What is Growth Hacking?

Growth hacking is a relatively new term that is quickly gaining speed in the business world. It was created by Sean Ellis, the founder and CEO of GrowthHackers, in 2010. Just like it sounds, the term is used to describe strategies that focus on growing a business. It is mostly used by start-ups that are looking for a lot of growth in a short amount of time. The goal of hacking strategies is to quickly gain as many customers as possible, without spending a ton of money. In this article, we will learn how to get started and get into the mindset of a growth hacker. Lastly, we will discuss some great examples of growth hacking from successful businesses.

What is a Growth Hacker?

A growth hacker is someone who is able to come up with creative, low-cost marketing solutions to help businesses gain customers and increase sales. As the phrase has gained traction over the past few years, so has the demand for growth hackers. This kind of employee has become very desirable for start-ups and new businesses. In fact, companies like Uber and Shopify even have dedicated growth teams!

Growth hackers are sometimes called “growth marketers,” but they usually think differently than traditional marketers. The mindset of a growth hacker tends to be obsessive, curious, and analytical. This is because they focus on one single goal: growing a business in any way possible. Let’s look at a few of the ways that growth hackers differ from traditional marketing professionals.

Growth Hackers vs. Traditional Marketers

  • Growth hackers tend to focus on finding the next growth opportunity. Marketers focus on current strategies.
  • Growth hackers use the entire marketing funnel (including retention and referral). Marketers focus mainly on awareness and acquisition.
  • Growth hackers run experiments to see what strategies are working. Marketers focus on bigger, long-term results.
  • Growth hackers are mostly data-driven. Marketers focus on the big picture, not just data.
  • Growth hackers usually have more technical skills, including programming, automation, and tool-building.
  • Growth hackers are often heavily involved in the creation of the product being sold. Marketers focus on selling the product.

How to Growth Hack

So how does growth hacking actually work? Before coming up with any hacking solutions, growth hackers will first try to understand why their company is struggling to gain customers. To accomplish this, they need to understand what part of their marketing strategy is not working as planned. For this, they use the “Pirate Funnel.” The Pirate Funnel is a marketing model created by entrepreneur Dave McClure. It consists of 6 separate stages:

  1. Awareness
  2. Acquisition
  3. Activation
  4. Retention
  5. Revenue
  6. Referral

The first letters of each stage spell out AAARRR (which is how it got its nickname, the “pirate funnel”). You can use analytics to study each phase of the funnel as it relates to your business model. This is a great way to better understand what stage may need some improvements. Once this is found, you can begin to figure out why this stage is failing. Growth hackers will often use things like customer interviews, negative review monitoring, and polls to work out problems with their current marketing strategy.

The next step is to experiment with small changes to see how they change your customer retention rate. Come up with small solutions and track their effectiveness. If the smaller experiment works, then you can continue to invest in it. If it does not, then it’s most likely not worth your time or money. Lastly, you’ll want to analyze and implement your plan. Come up with creative solutions to your marketing problems and try them out. Follow up with analytics and test (and retest) every section of the funnel. The most important aspects of the hacking process are to be analytical, experimental, and push the limits. When you find a great solution, put all of your energy into using it to boost your company’s growth.

Growth Hacking Examples

To achieve outstanding growth in a very short amount of time, many companies have employed growth hacking strategies. In fact, most successful start-ups have used elements of growth hacking in their first few years. One of the best ways to understand how to growth hack is to take a look at some companies that have done it successfully. Below is a list of some of the top companies that have used successful strategies to skyrocket their business model.

#1: Dropbox

Dropbox has been considered one of the best examples of how to growth hack. In fact, Sean Ellis (who coined the term) was heavily involved in Dropbox’s early success. So what strategies did they use? For Dropbox, their referral program was the key to their exponential growth. In the early days, if a user got a friend to sign up, they would both receive a free boost in storage space. The company also made use of social media to advertise this deal, causing them to quickly go viral. These techniques combined to help Dropbox build a huge network of users.

#2: Airbnb

Just a decade ago, one of the internet’s largest vacation rental platforms was just a tiny start-up searching for customers. They were able to find them by using a strategy that was both clever and a bit sneaky. Airbnb found a weakness in the website of one of its biggest competitors, Craigslist. As a result, they cross-listed their own postings on Craigslist, giving them access to the site’s huge audience. By the time Craigslist discovered this strategy, Airbnb had already seen enormous growth in their own audience numbers.

#3: HubSpot

How did HubSpot hack its way into becoming one of the top SaaS providers in the world? They simply did what they were good at and they did it well. HubSpot’s strategy for growth is probably the most straightforward of the three. The HubSpot blog is one of the best places on the internet to learn about SEO techniques and inbound marketing. They also offer a lot of useful resources and tools on their website. HubSpot is a great example of mixing tried and true marketing methods with hacking techniques to achieve success.

Growth Hacking Ideas

Since this concept is so new, the best and most effective strategies are constantly changing and evolving. It’s best to experiment with different techniques and see what works for your company. That being said, there are a few ideas that are sure to kickstart your business’ growth. Below are some great examples of hacking solutions.

Use Incentives

One of the main goals of using growth hacking strategies is to find a way to automatically drive traffic to your online store or website. Incentives are an excellent way to do this. Also called “lead magnets,” incentives are an important part of drawing in potential new customers. Dropbox’s strategy of offering 16GB of free storage to anyone who refers a friend is a great example of a successful incentive program. You can apply this technique to your own e-commerce store, by offering a deal to customers who share a link to your site. This can be a discount code, free gift, or free shipping. An incentive can be anything as long as you think your customers will be interested.

Know How To Find Your Customers

Knowing where your customers spend their time online is a valuable skill for businesses looking to grow. Do some research on your target audience and find them online. Learn the websites that they frequent and use this information to develop creative marketing solutions. Consider your customer profile. What are their likes, interests, hobbies, etc.? Spend time on other websites that have similar customers and see what they have to offer. Airbnb’s use of Craigslist listings is a great example of this strategy. They knew exactly where their potential customers were hanging out online and found a way to reach them.

Create High-Quality Tools and Free Resources

All experienced marketers know that giving away free resources is a great technique to bring more users to your paid content. This is also a great strategy for quickly growing your business! Use your target customer profile to build tools and other content that they might find useful. This could include things like how-to videos, guides, tutorials, etc. Create content that is valuable and that your users will want to share with others. The HubSpot website is a fantastic example of this strategy. They were able to find exactly what their customers were looking for and create valuable content that helped to grow their audience.

Growth Hack Your Way To More Sales

Learning how to growth hack can be a valuable way to increase your company’s sales in a quick and budget-friendly way. Since it is a new concept, the best techniques and strategies are changing all the time. The best way to put hacking strategies into practice is to experiment and see what works best for you. To streamline your business strategies even further, check out SEO Design Chicago. Their digital marketing consulting services team can help you craft your best marketing strategy to increase opportunities and maximize your ROI!


  • What is growth hacking?
  • What does a growth hacker do?
  • How do you growth hack?
  • What are some good examples of growth hacking strategies?
  • Should I hire a growth hacker?

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