4 Mistakes Guaranteed To Stunt Your Startup’s Growth

22b2038This is a guest post by Eric Siu, who leads the growth team atTreehouse, an online education startup. He’s also helped various startups and Fortune 500 companies achieve growth through various marketing channels.

Eric is leading the “Growth Hacking for Startups” class at Cross Campus this Thursday (3/7).


Once a startup reaches product/market fit, it’s time to scale like hell. You want to be running at maximum efficiency when you’re optimizing for growth so I’m going to point out some of the growth roadblocks I’ve seen after working with various businesses.

Here are 4 mistakes that will stunt your growth:

1. Too Much ‘Gut Feeling’

“‘Gut feeling’ is not useful because most people can’t predict correctly. – Chamath Palipatiyta, VP of Growth at Facebook”

I’m not saying that there isn’t any room for gut feeling. Startups are built off of gut feeling. But once you’ve reached a certain point, especially product/market fit, it’s a wise choice to start using the data to help you make big decisions. Instead of spending days arguing a point with a colleague, you can let the data talk.

At Treehouse, we wanted to figure out how to get more people to click the ‘Plans & Signup’ page from our ‘Library’ page. We added a green ‘Sign Up’ button to our navigation bar. Here’s what it looked like:

 4 Mistakes Guaranteed To Stunt Your Startups Growth

This test resulted in a 168% increase in conversion rate.

No arguments. No ego. No bullshit. Just systematic testing.

Tip: if you want to learn how to test properly, there’s a good guide from SEOgadget right here.

The best part about this is that if someone comes to you with a seemingly stupid idea and the test fails, they’ll know to come back to you with a better researched hypothesis the next time.

Key takeaway: use the data to help you make key decisions and to invalidate poor ideas.

Tip #2: if you want to see just how bad your ‘gut feeling’ radar really is, just go here and run through 10 tests to see how many you get right. It sure brought me back down to earth.

2. Knee Jerk Reactions To Everything

I’m consistently exposed to the shiniest new ad platform or marketing tool and I’ll be the first to admit that I want to test everything out to see what’s effective and what isn’t. While it is important to test everything, it’s important to understand that you shouldn’t drown yourself with all the new marketing hotness.

Definitely consider spending a small amount of time and budget trying out new things but avoid having a knee jerk reaction to test out every shiny new object. This also means you need to have the courage to say ‘no’ to executives even when they think they have a slam dunk idea. You have priorities and you set them for a reason.

Key takeaway: test new things but devote most of your time into things that are already working. A rule of thumb I use is 80% of time spent on what’s already working vs. 20% of time spent on new initiatives.

3. Siloing Marketing Channels

Whether it be PPC, SEO, social media, e-mail marketing, affiliate marketing or something else, it’s important to understand that all marketing channels assist each other in some way. For example, data collected from PPC could be helpful for future SEO campaigns and conversion data from both channels can help spark some ideas for content or additional campaigns.

Here’s a good way to think about events leading up to a conversion:

Instead of siloing your marketing channels where your specialists work in different teams with little to no communication, everyone needs to understand that treating your marketing channels as a team rather than a individual sport will lead to a bigger overall lift in conversions.

Another key point is that startups typically have 6-18 months of runway, so it’s important to quickly figure out which channels have promise, test them, eliminate the failures, and start scaling the channels that work.

At Treehouse, we knew that organic (SEO) traffic converted well for us and we wanted to invest more into it. At the same time, our paid, social, e-mail, content marketing and affiliate channels were all severely lacking. If we invested all our time into SEO without paying attention to other channels, we’d be missing out on a lot of signups.

Key takeaway: your marketing channels are a team. Strengthen them collectively based on the insights you collect from each channel.

4. Not Sticking It Out

I’ve seen far too many cases where people say things like ‘SEO doesn’t work for us… it’s a scam!’ or ‘PPC will never work for us… we tried it and the clicks were just too expensive’. Upon reviewing these businesses, I’ll find out that the top reason that a marketing initiative ‘will never work’ is just because the company didn’t invest enough time.

The problem is that most people want to see quick short term wins. Everybody talks about the long term but lack the discipline to be patient and methodical about growth. Continually pursuing short term wins will lead to long term loss.

At Treehouse, our SEO efforts didn’t really start paying off until 5-6 months later. We didn’t start seeing strong PPC results until 2-3 months later. That’s an enormous chunk of time for a startup but we pulled through because we understand that good things take time to develop.

There will be times when you’ve invested adequate resources and times into a campaign that seems destined to fail. That’s fine. Shut it down and move on to something else. You can try to revive the campaign at a later date.

Key takeaway: persistence wins out almost every time.


Hopefully, you’ll be able to identify these mistakes in the future before they snowball into a disaster. Be patient, choose your battles wisely, use the data to help you and test away. Rinse and repeat.

Image source: kewl

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