What is Growth Hacking and How Can Your Startup Benefit?

Ahh Growth Hacking, the buzz word that’s been flying around the startup community. Positions in the field seem to be increasing in the startup world. That isn’t to say that large corporations can’t benefit from growth hacking – What company doesn’t want instantaneous growth and spikes in revenue? Startups, however, have limited resources and therefore are the companies that need growth hacking the most.


So, what exactly is growth hacking and how can your startup or small company benefit from the trend?

What is growth hacking?

The term ‘Growth Hacker’ was coined by Sean Ellis in 2010 and is a result of the agile development movement. A growth hackers main aim is to grow a brands user base rapidly and in a sustainable way. Sustainable growth is made possible by identifying and optimising the companies strengths and skillset. Therefore, growth hacking is a tactic that finds relevant, efficient and low-cost alternatives to traditional marketing. Methods of pulling and pushing customers, as well as directing potential users directly to a product or service are the centre of these tactics.


How does growth hacking work?

Growth hackers use metrics and analytics to identify areas for improvement. They then base their goals for growth off of these findings. Aiming to build up a customer base, however, is a nonspecific goal. With such a broad purpose, it is wise to narrow down building up the customer base into smaller and more meaningful tasks to focus on. These goals inform every decision, strategy and out-of-the-box plan. Usually, approaches involve the use of E-commerce tools in place of paid advertising such as newspapers, radio and television. A great example is social media as it is low-cost and often free.


The growth hacking process:

  • Growth hacking begins with idea generation. More specifically, the creation of all strategies and tactics that can increase company growth.
  • Next is the organising stage. Hackers hypothesise the results of these strategies and identify the resources required for implementation.
  • Almost scientifically, intensive testing and execution of the hypothesis (strategy) is the next step.
  • The results are analysed, comparing the outcome with the initial goal. If implementation was not successful, this is when growth hackers discover why.
  • These findings are used to improve future processes and refine goals.
  • Repeat the process.

Growth Hacking is a combination of engineering, marketing and analytics.

Growth Hacking is a combination of engineering, marketing and analytics.

Who are Growth Hackers?

Long gone are the days where job roles operate separately in the world of business. Growth hackers are most commonly a hybrid of marketers, engineers and even product managers. A vital skill for any growth hacker is to be diverse; a jack of all trades with the ability to continually learn more. Growth hackers need to be knowledgeable on API’s, have a strong understanding of the user experience, and have basic design and programming abilities. However, the type of skills required from a growth hacker will be largely dependant on the nature of the startup.


Candidates are not only chosen by their skillset, however. A Growth hackers personality, their creativity and ability to experiment with unique strategies are just as important. Individuals in these positions think differently to traditional marketers. To rapidly grow businesses, they experiment with different marketing channels and approaches to product development. A growth hacker will identify your companies strengths and develop strategies to optimise those skills, with the aim of generating traffic to your product or website. A great example of this is blogging. If your startup has a talented writer, growth hackers will suggest churning out as many meaningful blog posts relevant to your brand as possible. They’re low cost, keyword rich and have a high chance of pulling potential customers towards your product.

How can your startup benefit from growth hacking?

We’ve spoken about the success of Airbnb’s user acquisition strategies previously. Airbnb identified a low-cost and efficient way of pushing new customers to their product; Craigslist. They started contacting users who were either listing their property or looking to rent short-term, directing them to Airbnb. Optimising free resources such as Craiglist proved to be a successful tactic and generated many of the startups first users.


Airbnb was the first to engage in a strategy of this sort, highlighting the importance of experimenting. True growth hackers are out-of-the-box thinkers and do not wait until someone else has had a successful attempt at a strategy. Airbnb created a customised strategy based on the company’s product, strengths, and resources; making it a perfect example of growth hacking. Other successful cases of growth hacking are Dropbox – grown by none other than Sean Ellis himself – and Tinder. When you consider the market share these companies now have, it’s obvious how beneficial growth hacking can be, if done correctly.


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