Zohe Mustafa is the founder of Growth Hakka, a growth hacking consultancy based in London, UK.
Zohe talked to ScaleUp Magazine about the way he works and shared his personal story about his entrepreneurial adventures.
Tell us about your professional journey so far?
Academically I did both a Computer Science Degree and Business Management Degree straight after. I was unsure what I wanted to be when I grew up, plus I wanted more time before going for jobs. After my 2nd degree, instead of going for a graduate job I started my first business.
My first startup was a “Freesheets” publication before the Internet had really taken off in the days of dial-up connection. The idea was to give it out for free in London [London has quite a few freesheets these days] and to make money from advertising. I did everything myself. Design, copy, photography, editorial, ad sales, relationships with PR managers and even distribution.
When it came to the distribution I came to the awful realization that I was too embarrassed to stand on the street and give out my free magazine. I was literally mortified. Doh! The startup failed miserably…
Having failed my first startup and with pressure from my parents, I was unable to stave off employment and working for someone else. I got a job in the Information Technology team at what was then Cable and Wireless. But even that job did not come easily! I made over 300 job applications in about 8 months. With each rejection and my mother’s taunts about how incompetent I was ringing in my ears, I kept going until I got a breakthrough. Various Information Technology skills I had learned at University and in my startup eventually paid off!
I worked for about 3 years earning very good money for my age at the time and eventually got to a point whereby I could not cope with maddening corporate culture and politics. I quit and founded another startup which was an e-commerce start up.
E-commerce Startup went a bit better than the 1st one. I 0worked on it for 7 years and achieved hockey stick growth. Then, however, I made the classic mistake of growing too fast and most importantly growing and diversifying product range too fast. This resulted in me not having enough cash to stock hero products that had provided the hockey stick growth in the first place! Next thing I knew debts were growing and the diversified stock was not shifting fast enough!
Before the debt for the E-commerce startup really got to a level which I could not control I decided to shut down the business and tail between my legs I returned to the corporate world of being an employee!
I ended up working for large corporations like QVC, Virgin Media, Nokia and Accenture on large digital and marketing programs with HUGE marketing budgets in the millions. I was like a kid in a sweet shop. For my e-commerce startup, I had to apply multiple hacks with a limited budget. For the corporates, I was spending millions on Search, Display, Affiliates, Social, Partnerships and more. The hacker in me couldn’t help applying many hacks I had learned in my start up to the corporate world.
In 2011 I could not take much more at the most soulless job of all at Accenture and started Growth Hakka.
Since the earliest days of my career to now in 2017, I have worked for or consulted for over 40 companies both enterprise and startups. I have built up a wealth of cross-industry experience that I now apply to new clients.
The aim has been to Bring enterprise level marketing skills to entrepreneur level firms and making them successful
Tell us about your company. What challenges you faced while growing your company and what you did to fix them.
With Growth Hakka when I started it in 2012 the biggest challenge was that most people had no idea what “Growth Hacking” was. Now in 2017, there are literally 100s of Growth Hacking agencies. Whilst it was challenging for people not really knowing what growth hacking was it was not impossible to generate awareness.
I did all the standard things, build the website, optimize for SEO, share on social, some paid ads, useful links and comments on high PR sites, a growth hacking group on LinkedIn etc. As business came in and we were running growth campaigns for clients it became even harder with the resource I had to run campaigns for Growth Hakka.
Time is always a challenge and there is never enough time in the day. New competitor agencies have also provided a strong challenge as awareness grows about Growth Hacking. The awareness of Growth Hacking also presents a challenge in that every client no matter what the product is thought growth hacking is the holy grail of viral growth. Poor products cannot be growth hacked and we are great believers in Product as Marketing.
If your product is flawed no fancy marketing or clever growth hacks will bring exponential growth. Growth Hacking for a SAAS is a lot easier than for Matcha Tea for example. Most of the big growth hacking case studies online are for SAAS and tech companies and every prospect comes to us with dreams of achieving similar growth. In that case, we really need to manage expectations. Hiring and finding good people is a HUGE challenge especially at an affordable price.
Your Successes/failures in life.
My first startup was a disaster as mentioned above. My 2nd startup whilst doing well for 7 years, so it was both a success and when I decided to ramp down operations I suppose it was because I failed with my stock purchase decisions.
