We all want to grow our product to reach millions of users to improve the lives of many, but a very common problem that a lot of startup founders have is that they don't have enough experience growing a startup.
When Tim and I started VEED like many others, we felt competent at building and designing a product, but had no experience of growing a product and no budget to do so.
Now we have thousands of monthly users, growing 40% month over month and almost reached profitability, the holy grail of a self-funded startup. We often get asked for advice on growth and we like helping others so we normally say yes, but after many hour-long calls we decided to put this post together.
In this post, I am going to show you how we grew to 50,000 MAU in just 6 months without spending a single penny.
The truth is that it was hard... really bloody hard. We had to learn a lot of new skills and you will too if you are committed to growing your product. I have never passed English exams in high school and now I have written articles read by tens of thousands of people. Trust me, when I say I can do it, then you, dear reader, most definitely can do it too! (LOOK AT ME NOW MISS BROOKS)
Right now I work full time on growth and my co-founder Tim works full time on the product. I love building, coding and designing products, I have done it all my life. But someone has to get this growth shit done! Naturally, one person has to peel off from the product and start getting the fire burning and get users coming to your site.
Why is growth so important for a startup?
When bad man PG said Startup = Growth he was not messing around. It is way more impressive to have 10,000 users with a MVP product, than 0 users with a polished app no one is using. Trust us, we have been there before...
Our product, VEED, is an online video editing app. It is far from polished, in fact you can't even add two videos together with it. This sounds like a pretty shit video editor right? Yet, we have hundreds of paid users who find value in using it. Here are the key benefits we have noticed from focusing so heavily on growth:
- We get lots of feedback from users
- Our roadmap is better informed by our users
- The team are eager to meet our users’ needs
- The traffic makes us more productive
- We have a bigger funnel of users we can charge
There are many more points I would like to cover in this introduction but I assume you just want to get to the nitty-gritty so here we go!
How does your competition acquire users?
This is not necessary, but I think this is a good place to start after you launch. You have to always remember that the primary acquisition channel for every business is different. For us at VEED, organic search is key. By looking at other video editors, they all have pretty much the same traffic breakdown with more than 50% of the traffic coming from search. Yet for companies like BuzzFeed, the majority of traffic comes from social and sharing. Working this out early on will give you a good indication of where you should focus your efforts. Take this with a pinch of salt and be careful not to miss out on an opportunity just because your competition has.
The Technical Setup for SEO & Google indexing
The first thing you should do Is set google webmasters and make sure Google can read your web pages properly. This is not always working out of the box for single-page applications so make sure it can be indexed. The benefit of having google webmasters set up is that it tells google you are a website and that your pages need indexing.
I also recommend getting Google Analytics, Mixpanel and Drift set up so you can learn more about your users and where traffic comes from overtime.
Landing pages are great and have been a key strategy for us to acquire users at scale. Each landing page ranks with google so if someone needs to add subtitles to a video, they land on our subtitle page. Back in October last year we made over 20+ pages for every feature in our video editor, for example:
Over the space of 4 months, these pages went from 0 hits to over 20,000 collectively. I would recommend getting them started asap as you will benefit from the traffic later. It will take about 3-5 months for effects to fully kick in.
We also used Ubersuggest as a way to work out exactly what keywords we should target, for example, "add image to video" gets way more searches than "add photo to video". But, you know what, just make both. Why not try and rank for both these keywords, right?
Now when it comes to links, notice how all the links are clear and readable. We use a simple routing convention, for example /subtitle-video-online. This is an added confirmation to Google that the page really is about adding subtitles to a video.
Finally, make sure your landing page content is good. We have spent a lot of time making original content for each page as well as creating little video tutorials to go alongside them too!
This also helps to avoid ‘Duplicate content’ google SEO issues which can negatively affect your ranking...
You first 100 Users
Now you are all set up, it time to start driving your first few visitors to your website. Getting your first users to your site takes time, but don’t worry about the velocity at which you will acquire new users ramps up over time. For us, we managed to get our product off the ground by launching on product hunt and also heading over to Quora and owning over 100 video editing questions related to our website. At the bottom of each answer I write, I leave a link to our product. Quora still brings over 100 people to our website every week and I still work on it now! This is obviously not scalable when we are in the millions of users, but a great way to get started.
It is also important to note that on average users coming from Quora are more likely to convert to using your product since they were so interested in finding the solution in the first place.
But besides that, you should also share your product on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, discord, slack groups… I personally felt extremely self-conscious doing this, but over time it just becomes second nature.
Blogging and content
This is something we are getting better at, but not yet great at. Our blog posts have brought about 40,000 visitors to our site over the last 3 months.
