Episodes

Ben Lang

Ben Lang

Ben is a resident growth hacker for a VC firm in Israel, and he talks to us about 10 growth hacks that he uses on some of the startups that he works with. This interview is filled with tactics.

TOPIC BEN COVERS

  • What is Law Ventures about
  • How did he find himself involved in
  • The 10 growth that he uses on some of the startups that he works with
  • His tactics and some ideas that he learned over the past few years
  • How does that help him grow a startup
  • How did he use Hacker News and what’s the tactic
  • What tactics does he have any insight around how to get upvotes
  • What does the app price drop
  • And a whole lot more

LINKS & RESOURCES

WATCH THE INTERVIEW

READ THE TRANSCRIPTION

Bronson: Welcome to another episode of Growth Hacker TV. I’m Bronson Taylor and today I have bin Laden with us. Ben, thanks for coming on the program.

Ben: Yeah, thanks for having me.

Bronson: Yeah, for sure. And you’re coming to us from Israel. So it’s the end of your day and the beginning of my day, right? Yeah, yeah, yeah. And in Israel, you are a growth hacker at Law Ventures. So let’s start there. Tell us a little bit about Law Ventures. What is that?

Ben: So Little Ventures is a it’s a VC firm that I work for. And at the VC firm, they have sort of an internal incubator where they have someone working on a product, someone working on design. And all the time, you know, creating new products. And what I do is I work with these are really early stage products to help them get new users and and build some momentum when they’re really early stage.

Bronson: Yeah. So you’re kind of the resident growth hacker, right?

Ben: Yeah, sort of.

Bronson: Yeah. So what kind of things do you find yourself involved in, in that role? What sorts of things are you doing there?

Ben: Uh, involves from, from my perspective, that’s what I try to do is mostly think of creative ways to define more users know whether, whether it’s by creating new, new campaigns for, for these little, you know, little projects or getting to the top of Hacker News, it’s just like, you know, thinking of new, new ideas to really just get one or hopefully a lot more than that and new users to try out these new products.

Bronson: Yeah, for sure. And as kind of the resident growth hacker, you’re talking to them about growth all the time. I mean, that’s what you do there. What advice do you find yourself giving to them kind of over and over? Are they any broken record kind of bits of advice you find yourself having to repeat a lot?

Ben: I think mostly we just try to keep things, you know, keep the products really simple. I think what that’s really one of the most important things to do because a lot of times, you know, especially in this type of the style where you’re where you’re building new products and testing them out, you can spend a lot. You can spend too much time, you know, focusing on building and adding new features and not testing or not not getting some new users to try to to to test them with. And and you can waste a lot of time by doing that. So that’s really important to keep things simple in the beginning and just and get things out there as fast as possible.

Bronson: Yeah. And then you’re learning from your users and not just assuming you know what they want because you’re focused on getting traffic, which you then you can learn from and then inform your feature set. Right?

Ben: Right. Exactly.

Bronson: Yeah. Now, you published a slide that called Ten Marketing Hacks to Boost Your Startup, and you run through kind of ten things. And I’m sure these are some of the ten things that you do there with Loup Ventures. But I want to talk to each one of them a little bit. And some of them, you know, are old hat people have heard of before. They’ll know kind of the gist of it. But then there’s some that I don’t think they’ve thought of quite as much. But we’re going to run through them all and talk the room in case people aren’t familiar with all of them. The first one is guest posting, a guest blog posting. So tell us, why is guest posting a good tactic? Because we’ve heard people in the show talk about before. But tell us why it’s still a good tactic to try.

Ben: Sure. I’m just kind of in general like this. The slides are the ten marketing hacks for your startup. It’s really it’s just ten things that, you know, as you said, some people might not know or they might know. But it’s just some like tricks and some ideas that I’ve learned over the past over the past few months and years. So hopefully, hopefully, even if you get like just a few ideas out of it, it’ll be useful. So in terms of let me.

Bronson: Jump in real quick. You know, as I was reading through this, a lot of these I’d heard of, but there was one of them that actually caused me to have new ideas. And it was actually something I was working on this morning before our call, which was the the viral projects, one which I’m not going to talk about yet, but I have a viral project that may be coming out really soon. And so I’ve got one really cool thing out of it, and hopefully other people can get at least one really cool thing to, you know.

