Growth hacking is a process of rapid experimentation, coupled with the understanding of the whole funnel, where marketing, product, data analysis, and engineering work together to achieve rapid growth. The growth hacking process goes through four key stages: analyzing, ideating, prioritizing, and testing.
It is critical to integrate growth hacking within your business model experimentation to develop the full potential for your business.
- What happens when you use Growth Hacking?
- What is Growth Hacking and what is not
- The Growth Hacking Mindset
- The Growth Hacking method
- What are some of the prerequisites of an effective growth hacking strategy?
- Switching on the engines of growth
- Iteration and continuous discovery and innovation
- Understanding growth channels
- Scalable growth channel examples
- Recap on growth channels
- Digital marketing channels
- Go-to-Market Strategy
- Growth Matrix
- Key takeaways
- Audio recap
- Connected Business Concepts And Frameworks
What happens when you use Growth Hacking?
Back in 2018, my blog was dead. I had managed to build some traction back in 2015, as I used external channels like Quora to bring quite some referral traffic back to my blog.
But I’ve never managed to build enough traction with SEO.
Things got worse when at the end of 2016 I focused my efforts on developing the business for a high-tech startup.
The blog tumbled to the point where I was organically reaching just a couple of dozens of people per day.
Don’t get me wrong, that isn’t a bad result. However, it wasn’t either the kind of result you would get excited about.
And that was fine to me as I wasn’t using anymore my blog as a channel to sell my courses and ebooks.
Yet, in 2018 I decided things needed to change.
Thus, I started to iterate on a process that I later called SEO Hacking, which is simply the transposition of the concept of growth hacking around SEO.
Below you see the results I got:
I don’t mean to say that things happened overnight. It took me a few months before the strategy would start to pay off big time.
Also, it wasn’t a magic thing or a simple tactic that worked.
It was a process of rapid experimentation, enhanced by a continuous stream of ideas, tested over and over.
And it wasn’t effortless. Quite the opposite.
The kind of effort to make this flywheel gain momentum was insane and it did require trust that things would work out.
That the growth process would eventually pay off.
Thus, beyond the buzz around the growth hacking discipline, growth is a key element of any digital business.
Thus, growth hacking offers a solid framework to achieve growth.
To really appreciate this discipline we’ll look at three key aspects of growth hacking:
More specifically we’ll look at why Growth Hacking looks at the whole funnel. What’s the key process around it.
Why does it matter to have a must-have product or service, before going all-in with a growth strategy what’s an aha experience!
What is Growth Hacking and what is not
As the story goes, in 2007, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia couldn’t afford the rent on their San Francisco apartment which is why they decided to transform their loft into a lodging space.
Yet instead of relying on Craiglist, they built their site, which they called Airbed & Breakfast, and leveraged Craigslist to drive users back to their website,
I wish I could tell you that this is how that idea turned into a multi-billion company, known under the name Airbnb.
Airbnb didn’t grow into a multi-billion business from one day to the next with a single magic trick. Instead, they had to undertake several experiments before seeing their listings grow.
More importantly, they had to master a process of continuous iteration that spanned across product’s features, to marketing channels which eventually spurred an impressive growth track for the company.
Sean Ellis, one of the fathers of the discipline, called this process of continuous experimentation to achieve exponential growth: growth hacking.
Let me further define what’s not Growth Hacking so we can avoid falling into the trap of a few myths surrounding the discipline; appreciate its full potential.
Growth hacking is not a one-time marketing trick
One of the biggest misconceptions around growth hacking is that is a trick, a tactic, or a technique that all of a sudden spurs incredible growth for an organization.
While some companies might have stumbled upon a trick that gave them short-term traction.
Growth hacking is, first of all, a process. It’s not a one-time thing or trick. It requires continuous analysis, ideation, prioritization, and experimentation.
The classic growth hacking process is more like a loop, which needs to be run over and over again.
