What is Growth Hacking?

Growth Hacking

There’s a lot of buzz in the startup world around the term “growth hacking.” Many companies have, in fact, hopped on the growth hacking bandwagon and are looking for passionate “growth hackers.” If you are unfamiliar with the term, you are probably wondering what it means and why it’s suddenly the talk of the town.

Here’s all the information you need to know about this latest marketing trend that has gotten everyone talking.

What is Growth Hacking?

Simply put, growth hacking refers to a new marketing technique developed by tech startups to sell products and gain greater exposure. It combines traditional marketing and analytical skills to acquire and engage new users.

Growth hacking addresses a key challenge organizations have often faced: lack of coordination between their marketing and product development teams.

Marketing and product development teams have often been at loggerheads over giving customers what they want. Marketing departments have complained about the lack of support from technical teams to develop a simple solution such as a landing page for users on time.

Product developers, on the other hand, often build what they think works best without measuring the impact of their actions.

For startups operating on tighter budgets, this lack of coordination has always turned out to be a costly problem. Growth hacking bridges the gap between marketing and product development by focusing on the adoption of low-cost alternatives to traditional marketing. By doing so, it enables startups to go for lean launches that focus on “growth first, budgets second.”

What is Growth Hacking?

Who is a Growth Hacker and Why Should You Hire One?

The term “growth hacker” was coined by entrepreneur Sean Ellis in his article, “Find a Growth Hacker for Your Startup“. In the article, Ellis defined a growth hacker as someone “whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential impact on scalable growth.” So when companies say they want to hire growth hackers, they are typically looking for professionals who can help build the user base of new startups.

How do they do it?

Simple. They focus on all the aspects of traditional marketing — from email marketing and copywriting to search engine optimization and A/B testing — to convert visitors into users. Growth hackers also take care of community management and social outreach to build your brand’s image on various networking platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

What separates growth hackers from the average marketers is their ability to juggle both the marketing and technical side of things. A growth hacker does not only possess great marketing skills, but also coding, framework development and other technical knowledge. Unlike a traditional marketer who is more or less dependent on the product development team to bring ideas to life, a growth hacker is able to execute faster.

“The new job title of ‘Growth Hacker’ is integrating itself into Silicon Valley’s culture, emphasizing that coding and technical chops are now an essential part of being a great marketer,” says Andrew Chen, a writer, entrepreneur and tech startup advisor. “Rather than a VP of Marketing with a bunch of non-technical marketers reporting to them, instead growth hackers are engineers leading teams of engineers.”

What is Growth Hacking?

Successful Growth Hacking Stories

If you need more compelling reasons why you should turn your focus on growth hacking, here are some success stories to take inspiration from.


Airbnb implemented its biggest growth hack when the company leveraged Craigslist to increase its user base. The company realized Craigslist was the most popular platform used by its target audience looking for accommodations. To benefit from the popularity of the platform with its target users, Airbnb encouraged users to post their listings to Craigslist, thereby creating inbound links for Airbnb as a platform.

By doing this, Airbnb managed to drive traffic and acquire more users. As Craigslist users found Airbnb listings more personal and reliable, they did not go back to Craigslist again.

Airbnb’s success was in its technical proficiency when it made its own product compatible with Craigslist without ever accessing Craigslist’s codebase. It is this technical ingeniousness that allowed Airbnb to attract a massive number of new users without spending any marketing dollars.


In its early days, LinkedIn faced slow growth like most other startups. On some days, in fact, the company saw as few as 20 signups. Eleven years later, the company is doing better than ever with more than 400 million acquired users in over 200 countries.

LinkedIn achieved success by implementing a cool growth hacking technique that allowed users to create Public Profiles, visible even without signing  into the community. Before LinkedIn made user profiles public, it was quite rare for members to come up in organic search results. By making profiles public, LinkedIn generated massive traffic and drew new users.

