Growth Hacking For Dummies
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What is growth hacking? Growth hacking refers to a marketing strategy that utilizes low-cost solutions to scale business growth quickly. The focus of growth hacking is centered on results, rather than the process you take to get there.

In relative terms, growth hacking as a concept is quite new. Sean Ellis coined it in 2010 in his seminal “Find a Growth Hacker for Your Startup” blog post. The concept gained popularity mostly among Silicon Valley practitioners until early 2012, when Andrew Chen wrote his “Growth Hacker is the new VP of Marketing” post, when the phrase truly entered mainstream consciousness.

This is not to say that growth hacking was not a thing before Sean coined the phrase. It’s just that no one had come up with a way to describe it well.

Growth hacking blog post The blog post that started it all.

Sean defined a growth hacker as “a person whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential impact on scalable growth.” After your company has found product-market fit (a measure of the degree to which a product satisfies a strong market demand), you need to find a way to grow quickly.

The explicit role of the growth hacker who would spearhead these growth efforts would be to, as Sean also talks about in this post, “[find] scalable, repeatable and sustainable ways to grow the business.” Some concepts were implicit in the words he used in this last statement that have been clarified in various contexts over time but are worth summarizing here:

  • Growth had to be sustainable: You cannot build a sustainable business if it’s one that doesn’t continue to deliver value over time. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world where people give us money for nothing on an ongoing basis. So, we must provide value. And, given that this is a business and all businesses must grow, it follows that the value we deliver must also grow over time.
  • Sustainability is a function of scalable and repeatable activities: When something is repeatable, it’s a process. When an activity or a process is scalable, it means that it can adapt to larger demands — whether that’s more users or some other business need — leading to greater stability and competitiveness, which in turn helps growth be sustainable. This also tells us that it will never be just one thing that does the trick — it will always be a combination of many elements working together, each playing their part and leading the way to explosive growth.
  • These scalable and repeatable ways to build a sustainable business would have to be found: By definition, there are no silver bullets. Every business is different. Every context and every audience has its own variables. What works in one instance isn’t guaranteed to work in another. You will have to put in the hard work of seeing what works (and doesn’t work) for you. The only way to find what works is to just try things out and see what happens. It also follows that, to see what works, those things must be testable and measurable to understand their impact. The more things you try and the faster you try them, the quicker you’ll learn about what truly delivers value to your customers.

It's never a situation where you’re just trying things randomly. You take advantage of what you already know about your customers to inform hypotheses about what might work across the entire customer journey.

To bring this back down to earth, the goal of growth hacking is to be continually and rapidly testing, across the customer journey, to learn about activities that can be systemized as processes to grow the value that a business provides its customers. It is as simple and as complicated as that. Any definition that doesn’t at least cover all these key aspects is talking about something else — not growth hacking.

Ultimately, growth hacking is a framework for thinking about how to find these scalable, repeatable, and sustainable ways to grow your business.

About This Article

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About the book author:

Anuj Adhiya learned growth hacking as a community moderator and then Director of Engagement and Analytics at GrowthHackers (founded by Sean Ellis, who coined "growth hacking"). He's mentored and coached a number of startups on the growth methodology at Harvard Innovation Labs & Seedstars. He's currently the VP of Growth at Jamber.

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