Growth Hacking: Examples, Tools, and What it Really Means to be a Growth Hacker

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The term growth hacking, and the community driving its widespread adoption, have made way for a fundamental shift in the way we think about scaling businesses today.

[bctt tweet="Growth Hacking: Examples, Tools, and What #GrowthHacking Really Means— @WernerGeyser" username="StartupInst"]

growth hacking jobs
growth hacking jobs

Where in the past, marketing and sales were the only teams taking ownership of growth, the focus has now shifted. It’s become clear that real, sustainable growth requires input from all teams, and that the scope of marketing needs to stretch further than just acquisition. The growth movement has taught us the importance of sticking to solid processes, data driven strategy and relentless experimentation. We’ve decided to take a deep dive into the world of growth hacking to see how it’s developed over the past six years—from traditional marketers rebranding themselves as "growth hackers" to data-driven startup marketers using a lean growth model to run more effective tests and push through the boundaries of convention.

A growth hacker is someone who has thrown out the playbook of traditional marketing and replaced it with only what is testable, trackable, and scalable. Their tools are emails, pay-per-click ads, blogs, and platform APIs instead of commercials, publicity, and money.

—Ryan Holiday

[bctt tweet="#GrowthHackers replace the traditional marketing playbook w/ what is testable, trackable + scalable" username="StartupInst"]

With over 236 growth hacking courses listed on Udemy, and a Google Trend chart that shows a massive upswing in the number of searches for the term growth hacking, there’s clearly a lot of interest around what growth hacking is and how it’s done.

growth hacking Google search trends
growth hacking Google search trends

But to many looking in from the outside, it still seems like a black box of tactics that magically result in exponential business growth. In reality, growth hacking is something completely different.


While the term may have been around since 2010, and gained serious momentum over the years, there’s yet to be one universally agreed upon definition for what growth hacking actually is.

Back in 2010, when Sean Ellis first coined the term, and later when Andrew Chen wrote the post that shook up most of the marketing world, early growth hacking was focused around a cunning combination of product, engineering, and persuasive marketing to offset massive oftentimes viral growth.

Sean set a clear tone for what growth hacking would soon become in his definitive post saying:

A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential impact on scalable growth.

In his mind growth hacking was less about a certain set of skills or activities and more about a growth attitude and mindset. With that solid foundation, growth hacking as we know it today has developed into a process of rapid testing and experimentation to identify and optimize channels that have a positive CAC to CLV ratio—channels that allow us to acquire new customers at a lower cost than the margin of profit we expect to make from them over the years.

While the term was initially welcomed by many performance-driven marketers looking to differentiate themselves from traditional marketers, growth hacking also got its fair share of pushback from those who never quite got it. The majority of whom were saying growth hacking was just another buzzword for marketing.


Here’s how Brian Balfour, VP of Growth at HubSpot, compares traditional marketing with growth.

what is the difference between growth hacking and marketing?
what is the difference between growth hacking and marketing?

The above diagram shows a clear distinction in the scope and range of a marketer in contrast to someone in growth. And it clearly dictates the need for deeper and more thorough involvement from all teams in order to grow a business.

The problem for many at this stage is that few business owners are ready and willing to get their marketing team involved in the direction of the product or give them access to engineering resources. And few traditional marketers have the cross-disciplinary skills to hold themselves accountable for the growth of the business.

But these may, in many cases, just be the sort of growing pains that come with rapidly evolving technology, easier access to quality data, and the ability to get more done in less time using fewer resources.


Sean Ellis founded and remains one of the most vocal and involved members of, host to more than 41,000 posts and 4,050 targeted growth hacking-related questions alone. the largest community of growth hackers the largest community of growth hackers has quickly become the go-to forum for all things growth hacking and is continually exploring every aspect of growth, from strategy to tactics, in an effort to help marketers and startup owners across the globe share what they’ve learnt and learn from others.

The GH community has shifted the benchmarks for what’s possible in terms of explosive growth, to the extent that startup owners now expect a whole lot more from their marketing teams, and are more willing than ever to get the entire company involved in the growth process.

