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Growth Hacking Defined

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growthhacking1At the heart of every successful business is a growing user and revenue base. These days, some of the world’s most influential companies and startups have employed the services of a growth hacker to help facilitate success; Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Quora, for example, have all employed people to hack their growth. The term itself (coined by one of the experts contributing to this series, Sean Ellis) implies that there are ways to grow and then there are ways to grow. If you don’t have a growth hacker in your employ, are you going to fall behind the competition? Do you want to become a growth hacker yourself? Whatever your motivation for wanting to learn more about growth hacking and it’s implications, it makes sense to first nail down a definition. I’ve asked 5 growth hacking experts to walk you through the basics and not-so-basics of growth hacking throughout the week. Coming up this week, we’ll take a look at real examples of growth hacking in action, what you actually need in order to hack growth and the future of growth hacking. To kick things off, let’s see what these experts say growth hacking is.

Paul Rosania: Growth hacking is a fancy term for high-impact, high-velocity product marketing. Growth hackers try a lot of ideas, ruthlessly optimizing successes and quickly discarding dead ends. Sometimes these ideas are small – an email subject line, the layout of a webpage – and sometimes they’re big projects like integrating with Facebook’s Open Graph. In all cases, the goal is learning. You don’t have to be technical, but people with technical backgrounds tend to excel, since they can conceive and ship experiments rapidly on their own. When the pace of experimentation and learning is high, successes compound quickly. Companies that invest in growth hacking at the right stage outpace and outmaneuver their competition.

Josh Elman: Growth hacking isn’t the best term, but it describes a new process for acquiring and engaging users combining traditional marketing and analytical skills with product development skills. In the past, marketing and product development departments were often at odds where marketing groups would be spending significant amounts of money to acquire users but couldn’t get any development resources to build something as simple as new custom landing pages. And on the other side, product development teams would often build what they think users want and will attract users without deeply measuring and understanding the impact of their changes. This concept of “growth hacking” is a recognition that when you focus on understanding your users and how they discover and adopt your products, you can build features that help you acquire and retain more users, rather than just spending marketing dollars.

Sean Ellis: Most traditional marketers spend the majority of their time trying to buy the attention of prospects in the marketplace to drive awareness and interest in their product. Growth hacking tends to be more “experience” focused. This includes driving engagement and sharing within a product or spreading a product experience across networks. Generally this requires significant engineering knowhow or involvement and/or tools that empower non-engineers. Effective growth hackers are relentless about running creative experiments and optimizing the components of the experiment until finding something that works.

It’s worth a company’s attention for a couple of reasons: 1) Because it offers huge upside if it works (Dropbox reached a multibillion dollar valuation on essentially a zero advertising spend). 2) Paid online advertising channels are getting saturated faster than ever before because metrics driven marketers quickly pile into the effective ones until they are no longer effective.

Dan Martell: Growth Hacking is the process and mindset of searching for ways that your product to grow.  It’s kind of like a mix between engineering and marketing.  The key is to find untapped channels of customers that are motivated to use your product.  Many times, ideas for growth include leveraging other peoples networks (OPN) such as Facebook, Twitter, Craigslist – or providing features/tools to your existing customers to promote your product (ex: referral programs, cross site publishing).

Aaron Ginn: Growth hacking is essentially pushing a metric through a data-driven and scrappy-like strategies. Growth hacking, which is different than growth teams, is the combination of product management, data science and marketing. Growth hackers typically have marketing oriented goals but use the product, using the guiding light of data, as the primary method of pushing numbers. Companies should pay attention to growth hacking because the ability to remain number one in your market is getting harder, traditional marketing channels are rapidly unstable, and gaining market share is getting harder and harder. Read my TNW article for more context.

Ken Zi Wang: What is growth hacking and why is it worth a company’s attention? Growth hacking is not a new thing. Once a startup launches it’s product it immediately faces the problem how to acquire users. Growth hacking is used specifically for growing a user base of a tech company. It requires a unique mix of art and science. Growth hackers are on one side very creative by finding a new ways to get users and on the other side they are very scientific by look into metrics very carefully. Growth hacking is a key to company’s success. Those who have ignored it generally get outcompeted even by weaker competitors that have embraced it.

Meet The Growth Hacking Experts

  • Sean Ellis (@seanellis) coined the term “Growth Hacker” and is the founder and CEO of Qualaroo, a company focused on making it easy for marketers to improve website visitor engagement without help from the dev team.
  • Josh Elman (@joshelman) is an investor at Greylock Partners. Previously he led user growth at Twitter, and worked at Facebook, Zazzle and LinkedIn.
  • Aaron Ginn (@aginnt) is the Head of Growth at StumbleUpon and former growth hacker for Mitt Romney.
  • Dan Martell (@danmartell) is the co-founder of Clarity a marketplace that connects entrepreneurs to get great business advice. Previously he co-founded Flowtown.com.
  • Paul Rosania (@ptr) is a Product Manager for Growth at Twitter, and was previously a growth hacker at a stealth startup running a Top 100 Facebook app.
  • Ken Zi Wang (@kenziwang) is the founder and growth engineer of Fandrop, an innovative and interactive way for users to find, collect and share trending media.



3 comments

  1. I enthusiastically support the principles of growth hacking — like scaling quickly, using endless amounts of creativity to solve business development problems, and generally being thoughtful and strategy-inclined are obviously virtues in any marketer.

    That been said, I take some umbrage at the suggestion that companies will fall behind without growth hackers, mostly because great marketers already take high-impact, high-efficiency approaches to growing a user base. (More on point http://spinnakr.com/blog/ideas/2013/01/unpopular-opinion-growth-hacking-is-a-bad-idea/)

    Besides that, it’s hard to ignore the fact that growth hacking has some negative consequences. I.e., AirBnB (which I LOVE as both a consumer and startup enthusiast) a company that worked hard for years AND literally made ends meet by selling cereal while starting up got a lot of blowback from their seedy Craigslist spamming campaign. (See http://gawker.com/5853754/the-seedy-spammy-past-of-airbnbs-co+founder)

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