Growth hacking is a term that has become more common during the last few years, and in some circles it has reached quite a popularity. The term is used quite extensively, so most of the time even I’m not a 100% aware, what is the differences between marketing that works and growth hacking.

To my own understanding growth hacking is a term created in 2010 by a man named Sean Ellis, in his blog called ”Find a Growth Hacked For Your Startup”. In this blog Sean Ellis defines a growth hacker like this:

 ”A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential impact on scalable growth. Is positioning important? Only if a case can be made that it is important for driving sustainable growth.”

Everybody can read for themselves the blog text and make their own judgement on the importance of the term growth hacking’s existence. To my opinion, Sean Ellis’ main point was, that most of the companies, and especially start-up companies, hire the wrong type of staff. They are hiring marketers, even though in reality for the growth of the company you’ll need a lot more than just marketing.

Many times the restrictive factors are finding product market fit, and an efficient monetization, not so much the marketing. If the market is not interested in the product, any type of marketing isn’t going to save the situation. Same goes for non profitable execution.

Personally, I agree completely with the original idea Sean Ellis had (with the assumption, that I have interpreted his track of thought correctly) but I’m not a big fan of that concept any more, because the term has been modified along the years to describe mainly measurable marketing.

So what is growth hacking?

What does growth hacking mean in reality or what the term was originally created for? It means to fix the factors that are restrictions to the company’s growth.

If the restriction is in the production process or productization, you’ll need to put more focus on these areas. If the problem is marketing, then focus more on that. If marketing creates leads, but they are not turning into sales, a growth hacker will be focused on that (or, develop another product that won’t need the sales team at all).

It’s worth recognizing, that many times a growth hacker is somehow seen as a 2.0-marketer, even though it’s about a different set of skills. A growth hackers capacities are many times much more widescaled, or at least from a wider base. The marketing side of it is usually just one of the many tools in the toolbox of a growth hacker, and this means, that they rarely have that wide understanding of just marketing as a whole.

The problem of the term is that people tent to perceive it in different ways, and in usually, the ones who refer to themselves as growth hackers, are in reality marketers. And on the contrary, for example the people that I think of as growth hackers, very rarely refer to themselves as one – but instead will be persons who either have their own company, or are in a leading position in a company, with a completely different term, than growth hacker.

Growth hacking at Trustmary

As a practical example of growth hacking you can take ours. Even though I really don’t believe that anyone in our company is using the term growth hacking.

Originally our business started from customer testimonials. We produced video and text content for the marketing and sales needs of the client. Slowly our business moved to search engine optimization trough our medias and customer surveys and, most recently, a web service, which enables the easy collection and utilization of customer feedback, began to grow.

In addition to this, we have started to grow internationally and putting together an operating model to enable growth globally.
If you look at this product development now, this is a fairly obvious example of growth hacking. It is known, that with the original operating model the potential growth is limited, and therefore it makes sense to start building a more scalable model at the same time. Simultaneously, we can also serve the customers better, so everybody wins.

Product development is strongly based on customer needs, and sales are already active in the first stages of the online service. Through this, the service itself is always directed to a better and better product-market fit. In marketing, different angles are tested, and based on this, services are developed with time in the direction of people’s interest. 

Growth hacking isn’t a story about unicorns, but hard work put into achieving great growth. Although the rareness of a unicorn does apply to the growth hackers, who have a fairly wide operating field. I also have to say, that all the growth hacking I have come across with, has been mainly a collection of different kinds of tricks.

How can you you hire a growth hacker?

Hiring a growth hacker can be quite challenging, especially because the use of the term has been on such thin grounds, and the required know-hows vary a lot in different cases.

If you are however looking for a person who will concentrate on the growth of the company, and is willing to do more than just a few marketing tricks to achieve that goal, it might be wise to explain the role and requirements more specifically in the job ad, rather than just writing that you are looking for a growth hacker.

Two growth hackers can have a completely different sets of skills. One can create growth by smart software solutions, and another with smart marketing. You will need one type of approach in one type of situation, and a different one in another.

Even though growth hacker is in a certain way a generalist term, the chances of finding the types of generalists, that could do it all from the production of the video material to distributing it, to coding and product developing, are very low.

Summary

Growth hacking is a trendy term, that seems to create more confusion than understanding. To others the term means one thing and to others it means something completely different. The original thought was, that the skill sets of a marketer might not match with the efforts required to establish growth, and this is how the term growth hacking was born.

With this on mind, you might also need a growth hacker. In theory, everyone who wants to grow their business, needs one. In reality, it can be almost impossible hire a growth hacker that really provides value. If you are however interested in the topic of growth hacking, it is at least worth looking into and picking the best parts of the concept to the benefit your company.