Ben: Yeah, that’s, that’s my goal. It doesn’t have to be ten. No one is on this. One is good for every person.

Bronson: Yeah. So it starts with a guest posting. So tell us why that’s a good tactic.

Ben: Yeah. So I think it’s a really good tactic because it’s a free way to to build traffic to your to whatever you’re working on. And all you have to do is write a post and, and send it over to the editor, you know, send it through the contact form of some blog or news site. And it’s pretty easy to get published like I’ve done that for, for TechCrunch and Mashable without knowing anyone there, just by, just by either guessing their email, which I’ll explain later. And and it’s, you know, it’s a pretty it’s a pretty easy way to get free, really, you know, free traffic to to whatever you’re working on.

Bronson: Yeah. So let’s dig in that a little bit because you made something really hard, sound really simple, you know, I’m just going to put a post and get on TechCrunch. Walk us through that. What’s the post about? Is it about your company? Is it about your market but not about your company specifically? When you pitch it, is it a long pitch? Is it a one sentence email? Like, give us a little bit the mechanics of it. Because you again on TechCrunch. It’s hard, you know.

Ben: Yeah. So. Good point. It’s really it’s really important to, first off, not write about, you know, write about your company more something more about maybe your field of expertize or some trends you’ve found or a list of, you know, interesting ideas or interesting tips. And the more hopefully helpful, the more helpful or unique the post is, the more likely to get posted. And then when you’re when you’re sending it to the to the blog or to the or to the blog manager or to the site owner, it’s it’s important to to keep it really short when when I’m because, you know, these are these are people who are getting their inboxes flooded with E! So I always try to keep it, you know, maximum 2 to 3 sentences when I’m sending them an email. And then what I do is I also I usually follow up with I’m on Twitter or Facebook and send them like a quick message saying hey or a quick tweet saying, Hey, I just shot you over, I guess post. I hope you can check it out. And and usually, I mean, that that also boosts the chances.

Bronson: Yeah. No, that’s great. And those are a little bit of insights that really help having a short email. And I agree that matters people right way to emails. Just write a couple of sentences with a break in between them. That’s all you need. You don’t need much else. And then follow up on Twitter. That’s a nice little addition to it. And so just putting it out there and hoping now you stand out a little bit beyond the other people. And then when the post is not self-centered, you know, you think about the value that they want to provide to their readers, not just about the value that you want from their readers. And so you really think in from kind of an empathetic point of view from their shoes, which, you know, gives you a better chance of being up there. So that’s great. Yeah. Yeah. Anything else about guest posting that goes through your head as you do it, or is that kind of the the main mechanics of it?

Ben: Those are the main mechanics. Just really keep the email short and keep it to the point. And that’s that’s really what’s going to, you know, make it work.

Bronson: Yeah. And then the second thing is premium giveaways. So what kind of giveaways are you talking about? What makes them premium?

Ben: So I’m talking about if you have like a product that that you’re that you’re selling, that costs money. A really good tactic is to to give it away on different on different blogs. So I work at a startup called Weibo, where we were. It was this bar that you can add to your website. And it was, you know, it was a really good bar to a really good product that would let you add different social features to your site. And and the product was free, it was freemium. And what we did was we would we would I would I would I would do essentially is contact lots of blogs saying, yeah, we’ll give away three of our paid products to you if you’ll write a post, you know, to your to your readers as a giveaway. And people, your readers can comment or and say how much they want to be or how much they love this blog. And you can decide which ones to give it away to. And, and just by me, I what I did was I made a list of 50 blogs in our space which for like which are coding blogs or design blogs, WordPress blogs. And I emailed them all the same thing to two sentences. Mm hmm. You know, hey, can I do a giveaway for this will be a product that’s worth $120, and and it works for most of them. And it’s, you know, it built a huge amount of buzz around around Weibo, which was already pretty old, had already been around for years. But we were we were reaching all these new these new readers just by giving away giving it away for free.

Bronson: It’s a great idea. So you’re essentially leveraging the same audience as before with guest blogging. Only now you’re leveraging and not through a post, but through a giveaway. Now, you said most of them bit, and you said you sent out about 50. So are you saying like near 50 decided to give away the bar that you were giving away?

Ben: Yeah. Yeah. Wow. It’s pretty crazy.

Bronson: So it’s 50 blog post almost written about you.

