Growth hacking is one of those terms that has been around for a few years (four to be exact), but is still widely misunderstood. Growth hacking is an excellent way to propel your startup forward or get creative as an entrepreneur, but in order to really make it work you have to be organized and ready to create a plan of action. This means understanding how exactly growth hacking works, the benefits and a few best practices, and most importantly, how it differs from marketing in general.

It’s a big topic that may take some experimenting on your part, but it can be well worth it in the end. Many social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and more along with companies such as Evernote, KISSmetrics, and Qualaroo all used growth hacking, so it’s safe to assume that this may be one of the top strategies for entrepreneurs in the coming years.

What is Growth Hacking?

To understand growth hacking it helps to first think about someone, for the purposes of this article and entrepreneur, who is a growth hacker. This is someone who focuses on the growth of a business through several different non-traditional approaches, which often turn into “hacking” an already existing approach. In other words, growth hackers are focuses on the end goal and not necessarily the process it takes to get there. Growth hacking is about doing whatever you can in whatever way you can to reach your goal. In all instances, this isn’t by following a traditional marketing approach.

Growth Hacking Examples

The best way to understand growth hacking is to think about some of the most successful companies who have used growth hacking and how they did it. Consider some of the following examples:

This is probably the best example of growth hacking. The company prepared their offer form to be copied easily from a Craigslist form. Because Craigslist doesn’t have an API, the developers could use reverse engineering to automate the process. In other words, the used Craigslist listings and then solicited the people who posted on Craigslist to place their ads on Airbnb. It was sneaky, but it was legal and it worked.

  • PayPal.

PayPal has eBay to thank for their growth hacking success. EBay started allowing sellers to list what forms of payment they preferred, and many were listing PayPal despite the fact that eBay didn’t have a PayPal default option available. PayPal then took this and ran with it by working out a deal to include the PayPal logo on the listings that accepted PayPal as a form of payment. This then put the PayPal logo right next to major credit card companies like Visa, which helped give the company more visibility. In other words, PayPal figured out a way to drive growth by piggybacking off of the success of another company. Since then eBay acquired PayPal for $15.5 billion and it’s now the only logo shown on eBay listings.

  • Twitter.

To throw a big name into the mix, Twitter gained success through growth hacking. The company realized that they had a large initial sign up rate, but people didn’t stick with the network. People would share the network with their friends, spend a few days connecting and checking things out, and then they would leave. Instead of going through with traditional marketing efforts (special offers, etc.), they tested user experience and the interface. They figured out which users were using the product longer and why, and this insight helped them change their product/ interface entirely to fit the needs of the people who were using the network for a considerable amount of time. Things changed, but it worked.

The Takeaway

As you can see, many of these startups grew their popularity from zero to millions without any form of traditional marketing (some would say without any marketing at all). Mattan Griffel, Partner at GrowHack, also made a good point on a Quora thread when he said, “There are lots of non-marketing decisions that affect user growth […]. As a result, it doesn’t make sense to place growth hacking within a particular department like marketing or engineering. Instead, it ends up being a cross-functional role.”

There are many, many more examples of successful growth hacking. See an even bigger list of examples here along with more detailed information about how the hacks worked.

Growth Hacking Best Practices

The whole methodology behind growth hacking is creativity, so it’s tough to give any ideas about how to get started with growth hacking. Two major things that could be considered growth hack ideas or a good place to start, however, include:

  • Finding a way to get initial users to grow your user-base for you. You should make sharing something important to your company at its core because being viral and shareable matters.
  • Improve your product/ project as opposed to just pitching something harder. Listen to your audience and change your product if necessary.

The best thing to remember is that your goal is more important than the process. Looking at examples of popular growth hacks can help you think of something that might be right for your company.

So How Does Growth Hacking Differ From Marketing?

As discussed above, marketing is about following a set of processes to complete a goal. It’s all about the journey to get somewhere, whereas growth hacking uses a completely random set of processes, many of which are completely different than your traditional marketing methods. Ultimately, growth hacking can be successful if done right. It’s definitely a newer idea and something that takes a lot of creativity, but if it seems right for your business it might be something to consider in the future.

It’s a complicated idea to wrap your head around at first, so I recommend visiting this infographic from QuickSprout for more in-depth information. If you need some more insight or have any questions, you can also send us a message on our Google+ page. In the meantime, what do you think about growth hacking versus marketing? Do you have any experience with growth hacking or know of any great examples? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.