In Parts 1 to 5, you and I walked through some amazing
growth hacking marketing examples.
In this post, we will focus on the growth hacking marketing stories of
Khan Academy, Udemy, Coursera, Kickstarter, Home Depot, Indeed, ZipRecruiter, Whole Foods, Google, Gmail, Home Depot, Compaq, Dell and Wikipedia.
Khan Academy Success Story
most of the hacks I have talked about
have been related to companies seeking profits.
How about a not-for-profit educational organization
that changed the way we looked at tutoring a decade ago?
We are talking about Khan Academy founder Salman Khan and his growth hack.
It amazes me how one man using just a computer
won the hearts of over 10 million students.
The idea of Khan Academy was born in 2004
when Khan observed that his cousin Nadia was having trouble in math.
He started tutoring her over the phone as she lived in a different city.
His efforts paid off when Nadia started showing improvement.
Soon Khan was tutoring 15 more cousins over the phone.
Come 2006, and upon a friend’s suggestion,
Khan took his tutoring on YouTube.
What’s interesting is that Khan believed that it was
a “horrible idea. YouTube is for cats playing the piano.”
Talking about the gear he used to record the videos-
a $900 desktop from Best Buy and a $200 microphone.
Yup, that’s all. No expensive bs there!
Two more years and his videos were generating tens of thousands of subscribers.
It was in 2009 when Salman Khan got a text
from philanthropist Ann Doerr that Bill Gates
wants to invest in Khan Academy. And the rest is history!
The website has generated over 57 million visits in the last six months.
That’s more than 9 million visits a month.
Udemy Growth Hack
With more than 4 million students and over 20k courses,
Udemy is one of the most popular online learning marketplace today.
According to co-founder Gagan Biyani,
90% of the first 5k courses were built organically.
When UDemy started in 2009, it had no content.
The team tried convincing authors, professors and public speakers to start creating courses.
During those days, the idea of creating an online course was not that impressive.
This bottleneck encouraged co-founder Eren Bali
to legally obtain videos of creative commons-licensed courses available online and post them on Udemy.
This helped Udemy ramp up to its first 100 courses.
Launching on popular blogs such as TechCrunch and Mashable helped the platform attract 10k users.
The initial user base helped the company raise $1 million seed round.
The team then took up the difficult task of convincing
experienced teachers and experts to become active instructors.
This meant the house of Skype calls with subject experts in different fields.
It did not turn out quite productive though.
The turning point in Udemy’s
growth hacking marketing journey came when the team
got an opportunity to speak in an event series called “Raising Capital for Startups”.
They recorded a course with seventy people in the room.
Note: The course is no longer available on the website.
They used the same format to create two more courses.
The three courses brought Udemy $30k-$50k.
Then onwards, Udemy grew organically- word of mouth.
Next on the agenda was to build a content acquisition team.
Gagan has even chalked out the steps to do so:
Step1: VA would search for the leading experts
in a given field, say PHP development.
And send them an email on behalf of a UDemy team member.
Step2: The team member connects with
the responders to explain the benefits and value of Udemy.
Step 3: Once the instructor buys the idea,
they create and launch the course within a month.
If you observe, Udemy did not invest in
advertising during this entire growth process.
you do not need hundreds of thousands of
dollars to launch or advertise a product.
Business Growth Strategy
I had to talk about Coursera after writing about Udemy.
It was founded by two Stanford University professors in 2012.
I know you are about to ask me- Udemy or Coursera.
I will let you decide:
Basically, Udemy has courses developed by individuals,
while Coursera is a platform for academic courses from leading universities and institutions.
Frank Chen has written an interesting post about Coursera’s growth.
The first course was developed in about 5 weeks.
The team was expecting a 10k-20k sign up.
They ended up with more than 100k users instead.
After considering for-profit and non-profit structures,
the team decided to go in direction of for-profit VC-backed business model.
Coursera has secured $146.1 million in funding to date.
The success of Coursera lays in the massive open online courses or MOOCs model.
They offer free courses from renowned institutions.
This generates a lot of demand; thus bringing in users from across the globe.
Coursera has registered more than 680k students in 42 countries.
What keeps instructors engaged on Coursera?
Unlike in a classroom, professors can use Coursera’s platform
to instruct hundreds of thousands of students all at once.
The website generates over 46 million monthly visits
with a bounce rate of under 39%.
That’s user engagement 101 for you!
How Kickstarter Kickstarted GROWTH!
CEO Yancey Strickler dubs Kickstarter as
the “people’s lottery ticket for creative ideas.”
Here is a sketch that founder Perry Chen drew on a whiteboard during the early years:
Kickstarter went live on April 28, 2009, at 1630 hours.
Prior to launch, the Kickstarter team had invited
50 of their friends to initiate projects and 5 invites to pass on to their friends, and so on.
