Satya Nadella’s message to the Microsoft troops yesterday underlines the way consumerization has changed computing already: To Microsoft, everyone is now a “dual user” who uses technology for work and play. That’s two chances to lose a customer if Microsoft products don’t delight them.
To make sure that those products do delight, and do what people need, Nadella is turning to some of the tenets of Silicon Valley startups like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, AirBnB, and Netflix: Data science and growth hacking.
Change agents and growth hacking
If you talk to people who work at Microsoft, you’ll have heard them use some new language this year, with phrases like “change agent” and “growth hacking.”
Getting comfortable with change and being involved in changing things is what Nadella pointed out that everyone at Microsoft is going to have to do; “Culture change means we will do things differently. Often people think that means everyone other than them. In reality, it means all of us taking a new approach and working together to make Microsoft better.” One Microsoft, as you might say.
And growth hacking is a Silicon Valley startup term that’s a lot more than just viral marketing, SEO, and A/B testing. It’s about turning product development and marketing into a virtuous, data-driven cycle where you get more users by figuring out what users do and don’t want; how they find your product and how they use it.
Josh Elman, now a VC at Greylock, tells a story about growth hacking in the early days of Twitter, when lots of people were signing up but few of them carried on using the service. Instead of emailing those users or trying to show ads to people who might be more likely to stick around, they focused on understanding what was going on.
“We dug in and tried to learn what the ‘aha’ moment was for a new user and then rebuilt our entire new user experience to engineer that more quickly.”
The key was getting people to follow other Twitter users, so they were seeing tweets they would be interested in. “As we kept tweaking the features to focus on helping users achieve these things, our retention dramatically rose,” says Elman.
His advice for growth hacking is very like Adam Pisoni’s principles for turning a company into a responsive organization (something he’s been doing at Microsoft as well as for Yammer customers). Find your heavy users who already love your product and find the features and the pattern of usage that made them into active users. Build things that attract new users — whether that’s your marketing or sharing from existing users — and make sure there’s a way for new users to get started that turns them into active users quickly. Then build more features that your old and new customers will love, and keep on going.
That means getting everyone involved in growth. Early on, Facebook had a growth team that included marketing, business development, product development, finance, and HR. It wasn’t just trying to get more users; it was behind projects like the system for importing email contacts, making Facebook available in multiple languages by crowdsourcing translations of the interface, and even creating the Facebook Lite experimental interface (a slimmed-down version of the site).
One of the first times I heard “growth hacking” from someone at Microsoft was talking to Jeffery Snover about his “Just in time, just enough admin” toolkit for PowerShell at TechEd this year, when he compared fast releases and agile development to balancing on a bicycle. “You don’t get stability by going slowly,” he pointed out.
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