What the heck is Growth Hacking? Hype or True (r)evolution?

Growth hacking is a term filled with hype that has been one of the best tools recently for digital marketer to market themselves. But is growth hacking just a hype or a true evolution?

To answer I think we need to go back to the roots of what growth hacking is. If I mash up a bunch of definitions I read I can come up with something like: “Growth hacking is the combination of product development and marketing. The growth hacker, who is a mix between an engineer, a designer, and a marketer, is obsessed by growth. Growth hacking rely on data to create and distribute a product that people want.”

Something that confuses people the most about growth hacking is the hacking part. It makes it inaccessible to a lot of people and implies that you can cheat the system to grow. It’s partly true but you can’t cheat the system for ever and keep growing, eventually you will get caught on that and fail miserably. Instead, growth hacking is more about putting a process in place, analyzing everything, and then tweaking this process to bet on what has proven to work best, again, again, and again.

The term growth hacking itself has existed for about 5 years but really got a push 3 years ago with Andrew Chen article, “Growth hacker is the new VP of Marketing”. Though if we look closely at the growth process of startups like Facebook or LinkedIn, or way older like Hotmail, we can see that they were already having a growth hacking process.

So growth hacking will be nothing new, even if it’s only after the term got popular that we saw the rise of growth teams at those same companies. They just got rebranded.

Yet, even if I agree that growth hacking didn’t invented something completely new, that growth hackers are not the growth super hero that we can sometimes think about, I still believe that growth hacking is somehow real. And I am not saying that because I am “doing growth hacking” myself.

What truly characterize a growth hacker is its approach. More than being the son of an engineer, with a designer, and a marketer (I let you figure this out by yourself…), which I am not, the growth hacker needs to be able to have a very holistic vision of a product, or startup. Combining this with some serious analytics and a combination of various tools that enables the growth hacker to pretty much do everything, a real growth hacker will be able to implement a sustainable growth process.

There are far too many component to include into the growth of a startup, so I don’t think you can find only one guy (or girl, I know some kick-ass women growth hackers) who has all the skills to operate all the aspects of growth. Though there are definitely very talented people around who are able to set and sustain this vision toward growth. These guys might be the closest of what a growth hacker should look like if there is such a thing.

So yes, there is a lot of hype (probably too much) behind this term. Though I think it is really carrying true evolution. It didn’t create anything new but it is enabling to mainstreamed a process that has proven its effectiveness to develop startups sustainably. So yes, I will continue to use this term for the good I believe it’s carrying (plus it is a really effective marketing method…) until we eventually have a new term that better reflect these notions.