Before I learned one of the most effective ways to grow online businesses, I had already started and grown two SaaS companies, Crazy Egg and KISSmetrics.
It was January 2010, we had just launched KISSmetrics and it was getting traction quickly.
Our content marketing strategy was pretty simple. We would share useful links about analytics and marketing on our Twitter account. Most of the links were from other people’s blogs. When we did share content from our own blog people would visit the website and sign up for our product.
We learned that it was possible to create an audience of people who loved our brand just by providing them with useful links. Back then in 2010 content marketing and social media was much easier. There wasn’t nearly as much competition so it took less effort than today to write content and gain a loyal following.
The strategy took my personal time because I was the only one finding content and writing the tweets every day. I was tweeting, running the company as CEO and fundraising all at the same time.
But, the extra work on Twitter was totally worth it!
By June 2010 we had 1,587 websites using KISSmetrics. We had more than tripled our user base since March without spending a single dollar on marketing, as long as you don’t count my personal time.
We had a problem, though. Our content marketing strategy was working too well.
The initial product was built very quickly in 30 days with horribly slow and ugly code. Though customers didn’t experience much pain from that - we did. We couldn’t add features because of how fast we had built the product, but even worse, it took 7 servers for every 30 customers. We couldn’t grow the business.
Our lead engineer on KISSmetrics, John, needed to spend 90 days making sure the product backend could keep up with customer demand. In the meantime, the rest of the team had to wait for John to finish before we could add any new features to the product.
We weren’t going to let that slow us down. A few product people, several engineers and I went to work building a new product that would complement our existing product.
So we built KISSinsights. It was a simple survey tool that allowed people with websites to ask their visitors questions on any page of their website or web application.
Before building the product we did thorough research to figure out what problems people had with existing survey tools. We did 20 in-depth customer interviews, created two landing pages to test the value proposition and made a hacky version that we used ourselves on the KISSmetrics website.
That was when we stumbled onto one of the most powerful engines of growth a startup can create.
We knew that our user’s website visitors would see the popup surveys and interact with them. So we had an idea at the last minute which we quickly added to the product. We didn’t test it during research. Honestly we didn’t think about it much, but we felt like it was a good addition so we threw it in there.
When the survey popped up on people’s websites, we included a “Powered by KISSinsights” link in the box.
We did this because the product was going to have a free plan and we wanted to have every free user be a promoter of it - whether they realized it or not :)
Guess what? It was responsible for 100% of the growth we got for KISSinsights.
Users would click on the link, visit our landing page and then end up signing up for the product! We had stumbled onto a viral growth loop before the concept became popular.
In a few months, we had 1,121 websites using KISSinsights without spending any time or money on content marketing like we had to do for KISSmetrics.
That's almost 3 times as many websites (with much less effort) than our core product KISSmetrics had gotten in the same amount of time.
Alright, so remember, we were doing content marketing for KISSmetrics. We found a great source of traffic on Twitter and tripled the user base in 3 months. It took a ton of time and effort that we thought was worth it at the time.
Now we had a second product. We didn’t do ANY marketing. Nothing. In the same time period, we got to over a thousand signups.
That's leverage. That's a scalable growth model. That's something you can build a massive business from in a very short amount of time. And we stumbled onto it, by accident.
You don't have to stumble into it.
You can build these types of growth loops into your core product if you know about them and look for them.
With this one key growth loop, we grew KISSinsights to over 23,000 sign ups with the “Powered By” badge and sold KISSinsights in 2012. It was renamed Qualaroo and the “Powered By” link in the survey popup still drives the majority of it’s growth.
Growth loops like the one we stumbled upon at KISSinsights are a little known way of getting maximum growth with minimal effort. Few companies do them - but the ones that build growth loops into their products from the start and spend the time to optimize them grow faster than one’s that don’t.
Companies like MailChimp, Dropbox and Zendesk have used this exact strategy to acquire new customers for their products. The loops that these companies use are responsible for their massive growth and scale because for every person that uses the product, many other people get exposed to it and some of them decide to click and become users.
We learned this lesson through trial and error when we stumbled onto our first major growth loop by accident.
You don’t have to find growth accidentally like we did.
Here’s a few of the best articles on Growth I've found recently. They'll help you avoid a lot of the same mistakes I made with my companies and grow faster.
3 of the best articles on growth I’ve seen this year:
Till next time,
Words I live by: "You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want." Zig Ziglar