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Growth Hacking: What Is It and How Do I Apply It To My Business?

In the early days of a startup, the goal is simple: growth.

If you want to succeed, you must grow. Otherwise, you fail. All too often, though, small businesses simply don’t have the cash to invest in a lot of marketing — nor do they have a lot of time or other resources. They need to grow and retain an active user base, sell products, and gain exposure — and they need to do these things quickly.

Sounds impossible, but it’s not. It’s growth hacking.

What is growth hacking?

Growth hacking (aka “growth marketing”) is a resource-light, cost-effective digital marketing strategy that helps young companies and startups grow quickly. It’s called “hacking” because it's like a life hack. It’s a little marketing shortcut that makes growth easier for your company.

It’s innovative, it’s cheap, and it works. 

Growth hacking vs. traditional marketing

Growth is the biggest goal of any marketing strategy, but growth hacking is a little different. Here’s a quick overview:

Traditional marketing

Traditional marketing relies on expensive ad campaigns and prominent advertising techniques to create brand awareness. Marketers using this method don’t focus as much on ROI because they believe a higher investment equals a higher payoff. Their success depends on creating recognition for a product or brand. In most situations, the company has a finished product before they even hire a marketing team.

Growth hacking

Growth hacking relies on inexpensive marketing techniques that create exponential growth. Marketers implementing this practice are looking for “hacks” — shortcuts that increase conversion rates and quickly reach a vast audience while using only limited resources. They don’t worry about brand awareness; they just want to reach the users who will actually buy the product. 

From the early stages of business development — often before the startup has a product idea — growth hackers focus on creating a business that’s easily scalable and appeals to a large group of people. Then they try any strategy to make the idea spread as quickly as possible.

Growth hacking examples

Still confused? Here are a few examples of growth hacking at work. These are all popular companies that became famous via growth marketing techniques.

Dollar Shave Club

Dollar Shave Club hit success with a viral video in 2012. The budget was $4,500, and the video took just 1 day to complete. The CEO timed the video’s release so it perfectly coincided with the company's first funding announcement and the relaunch of its website. The video went viral, and the rest is history.


You’ve heard of Instagram, right? It’s one of the largest social media platforms on the internet, but it started as a growth hacking strategy.

The app was originally a completely different idea. Out of desperation, the founder scrapped his original app design, changed almost everything to make it more appealing to a larger audience, gave it a catchy name and launched it. Within two hours, he had 10,000 users. Oddly enough, Instagram is now one of growth hackers’ favorite platforms for launching their own product ideas.


Almost everything Netflix does marketing-wise is growth hacking. First, they created two separate products to appeal to the most users. Then, they used social media (before it was a standard marketing technique) to get the word out.

But their most impressive growth hack was simple: When Bill Clinton’s grand jury testimony became part of the public domain, Netflix founders created many copies on DVD and mailed the discs for $2.02, including postage. They didn’t make money from the idea, but the web traffic created a tremendous demand for their subscription service.

Final thoughts

Sometimes a startup hits it big with the first growth marketing strategy, but it usually takes a few tries before you get lucky. Growth hacking isn’t for everyone, but it’s the ideal solution for small businesses who need to get a lot of bang for their buck.

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