Undergraduate Blog / Career Development

Growth Hacking A Startup

This summer I have been doing a lot of growth hacking for the startups in the accelerator. First, What is Growth Hacking? Simply put a growth hacker is a person whose true north star is growth. Its all about acquiring and retaining customers using creative and low-cost strategies. Growth hackers don’t care about budget, expenses, etc but growth. Growth hackers came to fruition as startups have a very tight budget to acquire customers in a short period of time in order to show traction and fundraise.  Engineers could be growth hackers just as much a marketer can. However, because of startup culture, growth hackers often have to perform rigorous analytical analysis in order to see what is working or not working.

Growth Hacking is a major buzzword for startups. In a startup environment, you are almost guaranteed to hear Growth Hacking all the time as it is a priority for most or I would say all startups.

In this post, I won’t go through all the technicalities that come with being a growth hacker. However, I do have some helpful links below if you wish to know more.

What are some Growth Hacking examples in action?

  • Airbnb: At the time Craiglist was the number one site people used for finding temporary housing. To build their user base and reputation they offered an option for Airbnb accommodation providers to copy their listing to Craiglist with one click. They took it a step further by contacting people posting directly to Craiglist and asking them to sign up on Airbnb. They reached out to new posters on Craigslist and directed them to Airbnb. They could have easily spent thousands of dollars on advertising but why not leverage your competitor’s traffic? As a result, they had access to a large market of targeted users.
  • Dropbox: In September of 2008 Dropbox had 100k registered users, in December of 2009 they had 4M registered users. What happened from 2008 to 2009? They started offering users 500MB of additional storage for free whenever they signed another person in the service. The person being referred also received additional space giving them an incentive to use the referral link rather than just going to the site and signing up on their own making the process even easier and allowed Dropbox to better track the source of their signups.

Once they saw this was working incredibly well with their user based they doubled down and added similar incentives.   They offered additional storage if a super explored social sharing features about Dropbox on social media. They also incentivized sharing of photos and videos through Dropbox which helped them reach new users via word of mouth from sticky customers. This all seems simple and common sense in hindsight, remember this was a decade ago. We all know how difficult execution and getting into the little details could be.

  • Shazam: This app allows users to identify any song by simply opening the app. In the beginning, the technology wasn’t up to par as it is now and had trouble identifying the music with background noise as you would find in a nightclub, parties, and events outside. They then encouraged people to hold up their phones near the speaker so others would become intrigued, ask questions and start a conversation around it leading to them downloading the app to try it out as well. Now that’s how you turn a weakness into a strength.

Every company is different hence why you will need to perform your own creative experiments while marrying it with insightful analytics. There is not one hat fits all, don’t make that foolish mistake. This hacks may seem so simple but the truth is the majority of this hacks won’t work for the company you are trying to build as times have changed, your value proposition is different, etc. This will lead you to be creative and test different things while having data to make appropriate decisions. Below are some links if you are interested to learn more about the topic.