Growth hacking or growth marketing is a hot topic today. That’s why we’re devoting a mini-series to it with our blog in February. This week we talk to Nicholas D’hondt, co-founder of Birdhouse alumnus Plann3r as well as growth hacking consultant at Grow-Force. He reveals his tips, gives us the latest growth trends and tells us why you should definitely not cross any boundaries.

For Nicholas, growth hacking is closely tied to his startup Plann3r. That Birdhouse alumnus helps you efficiently schedule meetings into your schedule and their growth has a lot to do with growth hacking.

“When we started, we quickly realized that we weren’t going to get there with traditional marketing.” Nicholas explains. “We didn’t have the budget to do big campaigns and we were looking for a smart way to reach our target audience. That’s how I got into growth hacking or growth marketing. I took a series of online courses and went to all the growth hacking meetups I could find.”

“I learn things at Plann3r that I can use at other companies, but vice-versa I also learn things as a consultant that are useful for my start-up.”

This self-study led to a job at the Antwerp company The Growth Revolution, where he learned the tricks of the trade as a consultant. After that, he started Plann3r and now Nicholas also advises other companies with growth hacking. “That interaction is very productive.” Nicholas says.

Growth hacking as a mindset

But what is growth hacking according to Nicholas? “Growth hacking to me is a mindset of experimenting very quickly and constantly looking for new channels.” he states. “You explore how to reach a target audience most effectively and with what message to do so.”

“We involve different people in the growth of the company. For example, we put sales people, technical experts and founders in one room.”

C├ędric Duinslaeger & Nicholas D’hondt from Plann3r

And that mindset fascinates Nicholas. “You put a lot of profiles together.” explains the growth hacker. “It’s not just marketing coming up with marketing advice in their silo anymore. We involve different people in the growth of the company, so we put sales people, technical experts and founders in one room. And very creative experiments often arise from this . I also think it’s fantastic to catalyze growth in companies, that gives me super energy.”

Experimentation is one of the core aspects of growth hacking. “We are constantly looking for new experiments. These are not the traditional things your competitors are already doing, but new, creative actions. We implement these as quickly as possible in order to measure their effect. The change in mentality that something like this causes in a company is enormous fun. Campaigns no longer take weeks or months to devise, but experiments we invent one morning are often live by the afternoon.”

How do you start?

But how do you get started with growth hacking as a business? “By calling me,” Nicholas laughs. “But seriously: you have to put the right people together. You can’t just drop growth hacking into your marketing team, it has to permeate your entire organisation. It’s best to put together a growth team of people from the various branches of your company, i.e. developers, entrepreneurs, marketing and sales. With that team, you can fill out a growth hacking canvas, for example, or delineate some experiments.”

“Behind every growth hacking success story, there are guaranteed to be a series of failed experiments.”

That’s just the first step, though. “There always has to be a process behind it. You don’t just experiment around. Because as a growth hacker you will fail a lot. Behind every growth hacking success story, there are guaranteed to be a series of failed experiments. You need a process so you learn from each experiment. And every time you fail you have to learn something about your customers, your channel or your messaging.”

Errors

And that’s immediately the biggest mistake an organization can make. “A big mistake is to experiment, but not learn anything from it.” Nicholas explains. “There are a lot of companies that start growth hacking, do an experiment, fail and then stop. They then think growth hacking is not for them, when in fact they are just haven’t found the right experiment yet. But in order to do that, you have to try things, document them and keep making adjustments.”

Documentation is important. “I always record my experiments with screenshots that I place in an accompanying text document with additional comments in it.” recommends Nicholas. “Because if that experiment was successful, I’ll go back to it and see exactly what I did.”

A second big mistake is not giving your growth team enough freedom. “Growth hacking relies on quick experimentation and testing things out.” Nicholas explains. “But in large organisations this is not always obvious and you sometimes need three permissions to carry out an experiment. Of course, that’s not ideal. In those cases, I recommend giving a growth team control of a small piece of your channels or even setting up a separate brand where you experiment with new techniques without them ending up on your main brand.”

Trends

In addition, growth hacking often relies on the latest tools and techniques. Nicholas reveals the most important trends he sees coming. “Today LinkedIn is of huge interest, especially for B2B companies. You can perform a lot of automations, optimize profiles and send customers to targeted landing pages. LinkedIn is such a big playground today that it’s really interesting for a company to invest in it. Also, in the future, they’ll probably bet more on LinkedIn groups, which is going to be the next big thing in my opinion.”

“LinkedIn is such a big playground today that it’s really interesting for a company to invest in it.”

And that’s also his tip for beginning growth hackers: stay with it. “I’m constantly looking for the latest tools. I’m subscribed to the Product Hunt newsletter, I’m in all kinds of Facebook groups like Badass Marketers & Founders and I’m constantly going to meetups. Always to find the latest techniques and tools.”

Don’t spam, don’t cheat

“You can automate things, but the focus should be on creating value for your target audience. How you do that depends from company to company.” But what about the risk of spamming? Irritating automated messages are so common on LinkedIn. Nicholas acknowledges that these ethical dilemmas exist.

“There are gray and black zones in growth hacking. And I’m not going to point the finger at anyone.” he states.“Always make sure your actions fit your brand and who you are. Stay as human as possible, don’t spam and don’t cheat on potential customers. You can automate things, but the emphasis should be on creating value for your target audience. How you do that depends from company to company, definitely set boundaries.”

If you take one thing away from this conversation with Nicholas, it’s the emphasis on growth hacking as a philosophy. “Traditional marketing firms are now even adopting growth hacking.” he explains. “There are obviously a lot of trends you can follow. But if that philosophy of experimenting and adjusting is in your company’s DNA, you can handle all new situations.”