How Mixmax Got 6,000 Customers Without Spending a Penny on Marketing
Here’s a bit of textbook startup advice: don’t start a company unless you know what you’re building.
Olof Mathe threw that advice out the window when he started working on Mixmax. He had a rough idea that he wanted to build something to make workplace communication more expressive and effective. But what form would that take? Who would it serve? That was all still up in the air.
Fast forward three years and they’ve built one of the fastest adopted marketing products that helps people track, schedule, and compose emails that engage. Even more impressive? They acquired 6,000 paying customers (ranging from individuals to enterprise teams) without spending a penny on marketing.
We sat down to hear some of Olof’s best growth hacks for unpaid acquisition. And as it turns out, defining the product as Mixmax grew became the best growth hack of all.
1. Offer something low commitment—a Chrome extension
There many ways to get leads, from social channels to gated content to buying lists. But Mixmax’s #1 source of leads is the product itself.
The first version of Mixmax was a Chrome extension, which Olof soon realized was too difficult an ecosystem to live in. But it was great for generating leads. As a plugin, Mixmax could live on top of people’s existing workflow, creating a low barrier to entry for getting people’s foot in the door.
This means that every lead on their list had not only heard of Mixmax’s value–they had seen it in action. This tactic is called marketing through engineering.
Well-known examples include:
This tool shows you how well your headline will perform. It’s a lead magnet for a paid marketing calendar. The page has over 9,000 backlinks and receives 7,000 organic visitors/month.
In fact, the page has more backlinks than any of their blog posts.
This tool shortens your link with custom domains. It’s a lead magnet for their primary product, ClickMeter. This tool has 35,000 backlinks and receives 2.5K visits/month.
This tool enables you to discover email addresses of your prospects. It has over 100,000 downloads on the Chrome store.
If you’re always thinking about driving traffic in the context of creating epic blog posts, then you’re missing out on the growth hacking mindset.
The best growth hackers build or outsource tools to drive traffic. This is what separated Olof’s customer acquisition strategy from the many competing products.
Build product hooks to transition customers to your full product
Many people have a hard time migrating users over from using an extension or plugin into the actual product. To combat this, Mixmax found high-value hooks into the main product experience.
In Olof’s case, that meant setting up the first steps of the product experience in the Chrome extension, directly in a customer’s Gmail. But then, if they wanted to customize the features, or see full analytics, they’d have to go inside the Mixmax app.
2. Define—and redefine—your product
Some startups chase incremental growth. Improve retention by 10% here, acquire 2% more customers there. But Mixmax hacks growth by going for big wins.
As Olof told us, they don’t chase after the 20% improvement. Instead, they look at what the 500% improvement might be that they could do in the same time. This is the “growth hacking mindset.”
For Mixmax, those 500% improvements tend to be about product definition. “Defining your product,” Olof says, “is a growth hack.”
You need to assume that no one uses your product. “So there’s no point in optimizing an onboarding flow because no one’s using your product,” Olof told us. “So you need to figure out a big reason someone would use your product.”
For Mixmax, finding that “big reason” meant expanding the addressable market.
Instead of optimizing an onboarding flow, they thought about what results people try to achieve at work that Mixmax can help them with. This strategy made office cooler talk their primary driver of word-of-mouth referrals.
Don’t survey your customers—talk to them
Olof and his team had a hunch they were solving bad email communication but didn’t know exactly how people were using their product.
So they found out.
“We did a lot of everything from talking to customers over email to actually visiting customers.”
They would walk into the corridor of their coworking space and ask for some advice. When they found out people were using it to communicate with their teams, they launched a team-focused page with relevant features.
And the cherry on top? They closed the loop with all customers who had the feature request. By tracking requests in Asana, they’d reach out to whoever had the comment to tell them that they’d done it. As Olof said,
“It’s a nice way to tie the loop back with your community and your customer as a way to help drive growth.”
3. Make something people want to share
Everyone and their mother have an email address (likely more), meaning everyone can benefit from Mixmax. That means they have a big potential market, but also a lot of competition.
A huge competitive edge that’s driving growth right now is finding ways to make the product memorable and shareable. For example, Mixmax’s ability to turn a signature link into a visually stunning, and easily shareable image. This kind of memorable product experience makes referrals one of Mixmax’s biggest sources of new customers. Take a look:
Even though referral marketing has driven most of Mixmax’s growth, it’s the hardest channel to understand. If there’s no data, then you can’t attribute any source as the primary driver of sales. This makes it hard to double down on traction channels that work. With that said, a product that receives most of it’s customers through word-of-mouth referrals implies strong product/market fit. That’s more valuable to a startup than any onboarding optimization tactics.
What’s on the horizon for Mixmax?
Olof says the next step is tripling down on their referral channel. He acknowledges that any referral program, like “give a month to a friend and get a month free” will only work if the product has great fit and works for everybody, which is why they’re focused on nailing that first.
So far, it’s working like a charm.
Tune in to the original interview where Olof Mathe shares his story, and let us know about your own startup growth story in the comments.