Growth Hacking : No Money Marketing for Startups

When Sean Ellis was trying to come up with a new job description for a Dropbox back in 2010, he would have never thought that, "Growth Hacking" would become such a hit among startups.

Later, Andrew Chen introduced the term to a wider audience in his blog post titled, "Growth Hacker is the new VP Marketing." According to him Growth Hackers “are a hybrid of marketer and coder, one who looks at the traditional question of ‘How do I get customers for my product?' and answers with A/B tests, landing pages, viral factor, email deliverability, and Open Graph."

To sum up, we can say growth hacking is a way of getting users or generating revenue without spending a dime of “traditional” marketing spend.

As startups, we often work on limited budgets while fighting with giants in the same industry. But being a startup, also offers us few advantages like agility, flexibility and adaptability which bigger companies lack. And this we need to leverage for our advantage.

To simplify things, let’s have a look at what startups should do and what they should avoid to have a successful growth hacking campaign.

What you should do :

1. Have a kick-ass idea:

The best growth hack in the world can’t save you if you are promoting a mediocre product. The first ingredient to build a successful growth campaign is to have an idea with a potential to sell by itself with minimal marketing support. The best way to start is to prioritize your ideas based on how confident you feel about them, how easy or difficult they are to implement and how big of an effect they’ll have on your customers.

Let’s take an example of "Dubsmash" an app where users can choose an audio recording of a well known quote from a list and record a video of themselves in which they ‘dub’ the quote. The idea itself is so unique that it spread like a wildfire. The app got 20 million users in less than 6 months.

2. Integrate virality early on :

Virality must be among the core ingredients of your product and not just another marketing strategy. So consider adding viral hooks at the development stage itself.

Businesses make a mistake of considering growth hacking as a post development activity and end up with a product with no viral hooks integrated. A business called, "HotelTonight" same-day hotel booking app is a perfect example. They were firm on having the least number of taps for the user when they went to book a service. So they focused on this value proposition from the development stage itself and it became major selling point for an app.


3. Test with early beta / Experiment a lot:

Progress is better than perfection. The best and quickest way to test your idea is to build an MVP and test it with real users and modify it based on feedback.

Remove any friction that is taking too long for users to get to the core value of the product, think how onboarding can be made as quick as possible, how virality can be integrated at various stages and how users will love your product more than other similar products. MVP will also tell you whether you are on the right path or you need to pivot.

Think about Kickstarter - it's practically a warehouse full of MVPs. People put up their ideas for interesting products, before they build them, and other people demonstrate their desire by supporting them.    

4. Entice users:  

Entice your users not only to use your product but to bring more people on board. Free trials, limited period offers, freemiums etc. are tried and tested models. Referral incentives is the best way to get more users without spending too much on acquisition. This is the secret sauce of Dropbox’s success too, it offers 500MB of bonus space per referral to it’s users. Also consider your product type while coming up with promotional offers. If you are offering SaaS products, freemium is the best model for encouraging users to sign up without any fixed commitment.


5. Hijack Trends:

Don’t shy away from piggybacking on trending topics. “Path,” a social networking-enabled photo sharing and messaging service that allows users to share up to a total of 500 contacts with their close friends and family, took an advantage of the increasing worries surrounding Facebook and it’s user’s privacy concerns. Though “Path” isn’t a big hit in Social Networking space, it’s a perfect example of how you can harness latest trends in your favor.

As a growth hacker, you must look out for what is going on around you and how it can be leveraged to gain virality for your product. Let’s take an example of “Pokemon Go,” which has made the world go crazy. You can use the popularity “Pokemon Go” for your advantage by associating yourself with it by writing a review, making a small video, using trending hashtags on twitter, sharing the popular content, writing articles to attract visitors etc. So, consider riding on the trends and get free exposure.  

6. Endorsements :

Getting endorsements from influential people will put you and your product in front of thousands of potential users. Getting people to endorse your product is not a cake-walk, it  needs a meticulous approach of relationship building and networking. The best way to achieve this is to offer some value (not money!) to the person you want to get endorsement from.

"Give value to get value" is the success mantra. With online platforms like “SponsoredTweets” it is easier than ever before to ask celebrities to boost your product / service on social networks. So don’t be amazed if you find ‘Kim Kardashian’ tweeting about the product built next door.


7. Community Building:

Building a community involves hard work and patience. But it has it’s own rewards. It is the best way to makes sure that your customers stay loyal and bring more people onboard.

