Growth Hacking For Startups 101 - Guide For Beginners
Updated: May 21
Growth hacking is the process of rapid experimentation across marketing channels and product development to identify the most effective, efficient ways to grow a startup business.
Growth hacking isn’t a new concept today. It is gaining traction as more businesses start to see the benefits. Many businesses are trying to grow their customer base but are struggling in finding the right ways to do it.
The problem with most startup businesses is that their marketing and sales strategies are old and outdated. In this ever-changing digital world, if you don’t keep up with the new trends, you will be left behind. Hence, it is important for you to understand what growth hacking is and how you can implement it in your business.
This startup growth hacking guide will teach you everything you need to know about growth hacking and some of the best growth hacking techniques for startups.
Growth Hacking - What exactly it is?
Growth Hacking is a term coined by Sean Ellis and has become a commonly used phrase in startups and online marketing circles. Growth hacking is part of startup marketing these days which uses an experimental data-driven approach to marketing and product development that emphasizes rapid growth and iteration.
The idea of growth hacking is to focus on growing your startup in a way that gets both fast growth and sustainable long-term results. Instead of spending money on traditional marketing methods, the goal of growth hacking is to grow your business with as little money spent as possible.
What is a Growth Hacker?
A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential impact on scalable growth. Growth hackers are marketers, engineers, and product managers that specifically focus on growth. They look at the strategic marketing problems of a startup and how they can use creative marketing techniques to scale up user acquisition.
Growth hackers will often look at unconventional strategies to increase sales and lead for their products. They will also use technology to scale up their efforts. Growth hackers focus on low-cost alternatives to traditional marketing, e.g. utilizing social media and viral marketing rather than buying advertising through more traditional media such as radio, newspaper, and television
Growth hackers are people who use marketing, technology, and data to grow a business. Their focus is on results, not the specific channels or tactics they use. A growth hacker is not necessarily a marketer. Instead, they might be a designer, engineer, product manager, or any other professional who has the ability to support growth.
Growth Hacking vs Digital Marketing: What's the Difference?
Growth Hacking and Digital Marketing are similar in many ways. Both approaches are ultimately about building sustainable, profitable customer bases for businesses, but they take very different paths to get there.
The main differences between growth hacking and digital marketing are the focus of each – growth hacking is all about experimentation, short-term wins, and scaling, whereas digital marketing normally focuses on longer-term ROI, building a brand, and leveraging traffic.
Growth hackers tend to be very analytical. They use data to determine what's working and what isn't and they'll put a lot of their efforts into testing new ideas and approaches - often on small scale tests before rolling out wider.
Growth hacking tends to be more focused on achieving short-term goals (usually in terms of increasing growth rates) rather than on long-term goals.
Digital marketing, on the other hand, is more about long-term brand building and creating a loyal customer base. Digital marketers will usually focus on an established set of channels and tactics (such as SEO or paid advertising), and look for ways to increase the effectiveness of these over time.
When Growth Hacking and Digital Marketing are done right, the two should go hand in hand. The secret to success is having a clear strategy that you can follow — with lots of room for experiment, but also a clear end goal to work towards.
Growth Hacking Framework
A growth hacking framework consists of four main components. They are:
Understand your goals and objectives
Understand what it is that you want to achieve through growth hacking. What is the end result that you’re looking for? This is the most important step because if you don’t know what you want, how will you get there?
Brainstorm ideas and prioritize it
When you have an idea about your objective, then start brainstorming ideas on how to achieve your goal. You’ll be surprised; the ideas will flow in from all directions. Some of these ideas will be great, some good and some won’t be feasible at all. That’s okay. After this brainstorming process, prioritize your ideas based on a few parameters such as the effort required, the time required, and the expected outcome/results/impact.
Test and implement the ideas
Once you have prioritized your idea list, implement them one by one in their order of priority. The important thing to remember here is that testing is essential when growth hacking. Every idea needs to be tested before it can be implemented completely so that you know whether it works or not.
Analyze results and measure performance
After testing your growth hacking ideas, analyze the results from each idea implemented and measure its performance as per the business goals and objectives.
Every startup aims to have a positive growth rate. In other words, they want to acquire more users over time. But it's not good enough to simply acquire customers at any cost. Instead, you should acquire them in a way that will generate revenue and let you reinvest that revenue back into acquiring more customers.
There are four stages of the growth funnel, which we’ll discuss in detail below:
The first stage of the growth funnel is acquisition. This is when you get visitors to your website or app for the first time. You use a variety of marketing channels to do this, such as paid search, organic search engine optimization, social media, referral traffic, display advertising, and email marketing.
At the activation stage, users take their first steps through your website or app. For example, if you're a retail store that sells fashion online, users might browse a few products or put items in their shopping cart for the first time. How do you convert that user into customers? In other words, how do you get them to sign up, pay or otherwise provide value?
In most cases, companies don't make revenue until their customers have been activated. The revenue stage is when people make their first purchase or complete another goal you've set for your business.