Growth hacking is not a single person endeavor (unless you run a solo business)
Another common belief is that growth hacking is usually performed by this mythological figure, called the growth hacker.
In reality, in general, there is no such thing as a growth hacker.
There is instead a growth team, led by a growth lead, which is in charge of coordinating the work of several people.
As we’ll see this is usually the rule of thumb because growth hacking requires several disciplines that span from marketing, product, and engineering to run successful experiments.
The only exception might be if you’re running a solo business where in fact, you have a bunch of capabilities that go from marketing to development which indeed enable you to follow a sort of growth hacking process.
But if you’re building a startup or company made of a few people, growth hacking becomes a group process.
Growth hacking is not marketing without a budget
A dangerous misconception is that growth hacking is marketing without a budget.
Indeed, growth hacking does require thinking outside the box to find marketing channels, product features, or data that enable us to have a massive ROI on our investment.
However, usually, a growth hacking team is made of people with extensive expertise.
And it might require advanced tools for analysis and experimentation which might be expensive.
What’s matters here, again, is not the budget itself but the mindset behind it.
A growth hacking team looks for an untapped opportunity.
However, in the short term, having competent growth hacking might be expensive, but might result in an ROI that a conventional marketing team won’t be able to achieve.
Now that we clarified some of the myths, we can go to the definition of growth hacking.
The Growth Hacking Mindset
If you look at a traditional sales funnel you can realize right away how that creates silos within the organization.
In short, it makes people think in terms of departments. Thus, in a traditional funnel, as an example, marketing together with sales will be in charge of acquisition.
And for instance, engineers and product managers might be in charge of retention (by adding product features, updating the product code, enabling more functionalities, and so on).
Yet in growth hacking the whole funnel is in the hands of the growth hacking team, led by a growth lead who is all aligned around a North Start (we’ll see that).
In the meanwhile, it is important to start emphasizing the process.
Emphasizing growth as a process
Mindset change is not about picking up a few pointers here and there. It’s about seeing things in a new way. When people…change to a growth mindset, they change from a judge-and-be-judged framework to a learn-and-help-learn framework. Their commitment is to growth, and growth take plenty of time, effort, and mutual support.
by Carol S. Dweck from
To build a solid growth mindset it is important to stress the process to avoid falling into the trap of believing that growth can only be achieved by a few individuals that have it as a gift.
That implies aligning your growth team around this simple fact: growth is a process.
A few ways to make sure your team internalizes growth as a process consist of:
- Praising the process and making sure your team knows the process is what matters.
- Reward effort, strategy, and process not individual intelligence.
- Learn and teach to push outside the comfort zone so that failure becomes a normal aspect of the growth process.
Once aligned with your team around the fact that growth hacking is a process, you can make sure they follow the growth hacking methodology and cycle in a continuous pattern.
The Growth Hacking method
Sean Ellis in Hacking Growth shows the growth hacking methodology as follows,
The process is simple yet powerful. From data analysis to testing and back to that analysis, the loop of growth must be followed consistently.
We start with data analysis and insights to gather and generate as many ideas as possible.
It is important to highlight that ideas can come from anywhere and from anyone on the team.
There isn’t a single department, or person within the organization in charge of generating ideas.
In addition, often good ideas might come from what seem completely disconnected domains.
So it’s important to keep the process of idea generation as open as possible.
Once those ideas have been brainstormed it is possible to evaluate the impact that each idea might have and also how hard it might be to experiment.
For instance, changing a landing page color might be simple to implement, with a potentially high impact if you have a large number of users.
However, if you have a few users, the problem is not in optimizing the conversion process.
But rather focusing on acquiring users in the first place. Thus, other ideas might have a priority.
Once experiments have been designed and weighed against potential outcomes and difficulty of implementation (certain experiments might require a few resources, others might require extensive resources) it is possible to start testing those who have a priority.
