Your Quick-Start Guide To Growth Hacking

Article by

If you’re savvy with internet marketing, you’ve probably heard about growth hacking before.

It’s a buzzword that has been around since 2010 in internet marketing circles, but recently, it’s started to make its way into the mainstream ecommerce dialogue.

Growth hacking is all about trying to achieve accelerated business growth through creative and innovative methods.

However, there’s no set-in-stone definition of this concept, so it takes a little bit of research to grasp it and the benefits that growth hacking can provide to your business.

If you haven’t done research on this topic already, this seemingly complex subject can seem a little daunting. Some think maybe it’s better left to the professionals, but we don’t believe that. We believe that anyone can be a growth hacker and get the results they want if they understand and apply the simple concepts of growth hacking.

So, what is growth hacking?

The History Of Growth Hacking

In order to understand growth hacking, it’s worth knowing a brief history of the term and where it came from.

Sean Ellis worked as a consultant for scalable startups. He helped startups like Airbnb, Dropbox, and Eventbrite achieve their legendary hyper-growth by applying his creative methods. However, when it was time for Ellis to leave the company to pursue other ventures and help others, he had trouble finding the right applicant to replace him.

Ellis received hundreds of applications from marketers, but what he was doing was not necessarily a job for a marketer. Those who specialize in marketing are taught to obsess over budgets, expenses, and conversions, but he needed people focussed solely on growth. Without growth, a new startup is guaranteed to fail. 

As Ellis said, he needed someone whose “true north is growth.” 

He was asking for marketers and he was getting marketers, so he coined the term “growth hacker” because a pure marketer, while valuable, just wouldn’t do. 

Who Is A Growth Hacker?

Photo by Andri from Pexels

Start-ups generally have little capital to work with, yet need to grow quickly in order to establish a place in the fast-paced ecommerce world. This is where a growth hacker comes in. The growth hacker uses inexpensive, analytical, creative and innovative methods to grow a startup ridiculously fast. 

We will delve into these methods shortly, but let’s talk about growth hackers and who they are.

First of all, the idea that growth hackers need to be marketers is wrong. While marketers are a valuable asset to the team, the traditional marketer might not have the entrepreneurial mindset and training for the beginning growth stages of a company. Furthermore, you do not need to be a programmer or engineer to be a growth hackeralthough marketers, programmers, and engineers are all capable of being growth hackers.

Growth hackers are hyper-focused on analytics. While marketers tend to conduct long-term experiments, growth hackers are constantly modifying their tactics in order to garner the most growth. They are flexible and detail-oriented.

Pirate Metrics

Image Credit: Dave McClure

Do you think you have what it takes to growth hack your own business, or perhaps someone else’s? Let’s dive into the nitty-gritty of growth hacking.

Since the term “growth hacking” was coined in 2010, many marketers have begun researching and specializing in it. Dave McClure, part of the PayPal Mafia and mastermind behind 500 Startups, created the six stages of startup metrics. These stages are now the go-to for anyone looking to growth hack. Analyzing each stage will give you an idea of how well your efforts are paying off.

The six stages of startup metrics are acquisition, activation, retention, revenue, and referral, creating the acronym AARRR (hence the nickname “pirate metrics”). The stages create a kind of funnel that starts with acquisition and ends in referral.

Here’s what you need to know about each stage of startup metrics.


Think of this first stage as gaining awareness. The acquisition metric is the measurement of traffic to your site or your app. It’s your estimated reach. This metric is a measurement of how well your advertisements and SEO marketing are working. Here, you’re looking at how many people stayed on your page for longer than tenseconds, or how many people visited two of your web pages.


Dave Mcclure calls this second step the “happy first visit.” Activation refers to the number of people who are sticking around after first visiting your site. It could be something like the number of people who opt in to your email list, or the number of people who use the app, or even the number of people who spend a certain amount of time on your site or in your app. 


After that “happy first visit,” you have to keep them as a customer. This third stage is often the most difficult because it means keeping customers and users for the long haul. If you don’t have a great product and experience, then this is where you’ll see evidence of that. How many people are you able to keep after their first or second visit? Do people stop using your app after only a few days? 

Many ecommerce marketers are taught that “the money is in the list,” that is, getting email subscribers is where you make sales. But the new thought process in growth hacking is that the money is in creating happy return customers who tell other people about your product.

It has been shown that someone who buys once from your store has a 27 percent chance of returning to your store, while someone who has made three separate purchases is 54 percent more likely to return to your store. This goes to show that your return customers are extremely important. It is suggested that at least a quarter of your marketing budget should be aimed at your returning customers. 

