Growth Hacking Declassified

The startup world is abuzz with the phrase “growth hacking” and the idea of growing at an extremely fast rate, acquiring millions of customers and dollars in revenue. Less common is a clear understanding of what growth hacking is and how startups can adopt the methods involved in it. Understanding the origin, meaning, and seeing growth hacking in action is essential to be able to implement the marketing ideas behind it.


In 2010, Sean Ellis coined the term “growth hacking” when trying to come up with a job description to find replacements for himself within companies. He worked for several internet companies with their marketing, setting up systems, processes, and mindsets for growth. Problems arose when Sean was ready to move on to another company and looking to hand over his role to someone else. Traditional marketers were not an ideal replacement to run the growth machines that Sean had set up as they did not share the singular focus on growth. A growth hacker differs from a traditional marketer as Sean says because, “a growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth”.  Every decision, strategy, tactic, and initiative a growth hacker implements is in the pursuit of growing. Having the singular goal of growth is most relevant in the startup world, where growth is the sink or swim metric of success.


Growth hacking creates innovative marketing solutions that modern companies use to achieve the goal of growth. Growth hacking is the response to the methods of distribution for both messaging and products that the internet has opened for businesses in this digital era. In a growth hacking guide by Quick Sprout, a search engine optimization service, they compare the new possibilities of the internet to those created by the American highway system built in the 1950s. The interstate roads were a new channel to reach customers, creating an opportunity for companies like McDonald’s to penetrate markets by placing themselves at the exits along the popular highways. The internet has allowed for a new flow of people, data, ideas, and products at an incredible scale and thus new opportunities to interact with markets.

Growth hackers exploit these new opportunities using whatever is at their disposal to grow the company. The internet creates new ways to reach customers and provides a newfound wealth of data about the markets as well. Growth hacking uses data analytics to refine growth strategies and focus resources to the marketing actions that will be most effective. This is done through a process of rapid experimentation across all marketing activities from product development to sales. Growth hacking often utilizes social media and targeted advertising through other platforms instead of traditional media like radio, newspaper and television. Continuing to experiment with email campaigns, search engine optimization and viral strategies along with other marketing tactics, allows companies to rapidly test iterations to see what will best result in rapid growth of the user base.


When Sean Ellis worked with Dropbox, he realized that Dropbox is a very scalable product ready for rapid growth. Growing the within the Software as a Service (SaaS) business model is relatively painless and can oftentimes enhance the product for current customers by extending the network of users. With growth in mind, Sean made referrals the key marketing strategy for the company. Giving customers free storage in return for them recommending the product to their friends did two things: it introduced more people to the brand and allowed current users to increase their involvement with the product by sharing more files with others using the service. Subscriptions increased by 60% using this strategy, outperforming past marketing attempts using ad campaigns and public relations to acquire customers.

This marketing strategy brought in new customers and enhanced the value of the product for current customers. Retaining customers is often an overlooked part of growth strategies even though return customers generate more revenue as they cost less than acquiring new ones and have a high lifetime value. Growth hacking recognizes that retention should be a top priority and focuses on enhancing the customer experience, not just new customer acquisition.

An important takeaway from this success story of DropBox that now has over 500 million users is that they had to try more than one marketing method before finding that referrals were most effective for the company. Startups do not have the capital to have their hand in every marketing strategy, they need to focus on what generates the largest returns possible. If a strategy isn’t working, continue to cycle through ideas and iterations until it produces the desired results. Then in the spirit of the laser focus of growth hacking, double-down on that strategy.


Growth hacking is not a fixed marketing strategy key to quickly increasing revenues. It is a mindset that orients all marketing activities around a singular goal and experiments through iterations of marketing strategies to find how to best achieve this. From product development to retaining customers, your business’ marketing should use the feedback provided by new technology with analytics and direct communication channels with markets. This feedback can then be used to iterate growth strategies to create products that people actually want, learn more about your target market, pick a growth model that uses the right channels to reach your customers, create a positive customer experience that retains users, and measure the success of your strategies for continued improvement.

Growth hacking is about finding the strategy through constant improvement to best grow your company and at Magic Flight Studios we help companies that are geared for growth take flight. Learn what your company needs to fly here.



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