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What is growth hacking? Who is a growth hacker?

What is Growth Hacking?

Growth hacking has been doing the rounds in the start-up ecosystem. And why shouldn’t it? Growth Hacking is ideal for start-ups, because of the limited budgets and resources. It’s primarily geared toward early-stage organizations looking to grow without breaking the bank.

The term growth hacking began circulating among early-stage start-ups that desired maximum growth within a short period of time. This growth could be in the form of more users using your product, or it could be in the form of any other metric that you wish to see grow. You can consider growth hacking as a combination of marketing, data, and technology.

Whatever the case, there should be a North Star Metric (NSM) involved. An NSM is a is a metric that a company uses as a focus for their growth. It is the number that the entire company focuses on to achieve long-term growth, during a period of several years and beyond. It showcases the value addition that your company brings to the customers. If your product adds value to the customers, then the growth your company has to be positive. Your business grows in every respect if your NSM also grows.

Also, an NSM gives direction to the company’s long-term growth versus. A few common examples of organizations and their NSMs are as follows: 

  • For Spotify, the NSM is time spent listening. 
  • For Airbnb, the NSM is number of nights booked. 
  • For Facebook, the NSM is monthly active users. 

You get the idea.

Circling back. The primary objective of growth hacking strategies is to acquire as many users and customers by spending as little as possible. So, how does this work?

For every company, it’s about figuring out why you grow and looking for ways to make it happen in a repeatable cycle. The point is to get traffic and visitors, turn visitors into users, and retain those users as satisfied customers.

Growth hacking is just not limited to marketers. It’s equally useful to everyone from product developers, engineers, designers, salespeople, to managers.

Everyone wants solutions and they want it fast, that’s where growth hacking comes in. A key feature of it is to experiment at the fastest possible tempo.

Those who specialize in growth hacking use different types of marketing and product iterations. They experiment with a plethora of tools and techniques. And they test persuasive copy, email marketing, SEO, and viral strategies with a goal of increasing conversion rates and achieving rapid growth of the user base.

Example of Growth Hacking: Airbnb Craigslist integration

Airbnb comes up as the most relevant example when talking about growth hacking. What it did when it just started out was get listed on Craigslist. At that time, Craigslist was the largest forum where people could rent a house. It was a place where potential Airbnb users were most active. What Airbnb did was place its offers on Craigslist with a link to their own platform for potentials tenants who needed more information. This way they managed to acquire their first set of users. 

Who is a growth hacker?

A growth hacker is responsible for conducting experiments based on a process-based methodology to grow the number of customers. Moreover, a growth hacking team is diverse. It is made up of marketers, developers, engineers, and product managers who specifically focus on building and engaging the user base of a business. As mentioned previously, it’s not just limited to marketing.

Sean Ellis, CEO of GrowthHackers, coined the term growth hacking in 2010. And in a blog post, he mentioned who a growth hacker is. He said, and we quote, “a (growth hacker) is a person whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential impact on scalable growth.”

What’s interesting to note is that the idea came to Ellis when he was looking for his own successor. He didn’t just want a marketer, he wanted someone with knowledge about data, product, tech, and marketing. Also, the person had to have a very specific mindset that fully focused on sustainable growth. And from that moment on, people started identifying themselves as growth hackers. 

Later on, Andrew Chen in his blog post titled Growth Hacker is the new VP Marketing elaborated on the existing definition of a growth hacker by saying that a growth hacker is 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”

Furthermore, in the book titled Growth Hacking, Chad Riddersen and Raymond Fong define a growth hacker as "a highly resourceful and creative marketer singularly focused on high leverage growth"


In conclusion and in simple terms, a growth hacker is someone who uses creative, low-cost strategies to aid businesses to acquire and retain customers. He or she can be considered as a person who specializes in being a generalist, with an expertise in one or two fields.