“Startup Grind” is an excellent example of a community. They are dedicated to educating, inspiring and connecting entrepreneurs all around the world with monthly meetups. “Hootsuite” also hosts a community by the name “Hootup,” where like minded social media enthusiasts come together and connect. This initiative has proven to be a great platform for ‘Huitsuite’ to reach and connect with it’s users.

It takes hard work to acquire new customers and getting them to sign up for your services, so focus on strengthening your grip on them. The major advantage of nurturing a community is that your customers will then work as your product advocates.



You don’t have to be a growth hacking expert to get results, growth hacking is an art which can be learnt and the best way to learn is to read a lot. There is a huge amount of literature available online and offline. Blogs, communities, forums, name it, tons of content is getting curated everyday.

Startups need to develop a regular exercise of digging into latest information on growth hacking practices. There are growth hackers like Neil Patel, Andrew Chen and many more -- let them be your mentors and learn from them.    

What you should not do:

1. Ignore the data:

Growth hacking is all about analysing patterns and aligning strategies accordingly. You can apply mathematical and statistical techniques to uncover insights about how your campaign is performing. Uncover the campaign performance, user acquisition funnel, retention ratio and much more with data. Ignore the data and you will fail to track performances of your key areas, which will in turn result into a failed campaign.

2. Not paying attention to what users are saying:

Companies are subject to user commentary on various online and offline channels whether you like it or not. Some choose not to pay attention to the user’s voice and others only focus on damage control. Ignoring your customer’s voice is a recipe for disaster.

Companies that really listen to what’s being shared on online forums, however, are the ones that can answer calls for improvement and directly impact their user base in a positive manner by finding clues for improvement. So listen closely and act promptly on social media and other online/offline channels.

3. Focusing too much on features and not benefits:

Of course your product got all the exciting features which no other product is offering but the fundamental question that you need to ask yourself is this, whether it is making user’s life better in any way? Answer to this question will give you clear indication on whether your product will be successful or not.

Startups make a mistake of focusing too much on features and too little on benefits it offers to users. If you have a messaging app, focus on how it will enhance the core functionality of messaging. If you have a taxi booking app, rather than adding fancy features, focus on how users will be able to book a taxi with fewer clicks as compared to your competitors.  

4. Not tracking CPA (Cost Per Acquisition):

As the ultimate goal of growth hacking efforts is to get maximum ROI with minimum expenses, one just cannot afford to ignore the cost per acquisition. Track open rates of email drips, SEM campaign costs, sponsored content performances, social network ads and so on. Calculate your CPA and compare it with LTV (Lifetime Value), LTV must be greater than CPA for your campaign to be successful. Differentiating between acquisition costs of new vs. returning visitors requires investing time and money into the web analytics system.

5. Depending on a single person to growth hack:

Participate in creative ideation. Get the whole team involved. Growth hacking is not the task of a single person. If you seriously want to reap the benefits of growth hacking, put your entire organization to the task. When you make it the job of a single employee, you are committing a terrible mistake because no matter how creative the hacks, they would fail to yield tangible results. So involve all member of the team including developers, testers, marketers and designers. Have brainstorming sessions and listen to each person carefully. You might get the next big growth hack from a simple idea.

6. Being overconfident:

Is your product a great and unique solution to a pressing problem? The answer is simple: not every product can solve the pressing problems in creative ways. If you lack even a bit of trust in your product, think again before using growth hacking. Remember, not every product, and not every market is the same.

Also, because one growth hack worked for one product, or worked in a particular segment, there is no guarantee that it will work for your product in the same segment and in the same way. The market environment is extremely volatile and subject to changes, so it is best to research your market and product before settling down for a particular hack.

An interesting use case :

For Mother's Day, ‘JetBlue’ created "FlyBabies," which gave 130 passengers on a flight from New York to Long Beach, Calif., a 25 percent discount on future air travel every time a baby began to cry. "People said, 'We're really going to talk about babies crying on a plane? That is the last thing anybody wants to be reminded of,'" Windram, (director of brand management and advertising) remembers.

On the appointed flight, four bundles of joy ultimately sang out, meaning everyone on board got a free round trip. But the real traction came from a video of the stunt, which notched 5.5 million views, generating 640 million impressions and amounting to $1.5 million in paid media.

These are some principles we learnt from our experience and experiments with growth hacking.

Of course growth hacking is not about following strict and defined methodology, it’s all about how quickly you can adapt to real time situations.

So ask yourself this question, where do you stand in the growth hacking process at this moment? And start from there.​
Remember, it’s never too late.