And that is the most marketing they ever did.
Drawing for dollars was their first project
that the platform generated on Day 3, at $35.
However, Kickstarter’s journey was not all hunky dory;
it faced its share of challenges.
Going back in the year 2012,
the entrepreneurship platform faced the major issue of 56% failed projects.
Lay down a new set of rules to make the platform for serious creators ONLY:
● List the risks and business challenges
● Ban photo-realistic renderings of proposed projects
The crowdfunding startup Kickstarter
has successfully funded 139k projects
and pledged more than $3 billion for projects since its launch in 2009.
The platform allows users to raise funds and
charges the backers-only when the project goal is reached.
If you like healthy food that does not contain artificial preservatives,
colors, flavors, or sweeteners, perhaps Whole Foods is the place for you.
Let’s revisit its journey.
John Mackey (25) and Renee Lawson (21) borrowed $45,000
from family and friends to open a small natural foods store
called Safer Way Natural Foods in Austin, Texas in 1978.
Three years later, it merged with
Clarksville Natural Grocery to open the first Whole Foods Market.
In 1981, Austin experienced the worst flood in 70 years.
It destroyed the Whole Foods Market. With no insurance and over $400K in losses,
the company was knee- deep (actually literally immersed) in financial woes.
The community (neighbors, customers, and staff)
worked together to repair and clean up the damage.
And within a month, the store reopened.
Whole Foods’ growth was
primarily due to mergers and acquisitions.
They would acquire local chain markets
and turn them into Whole Foods.
From 1984 to the 1990s,
Whole Foods Market continued their expansion
via the acquisition of other natural foods chains.
Here are some of them:
● Wellspring Grocery (North Carolina)
● Bread & Circus (Massachusetts and Rhode Island)
● Mrs. Gooch’s Natural Foods Markets (LA)
● Bread of Life (FL)
● Fresh Fields Markets
● Merchant of Vino stores
● Allegro Coffee (CO)
● Nature’s Heartland (MA)
● Food For Thought (CA)
● Harry’s Farmers Market (Atlanta)
In 1997, Whole Foods generated over $1 billion in revenue;
it now had 70 stores in 16 states.
The company ventured outside of the US with the launch of
its store in Toronto in 2002, and in 2007 in London.
Last year (2017), Amazon purchased Whole Foods for $13.7 billion.
Growth Hacking Marketing
What happens when an idea to help small businesses who lack
resources to expand their HR staff hire candidates takes shape in form of a startup?
ZipRecruiter is born!
Ian Siegel and his co-founders started the
recruiting platform in 2010 aiming at lifestyle business.
While the journey was tough,
ZipRecruiter managed to build a customer base of over 5 million SMBs in the US.
They have bagged $50 million in the latest deal.
Unlike other job sites, the “SMB” (small to mid-size businesses) niche
was still less competitive in the recruiting domain.
This helped ZipRecruiter grow at a faster pace.
More than 80% of its search traffic is organic.
The website generates more than 7 million visits a month.
The website is user-friendly;
Employers can post over 100 job board with a single submission.
It is easy to review the candidates as well using the platform.
They have also used mobile apps
to drive user growth and engagement.
One thing they have done well
is listening to their customers.
Customer surveys revealed that the employers
wanted an easy sorting and onboarding process
(offer letter, W-4, I-9 etc.).
ZipRecruiter leaped into action and digitized the process.
An employer can send a generic
or custom offer letter to the candidate,
and the candidate can read it on their smartphone,
sign it with their finger, and send it back.
This eliminates paperwork that is commonplace in the hiring process.
The website is free for job seekers.
It sends them job alerts about
the best 10 to 20 jobs every day via email.
According to the company, more than 20 million job seekers
have subscribed to this free service.
You do not always have to be the
first mover to dominate an industry.
When Indeed.com arrived in 2004,
Monster was the leader in the hiring domain.
Today, the job site has surpassed Monster.
It has over 70 million monthly visits and more than 1 billion job searches.
And is valued at $400 million.
Forster says the key to explosive growth is creating a great user experience.
Most of the growth has been organic although Indeed does some search marketing.
What was Indeed’s growth hack?
Word of mouth played a major role in the
growth of the pay-per-click job listing and search site.
However, the site further expanded its wings via
new product launches and publisher partnerships.
It has partnered with over 25k publishers.
The career site syndicates sponsored jobs across the Internet as well.
More than 50% of traffic on the site comes from the United States.
The service is available in 50+ countries and 28 languages.
While 90% of its search traffic is organic,
it also spends a huge amount on paid ads;
with over 9% search traffic coming from paid channels.
Indeed has left all major career sites behind. Here is the graph.
The job site also expanded its portfolio by adding the job placement tool.
