What Do You Need to Know About Growth Hacking

Growth hacking, as a discipline, has been on the rise for a while. You can see new job postings looking for a growth hacker popping up all over the web every day. This inevitably raises some questions. questions. For example, what is growth hacking? Who is a growth hacker? What are the common characteristic? What are some of the common myths surrounding this topic? You will find the answers on all of these questions and much more in this article.

What’s the story behind Growth Hacking?

As everything else, growth hacking as well has its own history. So, when this discipline appeared for the first time? We have to go back to 2010 to guy called Sean Ellis. It was this man who is responsible for creation of the phrase “growth hacker” and “growth hacking” as a discipline. To understand it, back then Sean had already a number of successful feats focused on helping internet-based companies achieve incredible growth. Some of those companies took it a step further and even went to IPO.

It is no surprise that Sean became the go-to- person to whom people in the Silicon valley went to when they were looking for help grow their user base and accelerate their businesses. In a short time, Sean became a specialist on growth hacking. His job was to sett up systems, processes, and mindsets stable and sustainable so they could be maintained when he will no longer be there. Problems started to appear when he was searching for appropriate replacement that would continue in growth hacking strategies he created and even improved upon them.

You have to understand that many of the practices and strategies used in growth hacking were something completely new for marketers. No matter how many marketing degrees and experience they had, they were not skilled in what growth hacker has to know. A traditional marketer has a very broad focus and knowledge and their skillset is extremely valuable for every business. For startup in the early stages, these skills might not be important or even applicable. There are often no resources to build and manage a marketing team, plan big advertising campaigns and so on.

When you are launching a startup there is only one thing that you need. This one thing is growth. Remember that growth is never instantaneous. It takes time to get from zero to one. Overnight success is always backed by months of research and iterating through various strategies. In short, growth is an ongoing process.

Who Is a Growth Hacker?

First, growth hacking is heavily focused on psychology. Every growth hacker must understand user behavior and provide value immediately to persuade him to continue in his actions. Growth hacker’s job is to get into the minds of users and customize the message he wants to convey to the fabric of their lives and thoughts patterns. Since growth hacking is a discipline covering many different areas, growth hacker must be able to leverage those areas, using knowledge from fields such as behavioral economics and gamification, to find the right message to pull in users.

The goal of growth hacker is to use scalable and repeatable methods of growth hacking to find a strategy for expanding user base of the company. This strategy is always inspired by data and driven by product. Don’t get me wrong, growth hacking is still based in marketing. To put it simply, growth hacker lives at the intersection of marketing, product and data. Growth hacker works with product team on a daily basis and has a technical vocabulary to implement strategies he wants.

In order to be successful in growth hacking, you need to develop set of skills and characteristics through doing and out of necessity. That being set, tools are not everything. In a fact, growth hacking is more about mindset than a tool used. You have to develop investigation processes and mentality unique among technologists and marketers. This mindset of data gathering and mining, creativity, and curiosity will allow you to accomplish the goals you set.

The end goal of every growth hacker is to build stable and sustainable marketing machine that reaches millions of users by it’s self. Unfortunately, growth strategies cannot be easily copied and pasted from product to product without dissecting them and doing some customization. Also, don’t think that by getting a guy skilled in growth hacking you no longer need to have someone for marketing. Growth hacker is not a replacement for a marketer, nor is he better. Growth hacker is just different from a marketer.

The difference between growth hacker and marketer is that every decision that a growth hacker makes is informed by growth. Meaning, every strategy, tactic, process and every action is done in the hopes of growing. Growth is the center of the Universe a growth hacker lives in. That being said, I don’t mean that traditional marketers doesn’t care about growth. They just have different approach and methodology. The reality is that most of growth hackers have an obsessive focus on goal they set for themselves (or client).

After setting this goal, they are able to ignore almost everything around them. This sometimes extreme approach enables them to achieve that one task that matters most in smallest amount of time. This absolute focus on growth is what creates and expands the gap between them and traditional marketers. It is also a catalyst that fuels the rise of a number of methods, tools and best practices created every day, traditional marketing never even dreamed before.

What Are the Characteristics of Growth Hacker?

As said above, growth hacking is a discipline crossing a lot of areas. There are three common characteristic every growth hacker must either has or develop and then nourish. These characteristics are data, creativity and curiosity. Let’s take a look at each of these ingredients that, in the end, create this unusual mindset growth hackers carry.

1. Love for Data

First characteristic of growth hacker is his passion for tracking and analyzing data, or metrics. Data are cornerstone without which growth hacking would not be possible. It is thanks to gathering these data and their analysis growth hacker can find the right strategy to use. Otherwise, he will not be able to do his work. This strong bias towards data drives a growth hacker away from vanity metrics towards more important metrics that will make-or-break the business. For growth hacker, data and metrics are scientifically based stepping stones on the way to growth.

Growth hacker doesn’t use these data just as a reporting mechanism or to quench thirst. He views it and use it as inspiration for creating new theories and rigorous testing to improve the product he works with. This scientific approach to growth is called engineering distribution. This term was created by Jesse Farmer. By his definition, the best growth hackers take a rigorous, empirical approach to growth and distribution. A growth hacker’s focus is on attaining growth through moving specific metrics with iterations and pivots along the way.

These metrics can vary a lot, depending on the product they are working with, from a sign up conversion rate to a viral coefficient. It is this data what inspires creation of new product or services and actionable segmentation of users. In the end, growth hacking is an art and a science.

