Growth Hacking is the “New Black”

Maybe I’m playing catch up on the concept of Growth Hacking, but the word “growth” has been a key part of every company I’ve worked for and until now, it’s really just been a substitute for marketing.

The fastest growing companies in the last several years invested next to nothing in traditional marketing: AirBnB, Dropbox, UBER, Snapchat. Why did they grow so fast, so quickly? They provided a product that people wanted to use, acquired users that became their brand advocates and retained their user base by offering perks to new customers. For example, at dropbox, they rewarded new users with 250MB in free space to take a tour of their product. This killed two birds with one stone – negated any complexities with their product that could potentially lead to abandonment, and gave their users incentive to learn.

Fail early. Fail often.

Your product is first and is king. If you can’t answer the questions: “What is my product? Why would you use it? Why would I use it?”, then you don’t have something worth going to market with.

I think one of the most interesting examples of this concept is regarding the app Burbn. You know Burbn, right? You have it on your phone, I’m sure of it. Burbn has really cool functionality, similar to foursquare, where you can check-in, interact with friends, take pictures with cool filters and earn points.

Burbn was put to pasture some years ago, which is why you probably haven’t heard of it . However, prior to the sun-setting of that app, founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger looked at the data behind the aspects of their app their users were using, they realized that Burbn was too complicated. One thing did stand-out, though: people were taking pictures, and sharing them with their friends like gangbusters.

Systrom and Krieger went back to the drawing board, and focused on the feature that filled a need: photo sharing with ease. On October 12th, 2010, after several months of development and some false-starts, Instagram was born and the world has filtered their pictures ever since.

Makes sense, right? There was a valley between the poor photo-sharing functionality Facebook offered, and the cool pictures that Hipstamatic allowed their users to take. Finding that gap, building the bridge, and launching Instagram was the right combination of timing, functionality, and features that the public desired.

They had to fail to succeed. Fail early, fail often, reinvent.

Pivot and build an audience.

You may be asking, “how is this an example of Growth Hacking?” Have you ever seen an advertisement for Instagram? How did you hear about it? Someone probably told you, or maybe you saw a picture with a interesting filter posted to Facebook with the tagline “Posted from Instagram”. Systrom and Krieger found a niche, created a product that people wanted to use, focused on acquisition, and began offering new features (filters, video, integration with social channels) to retain current users. They spent nothing on marketing, and their app is nearly a “must-download” for the majority of people.

Growth Hacking may be a buzzword, in fact I’m sure of it, but the foundation is very solid:

  • Your product is first.
  • Acquire the right customers quickly, early, cheaply.
  • Focus on retention.