The first time I heard the phrase ‘growth hacking’ back in July 2015, I was sceptical. I thought it was just another Silicon Valley buzzword people use to sound trendy.

But in the last year I’ve come round to the view that growth hacking (also known as lean or agile marketing) can make a real difference to startups.

Growth hacking is a set of frameworks, tactics and best practices that help startups to think critically about the problem of user growth. Growth hacking incorporates a number of disciplines like product management, direct marketing, brand marketing and engineering to deliver a ‘lean marketing’ approach.

If you are familiar with the lean startup movement then you know that it has so far been mostly focused on quick iterations of the build-measure-learn feedback loop. At its core, the lean movement is based on validated learning, measuring performance and customer feedback analysis.

Growth hacking is for when you take lean to the next level. It is most useful when companies have found their product-market fit and need to grow.  

According to Uber’s head of growth Andrew Chen, a growth hacker is a hybrid marketer and coder. They are the person within a business who really thinks critically about user growth. They are marketers, except that in order to operate lean they need to know enough about how to code to implement their own tracking code, create their own landing page and do APIs integrations to develop minimum viable strategies for user acquisition, user activitation, user retention and so forth.

Startups have to fight incumbents and other upstarts. Growth is the magnet that wins the battle for talent and the best VC money. So great growth hacking strategies are the holy grail for startups. But larger corporate companies are also drawn to growth hacking in the fight to innovate and stave off new dynamic competitors.

A classic example of growth hacking was the AirBnB Craigslist integration. Back when AirBnB started out, they had no interested audience to rent out homes that were listed. So they engineered a way to post every listing automatically to the Craigslist website (and their massive audience) and send interested customers back to the AirBnB website.

Another example of growth hacking, delivered by a TeamCXO.COM team member, was with an intern recruitment agency - Inspiring Interns.

Like any other recruitment business, their success is built on attracting clients and creating a pool of top candidates. Because internships are a relatively new popular concept, Google is a particularly important hunting ground. Curious businesses search for ‘interns’ to find out hungry graduates search for ‘internships’ and related terms. At the time that the TeamCXO.COM growth hacker was engaged, Inspiring Interns was ranking sixth for these key terms. Using a single piece of content about video CVs and some very specific email marketing scripts, this growth hacker helped them to acquire 20 high quality backlinks including high value university.edu websites.

As a result, within 30 days of the content going live, Inspiring Interns ranked number one in Google for these key terms. Combined with tactical promotion, this growth hack drove additional recurring annual profits of over £100k.

TeamCXO.COM growth hacking tips - some key plays:

  • Seek out ways to create large bulks of useful automated pages to rank for thousands of longer search queries. A great example is WebMD.com, which has over 100 million Google visits a month in the USA. They have built millions of pages about combinations of medical symptoms all driven by a core symptoms / illness database.
  • To rank well for single high value terms, write single pieces of long, highly useful content. Focus just 20 percent of your time and budget on writing and 80 percent on promotion. High quality, relevant backlinks are the key.
  • When starting out growth hacking, in terms of process, follow 4 steps:
  1. Step 1: determine the most important area of your business to grow. Is it new user acquisition, better user engagement or better conversion to paying customers?
  2. Step 2: Get much more granular and defined around this area - e.g. acquire 100 more users a day through Google.
  3. Step 3: Draw out a map of potential activities and ruthlessly prioritise the ones that are quickest / highest value. To help you decide, you can use a PIE rating giving each task a mark out of 10 for each of Potential, Importance and Ease.
  4. Step 4: Execute, monitor results, learn and then repeat step 3.