You may already know this if you are a reader of my blogs, but I started Flux Chargers by selling in the streets of Santa Monica.
It was hard, revenue was only a few bucks a day, and online sales were quite challenging to come by. But fortunately, growth started to happen within a year and a half.
Now, the e-commerce brand I have built from the ground up generates over $100k/month in sales revenue and reaches over 90 countries.
My blogging is also an example of growth I achieved. My first three years saw lackluster content, awful traffic, and ads revenue were close to nonexistent.
But later on, as I gathered more knowledge, experience, and strategies, then everything slowly started looking up for my blog. Now I run numerous blogs, have decent web traffic, and my ad revenue continues to grow.
These situations show that it is not enough to only have an awesome startup. Growth will not happen on its own; you need to find ways to boost them.
Growing a business is the goal of pretty much any entrepreneur but finding ways to propel your startup to the next level sometimes takes a toll on you.
Read these growth hacking stories and take inspiration from their brilliant strategies.
What is growth hacking?
Let’s face it: the cold reality in the present startup environment is to build your company fast or get left behind in the dust and face failure. That is why the buzzworthy status of “growth hacking,” which has gained a lot of rave and mileage over the recent years, is not a surprise anymore.
Forget about “iterating” and “pivoting,” “growth hacking” is the brand new buzz nowadays. It is a relatively new field in digital marketing used by both early-stage startups and, recently, by bigger companies and organizations.
Growth hacking is an umbrella term used to denote strategies focused solely on growth. At the start, the term was merely used concerning startups with small budgets but needed massive growth rates.
Traditionally growing a company will, of course, need a budget, but startups may not always have money on hand. This is where growth hacking comes in; a company somehow ‘hacks’ the system and tries to generate users and growth while spending as little money as possible.
A team focused on growth hacking is made up of marketers, managers, engineers, and developers that focus on building, nurturing, and engaging the users of a company.
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The growth hackers
Growth hackers are the central people involved in the growth hacking process of a company.
- Growth hackers utilize low-cost, scalable, and creative strategies in their pursuit of growing a consumer base. These include social media, search engine, and viral marketing, targeted advertising, or search engine optimization, among others.
- Growth hackers also go by the term “growth marketers,” but they are not merely marketers. Anyone involved in a growth hacking project can be considered a growth marketer.
- Growth hackers can be some of the most analytical and curious people you will ever meet.
- They are focused only on growth strategies and nothing else. They hypothesize, test their hypothesis, and analyze the results afterward.
- The best growth hacker has the chops to set growth targets and priorities and identify markets for acquiring customers. Once he has done that, he measures success through reports and statistics and devises ways to scale the growth of the company further.
Growth hackers utilize various types of scalable marketing techniques (e.g., SEO, social media, email marketing), among many other tools, to rapidly increase consumer base and growth.
How growth hacking works
The basic tenet of growth hacking is this: figure out how your business grows and find ways to make that happen on purpose. Many growth hackers use Dave McClure’s AARRR pirate funnel strategy as a framework, but what is applicable differs from company to company.
Startups do not have a lot of money and experience. So to combat this, the growth hacking team focuses on innovation, user connectivity, and scalability in their marketing campaigns.
Companies and startups that have successfully done growth hacking naturally have a viral loop for their onboarding process. Potential customers hear about the product through their network, try it themselves, and share it with their connections, who then share it with theirs, and so on.
This loop creates awareness and results in growth at a fraction of the cost with traditional marketing models.
While the methods will vary from one company to another, they always have a common ground: a relentless pursuit for growth. Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook with this as the only factor in mind.
The point is to get visitors, convert them into customers, retain them for a long time, and make them inclined to talk about your product to others.
Growth hacking strategies
There are no set kinds of growth hacking strategies, but they generally fall into three main types.
- Content Marketing
- Product Marketing
Content marketing can be an effective way to spread word about your product at a relatively little cost. Some content marketing activities are as follows:
- Creating valuable content through starting a blog
- Guest posting in other blogs
- Generating content for social media posts
- Writing ebooks
- Joining relevant communities, groups, and forums
- Email marketing campaigns
- SEO to improve content ranking
- Getting listed in relevant marketplaces
Product marketing are techniques to make the product more appealing to potential customers. They include:
- An invite-only sign-up system to leverage the public’s fear of missing out
- Offering rewards in the onboarding process to make it more enjoyable
- Referral incentives that benefit both the old and new user
- Affiliate marketing schemes
Growth hacking represents the singular pursuit of companies: developing a customer base. A growth hacker is interested only in attracting and retaining customers.
It entails the right blend of product development and marketing activities designed based on what works for your specific company and target niche. Many of the companies and websites that we interact with today on a nearly daily basis achieved success through smart growth hacking measures.
