With the rate in which technology is advancing, and with the Internet exceeding its prime and reaching new heights each day, it gets easier and easier to realize whatever the mind desires. There is no doubt that this is the golden era for dreamers who are also doers.
With this potential comes oversaturated and hypercompetitive markets, no matter what industry you join. This means that for a brand new venture to attain breakthrough status and ensure survival, rapid development of businesses and ideas, as well as agile marketing on top of a minimum viable product, is necessary to keep up.
This reality can make achieving success truly daunting to think about, so what’s an entrepreneur to do? The answer is one of the hottest buzzwords making its rounds in Silicon Valley today: growth hacking.
What in the world is growth hacking?
For a general idea, let’s break it down word for word.
Growth, in entrepreneurial terms, is an umbrella term for the process of improving various parts of a business, whether it be business growth by improved revenue through product sales, or market growth by an increased demand for a product or service, among others.
What is essential to grasping the concept of growth hacking, though, is understanding the word ‘hack’.
To the layperson, the word itself initially has negative connotations. Throughout modern history, hacking has been commonly associated with security breaches, so most people take the word as gaining access to information you’re not supposed to through unconventional and oftentimes illegal means.
These days, though, millennial colloquialism has attached a more positive undertone to the word. Common uses, such as in the expression “life hacks”, has made hacking synonymous with DIYs and unconventional shortcuts—which is exactly the very essence of growth hacking.
Growth hacking is simply manipulating variables to encourage internal and external growth for the business, most of the time focusing more on sustainability over swift or exponential growth. Growth hackers oftentimes shun traditional marketing tactics in lieu of atypical methods because, as with the spirit of hacking, what’s important is getting things done and not how you do it.
How do you hack growth?
Let’s take Facebook as an example. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who has never had a Facebook account at any point of their lives. Not only that, but Facebook has also found a way to transcend from being a mere social media platform to being a somewhat valid form of online identification. Want to use Spotify? Collect inspiration on Pinterest? Get an Uber? Order donuts? No need to create new accounts for every service because you can simply log in with a single Facebook account.
Many web developers also use the ability to connect with Facebook for security reasons. Dating apps require a Facebook profile to guarantee no robots and less fake accounts. Also, say you decide to try and rent a house from Airbnb; linking a Facebook account is one of their requirements, alongside scanning your government IDs, to prove your legitimacy.
Speaking of Airbnb, they are also one of the most famous examples of successful and ingenious growth hacking. They reverse-engineered Craigslist, a website with an enormous user base despite being notorious for fake untrustworthy listings, by offering Airbnb users the ability to cross post their listings to Craigslist. The only problem was that Craigslist didn’t have an option for automatic cross posting. To work around this complication, they built a bot to work around Craigslist’s lack of an open API, which was no easy task. Suffice it to say, with their out-of-the-box thinking and hard work, Airbnb managed to successfully attract and retain their target market. They no longer cross post on Craigslist.
One other famous example is Dropbox, thanks to Sean Ellis, the very person who coined the term growth hacking. He introduced a referral program that promised users an additional 500 megabytes of space for free for every friend they invited to sign up. This hack instantly increased their users by 60%, and has since been adapted by many other companies for its virality and success rate. Other companies that make use of this referral hack are Groupon, which offers users incentives for every share on social media, and Uber, which provides ride discounts for every successful friend invite.
With these examples, it’s easy to see that the most popular and effective method being utilized by growth hackers is by engineering virality. If the main goal is to grow the number of users and ensure long term use, then the best way to achieve your objective is to make your product or service indispensable or habit-forming—make the market see the product as a life essential. After all, according to Alex Schultz, Vice President of Growth for Facebook, “Retention is the single most important thing for growth.”
Do you have what it takes to be a growth hacker?
“My best ideas come from seeing what is working from other companies and then adding a twist based on unique characteristics of my product and target users,” shares Sean Ellis, CEO of Growth Hackers. Ever curious, growth hackers know to find ideas and inspiration from anything and everything under the sun. They are creative individuals; they’re not afraid to deviate from convention to find multiple solutions to address a single problem.
Relentless and resilient, growth hackers are always dissecting and analyzing data to ensure repeat sales and customer activation. They understand that the key to growth is by knowing the customers’ wants and needs, and delivering these wants and needs in a way that makes the market see the product or service as a necessity for day to day living.
On top of these characteristics, they also possess good intuitiveness about the industry they are in and are fearless. They are not afraid of failure and never hesitate to act on hunches that they feel will benefit the business in any way.
And, most importantly, they are resourceful. As with the very essence of hacking, it’s not about the process; nothing is more important than fulfilling the objective. If there are no doors towards the goal, expect growth hackers to tear walls down and create not just one, but infinite possibilities towards a company’s growth and survival.