From Unicorn to Unicorn Factory: Driving Results by Hacking Growth


If you can't find an expert growth hacker to help your business, "Hacking Growth: How Today's Fastest-Growing Companies Drive Breakout Success" by Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown, is probably the next best thing. This book cuts through the maze of hype surrounding the term "growth hacking" and helps business owners lay the initial groundwork to transform their business from an average business into a sustainable and viral customer growth factory.

From Unicorn to Unicorn Factory: Driving Results by Hacking Growth

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Many businesses see growth hacking as a “startup” game for tech-savvy Millennials. Hacking Growth: How Today’s Fastest-Growing Companies Drive Breakout Success would argue that it is not. The book, written by the very person who coined the now-trending buzzword “growth hacking” (Sean Ellis) with co-author Morgan Brown, explores the realistic principles behind growth hacking to demonstrate how any business that’s ready can achieve and sustain massive growth in a short period of time.

What is Hacking Growth About?

Most people hear about the wildly successful results of expert growth hackers like Ellis, Seth Godin, and Neil Patel. They don’t focus on the principles that gave them those results. That is the focus of Hacking Growth. Unlike the perception, growth hacking is not all about getting as many customers to download your product or use your story as possible. It’s actually about sustaining growth by offering great value to your current customers and applying the right levers to scale that value to a larger and larger audience.

Ellis came to this realization when he left his sales job to work for Uproar, a gaming company. At first, Ellis tried to follow the traditional advertising path (banner ads, for example) but found that he was playing a losing game. That’s when he and his team began to focus on data, experimentation and cross-department collaboration. They ended up going viral, with games being placed on 40,000 websites.

The process that Ellis developed out of that period in his life (along with later experiences) helped him shape the foundations of what is called growth hacking today. As Ellis and Brown point out, growth hacking is less about having the most innovative technology or a million-dollar budget (though these two things wouldn’t hurt). It’s about developing a process that allows your business to adapt to the changing needs of your customer through experimentation, data analysis and observation, not assumptions. It’s about finding and leveraging your unique competitive advantage that connects with your customers (the book calls this connection an “aha moment”). By doing this, the authors say, your business has the best opportunity to support your current customers while hacking the foundation for future ones.

Ellis is the founder and CEO of Growth Hackers and Qualaroo, a contributor to Entrepreneur, and The Wall Street Journal, and advisor on growth hacking issues. He is a former first marketer at Dropbox, Lookout and Xobni and helped two companies go from zero customers to IPO filing (LogMeIn and Uproar).

Brown is an author, consultant, speaker and growth hacking expert who serves as the Chief Operating Officer of Inman News, a real estate news company. He previously served as the Interim Head of Growth at Qualaroo and True Vault, a data company.

What Was Best About Hacking Growth?

Popular buzzwords, like “growth hacking” can become so vague and overused that they become meaningless. Hacking Growth helps to combat that problem by focusing on the principles, rather than the spectacle, of growth hacking. Unlike the popular myth, growth hacking is not only for tech-savvy companies started by Millennials. It’s for every business owner that takes the time to learn and experiment with a new mindset. Ellis and Brown demonstrate how this mindset is ultimately the method by which companies survive a constantly changing consumer-driven world.

What Could Have Been Done Differently?

While Hacking Growth emphasizes that growth hacking can be adapted to almost any business, the book’s growth-hacking process may not be for everyone. Hacking Growth tends to focus on product-oriented businesses rather than service-oriented businesses. These companies might include software companies, manufacturers and others. The book also focuses on businesses having the resources and staff to conduct experiments, and conduct different types of marketing research. This does not mean a small business (even a solopreneur) can’t learn something from the book. It just means that readers who have a small business need to adapt where it makes sense.

Why Read Hacking Growth?

Hacking Growth is best suited for the business owner who feels confused by the actual process of growth hacking. As mentioned earlier in this review, growth hacking is a topic that’s well covered. That being said, there is more glitz than substance in talk about growth hacking. Hacking Growth skips all of this by focusing on lessons extracted by Ellis and Brown so readers can adapt those principles to their own business situations. The key, as readers will quickly find out, is not to create a “read it and forget it” recipe for business growth. The key is developing the right mindset and process to achieve that goal. Hacking Growth provides insight into the right mindset readers need while attempting to hack their business’ growth and gives examples that demonstrate what a sustainable process looks like.

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Charles Franklin Charles Franklin is a Book Reviewer for Small Business Trends. He has a background as a professional reviewer, and is also a content provider and customer relations professional.