“A Growth Hacker is a person whose true north is growth” – Sean Ellis

Is it a just a buzz word or is it real value for growth? The term growth hacking describes an innovative data driven test and measure approach to reaching, converting and retaining customers on a gradual to paced, but scalable basis.

Rarely used in the corporate world or in the SME sector around the world, particularly in Africa where more than 55 percent of the continents GDP is geared by the informal sector, Growth hacking is about the creative use of scalable and repeatable methods with the goal to augment every digital touch point in order to get prospective customers to take action.

It is about taking a current digital spectrum and creating an innovative digital footprint, translated into decision making and repeat, even a new pipeline of new customers.

Much more than a specific method, it is rather a philosophy, an approach at the intersection of marketing tactics and product development, possibly a mental scrum of business and market information triggered by analytics and data.

Most people I have met recently on twitter, in person and through business interaction are literally hyped people, with an uncanny ability to constantly test, measure and refine your business within a apparition of time.

You can recognise a Growth hacker by their hybrid of marketer and coder, noticing that the discipline of marketing is shifting from people-centric to API-centric activities. As screenwriter William Goldman famously put it, “nobody knows anything—even the people in charge. It’s all a big gamble.”

Growth Hacking is more of a mind-set than a toolkit – Aaron Ginn

Ginn has also gone on to define growth hacking as a “mind-set of data, creativity, and curiosity.” One of the most critical elements for growth is realising the convergence of engineering and marketing (where experimenting takes place), and where in reality these two overlap, customer and revenue growth is experienced.

“The principle objective of growth hacking is to create a user acquisition coefficient that is higher than one. For example, a company should aim to have more people using their product over time than it loses from attrition. By experimenting with different growth hacking methods, companies can determine the optimal means to increase that coefficient dramatically.” – Andy Johns

In my mind, growth hacking takes me back to a book I read years ago by Chantell Ilbury  and Clem Sunter, a brilliant scenario strategist – “The Mind of Fox”. Growth hacking is very similar in theory and possibly in action as well. It is about using information to plot the unimagined for a particular business and its customers and future customers. Cunning mind-set, speed and agility are needed in the market today a critical element for market growth.

Businesses need to ensure that their landing space for customers in the digital cloud. Acquisition is the first landing spot for the business. This is where people, customers or visitors for whatever reason land on your page.

Businesses need to activate visitors who have had an awesome first time experience on your website to sign up for your service. Gotcha! Once their email is had and you know what to do with it, the very customers have the capability to capitalise your prospect not only for retention, but to become repeat customers, staying engaged with the business, the digital platform now their mental footprint.

These are the very referral points for the process of transferring vital information and attracting new traffic to your business. These referrals start the process again from acquisition, all along the way, increasing both in customer base, new and repeat and translating into increased revenue.

As Micah Baldwin, founder of Graphicly and a start-up mentor at TechStars and 500 Startups, explains “In the absence of big budgets, start-ups learned how to hack the system to build their companies.” “Their hacking—which occurred right on my watch—had rethought marketing from the ground up, with none of the baggage or old assumptions. And now, their shortcuts, innovations, and backdoor solutions fly in the face of everything we’ve been taught.”

Back to the Future, this is where it started;

Adam Penenberg describes the meeting in Viral Loop, Hotmail’s founders, Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith, sat across the table from Tim Draper, the famous venture capitalist. He told them that he thought the product—web-based e-mail—was great but wondered how they’d get the word out.

Bhatia’s first instinct was that industrial marketing approach we’ve been talking about: “We’ll put it up on billboards,” he said. Draper nixed such an expensive approach for what would be a free product. So they kicked around more ideas. Radio ads? Same problem. What about sending an e-mail to everyone on the Internet? Draper suggested. That was an equally old mind-set—spam doesn’t work.

Then Draper happened accidentally on growth hacking. “Could you,” he asked, “put a message at the bottom of everybody’s screen?” “Oh, come on, we don’t want to do that!” “But can you technically do it? . . . It can persist, right? You can put it on one message, and if he sends an e-mail to somebody else you can put it on that one, too, right?” “Yeah, yeah,” they replied.

“So put ‘P.S.: I love you. Get your free e-mail at Hotmail’ at the bottom.”

Growth was exponential: 1 million members within six months. Five weeks after that, membership had doubled again. By December 1997, with nearly 10 million users, Hotmail was sold to Microsoft for $400 million. It took just thirty months from launch for Hotmail to accumulate its thirty millionth user. And though it has now been renamed, Hotmail still exists, unlike the majority of its peers from that era.

This is the power of the new approach. A $400 million brand was launched and built with just a $300,000 investment—what a Hollywood studio or a Fortune 500 company might spend on a decent premiere party or single television commercial. Implemented and executed by people without the slightest bit of marketing experience.

And in case you think Hotmail was some fluke of the tech bubble, let me remind you that a few years later, Google launched Gmail—now the dominant free e-mail service—with essentially the same growth hacking strategies. First Google built a superior product. Then it built excitement by making it invite only. By steadily increasing the number of invites allowed to its existing user base, Gmail spread from person to person until it became the most popular, and in many ways the best, free e-mail service. – Ryan Holiday (Growth Hacker)



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