Ben: Yeah, yeah. It’s amazing. And and some of them. Some of them, like the really big ones they had ask for money in exchange for this post. But, but there are a lot of, you know, really solid blogs that might have tens of thousands of readers who will just do it because they want to give it away to their readers. And so it’s you know, if you run a blog, giving away products that cost money to your readers is definitely something you want to be doing.

Bronson: Yeah, that’s a great idea. Makes me think about maybe want to do that with Growth after TV Giveaway, a few different blogs. I’m excited to write a post about it. So again, I have two takeaways from this list.

Ben: Makes sense.

Bronson: Absolutely. Now the next one, the third tactic is using reporting. We’ve heard about it a couple of times on this show, but we haven’t really delve into a much what is report of basically kind of a high level.

Ben: So reported is a it’s a plug in for for Gmail that you that you add to your browser. And what it does is when you enter an email into the to field in Gmail you’ll see all of the person’s information, you’ll see their bio, their Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Skype, Crunchbase, where they live photo and some other information.

Bronson: Mm hmm. Now, how how does that help you actually grow a startup? Because it’s cool information, but then you have to do something with that. So how does that inform you? How does that help you?

Ben: So it’s actually probably the most I think the most important plugin out there for your browser, because what it does is it lets you get people’s emails. So for example, if you want to find out, you know, a blogger, his email, let’s say I want to find some blogger at Gizmodo and I don’t know and I know his name is oh, I don’t know. Sam Darby. Mm hmm. But I don’t know his email. And his email is not listed. So what I would do is I would enter Sam Darby at Gizmodo.com, click on the email, and on the right side of your Gmail, you’ll you’ll see an update. If nothing shows up, if there’s still a question mark, it means it’s not his email. But if you try Sam Dot Darby, I Gizmodo.com and all of a sudden you see an image, you see his Twitter, you see his Facebook, that’s his email. And that’s how I and that’s exactly what I used to find out emails for, for when I’m reaching out to bloggers to send guest posts for when I want to organize giveaways for different products. That was the tool where it all starts out.

Bronson: So yeah, that’s pretty useful. I never thought about using it that way. I always thought about it is more knowledge based on the knowledge you already have, but you’re actually using it out of ignorance and then gaining knowledge, which is even better because it’s a bigger jump in in what you know. Now, the next one is Hacker News. So how do you how do you use Hacker News? What do you think they are? What’s the tactic?

Ben: So fracking is something I mentioned because a lot of people outside of sort of the, you know, of this community don’t really know about it. It’s I mean, I’m sure most people watching this do, but. Yeah. Yeah, but but for real, I don’t. It’s probably one of the most powerful places to to get early on feedback about where you’re building and to get a good, you know, get a good an early user base in the beginning. And it can send tens of thousands of visitors a year at the top few spots of Hacker News.

Bronson: Yeah. And it’s based on upvotes. So people go on there, they vote up links and the more upvotes you get, the higher up you can get. And eventually, hopefully the first page or even the first few links. Yeah. What tactics do you have any insight around how to get upvotes? Because their algorithm is pretty good at knowing when things are being gamed. As far as I can tell.

Ben: Yeah, they’re pretty good. But there there is one way to work around it, which is what people end up doing is they send the link when you are, when you’re asking your friends for upvotes, which a lot of people do, they send a link, you know, news dot Y Combinator dot com slash x, y, z, which is a link, but that you can’t do because they can detect that you’re that you’re sending the link out to a bunch of friends. But if you send them news content or slash news, which is the latest post on Hacker News, and you tell them, Hey, can you upvote number five over here? Then they won’t detect it. And that’s what I usually do. And it’s gotten it’s I mean, that’s what’s helped me get to the top of Hacker News quite a few times.

Bronson: Gotcha. And then throw in a couple other tips. Things that I’ve learned is don’t upvote on the same IP address. So, you know, just on wi fi and then do it on 4G. Yeah. On a boat with the same account, obviously, because you can’t. So just use different accounts, these different APIs. And then what you said, don’t even share the exact link because that’s a unique link and they can tell. And if you put all that together, you can get upvotes. Then even just a couple weeks ago, maybe even less than that, I had a story that was in the top 15 on Hacker News for a long time, and it did it just drove a ton of traffic to our site. So it does work.

Ben: Yeah.

Bronson: Yeah, absolutely. The next one is you call app a price drop. So talk me through that one. What does the app price drop?

