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11 Quotes for Startups and Small Business from Sean Ellis, Founder of Qualaroo

Sean Ellis Startup QuotesSean Ellis didn’t plan on founding a startup. But  when he “was hit by an epiphany that [he] was perfectly suited to execute,” he decided he had to start the company that became Qualaroo. Before becoming a founder, Ellis held critical marketing roles at Dropbox, Lookout, LogMeIn and Eventbrite. Not a bad resume for a startup founder.

He is also the guy who coined the term “growth hacker,” long before it became popular. A growth hacker is someone who hacks together programs, code, promotions, tests and anything else (generally not including traditional marketing channels) that might help a startup to grow. Today the term is almost a cliché, but the role is still a critical one in most companies just trying to get off the ground. To help spread the growth hacker gospel, Ellis also founded growthhackers.com—a community dedicated to growing startups any way possible.

Mr. Ellis has written (and spoken) often about his experiences in marketing and entrepreneurship. Here are a few things he’s said that we find most inspiring:

“Growth is not just a concern of sales and marketing, but of product, engineering and support too. It is this organization-wide commitment to growth that ultimately sets these companies apart.”

“For at least the first year or two, online consumer/prosumer/smb targeted startups should focus 100% of their non-PR media budget on acquiring customers.  Rather than buying a microsecond of awareness, you can actually use your limited funds to engage users in a real brand experience. Even for users that don’t convert to paying customers, you create a deeper impact by engaging people on your website.”

“We’ve learned it’s much better to ship it now and fix it later, once you can see how people are using it, than it is to let it linger in development forever. Just ship it.”

“‘Tweet’ and ‘Like’ buttons isn’t word of mouth. Rather, word of mouth comes from content, thoughtfulness, solved problems, and ease of use—in short, the whole experience of a product or service.”

“Companies that realize that their growth opportunity goes beyond the surface level marketing and focus inward at the opportunities presented within their own product are the ones who will find outsized results.”

“For meaningful growth, startups must completely change the rules of traditional channels or innovate outside of those growth channels. They are too desperate and disadvantaged to adapt to the old rules of marketing. They have to dig deep creatively, and relentlessly test new ideas. If they don’t figure it out quickly, they will go out of business.”

“It is important to remember that the best freemium businesses have a valuable free version that inspires user evangelism. This user evangelism is the growth engine that makes freemium work. Without strong user evangelism, freemium generally fails.”

“I ask existing users of a product how they would feel if they could no longer use the product. In my experience, achieving product/market fit requires at least 40% of users saying they would be ‘very disappointed’ without your product. Admittedly this threshold is a bit arbitrary, but I defined it after comparing results across nearly 100 startups. Those that struggle for traction are always under 40%, while most that gain strong traction exceed 40%.”

“What separates great teams from weak teams? I believe it’s the team’s ability to ‘figure stuff out.’ Founders figure out potential customer problems that are worth solving.  Engineers figure out how to build a well functioning product that meets this need.  Marketers figure out how to reach people who really need the product and how to convert them into customers…”

“Today most entrepreneurs understand that brand awareness campaigns are a waste of money for startups. Instead, it’s much cheaper and more effective for startups to focus on creating a fantastic brand experience.”

“Since most growth ideas fail, it becomes critical to test a lot of them.  The faster you can hack together an idea, the sooner you can start testing it for some signs of life.”

—Sean Ellis, Founder of Qualaroo and GrowthHackers

Photo credit: PolarisVC.