Absolute Beginner’s Guide To Growth Hacking For Startups

Mari Luukkainen
Jul 8 · 6 min read

What is Growth Hacking?

Growth hacking is an experiment-driven technique to determine the most effective ways of growing a business.

The process involves a mix of marketing, development, design, engineering, data, and analytics.

The reason why it’s called growth hacking is that a hacker finds a rapid, innovative, and cost-effective method to attain growth instead of following conventional processes.

A growth hacker may use a combination of methods to achieve his goals such as content marketing, viral marketing, email marketing, SEO, A/B testing or reverse engineering.

A formula that growth hackers follow rigorously is: Product + Growth = Impact

History of Growth Hacking

The phrase “growth hacker” was coined by Sean Ellis in 2010.

Sean had helped a number of internet companies achieve incredible growth, and a few of them even had an IPO.

Needless to say, Sean became the guy that the valley went to when they needed to grow their user base, and he would take equity and payment in exchange for his services.

He essentially became a one-man growth shop, setting up systems, processes, and mindsets, that could be maintained after he left.

Eventually, he would hand over the keys to his growth machine to someone else, and he would ride off into the sunset.

This is where the problems started.

While searching for his replacement he would often receive resumes that were legit, but not relevant. They had marketing degrees, and they had marketing experience, but they were still missing something.

Sean knew that the kind of strategies he employed did not represent the typical playbook used by traditional marketers, and if he gave them the reins it would not be a good fit.

A traditional marketer has a very broad focus, and while their skill set is extremely valuable, it is not as necessary early in a startups life.

In the first phase of a startup, you don’t need someone to “build and manage a marketing team” or “manage outside vendors” or even “establish a strategic marketing plan to achieve corporate objectives” or many of the other things that marketers are tasked with doing. Early in a startup, you need one thing. Growth.

A growth hacker is not a replacement for a marketer. A growth hacker is not better than a marketer. A growth hacker is just different than a marketer.

To use the most succinct definition from Sean’s post, “A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth.”

Every decision that a growth hacker makes is informed by growth.

Every strategy, every tactic, and every initiative is attempted in the hopes of growing.

Growth is the sun that a growth hacker revolves around. Of course, traditional marketers care about growth too, but not to the same extent.

Remember, the power of a growth hacker is in their obsessive focus on a singular goal. By ignoring almost everything, they can achieve the one task that matters most early on.

This absolute focus on growth has given rise to a number of methods, tools, and best practices, that simply didn’t exist in the traditional marketing repertoire, and as time passes the chasm between the two discipline deepens.

Foundations for Success

Before you can start growth hacking your business, there are a couple of foundations you need to put in place.

  1. Who Are Your Customers?
  2. What Do They Want?

For a start, it’s essential to look after the product-market fit. In other words, you need to have an awesome product and make sure that it meets your customer’s needs.

To do that, you’ll need to understand your customers. That means knowing:

  • Their age, gender, education, and other demographic data
  • Where other than your website, they go for information
  • What their values are, as well as their goals, challenges, and the pain points your product can solve

What’s the Customer Journey?

But you also need to understand how your customers become customers. That’s called the customer journey, which generally moves from awareness to evaluation to conversion.

And it’s when they’ve decided you offer the best product or service and convert into customers that they become part of the growth hacking funnel.

Is Your Site Assisting Conversions?

The conversion-centered design is another important aspect of hacking your marketing. That means making it easy for visitors to:

  • Find the information needed to take the next step in their interaction with you
  • Have a chance to engage with you
  • See the social proof that establishes your expertise and authority

You’ll also need to identify any bottlenecks stopping visitors from converting.

Set SMART Goals for Growth

Finally, you’ll need to set smart goals before beginning. Smart goals are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

In other words, don’t set impossible goals. Know what you want to achieve and how it contributes to growth. Work out how you’re going to measure it, and set a time limit for achieving it.

Growth Hacking Strategies Every Startup Should Follow

To assist you to outgrow your potential, leverage the following business growth strategies in order to expand your horizons and increase profits sharply.

1. Create a Pre-Launch Email List

For setting up email lists, you should opt for email services like MailChimp as it allows you to push emails effectively. Since communication plays a vital role in conversions, make sure that you reach out to your potential customers at least a week prior to your launch

When it comes to an effective startup growth strategy, email marketing remains king to find both leads and conversions.

Put your focus on building an email list.

It will allow you to reach your audience and deliver your message effectively.

Additionally, email marketing greatly helps businesses to build pre-launch hype for any product or event.

It will also allow you to acquire potential customers even before your launch. But don’t just create a list of email addresses and sit idle. You should take a few weeks to build up the hype and try to make your audience eager for your launch.

2. Make New Brand Partnerships

Any small-medium company can develop an effective collaboration if it finds the right partner to bring value to its brand and vice versa.

Partnerships even work for businesses that operate in very different industries.

A great example is a partnership between Flipboard (a news app) and Airbnb ( a room sharing app) that allows users of one brand to leverage the strengths of the other partner.

In this case, Flipboard offers customized content to Airbnb users who could then make informed decisions when booking residences through Airbnb.

On the flip side, these users create content (in the form of comments and reviews) that Flipboard aggregates for its users.

Many brands have realized the fact that co-marketing and product partnership is an effective growth marketing strategy.

It will not only create a great social media buzz but will also send relevant organic traffic to your website. It is an opportunity for news coverage and will enhance the visibility of your products and services globally.

Some of the most successful partnerships with not-too-shabby ROIs have been those that created new products around a theme.

3. Build a Social Media Community Around Your Brand/Product

Social media is an essential part of the marketing mix for businesses.

You can leverage social media communities to promote yourself, receive market feedback and interact with industry influencers.

It takes time to develop content and build an audience. For this, you must strive to align social media activities with the overall direction of your growth.

One of the best growth hacking strategies of leveraging social media for your business success is creating a Facebook group around your brand where your audience would engage with your brand.

You need to ensure you’re creating value for them through that group.

The chances are fair that those who are not aware of your brand may get to know about it once they get inspired by the content in your group.

Top Growth Hacking Tips That Works

Focus on short meetings and long test periods

If your business is in the growth hacking stage, you’re not a corporation. Don’t act like one.

Keep your sit-down meetings short. Come up with ideas, discuss briefly whether or not they’re terrible, and then implement the ones that aren’t.

And remember, for most growth hacking strategies (unless you, magically, have huge traffic right off the bat) you’re not going to know what’s working and what’s not for at least a few months.

Focus on a few good people before filling positions you think are empty

Nothing wastes a startup’s budget like salary.

If you, your co-founder and your web developing cousin in Wichita can’t get it done, consider contract work or freelancers before hiring a full-timer.

Final Words

While there is no harm in trying out new things (in fact, this is the number one advice from all experts), businesses must focus on deploying tried-and-tested growth strategies.

There is no single hack that resolves all pain points. Henceforth, don’t hesitate to practice with new growth hacking strategies.

icebreakervc

Our fund invests €50–350k in Nordic and Baltic companies at idea, angel and seed stages.

Mari Luukkainen

Written by

A startup growth hacking since 1998 writing about hockey sticks.

icebreakervc

Our fund invests €50–350k in Nordic and Baltic companies at idea, angel and seed stages.

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