4 Valuable Lessons on Growing Your Startup from: Neil Patel, Emerson Spartz, Aaron Ginn, and David Petrillo

Chris Campbell

May 12, 2013 · 5 minutes read

Uncategorized

The Technori Growth Summit, a one-day conference on business growth strategies for entrepreneurs, was held recently at the Gensler HQ in Chicago. The event gathered 150 founders, developers, and marketers from in and around Midwest, and featured a carefully selected lineup of speakers with proven track records in building and growing businesses.

Looking to grow your startup but missed the event? Don’t worry. Here’s a recap of four valuable lessons we learned at the Technori Growth Summit:

1. “Test early and often.” – David Petrillo

As the inventor and co-founder of the wildly successful Coffee Joulies, a coffee temperature regulator that raised over $300K on Kickstarter, Petrillo emphasized the importance of having a “test everything” mentality in growing a business. Test everything, test early, test often.

Interestingly enough, the success of Coffee Joulies did not happen overnight. It was essentially an iterative process that involved working on prototypes for 8 months, conducting tons of research and lots of testing, regularly pulling historical data from Kickstarter to identify what worked and (perhaps more importantly) what didn’t work, pitching to targeted blogs to maximize viral potential, and being relentless in listening to the customer in order to create a product that delivered real value.

The idea behind Coffee Joulies, Petrillo said, was to come up with a “simple, easy solution that I could build myself to solve a simple product that a bunch of people have.” He started on a small budget and allocated only $5K for making the product. (“Half the fun was doing everything super cheap,” Petrillo said.) From this original vision, he was able to raise funds from Kickstarter (Coffee Joulies was the third most-funded project at the time), negotiated a $150K deal with the sharks on ABC’s Shark Tank, and win another $100K from the 2011 Shopify Build-a-Business competition. In other words, Petrillo was able to grow Coffee Joulies without going the traditional angel or VC fundraising route.

“Our backers are our customers,” he said.

2. “Create content that teaches.” – Neil Patel

Co-founder of visitor tracking CrazyEgg and customer analytics platform KISSmetrics, Patel knows a thing or two about consistently increasing traffic and revenue, two of the most telling signs of any Internet company’s growth. A blogger, entrepreneur, analytics expert, and angel investor, he’s also known for guiding businesses—entrepreneurs, bloggers, marketers, and digital media publishers, in particular—on how to double, sometimes even triple, traffic in 30 days.

Patel’s advice? “Create content that teaches.” This is something that he himself has focused on. Having blogged since 2006, Patel generates impressive amounts of traffic and revenue from quality, informative content. “You can’t give up,” he said. “You need to be consistently awesome.”

His blogging hustle and hard work have certainly paid off. With KISSmetrics, 70 percent of leads come from the blog; his current Quick Sprout blog, meanwhile, produces over $1 million in annual revenues. He has also written for or been featured on Inc. Magazine, Forbes, GigaOM, TechCrunch, Mashable, and Entrepreneur Magazine.

Patel also advised creating the kind of content that is targeted to a specific niche. “Our [niche-targeted content] converted visitors into customers,” he said. “The broader [blog] posts did not convert as much.” Like Petrillo, he recognized early on the importance of having a product or site that delivered value—that customers, in other words, were willing to pay for.

3. “The more incentive you give people to share, the more likely they are to share.” – Emerson Spartz

Spartz stood before the summit attendees as a leading authority in driving a special, very modern-day type of growth: Internet virality. Now a New York Times best-selling author and the CEO of Chicago-based digital company Spartz Media, he was the original founder of the Harry Potter fan site MuggleNet, which he created when he was 12.

His successes—which include sites like OMG Facts, GivesMeHope, SmartphOWNED, Six Billion Secrets, and, of course, MuggleNet—don’t necessarily reveal how he always seems to be able to create sites that generate an incredible amount of word-of-mouth buzz (plus about 160 million total monthly pageviews). In fact, his personal upbringing reveals more: at age 12, growing up as a “weird kid” in Indiana (in his words), Spartz convinced his parents to let him drop out and home school himself. In college, he read one non-fiction book a day. He usually read about business, politics, technology, and economics, but a lot of the books were about neuroscience.

It’s safe to say that from this daily reading habit, Spartz learned a great deal about how the human mind works: valuable information that serves him well not only in persuading and convincing consumers, but also in getting them talking.

Sharing growth and virality tips to summit attendees, Spartz said that identity—specifically, how identity is affirmed online—plays an important role in determining the viral success of a project, campaign, or product. “People always ask themselves, ‘Will sharing this make me look cool?’ The more incentive you give people to share, the more likely they are to share.”

4. “The most important factor to succeed at growth is company culture.” – Aaron Ginn

Having led the growth of businesses that range from early-stage startups to large corporations, Ginn got his start in consumer healthcare with medical wallet service Simplee. He was also a former growth hacker for Mitt Romney for America, and is now the Head of Growth at StumbleUpon, a mentor/organizer for Growthathon, and the author of the TechCrunch series, “Defining a Growth Hacker.”

At the summit, Ginn discussed the multiple challenges faced by companies looking to grow. “Everyone wants to grow,” he said. “(But) growth is really hard. Product is really hard. Recruiting is really hard. Doing anything worthwhile is hard.”

Ginn said that the key is to dedicate resources to help achieve an organization’s growth goals: “This prevents excuses for failure.” And it all starts with company culture—with a specialized team of people recognizing what they value, what the focus is, how others are held accountable, and how problems can be solved.

Ginn also emphasized the roles of the product manager, engineers, data scientist, and designers in growing a company. “Everybody loves building the next shiny thing,” he said, “but growth requires banging your head against the wall. Common culture problems can inhibit growth, so [you have to] focus a company on what is really important.”

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