growth hacking digital marketing

How to Growth Hack Your Way to a Billion-Dollar Company

Just over a decade ago, a company’s marketing strategy included brand awareness campaigns, ad buys, and PR plays. These tactics were backed by heavily padded budgets and a “build it and they will come” mentality that left marketers crossing their fingers, hoping that their big campaign would bring new customers.

The traditional model had marketers take huge bets to win, without much data and analytics to mitigate potential losses. As Ryan Holiday states in Growth Hacker Marketing, “The old model makes being wrong incredibly expensive. Who can afford to learn that the product isn’t resonating after they’ve spent months planning a campaign?” No one. That’s the truth.  

Unicorn startups like Linkedin, Instagram, and Airbnb are spearheading new marketing techniques that, in their early days, propelled them to acquire a massive number of users. The double viral loop that made Linkedin a billion-dollar company, for instance, was a genius move. Here’s how it worked:

  • Joe Shmoe, a new user, signed up and was prompted to confirm who he knew.
  • Linkedin intelligently guessed who Joe Shmoe knew based on where he worked and what year he matriculated.
  • Users who got tagged as a contact by Joe Shmoe received an email asking them to confirm the connection request.
  • When the tagged user logged in and confirmed the connection with Joe Shmoe, they too were prompted to tag who they knew. 

And off went the double viral loop! It worked like a charm. Here is Linkedin’s user growth chart from 2009-2016 by quarter. It shows a steady growth curve.

In our tech driven world, marketing strategies now must include budget and resources for A/B testing, viral loops, engineering as marketing solutions, and funnel optimization. The new name of the game is “lean test until it converts.” Marketers are now tasked with developing sustainable customer acquisition strategies instead of being asked to spend a lot of money on splashy ad campaigns. Marketing teams are melding with product development teams to build acquisition strategies into the product. What’s driving this shift? The rise of the growth hacker.


Learn how to growth hack


Officially coined in 2010 by Sean Ellis and Patrick Vlaskovits, growth hacking is a very buzzy term in the marketing sphere. Growth hackers are the new breed of marketer — part engineer, part traditional marketer, and fully data-driven. As Andrew Chen states in his blog post Growth Hacker is the New VP of Marketing: “Growth hackers are a hybrid of marketer and coder, one who looks at the traditional question of ‘How do I get customers for my product?’ and answers with A/B tests, landing pages, viral factor, email deliverability, and Open Graph.’ “


Growth hackers are focused on building sustainable marketing systems that turn each new customer into a referral machine. They cringe at the thought of spending money on a big ad campaign without testing and validation. In fact, growth hackers would rather not spend money on an ad campaign; they are too busy trying to find ways to code solutions that make acquisition an inherent part of a product. If you are growing a company in this economy, you need to embrace this type of thinking, and you need to do it fast.  


While growth hacking may seem like a breath of fresh air in the world of bloated ad budgets, the science behind what works is still being tested. It takes a lot of experimentation and a wealth of data to identify what actually drives results. But when growth hacking is effectively deployed, it can transform the bottom line of a business.


So, how can any company apply the principles of growth hacking to re-energize their marketing efforts? The following questions are an effective way for any team to start re-framing its marketing strategy.

  1. Who are our current and future customers? Where do they interact online? Who are their influencers?
  2. What is motivating our customers? What is the end goal that they are trying to achieve?
  3. What value does our product and service provide? Can we gate some of that value to drive consumers to refer us to their network in exchange for unlocking additional value?
  4. Which platforms are our customers currently using? Can we develop API integrations or custom scripts to automate getting customers from that platform to ours?
  5. What is our conversion journey? How do we improve it and implement virality to drive long-term acquisition?  

Learn how to growth hack 

At the end of the day, growth marketing is a discipline and a skill that will take years to master. But being willing and excited to take on complex, open-ended questions is the first place to start. So expect a lot of failed tests and completed uncharted terrain. That’s what makes this new marketing field so intriguing and appealing.


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