This month we sat down and talked to Luca Barboni – a pioneer of Growth Hacking in Italy, entrepreneur, Public Speaker and Advisor for Startups, Founder & VP of Marketing @ 247X. Above all, Luca is the author of the 1st Italian book on Growth Hacking: “ Growth Hacking: make your business grow online ”, which saw its first print go sold-out in just 4 months.
No matter whether you are an entrepreneur, marketer, or randomly got to this page (who knows?) there is something useful for everyone. Scroll down to get valuable insights about entrepreneurship, Growth Hacking, sharing economy… and what video games have to do with all these.
7 min read
“In a way, I had to create my own market as a consultant by educating people about what the Growth approach is.“
Since you are a founder yourself, how was your entrepreneurial journey? What were the most significant challenges and victories?
I might say that my entrepreneurial journey started as being the “founder” of myself.
After two years as Marketing Manager in a tech startup, I left my position to become a freelance consultant, building my positioning around Growth Marketing, which was a blue ocean in Italy, and also something that still to this day I believe our startup ecosystem desperately needs.
During these years as a consultant, I had the chance to work with international companies, support founders in acceleration and incubation programs, and have a key role in raising awareness about Growth Hacking in Italy through books, seminars, universities, online and offline courses, online content and networking.
In a way, I had to create my own market as a consultant by educating people about what the Growth approach is, how it can benefit digital and non-digital companies, and how I could help them put it into practice.
After three years I decided to take a further step: founding my own company, 247X – Your Dedicated Growth Team. I decided to do that for two reasons:
- being a one-man-band I helped companies by either designing and reviewing the Growth strategy over time, or by training their own teams, but I couldn’t handle all the operations by myself,
- I learned how to be very productive and effective as a freelance consultant, but I never challenged myself with managing a whole Team and in general building something greater than my own personal brand.
247X has grown from 5 to 20 people and since 2020 has been the only Italian partner of growthhackers.com.
“We don’t work in Sprints because we truly believe we can get to revenue goals in 14 days. We work in sprints because it’s the best project management approach to give a company the chance to step-by-step evolve the strategy…“
Top misconceptions about marketing you see (and don’t like) in society?
I think that one of the reasons that make Marketing not as “sexy” as Growth is the implied (misinterpreted) message that startup-style-growth-tactics will get you results fast.
Growth is about efficiency, yet it doesn’t mean it’s all about temporary “hacks” and shortcuts. There is no question that to build a sustainable business and a long-lasting brand you need Marketing, you need a good strategy and you need time.
And through an agile process such as growth hacking, taking the shortest time possible to figure out every element of your growth strategy, might still mean taking months or years.
We don’t work in Sprints because we truly believe we can get to revenue goals in 14 days. We work in sprints because it’s the best project management approach to give a company the chance to step-by-step evolve the strategy based on user feedback and an ever-changing market and technology background.
“Still, to this day there is a lot of online BS about Growth Hacking and Growth Marketing, written by people who never went further than the surface and poor SEO articles. “
Growth marketing – another fancy concept or there is a value behind it?
You know you’re asking this question to someone who’s been practicing Growth Marketing for the last 8 years, right? 🙂
Still, to this day there is a lot of online BS about Growth Hacking and Growth Marketing, written by people who never went further than the surface and poor SEO articles.
At its core, “Growth” means seeing outcomes instead of tasks, creative yet effective solutions instead of a pre-defined playbook of strategies, and the whole company mechanisms instead of departments and skillsets.
It is a movement, a mindset and a methodology allowing companies to build a process within the team to systematically look for the next “big thing” that fits their own strategy to improve metrics, cut costs and maximize results thanks to a customer-centric and scientific approach.
And when you follow this map, you always know where you are, what’s the bottleneck, and what you should do to find the best solution through experimentation.
I believe that’s the true power of the framework: it’s a process you can apply to any scenario, that’s all about asking the right questions (through Experiments) rather than giving fixed answers (copy-paste tactics).
Does it take a lot from Direct Marketing, Design Thinking, Agile Mindset, Lean Startup and Product Management? Yes.
Does it connect the dots in a clear, actionable and brilliant way? Also yes.
“You don’t scale something that doesn’t work. To achieve sustainable growth, things should be grow-able.“
How did you start mentoring?
