Growth Hacking for Startups: What Is It Really?

August 31, 2014

12:00 pm

Like SEO or content marketing, no one can completely agree that “growth hacking” is the best phrase to describe the practice. Some in the industry see it as just another buzzword that will fade away, while others believe it’s the best name we have so far to describe the tactics used for company growth.

Initially I thought growth hacking meant finding “one weird trick” to create explosive growth. As most things in life, there is no silver bullet to solve the problems presented, so this original notion was wrong. Growth marketers instead realize that it’s a combination of small testing and iterations that promote rapid growth. What follows are a few key tenets of growth hacking from industry experts that highlight this idea.

Sean Ellis

The godfather of growth hacking, Sean Ellis, coined the term “growth hacker” back in 2010 and explains that growth hacking requires discipline, testing, and analysis. Not just one trick but a repeatable process:

“An effective growth hacker also needs to be disciplined to follow a process of prioritizing ideas (their own and others in the company), testing the ideas, and being analytical enough to know which tested growth drivers to keep and which ones to cut. The faster this process can be repeated, the more likely they’ll find scalable, repeatable ways to grow the business.”

In his interview with The Rocketship Podcast, Sean Ellis states, “Most things don’t work the first time you try, or even the second time. Keep tweaking.”

Neil Patel

As cofounder of Crazy Egg and KISSmetrics as well as author of the Quick Sprout blog, Neil Patel has been an authority in the growth hacking and marketing industry long enough to write the Definitive Guide to Growth Hacking, where he defines the power of using the product itself for growth:

“For the first time, because of this redefinition, a product can play a role in its own adoption. Sound crazy? It is. A product like Facebook allows you to share their product with other friends to make your own experience on their platform better. Shampoo can’t do that…Growth hackers understand the latent potential of software products to spread themselves, and it’s their responsibility to transform this potentiality into a reality.”

Morgan Brown

Coauthor of the upcoming book Unlocking Growth, Morgan Brown is also part of the team.

In his “Growth Hacking Basics” Slideshare, he points out a few key concepts:

  • “Test and measure ideas on the cheap”
  • “Build MVP versions, concierge versions”
  • “Numbers are your guide to everything”
  • “Iterate like your life depends on it”

Sean Ellis recently asked the community at GrowthHackers what their best three-word description of growth hacking was. Here are a few of the most popular:

  • “Experiment Driven Marketing” – Sean Ellis
  • “Creatively Iterated Growth” – Anuj Adhiya
  • “Engineered Marketing Optimization” – Hiten Shah
  • “Resource Constrained Optimization” – John Loken

What we can glean from above is that the idea of growth hacking is not limited to those two words, and there are no amazing alternatives to use instead. At the end of the day, startup marketers should learn how to make their product shareable, accessible, and addicting for users not by a single trick, but by adopting the growth hacker mindset of continuous testing, curiosity, and improvement.

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Joe Robison is a seasoned digital marketer, currently leading marketing at Coastal Creative Reprographics in San Diego, CA. He is the founder of Green Flag Digital and loves the place where humans and tech collide. Get his latest free guide, The SEO Emergency Checklist.