Growth hacking is really just growth testing TechCrunch

Who knew that “growth hacking,” a term coined in 2010 by Sean Ellis, the first marketer at Dropbox, would become so commonplace in 2022? Considering the fact that growth marketing wasn’t even a formal function at startups 12 years ago, I think it’s okay to say that we couldn’t have predicted how growth hacking would evolve.

But let’s discuss what growth hacking is and isn’t. First, growth hacking isn’t a way to code or hack your way to 100x growth with one clever tactic. It’s also not a magical solution that only a few people in this world possess.

Growth hacking actually means growth testing. Exhaustive growth testing.

Growth hacking involves using creative strategies with minimal resources to help startups acquire and retain customers. At the heart of growth hacking are growth marketers who use stringent experimentation frameworks to run countless A/B tests to achieve rapid growth.

Let me give you an example.

During my tenure as a growth lead at Postmates, we ran into massive roadblocks because of constrained budgets and lofty fleet (driver) acquisition targets. This was before the company raised the $300 million Series E from Tiger Global Management, so we had to get crafty and find new ways to acquire fleet.

If each test can result in a 1% improvement, you’re well on your way to 100% improvement after running 100 tests.

For example, we signed up with platforms such as Handshake, a college student job board, to recruit students to drive for us for extra cash in their spare time. While this was a manual operation, it allowed us to hypertarget a specific profile (eg, college students) for free. We tried many other tactics to “hack” growth, but there never was one super solution that eventually got in us getting acquired by Uber.

In other words, it takes countless tests and lots of analysis to determine the winners from the losers.

Every big company has done growth hacking at some point. Let’s dive into some examples of growth hacking and explore how you can start thinking about the next steps.

How to proactively think about growth hacking

When trying to hack growth, you should start by thinking about increasing test throughput while being as methodical as possible. By implementing a fairly simple framework, every startup can be successful with growth hacking:

  • The ideation hypothesis.
  • Stack rankings.
  • testing.
  • Analysis.

To start, hypothesis ideation can be fueled by key answers to questions at each step of the funnel (more on that later). It’s important to have a healthy number of hypotheses as that will help ensure there’s an adequate runway for the tests being launched.