You’re trying to grow your SaaS startup.

You’ve heard all the reasons why you should be engaging in conversion rate optimization (CRO)…

Naturally A/B testing has come up more than once in your CRO discussions.

You’ve even run a test or two. Or seventeen.

Yet despite your efforts, testing isn’t having anything resembling a material impact on your MRR. And now you’re jaded over the whole failed promise of split-testing…

You’ve come to the right place. We love A/B testing ’round these parts because, like you, we love learning. (That’s why you’re reading this, right?) We see split-testing as a way to learn first, earn second. But after 8-ish years of running split-tests for over a hundred businesses – including leading optimization for TurboTax Global and for Adobe’s consulting arm – let me say this and say this nicely: testing has lost its lustre.

As you’ve surely discovered, A/B testing comes with its share of problems:

  • You can fall into the trap of thinking what works on one website will work on yours
  • People talk about A/B testing like it’s a way to grow your business when that’s not its purpose whatsoever
  • You need more-than-decent traffic and conversions to complete a test
  • You have to be careful not to influence the test outcome (e.g., by running a promotion)
  • You, your team and your C-levels need the discipline to let a test run to completion
  • The goal you set may force you to focus on short-term wins, which may have zero impact on your bottom line
  • You need to stay motivated… winners are rare
  • It’s tough to A/B test things like blog post headlines, in-app screens, and drip emails
  • Even with clear hypotheses, you end up saying “That makes absolutely no sense” more often than not

Every growth strategy comes with its own list of potential pitfalls. But A/B testing is tossed around as an easy way to spike your conversion rate.

In reality, it’s nothing like that.

At best, you might find a 5% lift here, a 7% lift there. Probably not on paid conversions but on micro-conversions, like clicks. How do you make more money now that you’ve got more clicks? That’s a tough question – but the answer is rarely, “Run more tests and get more clicks.”

And so… this post is written for growth teams that:

  1. Can’t rely on A/B testing for growth, and
  2. Want to explore new ways to grow.

You’re about to get 19 growth hacks, complete with real-life examples, to add to your CRO strategy. They’re made for SaaS, but ecommerce and service businesses can use ’em, too. To keep things organized, I’m using Dave McClure’s brilliant Pirate Metrics framework to categorize the 19 growth hacks. (Side note: we’re not super-fans of the term “growth hacks” but we are fans of using the words our readers use… and it just so happens that “growth hacks” is what the world is calling these tactics, so.)

The Pirate Metrics model is so named because it consists of 5 stages that make up the user lifecycle:

  • Acquisition (You acquire the user. For a SaaS product, this usually means a sign up.)
  • Activation (The user tries your product, indicating a good first visit.)
  • Retention (The user continues to use your product, indicating they like your product.)
  • Revenue (The user pays you.)
  • Referral (The user likes your product so much he refers other new users.)

… together they make “AARRR”. 🙂

Aarrr y’ready? Let’s dive in…


1. Acquire Prospects by Teaching Your Visitors How to Succeed

Solving problems is why founders build products.

But it’s rare to find a SaaS product that teaches people how to be better at their jobs. Products create efficiencies… making people’s jobs easier… which translates into money made or time saved for a business. But here’s the thing:

  • Project management tools – even the most successful ones – don’t teach you how to manage projects well.
  • Team chat tools can be a dream or a nightmare depending on how your team engages via mentions and notifications.
  • Helpdesk software facilitates the efficient flow of tickets… but it’s up to your agents to delight customers with the words they choose in their responses.

It’s all about how.

Over time, software will surely get better at teaching. But until then, you and your team can teach others how to be amazing in their roles. So they like you. And so they see you as an expert.

Remember all that incredible knowledge and insight you acquired about how your customers work when you first started building your solution? Turn that knowledge into something you share openly – something you give away for free. You can use this approach with paying customers – to improve your retention metrics – but educating people is an amazing way to build trust and establish credibility with people who aren’t yet your customers. This is the entire idea behind content marketing.

Giving prospects a 30-day trial is all good, but there’s a lot involved with trying to learn new software. It’s work.

But learning something new about a relevant topic from an expert feels different… easier… and much more actionable. Your future users may discover you because you taught them how to do their jobs better with your:

How Intercom Does It

Intercom has built an amazing brand in the B2B SaaS space, helping customers better communicate with their own customers. They’re on a mission to educate people in three critical areas of SaaS business: customer support, product management, and customer engagement.

The team has written 3 great, well-received ebooks on those topics, based on what they’ve learned while building Intercom. This is genius worth borrowing.


Check ‘em out here, here, and here.

How Sendwithus Does It

Sendwithus is a user-friendly product that gives developers and marketers control over their transactional (i.e., API-generated) emails. One of the ways they’re helping their target users gain superpowers is by teaching them how to develop an effective series of transactional emails.

Everything you wanted to know about transactional emails is in their Pirate’s Guide to Email.


Sendwithus is seeing this strategy pay off – and they’ve gone a step further, creating the Open Source Email Templates Project, where anyone can browse and download high quality email templates (modern HTML and CSS, responsive, multi-client compatible) to use for their own business.

And if you’re skilled in designing templates, you can open source your own creations.

2. Let Your Con-tent Slide[Share]

Here’s a common scenario for a growing SaaS business.

You or someone on your team pours a ton of time, research, and energy into creating a kick-ass, epic blog post. A seriously great one. You build your list of influencers with whom to share your killer piece because you know that creating the post is only half the work. You follow the experts’ advice; you do all the right things to prepare for launch; and it pays off. Woo-hoo!! You experience a couple of jumps in traffic… first, as you share the post with your own audience… and then later, as a handful of your influencers mention it to their audiences.

