Every entrepreneur dreams of the moment when his or her business takes off. But how does it happen? And can a single tweak really make a difference? Smarterer co-founder and serial entrepreneur Dave Balter says yes, and he has the data to back him up. Smarterer, a startup aiming to authenticate users’ job-related skills, has experienced 1250% growth in the last week in its key metric: questions answered on the site.

For Smarterer, the change in focus – what Balter calls “the magic button” – was from targeting job seekers to targeting employers. Clearly, some job seekers were seeing value in documenting their skills with Smarterer, based on steady growth of about 10% in questions answered. But it was shifting attention to employers that caused explosive growth.

Imagine you’re a job seeker. You might take the time to answer questions on Smarterer in order to showcase your skills. But what guarantee do you have that doing so will actually improve your chances, given how new the service is? But once an employer decides to embed a test into its job application then every seeker for that opening is guaranteed to be a Smarterer user.

“What it really took was a shift at how we looked at who wanted to use our product,” said Balter. “That’s the magic to me. Every startup believes at the beginning who is going to be interested in what they do. But you’ve got to keep finding the right marketplace that actually will care.”

At Smarterer, the growth means a renewed focus on making the best product possible and a new boost of excitement for the team.

For entrepreneurs hoping to replicate Smarterer’s staggering growth, Balter offered the following advice in a blog post announcing the news:

Finding the Magic Button:

If you’re in a startup seeking seeking to move out of slow growth mode, some words of advice:

  • Find your key metric early.  It should be something that is a coal-mine canary to all other metrics you care about.  Ours is Questions Answered.  What’s yours?
  • Hammer away at your key metric with laser focus.  Be open to other ideas as your model evolves, but for the most part, just watch that number like a hawk.
  • Solve the customer problem.  Many startups focus on their vision that they think the world needs.  Instead, consider what your potential customer really has to have and would make their world infinitely better, easier, simpler or generally just more fun.
  • Develop the foundation then a series of tiny buildings. Keep tinkering to find the tool that makes users really want to use your system.
  • Code like you’re out of time (because you are). Startup resources are finite and investor confidence is fleeting. The only way to a result is to make as many attempts as possible as frequently as possible. All-nighters will make your business.

Skill and educational credentialing is a market ripe for disruption, as Alan Jacobs captured in a post last week at The Atlantic:

For a long time now, universities have flourished by offering a bundled package of knowledge and credentialing… The big question for universities going forward is this: Can control of credentialing last for long without control of knowledge?

The same holds true for professional associations and other credentialing sources. While Khan Academy, CodeAcademy, and countless other education startups are tackling the knowledge side, the authentication side is at least as important, if not more so.