I am sure you would agree
that there is a reason why
some businesses grow
from zero to millions,
while others struggle to sustain.
Well, it turns out you can join the Fortune 500 league too.
In this post, I will walk you through some of the
most INCREDIBLE growth hacking examples and techniques….
and exactly how you can use them
wherever possible to grow your business.
I might warn you,
some of these growth hacks might be controversial.
Ready to hop on the crazy ride of growth?
Can you recall this image?
Back in 1999 (I was in Grade 10th),
I recall getting used to the Internet;
Google was not that big during that time.
Hotmail Growth Hack
Back in those days, Hotmail was getting popular,
alongside Yahoo mail, AOL Mail, and Lycos.
Google joined the bandwagon with Gmail in 2004.
Hotmail decided to try a simple strategy to drive growth.
It added the text “PS I love you. Get your free email at Hotmail”
at the bottom of every email.
It also had a link to the Hotmail landing page
promoting the user to register.
12 Million User base in less than 2 years!
The success of Hotmail finally had Microsoft purchase it
for $450 million on December 29, 1997.
Great Christmas gift for the founders
Jack Smith and Sabeer Bhatia!
This brings us to Growth Hacking;
Hotmail was an example of one by the way!
What is Growth Hacking?
Let us see what Wikipedia has to say about Growth hacking:
Growth hacking is a process of rapid experimentation across marketing channels and product development to identify the most efficient ways to grow a business.
Sounds a little complicated isn’t it?
Are Growth Hacking strategies nonsense?
Growth hacking techniques and strategies
focus on one goal- GROWTH!
Does it replace digital marketing?
Growth hacking and digital marketing often go hand-in-hand-
the key is flexibility to adapt quickly to achieve growth.
Why Growth hacking?
But before I answer that…..
What’s the difference between
traditional marketing and growth hacking?
Unlike conventional forms of marketing,
growth-hacking does NOT believe in traditional silos and boundaries.
It dismisses the idea of top-down planning;
thus focusing on rapid experimentation.
You would not see a growth hacker
isolated to the marketing team;
he would also mingle with product developers,
designers, and even sales teams.
But in essence, it is about driving
more quality leads with minimal investment.
Traditional marketing generally
involves the following channels:
● Direct mail
● Email marketing
● Pay-per-click (PPC)
● Cold Calling
When DropBox launched their paid search campaign in 2009,
the CPA (cost per acquisition) was between $233 and $388.
At that time the price of DropBox was $99.
That is a flat $134 to $289 loss per license!
You can see that this strategy was a FAILURE.
Why didn’t Adwords work for DropBox?
For starters, the PPC campaign
did not generate a lot of new users.
Two, there were very few searches for the relevant keywords.
In short, Adwords turned out to be a
slow user acquisition channel for DropBox during that time.
Since growth hacking is
cheap, efficient, iterative, practical and scalable;
the company embraced this mindset to become successful.
In this post, we will look at
some of the companies that are best at growth hacking.
I believe learning from them is
perhaps the best way to learn Growth Hacking.
This post can also serve you as a growth hacking
case study for some of the most successful businesses.
Dropbox Growth Hack
DropBox found the growth hack in referral marketing,
allowing it to drive user-base
from 100,000 to 4 Million in 15 months.
That was a 3900% growth!
This referral program literally saved DropBox from going south!
Was this a growth hack invented by DropBox?
Did it work?
DropBox took inspiration from
PayPal’s referral strategy (of rewarding its users with cash);
and started offering extra storage space
to both the referrer and the referees (see image above).
In the earlier paragraphs, I talked about the
growth hacks adopted by Hotmail and DropBox to realize BIG wins.
Let us look into some more of the most ingenious growth hacks.
Challenge: Get new customers
Growth Hack: Referral Incentive
As I mentioned earlier,
DropBox pretty much followed in the footsteps of
PayPal’s referral growth hack strategy to become successful.
What’s interesting about PayPal’s growth technique
is that social media was not quite powerful back then.
PayPal first tried advertising to get more customers;
it did not work well.
According to Peter Thiel,
And over ice cream, the PayPal team
reached an important conclusion: BD didn’t work.
They needed organic, viral growth. They needed to give people money
The Online Payment System relied on emails,
blogs, and IMs to implement their referral program.
