Start Growth Hacking: What, Why and How

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As an entrepreneur or marketer, you may have heard about “Growth Hacking” and are keen to know what it is all about. In this article, you’ll learn 1) what growth hacking is, 2) some growth hacking strategies, and 3) examples of growth hacking.



The credit for coining the term “Growth Hacker” goes to Sean Ellis, who used it in a blog post in 2010. Sean Ellis is the CEO and maker of Qualaroo and a start-up investor in Silicon Valley. Though it may be a new term, it is being used more and more by technology marketers. A lot of the tactics utilized in growth hacking have been present for a long time.

Sean was forced to come up with the new term because of his frustration when he was recruiting replacements for himself.

Sean had assisted some internet companies in achieving considerable growth. Of those companies, a few were in possession of an IPO. In spite of all this, Sean was the go-to man for the valley whenever they wanted to expand their user base. He would receive payment and equity in return for his services.

In essence, Sean’s role turned into a one-man growth shop, establishing processes, mindsets and systems that could be safeguarded following his departure. Ultimately, he would turn over the keys for his growth machine to another person, and he would proceed off into the sunset. That’s what his plan was and that’s where the problems began.

In his search for a replacement, he would frequently receive résumés that were not relevant. The résumés listed marketing degrees and marketing experience but still lacked something. Sean was aware that the type of strategies he utilized was not a representation of the conventional playbook utilized by traditional marketers. In addition, if the hires were given responsibility, they would not be an appropriate fit.

The focus of a traditional marketer is quite broad and though his skill set is highly valuable, it is not as essential in the teething days of a startup’s life. The initial period of a startup does not require someone to develop and supervise a marketing team or set up a strategic marketing plan to accomplish corporate aims or supervise outside vendors or engage in a lot of the other jobs that marketers are expected to do.

In the early phase of a startup, one thing that is definitely required is “growth.”

Sean wanted marketers. He got them. So Sean modified what it was he asked for. His watershed blog post was entitled “Find a Growth Hacker for Your Startup.” Thus the phrase “growth hacker” came into being. Andrew Chen made the term available to a bigger audience in a blog with the title “Growth Hacker is the new VP Marketing.” In this blog post, he defined the phrase and utilized Airbnb’s incorporation of Craigslist as example.

What is Growth Hacking? Who is a Growth Hacker?

In his post, Sean Ellis defined a growth hacker as a person for whom the real north is growth. Everything the person does is closely evaluated by its possible effect on scalable growth.

According to Andrew Chen, growth hackers are a blend of coders and marketers. They are the ones who view the conventional question of how to win customers for their product with these answers – landing pages, A/B tests, email deliverability, open graph and viral factors.

Aaron Ginn provided another definition for growth hacker in 2012 on TechCrunch. According to his definition, growth hacking is a mindset of data, curiosity and creativity. The key characteristic that a growth hacker possesses is creativity. He looks beyond SEO or AdWords for distribution. This marketing professional looks for a tactic within the constraints of a repeatable yet scalable technique for growth, inspired by data but driven by product. He lives at the point of intersection of product, data and marketing. The ultimate objective of all growth hackers is to develop a self-perpetuating marketing machine with the ability to reach millions on its own.

Other more elaborate definitions/discussions pertaining to growth hacker/growth hacking are given below:

In the era of Web 2.0, growth hacking came to be known as the modern method to reach a market and propagate an idea. In contrast to classical marketing which is usually an interruption to the day, the method of “growth hacking” calls for “pull.” The growth hacker comprehends user behavior and offers value immediately to convince. He makes messaging an essential aspect of the “thoughts” and “lives” of users. He leverages across disciplines, collecting insights from gamification and behavioral economics to determine the right message to attract users or bring them to the company’s side.

Growth hacking is a kind of marketing that utilizes creative campaigns, analytics, social media and organic PR to acquire exposure for a brand. The approach has gained popularity owing to its low expense innovative approach when compared to conventional methods – particularly for tech start-ups who don’t want to or are unable to finance marketing campaigns associated with a huge budget.