But then, after the initial push, you see a steady decline in traffic. This finally lands on a consistent, but smaller flow of long-tail activity. Onto the next great post, right?


It doesn’t have to end like that.

You can squeeze a lot more opportunity out of your highest-performing blog posts simply by reshaping the content for a quality-seeking, ready-made audience. What is this mythical place of which I speak? SlideShare.

SlideShare’s visited by 70 million people per month. It has an Alexa ranking of 174, which means that it also has some serious Google juice.

For example, a search for “beautiful powerpoints” returns a SlideShare presentation from 2013 in Google’s top 3 organic results. That link’ll be pushing some serious traffic.


SlideShare is a fantastic resource for the B2B crowd, likely because slide presentations have always played a big role in real-life business. The site was acquired by LinkedIn for $119 million for that very reason.

Problem is this: it’s no big secret that SlideShare is an amazing place to get noticed as a thought leader in business. Everyone’s telling you to use SlideShare:

There’s a lot of competition for attention on SlideShare. But it’s not impossible to stand out if you do the right things. Your presentations need to be engaging and compelling enough to grab people’s attention – to cut through the noise.

How Drift Did It

Dave Gerhardt did precisely that. As a product marketer for the start-up, Drift, he wanted to teach other start-ups about the important role of product marketing. He scripted an engaging story, created an attractive slide template, and uploaded it to SlideShare on October 29, 2015.

In the 4 months since, Dave’s presentation has acquired more than 50,000 views. By embedding the SlideShare on a related blog post, he also managed to get Drift’s blog listed on the first page of Google search results for the term “what is product marketing” – within the first 30 days. And, hey, we just embedded it here – one more inbound link, one more signal of influence.

Creating a SlideShare presentation based on trending news is also a great strategy, especially if it ties in with your product or passion.

How Emiland De Cubber Did It

Emiland De Cubber, a skilled presentation designer, decided to pick on a public NSA slide deck to generate leads for his business. The Dear NSA presentation went viral and now has 1.2 million views. His work caught on so well that it was picked up by 13 media outlets – like Mashable, TechCrunch and Business Insider – and received more than 30,000 social shares. That’s the sweet sound of success.

And how many leads did Emiland receive? Hundreds.

Use these great reads to turn your content into effective SlideShare presentations:

3. Don’t Poo-Poo PR

The trend of late – especially for software startups – is to run, not walk, from anything resembling traditional PR. Has the world changed so much that PR should be written off?

Hang with me for a sec…

Well executed PR can do amazing things for your business. It can:

  • Provide massive reach for your message: With Google or Facebook ads, you can’t [realistically] buy the kind of traffic that a single article in The New York Times can deliver
  • Deliver long-lasting traffic: When you stop paying for ads, they stop delivering traffic, but a well-placed write-up in a popular tech publication may drive traffic to your website for years
  • Furnish unexpected opportunities: Investors and potential partners may reach out to you directly based on a favourable review of your product
  • Amplify your existing marketing: You can leverage third-party media in your own outbound marketing to broaden their impact

But instead of paying big monthly retainers and firing off press releases, try do-it-yourself, creative PR that gets people talking about your company.

How Airbnb Did It

When Airbnb was still called “AirBed & Breakfast” – back in October 2008 – they made a splash at the Democratic National Convention, and later at South by Southwest, with a crate of 500 hand-crafted, candidate-spoofing cereal boxes… that would sell for $39 a box.


The creative promotion:

  • Got the company featured in TechCrunch (see above),
  • Allowed them to pay off $30,000 in credit card debt from the sales proceeds, and
  • Earned them a spot in the much-loved startup accelerator, Y Combinator.

Apparently Paul Graham saw the stunt as a sign of perseverance more than creative PR. But according to Brian Chesky and his team, the cereal is what secured them a coveted spot.

Now if cereal ain’t your breakfast of choice…

What happens when you create an over-the-top launch video on YouTube?

How DollarShaveClub Did It

In March 2012, posted their Our Blades Are F***ing Great video.

If you didn’t take a sec to watch the above, here you go: The video featured the company’s founder, Michael Dubin, walking briskly through a warehouse as he fired off wisecracks and encouraged men to buy his razor blades on a subscription basis for as little as $2 a month.

In the first 48 hours after the video debuted on YouTube, 12,000 people signed up for his subscription service. Aside from a handful of Google ads, DollarShaveClub had done no other marketing. The video cost Dubin $4500 – although in fairness, Dollar Shave Club called in a few favours to keep costs low.

That video now has 22+ million views, 109K thumbs ups, and 8,700 comments.

How DuckDuckGo Did It

When Gabriel Weinberg launched a new search engine in 2008, plenty of people thought he was a quack (I couldn’t resist). How could DuckDuckGo, a 1-person start-up go up against Google? One way, Gabriel wagered, was by respecting users’ privacy.

When you do a search on DuckDuckGo, it doesn’t know who you are. Your IP address isn’t logged. There are no user accounts. The site doesn’t use cookies to keep track of where you go. And it doesn’t save your search history. Boom!

(In 2008, even Gabriel’s friends wondered what all the fuss was about. But now, living in a post-Snowden era, the idea of protecting searchers’ privacy doesn’t seem so crazy.)

In January 2011, Gabriel decided to run a PR campaign. He rented some prominent billboard space and went directly after Google’s own privacy policies.


The ad, which cost the company $7000 for 4 weeks, was well placed in San Francisco’s tech-heavy SOMA district, right along the highway as cars came off the Bay Bridge into San Francisco.

While the ad only modestly grew the search engine’s traffic (point “A” in the screenshot below), it laid a strong foundation for growth. (Incidentally point “I” in the chart is when Edward Snowden went public!)