The hack was to pay people to invite their friends to use PayPal.
That is all!
PayPal’s founder, Elon Musk, claims to have
shelled out around $60 Million on the referral program.
The Company realized 7 to 10% daily growth,
expanding their user base to over 100 Million members.
PayPal gradually lowered the bonus amount
from $20 to $10 and to $5 before eliminating the bonus altogether.
The result: Come 2015 and PayPal was worth $46.6 BILLION!
A growth hacking marketing technique
such as Referral Incentive requires careful planning
and understanding of the market.
This tactic worked so well for PayPal because it was novel idea at that time.
Also, you can see that PayPal scaled back the amount
from $20 to $5 once it grew its member base to 100 Million.
If you are trying to implement this strategy,
please make sure you have done diligent research of the market;
and of course, that you have the capital to sustain.
Airbnb Craigslist Growth Hack
Growth Hack: Craigslist Platform Integration
If you are looking for homes and rentals while traveling,
Airbnb is perhaps your go-to site.
Founders of the company,
Brian Chesky, and Joe Gebbia; and Nathan Blecharczyk
decided to grow it exponentially.
They wanted to drive more traffic to the site from other platforms.
And they found the growth hack in integrating with Craigslist.
Because they observed Craigslist
had a massive user base;
and that their target audience uses this platform.
Airbnb started offering its users to
post their listed properties on Craigslist as well.
Interestingly, there was no official word from Craigslist to do so.
The Integration was ingenious-
it required a thought process beyond traditional marketing.
Andrew Chen, in his post
Growth Hacker is the new VP Marketing,
has talked in detail about the technical aspects of this integration;
calling it one of the “most impressive ad-hoc integrations”.
Here is a screenshot shared by
Rishi Shah to demonstrate the point.
What I find interesting about this growth hack
is that founder Joe Gebbia had once said
We didn’t want to post on Craigslist because we felt it was too impersonal;
and yet it was the Craigslist Integration
that brought exponential growth for Airbnb.
In fact, Airbnb has become one of the
most famous examples of growth hacking.
You should be aware of your target audience;
knowing where they hang out,
and how they interact and respond,
is critical to success.
Uber Growth Hack
Challenge: Get Traction
Growth hack: Encouraging Advocacy
Uber service is available in
83 countries and over 674 cities worldwide,
and has a valuation of over $69 Billion as of 2017.
That was not always the case though.
Let us go back in time, when in 2009,
Uber used to be just another local car-hire company.
While it was trying to address a genuine problem-
poor cab infrastructure, poor service, delays, lack of flexible payment systems etc.,
It required traction to GROW.
Uber realized that San Francisco
was home to a large tech community,
which is always on the lookout for
new tools and technologies to improve their life.
This encouraged Uber to sponsor tech events,
offering free rides and generating awareness among the tech community.
Techies enjoyed this service and
shared their experience with others both in person,
and across social media, and blogs.
This created a viral growth engine for Uber.
On the other side of the coin,
it helped generate jobs for hundreds of people
who were out of work; or needed some extra cash.
The average income of an Uber driver is $364/month.
Hence, it was a win-win for the riders and the drivers.
Here is Uber’s global net revenue from 2013-2016 (Number in Million USD)
Identify a real-world problem,
and brainstorm ways to address the issues.
Leverage innovative ways to get traction.
How about a growth hack that involves a company selling growth hacking services?
Challenge: Break the plateau; expand user base
Growth hack: Experimentation
This example is a classic.
It is about the guy who coined the term “Growth Hacking”.
Yup, I am talking about Sean Ellis.
When his company Growth Hackers was hungry for growth;
hitting plateau at 90,000 users, he decided to try it all.
They recognized that they were not testing growth strategies.
They started with trying at least 3 experiments every week.
What type of experiments?
We are talking about new initiatives,
new product launches, A/B tests and more.
Experimentation was the primary goal
of the newly-established team.
This brought in hundreds of ideas (as against a few).
They tested these based on the benefit and
the ease (and speed) of implementation.
They would meet weekly to identify the issues
related to the chosen experiments.
So what did this yield?
In less than 3 months,
the company grew from 90,000 users to 150,000.
Do not be scared of trying new ideas.
Slowing down innovation is not good for growth.
Sometimes, failing is better than not doing anything at all.