Note, however, that growth hacking is a concept and not a tried and tested set of steps. If the idea of growth hacking still feels quite challenging to comprehend for you, then the best way to understand it is to look at successful real-world implementations and examples.
Best growth hacking stories
Here are some of the best growth hacking stories you can take inspiration and learn from.
Dropbox: A successful referral scheme
Dropbox is a cloud file hosting storage service, created in 2007, that had one million registered users in April 2009. In 2016, however, the number of registered Dropbox users increased to almost half a billion, and the amount of premium paying users reached over 12 million in 2018.
Dropbox started like any other company, small with little marketing budget. They began to explore and implement advertising but received little to no positive impact.
The cost of acquiring a new customer outweighed the price they had to pay for the product, resulting in a net loss for the company.
Now, not many businesses will reach that type of growth within a relatively short span, but Dropbox did. What led to the astronomical growth of Dropbox, which it achieved with little to no advertising?
There are a multitude of factors that propelled dropbox into a multi-billion dollar company, but the most prominent is their ingenious referral system.
Dropbox offered a 500 Mb storage space to any user who invited a friend, and the said friend registered for a dropbox account.
With this technique, Dropbox users soared by millions over the years, with only storage space as the cost of acquisition. That is, frankly, quite impressive.
Not to mention that the incentives are multiplied for each referral. You could get GB’s worth of additional storage space with many referrals. This system was able to generate their customer base because incentives and referrals are generally more credible than ads.
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The way Dropbox handled the referral situation was dubbed as “the most successful referral program ever.” The company saw massive growth by finding and meeting a legitimate market need and is now a leader in the creative cloud space.
Dropbox is one of the most well-known cases of successful growth hacking and referral marketing. And instead of doing it with expensive online advertising, they did it through different methods.
- Dropbox enabled gathering referrals through social media sites. The onboarding process integrates the referral program by connecting it through Facebook and Google.
- They relied on the retention value their product offers. Through referrals, the user’s storage space increases, making them feel more committed to the product and less likely to search for alternatives.
- Both sides were rewarded, the customer who recommended the program and the person who registered through the recommendation.
Airbnb: An example of non-conventional growth hacking
Airbnb is an online marketplace facilitating rentals for vacations and trips. Their listings will let you score reasonably affordable accommodations almost anywhere in the world.
Their financials in 2017 showed $93 million in profit and a whopping $2.6 billion in revenue. And forecasts show that the company does not show any sign of dying off or even slowing down.
A little over a decade ago, though, Airbnb was nothing special. It started when two broke guys who cannot afford the rent on their apartment decided to convert it into a lodging space.
During that time, Craigslist was the premier classifieds site with millions of registered users. But the duo did not want to post their listing on the website; they instead built their own.
There was a conference heading to their town, and all the nearby hotels were almost fully booked. They set up a simple website with a few photos of their space, complete with air beds and breakfast in the morning.
One by one, emails started pouring, asking when the site would be of use in various other localities, such as Japan and London.
The Airbnb growth hacking story is one of the most cited examples of all time, owing to the ingenuity of the strategy. How did Air bed and breakfast grow to become the primary vacation rentals search website it is today?
While still in its infancy, Airbnb used a traditional promotion campaign. Combining personal relations and word of mouth, they attended tech events where a shortage of accommodations is likely.
The early stages saw a rise in their popularity, but it is still not enough for Airbnb to be a household brand. They found another relatively simple solution to drive more traffic to their site, and that is to improve the quality of the photos listing.
First, they traveled to photograph the listings themselves, but later on, they hired their photographers to do the work.
Their next move, and is probably their most brilliant one, is the hack that accelerated Airbnb’s growth.
Remember that Craigslist was the biggest classifieds site at that time, they had a massive existing customer base, and Airbnb was new. However, Airbnb found a hole in Craigslist’s site code, which allowed the users who posted on Airbnb to cross-post to Craigslist.
The Craigslist users who saw the posting can only contact the owner if they joined Airbnb. They also noticed that the Airbnb site looked superior to the other; the photographs were nicer, the descriptions were more vivid, and the experience was overall more personal.
Craigslist eventually saw the deficiency in their code and fixed it, but the rest is already history by that point. The maneuver had already earned Airbnb users, the site went viral, and more and more people were interested in listing their property with Airbnb.
Growth hacks have no definite form and method. Some strategies, such as improving photo quality, are simple, and some, such as hacking an entire site to allow cross-posting, entails complex work.
Creativity and innovation are cornerstones in growth hacking, and Airbnb is the prime example of a non-traditional growth hack resulting in astronomical growth.
PayPal: Offering free money
PayPal is, at present, a prime company when it comes to online payments. PayPal is the world’s leading electronic payment processing platform for money transfers and orders, as well as checks.
