What is a “growth hacker”?

The title “Growth Hacker” started gaining its popularity after Sean Ellis first coined the term in 2010. Before that, growth hackers were simply called “marketers” for lack of a better name. A growth hacker is a marketer, but with one focus in mind – growth. That’s not to say that all marketers aren’t interested in growth – they are, but the difference is in the extent of their focus.

In a large corporation, you’ve got your VP Marketing or CMO at the top of the marketing food chain. This person looks at the big picture of everything – customer satisfaction, revenues, brand awareness, reputation management, partnerships, etc. It’s quite a lot to focus on, so they’ll have a team working with them. One person will focus on managing affiliates, another on writing great copy, one on business development… you get the picture. Every person in this big marketing team has their own responsibilities, goals and methods of obtaining them.470-264 B

A growth hacker has only one goal and will use any channel they can to obtain it. Because of this, your typical growth hacker will be knowledgeable in many fields, such as social media marketing, UI/UX, etc. Basically, it’s the entire marketing team stuffed into one person in terms of the channels being used and the skills required, but not in terms of responsibilities and goals.

Growth hackers are creative and analytical. They will experiment with new methods of obtaining their goals and will measure and track everything. Some say they need to be programmers but this not really a must. They are tech-savvy because most of the channels they use require them to be, but assuming they have a developer or programmer to work with, a growth hacker can succeed with minimum programming skills.

Why are growth hackers ideal for startups?

There are two main reasons a startup should have a growth hacker: budget and goals.

Budget

Startups don’t usually have the budgets that large corporations do and can’t afford to hire a big marketing team. In fact, most startups start with only 2 or 3 people, ideally one person being the tech expert, one knowledgeable in business, and another in marketing.

A growth hacker is the ideal marketing expert to have on a startup team in terms of budget. Not only does it provide the business with a one-man marketing team, but it also reduces marketing expenses. Growth hackers use any channel they can, but tend to focus on low-cost marketing, using the viral potential available in social media to their advantage.

Goals

Here’s where things get tricky. A typical VP Marketing or CMO mindset won’t work for a startup because when they first start, they should have only one goal in mind – growth. Reputation management and customer satisfaction are important, but they don’t mean anything if no one knows who you are. In its first stages, a business needs a growth hacker, someone who will use any channel and method at their disposal to obtain one goal – growth.

Hiring a Growth Hacker

Identifying a growth hacker isn’t the easiest thing in the world. There are a lot of talented marketers out there that aren’t calling themselves “growth hackers”, when it’s exactly what they are, while others falsely claim to be the growth hacker you’re looking for. There are several things to keep in mind when searching for a growth hacker for your startup:

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Creative

Every business is different, in terms of audience, circumstances, budget, you name it. So even if you found a growth hacker that succeeded in reaching amazing goals at a previous business, it doesn’t mean they’ll be able to do the same for you. If they intend on using the same methods they’ve used before, they’re not for you. You want someone who will try new things – trial and error is a good thing here. You want them to think outside of the box, to think of things to add to your interface or website that you would have never thought of. The online world is changing every day. New networks are being added, search engines change their algorithms, features that were a hit a month ago could be total failures today – a growth hacker knows this and must be able to adapt.

Analytical and Organized

Because a growth hacker needs to be creative and to experiment, and because they need to do this on so many channels – they need to be able to track every single thing they do to understand what’s working and what’s not. They need to be organized and OCD when it comes to the little details.

Ethical

While a growth hacker does have one goal in mind – you do not want someone who will do “whatever it takes” to obtain it. Very much like affiliate marketing, growth hacking is getting a lot of negative rep because of bad apples doing everything they can to make money. You don’t want someone like this because while they may get your company more revenues or increase your client base in the short term, it will eventually come back to bite you in the ass (excuse the French). A good growth hacker is creative and talented enough to get to their goal without being unethical.

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Keep in mind that even if you’ve got a great growth hacker who gets your company the growth you wanted – it usually means that growth hacker will move on. Once you get big enough and your budget increases, they’ll probably hand the reins over to your new marketing team.

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