because there's a hypothesis we have there. And as a function of crushing our objective metrics, are we moving the needle on our north-star metric?
Because if, after a month in, we are not crushing our objective metrics, we focused on the wrong thing, kill it right there and then. You're focused on the wrong place. Or even if you're crushing our objective metrics, but it's not moving the needle on our north-star metric, probably not focused on the right area there - kill it in a month.
The correct signal is moving to the right on our objective metrics. Also, moving to the right on our north-star metric. Great, focused on the right thing, let's run it for one more month, and reevaluate at that point. Are we still moving up and to the right? Or are we starting to plateau out?
And normally, you'd find that you start to extract like 80 to 90% of your gains within a quarter if you found something that's truly working. And after that, it's an internal decision, your cost-benefit analysis on should we pursue more of this or not? Then if you're done, zoom back out, where's the next place to focus on? Rinse and repeat.
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