Getting Started

What is Growth Hacking?

Sean Ellis says
 that "a growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth." Andrew Chen says that "Growth hackers are a hybrid of marketer and coder." So... what does that mean? It's hard to hire or make any concrete decisions based on those definitions. So I'm going to try to break it down for you.

The best way to understand growth hacking and what growth hackers do is to first understand what is meant by the term "hacker." A hacker is someone whose goal is to achieve a certain objective rather than follow a prescribed process. In other words, hackers care more about what needs to get done than how it should get done. As a result, hackers often come up with innovative ways to get things done.

For example, a hacker may be trying to get unauthorized access to a computer system. It doesn’t really matter how he does it (and there often isn’t one specifically prescribed method) so long as whatever he’s doing gets him access. Because hackers are more concerned with what needs to get done than how it should get done, they tend to be pretty anti-authoritarian and also not do so well at bigger companies where they are expected to do things a certain way.

I've posted a series of slides below, in which I propose the following definition: 

Growth hacking is a set of tactics and best practices for dealing with problems of user growth.

These problems aren't just limited to "How do I get more users for my product?"

They also include things like:

  • How do I get more of my users to be active?
  • How do I reduce churn?
  • What is our AHA moment?
  • How do I increase the lifetime value of a user?
  • How do I measure the effectiveness of new product features?

For those of you who still feel like "growth hacking" and "marketing" are the same things, I want to emphasize that there are lots of non-marketing decisions that affect user growth. Building viral product features is the most obvious, but there are many others (I’ll cover these in a future post). As a result, it doesn’t make sense to place growth hacking within a particular department like marketing or engineering.

The idea is that for every decision a company makes, a growth hacker should ask: ”What will be the impact on growth?”

For example, when Facebook was still in its early stages they built a cross-functional growth team led by a growth hacker that touched many other departments, including Marketing, BizDev, Product, Finance and even HR. Among many other projects, the team was responsible for making Facebook available in every language through crowdsourcing, implementing a robust system for importing email contacts, and even building out a “Facebook Lite” which was eventually shut down.

Over the last few years, truly innovative growth hackers have developed various frameworks and best-practices. Guys like Noah Kagan (AppSumo, Mint, Facebook), Sean Ellis (Dropbox, Qualaroo), Mike Greenfield (Circle of Moms, LinkedIn), Dave McClure (500 Startups, PayPal), and many others have pioneered techniques focused on virality, email, search engine optimization & marketing.

What are some of your favorite growth hacks that you've seen? Have you tried any? Post them in the comments below.

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Tags: Startups, Growth Hacking

Mattan Griffel

Mattan Griffel

Mattan Griffel is the CEO & co-founder of One Month. Teacher at General Assembly. Studied Philosophy and Finance at NYU. Named to Forbes 30 Under 30 in Education. Featured in BusinessWeek, MIT Technology Review, Huffington Post, Mashable and The Next Web.