It has now more than 2.5 million resumes in its database.
Gmail Growth Hacking
Back in 2004, when Google had launched Gmail,
it was not the ubiquitous search engine giant that we know of
Email services such as Yahoo and Hotmail had a huge
market share during those days.
Here is an interesting image of Gmail (March 31, 2004):
What was the growth hack for Gmail?
Google launched Gmail (originally code-named Caribou) on
Fool’s day (April 1st) of 2004, offering 1GB of free storage,
which in Google’s own words was
more than 100 times what most other free webmail services offer.
The date of launch coupled with the rather-unbelievable offer
was considered by many as a hoax.
I plead guilty too!
What’s interesting is that when Gmail went public,
Google did not have the required infrastructure to support
millions of email account with the promised storage space.
So Gmail ended up running on 300-year old, discarded PIII computers
Moreover, it was a limited beta rollout by invitation only-
starting with about 1,000 opinion leaders who were able to
This raised both raised interest and demand.
Isn’t it human nature to crave exclusivity, after all?
Gmail had no difficulty shadowing Hotmail and Yahoo
thanks to its vast storage, fast interface and a host of
other user-friendly features.
Here is a graph showing the number of active Gmail users
around the world from January 2012 to February 2016 (in millions).
As of 2017, Gmail has over 1.2 Billion users and
commands 20% of the global email client market.
The inside story of Gmail’s launch by Harry Mccracken is a good read on this subject.
I couldn’t finish this list of 69 powerful growth hacking examples
without mentioning Google.
In the late 1990s, Larry Page and Sergey Brin
observed the chaotic mess on the World Wide Web,
and decided to organize it better by ranking
search results according to their popularity.
The duo borrowed money from family, friends
and other investors to launch Google in 1998.
This is how Google looked like during its early days:
Data Data Data!
Google was one of the few companies in those days
to understand the importance of data.
They focused on building algorithms to score web pages
instead of hiring and researchers to curate links for specific queries.
The result was PageRank,
which gave Google an edge over other search engines such as Yahoo.
While on the surface, Google is essentially a search engine,
96 percent of its revenues come from ads in 2011.
Here is a graph showing Google’s advertising revenue
from 2001 to 2017 (in billion dollars):
That’s a 136157 % growth from 2001.
Google paid Apple $1 billion in 2014
to have it as the default search engine on iPhones.
Google has focused on innovation since its launch.
It continues to add new products and improve upon the existing ones.
Gmail, Google Maps, Voice Search, Google My Business,
AdWords, Pixel, and other products from the
search engine giant have become part of our lifestyle.
The Google ecosystem first engages users on its search platform
and then monetizes through their wide array of products and services.
Compaq Growth Story
There was a time when IBM ruled the world of computers.
Then, out of nowhere,
a small startup founded by three ex-Texas Instruments managers sprouted
and disrupted that monopoly.
Rod Canion, Jim Harris, and Bill Murto founded Compaq in 1982.
Together, they had $3000 to invest.
It was Ben Rosen’s $2.5 million investment
that helped Compaq focus on innovation.
By 1987, Compaq was on the Fortune 500 list
and soon the company exceeded $1 billion in annual revenue.
Awesome growth, isn’t it?
What was Compaq’s growth hack?
Well, for starters,
the journey was daunting and the trio faced criticism on many occasions.
IBM’s first personal computer (PC) in 1982
was met with less expensive clones from multiple companies, Compaq being one of them.
However, the Texan startup did not just copy IBM’s s product;
it made its product faster, better and feature-rich in form of the Compaq Portable,
a portable IBM PC compatible personal computer.
It was often called the “suitcase computer“.
Partnership With Dealers
Compaq developed a strong relationship
with its dealers to deal with the competitive shelf space.
Since the company did not sell directly,
the incentive to carry Compaq computers was too good to decline.
Compaq also supported their dealers financially in advertising and sales training.
Faster Time to Market
Agility was a key ingredient in the growth of Compaq.
In an industry where a 12-18 month product cycle was common,
Compaq delivered in six to nine months.
This helped the company introduce the latest tech before its competitors.
The Rod Canion-led startup registered $500 million in sales
even when other companies were losing money during the 1984 industry shakeout.
Hewlett-Packard acquired Compaq Computer for $25 billion in stock in 2002.
Dell Growth Strategy
This growth hack is about another Texan company- Dell Inc.
With just $1000 on him,
a young student at the University of Texas at Austin founded Dell.
The young lad was Michael Dell.
The off-campus dormitory room at Dobie Center.
His aim was to sell IBM PC-compatible computers built from stock components.
He would buy parts, assemble them
into clones of IBM computers, and mail them to customers.
This strategy soon started bringing $80,000 a month,
and Dell dropped out of school to pursue the journey of entrepreneurship.