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demand for growth hackers
demand for growth hackers

Over 72 Growth Hacking Agencies have sprung up worldwide while more than 341 companies are staffing up internal growth teams. A simple LinkedIn job title search shows 2491 growth hacker titles while Angelist has 3,382 individuals listing growth hacking as a skill set.

growth hacker jobs on LinkedIn
growth hacker jobs on LinkedIn


As the tech capital of the world, Silicon Valley is still streaks ahead in terms of interest in growth hacking and number of professionals calling themselves growth hackers. This is likely a result of the sheer volume of early-stage startups getting funded, and in turn pressured by investors to scale quickly.

the rise of growth hacking
the rise of growth hacking

But beyond San Francisco, and across companies that have already scaled past "startup" status, growth hackers have become more sought after for their unique offering. Growth hackers nowadays are getting together more and more at Meetups and conferences to share experiments they’ve tried and lessons they’ve learned in field.


Growth hacking meetup
Growth hacking meetup

And with almost 300 active growth hacking-related Meetups across the world, we can see that growth hackers are now more keen than ever to find like-minded professionals to teach and learn from.


profile of a growth hacker
profile of a growth hacker

For the most part, growth hackers have a "T-shaped" set of growth related skills—meaning a strong cross-disciplinary competence, with a deep expertise in one or two disciplines. This gives them the ability to confidently run minimum viable tests across a number of channels and platforms to see which gain the most traction, after which point they push further into what’s working to optimize for maximum value.

growth hacking skill sets
growth hacking skill sets

Growth hackers may not even necessarily be marketers, they may have more experience in engineering, design, or sales and business development.

Regardless they all share these similar attitudes towards their work:

  • Performance and results-oriented
  • Able to step into the mind of users
  • Curious and inquisitive
  • Passionate about learning
  • Relentless in their pursuit of growth
  • Excited by data, numbers and feedback

Three questions you’ll find growth hackers constantly asking are:

  • Is this a data-backed assumption?
  • How can we test it?
  • How will it impact growth?

[bctt tweet="#GrowthHackers are constantly asking: Is this data-backed? Can we test it? Will it impact growth?" username="StartupInst"]


Outside of mindset, growth hacking is very much a process-driven exercise. And because many growth hackers play in the startup space, it usually begins with doing things that don’t scale, the title of Paul Graham’s epic essay on the initial hustle of gaining early-stage customers. From there it’s all about finding product market fit, running surveys and customer development type interviews to identify the product’s must-have experience to get leads there quicker. And lastly, scaling using a rapid experimentation framework.

Sean Ellis presented the above process in a powerful talk called Scaling Authentic Growth at SaaSfest 2015. The first few stages, as mentioned above, should be built and managed based on the specifics of a company, culture, market and resources, so there’s no right way of going about this sort of research. But when it comes to scale, Brian Balfour’s growth hacking framework is becoming the standard used by top teams to generate sustainable results. have even gone as far as creating projects to help manage this exact process.

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Paypal’s Friend Referral Bounty By paying $10 cash to each new customer and $10 to the customer who referred them, Paypal was able to hack early growth to tens of millions of users before no longer offering the bonus.

Hotmail Tagline In Hotmail whenever a user would email another user, the email would have a message saying something similar to “This email sent with Hotmail, Join Hotmail now” and “Get your free email at Hotmail.”

Airbnb’s Craigslist Integration By reverse-engineering the Craigslist posting process and automating it to the point where it became dead simple to cross-post your Airbnb listing to CRaigslist, Airbnb was able to hack early growth to 10′s of millions of users.

Mailbox Wait List By creating an incredibly compelling launch video combined with a very cool interface that showed users how many other users were in front of them on the app’s waiting list, mailbox created a large amount of social chatter and blog attention. Within six weeks, Mailbox had a million users signed up and eagerly waiting for the service.

Dropbox Incentivized Referral Program Roughly based off of Paypal’s invite system, Dropbox allows users to invite their friends for more space. This worked to help Dropbox grow from 100,000 users to 4,000,000 in under two years.

Twitter’s Suggested Followers On-Boarding Once Twitter found that users who followed more than 30 people were most likely to become active. They optimized the user experience to encourage this behavior.

Instagram Cross-Posting By deciding to play nice with other services like Twitter and Facebook, Instagram was able to leverage the distribution of some very large existing platforms to help accelerate the growth of its service in the early days.

Pinterest Auto-Follow Upon signing up for Pinterest, you are automatically following a select group of high quality users. This, in turn, helps alleviate the cold-start problem, where you have to go looking around the site to find boards and people to follow. Instead they present a sampling of high quality content immediately filling your feed.

