Writing about growth and technology
I’m going to share the exact framework I used to increase the number of unique page views at arctype.com by 300% in 30 days — the Franken-strat.
If you’re looking for a quick growth hack, this is not that.
I started implementing this framework on my first day (12/21) to create a “content machine”, and as you can see in the graph above we didn’t see results until 4 weeks later.
I called it the Franken-strat because it involves moving quickly to bring a self-sustaining “machine” to life, and then improving it over time.
Before I joined the company, the CEO told me my job was to “own the active user KPI”. Honestly, I didn’t really know how to do that. I had some vague ideas, but I had studied computer science and finance in school, not marketing.
Thankfully during my time at Capital One, I picked up some rules for how to think about problem-solving. The Franken-strat is a set of principles to help anyone create quick and consistent results in a space where they have limited experience.
Here’s the Franken-strat:
Okay, time to increase the number of Arctype users… okay how do I do that…? I quickly realized that I didn’t know what I didn’t know. When you’re put in front of a new problem, you’ll probably find yourself in the bottom left of the known-unknown grid.
In order to get out of this quadrant, I created an 80/20 strategy.
The goal is not to try to jump to known-knowns, because we’ll probably miss them. The goal is to learn enough to know what you don’t know as fast as possible, and then come up with a bunch of hypotheses to test.
I came up with the 80/20 strategy because I couldn’t afford to invest months to come up with the “perfect” strategy.
I view strategy as a plan to get from A to B. I didn’t need the full 4K map with live traffic updates. I just needed some high-quality constraints to keep me in the right direction and help me make faster decisions.
Here are three tips for creating a 20% strategy that will get you 80% of the way:
Timebox the process
Coming up with a new strategy can feel overwhelming because there’s an infinite number of ways to get from A to B. To fight this decision paralysis, I created a forcing function for myself.
The ingredients were simple:
You won’t be completely happy with the output. But you’ll have enough to get started, and then you can improve it over time as you collect data.
Take 50% of the time for due diligence
We can’t talk about strategy until we're safely out of the bottom left quadrant.
To make this transition, I dedicate 50% of the time I gave myself to focus on learning.
“At smaller companies there’s less permission needed to learn more things” — Vinod Khosla
This was my favorite part of the entire process. It highlighted what I’ve loved about being at a startup, the velocity of learning. But back to the Franken-strat, the research period lasted around 1 week. During that time I focused exclusively on reading books, blogs, case studies- any content I could find about accelerating growth that passed my quality filter.
And I put all my takeaways into one long word doc (I think it ended up with 25+ pages).
Don’t worry yet about organizing it, finding themes, or figuring out how it applies to your strategy. Right now you just want to absorb as much information as possible, and then you can use this information to create a strategy in the second half of the process.
Steal from the best
At Capital One we had a team of 50+ analysts solely focused on the company’s strategy. The bad news as a startup is you won’t have the resources to compete with this.
But the good news is you don’t need to.
The large players have invested years of capital to get their strategy to 100%. We’re just looking for that high return, 20% strategy.
And in order to get there, we can and should steal ruthlessly. Stalk your direct competitors, adjacent companies, and companies you admire in completely different companies. Find the case studies, tweet threads, company blogs, industry talks, etc that break down the strategies they used.
And then combine the best of what you find to create a beautiful monster, I mean franken-strat.
I always give new PMs the same advice: fall in love with the minutiae.
We all love the exciting, whiteboard, free space, sticky note, order-in-lunch, won’t-get-prioritized-until-next-year, design thinking sessions. But honestly, I think that’s the easy part.
The best PMs focus on flawless execution: prioritized backlogs with well-groomed stories, defined sprint goals, meeting agendas, monthly one-on-ones with engineering, UAT validation processes, and documented release plans… if you’re a PM or engineer then you probably got at least a little excited reading that list.
I was ready to bring this delivery mentality to Arctype, but I quickly realized that as a leader at an early stage startup my job was not to run the machine- it’s to build the machine.
How I built a content machine
After I shared the 80/20 growth strategy with the team, we agreed that we wanted to focus on content for our first acquisition channel. We specifically focused on long-form, technical blogs.
There were a lot of things that had to come together: writing, timelines, editing, publishing, distributing, analytics, etc.
I started with the mentality that I could write the blogs myself, but the CEO pushed me to create a more sustainable model.
This is how I switched from being an operator to creating a content machine:
After setting up the processes, make sure you run through at least one iteration yourself. Putting the machine through a QA cycle will help you find any major bugs and potential improvements before you ask someone else to use it.
But once everything is done and calibrated, now you can hire anyone and start consistently producing high-quality outputs.
“If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, then you’ve launched too late” — Reed Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn
On my first day, the CEO asked me to give weekly updates on key metrics. This was a fantastic forcing function to deliver outputs early and often.
If you’re expected to improve a metric in the next 7 days, you can’t afford to not ship something. And as you can see in the graph above, sometimes even when I did ship something it wouldn’t improve any metrics. But that didn’t matter.
Those early articles taught me valuable lessons about what people wanted to read, how to work with writers, and where we needed to distribute.
And from there, you can see by our third post we had finally found the right mix of ingredients to drive results.
If we had waited until our content strategy was perfect and every part of the content machine was complete, then that first post would probably still be unpublished.
I started with near 0 knowledge about marketing, and in ~4 weeks I was able to increase traffic to the Arctype site by 300% by following the Franken-strat:
My first month at Arctype has been an amazing learning experience. If you’re interested in learning more about driving growth at a startup, follow me on Twitter @lofiderek or join my monthly newsletter - Shipped (where I also published this story).
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