10 Questions with Colin Hodge – The Global Growth Expert

In 2013, Colin Hodge (MOX Batch 1) was among the most written-about founders, making waves at SXSW and The Colbert Report. After growing Down Inc. to 6 million users organically and exited through acquisition by Paktor, Colin served as Chief Growth Officer at M17 Entertainment, which he helped expand to Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Japan, and the US.

After growing startups in over 15 countries in Asia and the Americas, Colin has distilled his tried-and-true methods into the SMILE framework (Success, Metric, Ideas, Layout, Experiment). At the first-ever MOX Virtual Happy Hour, the MOX 1 founder joined us in Taipei to explain the time-tested framework in details (video):

  • Success: Find your definition of success. This may change throughout the company’s lifecycle.
  • Metric: Choose a north-star metric that directly corresponds to your success.
  • Ideas: Brainstorm. Get into the user’s psychology. Think big: if money and resources are not an issue, what would you do to get 10x growth in this area?
  • Layout: Pick the ideas with higher impact and plan exactly how to test them out.
  • Experiment: The truth is that there’s no quick hack, no silver bullet. Experiment, iterate, look at the results, and then basically you do it again. If you find the sparks, double down and reiterate. If not, go back to the drawing board with the brainstorming.

Here he sat down with us to talk all things growth—including misconceptions about the process, how to instill a growth culture, and the habit that has the most impact on his personal development.

1. How did you get started in the world of startup and what are you working on now?

I got hooked as a teenager when I started a computer programming and repair business. After a 4-year stint with Microsoft after college, I quit to start making mobile apps. I started with a location-based photo-sharing app and then a dating app in late 2011/early 2012, just before the dating app revolution.

After selling my dating company and spending 3 years on growth & marketing in the livestreaming industry across Asia and the US, I quit to help advise companies on how to grow organically and globally.

2. What are the key drivers in an organization with massive growth? Any surprises, either good or bad?

Buy-in from leadership (on growth projects) and a dedicated focus on the metrics that matter most.

The good news is there’s usually some easy early growth most startups can find if they follow the SMILE framework.

The bad news is that it takes a daily obsession to achieve truly huge results. It has to become integral to product development, marketing, and all other aspects of the company.

3. How do you measure success and/or customer happiness at your previous ventures?

I’ve settled on establishing and reiterating, with a laser focus, on one North Star Metric—the single metric that will change the company’s future the most. It may be Daily Active Users, New Users, ARPU, Conversion from free to paid, referral rates, or various other metrics, depending on the company’s stage. It should be reevaluated every few months, but during its time in the spotlight, everything the team does should be thought of in terms of “how does this affect our North Star Metric?”

4. When and how do you instill a growth culture in your team?

I’m not going to sugarcoat it – it’s damn hard to instill a growth culture in an existing team! Generally, I think the right time to build your growth culture is when your team is still small (think founders plus a few early hires, at most). Growth culture at that early stage starts with implementing analytics and thoughtfully building your UX to minimize funnel loss. Only after your product is showing strong engagement and signs of momentum, would I recommend shifting that growth culture to an actual focus on growth.

5. Startup founders are struggling with growth and retention as a result of the lockdown. Any advice on what they should do?

It’s definitely a struggle right now – you can’t do any in-person events and it’s hard to break through the virus chatter. There’s a silver lining, though, in that people are spending even more time with their devices, consuming more entertainment, and looking for an escape.

First, the most important thing now is just surviving! Both in terms of health and your business. Recheck your P&L for ways you can improve it. See if user behavior shifted in any key areas or funnels since January.

Second, consider emphasizing parts of your offering that have a stronger appeal in this environment. People tend to be home more, spending more time with family and their devices, and they’re stressed out more. For example, one company I’m working with is shifting some resources to a remote-only social feature vs. one that is more focused on offline meetings.

Then, think of how you can adapt your business to the new environment. This may mean tweaking an existing product to better fit people’s habits now, launching a lower intro-price promotion, or theming your online campaigns around the new order of priorities for your consumers.

6. Tell us about the MOX 1 cohort and your accelerator experience

That feels like eons ago! As I understand, there have been a lot of changes since the first batch. I definitely am thankful I was able to get my introduction to Taiwan through my time at MOX and used it to focus on rolling out substantial monetization changes in our product.

7. If you were to start out today, what would you look for in your first employee? What questions would you ask?

As I’ve progressed through various startups, the two most important things I look for are people who practice personal growth and who take pride in their work.

Those who strive for personal growth are usually ready to admit when they could improve, eager to learn new areas, and are raising the team’s value every day.

Those who take pride in their work are responsive in communication, thorough in their testing and processes, and take responsibility. Two questions I ask are “What would your previous manager suggest to improve?” and “What are you improving now in your own life or work life?”

8. One important truth that few people agree with you on

Great marketing holds a passport that’s accepted anywhere! You don’t need to be a local to run marketing in a new region. If you’ve got good processes and tactics, you can adapt your marketing instincts to any culture. I learned this first-hand as the Marketing Manager in Taiwan, by working closely with our marketing experts in Taipei. We adapted many of the ideas and tactics that I wanted to try to the local market with plenty of success.

9. What have you learned about building a great company culture?

It’s an incredible challenge that starts with the founders and management. I tend to lean toward the empowerment style of management, which can be conflicting with the top-down style. Transparency from leadership and frequently discussing the company vision are keys for me.

10. When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do? Alternately, what habit has the most positive impact on your life?

I started something called The GOT Method, which stands for Gratefulness, Observations, and top Tasks. I do it almost every morning after some quick meditation and it’s helped me a ton to destress and focus on what’s most important.

Colin Hodge – The Global Growth Expert – is using his valuable experience to help startups accomplish their growth strategies. Head over to his website www.colinhodge.com to know more.