Ben: So one thing I mean that people who have apps I’ve noticed is that if if it’s free your app and you you can actually price it, let’s say, at a dollar and then bring it back down to two free. And you have all these these indexes, random sites or apps that track apps that are going from paid to free. So it’s obviously it’s not it’s not the best users. It’s just like having now it’s just like using Groupon sort of you’re not you’re not going to get the best. You’re just out of it because those people are looking for good deals. But but it is a good way to build some momentum in the beginning and to go and to get some users to test out what you’re working on. And it can send a pretty good amount of downloads depending on how you how much you leverage it.

Bronson: Yeah. So it’s not necessarily for apps that are paid to begin with, it’s for ones that are free and you’re trying to gain users. So to show up on the radar of all the free or paid to free kind of blogs, you may get paid and then drop it to free.

Ben: Yeah. Yeah.

Bronson: Gotcha. That’s good. I mean, they’re using algorithms to see those things. So if you do that now, you show up on their algorithm and now you’re on a website somewhere getting links through to your site. That’s great. Now, the next one, this is the one that I said kind of inspired me is a viral projects. What is a viral project?

Ben: So viral projects is what I sort of think of like little hackathon projects that you can use to promote what you’re working on. So probably the best example out there is something that could Academy did which which was called code year. They bought a domain domain code Dealer.com and in in I think pretty much a few days or they built this really simple landing page that said you want to learn to code in 2012. Just add your email here and we’ll send you an email each week with coding lessons. And they got 400,000 people to sign up and it went completely viral when it was out, 30,000 tweets, thousands of Facebook likes celebrities tweeting about it. And it was just this really, really simple landing page with a really, really good idea that went viral. And and it’s just these types of ideas are the things that you can really easily leverage for for your own product. Yeah. And you know, I’ve done a few my own projects that have that I’ve had the same effect and you know, it’s, it’s, you get, you can get a lot of articles written about it and it doesn’t necessarily have to be related. I mean, it doesn’t have to be exactly what you’re working on, but it can be sort of, let’s say, in the same field as what your startup is. And then and then you’ll have all these articles saying, Now X, Y, Z, the founder of X, Y, Z startup built this on a weekend and now it’s number one on Hacker News. And I can see how it can be pretty beneficial for, for whatever you’re working on.

Bronson: Yeah. And to get the momentum started to use some of the other taxes you already talked about. Yeah, of course. Go to a blogger and say, hey, put this on your radar. It just got completed. You might be interested in that kind of stuff.

Ben: Yeah, I mean, I do. But the best isn’t if in the beginning that happens by itself. Hopefully. Hopefully, hopefully. What I usually do is I start it off on acronyms and then from there some blogger sees it and then another blogger sees it, and then it gets on top of me. So, you know, if if if you build something like that, then the ball gets rolling by itself, I mean, you probably had a pretty good success.

Bronson: Yeah, that’s a great one. And like I said, I have a viral project that may be coming out here pretty soon. We’ll see. Yeah. And then the next one is share buttons. Now you just mean the buttons, kind of like you see on blogs all the time where you can share it. Tweeted. You mean something different?

Ben: Yeah, it’s pretty basic, but there are things like really small things people forget to do with these buttons. Like when you’re adding a Twitter button, a lot of people don’t realize that you can add let’s say you can add a recommended username to follow at the end. Like, so when someone tweets an article from your blog, it’ll after you click tweet. It’ll say. Twitter will say, Oh, we recommend you follow X, Y, Z, and when you’re adding the button, you can add that in and people forget to do that, and they could send you hundreds or thousands of followers that you might be missing. Yeah, which is really important. Also, another thing is for Facebook, for a Facebook like button. Some people don’t realize that you can you can define what image and what text and what title will show up when people are liking your your site for your article. What you can do with the open graph tags and that’s huge because if you create like a custom image as opposed to getting some, you know, some pretty weak image for your website, it can make all the difference in what people are willing to click on. But I mean, you can see articles or go viral on Facebook completely depending on the title or the image. And it’s really important to leverage.

Bronson: Yeah. Now those are great insights and I like that a lot. And then the next one is App Sumo. App Sumo Huge. So I think we’ve all heard of it. They have hundreds of thousands of people on their email list. So as a tactic, they are just trying to do something that gets on app. Sumo, is that the idea?