YouTube’s Liberal Interpretation of DMCA YouTube tried many tactics to gain differentiation over it’s competitors. In the end, YouTube’s growth hack was the only metric that mattered, conversion of viral buzz into users. Content/SEO Strategy Mint focused on building out a unique personal finance blog, very content-rich, that spoke to a young professional crowd that we felt was being neglected. Eventually the blog became #1 in personal finance, and drove traffic to the app. The infographics and popular articles became regular hits on Digg, Reddit, etc.

examples of growth hacking
examples of growth hacking


As the community gets bigger, more growth hackers are looking to establish a name for themselves and prove that they have what it takes to create authentic, sustainable growth. But there are a few members of the community who’ve been doing growth for the longest and have a proven track record. Many of whom continue to put out powerful content and commentary that drives the growth movement forward. Here’s a list of 15 of the best.

  1. Sean Ellis (@SeanEllis)
  2. Brian Balfour (@bbalfour)
  3. Andy Johns (@ibringtraffic)
  4. Morgan Brown (@morganb)
  5. Casey Armstrong (@CaseyA)
  6. Nichole Elizabeth (@NikkiElizDemere)
  7. Lincoln Murphy (@lincolnmurphy)
  8. Andrew Chen (@andrewchen)
  9. Iris Shoor (@IrisShoor)
  10. Matthew Barby (@matthewbarby)
  11. Lars Lofgren (@LarsLofgren)
  12. Mattan Griffel (@mattangriffel)
  13. Noah Kagan (@noahkagan)
  14. Dan Martell (@danmartell)
  15. Hiten Shah (@hnshah)


Each of these books tackles a different element of growth:

Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days

Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products

The Growth Hacker’s Guide to the Galaxy: 100 Proven Growth Hacks for the Digital Marketer

Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth

Lean Analytics: Use Data to Build a Better Startup Faster

Contagious: Why Things Catch On

Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing, and Advertising


[bctt tweet="Tools for #growthhackers to use to stay ahead of the game, via @WernerGeyser" username="StartupInst"]

Event-Driven Email: Autosend sends event-based emails, sms, and push messages to web and mobile app users. With Autosend, you can quickly setup and send automated messages that users will get when they hit certain goals and events in your web or native mobile app

Content Planning and Social Nature of Content: BuzzSumo is a content discovery, content curation & influencer marketing platform for agencies, brands & publishers.

Web-Based CRM Software And Contact ManagementContactually is a surprisingly fresh take on CRM solutions. While many CRM producers assume that you have at least some pre-existing knowledge about using web-hosted dashboards, Contactually walks you through just about everything it can do, all with an upbeat attitude.

Web Analytics In Real TimeClicky offers real-time web analytics with a large dashboard, but what sets Clicky apart is it’s customizable campaign and goals tracking. Users can track the visitors, CTRs, and conversions on their landing and user pages and see what’s working and what isn’t. For the visual thinkers, Big Screen publicly highlights key metrics in one place, designed for large screens.

A/B Testing Tool And Split Testing SoftwareVWO is one of the easiest A/B Testing tools, with the ability to easily change headlines, buttons, images or any other elements to create multiple variations of your website to test. You can track revenue, signups, clicks and other conversion goals and get real statistical data and results.

Automate The WebZapier enables you to automate tasks between other online apps (like Salesforce, Basecamp and Gmail). This helps you use complementary apps side-by-side! With Zapier there is no more waiting for app developers to build integrations. No more expensive freelance programmers. No more unreliable interns. No more lengthy deployment times.

Professional PR, Made Easy: Track your PR efforts. Publish (social)media friendly online press releases in minutes. It is easy, and optimised for effective distribution.

Make Your Own Website QuicklyStrikingly is the best website builder for anyone to build a gorgeous, mobile-friendly website easily. Quick, simple and stylish.

A/B Testing SoftwareA/B testing (also known as split testing or bucket testing) is a method of comparing two versions of a webpage or app against each other to determine which one performs better. AB testing uses data & statistics to validate new design changes and improve your conversion rates.

YouTube Video Influence MarketingFameBit is a self-service marketplace that connects Brands to YouTube influencers. Making it super easy for Brands and marketers to find, hire, and work with influential YouTube content creators for product and service endorsements.

Get More Clicks With Notification BarThe Hello Bar is a simple and unobtrusive web toolbar that sits across the top of a website. It allows you to grab your user’s attention and direct them to a call to action. It can be used to promote blog posts, tweets, breaking news, job postings, product specials or anything else that you would like to call attention to.