CompanyGrowth Hacking StrategyResults
AirbnbLeveraged Craigslist for user base expansion. Encouraged users to post listings on Craigslist to create inbound links. Improved user experience.Significant increase in website traffic and user acquisition. Reduced dependency on Craigslist.
LinkedInEnabled public user profiles visible without signing in. Improved organic search visibility.Achieved rapid user growth, surpassing 400 million users in over 200 countries. Enhanced user discoverability.

What is Growth Hacking?

The Rise of Growth Hacking

In recent years, growth hacking has gained significant popularity, especially within the startup ecosystem. This section explores the emergence and rise of growth hacking as a prominent marketing strategy:

  • A New Marketing Paradigm: Growth hacking represents a shift in traditional marketing approaches. It emerged as a response to the need for more efficient and cost-effective methods of acquiring users and customers.
  • Startup-Centric: Growth hacking is closely associated with startups that often operate with limited budgets and resources. These companies seek innovative ways to grow quickly without massive marketing expenditures.
  • A Focus on Scalable Growth: The core principle of growth hacking is scalability. It prioritizes strategies and tactics that can be scaled rapidly to reach a broader audience.
  • Lean and Agile: Growth hacking embraces lean and agile methodologies, emphasizing quick experimentation, measurement, and adaptation. It encourages a mindset of “growth first, budgets second.”
  • Data-Driven Decision-Making: Data plays a pivotal role in growth hacking. Practitioners rely on data analysis to identify opportunities, track progress, and make informed decisions.
  • Continuous Learning: Growth hackers are constantly learning and iterating based on their findings. They adapt to changing trends and technologies to stay ahead in the competitive landscape.
  • Collaborative Approach: Growth hacking fosters collaboration between marketing and product development teams, aligning their efforts toward a common goal of rapid growth.

The Role of Growth Hacking Tools

Growth hacking relies on various tools and technologies to execute its strategies effectively. This section delves into the essential role of tools in the growth hacking process:

  • Analytics Platforms: Growth hackers leverage analytics tools like Google Analytics, Mixpanel, and Kissmetrics to track user behavior, analyze conversion funnels, and measure the impact of growth experiments.
  • Email Marketing Software: Email remains a powerful tool for user acquisition and engagement. Growth hackers use email marketing platforms such as Mailchimp and SendGrid to automate campaigns and nurture leads.
  • A/B Testing Platforms: Optimizing conversion rates is a key aspect of growth hacking. A/B testing tools like Optimizely and VWO enable growth hackers to experiment with different website elements and determine what resonates best with users.
  • Social Media Management: Growth hackers utilize social media scheduling and management tools like Buffer and Hootsuite to maintain a consistent online presence and engage with their audience.
  • SEO and Content Tools: Organic traffic is vital for growth. SEO tools such as Moz and SEMrush help growth hackers optimize content and improve search engine rankings.
  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Systems: CRM systems like Salesforce and HubSpot enable growth hackers to manage customer data, track interactions, and personalize marketing efforts.
  • User Onboarding Software: Ensuring a seamless onboarding experience is crucial for user retention. Growth hackers use tools like Userpilot and Appcues to create interactive onboarding flows.
  • Referral and Virality Platforms: Encouraging users to refer others can drive exponential growth. Referral marketing platforms like ReferralCandy and Ambassador facilitate referral programs and viral loops.
  • Marketing Automation: Growth hackers automate repetitive marketing tasks using tools like Zapier and Marketo, allowing them to focus on strategy and creativity.
  • User Feedback and Survey Tools: Gathering user feedback is essential for product improvement. Tools like SurveyMonkey and Typeform help growth hackers collect insights and opinions.
CategoryGrowth Hacking ToolsPurpose
Analytics PlatformsGoogle Analytics, Mixpanel, KissmetricsTrack user behavior, analyze conversion funnels, and measure growth experiment impact.
Email Marketing SoftwareMailchimp, SendGridAutomate email campaigns for user acquisition and engagement.
A/B Testing PlatformsOptimizely, VWOExperiment with website elements to optimize conversion rates.
Social Media ManagementBuffer, HootsuiteMaintain an online presence and engage with the audience on social media.
SEO and Content ToolsMoz, SEMrushOptimize content and improve search engine rankings for organic traffic.
CRM SystemsSalesforce, HubSpotManage customer data, track interactions, and personalize marketing efforts.
User Onboarding SoftwareUserpilot, AppcuesCreate interactive onboarding flows for a seamless user experience.
Referral and ViralityReferralCandy, AmbassadorFacilitate referral programs and viral loops to drive user growth.
Marketing AutomationZapier, MarketoAutomate repetitive marketing tasks to focus on strategy and creativity.
User Feedback and SurveysSurveyMonkey, TypeformCollect user insights and opinions for product improvement.