DuckDuckGo got picked up in Wired, Business Insider, Search Engine Watch, and The Guardian, and with those mentions came credibility. And so as privacy concerns have mounted over the past 5 years, DuckDuckGo and Gabriel have become go-to sources for mainstream and tech publications when privacy stories break.

4. Power Up with “Powered By”

One of the best examples of consumer viral marketing is Hotmail. Sure, yeah, it’s an old example – but don’t get so caught up in shiny objects that classic awesomeness doesn’t move you anymore. This is good stuff: Hotmail used every single email sent through their service to market themselves to new users.

And the result?

In a little more than 1 year, Hotmail went from 20,000 users to 12 million. Shortly thereafter they were acquired by Microsoft.

While Hotmail made the viral loop strategy famous back in the 90s, it’s been more recently adopted by B2B SaaS products — taking the form of a “Powered by X,” where X is the company name.

You often see “Powered by” messages on hosted web pages

Here’s Kickstarter’s page on


You can see them on product widgets

Qualaroo’s name really gets around on website pop-up surveys:


And MailChimp isn’t shy about branding your emails (echoes of Hotmail):


Most SaaS companies, on their free or lowest tier plans, require that customers put up with a powered by message. Customers who move further up the plan hierarchy typically have the option to remove it, like with Typeform:


Wistia too uses “powered by” as a way to move people from free to paid:

Powered by copy

If you have an opportunity to use this approach for your own product (on a widget, invoice, email, webinar, or customer web page), don’t stop at the “Powered by” message, which is running the risk of becoming whitenoise. Get more creative, try some alternatives, and track the results. Here are a few to get you started:

  • Proudly crafted by {Brandname}
  • Made with care by {Brandname}
  • Got {Brandname}?
  • Want this for your site?

5. Watch Some Porn. Order Some Pizza. Advertise.

This approach may be harder to implement for your own product, but it’s worth sharing because it was ballsy and creative. It’s a great example of how using data and taking a calculated risk can pay off for a business.

The idea is basically this: go 1) where your prospects are but 2) where your competitors are not. 

How Eat24 Did It

Eat24 is a popular food delivery app and website. They’re also bootstrapped. Which means they have to be smart with how they spend money.

Since they don’t have a pool of VC funds to throw at advertising campaigns, they’ve had to come up with unique marketing strategies to fit their budget and brand… which in their space, meant finding an ad network with huge traffic and cheap inventory. The unicorn of ad networks.

So they looked inward at their customer base, and here’s what they found: some of Eat24’s heaviest users and biggest fans are in the adult film industry. This got them thinking about porn websites…

Stay with me here. This is a very interesting case study…

Could porn sites be an effective place for the team to advertise? After doing some basic research, they discovered a potential gold mine. Check it out:


Porn sites get big traffic.

And look at this:


Porn sites have low CPM / CPI.

So lots of traffic for little money. Could this be the unicorn of their dreams? I mean, if you put aside the whole porn thing. 

Not surprisingly, 99% of porn site ads are for other porn sites. The other 1% are ads for male enhancement pills and adult friend finders. Eat24 saw this as an opportunity. And so their idea to advertise a mainstream product on a porn site was born.

The big challenge was creating ads to compete with all those other ads… something eye-catching (sufficiently attention-grabbing to move people away from the, um, entertainment), on brand, and persuasive.

Tough as it sounded, they quickly learned that being free from the creative constraints of what “society likes” and what’s “acceptable” opened up a world of opportunities (and, well, dick jokes).

The team landed on the following ad creative (we could only show you the one :-):


So, okay, yeah – kiiinda gross. Not for everyone. Not for most businesses. But to be clear: we’re not saying you should advertise on porn sites. We’re saying that, if you’re gonna advertise, look beyond the obvious because your competitors are looking at the obvious, too, and that makes it expensive.

Did the ads work? From Eat24’s own blog:

No matter what metric you want to use to define success, our campaign kicked ass all the way across the board. Impressions? Our porn banner ads saw three times the impressions of ads we ran on Google, Twitter and Facebook combined. Click through? Tens of thousands of horngry Americans clicked our ads. Yeah, but did they convert? Psshhh, please. We saw a huge spike in orders and app downloads during the time our ads were live, especially late at night when that insatiable desire for DP (double pepperoni) is at its most intense.

With such a low CPM, we were able to maintain a firm and healthy budget for weeks. On other platforms (especially Facebook), we blew through our media spend in a matter of minutes (never happened to us before baby, we swear).

Again – because I can see the comment board lighting up now – we’re not advocating that you advertise your SaaS product on porn sites. But we’re kinda hoping that you’ll be inspired (excited even?) to think about creative ways to reach your target audience… using existing data… and maybe taking a bit of a risk.

6. Get Somethin’ on the Side (or “Side Project Marketing”)

It’s not like HubSpot needs any help in the marketing department. But that wasn’t always the case.

Back in 2006 – when HubSpot was new to the scene – the founding team needed to find a consistent, always-on source of leads for its core product… but something that wouldn’t require a heavy advertising budget or constant feeding, like a company blog.

So they built a free tool called Website Grader, which “grades” a website’s performance in under 30 seconds, across 30 factors, and gives it a score based on how it compares to other websites that have been tested. Between its initial launch and 2011, Website Grader ran on more than 4 million websites.


Since 2011 it’s been updated several times… getting better each time… and, according to Harvard Business Review, has been HubSpot’s single most effective inbound marketing strategy.

Welcome to the new world of side project marketing: create a side project to build awareness of your brand and drive traffic to your primary offering.

How Crew Does It

Are you familiar with the designer and developer sourcing community, Crew?

