Blog Startup Journey

What We Learned From Failing to Hit Our 12-month Growth Goal

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A year ago, we set an ambitious goal for ourselves, and we didn’t hit it. Here’s why we’re okay with that.

Last June, we published the 12-month growth strategy we planned to pursue to grow Groove.

Now it’s one year later. Our company is one year older and more mature.

In many ways, we succeeded: we have more customers, and our core metrics, including our conversions, churn and revenue, look better than they ever have.

In some ways – perhaps the most important way – we failed: we didn’t hit our “one big goal.”

But we learned a lot, and as we look back at the strategy we put together, how we’ve executed on it over the last year, and what our plans will be for the next 12 months, I hope you’ll find our process useful for your own business.

Checking the Boxes: How We Did on Our 12-month Growth Strategy

First, a look at the most important tactics we planned to execute on to reach our goal, and what we did for each one.

(I’ve left a few of them off, but more on that later.)

Doubling Down on Blogging

To date, our content efforts have driven more users than any other channel. We’re going to grow this through:

  • Keyword research to better validate blog topics (especially for the new support blog)
  • Launching a new, improved support blog in the next month
  • Closely tracking blog metrics and movement of blog visitors through our funnels
  • Publishing more guest blog posts on high-profile outside blogs

I couldn’t be more excited about how this particular effort has gone.

We launched our new customer support blog, and it’s delivered a huge boost to our organic traffic.

We’re working on a post about the support blog and the things we’ve been up to behind the scenes to make it successful, but one of the biggest things that has surprised us is the disconnect between the “vanity metrics” and true business results with the support blog.

From the outside, the support blog gets far fewer comments and shares than this one. But because of the SEO success of the support blog, after less than a year, it already gets around 60% of the traffic that this blog does.

And the results continue to compound. For example, the blog’s most popular post (about customer service email templates) brings in more than 10,000 unique visitors each month.

1 Post, 10,000+ Uniques/Month

The part that isn’t a surprise, and the reason that we launched the support blog in the first place, is that the organic traffic on the support blog – visitors actively interested in learning about customer service – is a lot more likely to sign up for Groove, and much faster than readers of this blog.

So ultimately, I’m pleased that one year later of doubling down on content, we have not one, but two successful blogs, each filling a different part of our funnel.

Community Building & Online Engagement

While the community on our blog is incredibly active and engaged, we’re going to be doing more to build the Groove brand outside of our own web properties:

  • Developing a data-driven social media strategy (which platforms are best for us?)
  • Sourcing case studies from Groove customers to be published around the web
  • Creating a community for entrepreneurs (and Groove customers)
  • Building the relationships we need to get more high-profile customers using Groove

There’s not really any way to spin this: we’ve failed here.

We simply haven’t picked this project up, and a big part of that has been a lack of time from our expanded commitments in the other areas of our strategy.

We do have a new team member joining next week that will help us attack this effort more aggressively, but – and this isn’t the only area of the plan that this applies to – we’ve also learned a lot about the value of focus over the last 12 months. On focusing on the things that are working, and spending every minute squeezing tremendous value out of those, rather than trying to do too many things at once. That learning caused us to scale back our ambitions with this particular goal, as well as another one (testing paid traffic).

Expanding Integration Partnerships

Our HipChat integration has been a big boost to Groove, both to our customer base and our brand. We should continue to build an ecosystem for companies to integrate with Groove, and to do that, we’ll need to launch a lot more integrations.

Part of that is on the development side. Part of it means building deep relationships with potential partners to help us spread the word when we launch the integrations.

Early last year, we got our first taste of the power of integration partnerships when we released our HipChat integration.

Because the very first email every Groove customer gets asks them to tell us why they signed up, we get a valuable look at how people are actually finding us, and what triggers their decisions to buy.

Almost immediately after releasing the integration, we saw that many users were signing up because of it.

As long as we could keep up with our core product’s needs, it was an easy decision to build more integrations.

And so, over the last year, we’ve released integrations with Slack, MailChimp, Campaign Monitor, Constant Contact, Olark and SnapEngage.

We even released an integration with Zapier, which lets Groove customers integrate Groove into hundreds of other SaaS products.

We’ve also seen more than 30 companies build their own integrations using Groove’s API.

We’ve continued to see emails like that one from new customers, making the results of our efforts very clear.

This is another effort where I’m very happy with how we’ve done.

Product Improvements

We’ve done a lot of great work to take the product from where it was two years ago to today. And I’m really proud of our team for that.

We all know that there’s a lot of work left to do to make Groove’s software the no-brainer best option for SMB’s.

To do that, we’ll:

  • Invest resources into strengthening the core infrastructure of Groove to minimize bugs, performance lags and regression issues.
  • Rewrite the Knowledge Base app so that it becomes good enough to be a standalone
  • Fix Live Chat bugs to make the experience better
  • Make the transition from other helpdesks to Groove more seamless
  • Put more “polish” on the app to make it more fun to use (a la Slack, MailChimp, etc…)

A year ago, if you asked me if I was happy with the state of the software, I would’ve told you that the product was good, but that we still had a lot of work to do to make it best in class.

