Did MySpace’s Demise Have Anything To Do With Bad Growth Hacking?

Here’s Andy Johns, Product Manager at Quora’s answer:

No. It had nothing to do with “growth hacking.” Sure, they probably had a pretty poor understanding of what it meant to focus on growth, and there is a lot of evidence for that, but companies with 100M or more users aren’t “hacking” on growth. The phrasing of the question shows a misunderstanding of what working on user growth actually means. Also, saying that they lost because they didn’t retain users is like saying a basketball team lost because they scored fewer points.

You can’t sustainably grow a product that sucks. MySpace died because it was slow, it was built on a poor technology stack relative to competitors (which prevented them from shipping fast enough and the site was horribly slow), and they didn’t try to solve most problems by engineering in scalable solutions. For example, when Facebook wanted to go international, they built a translations application into the product which allowed Facebook’s own users to translate the site. 90% of Facebook.com was translated into French in 24 hours. MySpace hired a large international staff and pushed them into several countries only to eventually lay off almost all of their international employees after they failed to grow outside the US. MySpace wasn’t founded by a deeply technical group of people, and in most cases, you need deeply technical co-founders to build a sustainable consumer technology company. Otherwise, you end up making business, product, and technology decisions aimed at short term goals (i.e. making money). For example, I can guarantee you that MySpace had a lower conversion rate to signup from its homepage when it decided to sell out full page advertisements for the next Hollywood blockbuster movie. A company led by someone who was an engineer at heart would have never agreed to making poor decisions like that. They made money near term. They lost users long term. It’s that simple.

I won’t pretend to know the complete list of causes behind why MySpace failed. But I can assure you their death began several years before they were actually successful. Their death began when they didn’t hire a core of early employees that were technical enough, when they decided the technology stack would be based on ASP.NET, and in how they aligned themselves with Hollywood more so than the technology world. It was built to fail. Their death did not begin when all of a sudden they couldn’t figure out more “growth hacks.” Having a poor understanding of how you grow definitely doesn’t help, and I’m pretty sure they had a very poor understanding. But there wasn’t a growth tactic on the planet they could have employed that would have prevented their decline. That’s not how growth works.