Behavior Insight Surveys For Smarter A/B TestingQualaroo makes it easy to survey specific groups of website visitors to gain qualitative information. Get a clear picture of who your customers are, and what they’re looking for on your site.

Mobile Growth PlatformYozio helps mobile growth, marketing, and product teams crack the code on organic mobile growth. The Yozio Mobile Growth Platform combines powerful app measurement, deep linking, optimization, and personalization tools to help businesses drive massive increases in mobile user acquisition and conversions at a fraction of the cost of paid acquisition channels.

Customer Development was designed and developed by the KISSmetrics team. KISSmetrics is a customer development platform with sufficient flexibility to give you visibility into what’s working and what’s not in your product. The tools and technology help you measure what’s happening and tune the user experience.

Social Intelligence Software For Marketing & SalesSocial media marketing & intelligence software includes tools for creating, managing, posting, sharing and promoting content to multiple social media sites from a centralized hub. These tools often feature the ability to monitor many sites at once, and to be able to create a consistent look and organizational feel across all social networks.

Gather Feedback From Your CustomersDelighted uses the Net Promoter System® to gather real feedback from your customers – in minutes not weeks. No technical knowledge required.

Competitor Research Tool For AdsSEMrush is a powerful and versatile competitive intelligence suite for online marketing, from SEO and PPC to social media and video advertising research.

Search Engine For Online Display AdsOnline advertising, also called online marketing or Internet advertising or web advertising, is a form of marketing and advertising which uses the Internet to deliver promotional marketing messages to consumers.

Online Proofing Software ToolsProofHQ is an online proofing tool used by the top brands and agencies worldwide. It streamlines the review and approval of content and creative assets so that marketing projects are completed faster and with less effort.

Collect & Analyze User Feedback With Surveys:Verify is the easiest way to collect data and analyze user feedback with design surveys. Verify lets you quickly upload any screenshot or image to father user feedback on your designs.

Tools For Paid Social Media Marketing Campaigns: Optimize your Facebook marketing and save time with a powerful and affordable tool. Ad scheduling and rotation, bid rules, conversion tracking.

Phone Call Analytics For PPC, SEO & Offline: Call tracking, recording, and analytics. Optimize your marketing and increase ROI with call tracking. Metrics for PPC, SEO, and offline ad campaigns.

Conversion And Click Fraud Monitoring: Track your ads with Improvely and you also have our monitoring systems inspecting every click for signs of suspicious activity. Get alerted to potential click fraud instantly, with all the tools you need to take action and protect your advertising budget.

Email Analytics For GmailGoogle Analytics is often used for tracking visits to web pages and mobile apps but the same analytics service can also be used for tracking your outgoing email messages in Gmail. You can add the Google Analytics tracking code to your Gmail messages and you’ll instantly know if your email message has been seen or opened by the recipient.

Create Polls On Your IPhoneThree Cents is an iPhone application that allows users to quickly create polls and gather opinions from anyone.

Setup Web Analytics & Events Without Dev TeamPush data to your analytics, with zero coding. Collect and send customer data from your website to your analytics tools – without needing a developer.

A Better Way To Read And Respond To Email: The Email Game is a better way to read and respond to email. Timers help you stay focused, moving through your messages, acting decisively. Points and positive feedback raise your energy level, making sure you stay motivated and productive. Compete with your friends to see who can be the champion of the inbox!

Dynamic Email SignaturesWiseStamp enables you to share your social profiles and promote information you care about in every email you send.

Optimize Your App’s Pricing For Better GrowthPrice Intelligently offers a simple service: through data and algorithms it helps companies price their software products more soundly, with an emphasis on profit maximization. This seems like something all companies should have been doing for a while, but I guess that’s not the case.

Follow Up Faster & EasierPolitePersistence is a hustling method and mindset that levels the competitive playing field and often gives you the unfair advantage in business.

Share Content. Drive TrafficSniply is fantastic to highlight great content on the web and point people back to relevant content on your site. You simply “Snip” the URL, with either their browser extension or their web app. Sniply creates a call to action button to show up directly on whatever content you’re sharing!

Instant Opinions For Your Web Sites & Apps: Polar is designed to fit your site — no matter where it’s seen. On mobile, desktop, and beyond we provide your audience with a simple, instant way to tell you what they think. Check out how Polar runs on different devices.

