I don’t know if you’ve noticed lately, but the digital marketing space has been blowing up with talk about “growth hacking.”  From Neil Patel’s “Definitive Guide to Growth Hacking” to the entire Growth Hackers website, it’s clear that the term is making a strong case for being awarded the “Marketing Buzzword of 2014.”

But let me add my voice to the conversation.  In my opinion, the first rule of growth hacking should be… don’t talk about growth hacking!

Don’t talk – do.  You don’t need to hire a growth hacking expert to grow your business and you don’t need to brag to your startup buddies about how much you’re in favor of growth hacking.  What you do need to do – each and every day – is to implement the following principles that form the foundation of this new hot topic:

Step #1 – Identify strengths and weaknesses

Before you can begin hacking anything, you’ve got to know where you stand in terms of your startup’s strengths and weaknesses.  Let me give you an example to show you why this matters…

I’m currently working with Bridge U.S. – a startup that provides a TurboTax-like interface to help people navigate the U.S. immigration process.  It’s a really cool idea, and because we’re the only ones in the immigration space providing this type of solution, we have a big advantage in terms of capturing potential market share.

That said, we’re also facing two major weaknesses.  First, we’re a new company, which means that nobody has heard of us.  As a result, we have to do a good job at providing trust signals and answering customer questions about what our solution does.  And given that the immigration process is complicated enough on its own, we’ve got to answer even more questions to get potential customers to trust us with their business.

Because we know where our strengths and weaknesses lie, we can develop a growth hacking plan that focuses on our specific needs over a general growth process.  Clearly, in our case, focusing on minimizing churn isn’t the right fit for us at this time, as our energy and efforts are better spent on early education and maximizing our onboarding and customer conversion processes.  Your business might have completely different goals, but you’ll only know what they are if you take the time to figure out where you’re at now.

Step #2 – Define timeline and goals


One of the guiding principles behind growth hacking is the ability to make massive improvements quickly.  And when it comes down to it, you can’t do that if you don’t set a combination of goals and timelines.

For example, at Bridge U.S., our first goals are to get our software to a state where people can understand it by May 1st and to achieve a 3% conversion rate by June 1st.  By clearly defining what we want to achieve and when we want to achieve it by, we avoid the trap of taking weeks or months to test things that should be done much more quickly.  If we just set the goal of attaining a 3% conversion rate, we could still be working on this particular aim at the end of the year!

Use your own strengths and weaknesses to set measurable goals for your business, but then tie these goals to specific timetables as well.  Sure, you may not hit your goals according to the timelines you set.  But by giving yourself a “check-in” point at which you can reevaluate your progress, you’ll waste far less time than you will if you meander aimlessly towards your goals without a defined timeline in place.

Step #3 – Add analytics and tracking tools

So you’ve got goals and you’ve got timelines – now you need a way to measure your progress!

No matter what types of goals you set for yourself, there are ways to measure them.  Continuing with my Bridge U.S. examples above, our goal to optimize usability could be measured with everything from traditional marketing focus groups to online eye-tracking studies.  Conversion rate could be tracked with analytics programs like Google Analytics or KISSMetrics, or more complex marketing automation suites like Marketo or Pardot.

The particular tracking system you implement will depend on a number of factors, including your budget, your technical knowledge and the time you have to implement an analytics solution.  While more advanced solutions may give you tons of valuable data, keep in mind that the time needed to get them up and running could blow the timelines you’ve set out of the water.  Don’t risk compromising your growth hacking progress by wasting time implementing solutions that are more complex than you truly need.

Step #4 – Carry out experiments

science experiments

Experiments are the heart of the growth hacking process because they give you the data needed to make major improvements as quickly as possible.  As above, the specific types of experiments you’ll want to carry out will depend on the goals you’re measuring and the programs you’re using to track them.  But as a general rule, one of the best tools in your growth hacking arsenal is the split test.

Whether you use A/B or multivariate split testing, the core concept of this process is pitting two or more different versions of a screen, web page or other resource against one another in a live environment.  In the case of Bridge U.S., we could use split testing in combination with eye tracking or usability studies to determine how presenting different pieces of information within the program affects user understanding and adoption.

We could also use split testing when it comes to optimizing conversion rates, sending traffic to multiple landing pages promoting different benefits and features to see which sales messages resonate best with our audience.  Iterating these experiments quickly by replacing “losing” pages with new test variations would give us valuable information about our audience in a timely manner, increasing our ability to convert new prospects into customers.

Step #5 – Lather, rinse, repeat

Pay attention to that last point – the idea of iterating quickly.  Anybody can set up a split test, gather data from it and make a few changes based on the results.  But true growth hackers know that the first experiment is only the start of the process and that there’s never a true test “winner” – just another opportunity to pit a new competing alternative against the reigning victor.

At Bridge U.S., we’ve planned for 10 sprints consisting of roughly 3-4 days of development – 2 days for driving traffic and 1-2 days to analyze our CTR, gather feedback and make improvements for the next series of tests.  It might sound aggressive, but doing this is the only way we’ll be able to generate data and identify the winning combinations needed to meet the 30- and 60-day goals for ourselves.

Your approach might not be quite as fast-paced – or it might be even more so.  But whatever your situation might be, use our example to challenge yourself to drive change even faster.  If you’ve set a 2-week period for your experiments, what can you change to get the same amount of data in a single week?  Pushing yourself or your company to gather results and make changes faster is what makes you a growth hacker – not some fancy title or buzzword-laden statement of goals!

  1. Hi Sujan ,
    Great Article on growth hacking , But identifying strengths and weakness of a product/service is very difficult . Do you use any prescribed process to do that ??


  2. I feel like you broke your own rule by “talking about it” and your steps could be narrowed down to many terms that aren’t about growth hacking.

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