How to Growth Hack a Growth Hacking Event
16 lessons learned from hosting a Growth Hacking boot camp
by Maja Voje
Getting business professionals’ attention in a world saturated with conferences, experts, and professional training is hard. Doing it during the summer holiday high season is even harder. How did we manage to get 160 applications for a summer boot camp by posting on social media only twice and then manage to execute an excellent education program for 16 selected companies? Using the growth hacking mindset, of course. The event promotion budget was 0.
Here is a story from my home country, Slovenia. We organized the growth hacking boot camp in partnership with GrowthHackers.com and Technology Park Ljubljana. The feedback from attendees who attended the 5 growth hacking workshops was phenomenal. I am going to share with you 16 lessons on how to structure, promote, and execute an excellent growth hacking educational program for a fraction of your normal event organization budget. It might be hard to believe, but the entire event concept preparation and coordination between partners only took a week before the initial idea and the launch. Agile gold medal!
The lessons are structured compliantly to the growth hacking funnel. (You’re welcome!) So here we go:
How to Growth Hack a Growth Hacking Event
Have great timing — After Sean Ellis visited Slovenia in May, interest in the discipline went through the roof. However, during the summer many Europeans chill on Mediterranean beaches and at first the decision to organize a growth hacking boot camp seemed risky. We sent ourselves the MVP success criteria KPIs rather pessimistically, but it turned out that summer is a great time to do a boot camp because business professionals have more time on their hands. Timing is super important, your turnout can greatly depend on it — so do your homework and plan seasonal events, other professional events that are targeting the same audience and general state of mind in a season.
Choose your niche carefully — When planning a curriculum, it is important to acknowledge that different businesses need and seek different socialized content. That is why a freelance photographer and a maker of turbo-quick engines for Lego Technic won’t find a lot of value in a one-size-fits-all curriculum. We clearly communicated that the program is intended for high-tech companies and did a due diligence check on all applicants, not only to understand their area of business but also their motivation — what outcomes were they expecting from the program. It was impossible to create a homogeneous group, but honestly, diversity is the spice of life. As long as we had companies from the same industry that shared the vision of outcomes from the program, no barrier was too big to overcome. One important side note, however: next time we will consider differentiating between B2B and B2C companies.
Have a great product-market fit — Did I mentioned that one of the teams rescheduled their vacation schedule so that they could attend the boot camp? I was blown away by this. Another attendee drove from the Croatian seaside to Ljubljana to be present at all sessions. These are some great indications of product-market fit. After we analyzed the program satisfaction survey, we got tangible proof. The format of five workshops held on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2 pm to 6 pm, half of each session being devoted to practical work and interaction with teams over Slack, worked beautifully for the selected audience. 8 hours per week is still possible to fit into a work schedule and does not create much hassle.
Create hype around the launch — I cannot stress enough how important is it to prepare well for any launch. Battles are not won on the battlefield, but on a strategic level. The launch is not a single point in time, it is a horizon on which you prepare, launch, and keep the momentum strong. We launched the program with a simple blog post and distributed it to the local growth hacking group (2.2K members). We asked partners and lecturers to share it on their profiles as well. We communicated the program through Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. The timing of our launch was not something anyone would recommend. We launched it on a Friday afternoon. The next two hours were game-changing — we filled the initial capacity in less than an hour, two hours later we had people complaining about social media about not being able to pitch in. It is absolutely crucial to “sell-out” quickly and creates a waiting list so that the scarcity kicks in.
Onboard experts with excellent personal networks — When I am selecting lecturers for all my events, I always check their social media popularity as well. If someone is well-known and networked, the probability that an event with him or her will sell out very quickly is much higher than if you are working with less-established people on social media. A single share by experts will significantly boost the reach of the event. The same applies when you are distributing photos. Post stories. Send the attendees photos as quickly and you’ll be taken away by how well this content will perform. By tagging selected experts in your posts, you will easily reach 10K+ audience. Photos can be high-quality- or not. It is all about strategically sharing content through social media and doing that in real-time.
FOMO gotta be real — We already established how important scarcity is. We did not go for a viral loop or leaderboard to increase chances to be selected, because in a program where the attendees co-create the value that would have been a slippery slope. What helped a lot was that on social media well-established experts started to comment on the program (and stating that they are on a waiting list). Their inputs boosted the credibility of the program and establish a high benchmark of perceived quality. And by posting program reports and photos, we are already building people’s desire to attend the next edition of events.
Underpromise. Overdeliver. Framing expectations is the single most important thing in customer satisfaction management. When we published a program, we naturally stated the content of the workshops, but we were very conservative with using superlatives and promises of what the expected outcomes are. However, the plan was clear from the beginning: every workshop host’s mission was to get companies to create some tangible asset or concept that they could take to their workplace and apply the very next day. We put a lot of effort and love into making sure that attendees’ expectations would be exceeded. Don’t overhype your promotion materials — noting is life-changing, skyrocketing, or ground-breaking before someone who attended the program tells you so. Manage your excitement when preparing a copy to ensure that you can deliver 110% of this value.
