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Jonathan Aufray On Growth Hacking, Startup Lessons, and Impact of AI

Updated on February 4, 2021

6 Min Read

You really need to be lucky to get a response of an email which was sent without a subject line.

When I sent an interview invitation to Jonathan Aufray in an email I forgot to add a subject line. But either it was my luck or Jonathon`s generosity that he replied to my email and accepted the invitation.

Jonathan Aufrey interview

Jonathan Aufray, who is the co-founder and CEO at Growth Hackers, works with startups and Small and Medium Businesses (SMBs) to bring them sustainable growth through proven inbound marketing and growth hacking strategies.

I initially planned this account as an Q&A interview. But by listening to Aufray and imagining his inspirational journey, I started to ponder that a regular interview won’t suffice it.

So, instead of a conventional interview, I am going to tell the story of Aufray.

Let’s learn how Aufray became a thought leader of the startup community from his humble beginnings at Strawberry Fields.

Motivation and Career Aspirations:

Before being an entrepreneur and creating Growth Hackers, Jonathan was working at a startup.

He says that at the beginning, the experience was good, motivating, rewarding and exciting. “I was helping it to grow. In the initial stages, we didn’t have any revenue, no traction and no office… pretty much nothing.”

Within a year, they moved to the first office, got published into 50+ publications, multiplied the user base by six times, and won multiple startup awards. Moreover, due to the immense success they made their first revenue, and were accepted to an accelerator, where they eventually received the first funding.

But the only problem was, “more we grew and less the CEO was rewarding toward team members,”

This was probably the turning point of Jonathan because his CEO was turning into a maniac. “A lot of things he did were manipulative, as he kept lying to team members and partners, made immoral and unethical decisions,” Jonathan explained.

The past few months in the startup were awful and the atmosphere was simply depressing.

So, with a few other team members, they decided to quit.

The Turning Point…

This made him realize that he wanted to change his life. “Because of the bad example I was given, I wanted things to be different by making people (Team members, partners, customers) around me happy.”

And, so started the journey of Growth Hackers.

Jonathan is really impressed by a company like Buffer and their company culture inspires him a lot.

The Term “Growth Hacking”

Growth hacking has become a popular term and because of this popularity fake information has filled the digital media.

“A lot of marketers or entrepreneurs misinterpret growth hacking,” Jonathan ponders, regretting the way every new innovation is maltreated by the people. For him,

“It’s a set of cheap techniques to get viral growth.

He argues that if this [growth hacking] was that easy, anyone could have replicated the hack and grown a business exponentially.

He has a growth hacking definition that he wrote especially to tackle this menace of growing misinformation.

As per him, growth hacking actually goes further than simple marketing. “In marketing, you mostly work on the acquisition channels but not so much on the product.”

The goal of growth hacking is to work on the acquisition channels but also grow/improve the product itself by working on the retention and revenue channels. The AARRR framework is what defines a growth hacker.

He thinks that a growth hacker is a blend of a marketer, a product manager, a data analyst, a designer and a mad man/woman.

Why a mad man/woman?
“Because he/she needs to test a lot of assumptions, analyze what works, optimize the channels, move on, try new things, iterate, etc…,” something a mad woman is great at.

Some of the successful startups, he has worked with…

As a growth hacking expert, Jonathan has helped businesses from 70+ countries grow. Some of these are:

  • Zeneduc: This is a French Edtech startup. It helps parents with the education of their children. Jonathan helped it with conversions and sales. He created an email marketing strategy where he helped them convert their leads into clients.
  • Barcelona Tours: This is a Spanish traveling business. Jonathan helped them implement a full inbound marketing strategy to drive traffic, generate leads and make reservations.
  • Pack Sanctuary: This is a Taiwanese organization helping animals. He helped them improve their website to make it more conversion-focus but also helped them with their social media.
  • Serac Hammocks: An American hammock company. He developed a social media strategy coupled with SEO to improve their visibility and traffic.
  • Ginja9: This is a Portuguese beverage. He helped them improve their website to make it more sales-focus but also developed an email marketing strategy to improve their revenue
  • Gava Gives: This is a Filipino/Singaporean app making easy for people to donate to charities. He helped them with their social media strategy as well as App marketing.
  • Voodoo: they are French app published. He helped them with ASO (App Store Optimization)
  • Talentese: This is a German Jobs/Human Resource startup. He helped them with web improvements, content marketing and social media.
  • Rash’R: This is a swimsuit company from Ireland. He helped them with web improvements, their social media strategy as well as their email marketing conversion rates.

