Startups, including those that get funding from venture capitalists and investors, have to work on a lean budget. They need to prove that their startups are profitable so that they can get additional funding to scale. The only way for them to do that is to make money…FAST! That’s the promise that growth hacking offers.
What is growth hacking, anyway?
Sean Ellis created the term “growth hacking” in 2010 to describe an unconventional approach to marketing. It’s a technique that combines analytics, creativity, and innovation to get the highest returns within a short period.
Growth hacking is a scientific way to market your business and products. Unlike other marketing strategies that require lots of research and planning before it’s carried out, growth hacking focuses on testing one—and only one—hypothesis at a time to see if this works or not. The results, whether they’re good or bad, are then documented and analyzed before proceeding to the next one.
Growth hacking techniques focus on rapid growth. That is why it’s so appealing to startup founders. “Slow and steady” no longer works in today’s fiercely competitive market. What you need is a sudden burst of energy to get ahead of the pack and gain momentum.
That’s why I’ve created this guide.
Here, I will walk you through the basics of growth hacking as well as techniques, strategies, and examples you can immediately use whether you’re just about to launch your startup or have been at it for a while.
Much of the strategies and techniques I’ll be sharing in this guide will focus on customer acquisition.
The reason is simple: if you don’t get paying customers quickly, you won’t make a profit. Moreover, if you can’t show this to venture capitalists and investors, it’s going to be a lot tougher for you to convince them to give you the funding you need to scale.
Growth hacking versus inbound marketing
Remember those Mac vs. PC commercials Apple launched a few years back?
Well, that’s pretty much the rivalry we now see in the case of growth hacking and inbound marketing. Each of them now has a loyal following with one claiming to be better and more effective in delivering results for startups than the other.
In reality, growth hacking and inbound marketing aren’t bitter enemies as many think. Customer acquisition, after all, isn’t the end goal. It’s just the beginning.
For your startup to scale, you also have to come up with a strategy to retain your new customers. This is crucial because studies show that not only is getting new customers more expensive than keeping them, but existing customers are more likely to spend more on their repeat purchases.
That’s where inbound marketing comes in to help.
Just to give you a review, inbound marketing is a strategy uses highly valuable and informative content to attract and convert visitors into paying customers.
More importantly, the inbound marketing methodology also focuses on delighting your existing customers so that they not only stay and become loyal to your startup but also transform them into your brand ambassadors.
Simply put, growth hacking gets your customers through the door. Inbound marketing encourages them to stay and invite others to join them.
The qualities of a growth hacker
In its broadest sense, anyone who can successfully execute a growth hacking experiment can call themselves a growth hacker.
Additionally, a growth hacker possesses specific qualities that distinguish them from other marketers.
Growth hackers are laser-focused on growth.
Sean Ellis describes growth hackers as people whose “true north is growth”. When they run an experiment, they don’t care about what effect it will have towards your startup’s brand or reputation. The only thing that matters is finding tactics and strategies to grow and scale your startup.
Growth hackers think outside the box.
A growth hacker is comfortable with experimenting with an idea no matter how crazy or absurd it might sound. That’s because often, it’s these crazy ideas that end up giving them the highest conversions.
Take the story of PayPal, for example. To increase their customer acquisition rate, they decided to pay people for signing up and referring their friends.
Other startup founders may have thought of this as suicide, especially if you consider that the majority of startups are strapped for cash.
As crazy and ridiculously expensive as it may have been, PayPal’s founders still went with it. This growth hack caused PayPal customer base to grow between 7% and 10% per day and reached 5 million users in just a few short months.
Growth hackers are resilient.
A growth hacker understands that not all experiments will turn okay great. There will be some that would be a complete flop. These failures don’t stop them. Instead, it propels them to keep on experimenting and trying other strategies until they find the one that will bring exponential growth to the startup.
Growth hackers are risk takers.
Executing a growth hacking experiment involves many risks for the simple reason that not a lot of planning was done to check whether or not it’s worth pursuing.
Traditional marketers may find that situation quite stressful and nerve-wracking, but not for a growth marketer. In fact, growth marketers thrive on taking risks.
While not all of the risks they take are successful, those that are bringing in amazing results, making it worth their while.