And I don’t think that ever changes: best in class is a moving target that evolves with the market, and most importantly your customers.

But today, the product isn’t just stronger than it’s ever been, but that I can confidently say – and feedback from our customers echoes – that the product is at a place I’m truly thrilled with.

I don’t like to get too deep into the details of our product on this blog, but we’ve made a ton of progress, from strengthening our infrastructure to adding requested features to making huge improvements in speed and stability (details for everything are on the Better blog).

What We Learned From Failing to Hit Our Ultimate Goal

When we published our strategy, we centered it around a single, ultimate goal: to grow to 5,000 paying customers within 12 months.

Did we hit our goal?

Sadly, no.

We fell around 1,600 customers short.

But it’s 2,000 more customers than we had a year ago, and there’s no doubt we’ve hit a ton of important milestones along the way.

Looking back on this 12-month effort, there are two big lessons that we’ve learned that are going to help us as we move forward:

1) Huge, Uncomfortable Goals Are a Good Thing. Even if You Don’t Hit Them.

I’m confident that if we hadn’t set that aggressive goal, we wouldn’t have grown as rapidly and executed as effectively as we did.

We had our eye on a huge, unlikely target. We didn’t hit it. Embarrassingly, we didn’t really even come close. But we accomplished a lot, and I don’t regret setting such a lofty goal.

And we’re a lot farther along as a business than we were a year ago.

2) Be Brutally Honest With How Many Tactics You Can Pursue at Once.

We put nine big tactics to pursue in that original plan. Each of them could (and at many companies, does) warrant a full-time employee for an entire year to really get right. And our team was smaller than it is now.

Failing to hit your ultimate goal because you gave a thoughtful strategy your best effort – and still made progress – is okay. Creating a strategy that sets you up for failure by not being able to give every tactic the attention it deserves is not.

Our Strategy For The Next 12 Months

Over the next year, we’re going to work to hit another uncomfortable – and unlikely – goal: 7,500 paying customers.

It’ll be difficult, though I think our chances are better than they were of hitting 5,000 in this past year.

And we’re going to be narrowing our focus to the proven tactics that we know work.

Now, that doesn’t mean we won’t be trying new things. We’re definitely going to continue constantly exploring new approaches and tactics, but we’re going to deliberately set aside “non-core” time for that. When it comes to the hours that we know need to be invested in activities that have a guaranteed ROI, we’re going to be focusing on three (and only three) major efforts:

1) Content, Content, Content and SEO… Again

There’s no denying that the success of Groove has been built on our content. We’ve worked hard to publish the best content we possibly can, and it’s paid off immensely.

Over the last 12 months, that payoff has increased significantly with the growth of our support blog.

Over the next 12 months, we’re going to look to deliver valuable content in even more ways:

We’ll also be continuing to focus on and invest in SEO (especially on the support blog) to help us better understand what readers are looking for.

2) Continuous Product Improvement

Our development team is firing on all cylinders (and we’re hiring, too!). In the next 12 months, we’ll be focusing on some big core improvements to make Groove better for mobile users, as well as some features which, based on the 5,000+ customer conversations I’ve had over the last year, I expect to turn Groove into a no-brainer for any small business :-)

3) 20+ more third-party integration partnerships

We’ve been talking to customers about the integrations that they want to see in Groove, and we’re going to be rolling out several big ones in the coming months.

We’re also going to be increasing support – both technically and on the marketing side – for companies that want to build integrations using the Groove API.

(Interested in building a Groove integration? Email me and I’ll help in any way I can.)

4) Understanding and executing on Paid Acquisition

We all buy stuff because we see ads, and that’s not changing.

David Hauser, Grasshopper

While content has been an incredibly valuable strategy for us, there’s no denying that, if you have the budget and can commit to deeply understanding how to make paid acquisition channels work, that they’re an effective way to reach more customers and accelerate the growth of a business.

What the mix of channels we’ll target remains to be seen, but we’re finally going to begin exploring this in earnest toward the end of Q3.

We’re putting a plan in place now to begin a thoughtful execution of our first real advertising campaign. To do this, we’re spending time on everything from customer development to working with experts to improving the way we track our conversion funnels. All of this will be covered, of course, in an upcoming post.

How to Apply This to Your Own Business

Your goals might be different than ours, and the approach you take to get there might be different, too.

But my hope with this post is to make it very clear that setting big goals, even if you don’t hit them, is okay.

In fact, it’s far preferable to the alternative: setting small goals that under-motivate you and limit your success.

We failed. It sucked. But we learned a lot. And if it keeps us growing at more than 100% year-over-year, I’m happy to continue failing.

I know it’s made us a stronger company, and I think it’ll do the same for you.

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About the Author

Alex Turnbull is the CEO & Founder of Groove (simple helpdesk software for small businesses) who loves to build startups and surf.