The growth hacker is an IT expert who utilizes elements of market research and marketing, in addition to technical and technology strategies, to offer marketing solutions to employers or clients. Here, the utilization of the word “hacking” suggests a utilization of technology and logic processes toward a particular end aim, in this case, retention of customers and sales.

Growth hacking blends engineering principles with marketing principles to develop more precise marketing tactics.

Whether or not you have a limited budget for marketing, growth hacking will help you tap into innovative and non-traditional techniques of gaining exposure and therefore triggering growth.


Let’s look at some ways to practice growth hacking.

growth hacking

© Flickr | Bill Rice

Begin a Blog

A blog is a necessary tool in the toolbox of a growth hacker. That doesn’t mean you must stop with a blog. What is required is an all-out content marketing effort. The fuel of growth hacking is content. Whether you opt for blogging, infographics, SlideShare or Instagram, content is important.

The more adept you are at developing content, promoting it and maintaining an amount of content, the more skilled you’d be at growth hacking. The customers of today want content. Whether or not they decide to convert depends on the content they read.

Harvest Email Addresses

The social media rage is exaggerated. The top lead generation technique is email. Email is associated with three times more active users when compared to all users of social media taken together. It is also 40 times more powerful than Twitter and Facebook, has a purchase potential three times that of social media and attracts 17 percent higher orders. Email continues to grow even though it is quite an old digital marketing medium.

An easy way to expand your email list is to provide your website with an email opt-in form. Alternatively, you can utilize a pop-up for utmost email harvesting.

Influencer Marketing

Influencer Marketing is a term that refers to targeting an entity within your niche or industry, an entity that has already proved itself as an authority and already gained a huge audience that has faith in it.

Influencers: who are thy, why are they important?

© Flickr | Stefano Maggi

Influencer Marketing is a great strategy to utilize to get ahead. It helps you to effectively forego all the slow-moving aspects of SEO and social media marketing.

Wondering how to apply this in real-time? Suppose you were marketing a self-improvement website. Your target may be a major influencer associated with that field, such as Dave Asprey or Tim Ferriss. After you find your target, engage in any of the following:

  • Design content which you feel would suit their audience after which, you share the content with them;
  • Show yourself willing to work for them;
  • Sponsor them.

Whichever step you choose of the three, your objective is to get them to name your brand in interactions with their huge audience, or post your link. By getting them to do so, you will get exposure to many hundreds or thousands of people with just one post, possibly getting yourself an immense number of fans and subscribers overnight.

The great thing about influencer marketing is that you don’t have to develop your own audience. With hardly any effort on your part, you gain from direct access to the influencer’s audience.

Social Marketing with Fantastic Content

For the most part, content marketing has to do with slow burn. The majority of marketers utilize this strategy to gradually develop an increased following and more credibility with their audience. After establishing a reputation for themselves as experts and thought leaders, they would find themselves in a suitable position to begin selling things.

As an alternative, social bookmarking may be blended with content marketing so as to get immediate outcomes. To get this done, you have to think of a distinct concept for a blog post or article. Preferably, you need to know which target audience you are aiming at when you write. You should be aware of how to attract that target audience.

The title of your content should have an emotional hook. It should guarantee something different/unique from other websites.

Utilize Scalable Tactics

Begin small, whichever tactic you wish to execute. The tactics that become popular gain speed on their own and take you to better conversion rates. The important thing to remember is to ensure you are in possession of the infrastructure required to accommodate growth to prevent back-end difficulties from decelerating the momentum.

Social media businesses are a fantastic example of scalable efforts with the latent ability to skyrocket to great heights. Facebook began small, but utilized various tactics including sharing techniques, in addition to a model for recruiting new engineers, for the upkeep of the platform, and to create a scalable and viable plan that provided sustenance for its growth.

