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What the heck is growth hacking? And why are so many fast-growing startups using it?

Growth hacking is a relatively new concept. In fact, it was only in 2010 that Sean Ellis, first marketer at Dropbox, Lookout and Xobni, who introduced this term to the world.

Basically, growth hacking is a marketing strategy that aims to use digital solutions, like social media, analytics, and viral marketing, to analyze and attract customers at a low cost.  This was borne out of necessity for smaller start-ups with limited budgets: instead of expensive retainers, they could use data analytics to analyze their customer’s interaction with their product, and create digital strategies to relentlessly pursue their customers to drive more revenue. They constantly engage the customer with the main objective of growing their customer base and revenue potential aggressively.

Some of the well-known start-ups who have grown into billion dollar businesses have adopted growth hacking techniques exceptionally well.  Consider a few  examples:

  • Airbnb’s Craigslist Integration – By reverse engineering the Craigslist posting process and automating it to the point where it became easy to cross-post your Airbnb listing to Craigslist, Airbnb was able to hack early growth to millions of users.
  • Hotmail Tagline – Whenever a Hotmail user would send an email, a tagline at the bottom of the message would read: “This email was sent with Hotmail. Join Hotmail now.” Or, “Get your free email at Hotmail.”
  • Dropbox Incentivized Referral Program – Roughly based on PayPal’s invite system, Dropbox allows users to invite their friends for more space. This has helped Dropbox grow from 100,000 users to 4,000,000 in less than two years.
  • Pinterest Auto-Follow – Upon signing up for Pinterest, you automatically follow a select group of high quality users that are relevant to your interests. This allows new users to avoid a cold-start up and have a warm welcome. This also prevents new users to endlessly search the site for boards or groups to follow. Instead Pinterest offers a sampling of high quality content, immediately filling the new users likes and needs.

How to build a growth hacking process

Based on the examples noted above, growth hacking techniques are enabling start-ups to move quickly, overcome common growth hurdles, and achieve significant growth rates.  One common approach follows these four steps:

  1. Define your growth objective
    • Set up actionable goals
    • Assemble a team to deliver your objective
  2. Harvest data analytics
    • Develop measurement criteria
    • Review and measure with your digital marketing plan
  3. Define a digital marketing plan
    • Strong content marketing
    • Brand influencers and support network
    • Campaign plan focusing on a strong personal connection with your customers
    • Retarget them to increase engagement
    • Test your plan
  4. Review your growth objective
    • Revise your plan if your targets are not met

Growth hacking isn’t any easier than traditional growth methods, but it is becoming more effective to aggressively carve out a niche market and change the game.

What growth hackers are you following? Let me know.

Vijay Verghis

Vijay Verghis

Vijay is a Digital Marketing & Design consultant with over 14 years of global industry experience in account management and consulting. He... Read more