Get Data From Pages, Into SpreadsheetsScraper by is a tool for scraping data out of HTML web pages and into spreadsheets like Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel. With Data Miner you can extract data from tables and lists and easily import them into a Microsoft Excel or CSV formatted file.

Detect Web Apps & Libraries Run On A Website: This extension will help web developer to inspect web framework / CMS and javascript library running on current browsing website. An icon will appear on address bar indicates the detected framework. Version detecting is being implemented.

ResponseSource Journalist Enquiry ServiceResponseSource is an essential tool for journalists and the PR community to allow the effective sharing of up-to-date expert insights for news and features.

Find Journalists On Social Media: Use Muck Rack to get press for your story, monitor the news and report on the impact of your PR. Journalists can build portfolios and accelerate their careers.

Block Tracking When You Open/Read Their EmailsPixelBlock is an Gmail extension that blocks email tracking attempts used to detect when you open/read emails. PixelBlock displays a ‘red eye’ when it finds and blocks a tracking attempt inside of an email you’re reading.

Schedule Emails To Send At A Later DateBoomerang allows you to schedule messages to be sent or returned at a later date. Write a message now, send it whenever, even if you’re not online. Track messages to make sure you hear back, and schedule reminders right inside Gmail

SEO Excel ToolsSeoTools for Excel is a great tool made by Niels Bosma, which runs as an add-on to Microsoft Excel and features some functions which are incredibly useful for everyday SEO tasks and allow you to grab information from websites, quickly and without even leaving Excel!

Sift Lots Of DataDataSift is a social data platform that enables companies to aggregate, filter, and extract insights from public social conversations on Twitter, leading social networks, and millions of other sources.

Open Source Web Scraping Framework For PythonScrapy is a fast high-level web crawling and web scraping framework, used to crawl websites and extract structured data from their pages. It can be used for a wide range of purposes, from data mining to monitoring and automated testing.

Gmail Workspace SkinSortd is the first ever smart skin for Gmail. It enhances your Gmail experience, providing a seamless, intuitive way to plan and prioritize emails & tasks in a single Gmail workspace.

Facebook Viral Post SchedulerPostPlanner is a social media scheduling tool with subscriptions ranging from $7 to $80 a month. PostPlanner’s primary goal is to help individual marketers and agencies find and share great content easily.

Find Conversations To Contribute ToColibri IO shows you where your customers are engaging online so that you can insert yourself into relevant conversations. Colibri IO allows you to monitor and track your brand online. They provide a set of growth hacking tools and inbound marketing tools to improve your visibility on social media and your rankings in Search Engines.

WordPress Plugin To Capture SubscribersList Builder is a free and super easy way to collect the email addresses of anyone visiting your site. List Builder converts one-time visitors into lifelong readers and email subscribers. You work hard to get people to your site, the beautiful List Builder lightbox makes sure they subscribe to your email list and come back for more.

Track All Company & Competitor MentionsMention is a social media tool that monitors the web, including the major social media channels, to keep you informed every time somebody mentions your name, brand or target keywords, and its user-friendly interface makes it very easy to use.

Find And Optimize Your Twitter FollowingFollowerwonk is a product where you can easily analyse all sorts of things on Twitter. The information that you can retrieve is extremely deep.

Gmail CRMStreak is a flexible CRM and process management system that lives inside your Gmail inbox. If you love Gmail and want to make it a more powerful place to keep track of your business interactions, and give your emails more flexibility, Streak is a great choice.

Get Insights About A WebsiteSiteAlerts, a new free dashboard that lets you to get reports and alerts on a website or company. The tool makes Google Alerts almost extinct and lets you monitor competing companies/websites like never before

Open Source Buffer App, an open-source app and free to use as well. lets you load up your tweets, schedule them and have them automatically shared any time of the day on your preferred time. If you need to schedule your tweets, Circular is definitely one of the best free ways to do that.

Connect With WritersJustReachOut will help you send the right message, to the right people, and get all the coverage you need for your awesome idea. It’s also dead simple to use. An essential part of any marketing strategy.

Easy Landing Page ToolLeadPages™ Software is the world’s easiest landing page generator. It’s the easiest way to build conversion optimized & mobile responsive landing pages. Leadpages makes building optin forms and popups extremely easy.

Stay hungry, growth hacker
Stay hungry, growth hacker