We set up the blogs with Ghost, it took 5 mins to install and it's a great open-source project too! We originally used gatsby but it was just taking too much time to style, edit, deploy. With Ghost, everything is ready out of the box, so we can focus on making good content! Ghost is also really well optimized for SEO and social media. Definitely give it a try.
Make and write content your users actually care about and also things they might search for. Here is a good example - we rank really well for "Social Media video aspect ratios 2019". This is genuinely something our target audience might search for. Figuring out what is good content to make will involve a little bit of trial and error, but you will get there eventually. This is one of those instances where solving your problem or writing about the topic you care so much about really helps.
We make the content we care about, just like this blog post you are reading right now. We feel fortunate to be in such a giving community and have pretty much learned everything for free online. Therefore we want to give something back too. Some of these posts do really well and hit the top of hacker news, others get taken down or just get negative comments.
I like to think about content marketing similar to fishing on a boat. Your content is your bait, the more lines and bait you throw over the side of your boat the more chance you have at catching a fish..
When thinking about what content you want to make, it is a good idea to think about format. Popular game shows on TV can go on for years because it is a good format that is easy to reproduce over and over again.
For example, a few years ago, I have experimented with making videos for youtube. I wanted to make travel videos, but that was difficult since I only traveled 3 times per year. I quickly realised that I needed a format that I could get better at quicker and reproduce again and again.
I have learned that making fun how-to videos worked much better for me. I could make them in just a day. For a trivial break in this article, here is the one I made
Finally, when you create a post, you need to share it. If you spend half a day making content, you should spend half a day promoting it.
There is a fine line between spam and good content, so you need to know how your users talk, where they hang out and how you should fit in. I like to hang out in Facebook groups related to video editing and marketing. This gives me a good insight into what makes this industry tick. I even have a Trello board full of popular posts I have seen in some communities so i can take inspiration from the sentiment of their posts.
With all my content I hit forums such as Reddit, Hacker News, Quora, email list, Facebook groups, Slack groups. Any relevant place I know where this type of content will be well received. Get to know how these communities work, think and talk as you need to fit in as best as possible. Over time you will get better at titles and making your links more clickable. When posting try and be as authentic as possible, otherwise you’ll get messages like this…
Now that you have good content and a great product it is time to get backlinks!
Backlinks are the most important metric for Google’s ranking factor. The basic idea behind backlinks is inspired by how academic papers are structured and written. At the end of an academic paper, you reference the other papers you have quoted, building a network of trust between different subjects. The idea is that if you have a good paper others will link to it and if you have an AMAZING groundbreaking paper, everyone will link to it.
Many startups find getting backlinks hard, as this is the one SEO parts that is out of their control. We have found a few strategies that have worked well for us so here we go!
Signup to all startup directories such as betalist, startup ranking, Crunchbase, Launching Next, Indie hackers… It is pretty easy and helps get things started.
2. Build free tools
Building free tools is a great way to start sending traffic to your site. The best thing about free tools is that they get shared a lot more than paid tools. We have built VYOO. A website full of free vertical stock videos and launched it on product hunt. As It is directly related to our product and most people that are looking for free stock videos, might also be interested in editing those videos too. It has been really popular and has found its way onto a lot of other blogs and websites.
In the early days, we were still finding our feet and made a joke service called "Send a message attached to a pigeon" Yep sounds a little mad I know, it basically allows you to send a message stuck to a pigeon. Crazy I know, but to be fair, we have sold $600 worth of pigeons since it's been live and generated some BUZZ about us on social media. Here was out the little demo video.
3. Use your network
We asked our old universities if we can do a blog post for them, they gladly accepted as it inspires prospective and current students. I have also asked past contracting clients if I can do blog posts for them and they were more than happy too! You may need to write about topics that are not directly related to you, but you can always add a link to your product in your bio.
4. Blog posts like this
Although, blog posts are better for awareness and social it is also great to write interesting posts like this. Hopefully, others will link to this post and also share the content with friends, giving us more of a boost.
5. Keep launching
Launching your product is not something that happens just once, it should happen again and again. You can see from my product hunt that we have launched many times with new features and versions. The guys over at drift hit product hunt every other week driving thousands of new users every month for free! From these launches, we have ended up with a bunch of backlinks for other website!
So in this post we have covered (in brief)
- How to understand your acquisition channel
- How to build landing pages
- How to get your first 100 users
- Blogging and content
Growth takes time and is more of a mindset you need to adopt, but once you get the wheels turning, the results are exhilarating!
If you think others would find this article useful please do share it with them and if you have not already check out our online video editing tool VEED.IO