Make sure onboarding is great — Every beginning is awkward. People don’t know each other, they have questions about how to prepare for the program and the initial excitement that they experienced when they were admitted might die off a little because they have other stuff to do. What helped tremendously here is that we established a Slack group and encouraged attendees to write a short intro, engage with each other and lecturers. We sent them clear instructions if they needed to prepare for a certain workshop and shared all materials with them in real-time. Last but not least, feelings management kicks in heavily here. People must feel accepted and appreciated in the group. It is our job to kick start this. Some will do it faster, others will struggle a little. A good moderator knows how to get everyone on board and make sure that they actively pitch in. It is a great skill indeed.
Define a “wow” moment clearly — When something is promoted as a workshop, people will inevitably expect to have an active participation there. Workshops are not lectures. Attendees expect tangible outcomes from workshops. This is why it is incredibly important to define outcomes for each workshop, communicate them clearly, and motivate attendees to work diligently to create them. Outcomes come in multiple forms — a dashboard, a software setup, a sheet of paper full of post-its or notes in their notebooks. One thing is crucial: they have to be specific to the company that is creating them and creates value.
Let attendees co-create the experience — When working with business professionals, we simply have to acknowledge that they have been working in the field for quite some time and that they have ideas, knowledge, and views of their own. The workshop moderator is not the only one creating value — attendees should also actively share their knowledge and experience. After every exercise, we invited a few teams to present their thinking. Of course, a healthy balance has to be maintained so that the workshop does not last six hours, but engagement is the holy grail of a great event.
Be inclusive and build communities — As simple as it sounds, people should feel good and excited to attend the program. As hosts, we can do a lot to make that happen. We should talk to everybody at workshops, show them the venue, explain how to take care of needs lowers on Maslow’s pyramid, and simply hang out with them. Introduce people, encourage them to share knowledge and bond over this shared experience. One of the nicest things that happened was that attendees could bring their dogs to lectures. That was such a nice gesture and pleasant for everyone in the room. The other thing that really made me happy was that the group wanted to keep the Slack chat that we were using to communicate with them during the program. People attend professional events not only to gain new knowledge but also to bond. Invest in bonding opportunities and you’ll be able to nurture alumni.
Gamify the process — Two times four hours a week is a lot to absorb in a busy schedule. That is why it is important to make the experience not only intellectually rewarding but also entertaining for attendees. Like Nir Eyal explains in Hooked, we were inspired to gamify the experience as well. At the end of the program, attendees obtained a certificate if they attended all the workshops. One of the most important things at the workshop was to create an experiment backlog because we know from experience that teams that create a rich backlog of ideas are much more likely to stick with the growth hacking process in the future. Before every lecture, I asked them about their backlog. By the end of the program ¾ of attendees had it, but without a little accountability and competitiveness between teams that would not likely have happened.
Invite teams, not individuals — I admit it, revenue is probably not the best funnel stage for this one, but it is SO VITAL — that I had to squeeze it somewhere. If two or more people from the same company attend the workshop together, their punching power to actually successfully adopt the growth hacking process within the company increases exponentially. And it is so much easier to deliver great value to such a team structure. At workshops, at least some level of interaction with the moderator is expected. No matter how many people are in the room, what is a bottleneck is how many cases (companies) a moderator can handle. That is why it is so much better to attract more people from one company as opposed to the same number of individuals from different companies. Here is why — We had 16 (2–4 people) teams at the workshop. If everyone got a minute of interaction after every exercise (which is way too little), we spent 16 minutes just making sure that we worked the room. If it is a 10-minute exercise that is impossible to execute. The quality of delivery is significantly better if a moderator can spend more time with the team. This should be reflected in the pricing policy as well as the selection criteria for such programs.
Create share-worthy moments — Making your events photogenic and exciting is always a good trigger for social media posts. Funky slides, insightful tips on slides, provocative statements, and inspirational comparisons make great stories on social media. Make sure there are wow slides and that attendees proudly share their workshop creations on social media. Communicate with whom they should tag and re-share their posts. They are one of the best content pieces that you will get not only to nurture the hype for the current program but to promote similar programs in the future.
Always surprise people — creating a delightful experience — For the last workshop where we hosted the graduation, we prepared multiple surprises for the attendees. In the room next door there was a massage therapist that attendees could visit to enjoy a short energizing massage. One of the attending teams, DHH, prepared a cake with all companies’ logos on it as a gift of gratitude for their participation in the program. After we handed out the certificates, we invited the attendees for a drink in a bar nearby. This is where life-long friendships are made. It was a great informal bonding experience for everyone. And naturally, everybody took a photo of the cake and posted it on social media.
Gather awesome social proof including testimonials — Over 80% of attendees agreed to give us a testimonial after the event was over. Before we handed out the certificates, we asked attendees to fill in a short program satisfaction survey. If we are lecturing about how important feedback is, it would be very hypocritical not to analyze ours, don’t you think?. We recorded some video testimonials, saved links from social media shout outs and generated written statements. At a time when user-generated content is the most trusted source of information, it would have been a sin not to generate testimonials after finishing the program.