Growth hacking experiments: The key ingredient to success
A growth hacking experiment is a systematic process following the scientific method. That way, you’re able to repeat the test, predict its results, and scale this as your startup grows.
5 steps in running a growth hacking experiment
Step 1: Review your current marketing results.
Auditing your current marketing campaigns and overall strategy is an effective way to find gaps that you can exploit to get more customers. At the same time, it will also show you your most effective distribution channels, making these areas ideal places to run your growth hacking experiment.
Step 2: Set achievable goals.
You probably know by now that setting SMART goals are crucial to the success of any marketing campaign. Part of this is being able to understand how to measure your success effectively.
Growth hackers turn to the growth hacking funnel, which looks something like this:
Each stage of the funnel focuses on a specific aspect that will affect your startup’s growth: customer acquisition, activation (convincing your customers to use your product), customer retention, generating revenue, and getting referrals from your existing customers.
Step 3: Lay out your hypotheses.
The Business Dictionary defines the term hypothesis as an assumed explanation why certain events happen, and “provide guidance for further investigation.”
In other words, your hypothesis is an educated guess why you’re not meeting your goals.
For this step, gather your team together and do a braindump on all the possible reasons, and choose which ones you’ll test.
Once you have your list of hypothesis, start brainstorming with your team of the different experiments you can run to test each one.
Step 4: Run your experiments.
When running your growth hacking experiments, make sure that you do this one at a time. That way, you’ll be able to carefully track and monitor the results to see how useful it is in helping you reach your goals.
Also, keep the experiment period short. Remember, speed is the name of the game. A growth hacking experiment is considered successful if you begin to see exponential results within 30 days from the time you started running your experiment.
Step 5: Document and share your results.
As you run your growth hacking experiment, make sure that you carefully document the entire process and the results you’ve achieved. Without this, you may not be able to replicate the experiment in the future.
Most startups tend to only document and share the successful experiments with their teams. While this is entirely understandable, I highly recommend documenting and sharing all your experiments—even the ones that weren’t successful.
By doing this, you and your growth team can carefully review the results, see how the experiment can be adjusted, and test it again to see if the results improve.
20 growth hacks to get 10x more customers
Now let’s look at some tactics that helped other startups grow their customer base that you can use to get more customers for your startup.
1. Use customer feedback to create an excellent product.
Gone are the days when marketing can get companies to win big even if they put out a mediocre product. Thanks to the internet, customers now can do their own research before deciding whether or not to buy a product or service.
A great way of doing this is by getting feedback from your potential customers before launching your product.
This is precisely what Neil Patel and his team did when they launched Crazy Egg, a startup that offers a host of website optimization tools to improve customers’ overall experience.
Within one month of launching Crazy Egg, Neil and his team started collecting feedback from those that have tried their services. They used the feedback the collected to improve their services further. Each time they upgraded their services, they publicly announced it to their target customers.
By the time they launched their services six months after, they already generated a waiting list of 10,000 people eager to pay for their services.
2. Teach your customers how to use your product.
One of the biggest challenges customers face the moment they get a new service is how to use it effectively to maximize its benefits.
That’s what Andre Capland, Growth Team Lead at Wistia, observed. More important, he and his team noticed that new customers that “borrowed” a video from Wistia watched the entire video. Capland and his team saw that they could capitalize on this to educate them more about their product and services.
Capland and his team then created a video that gave a tour for new users of their media page and how to use their tools. They then offered this to their new users as the video they can borrow from them.
Shifting the focus of the video new users can borrow to one that focused more on their product and services caused Wistia to see a 15% increase in one of their onboarding metrics. It also resulted in more users to pay for their services and activate their account.
3. Craft a compelling message for your website’s homepage.
When visitors check your startup’s website for the first time, you now only have 50 milliseconds to get them to stay to learn more about what you have to offer. If they don’t like what they see, they’ll leave.
Jessica Webb, Growth and Content Marketer at Trello, realized that one of the best ways to do this is to make the message on their website more compelling.
She and her growth team decided to run an experiment testing 11 different messaging headlines on Trello’s homepage. They chose this page to check first because this was where they were getting the most sign-ups.