What is Growth Hacking?

Measuring and Scaling Growth Hacking Efforts

Growth hacking is not a one-time endeavor but an ongoing process of experimentation, optimization, and scaling. This section explores how growth hackers measure success and scale their efforts:

  • Key Metrics: Growth hackers rely on specific metrics to gauge the effectiveness of their strategies. These metrics can include user acquisition cost (CAC), customer lifetime value (CLTV), conversion rates, churn rate, and viral coefficient. Analyzing these metrics helps growth hackers identify areas for improvement.
  • A/B Testing and Experimentation: Continuous experimentation is a hallmark of growth hacking. Growth hackers run A/B tests and experiments to refine strategies. They use data-driven insights to iterate on their approaches, optimizing conversion paths, landing pages, and user flows.
  • Scalability: Once a growth hacking strategy proves successful, the focus shifts to scalability. Growth hackers aim to scale their efforts while maintaining cost-effectiveness. This might involve expanding marketing channels, automating processes, or launching referral programs.
  • Retention and Engagement: Retaining existing users is as crucial as acquiring new ones. Growth hackers implement retention strategies like personalized onboarding, email drip campaigns, and feature updates to keep users engaged and reduce churn.
  • Cross-Functional Collaboration: Effective growth hacking often requires collaboration between marketing, product development, and engineering teams. Growth hackers work closely with these teams to align strategies and implement changes seamlessly.
  • Data-Driven Decision-Making: Data is at the heart of growth hacking. Growth hackers rely on data analytics tools and customer feedback to make informed decisions. They continuously monitor user behavior and adjust strategies accordingly.
  • Feedback Loops: Growth hackers create feedback loops to gather insights from users. This feedback informs product improvements and future growth hacking initiatives. It’s a continuous loop of learning and iterating.
  • Scaling Channels: As growth hacking efforts scale, identifying and prioritizing the most effective acquisition channels becomes critical. Growth hackers allocate resources to the channels that yield the highest returns.
  • Global Expansion: Scaling often involves expanding into new markets or regions. Growth hackers adapt strategies to cater to diverse audiences and cultural nuances.
  • Competitor Analysis: Keeping an eye on competitors is essential. Growth hackers analyze competitors’ strategies, identify gaps, and look for opportunities to gain a competitive edge.
  • Adaptation: The digital landscape is constantly evolving. Growth hackers must stay updated on industry trends, algorithm changes, and emerging technologies to adapt their strategies accordingly.


For startups, growth hacking is definitely a cost-effective and innovative way to boost business. To make the most of it, you need to think outside the box and leverage solid technical and marketing skills to execute before your competitors.

The growth hacking world is expanding. Be a part of it to reap all the benefits.

Dice Photo via Shutterstock

Shubhomita Bose Shubhomita Bose is a Staff Writer for Small Business Trends. She covers key studies and surveys about the small business market, along with general small business news. She draws on 8 years of experience in copywriting, marketing and communications, having worked extensively on creating content for small and medium sized enterprises.