Only then it is possible to go back and measure what experiments had the most impact. Only then to proceed with a full roll-out.
For instance, if changing the landing page color didn’t have an effect on the conversion, then it makes sense to revert it back.
Thus, it is very important that those experiments are reversible, rolled out gradually, and evaluated against other options.
Before we can push at full speed on a growth strategy it is important to make sure that all the pieces come together. Let’s see how.
What are some of the prerequisites of an effective growth hacking strategy?
Before realizing the full potential of a growth hacking strategy it is important to understand its foundations.
A multidisciplinary team is the rule of thumb
Unless you are a solopreneur which has a deep competence in multiple disciplines.
A growth hacking team has to be comprised also of individuals whose competence goes from marketing to development, data analysis, product management, and more.
This is a key ingredient as your growth team will be aligned around the same objective.
Usually, a good fit for a growth team is called in HR lingo, a T-shaped profile:
Thus, a person with deep competence and expertise in a field and a broader competence spans several areas of the business.
Must-have product or service
The foundation of a successful growth hacking strategy, as highlighted in the book Hacking Growth, by Sean Ellis, it’s a must-have product or service.
In short, if you were to run a survey to your existing customer base, announcing to them how disappointed they would be if you were to shut down your product or service.
If the answer is “very disappointed” then you do have a must-have product. If you’re not there yet, you need to work a bit more on the product and service to understand why it’s not a must-have.
There are several ways to understand whether your customers or users are close to perceiving your product or service as a must-have.
For instance, if you were to survey them to ask what makes your product special to them.
If you got a lot of conflicting answers. It might mean there is not yet a clear value proposition that makes your product unique and sticky.
So you need to manufacture the so-called “aha experience.”
Manufacturing the aha experience
An “aha experience” might be defined as the moment in which your users or customers appreciate the full potential of your product or service.
It’s that moment when they realize what makes your product unique and special. So much so that they want to tell others.
When you do have that aha experience, your product might be on the way to becoming a must-have.
Of course, the aha experience will depend on the product or service you offer.
Or if you offer an email list software that might happen when the newsletter becomes big enough for your customer to appreciate the full potential of your software.
Thus, once identified that aha experience, it is important to align your product feature to enable users or customers to reach that moment.
So that you can make your product sticky.
And when that happens that is when it becomes the right time to push as much as possible on growth.
Thus, speeding up the process of experimentation!
Finding your North Star!
As growth hacking enables you to unlock data not available before (in your team, you might have a data scientist or someone very good with data) that might cause you and your team to fall into the trap of looking at too many metrics to assess the success of a growth strategy.
While each experiment might have its own metrics.
It is important to find your North Star, or these 2-to 3 metrics which really might have an impact on your business.
In this way, you have the compass to understand whether the growth process is moving in the right direction.
Switching on the engines of growth
When you aligned your team around the growth hacking mindset, process, and method.
When you’ve made sure to build up a team made of T-shaped profiles aligned around growth.
And you’ve built a must-have product or service, which produced the aha experience for its users or customers. That is when growth can be unlocked at its full potential.
For that matter, you’ll have three engines of growth:
- Paid engine.
- Sticky engine.
- And viral engine.
From there, you’ll be able to experiment with several marketing channels and find the ones that fit most of your growth stage, industry, and product.
Iteration and continuous discovery and innovation
When dealing with the growth of a digital business or with a physical business transitioning more and more into the digital space, it’s important to understand this is a process of continuous discovery.
In short, growth hacking in the context of continuous innovation (see the FourWeekMBA interview with Ash Maurya) can be extremely powerful because it enables companies to experiment quickly while keeping in mind their long-term mission.
In that context, growth hacking becomes a powerful process to follow, especially in the growth stage of an organization.
Growth channels are mediums in which an organization acquires and retains customers.
Understanding growth channels
Today, businesses have never had more opportunities to grow their customer base. There are now a bewildering array of potential growth channels which are simply defined as any specific means of acquiring and retaining customers.
