On Growth – Sydney Startups AMA with Shaun Clowes

Sydney Startups had its latest Ask Me Anything (AMA) session with Shaun Clowes, head of Growth at Atlassian. He shared his knowledge on growth, marketing strategies and growth hackers.

I’m summarised the AMA with the highlights below.

Sydney Startups x Atlassian AMA on growth

1. On Growth

Consumer apps often rely on social, viral growth. Can you apply something similar to a B2B offering like those that Atlassian provides?

Depends on the product of course, but for Atlassian our products are designed for collaboration within a company. Growth in this sense is kind of like growing a standard social network but doing it in thousands of microcosms. You have to succeed in activating the first user. Then succeed in activating the following users within the company, so it adds a huge amount of complexity.

In considering growth, of course sales would be a good metric at the end of the day, but are there other metrics, factors you look for/measure in the process?

100%, I feel like sales is the ultimate trailing indicator. Before people pay you they have to try your product and find it very valuable. Basically, they need to engage.

At Atlassian we focus on Monthly Active Users and Net Promoter Score over revenue. The idea is that having a lot of users that are happy tends to lead to success. The opposite is definitely not true, it’s quite easy to have users paying that secretly dislike your software and will drop you the first chance they get.

Be careful measuring yourself in $$$.

In trying to achieve growth and getting people to start recognising and trusting a brand name – do you recommend a more targeted approach to marketing or mass media proliferation?

Establishing a brand is really really hard, particularly cutting through all of the noise in media today. I’d definitely recommend targeted approaches first.

One interesting way to think about it is to use different targeted approaches to acquire different sets of users. Then survey them and find out if any of them *love* your product and use the words you think represent your brand to describe it. If they do use the words provided, you’re looking good. If not, the question becomes how to change your positioning, acquisition channel or value proposition.

Do you think there is a difference between doing growth for web vs mobile app?

Definitely. Mobile is a whole different ball game, particularly mobile first applications. You can do lots of great stuff in mobile you can’t do easily elsewhere: address book-based referral/invite, deep linking from ads direct to app store then in to app.

2. Marketing tactics

How to grow B2B apps?

Identify your champions and engage them to refer other people to your offering. B2B can actually be easier for this than B2C in some cases. For example, I know one education startup that has had big success because teachers have extensive networks, convincing them to promote the product led to viral growth.

What factors (best performing growth hacking tactics) contributed to help Atlassian SaaS business model to grow so fast…or would you say its success is majorly dawn to the products strength?

Product is the source of all goodness, you can’t grow a product that sucks.

But a great product by itself is never enough. You need to tell people about it and figure out how to get the maximum number of people to get the maximum value out of it.

So in terms of growth tactics, we’ve had all sorts of wins, we’ve changed buttons to drive up evals, we’ve changed in product flows to stop people dropping out, we’ve sent emails at just the right time to get people back in to the product if they got distracted. Make no mistake, these make a serious dent in the growth of a product, but they still wouldn’t be possible without the product itself.

When engaging with champions to promote the B2B app on your behalf – what do you see as the key to their promotion?

  • A great product?
  • A great sales proposition from you?
  • A great kickback?

The very best is having a great product that your users love. If you have people giving you an NPS of 10 you’ll often find they’ll tell others about you *if you just ask them*. Often people don’t even ask them or engage them in any way.

I’d recommend caution with kickbacks or referral bonuses, they can work but go for transparency and make sure that both the referrer and referee get benefit.

How to engage with champions:

You can engage with champions just by dropping them an email and saying “We’re a small growing company. We love that you love the company, would you be willing to help us by telling your friends about us? Here is a page with a video and value proposition you could send them to…”

Are you aware of any simple tools you can use to request Net Promotion Score (NPS) Or will a link to a google form asking the user to rate NPS be sufficient?

There are heaps of NPS tools on the market, one is https://www.promoter.io/ but there are many others.