After some slower-than-expected early growth, they were down to their final 3 months of payroll. They needed a way to turn things around – stat. At the time, they were in the midst of a full home page redesign… so they decided to pay for some professional photos that they could use on their new site. But they had all these photos leftover from the shoot, photos they had no intention of using, photos they owned the license to.

In an arguably unintentional approach to marketing their core business, the Crew team created a side project. In a few hours, they threw together a domain, a Tumblr theme, and a bunch of leftover photos from their coffee shop shoot. They called it Unsplash.


Unsplash is a site that delivers 10 high-res photos to you every 10 days, royalty free. The launch of Unsplash made immediate waves on Hacker News, and within a few hours, they had more traffic to Unsplash than they had attracted to Crew’s main site all year.

According to this post, Crew’s own blog paled in comparison as a source of traffic referrals and email subscribers (3,600 from the blog; 100,000 from Unsplash).

Unsplash now sees more than 11 million unique visitors every month. And it’s the #1 traffic referral source to Crew’s main site.

What’s the Crew team done since? Not surprisingly, they’ve launched more side projects: Moodboard, Launch This Year, App vs. Website. And as written in this post, Crew’s side projects are responsible for more than 40% of Crew’s revenue.

How Buffer Does It

Buffer recently started offering these, which complement the Buffer product but are not core to it:

  1. Pablo, which lets you design images for your social media posts for free, and
  2. Optimal Scheduling, which will suggest the 3 optimal times for posting to Twitter (based on your Twitter account).

To make your own side project a success, build something your audience will value and find useful… and give it away. Create something truly useful and the end user won’t even realize it’s marketing.

But let’s be clear: side projects shouldn’t require a ton of time or money to create. There are a ton of free tools (like WordPress, Teachable, Gumroad, Revue) to help you get something off the ground. The question is, what can you build fast that your audience will dig and, ideally, share?

7. Create a Sweet Hook-up (i.e., integrate like a mofo)

Slack. It’s making big waves in the B2B world because of its crazy-fast growth and adoption within all kinds of companies. With nearly 2.5 million daily active users and more than $60 million in projected annual revenue, who wouldn’t envy that kind of growth after only 2 years in business?

Slack is, at its core, a team chat tool. The product has a fun, friendly vibe, but it wasn’t the first to market – not even close. There’s also HipChat, Yammer, IRC clients, Glip, Gitter, Skype for Business, and plenty more.

One of Slack’s key differentiators is its ability to integrate easily with other products. In their App Directory, you can find more than 300 products to connect with Slack: Uber, Google Drive, GitHub, and Trello, to name a few.


Integrations make products smarter and more useful to customers on both sides of the integration. Integrations are also a great way to grow your customer base. When you integrate with a successful product that already has a substantial user base, you can tap into that market and get your product in front of them.

For your own business, what other products do your best customers use?

Can you add value for them by integrating your product with another?

If so, you may also be able to create a new customer acquisition opportunity that includes 1) getting listed on the other product’s integration page, and 2) co-promoting the integration via a blog or email announcement. Once you’re listed on another company’s integrations page, customers who use that product stand a far better chance of discovering you.

If your customers already use Slack, why not create a basic integration? Or if your customers use many apps, consider a Zapier integration, which boasts a huge audience of savvy marketers and developers who want to move data between their favorite applications. (Check out the integrations page for FreshBooks.)

Nothing says you have to go big. If you know your customers have an affinity for a smaller, up-and-coming SaaS product – and that product offers an API – it could turn into a substantial business opportunity for both you and them.

8. Reposition Your Product for a Richer, Less Support-Hungry Segment

In October 2014, Nathan Barry was at a critical point in the development of his SaaS product, ConvertKit.

Growth had stalled and monthly revenue was hovering around $1200.

As of March 2016, just 17 months later, ConvertKit’s sales are on an enviable upward trajectory, eclipsing $152,000/month. Nathan is all about transparency, so you can actually watch ConvertKit’s progress here.

What changed during those 17 months?

Nathan has mentioned a couple of big shifts in recent interviews. The first was his decision to focus attention entirely on growing ConvertKit – by (1) putting the brakes on consulting, (2) investing $50K of personal funds, (3) doing things that don’t scale, and (4) hiring help.

The second big shift was Nathan’s decision to reposition ConvertKit… from “email marketing for authors” to “email marketing for professional bloggers.


From Nathan:

Our customers that most strongly identified with the term ‘author’ tended to be some of the smallest accounts, needed the most help, and were the most likely to cancel. Our best customers didn’t start building an email list from scratch; instead they switched their list over from another provider. These people usually didn’t strongly identify themselves as authors. Instead they were bloggers, course creators or something else.

The product didn’t change dramatically right off the bat. But the repositioning of ConvertKit made it instantly clear who should be considering the product: people who care most about growing their list and are willing to pay for that growth.

How Basecamp Did It

Basecamp (the product) was born on February 5, 2004.

On its 10th anniversary in 2014, Jason Fried shared the all-time cumulative Basecamp user count of 15,000,000. On the same birthday, 37signals (the company behind the product) was renamed to mirror the product for which so much of its success is attributed: 37signals became Basecamp.

In 2016, Basecamp 3 was launched… an all-new product with new pricing and new positioning.

The previous version of Basecamp offered several pricing plans based on the number of active projects. But the new Basecamp has only 2 monthly plans: 1 for internal teams, priced at $29/month, and 1 for customers who have clients (e.g., agencies), priced at $79/month and called “Basecamp With Clients“.


What makes the 2 plans different? It’s primarily a single feature called Clientside, which is designed to separate internal communications from client communications. (I’m sure you can think of plenty of reasons why someone would want to keep them separate.)

Basecamp has always had tons of agencies as customers, but now the product looks like it’s been built specifically with agencies in mind. And if you’re an agency looking for project management software, wouldn’t “Basecamp With Clients” catch your eye?