2. Boundless Creativity

Second characteristic of growth hackers is creativity. While driven by data and moving metrics, growth hackers are also creative problem solvers. Growth hackers are able and also willing to think about new ways to acquire and loop in users. They rarely follow worn practices. Rather than that they are trying to innovate and come up with new approaches and practices. Next, growth hackers do not stop at data. They build the results into new and unknown frontiers to find growth.

Remember that for a growth hacker, data and creativity are not independent. They go hand-in-hand. For those of you who believe in left and right hemisphere theory, this might be a bad news. If you want to be a growth hacker, you have to be good with both sides of your brain. Creativity on its on is not enough. Sure, you’ll be able to come up with new ideas, but without well-developed analytical mindset, you’ll never know how good or bad your ideas are.

It is this mix of creativity and analytical skills that are the defining characteristics of growth hackers. Simply said, you have to be creative to be able to design what’s best for the user, while using data to get an insights and feedback. You can think about growth hackers as unicorns. People who can go end-to-end. This means from designing to building, measuring, analyzing and iterating with a combination of user intuition and deep analytics. Growth hackers have to operate across disciplines involving UI/UX to make their decisions. Thanks to this combination of creative and analytical mindset allows growth hackers to create holistic picture of product.

3. Insatiable Curiosity

The third and last characteristic of growth hacker is curiosity. It is this fascination at why visitors choose to be users and engage and why some products fall flat on their face and fail. With users distracted on almost every step by various triggers and elements, growth hackers are striving to find new ways to move the metrics on the graph up and to the right. As a growth hacker, there is no end, you never stop. You are still experimenting, analyzing and pivoting. One great example can be Facebook. No matter how many users Facebook has, it still has a growth team.

It is this insatiable curiosity and desire to learn that is the foundation of growth hacking and makes the best growth hackers. With this curiosity, growth hackers investigate user behavior, explore the edges of behavioral economics and how Internet works. A good growth hacker will take a look and examine various case studies to find possible growth hacks he can use. This will lead him to a grasp of product and user experience way beyond of what is visible on the surface.

To truly fathom growth hacking mindset, you have to understand that growth hacker doesn’t actually care that growth occurred. Their real desire is to understand what mindset drives users and what is the product flow so they can replicate these methods over and over.

Myths About Growth Hacking

Now you know what is grow hacking, definition of growth hacker and what characteristic he or she needs. Before leaving you, let’s take a look at couple of myths you might hear.

1. Growth Hacking Is a List of Steps

When hearing about growth hacker, people often imagine person that will bring in some secret sauce to help them fire their startup to the moon. With this in mind, growth hacking is frequently viewed a cookbook or list full of steps on how to find and leverage the right strategies and practices you should follow. Unfortunately, these tips and tricks are wrapped in the mind of a growth hackers and are accessible only to them.

The problem with this myth is that it diminishes the hard work and prioritization every successful growth hacker have to undergo. You have to understand that growth hacking is not about opening a book and applying particular trick. The real magic behind every growth hacker is a mindset that focuses on what’s important at the moment. Remember, it is the mindset, not toolset that matters.

2. Growth Hacking Is a Fix for All Problems

Contrary to some beliefs, growth is nothing that happens overnight and growth hacking can’t be applied on every company as one-size-fits-all strategy. Growth is iterative process that takes time. You have to understand that not everything can be made viral. I order to create a successful growth strategy you have persevere through number of failed experiments. Growth hackers are also not interested short-term wins.

Growth hackers are more interested in the assumptions and usage of products. They want to find what patterns are crucial to make the product a game changer. It is somewhat similar to parreto’s principle also known as 20/80 rule. Meaning, growth cannot be something that is tacked on easily. It is important to understand the importance of user retention to growth. The best growth hackers are always asking the deeper questions and on the look for long-run sustainable growth.

If your company is drowning in problems, only by answering these deeper product questions can help you out. You don’t need a growth hacker. Instead, you have to relentlessly focus on moving metrics and making fast iterations. Remember that a good growth strategy is found through testing in the field, not by reading a book or article about it.

3. Growth Hacking Is a Type of Marketing

While there might be some similarity, growth hacking is not the same thing as marketing. The reason is that sustainable growth comes from data-driven and well-executed product strategy, not a marketing strategy. Sure, marketers and growth hackers have common goals and they work together to move metrics towards their goals. However, growth hackers are looking for growth through product utilization and iterations. Remember that long-term growth come from product engagement and its virality.

4. Growth Hacking Is About Coding

This misunderstanding stems probably from the “hacking/hacker” part. Since hackers are often, if not always, mentioned in relation to computer science and technology you may think that ability to code is necessity to be a growth hacker. However, the real meaning of this word is about the attitude of using every tool available to achieve your goals. Hacking is about getting things done quickly and rapid testing, there is nothing about coding. Growth hacker is just using “hacks”, or unusual ways, to move change the metrics.

You may argue that many growth hackers have engineering background. Yes, you are right. However, reason for this correlation is due to the need to apply engineering-like precision to marketing for growth. Nothing else. Remember that hacking is creative disruption and engineering skills and mindset allows growth hackers to apply make better and more precise decisions based on the data they gathered. However, no one is says that you must have Ph. D. in Computer Science.

Final words

What to say to close this? I would try this … Growth hackers are a rare breed. They are unicorns and a very unusual mix of curiosity, creativity and data. Most of them acquired their skills by improvising on the go. Next, I would recommend you read books such as Nudge by Richard H. Thaler, Growth Hacker Marketing by Ryan Holiday and Predictably Irrationality by Dan Ariely. You should also research existing companies to find out what growth hacks they used to get where they are and remember to always try and test the knowledge you get. Now go and hack!

Originally posted on Alex Devero Blog.