by Mike Sharkey, Co-Founder & CEO, Autopilot

How to Create Earthquakes From Basements

Today’s post was inspired by my talk at the Traction Conference on “How to Create Earthquakes from Basements.” You can check out the talk below.

A long-time friend of mine is knee-deep in getting his startup off the ground. He’s seen early stage traction, won a few big customers, and earned a spot in a reputable Australian incubator – all great signs that the company is going to be successful.

But when we were chatting, I could tell my friend was absolutely exhausted. You could see it in his face. The flame of enthusiasm and passion that once drove him was barely lit. Every startup founder has been here, I call it “The Shitty Phase.”

The pressure from mentors, investors, and advisors to grow faster was weighing on him. I know the feeling. It’s the same sinking stomach sensation every entrepreneur feels.

To my surprise, the only advice my friend received from his meetings across Silicon Valley was to find silver bullets and “growth hacks” that would move the needle immediately, rather than focus on building a growth system for the long-term.

A moment of desperation

In his exhaustion, he felt the only way he could gain real traction was to launch an all out email assault on the inboxes of thousands of unsuspecting executives.

You know which emails I’m talking about. They’re the harassing cold emails we get in our inboxes everyday.

Terrible outbound email

The pressure to grow causes us to create really unremarkable marketing like the above email; the kind none of us would like to receive ourselves.

So I told my friend his outbound emails wouldn’t work. The tricks wouldn’t do the trick.

He needed to build a growth system, founded on trust, real relationships, and a remarkable customer experience.

The customer experience era

As marketers we often talk about themes like growth hacking, inbound marketing, and the next “it” thing.

Pundits will often say it’s the era of this and the era of that.

Don’t believe the hype.

We’re in the customer experience era, and we will always be in the customer experience era. It will stand the test of time.

Therefore, our job as marketers is to deliver a great experience throughout the customer journey.

Going back to basics

Our initial instinct to create a remarkable customer experience is to google around for technology to solve this problem.

I’m a victim of this too. As soon as I have a need, the first thing I do is start searching for applications and solutions that I can adopt to do the work for me.

But the truth is, technology doesn’t create a remarkable customer experience. No one cares what app you use to send emails. No one cares which chat app is in your stack. What people care about is you solving their problem.

As marketers, before we even consider our tools, we need to go back to the basics – figuring out what we’re about, what’s unique about what we’re delivering, and what experience we’re providing for your customers. The Four P’s is also a great place to start.

If we don’t, we end up batching and blasting the universe and wondering why we hit a wall in our growth.

I challenged my friend to turn his attention back to the basics, and to develop a foundation for what I like to call a predictable growth engine.

A predictable growth engine

Once you’ve invested time into the basics, then you’re ready to build what Andrew Chen calls a growth system. I like to call it a predictable growth engine, and here’s why:

My dream for my whole life has been based around the ocean. I come from Australia, I used to live near the beach, and I thought “Wouldn’t it be great if i could just go surfing all day long and my business would bring in new customers consistently and automatically?”

This dream of a predictable growth engine (so I could surf all day) planted the seed that grew into Autopilot. And shapes the way we think about growth as a team.

The approach we use breaks down the marketer’s job into three stages.


If a marketer sets up automated acquire, nurture, and grow journeys to cover the entire customer journey, they’ve created a predictable and scalable growth engine.

Acquire, Nurture, Grow

But a lot of us, myself and my friend included, focus most of our energy on acquisition.

We want to get new logos, new leads, and new signups. This is the exact problem my friend had. And yes, it is a problem. Because in our obsession with acquisition (Patrick Campbell calls it our crack) we forget about everyone else.

At the same time my friend was about to start batching and blasting execs, he literally had 900 leads in his database he could re-engage and nurture toward a sale. I’m not trying to knock on him, but this is low-hanging fruit. Which do you think is cheaper to do: increase new leads by 20%, or nurture 20% of your already hard earned (yet cold) leads into sales-ready prospects?

Then there’s existing customers, who we want to make sure log in frequently, achieve success with our products, and become promoters instead of detractors.

Put simply, the nurture and growth stages are equally as important as the acquire stage – and together form your predictable growth engine.

Creating earthquakes from basements

We talk about “creating earthquakes from basements” around the Autopilot office. This speaks to our goal of empowering any marketer with the automation and messaging channels needed to reach thousands or millions of people in a targeted, personalized way – an impact as powerful as an earthquake – without changing out of pajamas and/or leaving the basement.

Author Mike Sharkey, Co-Founder & CEO, Autopilot

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