If you don’t know who you’re building for, growth is going to be a serious challenge. You should actually stop reading right now and go invest in some help with this point… because your marketing will not work until you identify your audience. It simply won’t. Take it from us: you can’t write compelling copy if you don’t know who the reader is.

On the other hand, if you’ve already licked that “who’s our audience” problem, are you targeting the ideal audience for long-term growth? Can you go narrower (without dramatically changing your product) and try to OWN a segment of the market?

By repositioning your product for a different – and ideally more cash rich target market – you might even be able to increase your prices. If you want to 2x your business, you can see how an A/B test of a home page headline is unlikely to do quite as much for you as, say, serving a more rewarding market and charging that market twice what you charged the other guys.


9. Help Your New Customers Succeed

Software is eating the world, as Marc Andreessen puts it.

And no doubt SaaS will be a huge part of that feast.

SaaS products launch sooner, evolve faster, cost less to run, and don’t typically require long sales cycles. If you want to grow your SaaS business, double-down on customer success and know for sure that your customers are getting maximum value.

In the “old” software model, an account executive would sell the customer a product once for an ongoing license and would commit the customer to pay an annual service fee. Essentially customers would pay to cover the total costs of their own customer success.

It’s different for SaaS.

Every month your customers can decide to renew your product or not. “Should we be paying for this?” is empowering for a customer, but a risky thing for the SaaS vendor to hear.

Something else that’s different about SaaS: the purchaser is often the end user. This means that product feedback flows with much less friction between the users and the person paying the monthly invoice. Because of this, the likelihood of churn is greater now than in the old software model. If you’re a believer in launching Minimum Viable Products — where the product will continually evolve — it’s even more important that you ensure your customers are successful throughout your product’s evolution.

So instead of obsessing over A/B testing, try to up-level your customer success tactics.


Can you create an engaging webinar for brand new users to attend? And if it works, make it a weekly thing? Joanna has been doing this at Airstory, and the new-user churn has been nice ‘n’ low.

What about offering 1-on-1 product demos for new teams (of a certain size, or for companies whose logos you’d love to put on your home page) that sign up for your free trial?

If you use event- or people-driven analytics tools like Heap, Mixpanel, or KISSMetrics, you can filter users based on their Day 1 engagement, and armed with that list, proactively reach out to those users who initially interacted with your product but didn’t continue. Find out if you can help them (to bring them back for a 2nd look)… and if not, ask them what their expectations were at sign-up and why they weren’t met. At the very least, you’ll generate some amazing insights for further improving your marketing and product roadmap.

10. Pay Your Churning Customers

During my time leading growth for Flow, we put into place a fun program where we’d pay users to have in-depth conversations about their experience with our product.

Turns out, paying to interview churners was the best money we ever spent.

Sure, surveys are great. You can learn a ton. But surveys don’t let you easily explore how a person feels about your product or what jobs, situations and circumstances brought them to try your product. Surveys don’t give you any sort of “deep dive” into a particular area of questioning.

We wanted to speak to our customers. So as part of our on-boarding email, we invited brand new users to chat, and for their time we gave them a $25 Amazon gift card.

Our new-user discussions focused on:

  • Their team’s goals,
  • The other products they’d tried (and why),
  • What specifically brought them to try Flow, and
  • How they planned to evaluate whether or not Flow successfully delivered during the trial period.

All of those points are connected to their expectations. Had their expectations been set right by our marketing? Did our product actually match their expectations? Which areas did it fail in?


We also invited cancelling users (people who stopped paying for Flow) to talk. And we gave them a $50 gift card – we had to pay them more than new users ‘cos it’s much more difficult to engage someone who’s leaving your product behind.

This is how interviews with churners went down:

  1. We’d email the newly churned and ask them to hop on the phone with us in exchange for a $50 Amazon gift card.
  2. Those who accepted our offer would pick a spot on our calendar using Calendly.
  3. From there we’d use Skype or Google Hangouts to conduct the session, which typically lasted 30 minutes. (We’d let it go longer if the participant wanted to keep talking!)
  4. We delivered the Amazon e-gift card.

How does running a program like this, where you interview users one-on-one, translate into activation metrics? Simple: we focused the insights on making sure that the first use experience in Flow delivered on people’s expectations.

For cancelling customers, we also wanted to understand their original expectations for Flow. We had them walk through their process for getting their team using the product and the challenges they encountered during the adoption process. And finally, we got them to open up about why Flow didn’t meet their expectations – why they were saying good-bye.

One person from our team would facilitate the call, but we invited anyone from our team to join. Customer success folks, product managers, designers, developers, the CEO – the more you sat in on these sessions, the richer the insights. These calls helped everyone at Flow get to know our customers and understand what they expected from the product we were building. Once you hear several people give you the same reason for cancelling, it’s hard to de-prioritize fixing those problems or adding those features to the roadmap.

We conducted about 100 new user interviews and 40 cancelling customer discussions.

Total cash outlay, $4500. Insights gained? Priceless.

11. Give “White Glove Service”

Do things that don’t scale.

That’s the new motto of the startup. When you’re growing, you should do things that don’t scale, as counter-intuitive as that seems for a small startup team.

According to Paul Graham:

Startups take off because the founders make them take off. There may be a handful that just grew by themselves, but usually it takes some sort of push to get them going.

We tell ourselves that we need to build a slick onboarding process in our apps, and that we should invest substantial development time in that because it will scale: every new user will be onboarded in the same way. But is that the best approach? Perhaps rather than building the UI of your user onboarding process, you should do whatever it takes to help your new users achieve success — including reaching out to them via email, setting up demos, and actually configuring the product for them.