Shortly after running the experiment, they found that using their collaborative project tracking tool messaging yielded the most number of sign-ups. They then began to implement this messaging to other pages of their website, further growing their customer acquisition.
4. Use shorter opt-in forms.
Getting as much contact information can help your sales team drive up your lead-to-customer conversion rates. However, as what InsightSquared discovered, requiring your visitors to fill up a very long opt-in form can cause them not to fill it up altogether.
They decided to prove this hypothesis by running an experiment removing the Phone Number field from their opt-in forms since this was one of the optional fields in their form.
The results after running the experiment for just a month was phenomenal. By removing one field in their opt-in form, InsightSquared saw a 112% increase in their conversion rates. The test proved their hypothesis was correct and began to implement this new form for all of their opt-in offers.
5. Use a compelling tagline in your email signature.
If you’ve been on the internet since back in the late ‘90s, you’ve probably heard of Hotmail. You may even had an email account with them once upon a time.
Hotmail may no longer be the most widely used email service provider since that title was snatched by Gmail back in 2012. Nevertheless, they’re still worth mentioning here.
That’s because, at a time when there were about 70 million internet users, 17% of them were using Hotmail for their email. Even more amazing, they did this just a year and a half from the time they launched.
How did they do it? By adding a simple, yet catchy, tagline on every email sent out by their users.
The idea was conjured up by one of their investors. Each time an email was sent out by one of its users, their program added a tagline at the bottom that said: “PS: I love you. Get your free e-mail at Hotmail.”
Source: The Social Media Family
It sounds cheesy, but it worked. As soon as they began running with this, Hotmail started receiving 3,000 new sign-ups per day! In six months, they reached one million users.
And it didn’t end there. Their sign-ups continued to exponentially increase such that by the time Microsoft bought Hotmail in 1997, Hotmail user base had reached 12 million people.
6. Give an incentive for referrals.
Referrals are one of the fastest ways to exponentially increase your startup’s customer acquisition. That’s because people are more willing to buy a product or service recommended to them by someone they know and trust.
Of course, you could wait for your customers to make the recommendation for you, but that can take some time. To speed things up, you need to give them something irresistible in exchange for a referral.
That’s precisely what Dropbox did.
As a startup that provides cloud storage services, Dropbox understood that one of the things that their free users would love is more free storage. So they used this as their incentive to give to their users that refer people from their network.
Source: Viral Loops
Referrals did two things for Dropbox. First, it introduced their brand to people that matched their buyer persona. Second, it encouraged their users to refer Dropbox to their friends and family.
The result was a 3900% growth in just 15 short months.
7. Use exit pop-ups.
Email marketing is one of the most effective strategies to get more customers. Just take a look at these email marketing stats from OptinMonster:
- 85% of adults in the US send or read emails daily
- 99% of consumers check their email inbox at least once a day.
- 95% of business professionals prefer using emails for business communication.
What’s more, you don’t need to invest a considerable amount to get started. Tools like HubSpot’s Marketing Hub and email marketing companies like MailChimp give you everything you need to create an email marketing campaign for free.
The only problem with this is that growing your startup’s email list can take some time.
One way to boost things up by using an exit popup.
As its name suggests, this type of popup appears the moment when it detects your site’s visitors are about to leave.
Joydeep Bhattacharya of SEOSandwitch Blog points out that these make effective lead magnets, especially when you offer something irresistible to your visitors.
“You can easily convert your visitors into subscribers by offering them a piece of information like an e-book or cheat sheet that can solve their problems,” he explains. “Once you have a list of subscribers to target, you can follow up with intelligent email marketing to turn those subscribers into customers.”
One startup that executes this very well is Process Street.
They observed that Google-related blog posts were the most popular among their visitors. They decided to hack this to grow their email list by creating an exit-pop up offering Google Drive tips. This alone generated a 65% increase in their conversion rates.
Source: Process Street
However, they didn’t stop there.
They decided to sweeten the offer by offering visitors the opportunity to win up to 1TB free Google Drive premium storage.
Source: Process Street
Adding this to their exit pop-up yielded for them a 196% increase in conversions.
