What Is Growth Hacking? Back To Basics.

Posted by Esther Dalkmann


What is Growth Hacking?


A term that’s been sweeping the nation. And if you’re in the marketing industry, this is not something you can ignore…

Especially when there’s direct proof of its popularity:


Growth Hacking Google Trend


The term was coined by Sean Ellis back in 2010 and many field experts have already shared their stances on this topic. But there’s a wave of future growth hackers, growth marketers, technical marketers (whatever-you-want-to-call-it) to be - asking "What is Growth Hacking?".


This is your introduction to Growth Hacking.


We have entered a new era. An era, where walls between data analysis, coding and marketing have dissolved. An era, where large marketing campaigns have been replaced by a mindset of smaller experiments and incremental testing. An era, where marketers are much more technical and analytical and no longer depend on developers. Welcome to the age of Growth Hacking.


Now.. What is Growth Hacking exactly?

What Is Growth Hacking


A Wikipedia page will tell you that it’s “a process of rapid experimentation across a range of marketing channels to identify the most effective ways to grow a business.”

Although definitely true, growth hacking is so much more...


It’s a mindset. A skillset. An approach. A strategy. A vision.


There’s lots of material out there to soak up. Here’s just a peek into the abundance of resources that are available to you.


The Definite Guide To Growth Hacking by Neil Patel and Bronson Taylor

Introduction to Growth Hacking - A FREE 12 Week E-course by Growth Tribe

Quora responses to What Is Growth Hacking?

What Is Growth Hacking Really? By Josh Elman


Growth Hacking is good in theory and all, but the biggest WOW moments come from hearing success stories.


Famous Growth Hacking Stories


(If you know these, go ahead and skip this part.)



This platform connecting house owners and renters is the go-to growth hacking tale. A story about true hustlers who didn’t mind getting their hands dirty.

In a nutshell, what started as a bed and breakfast on air-mattresses grew into a legacy, even the Hilton Hotels chain is jealous of.

AirBnB is famous for many things, one of them being creating election-themed breakfast cereal and selling it at convention parties during the Obama/McCain race to raise some initial capital… That was Hustle 101, but let’s not focus too much on that.

Probably the story, or rather “hack”, that they’re most famous for is how they reverse engineered Craigslist. Back in 2010, AirBnB found a way to hack that giant platform to make use of Craigslist’s customers. They managed to build a bot that would redirect people viewing apartment listings on Craigslist to AirBnB. Result: intense traction = staggering growth.

Was this ethical? Probably not… Extremely smart? Absolutely! Check their full story here.



Another example is the success story of Udemy.

With over 30000+ educational videos and 7 million students worldwide, Udemy is one of the world’s largest online educational platforms. The success didn’t come immediately though, as the startup struggled greatly during their growth stage. They couldn't find teachers to upload videos and therefore couldn’t attract students to watch.

How did they go about overcoming this hurdle? They scraped thousands of educational videos from YouTube and hosted them on Udemy. Quite a similar story to AirBnB actually.

Visitors got drawn in by this, which motivated teachers to begin uploading their own videos on Udemy. This is how their journey turned into a growth hacking success story.

Listen to this interview with founder of Udemy, Gagan Biyani himself, to learn their full story.


What do these stories have in common?


  1. They used OPNs, ‘Other People’s Networks’, to grow. Udemy used YouTube, Airbnb used Craigslist and Dropbox used their customer’s personal networks.
  2. The ratio of their success represented 80% best practices and 20% subversiveness. As Alistair Croll puts it “Most big successes have a little bit of evil in them”.
  3. They were carried out by people with skills, which most digital marketers didn't have: web scraping, coding and rapid experimentation.


In 3 years it will be the norm for marketers to have these powers.


Speaking of what makes a growth hacker...


Personality of a growth hacker


Growth Hacker Personality

The skillset of a growth hacker is powerful. We call them T-shaped players:

  • 20% of knowledge of all major skills get them 80% of output
  • Growth hackers are usually specialized in 2 / 3 skills (e.g. CRO & Programming) & have vast knowledge across all fields related to technical marketing

Growth Hacking Skills T Shaped Player Brian Balfour

Rare people possess these qualities. They’re unique and in high demand. A 1 to 7 supply/demand ratio to be exact.