According to Adobe, “In the US, 40 percent of revenue comes from returning or repeat purchasers, who represent only eight percent of all visitors.” 


This is incredibly important to growth. Referral is when your happy customers tell other people about your product because they love it so much and they want to share it. It’s free advertising for you and it’s how things go viral. 


This is ultimately what we want when starting a business. Revenue is seeing the cash flow. 

How Do I Get Started?

Image Credit: Dave McClure

At this point, you might be asking yourself, “How do I apply the Pirate Metrics and what are some of the growth hacking strategies?”

First of all, you need to know who your ideal customer is. When creating your ad campaign and marketing schemes, be sure to fully flesh out your ideal customer beforehand. Who, exactly, will buy your product? Is it a 25 to 35 year old male in the tech industry? Or is it a faashionista in their early 20s? Sketching out your ideal customer in great detail will help you find and create the best campaigns.

According to Eric Ries’ book titled The Lean Startup, there are three ways to grow quickly: going viral, being “sticky,” or paid growth. You may have to experiment to figure out which one is best suited to you and your business because they all work differently.

Let’s dive into these in a little more detail.

Viral growth  

Most of us know what this is – it’s the fast-paced spread through word-of-mouth. With viral growth, however, you can’t just target everyone in your marketing and ad campaigns, because not everyone is going to be interested in your product in the beginning. If you look at product life cycles, you’ll see that in the beginning stages of product growth, there are two very specific groups of people who you must target: the innovators and early adopters. These are the people who are going to spread the word and get your product out there. 

To grow virally, there are many innovative tactics that you can try. A great example of viral growth is Dropbox, an online file storage and sharing company. After trying multiple tactics, they landed on an idea that grew their subscriptions by 60 percent. What they did was offer free storage to those who referred other people to the software, and to those who were referred. Then they offered up even more free storage to those who connected their social media accounts to their Dropbox accounts.

Another excellent tactic is integration. Allowing signups through other apps such as Facebook or Google makes it easier to sign in – just one click and you’re signed up!

Ease of sharing is also another excellent tactic. Take YouTube, for example. YouTube made its videos incredibly easy to share. In doing so, they allowed people to easily share on the once-popular platform MySpace. This tactic got the YouTube name out quickly. Then they introduced the feature that automatically plays the next video, and, let’s face it, we have all gone down the YouTube rabbit hole.

Sticky growth 

These are the kinds of companies that suck you in and make you want more. A popular example of this is Facebook. They started out only targeting specific colleges, but being a one-of-a-kind product, Facebook created something that everyone wanted access to. They created demand. Now Facebook has over 2.4 billion users who log in every day. 

Sticky products have a low churn rate and keep their customers coming back for more. A key factor of this is also providing recurring benefits to the customer, such as a rewards program. A sticky product doesn’t necessarily create a necessity to use it, but it creates the desire to use it. Both sticky and viral growth is common for tech companies.

This is a little more difficult for some startups that don’t have a lot of capital set aside for marketing but it may be ideal for those who have a physical product to sell, such as a new kitchen gadget. Paid growth is where you spend money in order to gain attention and customers. This might be in the form of coupons, free gifts, advertising, or other incentives.

Growth Hacking Techniques

Alright, we’ve learned about the history of growth hacking, the six stages of pirate metrics, and different types of growth. But how do you get started with growth hacking? We’ve listed some of the most common growth hacking strategies below.

A lot of these can be found in the pirate metric illustration from Dave McClure. He has been kind enough to make his PowerPoint slides available to the public.

In the acquisition stage, you can employ low-cost tactics such as blogging (including guest blogging), social networks, email blasts, contests, affiliates, telephone marketing, email marketing, search engine optimization, search engine marketing, among many others. According to McClure, these are the lowest cost and best performing channels for growth.

Next, in the acquisition stage, you should be testing various landing pages and changing them based on results. McClure says on his slide to “just make lots of dumb guesses and iterate QUICKLY.”

For retention, continue producing blogs and content. Emails can be sent out to advise on status, sales, events, and abandoned shopping carts. 

To get referrals, you can simply ask for them or you can run contests and campaigns. It is advised that you don’t ask for a referral unless the customer has had an excellent experience with you.

Finally, to make revenue is to refine your strategies. Whatever you have found to be working for you, continue doing that and/or improving your tactics to continue to grow. 

Keep in mind that a growth hacker may go through multiple iterations of a single idea, just to scrap it in the end if it’s not working. Growth hackers must be tenacious but also willing to be honest with themselves if a tactic isn’t working. It’s all about trial and error here. What might work for some companies will not work for others. So if you’re finding that what you’re doing isn’t working, file it away and move on, or tweak the idea so that it works effectively.

Want To Learn More?