I have run many successful campaigns. 5 million app downloads in one campaign were my biggest success.
In another role, I generated £50M in pre-credit approved sales. Post-credit revenue value was £26M.
What choices did you make in your life which made a significant difference in your life?
Don’t do things the conventional way. Trust your instinct. It will always work out. I have applied a hacker’s mindset to everything I do since the age of 15, from choosing which subjects I wanted to do for GCSEs and A-Levels to my career path and even to whom I wanted to marry! Point being I refused to conform to expected norms.
Don’t just accept the rules. Change them, break them, challenge them. I have constantly made choices that most people would think were not normal and maybe a little crazy.
Take calculated risks but think before you do. I’m always calm, never get stressed especially in work-related situations. Cool heads always prevail.
Walk us through your workday.
I work with both corporate and startup clients at the moment. First thing in the morning will be to check my notifications on my S6. If there are no major overnight crises then I won’t actually go into anything until getting to work. Once at work I will go through emails, Slack messages, and updates. At the same time on a separate screen, we have all our client’s dashboards rotating using the Revolver Chrome app extension. I will look for any spikes or anomalies and have a deeper dive if anything stands out. As we get more clients it’s getting more difficult for me to be hands-on in campaigns but still, at this stage, I still have a major input into all client work.
How do you keep yourself productive and motivated?
That’s not hard. I’m working for myself on cool projects and campaigns with a diverse set of clients from multiple industry verticals. No day is the same. No challenge is the same. Intellectually nothing is cooler than being presented a growth challenge and finding ways to grow that business.
What do you do to keep yourself on the growth path?
Constantly look at your data. Affect change as fast as possible to counter negative trends and metrics i.e work in real time. Don’t be afraid to admit if you have done something that is not working.
What tools/apps do you use for managing work and life?
Slack, Gmail, Evernote, Analytics suites, Excel, Buffer, WordPress, Sumo Me, MailChimp, Whats App, Skype, IFTTT, NordVPN, ChromeCast, Revolver, Hubspot Sales, Snag-It, Clearbit, Built With, Awesome New Tab Page, Eyedropper, SEO Quake, SEMRUSH, SimilarWeb, The Great Suspender, Canva and so many more depending on the client.
Your favorite books?
Lean Startup, Hooked, Fingerprints of the Gods, Magicians of the Gods.
People who have inspired you and made a difference in your life.
I’m not going to give you a typical cliché response like my dad or Richard Branson. I can’t say I have been inspired by anyone in particular in life that is famous or who has made lots of money. I am inspired by those who struggle and who have little in life in terms of amenities and money.
Those who face daily challenges to feed their families and keep them safe. Those who work in the service of others. If I had to pick people who are famous then it would be Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, and Ray Kurzweil are definitely interesting folks.
How do you hire your team? What traits do you look for while hiring?
We use both onshore and offshore resource. For Onshore I get personally involved. I have a large network and tend to approach people of interest directly on LinkedIn. I am part of various Slack Think tanks etc that also come in handy. For the offshore resource, I rely on my local managers to make the right decision. I look for people who have a similar background to me i.e. multi-industry, multi-channel, multi – geo, multi-skilled.
I look for growth hackers and ideally they should be growth hackers who can code or at least understand the code. These people are rare by the way. I look for tenacity and doggedness, determination and imagination. I prefer creative people who can think out of the box. I look for signs of calmness under pressure as I don’t get along with people who panic! I also look for humble people. I don’t hire experts because there is no such thing and if you position yourself as one then I will have doubts. I like practitioners who like to and are still learning like me. We occasionally dip into freelance sites like UpWork, Fiverr etc for bespoke tasks that we don’t have time for ourselves.
What advice did you get which changed your life?
I honestly can’t say I’ve ever followed any advice that I have been given. Most times I did exactly the opposite of what I was advised. I’ve always had a single-mindedness and belief in what I was doing. Never had a mentor or anything like that although I love to mentor people myself.
What advice would you give to people looking for success and growth in personal and professional life?
Standard stuff really. Believe in yourself, never give up. Anything you do or create put yourself in the shoes of the end user or consumer. Nothing is impossible, there is a solution to every problem. Keep Calm.