Growth Hacking explained including definition

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Growth Hacking: this article explains the concept of Growth Hacking, developed by Sean Ellis in a practical way. You will read about the definition and meaning of this concept and how it is used in fields like marketing. You will also find practical tips and recommendations to get started with creating a Growth Hacking strategy for your working environment. Enjoy reading!

What is Growth Hacking?

With his book of the same name, in 2017 American entrepreneur Sean Ellis came up with the term ‘growth hacking’.

Definition of Growth Hacking

Growth Hacking is a way to use various marketing channels as cheaply as possible, with the aim of growth in company turnover. In recent years, online marketing has been gaining ground and growth hacking is a useful way to take advantage of this.

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In many cases, social media and the concept that information can become ‘viral‘ – spreading like a virus across the world wide web – is applied. Both increase in reach and information are central to growth hacking.

It is all about the process of experimenting in various marketing channels and finding the most effective way to grow a business.

Growth Hacking: New era

A new era in marketing has dawned, in which the classic marketing mix still exists but the P from promotion gets a different interpretation.

The dividing lines between data analysis, coding and marketing are getting blurrier and major expensive marketing campaigns often make way for smaller experiments. This means marketers today must have technical, digital and analytical skills.

Smart use of digital applications help to reach a broader public. This is the basis for growth hacking. It’s inexpensive, which is why it is most often used by small-scale companies and/or start-ups. The application is often so subtle and inventive that consumers do not always realise commercial interests are involved.

It seems self-explanatory, but it actually isn’t. For example, consider the company Social Deal, which links ‘best deals’ to the wishes of its users. A sophisticated strategy to tempt users into buying something.


It is often start-ups and other small businesses that cannot afford a marketing budget. Instead, they have to get creative with all the available media channels. Either through their own platform like an (interactive) website, or their own Facebook page, but they may also use connections with other platforms.

Several well-known companies that currently take full advantage of growth hacking include Dropbox, Amazon, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Hotmail, Social Deal and Airbnb.

These days, large cities are often being flooded with tourists who, carrying large wheeled luggage, make many cities unsafe. In Amsterdam, there seem to be more tourists in the city centre at night than citizens of Amsterdam sleeping in the houses. Airbnb makes clever use of growth hacking, making it one of the best known success stories in this area.

Two practical Growth Hacking examples

People often ask how Airbnb has become so popular in such a short time. Several factors play a role in this.

For example, Airbnb has made good use of Craigslist; an American centralised network of online platforms, which allows anonymous people to place advertisements. You could compare it to the Dutch Marktplaats. Imagine all kinds of products being bought and sold, job vacancies and personals.

With the help of reverse engineering, Airbnb can examine all this information on Craigslist and derive from it the requirements that they want their product to meet. With this information, Airbnb has been able to ‘hack’ an enormous platform, linking lists of names from Craigslist to Airbnb and vice versa.

The posts that appeared on Craigslist were provided with a link that then led to Airbnb. Which made it so that Airbnb could piggyback on the huge number of Craigslist users.
Dropbox has grown in a similar manner.

Dropbox offers users free digital space and the possibility to store files online in the cloud. This digital space is limited to a maximum number of gigabytes, but can be expanded in various ways. The easiest way is to pay, but you can also invite friends to use Dropbox to get extra space. For Dropbox, this is an opportunity to easily increase its global customer base, by directly linking these new e-mail addresses to personalised mailings.

Growth Hacking and Network

The above examples are success stories that have certain factors in common. They freely and conveniently use other people’s networks.

Consider the previously mentioned Craigslist or the YouTube channel. In many cases, currently successful businesses started out rashly and with great bravery.

Many of their online marketers have a lot of digital skills and know everything about programming and other online tools such as Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO).

The goal of many websites is to turn visitors into customers. This requires so-called conversions, where every visitor is tempted to leave their contact details.

Optimising this process is called CRO. CRO is still a fairly unexploited strategy, which growth hacking takes excellent advantage of.

Experimenting is done in the full hope that it will lead to great success, but there is also the risk that it will all be for nothing. Growth hacking is a way to take advantage of new channels, with little money and in an innovative way. This can ultimately lead to exponential growth. Read more about Growth Hack strategies

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Now It’s Your Turn

What do you think? Have you ever heard of Growth Hacking? Do you recognize the practical explanation or do you have more suggestions? What are your success factors for using various marketing channels as cheaply as possible, with the aim of growth in company turnover?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

More information

  1. Ellis, S., & Brown, M. (2017). Hacking Growth: How Today’s Fastest-Growing Companies Drive Breakout Success. Crown Business.
  2. Herttua, T., Jakob, E., Nave, S., Gupta, R., & Zylka, M. P. (2016). Growth Hacking: Exploring the Meaning of an Internet-Born Digital Marketing Buzzword. In Designing Networks for Innovation and Improvisation (pp. 151-161). Springer, Cham.
  3. Sineni, S. L. (2014). Growth Hacking: A Deep Look into Online Marketing for Startups. Doctoral dissertation, University of Southern California.

How to cite this article:
Mulder, P. (2018). Growth Hacking. Retrieved [insert date] from Toolshero:

Original publication date: 12/06/2018 | Last update: 04/17/2023

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Patty Mulder
Article by:

Patty Mulder

Patty Mulder is an Dutch expert on Management Skills, Personal Effectiveness and Business Communication. She is also a Content writer, Business Coach and Company Trainer and lives in the Netherlands (Europe).
Note: all her articles are written in Dutch and we translated her articles to English!

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