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13 Critically Important Lessons from Over 50 Growth Hackers

I’ve had the incredible privilege of interviewing over 50 of the most-gifted growth hackers working today. People like Neil Patel, the co-founder of KISSmetrics; Ivan Kirigin, who helped Dropbox grow 12x; Elliot Shmukler, who helped LinkedIn grow from 20m-200m users; and of course, Josh Elman, who led growth at Twitter during its period of massive expansion. After spending countless hours conversing with the geniuses of growth, here are 13 things I’ve learned:

1. Retention trumps acquisition

It’s a rookie mistake to focus on customer acquisition instead of customer retention, especially early in a startup’s life. It’s exciting to get new traffic and acquire new users, but the primary purpose of your first visitors is to inform you of the holes in your funnel.

Early visitors exist for one reason, and one reason only – to show you how broken your website really is. Until you are successfully learning from, and retaining, those visitors, you are not ready to drive a lot of new people to your product. Leaky buckets don’t need more water, they need their holes fixed.

2. Growth favors the agnostic

Growth is like the proverbial skinning of a cat – there are a million ways to do it. Proud entrepreneurs arbitrarily decide that certain methods of growth are more pure than others (i.e., they like viral loops over PPC). The problem is that different startups need to use different growth mechanisms because of their product and team DNA. If you disallow certain growth channels based on emotion, then your chances of reaching scale are greatly diminished.

3. Customer development is cheating

A large part of lean methodology is customer development: the activity of talking to your market and your users before you actually build something. If you do this well,…

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