I Will Not Use the Phrase “Growth Hacking”

But I will call it marketing.

It’s always something that I’ve been interested in, but it’s also something I’ve always put off until “I have more time”. Well, that time is now.

I spent two days in December and did a thorough review of my little software business. The obvious take away is that 90% of my revenue comes from one app – VirtualHostX. I’m thrilled that it’s doing so well, but that’s a scary place to be in. If the app ever fails, I’m done for. The non-obvious realization I came to is that I believe I’ve reached a point of diminishing returns with regards to adding new features to the app. It’s over seven years old at this point. I’m committed to continuing to improve it, but I’m not sure how much growth I can drive by adding new features. Instead, I think my company’s growth potential derives from two things.

  1. Releasing a new product that I can sell alongside VirtualHostX that will become, at a minimum, half as successful as VHX within one year.
  2. Becoming better at selling my products by investigating historical analytics and trying new optimizations, with data to backup the results. (Yes, yes, I’m the dumb programmer who just now “discovered” marketing.)

With those two strategies in play, my goal for 2015 is to double my revenue.

Yes, seriously.

I know it’s a stretch, but I’m optimistic.

Releasing a new product is the easy part. I took the last half of November and all of December and built and launched Hobo. It’s another app aimed at web professionals that makes using Vagrant easy. Customer reaction has been overwhelmingly positive so far. And I’m optimistic that will translate into sales before too long.

Improving my marketing is the hard part. And taking that on full-force has been something my wife (a marketer herself) has been beating me over the head with for years. I’ve finally taken the time to learn Google Analytics beyond the basic vanity metrics and have done deep dives into goals, conversion tracking, where my customers are falling off in the order process, etc.

Based on my learnings, I chose three goals (low hanging fruit, really) that I could tackle in January to see how they improved sales. And based on those learnings, pick better goals to implement each month throughout the year. Here’s what I’ve chosen to do this month.

First, for four years I’ve offered a free System Preferences pane download that allows you to turn web sharing on and off on your Mac. It just adds back the functionality that Apple removed in Mountain Lion. I knew it was fairly popular, but had never done any real tracking of it. Well, after watching downloads for a month, I was knocked-off-my-feet-blown-away to find out it has just as many downloads as VirtualHostX.

All of these people downloading my web sharing tool are perfect customers to upgrade to the more powerful VirtualHostX. I just need to figure out how to do that.

As a start, I’ve replaced the download page for the tool with a marketing page that up-sells them on the benefits of VirtualHostX and encourages them to give the full app a try. The final download link for the web sharing tool is at the bottom of the page – not hidden! – but they have to scroll past all of my other content to get to it.

Anecdotally, in the week since I’ve made this change, downloads for web sharing are down 15% and up 15% for VirtualHostX.

Next, not enough people are talking about my apps on social media. To make this simpler, I’ve added a callout to my apps’ marketing pages that offers a $5 coupon if they Tweet about one of my products. I offer three pre-written tweets they can choose from. And they have the option to write their own message instead.

The response to this has been way beyond what I was expecting. I’m seeing 20+ Twitter mentions a day, whereas before I was lucky to get two or three.

Of course, none of this matters until I can verify that those tweets are leading to increased traffic and conversions. I’ll know more in a few weeks.

Finally, I’ve always gotten basic stats from my apps’ automatic update code. Info like operating system, screen size, etc. But I never knew exactly how my users were using my apps or what features were most popular. Piggybacking on top of Google Analytics’ support for mobile app tracking, I’m now pretending that my Mac apps are mobile apps and am sending event data to Google.

All of that data is completely anonymous of course, but it will allow me to see session length, number of launches, and exactly which functions within the apps are being used the most.

So, those are my three marketing improvements for January. I’ll review all the data at the end of the month and hopefully learn something concrete I can use to improve my business. When and if I do, I’ll write about it here.