As with many startups, PayPal’s problem at first is getting new customers. Advertising was costly, and they needed an organic and viral way to grow.
And they found that. Today, PayPal acquired a user base numbering over millions and is a recognizable name when it comes to online payments. But just what did they do to achieve such a feat?
PayPal also began its growth journey through a referral program, akin to Dropbox. But instead of offering free storage, they offered free money.
They actually paid users who sign up. Weird, I know, but few things rival money as a motivator.
The referral program worked like this: every time you refer a friend, and they created an account on PayPal, both you and your referred friend would get $10. PayPal understood that the lifetime customer value would be higher than $20.
By the time PayPal sunset the referral program, they had accumulated related expenses of about $60 million. Although they essentially gave free money away, it was still better than the associated advertising costs.
And it brought them a lot of customers. It may have also been an instrument to help them cross the point on the way to exponential growth.
In addition to that, eBay’s acquisition of PayPal in 2002 further accelerated the payment company’s growth.
The deal put their badge beside eBay’s other payment options. This led to added visibility and credibility by placing them beside more prominent players, such as Visa and MasterCard.
Another is eBay sellers who started to accept PayPal as the only payment option was becoming increasingly common by that time. However, to use Paypal, one has to create an account with the platform.
Now, PayPal is a large company with its subsidiaries and supports the currencies of many different countries worldwide.
Sometimes, good old economics plays a significant role in acquiring customers. It is not only about innovation and creativity alone; the right mix of these three does the trick.
Also, if you know your costs and limits, then you can think of an incentive that will make sense both for your customer and for you.
Instagram: A perfect product-market fit
Growth hackers strive to find what they call the product-market fit (PMF). Now the growth of Instagram is not exactly a hack, but a great example of how PMF affects the growth of a business.
Instagram was offered at the right time, under the right circumstances, and perfectly aligned with user needs: a place to interact where you would only share photos, rather than short statuses and tweets.
The rise of smartphones means everyone has a decent camera inside their pockets, making it easier for people to satisfy the urge to share life experiences with the online community. Instagram improved social interaction through photos.
Influencer marketing also helped Instagram grow to the reach it has today. Their marketing team sent the app to tech journalists and enthusiasts for review, and it garnered positive attention through the review posts.
Add in the fact that Facebook, through the integration of Instagram, effectively marketed the app through cross-promotion, and you can tell that the number will not fall anytime soon.
A perfect product-market fit is the foundation of growth. No promotion campaigns or hacks can ever help a business with no product-market fit.
Find your target customer’s needs and wants, then create a product that they will derive value from and will want to share with others.
Uber: smart growth techniques
When you think of ride-hailing apps and companies, one of the businesses you immediately think of is Uber.
Uber is a multinational company providing transport-related services, such as ridesharing, ride-hailing, and food delivery. Their estimated monthly active users in 2018 numbered to about 95 million and are still growing.
Their growth strategy involves a brilliant and sophisticated approach.
- Uber chooses a new target market location based on numerous elements: events, weather, nightlife, and the availability of taxis. By doing so, they ensure that they have a market to serve.
- Uber built a multinational brand by providing solutions to the shortcomings associated with local taxi services, such as high prices, the safety of transport, mode of payment, and the need to wait and hail one.
- Their data shows that users who availed the service once would most likely do it again, so they began to offer $20 to new users, and put it in their respective Uber App wallets. Like PayPal, they knew that the lifetime customer value would exceed that amount down the line.
- The company relied on word of mouth and great use of PR, even negative. They promoted the ease of use and accessibility of their product, as well as leveraged the free exposure and publicity given by fighting their legal battles.
All of these things combined contributed to the growth Uber is experiencing today.
Traditional advertising campaigns through marketing channels could be costly to implement and produce insignificant gains. Uber has shown that even negative PR can impact a company positively.
Growth hacking may be a new and foreign phrase, but it is not exactly a new idea.
It almost always involves utilizing the features of the product rather than relying solely on the marketing process. A common denominator between growth hacking processes and strategies is that a consumer derives more value from the product through social interaction and sharing.
The growth stories listed above are, what companies strive to emulate for themselves, and what growth hacker’s dreams are made of. It is essential to know how companies implemented growth hacking for their success, but remember not to get too caught up in emulating them too much.
While examples like the ones above are quite few and far between, they serve as inspirational stories to inspire growth hackers to find and devise their scheme.
There is no direct formula in growing a business, no set of steps leading to the same result for each company.
But if you take time to understand your business, how the people discover it, and what will make them a long-time customer, then you have the necessary ingredients for growth hacking.
Liked this post? Do you have your own growth hacking stories you want to share? Feel free to tell them in the comments section below.
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