Doing everything “manually” doesn’t scale well. But it’ll keep your developers focused on building the core product… and it’ll give your growth team amazing data on user goals and how people think about using your product.

How Drip, ConvertKit and Infusionsoft Do This

Drip will adapt your existing drip email course or write one entirely from scratch – and they’ve been offering this service since their early days.

ConvertKit offers a Concierge Migration to eliminate the pain of switching from your existing email platform, including setting up new forms, email sequences, and subscriber lists.


Infusionsoft knows how important it is to get customers onboarded correctly, but their approach is a little different: they charge new customers $1500 to $4000 for their Kickstart onboarding program.

You may not be in a position to charge customers like Infusionsoft.

But getting your new users up to speed quickly and seeing the value – achieving the “aha moment” – is perhaps more likely to help you grow than letting them flounder around with your barely-informed onboarding process.


12. Probability Versus Usability

A/B testing is a method of pitting two versions of a web page against each other to determine which one performs better around a specific (and desired) user action.

This basic definition has been around since around 2004.

But prior to 2004 – when website testing tools like Offermatica (now Adobe Target) sprung onto the scene – split testing was commonly used in direct response mail campaigns to measure their performance. Back then, website owners – without the use of today’s A/B testing tools – relied on usability testing to figure out how to improve their conversion rates.


Since the rise in popularity of A/B testing tools, it feels like usability testing has taken a backseat to the “new science.”

But one technique isn’t necessarily better than the other. They’re just… different.

Usability testing is most often labeled as qualitative research, because usability cannot be measured purely by the numbers (due to the much smaller sample size). But usability testing is more than a qualitative assessment of your website or product. One of the primary goals of usability testing is quantifying how many people succeed at the tasks you give them – and how many obstacles they encounter along the way.

Usability testing is also about watching your users interact with your application and asking questions like “How can that be accomplished?”, “Why is this frustrating?”, and “What are you thinking there?” You can get inside the minds of your users and see your product from their perspective – which is something that shouldn’t be valued any less than insights gained from larger data sets and statistics.

Usability testing gets at why users take certain actions. That’s something that A/B testing isn’t capable of measuring.

Results are immediate, and with as few as 5 participants, you can generate actionable insights.

13. Don’t Let Credit Cards Expire!!!

If your customers are paying for your subscription service via credit card, you probably know how many of those charges are missed each month. It turns out that expired credit cards are a primary source of customer churn for SaaS companies, and if you’re not already using an automated service to handle missed payments, it might be worth a look.

Credit cards typically expire every 36 months, and applying some simple math reveals this: roughly 3% of your customers’ credit cards will expire each and every month.

If you’re trying to handle the missed payments personally, it can be tough slogging. The “you-cheap-bastard-you-didn’t-pay-us” email is not the most pleasant email to send out, and it may feel like you’re inconveniencing your customers. But if you don’t do anything about their failed credit card payment, well, haven’t they already slipped away?

So don’t let it happen.

You can avoid all the uncomfortable feelings and extra work by using a service such as Churn Buster, Stunning, or Baremetrics.

These SaaS services will automatically retry your customers’ failed payments at just the right time. Stripe can facilitate retries as well, but it’s less configurable and lacks good reporting. These services will also attempt to automatically update the credit card expiry dates, without the credit card owner intervening — just prior to the cards expiring.

And if that doesn’t work, they’ll send a series of friendly emails (which are typically customizable) to your customers on your behalf, so that they’ll know to update their billing information before a payment re-attempt fails.


Even with the Churnbusters of the world, failed payments will still occur – and they’ll still be the cause of customer churn.

But a payment recovery service could pay for itself many times over in just the first month.


14. Pause Not (…Not)

Customer churn is a fact of life for most SaaS businesses.

But some outright cancellations can be saved with very little effort. For example, if a customer is happy with your product or service but needs to take a break, you could take a hard line and explain that all her data will be lost if she cancels (the “data-as-hostage” strategy). How does she feel about that? Well, how would you feel?

But if you’d rather build healthy long-term relationships with your customers by keeping their data intact, consider giving them the ability to pause their account. Users can pause their account either for a limited time (say, for a maximum of 3 months per year) or by reducing their monthly fee.


While both options will let you stay in touch with your customer during the temporary downtime, charging a nominal monthly fee will also prevent a complete loss of that customer’s MRR (remember, it’s far less expensive to keep a customer than find a new one).

This strategy is common with hard good subscription services like Hello Fresh and Nerd Block, but less common in the software world.

Buffer, Code School and Treehouse all give customers the option to pause and resume service at a later time.

15. To Generate Revenue, Don’t Treat “Affiliate” Like a Four-Letter Word

Over the past 4+ years at Copyhackers, we’ve experimented several times with affiliate networks.

We’ve set up WordPress plug-ins that promised to manage the end-to-end affiliate experience. But unfortunately their visual designs left a lot to be desired. And we felt a strong lack of control, which was tough for this Type A group to cope with.

We’ve gone the affiliate marketplace route using ClickBank. But after a couple of months, it became clear that:

  • Lots of affiliates just share your coupons with their audience
  • Super-affiliates are – well, they’re super-er when you know them and not so grand if you don’t have a relationship with them
  • We’d need an entire affiliate management team (okay, at least one full-time person) if we wanted to manage 100s of affiliates

Not to mention that so many of the affiliates didn’t seem to care about what they were selling on our behalf… and by extension, didn’t care much about Copyhackers’s customers. That ain’t good. We no likey.

It wasn’t until we were approached by the amazing AppSumo team that we realized how great an affiliate relationship could be. The AppSumo team knew about Copyhackers… had consumed our ebooks… and understood our brand and our business. They wanted to make it easy for us to sell more products by handling every detail: pricing strategy (based on real sales data), promotion dates, sales pages and emails, refunds, product hosting… everything.