8. Gamify your onboarding process.
Gamification is a great growth hack because it rewards your visitors with incentives for each action you want them to do. It also keeps them interested and wanting to come back for more.
This is what Foundr did when they launched their first book. Before its launch, they ran a contest targeting followers on social media and email subscribers.
Instead of just asking them to complete a form to join their contest, Foundr raised the stakes by awarding them with points after completing certain milestones such as tweeting about the contest or getting their friends and family to join the competition. As a result, Foundr generated thousands of new email subscribers as well as hit 4x their set goals.
9. Capitalize on FOMO
FOMO means the “fear of missing out.” Since the rise of social media, people now want to be part of the loop. If they are unable to relate to what everyone else is raving about, they start to get anxious.
Growth hackers capitalize on FOMO because the anxiety people feel when they see they are missing out on something great increases their desire to want to purchase the product or service.
One startup that used FOMO to grow its customers exponentially is Gmail.
While other startups were giving away invitations left and right to get as many people to visit their website when they launched, Gmail restricted access to just a handful of people. The only way to sign up for an account was getting an invitation from someone that’s got access to it.
By making their service exclusive to a handful few, signing up for a Gmail account became something like a status symbol, and everyone wanted to get in on the action. Some were even willing to pay to get an invite!
10. Tap into videos.
Online videos receive 74% of internet traffic worldwide. This clearly shows that videos are now the preferred content format today.
Your videos don’t need to be polished to be effective. The videos published by Dollar Shave Club is a perfect example.
If you compare their videos to those published by their main competitor, Gillette, Dollar Shave Club’s videos look crude and pretty simple.
Nevertheless, Dollar Shave Club’s videos were so compelling that they not only went viral but also got them so many customers that they made over $20 million in revenue two years after launching and became the number 1 online razor company.
That’s a pretty impressive achievement considering that Dollar Shave Club only charges $1 per month for each new customer!
11. Set a limit on your freemiums.
Giving your target customers the ability to use your product or service for free will get you many sign-ups, but not that much revenue. Often, startups struggle with getting their customers to upgrade their free accounts to one of their paid plans.
The best way to maximize on your growing free account user base is to set limits on your free accounts based on those critical “Aha!” moments. These include:
- Restricting the number of files they can upload
- Completing one action for a specific number of times
- Log-in frequency
This was the growth hack that visual customer journey software provider Autopilot used to grow their customer acquisition massively. They pinpointed specific actions that were done by the majority of their free users and set a limit to it.
Once a free account holder reaches that limit, they are sent an invitation to upgrade their free account to a premium one for a fee. This helped them grow their customer base to 2,500 customers and generate 21% month-over-month revenue growth.
12. Solve one real-world problem.
The majority of people searching on the internet are looking for solutions to their problems. When you’re able to help them solve this quickly and easily, they will more likely come back to find more. Eventually, they will be sold to your product that they will be willing to pay for your product or service.
This was how HubSpot exponentially grew in terms of customer acquisition and revenue.
A critical element of a successful marketing strategy is an effective buyer persona. However, not all marketers know exactly how to create one. HubSpot then created an online buyer persona generator that will guide marketers and startup founders step-by-step in building their business’ buyer persona.
While this service is free, it does have one catch. That is, you’ll need to give them your email address to receive your completed buyer persona so you can print this and share with your team.
It’s a very clever growth hack because now HubSpot has the means to reach out to these people to promote their paid services.
13. Explore all possible channels.
Another growth hack you can use to 10x your customer acquisition is to explore all the possible channels that you can use to get in front of your target market.
For this to work, you’ll need to put yourself in your customers’ shoes.
This is what led Airbnb to develop what is considered to be one of the most popular growth hack success stories.
When Airbnb’s founders were exploring ways to get more bookings to their then small list of properties, they asked themselves one question: “Where will I go to look for rental properties if there was no Airbnb?”
Their quest to find the answer to this question led them to Craigslist. And the rest was history.
14. Take a risk on traditional forms of advertising.
Many startup founders tend to cringe when it comes to traditional forms of advertising. That because they are more expensive than their online counterparts.
That may be true, but if your startup offers physical products, it’s a risk worth taking as Groupon discovered.