Using low-cost direct marketing,
Dell was able to undersell the popular computer brands.
Customers would place orders to Dell by dialing a toll-free number.
In its first year, Dell’s sales were $6 million.
Year two it jumped to $40 million.
Dell hired marketing executives from Tandy Corporation (a low-cost PC maker)
to grow beyond the success of mail order.
Soon, gross margins went from 23% to 31%.
Price wars in the early 1990s affected Dell’s margins;
the company has to cut its computer prices by up to $1,400 to keep its market share.
Dell started venturing into Latin America and APAC to
address the industry-wide consolidation during this period.
Here is an image of Michael Dell posing in his office in 1992-
the same year his company entered the Fortune 500 league.
Although the company lost $36 million in 1994;
it bounced back reporting profits of $149 million in 1995 and $944 million in 1998.
By now, Dell enjoyed a 9% market share.
In 1999, it opened an online superstore Gigabuys
to sell low-priced computer hardware, software, and peripherals from different companies.
Dell reported total revenues of $25.26 billion in 2000.
The PC Industry slump during 2000 encouraged Dell to aggressively
push into the market for Internet servers, owing to its high profitability.
In 2002, Dell took a new approach to reach customers-
setting up kiosks at shopping malls.
In 2004, Dell’s revenues were $41.44 billion.
Here is a chart showing Dell Technology’s net revenue from
1996 to 2017 (in billion dollars):
Home Depot Growth Story
Often the terms construction
and Home Depot are used in the same sentence.
Bernard Marcus, Arthur Blank, and Ronald Brill founded Home Depot in 1978
and opened their first store in Atlanta with help of a New York venture capital firm.
They had pitched the inverse relationship
between the price of merchandise and sales; and the poor operations in the retail industry.
The company targeted people who believed in the DIY (do it yourself) concept.
However, there was a small problem-
most of the DIY users lacked the expertise to complete repair or home improvement tasks.
Huge Inventory– they ensured that every Home Depot store
had the real estate to stock a minimal 25,000 different products.
At that time, most of the competitors carried 10k items.
Skilled Staff– They trained the sales staff in each store
so they could advise and assist the customers.
This meant having licensed plumber and electrician on staff.
They also encouraged customers to call the store if they had questions or doubts.
Home Depot would also bring in local contractors as instructors.
The company hired almost 90% of their employees on a full-time basis.
As a result, Home Depot expanded to 19 stores and registered
a 118% growth from the previous year in 1984.
Two years later, sales hit the $1 Billion mark.
It exceeded Lowe’s sales in 1989.
Look at the popularity of search term “home depot” from 2004 to 2016:
Home Depot was named one of the world’s most innovative companies
in 2017 by Fast Company.
They have generated around $90 billion in revenues
in 2016 without opening any new stores in the last three years.
How did they achieve this?
Home Depot offers an integrated experience
across all sales platforms, which has led to higher conversion rates on its website.
The integration of online and offline channels
has helped the company increase revenues per square foot.
What does this mean to a user?
They can order online, and pick up the product in the store,
and seek advice at the time of pick up.
How Wikipedia became successful?
There was a time when we would flip the pages of Encyclopedia Britannica.
Well, Wikipedia changed all that.
What’s interesting is that the online encyclopedia is run on donations.
Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger launched Wikipedia on January 15, 2001.
The website got their first major endorsement from the Slashdot.
They owe their first mainstream media coverage to The New York Times.
Wikipedia’s primary growth hacks are:
● Open content license: Wikipedia is free for everyone
● Radical collaboration/Open Source: Anyone can contribute and edit any section of anyone’s work
● Ease of editing: the flat learning curve of Wiki tools allow users to edit an article easily.
The website’s success was not a cakewalk.
It had to lay down stringent rules for content submission
after a well-known journalist claimed that his Wiki bio was false.
Content creation on Wikipedia was a quick process.
Within a month of its launch, it has posted 1,000 articles.
And in just a year, they had 20k entries.
User-generated content is the lifeline of Wikipedia.
Since mistakes on the website can be corrected within hours,
Wikipedia has edge over online book encyclopedias.
As you know, it would take days to publish another edited version of a book!
With time, Wikipedia started becoming an authority on information.
It is available in several languages.
Today, Wikipedia has more than
32.8 million users and 5.56 million articles.
Growth Hacking Marketing: Lessons Learned
When you give users control, you can have a massive product.
Wikipedia doesn’t pay people to write;
yet their content keeps growing.
Finally, you and I made it.
That was a long journey of
71 Powerful Growth Hacking Examples & Techniques
What do you think of these examples of growth hacking marketing?
Which of these have you implemented?
Share your successes (and failure) stories
using the comment box below!
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