Growth Hacking: when growing a business becomes a job

The professional figure of the growth hacker was born in the world of startups to initiate their growth and lay the strategic foundations for scalable and sustainable success. The term was officially coined in 2010 on Sean Ellis' blog to indicate a person whose polar star is growth: a figure that every startup ready to grow needs.

But like many organizational innovations, the concept of growth hacking also migrates and replicates in the corporate world. In 2017, for example, Coca Cola removed the position of Chief Marketing Officer from the organizational chart and created the position of Chief Growth Officer. A mere nuance of the job title? No, a targeted choice to emphasize the shift in the focus of responsibilities and an evolution of the traditional figure of the marketer, whose activity is going to impact in an increasingly direct way every department of the company.

Today, the growth hacker is a key figure in organizations of all sizes dealing with product launches and business expansion.

But what is Growth Hacking?

The goal of a growth hacker is to identify creative, out-of-the-box strategies that have an outsized ripple effect, i.e., generate exponential growth in the early stages of a project. In the context of a startup, it's about designing a process in a short time frame, with limited budget and facing great competition, to optimize the growth process and give direction to the company. The growth hacker is therefore in charge of streamlining the mechanisms of Marketing and mapping the entire strategy of customer acquisition and product launch. How? By devising an innovative tactic, out of the box, and monitoring its effectiveness through the appropriate KPIs.


L’anchor text di Hotmail


The best example is Hotmail's very simple but brilliant anchor text strategy. It was 1996, the concept of growth hacking didn't exist yet, but the nice idea of customer acquisition is the first and most effective example in history. At the end of every email sent, Hotmail reported the words "PS: I love You" with a direct link to create an account. Result. Hotmail broke through to the hearts of 12 million new users.

So what skills should a Growth Hacker acquire?

The growth hacker performs the activities of a salesperson, a designer, a marketer and a programmer. Given the breadth of its scope, it requires a multidisciplinary profile, also known as a T-shaped profile, with knowledge in multiple industries and horizontal skills.

If you are fascinated by this profession, you should focus your growth in the following areas of hard and soft skills:

  • Creativity combined with a data-driven approach: the GH starts with an idea, but feeds it with an almost obsessive control of metrics to analyze the progress of the strategy and eventually correct and calibrate it during the process. The standard metrics are, for example, the viral coefficient (K), the Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) and the Lifetime Value of Customer (LTV), but each strategy needs specific KPIs: the growth hacker takes care of tracking and monitoring them continuously in order to optimize the process he has devised;
  • Passion for the product and understanding of its potential: the starting point is always the product, and in particular the relationship that the customer establishes with the product. Growth Hacking deals mainly with digital services, whose potential for exponential expansion is fully understood by the professional, who puts in place small measures with huge effects to maximize their diffusion;
  • Agile methodology: the growth hacker optimizes by streamlining processes, setting precise steps and cyclical flows focused on feedback, design thinking and lean processes;
  • Managing a process and facilitating the work of a team: in addition to creating and standardizing the process, the growth hacker must have leadership skills to communicate it and facilitate the work of the team.
  • Principles of digital marketing, such as SEO, SMM, email marketing and blogging: the sales framework is the digital ecosystem, in which the growth hacker must know how to move effectively and innovatively.
  • Statistical data analysis, the use of tools such as Google Analytics and some basic programming: monitoring data requires analytical skills and a passion for numbers and the right tools; an experienced growth hacker, in particular, often does not rely on tools but programs himself what he needs to conduct data analysis and calibrate the strategy.


A scalable success case study

Concreteness, creativity and a desire to get in the heart of the action - that's the hallmark of a Growth Hacker. And that's exactly the feeling I got while chatting with Michelangelo Aquino, COO of GH, a Growth Hacking company based in Cesena that offers data driven full funnel marketing based on rapid experimentation. To introduce me to his business, he chose to tell me about a simple, lean project that took a local business from nothing to a 6-figure revenue in the span of three years. The client's name is Fables of Iron Wire and they sell small craft items. The solution that GH has packaged for this reality is not an e-commerce, but a process based on the essentiality typical of growth hacking: it is to convert directly on Google and sell via Whatsapp.

The success of the strategy created for this client, Michelangelo tells me, is the absence of over-structure: in this art, you have to come up with effective but simple strategies to put out the offer, validate that there is a market for the product, and choose the best platform to move on to maximize the number of conversions and launch the sale in the leanest way possible. Like most systems designed by a growth hacker, this simple strategy has the added value of being easily replicable and extensible at scale. A great example from which to play with growth hacking, right?

How to start?

If you dream of launching yourself into this profession, experts like Raffaele Gaito recommend 50% theory and 50% practice. In fact, it is necessary to have an understanding of the cardinal principles of growth hacking, but also the desire to get involved by getting your hands dirty with projects, initially at low risk, to train your creative-analytical entrepreneurship and build confidence in the process.

Here are some books to start with:

  • "Growth hacking marketing. The rapid growth strategy of the most innovative companies" by Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown
  • "Growth hacking. Mindset and tools to grow your business" by Raffaele Gaito
  • "Blue Ocean Strategy. Winning without competing" by W. Chan Kim, Renée Mauborgne
  • "The Cow Getting noticed (and making a fortune) in an all-brown world" by Seth Godin
  • "Growth Hacker Marketing" by Ryan Holiday


Written by Francesca Mus of the VGen Hub Bologna

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