Growth Hacking: How I Acquired 2,000 Sticky Users In A Day With a S$36 Budget


As shared in an earlier post, growth hacking is something that I think all startups should do.

This is the story of one of my experiments.

I used to run a textbook marketplace (BookINBookOUT) that was used by more than 70% of all undergraduates at Singapore Management University.

When I first started, there were just a few hundred users. I need a cheap, cost effective method to gain thousands of users so that my platform enjoys sufficient marketplace liquidity.

Identify a tight target group
I figured that if I target undergraduates in their third and final years, they would only use my platform for 1 or 2 years before they graduate. Instead, I decided to target freshmen – those who still have 4 years to go. At the same time, because they are new to university life, I can shape their textbook buying and selling habits.

When and where to reach them?
Timing of the message is crucial. If I run my campaigns too late, freshmen would have already purchased their textbooks. If I market too early, freshmen would probably not be in the mood to care about textbooks yet.

I studied the freshmen events calendar, and realized that there’s only one event I need to target – CCA Open House. It is held yearly on the Friday of the first week of school, just after their first lessons and when everyone is busy scrambling for textbooks.

By being razor focused on my target audience, timing and channel, I don’t have to waste time doing anything else.

Sending the message
For an easy way to reach all attendees at the event, I decided to ride on the 1,800 official goodie bags given out during the event.

Many companies spent serious money printing colourful A4 flyers or branding useful items such as files and pens as gifts. I didn’t have the resource to do something so fanciful. To save money, I decided to go with black and white printing, and cut my A4 paper into 2. To reach 1,800 freshmen, I printed 900 pieces at 4 cents each. That’s just $36.

The shape of flyers matter. I decided to cut my A4 paper along its length rather than into a traditional A5 size. I reckoned that the unusually long form factor of my flyers would be physically attention grabbing in a goodie bag filled with A4 and A5 sized flyers. At the same time, I titled my flyer “3 tips for surviving SMU”, with buying and selling textbooks on BookINBookOUT as one of those tips.

The result
It worked.

An entire batch of freshmen with what I call the “textbook-anxiety” all received a goodie bag with an attention-catching tip sheet telling them where to buy cheap textbooks.

Within a day, more than 2,000 undergraduates signed up for BookINBookOUT. Most are freshmen who would stay with the platform for the next 4 years of their lives and go on to generate more than 20,000 transactions.

All that for $36.

Lessons to be learnt
What I did sound fairly simple and logical right?

I think it is all about using your creativity to come up with something that just works.

Also, don’t spend your time trying to emulate what someone else did because it is probably not going to work for you – growth hacking tactics are extremely context sensitive.

Dream up your own creative ways of hacking growth.

Always remember this: Creativity is the best asset you have as an entrepreneur. If you can’t think out of the box, you are better off working for someone else for the time being.

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