The more we worked with them, the easier it got. They knew us and we knew them. With such a strong mutual respect and understanding, the sales poured in with our semi-annual promotions. It was fun to work with AppSumo, the Copyhackers super affiliate.

Fast forward to today, and we’re exploring a new angle for affiliate marketing. But this time, we’re the affiliate.

How Copyhackers Does It

Not long ago, Joanna was approached by LeadPages, a fast-growing, well-funded and profitable startup that lets you create landing pages specifically designed to get you more leads. In combo with using Unbounce and Kickoff Labs, we’d been using their landing-page builders for a year, and we were big fans of the style of their templates (which anyone with a background in direct-response copywriting would agree with). They’d also been learning from Copyhackers for awhile; they’d invited us to speak at their conference. tldr: we shared a mutual respect.

So when they suggested we become their affiliates, it was a no brainer to take the relationship a step further.

Joanna recently co-hosted a LeadPages webinar.


It was our first foray into being an affiliate, and it was critical for us that the webinar NOT feel like an extended sales pitch. It was 75 minutes of training that ended in 15 minutes of pitching – and if you roll your eyes at the idea of pitching in a webinar, then this growth hack isn’t for you. Pitching a great product to a captive audience you’ve just taught for free for an hour is not bad business; it would be dumb business not to offer your product in such a situation.

The webinar went over wonderfully, with emails like this following it (from Julia L.):

This was a great webinar – thanks for hosting it. For the record, I have never sent an email thanking someone for a webinar before. 🙂

And, yeah, we earned money from it. Not a ton. But enough that, if we decide to keep operating as affiliates, we could easily hire another person at Copyhackers to help us write more, share more, give more. (Which brings us back to that point about giving and then pitching: if you never pitch, you sell less, and you hire less. Sales create revenue; revenue creates jobs; obviously.)

LeadPages recently asked to turn a few of our higher-converting wireframes into “designed by Copyhackers” landing page templates. They launched these last week as part of their drag-and-drop builder launch. That led to a brand new promotion. And we’re looking forward to doing more.

Affiliates can be amazing for business, but only if you’re thoughtful about who you work with.

Be proactive and choose your affiliates with purpose. If you don’t like the word “affiliates”, call them “partnerships” (trust us, we get it!). Build the relationship, like we did with AppSumo and like we’re now doing with LeadPages.

16. New SaaS = Software AND a Service

The beauty of SaaS is that once you’ve acquired a customer, your product should do most of the heavy lifting to keep that customer, with some occasional quality support from your team.

But what if you could combine your SaaS product with a highly-valued, people-powered service?

You’ll see from the examples below that combining software with a service can double, triple, or even 10x your monthly plan prices.

How Bench Does It

Bench is a fast-growing SaaS start-up with lots of happy customers. They provide bookkeeping services to companies, and their plans start at $135/month… topping out at $350/month.

It’s traditional SaaS, but powered by people. Their software lets you instantly message your Bench bookkeeping team, sync Bench with your various bank and credit card accounts, and view your income statement and balance sheets any time you like.

The amazing part? They charge 5-10x more than do-it-yourself SaaS bookkeeping products. How? By making their team of experts accountable for your success. And their users love them in ways that QuickBooks users simply don’t love their service-free software


How Bounce Exchange Does It

It’s pretty likely that you’ve seen Bounce Exchange’s (BX) technology at work. It powers many of the exit pop-ups you see on popular media and e-commerce sites. You’ve probably seen it on Copyhackers – we’ve been using it and loving it for nearly 2 years.

When we wrote about Bounce Exchange back in May 2014, their plans started at $3995/month. That’s no typo.

There were a bunch of BX alternatives at the time (focused on exit intent pop-ups) whose prices ranged from $19/month to $249/month.

So how has BX managed to compete… grow its team… and grow its revenue… at their noticeably higher prices?

They get great results… and they do so with a mix of smart technology and high-value services.

When you sign up for BX, you’re assigned a dedicated consultant. This person:

  • Helps you choose the right types of marketing campaigns to run,
  • Oversees production of creative assets,
  • Configures the software,
  • Monitors the results, and
  • Optimizes everything based on your KPIs.

By combining behavioral marketing software with smart people, BX has steadily moved up market and watched its revenue explode.

How UserTesting Does It

UserTesting has added optional services to its popular automated usability testing software.

With the company’s Basic plan, you pay $49 per user-testing video.

But with its Pro plan – prices not shown (hint: it’s higher) – you get access to their team of capable researchers and project managers, who will help you:

  • Plan your tests,
  • Recruit participants,
  • Moderate the sessions,
  • Annotate videos, and even
  • Administer NDAs.

Think about the types of roles attached to software like yours. If project management software is used by small businesses lacking project managers, perhaps the next PM SaaS startup will add “project manager services” to its software the way Bench added accounting services to its software. Blogging software could offer content strategist upgrades. Email software could offer copywriter access. Design software could offer creative director assistance…

17. Create an Upgrade Path

Discussed earlier, churn is the percentage of customers and revenue that you lose each month.

It’s the leak in the SaaS bucket, requiring a steady flow of new customers and subscription payments to outpace the leak.

But even with a constant stream of new, paying customers, churn will eventually create a ceiling to how much you can grow. Churn is bad.


There are smart ways to reduce churn.

You can improve your product and directly address the reasons why people leave (something you should already be doing!).

Or you can outpace the churn by getting your existing customers to spend more money next month than they did this month. How do you get your customers to spend more? You create an upgrade path. Give customers the option to solve a bigger problem or receive more value from your product and many will pay more for that outcome.

