Growth Hacking Definition

Cite this article as:"Growth Hacking Definition," in The Business Professor, updated March 17, 2019, last accessed October 25, 2020,


Growth Hacking Definition

Growth Hacking is a marketing concept that focuses on efficient and rapid business expansion by experimenting with non traditional methods of acquiring and engaging users. It leverages the expertise of developers, marketers, engineers, sales strategists and product managers.

A Closer Look At What Growth Hacking Entails

In lieu of traditional advertising platforms like print, radio or TV, Growth Hackers seek efficient and cost effective channels for marketing like targeted online advertising, social media marketing, viral videos or memes.

Start-ups launching new services or products are ground zero for Growth Hacking as quick expansion of the user base is paramount. But rapid expansion of the customer base wouldn’t be the sole aim of a growth hacker, long term retention of this rapidly expanding customer base would also be given equal emphasis, as growth hacking takes a 360 degree view of the marketing process. It also accounts for capitalising on the leads gained.

Growth Hacking specialists optimize customer conversion rates by testing various marketing strategies at a fast pace. Some of the tools and techniques exploited by growth hackers for rapid growth and increased sales are:

  • Dogfooding products in the developmental phase – looping in the internal feedback to improve the product and gauge public favour, popularity of features, and ease of usage. This approach avoids long winded product development cycles and fuses the testing stage with the development stage. Product schemas, prototypes, and graphical representations are relied upon to cut down on time and resources, and incorporate feedback from the get go.
  • Testing with smaller sets of power users, creating artificial demand.
  • Streamlined email marketing.
  • Creating viral content like easily shareable memes, videos, hashtags.
  • Search Engine Optimization and Marketing.
  • Social Media Management – Acquiring and managing followers on various online social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, keeping this user base engaged, rewarding engagement, tying up with influencers to broaden the user base, and so on.
  • Targeted outreach efforts towards mainstream media on both online and offline publication platforms to create widespread buzz.
  • A/B testing, web analytics, and on page SEO, to improve landing page quality extending user engagement duration.

The term ‘Growth hacker’ was coined by Sean Ellis in 2010. He stressed on the importance of sustainable and scalable growth as the true calling of a growth hacker.

The term was picked up by the general populace, when Andre Chen blogged about it in 2012 in a post titled, “Growth Hacker is the new VP Marketing”, using the example of Airbnb’s strategic integration of Craigslist to expand its user base, to drive his point home. He wrote that, “coding and technical chops are now an essential part of being a great marketer. Growth hackers are a hybrid of marketer and coder…”.

Gagan Biyani set up the second annual “Growth Hackers Conference” in 2013, in San Francisco. Major social networking and media sharing platforms like YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter were amongst the featured growth hackers. Ellis created the website GrowthHackers in 2015 with Everett Taylor. Besides being the largest online community of growth hackers, it also hosts the annual Growth Hackers Conference.

The Modus Operandi of Growth Hacking

Growth hacking thrives when there’s a paucity of funds and traditional marketing experience. Growth Hackers focus on the most cost-effective as well as alternative channels of marketing, innovative ways of getting the word out, and out-of-the-box ideas for prolonged user engagement. It blurs the barriers between product development and marketing. Growth potential and marketable features are incorporated in the product itself at the developmental stage, eliminating the need to build a separate ecosystem for marketing the product. Facebook’s “People You May Know” feature was built into the product to increase connections. But not all of this is free of cost as effective marketing does require actual funds expenditure, however, market adaptability to Growth Hacking has lead to the introduction of advanced tools like Saas, Paas, IaaS, that enable firms to work with limited budgets.

Growth is the sole focus and the only metric worth measuring for a Growth Hacker. AirBnB’s Brian Chesky followed this maxim to a T. Growth is the common denominator across diverse industry verticals and companies vying for it in different ways. Those who’ve aced this philosophy reap rich dividends due to the feedback loop that keeps churning clients, innovation, and turnover. Once you have established a broad base of users, marketing new products becomes easier as you have an inbuilt client base to launch the product to, and a ready audience to tap into viral marketing campaigns. The broader the user base, the faster the growth.

A marketing funnel has five stages that users go through; acquisition – activation – retention – revenue – referral. Every stage is crucial and optimized by Growth Hackers to increase the user base as well as keep them in the fold.

The most well known tech giants – Google, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, Telegram, and more – have used Growth Hacking to get where they are today.

Examples of Growth Hacking

When Hotmail promoted its free online mail service link with the anchor text, “PS I Love You”, it was banking on the readers’ curiosity whilst tapping into the demand for free emails, becoming one of the first companies to use “growth hacking” to acquire more users.

Gmail created an artificial demand by making it’s email service ‘by invitation only’, causing a huge spike in users coveting these invites, hacking the ‘aspirational mindset’ at the acquisition stage of the marketing funnel.

Airbnb growth hacked scalability by tapping into Craigslist’s user base with the “Post to Craigslist” feature – a brilliant example of combining technical expertise with out of the box thinking.

Zynga growth hacked user engagement and retention by reducing the crop harvesting time from 8 – 12 hours to 30 minutes – 2 hours, effectively keeping gamers playing Farmville for hours on end.

Entrepreneurship Guru Noah Kagan increased his subscriber base by 26% by simply eliminating the ‘revenue’ field from his submission form.

References for Growth Hacking

Academic Research on Growth Hacking

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