Although Groupon is an online coupon platform, the majority of these coupons are for physical products. They needed to quickly scale their startup and dominate the online coupon space before their competitors.
They took the enormous risk of promoting themselves through TV commercials.
It was worth it.
Within a year, Groupon scaled 228% and hit their goals.
15. Get your sales team to use direct dial numbers.
Another way to growth hack traditional marketing methods is by getting your sales team to use direct dial numbers.
Traditionally, sales teams have to go through a gatekeeper before they speak with a decision-maker of a potential client company. Sometimes, they’re lucky. Most of the times, they end up hitting a dead end.
Making the simple switch of using direct dial numbers can increase the likelihood of your sales team to connect with decision-makers by up to 147%. It also increases their efficiency by 375%.
By increasing your sales team’s ability to speak with the right people, they will be more able to convert these companies into customers.
16. Make embedding easy for your visitors.
Providing your visitors an embed code to your content can growth hack your customer acquisition in three ways:
First, allowing your visitors to share your content on their blog or social media account allows this to go viral, quickly promoting your brand and products to your target market.
Second, it helps you quickly generate backlinks to your website, providing it with a surge of referral traffic.
Lastly, you get to siphon the domain authority from these sites to yours. This, in turn, will increase your website’s search engine rankings. Since 32.5% of people click on the first organic link on Google, this will get more people to your site that you can convert into customers.
17. Integrate your product with others.
Integrating your product or service so with other more popular ones can help open the door for you to a rich pool of potential customers.
One startup that used this growth hack well is Spotify. By integrating their app with social media giant Facebook, they gave their users the ability to share what they’re listening to their friends. When this pops up in their friends’ news feed, it will spark curiosity, causing them to head over to Spotify’s site or app, learn more about it, and eventually sign up.
18. Narrow your focus.
Believe it or not, a common misconception many startup founders have is that if they want to increase their customer acquisition, they need to cast the net as far and as wide as possible.
In reality, the best way to growth hack your startup’s customer acquisition is to become laser-focused whom you target.
LinkedIn’s ability to successfully drive growth is proof. When it launched, LinkedIn’s founders decided to open its doors to tech people from Silicon Valley looking to build their professional network. The experiment proved hugely successful. So while they’ve now expanded to other industries across the globe, they still stayed focused on catering only to people that want to do business networking.
19. Capitalize on your customer’s impatience.
It’s a known fact that people tend to get very impatient online. They want things to happen at lightning speed.
Startups like Monzo—a mobile-only bank in the UK—tapped into this social psychology by using what they call the “queue jumper” growth hack.
One of the features of their app was to let their users know how many people are ahead of them in the queue.
Seeing those numbers is enough to get any user to become impatient, even if they’re not physically waiting in line to be served. So they came up with the “Golden Ticket,” which allows them to get in front of the queue by merely referring someone to open an account with them.
With this growth hack, their users get served faster, and Monzo gets more customers. It’s a win-win situation for both.
20. Create inbound marketing sprints.
This is one growth hack that I have personally used in my own business and with my clients.
Instead of creating an inbound marketing campaign that lasts several months, run this for just one month.
Making this massive cut the time your marketing campaign runs means that the content you publish is more focused. Running monthly marketing campaign sprints also means that your team remains agile and able to make adjustments quickly so that you can hit your goals faster.
In addition to growing my client base, this growth hack has also helped my clients improve their client base and generate more revenue.
Growth hacking may be a relatively new technique startups are using to drive growth in their customer acquisition, but as we have seen, it has proven itself to be extremely effective.
In this guide, I’ve shared with you many growth hacks that you can start using to get more customers. You can try these growth hacks following the way how successful startups have done.
Using growth hacks doesn’t mean that you’ll have to say goodbye to inbound marketing. I haven’t.
I am still a strong advocate of the inbound marketing methodology. Inbound marketing remains a cost-effective way for startups to promote brand awareness, generate leads, and most important, generate revenue.
Growth hacking serves as the catalyst that gets everything going for your startup. Inbound marketing helps sustain it.
I can help you combine the two to get more customers quickly, generate revenue, and scale your startup, feel free to check out my growth marketing course to learn more.