How Buffer Does It

(Side note: Have you noticed how many times Buffer appears on this list? And how popular their service is? Think there might be a correlation between actually implementing these ideas and seeing results?)

Buffer has 51,000 customers and monthly revenue of $755,000 (at the time of writing).

Much of that revenue comes from their “Awesome” plan, which costs just $10/month.

When you do the math quickly, you see this: they’ve got a whole lotta customers to support and payments to retain each and every month. So to take some pressure off their renewal system and get people to pay more for Buffer, the team introduced a new plan – Buffer for Business – back in December 2013.

Buffer for Business is about having your entire team work within the same Buffer account instead of relying on 1 person to do it all. Within a few months of its launch, Buffer for Business was generating more than 10% of the company’s total revenue. Two years later, existing teams continue to upgrade from individual to business plans, as shown here:


Those are the upgrades for a single day!

The Pro plan (now the Awesome plan) is $10/month, and the Small Business plan goes for $50/month. After upgrading, each of the customers shown in the image above will generate an additional $480 per year for Buffer. 


18. Double-Double Your Incentive,
Double-Double Your Enjoy-oy-oyment

The story of Dropbox’s double-sided referral program is near legendary, especially in SaaS marketing circles.

Their team created the referral program out of necessity because their paid product was $99/year but it cost them between $288 and $388 to acquire each new customer via paid ads and affiliates.

Inspired by PayPal’s refer-a-friend program (which helped them grow 7-10% daily!) and by some of what they read in Guerrilla Marketing (according to an older talk they gave on NPR), Dropbox developed a double-sided referral program. With this program, both the referrer and her friend get rewarded in the form of extra storage space, which is key to usage and enjoyment of Dropbox.


During the 15-month period after launching their program (2008), they grew from 100,000 users to 4,000,000.

Their sign-up rate permanently increased by 60%.

And 35% of their daily sign-ups came from the referral program.

I know what you’re thinking: Dropbox is a freemium product, and virality is easier to achieve for free than for a paid product. Well let me introduce you to my next example, which is definitely not a free solution:

How Airbnb Does It

Airbnb has been continually refining and improving its referral program since the beginning.

The company’s “Referrals 1.0” program launched in 2011. It rewarded Airbnb users with $100 travel credit based on their friend booking an Airbnb trip or renting out their own place.

Although the team didn’t do much active promotion of the program, it still managed to generate millions in revenue. Take a look:


Referrals 2.0 launched in January 2014. This time, it only offered the referred friend a $25 travel credit. Even with this new limitation, it was still responsible for driving 900% year-on-year growth for first-time bookings.

Yes, 900%. Nine. Hundred. Percent.

As in, if you’re saying, “But referral programs are too hard”, I’ve got this to say to you: “Nine hundred percent growth.”

Airbnb also learned that referred users tend to bring even more referrals than non-referred customers, and those referrals are much more likely to sign-up as guests and hosts — leading to an amazing compounding effect. Diggety.

This was no normal growth hack. A ton of effort went into creating Airbnb’s referral engine… 5 FTEs… 3 months to build… 30K lines of code… launching on web, iOS and Android simultaneously. Worth it? Um, yes. Clearly, yes.

How Typeform Does It

In the survey space, Typeform is killing it for differentiation and acquisition. They already have strong word of mouth (we use Typeform at Copyhackers!), but their double-sided referral program helps amplify the signal.


How Lyft Does It

Competition is uber-hot in the ride-sharing market.

How does Lyft compete with Uber?

They let you text a friend $25 to put toward a Lyft ride.


How JackThreads Does It

Jackthreads gives the invited friend $5 when they register on the apparel website, and the sender gets $10 when that same friend completes a purchase.


How Hubstaff Does It

Hubstaff provides time tracking software. If you refer 2 paid accounts, you’ll save 20% on your bill for as long as your referral keeps her paid account (up to a maximum of 12 months) – and so with 10 active referrals, you’d pay nothing for Hubstaff. Your friend would also save 10% on her bill.


How LastPass Does It

LastPass is an industry-leading password manager.

The team knows how important it is to make your referral program visible, so they link to it on virtually every page inside the product (albeit in a tasteful, non-interruptive way).

Links bring you to a clean landing page that explain what you and your invited friend will receive.


19. Promote Your Top Promoters

If you’re not yet familiar with conducting Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys, this technique may not be right for you.

But if you’re in a position to run a NPS survey with your trial users or paying customers, hang onto your hat.

For your next NPS survey, remember to include the all-important follow-up question to the standard NPS rating question… which asks for the reason WHY the person chose the rating she did. The “why” is key for this technique to work.

Promoters are the people who love your product and would be willing to tell someone about it. Problem is, the latter action isn’t likely to happen without any follow-up from you. And it’s up to you to turn those “9s” and “10s” into a customer acquisition engine.


Chances are good that a Promoter’s written response for rating your product so highly is going to include some fun-to-read, amazingly positive language.

When you see an amazing response, simply reply back immediately to that respondent and ask permission to use the quote.

Tell the Promoter specifically how you’ll use her quote — right down to the last detail (and offer to edit it if you think that’ll help).

If you need more detail about the respondent to use in your marketing messages, feel free to ask for her company name and position.

With your well-worded testimonials in hand, check out the following ways to use Promoter feedback:

  • Include feature-specific quotes on your Features page and in your user onboarding emails
  • Create a queue of fun social media updates in Buffer
  • Post the very best, most descriptive testimonials on your home page
  • Does the quote overcome a specific pricing objection? If so, use it on your Pricing or Plans page!

There you have it!

You’ve now got 19 research- and experience-backed ideas on how to grow your SaaS business – without relying on a single A/B test.

If you’ve tried any of these tactics, we’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below. If we’ve missed any (like the Wistia Truck comes to mind), tell us!