How important is SEO these days? Any tips on how to optimise content for searchability in the modern search engine world?

I’m not an expert in SEO so it’s hard for me to comment. What I hear is that it’s still valuable but very hard to gain a competitive advantage.

The exception seems to be that content marketing (long tail content) is still very useful.

What are your views on offline marketing mediums?

I know it’s a well known trick now, but the most amazing tag line generation technique I’ve seen is to ask your fans to tell you why they like what you do. Then literally copy and paste their exact words in to emails/landing pages. Don’t edit their words or anything, there’s something special about people who are your target market effectively speaking to others who are also your target market. I’ve seen engagement double or triple with call to actions that copied user words.

Offline techniques are valuable, they’re not my specialty though. It is difficult to grow globally using them.

3. On growth hackers

Isn’t “growth hacker” just a startup hipster word for “marketing person”, or is it something different?

I don’t use the ‘hacker’ part any more, specifically because it’s so buzzwordy.

For me growth is definitely different, it’s a scientific process of working out why a user base is not growing and finding the best routes to solution. It’s not just about acquisition, it’s about authentic and continuous growth of a user base.

Most of my work is actually growth inside a product. It’s very far from landing pages or ads etc.

At what stage does a startup or company need to consider hiring a growth hacker?

I think you can use growth style techniques while searching for product/market fit, stuff like fake landing pages, adwords testing, etc.

However, I think you’re best off looking for growth people once you’re reasonably sure you’ve got a product people want and are ready to grow it.

How to find a good growth hacker?

It’s tough. I think you want to look for the basic qualities of a good growth person and go from there. They don’t need to have had the ‘Growth’ title.

Good growth people tend to be very strongly oriented towards data rather than vision. They enjoy growth as a puzzle and spreading their bets across different experiments.

The people who are not going to be great at growth are generally the ones who get deeply attached to their ideas, they want to be right rather than get to right.

4. How to be a growth hacker

Where do you go (blogs, conferences, etc.) to learn the latest growth strategies?

I don’t think you should focus on growth tactics, because channels and tactics come and go. The key is to understand the underlying method which goes something like:

  • Map your world as a funnel, the pirate metrics funnel is a good one.
  • Understand where in that funnel your problems are, everyone always focuses on acquisition but sometimes they miss the fact that 90% of the people they acquire, churn.
  • Once you know your funnel, think about cheap ways to influence it, how can you prompt change, what might the problem be.
  • Drive down your costs of trying ideas so that you can try as many as possible. Most won’t work, so don’t pin your hopes on single experiments.

In terms of conferences, I’m in SF these days so it’s hard for me to recommend Sydney ones. SydStart + Warrior Forum last year had some good content. 500 Startups Weapons of Mass Distribution post their videos online after the conference.

What was/were the most important thing(s) you learnt at University that shaped you as a growth hacker?

My path to growth was long and winding. I was a developer, then in pre-sales, then a product manager, now growth.

For my entire software career I’ve wondered why the software I’ve been involved with has succeeded or failed. It isn’t just the code, or the sales people, or the product features, or even the marketing. For me growth is a scientific process by which I can understand where users fail to engage with software and fix it.

Sometimes it’s amazing how little changes massively improve success.


Thank you Shaun from Atlassian for this amazing AMA session for Sydney Startups!

I’m going to be on the Q&A panel for the Growth Hackers Meetup on 15 August 2016. YOU will be able to ask growth questions online or in person to the panel. RSVP here. Here is the full Q&A panel:

  • Sujan Patel, Cofounder @ Web Profits
  • Matthew Ho, Mobile Product Manager (Confluence Cloud) @ Atlassian
  • Anna Guerrero, Growth @ Canva
  • Adam Hejl, Chief Growth Officer @ Simply Wall St
  • Johanna Seton, Head of Product & Marketing @ Open Agent

I’m out like a product that sucks,
Matt Ho

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