Retention is when customers become loyal and continue to engage with your brand over time. This is one of the most challenging stages because it requires a high level of engagement to encourage repeat purchases from consumers. How do you make sure your customers stick around and buy again? If your retention rate isn't high enough, then even if you're acquiring new customers or getting repeat purchases from existing ones, it won't be enough to sustain positive growth.
The final stage of the funnel is referral — when current customers tell their friends about your product or service and bring them into the funnel for new customers. Referral programs can create exponential growth if done right.
Popular Growth Hacking Strategies
Let's take a look at some of the most popular growth hacking strategies.
Pre-launch marketing in Product Hunt
Creating a buzz before an official launch is one of the best ways to build momentum for your product launch. Product Hunt is a great place to introduce your product to the market and get feedback from potential users and increase visibility through social media.
Offering incentives for people to refer others is one of the most cost-effective ways to promote your business. For example, Dropbox offers 500 MB of extra storage space for every referral who signs up for their service.
Offer a free tool
Free tools can be a great way to attract users who might not be interested in paying customers initially. Free tools also provide an effective channel for generating leads, fostering brand awareness, and creating an impression on your target audience.
Provide free trials or freemium with basic features
A growth hacker's goal is to spread the word and gain more users. A great way to do this is by providing a free trial or freemium service. Evernote has been doing this for years giving users the option of free basic features or upgrading to premium features for a fee. This method gives users a chance to test and see if they like the product, then if they do, chances are they will get hooked and want more. This is also a great way for potential customers to see how your product can help them.
One of the most popular growth hacking strategies used today is making new brand partnerships with similar companies that have complementary products to yours. This can help you target a new market if you don’t have one already.
Collaborate with influential bloggers
If you have a new product or service with an interesting story behind it and you’d like to get the word out, then one of the best growth hacking strategies you can use is to reach out to influential bloggers. Reach out to them who write about your industry and let them know about your product or service. Chances are they will try it out and let their readers know what they think. If they like it, they may even do a full review.
Reward loyal customers
When you reward the right people, it creates a positive feedback loop for your growth hacking strategy. Here are some ways that you can reward your loyal customer base: Offer discounts on future orders, Offer store credit or points toward future purchases, Offer upgrades on current products or services, and Offer exclusive offers and promotions.
Collect reviews and testimonials
It's a great way to build your credibility and increase the sale of a product. This is because when people are unaware of your product, they rely on others' experiences to help them decide if it's worth trying. It's easy to ask for a review or a testimonial from someone who has had a positive experience with your product. Include the review on your site, or even better, a video testimonial. If you have an app, include ratings and reviews in the Google Play or Apple Store.
Popular Growth Marketing Tools
Here are some of the most popular and effective growth marketing tools available today:
This lead generation tool is a great way to increase your audience by converting visitors into subscribers and customers. It allows you to create and display eye-catching popups, floating bars, slide-ins, and other types of forms.
SurveyMonkey is one of the most basic customer feedback tools on the market, but it’s also one of the most popular. This is because it allows you to collect and analyze data based on simple questions and answers. If you want to know more about your customers and prospects, start with SurveyMonkey.
Sometimes you need a little insight into how your users are interacting with your site. Hotjar allows you to see exactly where visitors click, scroll and click on your site. This information can inform your content marketing efforts, allowing you to focus on the most useful (and engaging) resources for your audience.
Unbounce is a tool used to create landing pages and other types of web pages quickly, without having to write code or rely on your IT department. It also has many advanced features designed to increase conversions. Its drag-and-drop interface makes it easy to build pages quickly and its A/B testing features let you optimize them for better performance.
Zapier allows you to automate your workflows with more than 1,000 integrations between a variety of apps and platforms. For example, you can set up an automated email campaign every time new signup enters your database or automatically pull new leads into your CRM after they've filled out a form on your website.
Drift helps you move prospects through the buyer journey by allowing them to interact with your brand in real-time. The platform provides easy integration with CRMs so that businesses can provide personalized responses to their prospects based on what they know about those individuals.
Optimizely is an incredibly popular A/B testing tool. Optimizely offers an easy-to-use drag and drop editor so you can test different variations of your landing page, e-commerce checkout process, or app onboarding experience without needing to write a single line of code.
Buzzsumo helps you find the most shared content in any niche. Buzzsumo also allows you to filter by domain, author, or content type (articles, infographics, guest posts, etc.). This is useful because you can find the most popular content from your competitor's site and share it on social media — to tap into the audience that has already shown interest in that topic.
Google Analytics is an essential tool for any growth marketer because it's the best way to understand who your audience is and how they find your website. You can use it to track visitors, page views, bounce rates, and more — all of which can give you some insight into how visitors react to your site.
Ahrefs offers comprehensive tools for analyzing your audience and traffic data. It also lets you conduct keyword research and offers a variety of SEO tools. If you’re looking for a one-stop-shop for all things related to website analytics and optimization, Ahrefs is a great option.
