Growth hacking

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Growth hacking is a marketing technique developed by technology startups which uses creativity, analytical thinking, and social metrics to sell products and gain exposure.[1][2] It can be seen as part of the online marketing ecosystem, as in many cases growth hackers are using techniques such as search engine optimization, website analytics, content marketing and A/B testing. Growth hackers focus on low-cost and innovative alternatives to traditional marketing, e.g. utilizing social media and viral marketing instead of buying advertising through more traditional media such as radio, newspaper, and television.[3] Growth hacking is particularly important for startups, as it allows for a "lean" launch that focuses on "growth first, budgets second."[4][5] Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Airbnb and Dropbox are all companies that use growth hacking techniques.[6]


Sean Ellis coined the term "growth hacker" in 2010.[7][8] In the blog post, he defined a growth hacker as "a person whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential impact on scalable growth."[7] Andrew Chen introduced the term to a wider audience in a blog post titled, "Growth Hacker is the new VP Marketing" in which he defined the term and used the booking agency Airbnb's integration of Craigslist as an example.[2][9] He wrote that growth hackers "are a hybrid of marketer and coder, one who looks at the traditional question of 'How do I get customers for my product?' and answers with A/B tests, landing pages, viral factor, email deliverability, and Open Graph."[1][9] In 2012, Aaron Ginn defined a growth hacker on TechCrunch as a "mindset of data, creativity, and curiosity."[2][10]

In 2013, the second annual "Growth Hackers Conference" was held in San Francisco set up by Gagan Biyani.[11] It featured growth hackers from LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube among others.[11]

One of the first resources dedicated to growth hacking is which interviews growth hackers from fast growing companies like Dropbox, Facebook, and Expedia.


Fast Company[1] defined the marketing problems facing many startups as:

  1. don't have budget allocated for "marketing", and
  2. don't have a traditional marketing background.[1]

To combat this lack of money and experience, growth hackers approach marketing with a focus on innovation, scalability, and user connectivity.[12][13] Growth hacking does not, however, separate product design and product effectiveness from marketing.[14][15] Growth hackers build the product's potential growth, including user acquisition, on-boarding, monetization, retention, and virality, into the product itself.[16] Fast Company used Twitter "Suggested Users List" as example: "This was Twitter's real secret: It built marketing into the product rather than building infrastructure to do a lot of marketing."[8]

The heart of growth hacking is the relentless focus on growth as the only metric that truly matters.[17] Mark Zuckerberg, best known of the five co-founders of Facebook, is said to have had this mindset while growing Facebook.[18] While the exact methods vary from company to company and from one industry to the next, the common denominator is always growth. Companies that have successfully "growth hacked" usually have a viral loop naturally built in to their onboarding process.[19] New customers typically hear about the product or service through their network and by using the product or service, share it with their connections in turn. This loop of awareness, use, and sharing can result in exponential growth for the company.[20]

Twitter, Facebook, Dropbox, Pinterest, YouTube, Groupon, Udemy, and Instagram are all companies that used and still use growth hacking techniques to build brands and improve profits.[9][21][22][23]


An early example of "growth hacking" was Hotmail's inclusion of "PS I Love You" with a link for others to get the free online mail service.[24] Another example was the offer of more storage by Dropbox to users who referred their friends.[24]

Online worldwide independent lodging company, Airbnb is another perfect example of what growth hacking really is by coupling technology and ingenuity to achieve above average digital and traditional marketing results. Airbnb realized they could essentially hack the scale and tap both into their user base as well as their website by adding automated listing generators from Airbnb with the feature called "Post to Craigslist". The company's growth was a combination of clever thinking and technical know-how.[25]


Some books that touch the subject of growth hacking are:

  • Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth (written by Gabriel Weinberg Co-Founder of search engine DuckDuckGo
  • Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing, and Advertising (written by Ryan Holiday)


Growth hacking was the subject of a Dilbert joke on 10 July 2014.[26]


  1. ^ a b c d Holiday, Ryan (December 17, 2012). "Everything is Marketing: How Growth Hackers Redefine the Game". Fast Company. 
  2. ^ a b c Ginn, Aaron (September 2, 2012). "Defining a Growth Hacker: Three Common Characteristics". TechCrunch. 
  3. ^ Biyani, Gagan (May 5, 2013). "Explained: The actual difference between growth hacking and marketing". The Next Web. 
  4. ^ Hockenson, Lauren (May 18, 2013). "Growth Hacker: A Buzzword Surrounded by Buzzwords". Mashable. 
  5. ^ Ginn, Aaron (September 7, 2012). "Defining a Growth Hacker: 5 Ways Growth Hackers Changed Marketing". TechCrunch. 
  6. ^ Emerson, Rip (January 13, 2013). "Chamath Palihapitiya On Growth Hacking And How To Create A Sustainable User Acquisition Engine". TechCrunch. 
  7. ^ a b Ellis, Sean (June 26, 2010). "Find a Growth Hacker for Your Startup". 
  8. ^ a b Holiday, Ryan (July 8, 2013). "The Secret That Defines Marketing Now". Fast Company. 
  9. ^ a b c Chen, Andrew. "Growth Hacker is the new VP Marketing". 
  10. ^ Ginn, Aaron (n/a). "What is a growth hacker?".  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  11. ^ a b Griggs, William (May 10, 2013). "6 important lessons from this year’s Growth Hacker Conference". Venture Beat. 
  12. ^ Ginn, Aaron (October 21, 2012). "Defining a Growth Hacker: Building Growth Into Your Team". TechCrunch. 
  13. ^ Ginn, Aaron (October 28, 2012). "Build it and they won’t come: How and why growth hacking came to be". The Next Web. 
  14. ^ Holiday, Ryan (June 11, 2013). "Here’s Some Marketing Advice: Your Product Is Terrible". 
  15. ^ Ginn, Aaron (October 20, 2012). "Defining A Growth Hacker: Growth Is Not A Marketing Strategy". TechCrunch. 
  16. ^ Jarvis, Chase (February 22, 2013). "From Obscurity to Internet Sensation — How Creatives Can Win the PR Game with Ryan Holiday". 
  17. ^ Ellis, Sean. "Sean Ellis On Growth". Medium. Retrieved 16 August 2014. 
  18. ^ Kagan, Noah. "How My Blog Homepage Redesign Increased Email Signups By 300%". Hubspot. Retrieved 16 August 2014. 
  19. ^ Chen, Andrew. "What's Your Viral Loop? Understanding The Engine Of Adoption". Retrieved 16 August 2014. 
  20. ^ Ellis, Sean (June 24, 2014). Startup Growth Engines: Case Studies of How Today's Most Successful Startups Unlock Extraordinary Growth. Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown. Retrieved 16 August 2014. 
  21. ^ Ginn, Aaron (December 8, 2012). "Defining A Growth Hacker: Debunking The 6 Most Common Myths About Growth Hacking". TechCrunch. 
  22. ^ Johns, Andy (May 11, 2012). "Facebook Growth and Traction: What are some decisions taken by the "Growth team" at Facebook that helped Facebook reach 500 million users?". Quora. 
  23. ^ Johns, Andy (April 30, 2012). "What is Facebook's User Growth team responsible for and what have they launched?". Quora. 
  24. ^ a b Holiday, Ryan. "Don Draper Is Dead: Why Growth Hack Marketing Is Advertising’s Last Hope". BetaBeat. 
  25. ^ Needleman, Sarah. "Growth Hacking' Helps Startups Boost Their Users". The Wall Street Journal. 
  26. ^ Adams, Scott (July 10, 2014). "joke of the day".