Lyft’s co-founder and president,
John Zimmer, had been fiddling with the
ride-sharing idea since his college days.
He had named it “The Waddle”.
Zimmer met Logan Green on a Facebook page;
when he bumped into the latter’s idea (Zimride)
of providing an alternative to car ownership.
The zeal led Zimmer to leave his job at
Lehman Brothers to venture into the carpool startup.
The duo moved to Silicon Valley.
They didn’t take any salary for the first three years.
While Uber promoted their image as “everyone’s private driver”,
Lyft grew with their “your friend with a car” tagline.
Here is Lyft’s growth chart between 2013 and 2016.
What was Lyft’s growth hack?
Being a community-driven service,
Lyft radiates a friendly image.
Users feel safe using their service.
Riders receive detailed info about
the driver before their ride arrives.
Driver rating allows only the high scorers
to continue working with Lyft.
Lyft was founded on the idea of providing
an affordable alternative to the expensive taxi rides.
Users can check the prices between
two points before requesting a Lyft ride.
They can use the app to pay, thus making the process
transparent, quick and convenient.
Another one of Lyft’s growth hacks is
leveraging satisfied customers as brand ambassadors.
Their referral policy allows users to earn a
referral incentive for each Referred Rider and Referred Driver.
I love their website.
It is simple and has the right CTA and tools.
I typed in 40 hours and the name of my city,
and here is what their
“see how much you can make” calculator displayed:
Video Ads, Technology
Lyft’s “June: Life is Better When You Share the Ride” video
has generated over 7.7 million views
and 1.7k comments on YouTube.
Lyft has also partnered with General Motors, Jaguar Land Rover
to create autonomous (driverless) cars in future.
Launched in June 2012,
Lyft now has over 23 million users and
over 1 million rides per day.
Now, this growth hack is more about what you should NOT do,
and that being on top doesn’t guarantee you that position forever.
Remember those days when a mobile phone would almost automatically refer to Nokia?
Back in those days, I had the Nokia 3310 (see image below).
I remember playing the “snake” game for hours on that phone.
Brings back old memories for sure!
The Finnish company started out as a paper mill in 1865.
However, it was its second location on the banks of the
Nokianvirta River that encouraged founder Fredrik Idestam to
name the company Nokia Ab.
Nokia launched the first handheld GSM phone Nokia 1011 in 1991.
Do you know that it could store only 99 contacts?
Back then, it was still awesome!
The company achieved global success with the
6100 series phones; selling 41 million units in 1998.
This feat also helped Nokia beat Motorola to become the
world’s top cellular phone manufacturer.
Talking about growth, the Finnish company enjoyed growth of
market capitalization from around $21 billion to $70 billion.
That’s 233% increase!
It is important to understand why Nokia failed.
As I said earlier, learning this will help you understand
what you should NOT be doing when trying to grow a business.
Nokia was not flexible to embrace the smartphone revolution.
Back in 2006, Apple was working on the iPhone and Google had purchased Android.
Nokia declined the invitation to join Google’s
Open Handset Alliance to build an open source OS for smartphones.
Talking in terms of numbers,
Nokia’s market cap plummeted from €110 billion (2007) to €14.8 billion (2012).
That’s 86% decline.
The same period (2007-2012) witnessed Apple and Android
dominating the smartphone industry.
Yves Doz has talked in detail about the strategic decisions
that caused Nokia’s failure in this post.
College dropouts Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak founded Apple in 1976.
According to the Forbes 2016 report,
Apple’s Brand Value ($154.1 billion) is ahead of Google’s and Microsoft’s.
If I were to single out my favorite reason behind
Apple’s massive growth, it would be “Branding”.
Not only Apple stands tall as a successful global venture,
it also commands respect for its branding strategy.
Apple is best at emotional marketing- a proven way to win
customers for life.
By focusing on emotion, the multinational tech giant
is able to build intimate connections with its customers.
This further allows Apple to become an integral part of our lifestyle.
Quoting Steve Jobs,
The chance to make a memory is
the essence of brand marketing.
So what led to the exponential growth of Apple Inc.?
The Apple ecosystem is a major cause of Apple’s growing profits.
It created a tight ecosystem of software, hardware, and content.
Apple has always kept it simple;
their products do not talk about where or how to buy,
but focus on the product itself.
Apple has generated profits even though its products are considered pricey.