For a business to determine which channels it should use, some important questions need to be answered:
- Who are the customers and how can they be reached? Surveying and market research can help teams become ultra-specific on these points.
- What is a typical customer pathway and how can they be attracted? Flow charts can detail exactly how a customer reaches a business. One customer may attend a trade show, speak with a company representative at a booth, and then use a referral code to purchase a product. Another may listen to the podcast of a social media influencer and then respond to a marketing message.
- Which are the best performing pathways? Each should be ranked on metrics such as volume, conversion rate, repeatability, level of effort, and so forth. Then, it’s important to determine the ROI for each channel and seek to maximize it.
When we talk about growth channels, it’s also worth making the distinction between traction and scale. Traction involves a business finding its first customers by experimenting with various growth channels and determining future profitability. Growth can then be scaled once product-market fit has been created, but certain channels are better than others. Email, for example, is not considered to be a scalable growth strategy.
With that said, we have detailed some of the more suitable scalable channels in the next section.
Scalable growth channel examples
Growth hacker Brian Balfour argues there are only five scalable growth channels that the most successful startups have utilized over the past decade. In fact, Balfour noted that most companies were able to scale to millions of users with just one or two channels.
The five scalable growth channels are:
- Search engine marketing (SEM) and display advertising – such as TripAdvisor, Amazon, Booking.com, and other online comparison sites with high lifetime value (LTV). Most of these sites are from industries such as financial services, tech, and healthcare.
- Facebook – the social media platform is a scalable growth channel in its own right. Companies that have profited from this potential include Zynga and Instagram. However, it is more difficult to scale using Facebook than it once was. LinkedIn and to a lesser extent Pinterest may be taking its place.
- Sales and partnerships – this is a versatile channel that comes in many forms. The most successful companies in this space are PayPal, Oracle, IBM, Salesforce, and Apple.
- Viral (word of mouth) – while some growth channels become saturated and less effective over time, word of mouth is an evergreen strategy that relies on a positive feedback loop. However, it can also be more difficult to replicate. Companies that have cracked the code include Uber, Evernote, and Groupon.
- Search engine optimization (SEO) – SEO is another more traditional strategy that is still a viable growth channel today. HubSpot, Quora, and Medium are prime examples.
Recap on growth channels
- Growth channels are mediums in which an organization acquires and retains customers.
- Modern businesses are spoilt for choice in terms of the channels they can use, so it is important to choose wisely. Before moving forward, the company should define where its customers reside and identify several customer pathways. It should then choose the most effective pathway based on metrics such as conversion rate, level of effort, etc.
- There are only five scalable growth channels that the most successful startups have utilized over the past decade: SEM and advertising, Facebook, sales and partnerships, viral (word of mouth), and SEO.
- Growth hacking is not a marketing trick, but a mindset, methodology, and discipline followed by growth teams
- Usually, growth hacking goes through a process of analysis, ideation, prioritization, and testing. It’s not a one-time thing but a continuous process
- A growth hacking team is usually comprised of T-shaped individuals with core expertise and competence, and a broader understanding of several disciplines
- Growth hacking requires a solid product or service which is a must-have for users and customers. That also requires the so-called aha experience, when users and customers perceive the value of the product and service in full
- When you reach that must-have status you can push and prioritize the speed of experimentation as you’ll get the most results from your growth efforts!
Connected Business Concepts And Frameworks
- Successful Types of Business Models You Need to Know
- The Complete Guide To Business Development
- Business Strategy: Definition, Examples, And Case Studies
- Blitzscaling Business Model Innovation Canvas In A Nutshell
- Value Proposition Canvas Explained
- Lean Startup Canvas Explained
- Market Segmentation
- Marketing Strategy: Definition, Types, And Examples
- Marketing vs. Sales
- How To Write A Mission Statement
- Growth Hacking Canvas
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