Defining A Growth Hacker: Debunking The 6 Most Common Myths About Growth Hacking

With any buzz, popular sentiment can become detached from reality. Thought leaders in a burgeoning space can be blown up with grand expectations that can embellish the truth that lies underneath the surface.

Today, growth has become a regular topic of conversation in Silicon Valley. More and more startups are looking to hire growth hackers or to develop their own growth strategies. However, there are a handful of mythsabout the purpose and function of growth hacking itselfthat have gained traction.In this article, I will explore six of the more common myths ones that serve to misconstrue growth hacking methods and goals and set false expectations.

There are different types of growth – small wins and big wins. Growth hackers look beyond the obvious optimizations into deep product assumptions and usage for a feature that will be a game changer. This means that growth cannot be something that is tacked on easily, especially when understanding the importance of user retention to growth.

Answering these deeper product questions steepens the learning curve through a relentless focus on moving metrics and fast iterations. Tactically, a good growth strategy is found through testing, not reading a book.

Hi5, Slide, Bebo, Facebook, and LinkedIn were some of the first teams to have a strong emphasis on user growth and engagement, long before the phrase “growth hacking” was coined.

While the pursuit of viral growth has been a focus since the dawn of the web, Birch said that the best product teams have always focused on growth, especially since the Facebook platform was announced in 2008.

Both marketers and growth hackers have common goals; they work closely together on a daily basis to push metrics in different ways. However, growth hackers are looking for growth through product utilization and product iterations instead of a marketers’ outbound- and inbound-based strategies.

“Some people think growth hacking is the same as marketing optimization; they are quite different,” said Spark Capital’s Hyatt. “If I’m given 1,000 visitors and I’m trying to convert as many as possible to customers, that’s lead gen optimization. If I’m tuning the product to convert 1,000 visitors into 10,000 customers, that’s growth.Growth hacking is a new name for the latter camp; the first camp is inbound marketing. Growth usually does not come from bounces off a landing page but in product engagement and virality.”

It is not a coincidence that there are several growth hackers that have engineering backgrounds, such as Jesse Farmer, Matt Humphrey, Dan Martell, Jim Young, and Mike Greenfield. This correlation is due to the need to apply engineering-like precision to marketing for growth.

Growth comes in different flavors depending on the stage of the company, such as a co-founder to a growth team at a late-stage company. “A growth hacker is not a lone ranger but should be apart of a greater team,” said KISSmetrics’ Shah. “Companies should look to build a growth team rather than just an individual; however, different company stages require different types of growth teams.”

Growth is holistic and cross-functional, because long-term growth hardly ever resides in one part of a company. Growth is complex and often involves several tests before a winner is found. Without aligning the company around a set of metrics to push, a growth strategy will be hampered by conflicting team priorities and goals.

Adopting a culture of growth will challenge the way a product is traditionally made and prioritized. It is not an easy task because growth typically changes a company’s culture and what it considers important.

If this series has inspired you to hire a growth hacker or learn to be one, the one key takeaway is to do something, learn from it, and leave your ego at the door. Growth hackers may come in different flavors, but they all learned the same way. They went out, tried something, found product-market fit, and optimized the hell out of it.