Growth Hacking vs. Digital Marketing


Unlike the digital marketer (although this is rapidly changing), a growth hacker spreads himself throughout the entire conversion funnel.


Pirate Funnel Digital Marketing Growth Hacking


Of course marketing skills like copywriting, behavioral psychology, A/B testing and channel expertise are still necessary. But tomorrow’s marketer can also throw up a landing page in a few hours, scrape a website to gather data and run some SQL queries to find internal data.


The modern marketer no longer depends on developers to get the job done. The marketer of 2016 and the future is a Growth Hacker.


Why is Growth Hacking important?


  1. Traditional marketing channels are expensive and saturated
  2. Most projects focus heavily on the product, but the real challenge is with distribution
  3. New channels are popping up very rapidly
  4. Acquiring is not enough!! Activation and Retention are key!
  5. It’s all about ROI
  6. It’s not about the tips and tricks. You need a PROCESS.

Growth Hacking Process OMTM

Processes will differ by all means. There’s no one-for-all solution. “The only way to find great growth engines is to experiment” as our founder, David Arnoux, says.

Growth Hacking is important and we’re not the only ones to say that. Industry experts from around the world acknowledge the new direction and even become devout promoters of it. They recognize the importance of a an updated and diverse skill set, the value in the new mindset and the advantage that comes from having a well-oiled machine for a growth team.


And speaking of growth teams…


Growth Hacking is a team sport


Many entrepreneurs truly believe that they can work as a one-man-orchestra. This becomes their downfall in the end.

Their pitfall is thinking that growth hacking is a one man sport. If your company is small, it can be... But growth is nothing, if not a team effort.

The “biggest and baddest” companies, such as Facebook, Twitter and Uber, know this very well… Which is why they are the early adopters of using growth teams.

Heck, even the automobile industry is jumping on board… According to an article by Electrek.co, Tesla is now building a growth team “from scratch” by hiring their first growth hackers from Facebook and Uber.


At this point, you should be convinced that you absolutely need a growth team in your company, but here lies yet another dilemma: which growth team model to opt for?


Yes, there are different models and choosing the right one will ensure your company’s growth.

As Andrew McInnes writes in his article, after interviewing 20 growth VPs, his team came identified two types of growth team models: the Independent Model and the Functional Model.


The Independent Model, which is used at Uber and Facebook, comes in 2 versions:


Growth Team Model Independent


Growth Team Model Independent



And the Functional Model suggests that the team will reach growth metrics the right way by reporting to their functional VPs.


Growth Team Model Functional



In our interview with Nilan Peiris, the VP of Growth at TransferWise, we found out that this fintech startup structures its growth teams around KPIs. Basically, they discovered that all their customers care about is for the product to be cheap, fast and easy to use. So they formed growth teams around these 3 things - their main KPIs.

Although this is an unconventional model to go for, TransferWise’s success clearly indicates that it’s working for them. You can find more growth team forming tips from Nilan in our blog post How To Imprint Growth Into Your Company’s DNA.


At the end of the day, it’s not about forming growth teams. It’s about building a growth-oriented culture in your company.

To quote an article by Kissmetrics, “...a growth oriented culture comes through sharing of results, getting people vested in the process, and making growth and analysis a regular part of the culture, language, and behavior of the company.”

In other words: everyone should keep their eyes on the prize!


So yeah, growth hacking…


Whether you’re totally onboard with this or feel deeply offended by the term, in the words of our founder:


“Growth hacking is to the startup world, what the assembly line was to the industrial world. A revolution that just makes sense.”


Want to become a marketer of the future?

Want to bring your company to the next level?


Join our 2-Day Growth Hacking Crash Course in Amsterdam




Apply for our 3 month full time Growth Hacking Academy!


Written by Esther Dalkmann