Ben: Yeah. I mean, everyone watching this probably knows about it already, but a lot of people don’t. And I think it’s a really great tactic to to get users and get your product out there.

Bronson: Yeah. Do you have any insights on how to get on it or just you should try it. If it works out great.

Ben: Try to reach out to Noah Kagan. His the the CEO is probably one of the nicest guys in tech.

Bronson: So there you go. Cool.

Ben: Yeah, stuff like that.

Bronson: Yeah. And then the ninth one here is Blogger Reach out now. How is Blogger reach out different than just blogging? What do you mean by that?

Ben: So by Blogger Reach, I mean getting on bloggers to write about your startup or whatever you’re working on. Not, not guys posting. Yeah. And again, it’s really a combination of all these tactics of using reporters to find a bloggers email, of sending a one or two sentence email, keeping it really short, because bloggers will appreciate that. And it’s just a combination of what I’ve what I’ve explained before.

Bronson: Yeah. And you’ve had a success kind of getting them to write about you just threw using those tactics before.

Ben: Yeah. I think the, the biggest trick is just keeping a chart because no one does that. And and I’ve had bloggers who have answered me saying, you know, this is thanks for the concise email. And just because they appreciated how short the email was.

Bronson: Yeah. So we really can’t emphasize that too much. Write a short email if you’re emailing an editor of a blog or owner of a blog. Yeah, they get an updated with, you know, war and peace all the time. Send them something short.

Ben: Yeah. And then also I mentioned I mentioned it before, but using reporting you can see like their Twitter and Facebook. So really important to like tweet them saying, hey, I just emailed you something. I also do is I go to their Google Plus even because no one uses it and I plus a bunch of their latest posts. So I know that in their little bar they’ll see like Ben link plus one this post based on this one on this post.

Bronson: Yeah. So I really get on the radar.

Ben: Yeah, you get on their radar. There’s no way they’re going to miss your email.

Bronson: Yeah, that’s great. And then the last one is called Dropbox style. We’re all familiar with Dropbox, too. Have you had a chance to use anything like that with the startups you’ve worked with or for yourself?

Ben: I did with one startup I worked with. Um, obviously not. It hasn’t reached Dropbox, as I said, but it has, yeah, I just mentioned I always mentioned Dropbox because I mean, even asides from there, you know, the famous referrer friend, I think the great space race, space race which some people haven’t heard of. I think it’s like one of the most brilliant things that they ever did, which was where they were. They had a competition for university students and they wanted to see what the competition was. Whichever university got the most students to sign up, they would all get, I think, a gigabyte of extra space or five gigabytes of extra space. And then the result you can see some schools got 20,000 students, 15,000 students and just insane like the amount of users that they got from this really simple competition. So it’s something to get inspired from.

Bronson: Yeah, absolutely. Now, that’s a great list of ten things I’m. Like we said at the beginning, you know, you made me already know some of them, but there’s something in there that we’re probably not doing that we could do and should do that could really increase the bottom line for our startups. Like I said, I got one or maybe two things. I’m gonna be trying out this list. That’s kind of, you know, newly in the front of my mind. But to kind of close out here, what’s the best advice do you have for any startup is trying to grow.

Ben: For any startup that’s trying to grow.

Bronson: Yeah. What would you say to them? And obviously you don’t know the details of their situation, so it’s hard to give real, precise advice. But at a high level, what would you say to a startup trying to grow?

Ben: Uh hmm. That’s a tough question. I don’t know if it’s specific, but I think it’s just really important to just keep hustling and and even, you know, even if people aren’t, people are responding to emails, just keep hustling and sending, you know, sending and shooting out emails and and getting people to to talk to you and to use whatever you’re working on. And and I don’t know, it’s just not to stop doing that.

Bronson: Yeah. Yeah. And you mentioned the hustle there as a growth actor. How much of what you do is just you’re always doing something. Do you ever find yourself bored or. He is always trying something new. See what you can get going.

Ben: Always trying something new, reading, whatever. It’s I think it’s really important also to keep up with what other people are doing and and follow other people. And because it’s just a matter I think it’s really important thing is just being creative and thinking of new ideas and and meeting with other people is also really important and learning what they’re doing.

Bronson: Yeah, that’s awesome advice, Ben. Ben, thank you so much for coming on growth. RTV It’s been a great episode and a lot of tactical takeaways.

Ben: Thanks for having me.

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