Double-Sided Referrals

After it came out, DropBox had to deal with a major problem: their early pay-per-click test had a colossal $233-388 expenditure per asset for each new customer. However their life time value (LTV) was $99. At that point, they executed a referral program. The program involved inviting a friend so that both gained from additional free space.

The outcome: a hundred thousand registered users increased to 4 million registered users in the span of only 15 months. The percentage of increase was a whopping 3900 percent.

Smallest Number of Landing Pages

Minimal landing pages are a fantastic solution for single-action programs such as capturing email addresses. The information offers endless possibilities such as putting them on an email drip bandwagon.

The most important benefit of minimal landing pages is that they are highly useful for quick iteration. If development of the desired landing page requires considerably less time than that of a long form page, your iteration rate and A/B testing would soar.

Post on Product Hunt

Ryan Hoover may have started Product Hunt as a side project never expecting it to become one of the biggest startups in 2014, but it did. Product Hunt brings out interesting, new products each year. If your product gets featured on the daily list, you can expect a considerable outcome on your starting user base. The number could potentially be in the range of several thousand users.

There’s more. Should your product be interesting enough and you lucky enough, major influencers and the press would share it with their corresponding audiences, increasing the number by at least 10 times.

Comprehend Your Data Well

The focus of growth hacking is obsessively on data. Data is the guide in the growth-hacking milieu. It is essential that you comprehend Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), multi-variate testing, LTVs, CACs (Customer Acquisition Costs), viral coefficients and other kinds of jargony metrics.

An increasing number of analytics establishments are streamlining and bringing out data through methods that provide food to the growth-hacking engine. Aggregate data on its own, is somewhat worthless. From the time you begin to really comprehend your data, you would be in a better position to start growth hacking.

Data is not necessarily about numbers. It is information. You require customer information (kissmetrics), customer acquisition data ( and content performance information (Buzzsumo) in addition to other actionable data.

Only Google Analytics is not enough anymore. Go a bit deeper by utilizing an analytics platform that comprehends your data in actionable modes.



This website assists with vacation leasing between peers. Airbnb has expanded into a billion-dollar business. In the beginning, it utilized a potent email campaign in the initial growth hacking stage which aided in propelling the website to the next stage of success. This was followed by another brilliant move having to do with Craigslist spam. The website utilized Craigslist to locate listings of houses available for rent and approached the renters, trying to convince them to put up their ads on Airbnb instead. This step quickly helped the website gain thousands of users. In addition, the network became viral almost immediately. It can thus be seen that you cannot underestimate how much you can gain from leveraging an already-existing network. However, do keep in mind that you would not want to overlap with an establishment that is presently in close competition with you.


When Twitter initially began, it had plenty of quick publicity. Thousands of people were signing up and sharing with their friends through social networks and blogs. However, continued utilization of the product, in due course, was not permanent. Twitter’s large audience seemed to sign up, fiddle with their account for a small number of days never to log into their account again. The company then made a decision to invest in their very product rather than trying to convince their users to return by way of special offers.

The social media platform started performing comprehensive testing on the interface and user experience, followed by reconstruction of the whole system on the basis of information they collected from the tests.

Twitter was able to learn many diverse things with respect to its users – one thing being that if users, on their first ever day on Twitter chose 5 to 10 accounts to follow, there was a far greater possibility of them becoming long-term users. The reason for this is that once they’ve chosen accounts that appeal to them, there is more investment in their account from their side.

Those users who signed in without communications with others logged off without seeing the value latent in the network. Twitter went on altering their system so as to assist users with immediately getting personal benefit from their Twitter account and rapidly witnessed a considerable soar in success.


This social media giant utilized email notifications to inform people when a person known to them included them in a tag in a photo. With approximately 75 percent click-through rates, it is quite obvious how this masterly utilization of must-see-my-face frame of mind and human curiosity brought great gains for the platform.

Image credit: Flickr | Bill Rice under Attribution 2.0 Generic, Flickr | Stefano Maggi under Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic.

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