Growth Hacking

What is a growth hacker and what does he do?

Growth hacking
Alain Perrier
Written by Alain Perrier


Who is concerned by growth hacking?

The growth hacking discipline is mainly applied to start-ups, but marketers and social media experts may also use this technique in large organisations. I just want to clarify that growth hacking techniques are not magical, it is as effective as fuel on a fire already burning, you cannot rely only on communication to grow a start-up. That is why only start-ups with a solid product market fit should apply it.

What is a growth hacker?

Basically, growth hacking is used in start-ups to focus the strategy on growth. A growth hacker should be stuck on one main goal, which is generally acquiring new users at the launch. But a growth hacker working in a big company that is already well established is generally working on retention and loyalty.

Being a growth hacker requires versatility. A growth hacker should have a technical understanding, a user experience approach, and communication skills. He is at the crossroads between the marketing team, the engineers, the data analysis team and the product team (including customer support).

A growth hacker should also be familiar with methodology. Indeed, in order to be efficient, a growth hacker needs to have processes and works on automation. The growth must be scalable, because you will need to master many things at the same time, you cannot afford to waste your time on repeated tasks.

What does he do to reach his goal?

How to explain success stories like Dropbox, Twitter, Uber…? What were the role of the growth hacking team?

Let’s take the example of Dropbox which set up an effective referral program to earn new customers (500mo given per referral). Their strategy was smart because they offer the opportunity to get a decent storage for free. People just had to invite their friends to get more storage and they also were willing to. Thereby, the company reaches its main growth objective which is to acquire new users (see Fig.1).

Growth hacker worked hard at Dropbox

Fig. 1, Dropbox users’ growth from 2009 to 2016


Bring a growth hacking culture

Having a growth hacking spirit encourages the culture of impatience. A growth hacker should build strong relationships with every department since his role requires diverse skills and thereby, a high level of coordination. And he needs also to get support from the board to create a start-up spirit and successfully lead to a high level of commitment. People should be more willing to challenge themselves, and more excited to reach their goals. The management style must be democratic and need to be influenced by clear objectives (that is the most important part in my opinion).

Define the core objective

A growth hacker must define a clear objective, identify the right metric(s) to focus on, and implement necessary (and possible) means to achieve the goal. Taking the example of Dropbox, it shows also that a growth hacker need to be creative, and he needs to go off the beaten tracks to differentiate himself from its competitors.

Define the area of focus

Growth hackers should focus on the most profitable customers, or in other words, those who are most likely to be converted. They must target effectively to have higher return on investment. That is why they try to reach the early adopters.

Of course, it requires an upstream analysis to be able to target them. Growth hackers are very data oriented, it helps them to make better decisions. They have to analyse data to get insights from their potential customers, but they also rely on their intuition as all humans do. The key is to not being stuck to his intuition and readjust as quick as possible if something went wrong.

They could collect data with specific tricks, which could be:

  • In early stage by identifying hashtags on Twitter, making a market survey or setting up a landing page and social media accounts to get a prelist of customers…
  • In advanced stage, to analyse all the data that they collected through their CRM, through Google Analytics, and user experience tracking tools

Once, they collected and analysed these data, they will be able to experiment a strategy to reach their customers.

Experiment and iterate

AB testing technique

Growth hackers need to get concrete results fast, and also feedbacks to be able to adjust their implementation strategy. They operate in an agile environment, there is no formula for a perfect growth hacking strategy, that is why growth hackers make many experiments before finding the most effective solution (that might be challenged in the future).

As already discussed in the previous section, analytical tools and rational analysis are very much appreciated. Therefore, before choosing to implement a strategy, they use the A/B Testing technique. It helps them making a better choice, because they test 2 different strategies and analyse the results in order to pick up the most effective one. Namely, the one which meets the more criteria. For instance, for a web login page, the indicators to choose an interface could be having a higher conversion rate, a lower bounce rate… The A/B testing technique could be applied in many other situations. In any case, it will end with more step back, in order to make the right decision.

A growth hacker in few words

A growth hacker is working upstream on 3 main axes:

  • Setting goals and Key Performance Indicators
  • Finding levers to sustain growth (social media, PR, and even street event)
  • Exploring data (from their current customers, and/or from their potential customers)

He is working to set up a growth machine which is:

  • Scalable
  • Predictable
  • Repeatable

In order to reach the objective, in his daily job, he is:

  • Brainstorming
  • Prioritising
  • Testing
  • Implementing
  • Analysing
  • Systemising

As a conclusion, I would say that explaining what is the job of a growth hacker is not that simple. Especially because this job is very business oriented because it depends on the company’ structure, on the versatility of the team, on the business objective, on the maturity of the company and even on the budget of the department. I would say that is the natural transition from marketer to growth hacker due to the large number of start-ups blooming in these past few years.

Helpful resources

About the author

Alain Perrier

Alain Perrier

Alain PERRIER is a student in Digital Business Strategy at Grenoble Business School and is currently working at La Banque Populaire des Alpes in digital transformation