Growth Hacking for Dummies

Growth Hacking for Dummies

If you are into startups, you have probably heard about growth hacking already. Although growth hacking is often described as the most effective method to expand your business, when it comes to explaining what it really is, it is hard to find clear answers. So, if you have not figured out what growth hacking is yet, or if you want to deepen your knowledge of this topic, don’t worry!

What is growth hacking?

For starters, the concept of growth hacking is not entirely new. The idea of growth hacking was coined more than ten years ago by the entrepreneur Sean Ellis, who defined the growth hacker as “a person whose true north is growth.” In essence, a growth-hacker is a professional whose main goal is to get as many customers as possible, in the shortest possible time, by spending as little as possible in the process. In short, every startupper’s dream.

At this point, you may be wondering what the difference between growth hacking and an effective marketing campaign is then. Well, although the two concepts indeed coincide, growth hacking is a more comprehensive approach that, among other things, uses marketing campaigns as part of its strategy.

Still confusing, eh? Let’s examine growth hacking more closely.

The design of the product itself incorporates marketing tactics and strategies

The starting point is that the advent of web 2.0 and the spread of social media have been as innovative as they are disruptive. As a result, not just the way that marketing campaigns are conducted is changed, but also the very way in which products are conceived by potential customers.

Consequently, one of the most important aspects of growth hacking is that the design of the product itself incorporates the marketing strategy, but what does that mean, exactly?

Let’s observe one of the facts that characterizes our time: every day a huge number of startuppers wake up with new brilliant ideas for an innovative business, and yet most of these brilliant ideas are doomed to fail. Why? Simply because they concern products that nobody wants or, even worse, because it is too hard to reach the potential customers effectively. However, growth hacking as pointed out by the CEO of, Antonio Rotolo, can be defined as:

“An umbrella term that identifies a mindset, together with its strategies and tactics, aimed to solely achieve growth. Growth hacking makes a broad use of data, rapid experimentation, product design, and product development to determine the most effective way to scale and grow a business.”

True growth hackers, then, are the anomalies that possess all the skills to face the challenge of finding and reaching potential customers. In this, they use constant market research to redesign their products and/or services according to the ever-changing need of potential customers.

A real-world growth hacking example

As some of you may already know, Instagram was not originally born as the social media to share photos and videos that it has become today. Instagram’s first prototype was called Burbn, a location-based app that enabled its users to organize meet-ups in a specific place and sharing pictures of this location with friends.

Burbn gained some success, but at a certain point founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger realized that it was becoming increasingly hard to get new users. After carefully analyzing their data concerning the habits of their customers, Systrom and Krieger discovered that Burnbn was more used for sharing photos than for planning appointments…

So, as the true growth hackers that they are, Systrom and Krieger used this data to redesign their app in a brand-new way: a social media focused on sharing pictures and videos with other users. It turned out as the right choice: in the least time possible, and by spending the least possible in the process, Instagram gained an astonishing growth, and with over 1 billion users it is now one of the most popular social media platforms to date.

The right tools, the right skills, and … the right persons

In growth hacking there is little room for improvisation. Every decision must be based on data, which makes growth hackers, above all, professionals who know what, when, and how to measure. Landing pages, A/B testing and analytics are just some examples of the tools effectively used by growth hackers. It is only by tracking the real habits and behavior of customers, that growth hackers are able to deduce their wishes and offer them the products and/or services of their dreams.

It follows that growth hacking ventures must possess skills in multiple areas, such as data analysis, SEO writing, marketing, programming, etc… Moreover, constant brainstorming and idea validation must be done to check every step’s validity of the way (if you need more tips on how to validate your ideas, click here).

Who should be the growth hacker?

Finally, keep in mind that although many will tell you the true growth hacker of a startup should be its CEO because the CEO is the one who knows the products and/or services best, others, instead, argue that a better option is to hire a growth-hacking expert that possesses all the necessary skills for your venture.

The truth, as is usually the case, is probably somewhere in the middle. Behind every great success, there is not just an outstanding CEO, but also an amazing team of people with diverse competences who are able to work together efficiently and who are able to acknowledge their limits and needs for external expertise.