In the series “Partner Vision,” the RevelX partners introduce themselves. They share the road that led them to RevelX and what activities they employ at our firm. In each episode, one of our partners will give their vision on a hot topic in their professional field.

In the second article in this series, we give the microphone to Noud van Alem. Noud held marketing director positions at Google and Uber in Europe, the US, and Asia. In 2017, he became a partner at RevelX as one of our growth-hacking experts. We asked Noud for his thoughts on the topic.

Hi, Noud. When did you start with the practice that is now called "growth hacking"?

“At Google, I laid the first building blocks for my career in growth hacking. In 2006, the tech giant hired me as a product marketing manager.

“At Google, one of my responsibilities was business-to-business (B2B) marketing. To increase acquisition, I learned to work on the basis of experiments. Simply put: what works and what doesn’t?

“My first ‘growth hack,’ as we would call it today, was very simple. I put a €50 advertising voucher in magazines to give companies that last push to advertise on Google. The test turned out to be very successful, and today, you can still see that voucher everywhere.”

How do you define growth hacking?

“Growth hacking is primarily a mindset. It is not thinking in terms of long campaigns or of buying expensive advertisement spaces. It is the desire to constantly improve and discover where the opportunities for growth are. Two key ingredients are entrepreneurial thinking and the studying of data. The antithesis of growth hacking is the attitude, ‘We’re doing fine, so why bother?’

“By the way, though it is often assumed growth hacking is just about digital means, I don’t think that is correct. Though the World Wide Web makes experimenting very easy, growth hacking is also found in the offline world. An example would be to test what the best positioning is of a product in a brick-and-mortar store and then use the data to determine the best display spot in the store.

“Furthermore, it’s not just about marketing. Human resources can also benefit from growth hacking to create a happier workforce. Growth hacking can also be used to optimize production facilities and logistics work flow. It’s all based on the mindset of experimenting constantly.”

Sadly, businesses with such an innovative mindset seem so rare nowadays. Any explanations?

“Sometimes companies get stuck in their existing process. They think they have to develop a product completely before they launch it, when an MVP is sufficient.

“Some companies do see that the world around them is changing, but they don’t know what to do with it. Many companies think, ‘Oh, we need something with social media or e-commerce,’ but these adjustments are somewhat superficial in terms of innovation. Often, companies want to have immediate results. That’s okay with me, but they get stuck. Not taking the small steps and adapting your organization to an innovative mindset will set you up for failure.

“Sometimes, businesses don’t take enough time to give growth hacking a chance. The reasoning for not trying ideas may be, ‘We tried that 5 years ago, that doesn’t work. We already made the button blue once, so that doesn’t matter at all.’ That is the wrong way of thinking! If I hear someone say something like that, I ask, ‘Did you also think about the position of the button, or about other colors?’ You do not have to test twice, but 300 times! That is possible in the digital world—that is the beauty.

“Companies should take a page out of the Uber playbook, one of the most innovative businesses I worked for previously. At Uber, everything they do is based on testing; they have built a huge, perfectly indexed knowledge base of experiments.”

Ah, "testing," that is what growth hacking is all about, isn't it? I heard you coined the "Wizard of Oz" method. Please explain to our readers what that is.

“In 2010 I started working at Google headquarters in San Francisco. There, we discovered what I call the ‘Wizard of Oz’ method. As you well know, in the classic movie, the wizard is exposed as a simple man behind the curtain without special powers.

“The same illusion can be achieved when speaking of a minimal viable product (MVP), a very simple version of what might become the product. At the front, it functions as it should, but in the back, it’s all handcrafted and just hanging together. This is used to test in a simple and cheap way whether or not the user wants this product.

“The classic example of the Wizard of Oz method is Zappos, the flourishing online shoe store that was purchased by Amazon. They started with just an online storefront consisting of pictures of shoes from shoe stores. When a pair was sold, one employee ran to the shoe store to get the shoes, put them in a box, and ship them. There was no e-commerce or warehousing at all. Just one, single man made up the logistics department. I admire this entrepreneurial way of thinking.

“At Google, we used the same Wizard of Oz method in the development of a product called ‘AdWords Express.’ This is basically a simplified version of AdWords which is easier to use. Based on their URL, customers were given keywords that were relevant to their company. With a click of a button, clients automatically received an advertising campaign. Well, ‘automatically’ really meant that at the back-end there were a bunch of students that very quickly typed ad texts, but the user didn’t notice that. When this experiment proved successful, we further developed AdWords Express.”

What advice do you give to CEOs who want to start growth hacking in their organization?

“First, they have to get back into the start-up mode. They have to liberate themselves from the corporate straitjacket and get into the entrepreneurial mode. Secondly, they have to be really dedicated to starting growth hacking, meaning, they have to free up people and other resources in their organization. That is why it is so important that the entire C-level supports the project.”

Are you also engaged in growth hacking to grow RevelX?

“Of course! We are hacking our own growth all the time! ‘Experiment or die’ is the caption of a poster at our office .

“For instance, we experiment continuously with our own website to obtain new acquisitions. The website regularly undergoes small improvements based on what appears to work.

“Recently, I received the first request for a quotation via the chatbot on our website. Inbound marketing and sales platform HubSpot showed me which blog posts the customer had read, so I mentioned this in the telephone conversation I had with him. He thought it was a little creepy, but this background knowledge stimulated the conversation enormously.”

Thanks for your great insights, Noud! Any final advice?

“Readers who want to start with growth hacking should read the many tips on our blog. I also recommend that they subscribe to “The Growth Daily,” an email in which I give you a growth-hacking tip 5 times a week.”

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