Common problems with startups and small businesses:

Apart from the 24 common startup problems. Jonathan says the main one is ‘lack of focus.

Entrepreneurs want to do a lot but cannot focus on a few important things. He recommend startups and SMBs to clearly identify what their KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) are and then, put all the actions to move the needle upward.

He says that it’s important to have clear goals and milestones. “I see too many startups that say ‘I want to be the Uber or Airbnb of…’ or ‘I want to beat Amazon, Google or Facebook’ or ‘I plan to be a billion dollar company’.”

To all these, his advice is: Get an achievable milestone.

“If you didn’t make any sales yet, don’t try to make a million sales, try to make first one. Then, once you’ve done a sale, try to make 10 sales. Now, move even further… , The goal is to grow month over month, week over week.”

What worked for AirBNB, Dropbox, and Uber?

I was curious that whether the strategies that AirBNB and Dropbox used, can these be tried today. And I asked him this question. His reply was, “before talking about the growth hacking strategies that worked for those three successful companies, it’s important to note that growth hacking is a process.”

A growth hack that worked for another company might not work for you because the market and your target audience are different.

For AirBnB, what worked for them is leveraging the community of Craigslist. When people were listing their room on Craigslist, AirBnB would tell people they could also list it on AirBnB.

For Dropbox, what worked well was the referral program they implemented. More friends you invited to join Dropbox, more free storage you would get.

Uber was more a in-real life growth hack. They were driving investors in the valley for free.

Factors to focus on before startup launch

Some lessons that Jonathan wants all emerging startup managers to learn are:

A strategy:

It’s important to be prepared and have a plan.

Be open-minded:

An idea is worth nothing, execution is everything. When you launch, you will get feedback and you need to be ready to pivot or at least tweak your product. Maybe, users will request improvements, new features, less features, etc… Not only you need to listen to feedback and analyze data, you need to take action.

Tip for startups in developing countries

Startups in developing countries need to focus on the problems those countries are facing. For a startup to be successful, it’s key to fix/resolve a problem. Find what the problems are in your country and propose a solution.

The startups in developing countries don’t obviously have competitors in developed countries as they don’t face the same problems.

Impact of marketing automation and AI

Marketing automation, AI and machine learning are already important in growth hacking and will become more and more important. I believe most of what we do now will be replaced by AI and machine learning. However, it will take some time for AI to catch up with creativity and psychology, which are two key elements of growth hacking.

Startup events to attend:

Many of us are confused about the startup conferences and their scope. Do these work? Should we attend them? We asked Jonathan these questions…

He said that he recommend startups and entrepreneurs to not attend too many conferences.


Because they are draining, you’ll get many business cards but not many real interactions and most of the talks you hear can be seen on Internet.

His advice to startup CEOs is, “If you’re going to an event, you need to have a plan, such as what’s the goal of the event for your startup, who you want to meet, etc…” Preparing the event beforehand and maybe having a couple of interviews or appointments booked can be great.

His two favourite conferences are:

  1. GrowthHackers Conference
  2. Growth Marketing Conference

Best Books for Growth Hackers:

Here are few books Jonathan read recently and recommends to his followers:

  • Traction: How any startup can achieve explosive growth by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares
  • 4-hour work keep by Timothy Ferriss
  • Hacking Growth by Morgan Brown, Sean Ellis

About Jonathan Aufray:

Apart from being an avid traveler, Jonathan loves to play football, socializing and, hanging out with friends.

He is a great friend, mentor and probably a husband [as is shown by the picture.]

Follow Jonathan on Twitter.

Are you a startup looking to get advice from growth hacker like Jonathan Aufray or you are a growth hacker who seeks inspiration from other growth hackers?

Let us know in the comments.

Share your opinion in the comment section. COMMENT NOW

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Arsalan Sajid

Arsalan, a Digital Marketer by profession, works as a Startups and Digital Agencies Community Manager at Cloudways. He loves all things entrepreneurial and wakes up every day with the desire to enable the dreams of aspiring entrepreneurs through his work!


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