Mastering the Art of Growth Hacking to Achieve Rapid Business Growth
What is Growth Hacking?
The concept of ‘growth hacking’ is marketing tactic that is often attributed to the rapid rise to prominence of several multi-billion dollar startup ventures, including Uber and Airbnb. The goal is simple – to achieve unprecedented growth within a relatively short time. Growth hacking is often closely associated to tech startups, and replaces the traditional marketing tactics with a more dynamic and cross-functional approach.
The traditional marketing approaches usually have a broad focus that leverage on text-book strategies. While their effects cannot be undermined, a startup needs a growth hacker to steer things in directions that a traditional marketer wouldn’t. A one dimensional approach might not be very ideal in the early stages of a company as there are many things that are to be understood.
Everything that a growth hacker does is stimulated by the potential of rapid growth. All their thoughts, their decisions and tactics are in the hopes of nothing else but growth. As Sean Ellis (the maker of the term ‘growth hacking’) says, “a growth hacker is someone whose true north is growth”. Traditional marketers care about growth too, but not as much as growth hackers. Growth hackers have an obsession and will do anything necessary to achieve it. They will do the opposite of what marketing textbooks say if it makes more sense in the circumstances. Growth hackers have a singular focus and will ignore almost everything else.
In order to achieve preposterous growth in the early stages, a startup needs someone that has a deep understanding of the consumer behavior in the market. Someone that does not always play by the rule book. Someone who acknowledges that the “Technology Adoption Life Cycle” as a fundamental model for achieving growth in the mainstream market. Let’s take an example to help understand what exactly can be achieved by mastering growth hacking.
How Airbnb did it
Airbnb is a platform that allows anyone to convert a spare room in their house into a ‘hotel’ room that can be rented out to visitors. As of this writing, the company is valued at $31 billion. Out of all the strategies that they used to achieve such unprecedented growth, one stood out. They leveraged Craigslist’s (a classifieds website) user base of millions to dramatically increase their own. You can read their full story here, but in a nutshell, this is how they did it:
Unlike several mainstream platforms like Facebook and Google, Craigslist does not offer any solutions (APIs) that other independent websites can use to integrate with. For instance, Google provides API code that users can add into their websites to allow features such as ‘Sign in using your Gmail account’, or to embed a Google Map directly on the platform. While still trying to establish their early market, Airbnb realized that most of their target customers were already users of Craigslist. That in itself presented a precious opportunity to be taken advantage of. To them, that meant figuring out a way to integrate their platform with Craigslist, which had millions desirable of users.
The problem was that Craigslist did not offer an API that would enable Airbnb integrate with it. Their solution to the challenge is what truly redefined growth hacking. They had to reverse engineer Craiglist’s software – without having access to the code, figure out how it worked, and then manually integrate their own code with it. As you may imagine, reverse engineering is not easy at all, but it can be done. After several trials and errors, Airbnb finally managed to integrate with Craigslist. The integration enabled their users to automatically re-post their rental rooms into Craigslist, where the audience was in the millions. Airbnb rode on that wave until obviously Craigslist had to change some policies to cap the vulnerability; but by that time, they had already gained enough momentum to go off on their own.
Need rapid growth? Find a growth hacker, or become one
What Airbnb managed to pull off is growth hacking ingenuity; creating access to millions of potential users through a path that is non-existent. The art of winning. Now, would a traditional marketer have considered something as outrageous as reverse engineering? Probably not. A growth hacker is obsessed with growing and will do anything necessary in order to achieve it. Even without coding or engineering knowledge, there are so many other ways to achieve such results. It is all about being creative and not always jumping to textbook answers.
There are several other examples of companies that are now worth billions, which implemented clever growth hacking tactics to help get to where they are now. Uber certainly did so, and so did Whatsapp, LinkedIn and Spotify (click the links to read each of their stories). Remember that if you want growth bad enough, then you will find ways to make it happen. Growth hacking means persevering through several failures and creating paths where none exist. It is through trial and error that one battle will eventually be won that will uplift the company to extraordinary heights.