Focusing on the unique value proposition,
the tech giant can easily steer clear of price wars.
Creating a product is not a big deal;
what’s important is to create an experience- a never forgetting experience.
Apple does this exceptionally well.
Check out this image (courtesy of Business Insider)
Apple enthusiasts were seen queuing up hours or days early
to get their hands on the new iPhone X all over the world.
That is what I am talking about- creating a memorable experience.
According to Tim Cook (CEO, Apple),
Apple experiments with new ways to generate revenue
by encouraging users to consume microcontent.
Case in point the iTunes Music Store.
I cannot help mentioning this quote from Cook:
Leaders need to get out of the building. Leave your swanky office and take a look around.
See what competing businesses and start-ups are working on.
Stay ahead of your competitors.
Focus on creating an experience, and keep it simple.
Do not push your products on users.
Find new ways to have them consume your content across different channels and avenues.
According to Statista,
the number of Netflix streaming subscribers crossed
100 Million in Q2 2017.
The company’s revenue grew from $1.36 billion in 2008 to
$11.69 Billion in 2017.
That’s 759% growth!
Netflix, without doubt, is one of the most innovative companies that use growth hacking.
What caused this jaw-dropping growth?
Netflix started in DVD rentals business;
using Internet bulletin boards and forums to target DVD users.
They wanted to market to early adopters with the message that
Netflix offered titles that were hard to find.
Talking directly to the buyer using this message
allowed Netflix to save money on conventional marketing,
and at the same time, process over 1,000 orders a day within
a month of this ‘soft launch’.
The “entertainment as utility” positioning has allowed
the Internet subscription video-streaming to expand its user base.
They have also used humor across social media to engage users.
Here is a tweet for example:
Netflix cleverly uses social media platforms
to engage with users.
In 1999, Chris Barton dreamed of creating an app that could recognize the music.
Then, it was perhaps unheard of.
Along with two other friends and an engineer,
he transformed that dream into reality.
The result- Shazam App.
Here are some stats about Shazam:
● 1 billion downloads
● 120 million monthly active users
● Valuation of over $1 billion
Check out this graph to understand Shazam’s growth:
For me, Shazam’s biggest growth hack was innovation.
It was an ingenious marriage of music and smartphones.
Interestingly, its initial growth was
through word-of-mouth marketing.
Content marketing is a must-have strategy
in your digital marketing arsenal.
However, posting content solely on your blog
is sometimes not enough. Take for example Buffer.
With help of guest blogging on third-party sites,
Buffer founder Leo Widrich was able to generate 100,000 users.
The guest posts aimed at generating views and repeat visitors,
to help drive traffic to Buffer’s site.
As of Feb 17, 2018, here are the Alexa stats for Buffer;
with over 8.1 Million users a month on the site.
Widrich, in an interview with SearchEngineWatch, said that
Relationships are hard to track, but are actually the most valuable things that you gain from guest posting.
Key Takeaway: You don’t always need to reinvent the wheel;
use guest blogging to generate buzz.
Make sure you offer useful content.
How about we talk about a company that spends
almost nothing on paid marketing and advertising,
and yet has grown into a global business with
$38 million annual revenue?
And that is why Moz deserves to be on the list of famous examples of growth hacking.
I am referring to Moz, the Seattle based SaaS Company
that sells inbound marketing and marketing analytics software subscriptions.
Rand Fishkin and Gillian Muessig started Moz in 2004 as a consulting firm;
and four years later,
transitioned into SEO software development.
Was the journey a cakewalk?
Fishkin went on a voracious hunt to
learn more about SEO, so much that he became
an authority on the subject.
He launched the SEOmoz blog in November 2004 to share
his wealth of information pertaining search engine optimization.
In spite of all this, the company struggled to make money.
Yet, Fishkin did not give up.
He continued rolling out high-quality articles via the SEOmoz blog.
Hard work and dedication finally paid off and
the blog started bringing in a regular stream of clients.
SEOmoz was ranked #334 on the Inc. 500 list in September 2010.
That concludes the first part of the HUGE list of
71 Powerful growth hacking examples & techniques.
…I did not want you to scroll indefinitely.
Part 2 awaits you!
Now, it is for you to share.
Which of these do you think is a great growth hacking case study?
Use the comment section below and share your thoughts!