I would say it all started with two things:
1. on my path to discovering the “Growth” methodology, of course, I passed by the Lean Startup methodology. After discovering Steve Blank and Eric Ries I started changing the way I worked and saw startups in general, ending up as a mentor at a “Lean Startup Machine” event in Rome to actively help share this method among founders.
Lean Startup Machine is an event format much like a Startup Weekend from Techstars but permeated in every bit by the Lean Startup mindset. After that, I became one of the Rome organizers of LSM.
2. After a few months of working in an early-stage startup I not only managed to consistently achieve the mobile user growth goals I had, but I also managed to raise funds for the company, acting as I was a founder.
This news kind of resonated in the Rome startup ecosystem so I started receiving offers to mentor other startups or join as a volunteer mentor in Startup Weekends and such.
Only later I started offering mentorship services to answer spontaneous requests that I started receiving from founders.
Is there a common problem you see in any start-up you mentor?
Oh yes, and it all goes back to the Lean Startup methodology.
We all know how high is the startup failure rate in a few years. More than 95%.
And thanks to many researches (CBinsights, Startup Genome, and many startup post-mortems) we also know what is the №1 mistake that ends up killing them.
Rephrasing: either putting a lot of effort and quality work into building something that nobody wants, or not figuring out in time what’s the best match between the product they are building and the market segment they should be serving.
In short: not achieving product/market-fit.
So I would say the №1 mistake I also personally find in many many startups is being in the pre-product/market-fit phase and yet acting like they are in the post-product/market-fit phase.
This means ending up wasting a lot of resources on new customer acquisition, branding, PR, while not realizing that the focus should be directed to the product.
You don’t scale something that doesn’t work.
You don’t try to satisfy 1 Million people if you can’t make even 10 people very very happy.
You don’t pour a marketing budget into a product that’s broken.
You don’t acquire massive traffic for a landing page that doesn’t convert at all.
You sit down, figure out where’s the bottleneck, you fix it, and THEN you pour fuel on the fire. To achieve sustainable growth, things should be grow-able.
What is usually your advice in that case??
My advice is to know where you are to understand how you should act.
Every business is different yet the lifecycle of a successful (or less-than-successful) startup follows a known pattern.
Ignore that at your risk.
Also what I’m talking about is what 100% of competent investors and VCs do whenever they sit on the other side of the table and they ask for metrics or ask questions about the state of the art of a startup.
Through a broad analysis, they can figure out the lifecycle stage of the company, the areas they should be focusing on, and therefore if the startup is healthy and so it deserves their attention.
Learning how to think like your own Investor is key to making sure your strategy is aligned with the right priorities and whatever you do is contributing to generating a trend that will make your startup more in favour to get the next round of investment.
What is your opinion about Volvero? Would you use it?
I think Volvero is a promising project leveraging a clear opportunity within the sharing economy landscape.
Its fully digital experience + insurance are very strong levers that make it easily accessible and effective at disabling objections of the most skeptical car owner.
I believe sharing economy needs a cultural and mindset shift as well as bigger product and service offers to grow. All those platforms are fundamentally based on creating trust.
From company to user and from user to user. And I believe Volvero has all the characteristics to face and win the challenge.
As of now, I don’t possess a car so I would use it as a driver, especially when travelling in other countries.
Do you participate in sharing economy yourself? (carsharing etc.)
Mostly with housing, yes, I’ve been on Couchsurfing, Airbnb, and I have also helped many startups partaking in the sharing economy landscape.
“Watching how some gamer communities are shaped is a lesson in product launches, community management and dealing with early adopters that any startup might benefit from.“
Ok, we have to ask this very last question: you have a history with gaming and define yourself as an “old school” gamer. Do you see a connection between video games and your work with marketing and innovation?
I think the most elegant definition of a game is “solving a problem that you didn’t have”.
I think games in general are a very effective way to put your brain to the test when it comes to problem-solving, thinking in systems, and why not, “hacking” those systems for your own benefit.
Plus, video games truly are a form of art of interactive storytelling with which no other media can compare.
In terms of marketing and innovation, I believe there are no other industries that can count on such passionate communities of players and fans and followers such as gaming, where customers are loyal to the death and willing to share transparent feedback to see the product they love evolve and grow.
Watching how some gamer communities are shaped is a lesson in product launches, community management and dealing with early adopters that any startup might benefit from.
Ekaterina Efimova, Marketing & Communications Specialist at Volvero