4 Growth Hacking Mistakes You Need to Avoid and What to Do Instead

There has been a lot of buzz going around about "growth hacking" in the recent times. Believe it or not, it has helped many start-ups grow into industry giants.

Take Facebook for example; it started as a mere social networking platform and evolve into the largest social networking platform ever, with 1.71 billion monthly active users (as of the second quarter of 2016).


And -- Then There Is Uber --


Companies like Airbnb, Dropbox, etc. have also benefitted from growth hacking. So the phrase, "growth hacking" is becoming popular among businesses, especially start-ups, meaning using ideas and helps to exponentially increase your company’s growth -- all for good reasons. If you want your company to grow fast and even faster, you need to try your hands at growth hacking as well.

Growth hacking, is a process of rapid experimentation across various marketing channels and product development to identify the most effective and efficient way to grow a business. The term "growth hacking," was coined by Sean Ellis in 2010 and he describes a growth hacker to be a "person whose true north is growth." For growth hackers the only focus is "Growth" and nothing else!

Understanding Growth Hacking

The Internet has redefined the term product. Products are no more just physical goods; today’s software products such as a Twitter account or an Uber coupon do not have physical existence, but they impact our lives in many ways, just as traditional products do. So in order to market these new products, marketers need to come up with new and innovative strategies.

Growth hackers understand the underlying potentials of a software product and they leverage this potential to make the product(s) work. So at the core of growth hacking is a "scalable product." Take the example of Dropbox, a cloud storage service that offers disk space on servers, which can be accessed via the Internet. They can expand their disk storage anytime and offer more space for their users.

Moreover, the products market themselves. Say for example, you return home late and your mom asks how did you return? You say, "I took an Uber." So the word spreads by itself; this is especially true for products that have the potential to help people- you naturally suggest it to others.

But most marketers, with an urge to become a growth hacker or expand their companies, overlook the importance of creating a great product. They get started with their marketing strategies without taking a thorough look at the product or its core potentials. This is one major mistake to be avoided. It is important to know about the mistakes to avoid, so that you can create a growth hacking strategy that takes you a long way. Let’s explore.

Growth Hacking Mistakes to Avoid

Most startups are keen on growth marketing but oftentimes, their efforts go in vain because they lack the understanding of growth hacking basics. Thus, it is important to master the art, if you want to assure success for your business.

Before you get started, you must to know about the growth hacking mistakes to avoid:

1. Not Focusing on the Product

It has been said earlier and it deserves to be said again. It is almost impossible to get away with a mediocre product today. Unlike the yesteryears, today’s customers are smarter and know what they want. In case, they are unsatisfied they can slam a brand and they have enough means to do it. For example, Coca Cola introduced a number of other drinks -- Fanta, Sprite, etc., most of which did not taste as good as Coke, but they invested in extensive advertising campaigns and became successful in popularizing the drinks.

Had Coca Cola tried doing the same advertising and strategy today, the results would have been very different. Take the example of United Airlines, which was slammed for their bad service. The airlines workers broke a passenger’s guitar back in 2009 while transporting the luggage but they refused to compensate even if they admitted doing it. The result: Three songs including videos of the poor service by the Airlines were released, one of which even received more than 15 million hits (so far!).

If you have a crappy product, nothing can save you from being criticized. But there is no reason to fret. Ask for feedbacks from your targeted customers in form of questions, opinion polls, etc. and improve your products, if possible, before you launch it. Use your blogs to talk about the product or involve social media marketing services to engage people and get valuable feedbacks. This will help you launch a product that is ready to be consumed by the people. This will even create an urgency among the people (who helped you improve it) to check out product when you launch them.

2. Following the Trends Blindly

As mentioned earlier, at the core of every successful growth marketing campaign is an excellent product. So ask yourself: Does my product provide a solution for the targeted customers? Start with growth hacking only if the answer is a resounding "Yes."

You can take cues from companies who have won at growth hacking, but refrain from follow the techniques blindly. Remember, every business is different and so is its products. For instance, McDonald’s realized that they can get new customers and grow their business considerably by putting up outlets on the interstate highway exits. They did it and became highly successful by winning a huge number of new customers.

But, if you try following the same technique for your food joint, you might do harm than good Even if your business is in the same niche as that of McDonald’s. This is only because your products are very different. So, in order to identify your growth hacks, you first need to identify your targeted audience, how your product helps them and then come up with strategies that will make your product successful.

3. Taking Charge of Growth Hacking Single-Handedly

If you want to reap the real benefits of growth marketing, you need to involve all the teams within the organization. As mentioned earlier, traditional marketing is mostly about customer acquisition through external marketing channels; but growth hacking deals with a much larger aspect -- it deals with the product, conversions, retention as well as engagement.

It is necessary that all the departments are on the same page. Here is why -- the marketing team can engage customers and encourage them to share their views about a product and forward these valuable insights to the product & sales team; they can in turn use these insights to improve the product further. Risk management is another important aspect to be considered.

Product scaling often involves uncertainties, so you need to have a backup plan, just in case. Take the example of Airbnb – it used the disaster Hurricane Sandy to its advantage they lowered the rates and provided accommodation to the displaced people. This elevated their reputation and helped them grow their business further. So only teamwork can help you achieve your growth goals.

4. Targeting a Large Audience at a Time

It might be tempting to win a huge number of customers quickly but you should start by targeting a small group of people. Airbnb started with just three customers and now they cater to the needs of millions. Every product passes through a lifecycle (law of diffusion of innovation) and in order to reach maximum people it needs to survive the first two levels - innovators and early adopters.


Innovators and early adopters are small groups of people who need to be targeted explicitly and once they adopt a product the rest follow them. So it is necessary that you identify the ideal customers and start marketing your products to them.

Take the example of Dropbox growth hack – the ideal customers for Dropbox were tech-savvy people, so they released their product at the TechCrunch50, in 2008 and they declared it to be an invite-only service only after the launch. This created a lot of buzz among potential customers. Later, they created a short demo and posted it on Digg, a popular social network among internet geeks, techies and people with similar interests.

The video acquired 10,000 diggs (same as "Likes" on Facebook) and the waiting list reached 75,000 users within a day. Had the Dropbox team invested in Google Adwords, they would have to spend $300 per acquisition for a $99 product; but they managed to acquire these users for free (almost).

The early days are crucial for start-ups and so start with targeting a small group of people and then expand your reach. Targeting a large audience leads to confusion and while you sort things out someone else occupies the space.


The marketing landscape is extremely volatile and evolves very quickly; so it is necessary that you research your market and understand your products well. Just because one company benefitted from a particular hack, there is no guarantee that it will work for you, even if you belong to the same niche or industry. You need to identify the hacks that work for you. But before you do so, steer clear of the growth hacking mistakes that can become the reason of your failure.