Kissmetrics is another analytics platform, but it's focused on tracking individual users as they perform actions on, or interact with, your site. You can see all of their activities in one place; then run reports based on what they've done. This tool isn't free, but it's worth the investment if you're looking for a more comprehensive view of customer behavior and how your marketing efforts impact them.
Buffer is well-known as a social media scheduling tool, but did you know it offers so much more? You can also use Buffer to analyze virtually every aspect of your social media strategies. See which posts performed best across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other top networks.
Mailchimp is one of the most popular email marketing tools on the market, with more than 10 million users worldwide. Its free tier is extremely generous; anyone can send up to 12,000 emails per month for no charge at all.
If you're spending a lot of time searching for the right image to use in your content, you're probably wasting time that could be better spent elsewhere. Unsplash is an awesome resource that offers a plethora of high-quality images, all free from copyright restrictions. Use these photos as backgrounds for blog posts, social media updates, and more.
Proven Growth Hacking Examples
Here are some of the popular and proven growth hacking examples:
Airbnb’s Growth Hacking
When it comes to growth hacking, Airbnb has one of the best-known success stories. They grew by using multiple channels and methods that have been examined in detail throughout the growth hacking community.
To get bookings, Airbnb needed to get listings. To get listings, Airbnb needed to convince homeowners that their platform was going to be safe and the guests were going to be respectful. So they leveraged Craigslist, the best place for apartment listings, by cross-posting their listings there. Rather than spending money to attract new users, they decided to make it easier for Craigslist users to list their rentals on Airbnb. They did this by creating a simple integration that automatically uploaded listings from Craigslist onto Airbnb — no additional work required. This approach proved effective: It resulted in a great increase in listings on Airbnb with very little effort.
They also looked specifically at ways to improve early experiences. If you can get new users to have a good early experience on your platform, they're much more likely to come back.
Dropbox’s Growth Hacking
Before Dropbox launched, it needed a way to get its product in the hands of users. They decided to focus on the user experience and the viral aspect of their product. They created a video that showed how easy it was for people to use Dropbox, especially for sharing files. The video got some buzz on major social media channels.
They also needed to find a way to get people to use their product as soon as it was ready for launch. So they decided to leverage the power of social media and created an incentive for users to share Dropbox on social media.
The key here is not what the reward is, but that it's immediate. Getting something instantly is always better than waiting for something later.
And by offering something as simple as extra storage space, they did several things at once: they got users talking about them on social media, they increased their conversion rates when users shared Dropbox with their friends, and they increased their sign-up rates since people were willing to wait in line for more storage space.
Hotmail’s Growth Hacking
One secret to Hotmail's early success was this growth hacking strategy: Hotmail added a signature line at the bottom of each email inviting recipients to get a free account. The signature included an advertisement that read “P.S. I love you. Get your free email at Hotmail.” along with a link to the sign-up page. This tactic led to millions of new customers signing up and using the service within months and also led to other companies adopting this strategy.
Netflix’s Growth Hacking
Netflix has become a household name by transforming the way we watch TV. But how exactly did they manage to do it? Here's a look at Netflix's growth hacking strategies.
One of the biggest steps in Netflix’s growth was acquiring and streaming popular TV shows from other networks. It's not enough to just be a content distributor. Netflix had to create its own content if it wanted to become an industry leader — and that meant investing in talent. The company has spent billions on original content over the years, including many big-budget productions.
Slack’s Growth Hacking
Slack's growth hacking story goes deeper than their product, they focused on building a product that addressed user pain points and gaps in the market space. They knew that they wanted to build something that would be easy to use and integrate seamlessly with other platforms. They also wanted it to be affordable.
Slack opted for a freemium model because the company believed it would help them get more users. They created a free version of their product that had limited features while offering an enterprise version with unlimited capabilities at a monthly fee.
The freemium model worked well for Slack because it helped them get more users through word-of-mouth growth. Their customers were so satisfied with the free version of Slack that it wasn't hard for them to convince their colleagues and friends to sign up too.
What is growth hacking for startups?
Growth hacking is a marketing technique for startups that use creativity, analytical thinking, and social metrics to sell products and gain exposure. The goal of growth hacking is to build up the user base for a business with little money. Growth hacking is data-driven and focuses on user acquisition, revenue generation, and retention. Thus, it gives a startup the opportunity to grow its customer base in an exponential way.
Where can I learn growth hacking?
There are hundreds of books, articles, and resources you can use to learn growth hacking. Here are some that we think are good:
What is growth hacking? - Quora
r/GrowthHacking - Reddit
Growth Hacking Foundations - LinkedIn Learning
What skills does a growth hacker have?
Growth hackers have a unique array of skills. They have strong analytics skills to track exactly where and how their marketing efforts are working; they know how to build and maintain relationships with influencers, and they have a deep understanding of the product or service they're marketing. A good growth hacker is creative when it comes to reaching customers. They’re always trying new strategies and tactics so they can find new channels for your business or ways to tweak old ones.