What Is Growth Hacking?

Every once in awhile a new buzz word will start hitting the business world, and with online marketing and ecommerce now the big thing, it is usually within this genre that the most talked about become known. One suck word that has been making the rounds the past few months is ‘growth hacking’, a process many companies – and even experts – are still in the dark about.

Normally, I try to stay away from anything that looks like it is going to be a fad. This came onto the scene appearing to be in the same ilk as other forgotten schemes, but it has since began to prove itself to have staying power. Most often when this happens it is because it has been shown to be effective, at least in the short term.

If you want more proof that growth hacking isn’t your usual one-trick pony, companies are beginning to jump on board to find growth hackers themselves. While the argument could be made that they are just responding to the idea of snake oil pretending to offer quick growth, I don’t personally think this is the case here. Growth hacking seems to have something real and stable pushing it, and if used the right way I can see it having a lot of potential.

But What Is It?

The term was originally coined by self-professed growth hacker and startup marketing extraordinaire Sean Ellis. Probably the best and most concise definition I have found on the web comes from Aaron Ginn, however. He defines growth hacking as:

“One whose passion and focus is pushing a metric through use of a testable and scalable methodology.”

My own definition would be that it is the process of finding the right trick or ‘hack’ that allows for accelerated and accumulative growth. Used for awhile now by savvy marketers in the background of startups that have become the biggest names on the web, think of it as the first step to achieving growth, but not a process for continued improvement.

How People Do It Wrong

The biggest mistakes you are seeing with companies who use growth hackers fall under the header of unrealistic expectations. They think having someone who is growth driven in their corner is going to launch them into superstar status by using a magic buzz word that holds unlimited power. That might seem like an exaggeration, but the scramble by businesses to hire people on for this method speaks for itself.

Growth hacking is a great launching point. One of my favorite examples of how it worked by was LinkedIn, which found the ‘hack’ of keeping it centered on high end corporate networks instead of trying to give it a more mass appeal within the business world. By inviting only professionals to the site, founder Reid Hoffman managed to push interest to the exclusive minority who would generate enough interest to turn it into the powerhouse it is today.

You will notice that the example above is not a long term one. Growth hacking never is; eventually, you will need to change your strategy in order to take advantage of the changing user base and needs of your brand. Failing to adapt once you have found and exploited your hack will inevitably lead to beating a dead horse.


Growth hacking is demonstrably useful, and not a ‘fad’ in the ways you would suspect. Yes, it is a process that many people are going to drop before they get the full benefit of it. But that falls back into the lack of understanding of what it is meant to do for you in the first place. Those who find their hack and use it to get a burst of initial growth are going to swear by it, for good reason.

What do you think of the popularity of growth hacking? Have you found success yourself using the method? Let us know in the comments.

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