An in-depth and definitive look into how the superstars of growth hacking made it work
If you’re interested in growth hacking, then you’re probably wondering what it takes to reach new heights with your company. Fortunately, there are many examples out there of brands that were able to find a methodology that propelled them to massive success.
We are going to be looking at some of these growth hacking models to understand how each company was able to make it work. We’ll also be looking at why they became so successful so that you can figure out how to apply these strategies to your brand.
THE COMPANY: Twitter
The Numbers: 30 million users in 2010 to 326 million in 2018
The Growth Hack: Getting Users to Follow Accounts
When Twitter first started, it was more of a novelty than anything. The idea of sending out 140-character tweets seemed cool at first, but one of the most significant issues that the company faced at first was that most new users played around for a little while and then logged out, never to return to the app.
Thus, the problem wasn’t necessarily notoriety or building their online presence. Instead, it was making sure that new users became long-term ones.
After doing some research, the company figured out that if people started following around 5-10 other accounts (at least) when first signing up, then they would be much more likely to stay engaged with the service.
So, instead of creating a viral new marketing campaign, Twitter just changed their signup process to encourage new users to follow accounts that interested them. That way, they would get engaged and stick with the service once the novelty wore off.
Why It Worked
Social media is all about engagement. Part of the reason why Facebook has become so widespread is that it’s fun to follow your friends, family, and coworkers online. It’s never been easier to stay in touch, which is a massive part of its appeal.
However, with Facebook, it’s easy for people to get engaged. Sharing pictures and creating a feed is built into the program. With Twitter, it was harder to see the value of having a profile. Once you started following accounts and seeing their feeds, however, then you were more likely to stay engaged because now you were part of the conversation.
Another side effect of this type of engagement is that people were able to connect with high-profile accounts, like celebrities. Being able to @ someone on Twitter (and even get a response at times) made the service feel more exclusive and fun to use. Thus, establishing that kind of connection early on ensured that new users would stay involved with it.
THE COMPANY: Dropbox
The Numbers: One million in 2009 to 500 million in 2016
The Growth Hack: Free Storage for Referrals
If you use Dropbox, then you’re probably familiar with the company’s referral program. Whenever you get someone else to sign up for the service, you get additional storage for free. Thus, the more people you sign up, the better it is for you. To make it even better, your friend also gets free storage.
The second part of that equation was critical for Dropbox to grow so fast. If new referrals had to pay for storage immediately, then many people wouldn’t bother with it, no matter how much friends and colleagues raved about it. Being able to use it for free initially ensured that referrals would try it out, and once they saw the value of the service, would also recommend it to others.
Incentivizing customers is a common strategy for growth hacking. By using the service to get users to refer friends, coworkers, and other people in their lives to use it, the audience can expand exponentially.
Everyone likes getting something for nothing, and Dropbox’s referral program is a perfect example of growth hacking in action.
Why it Worked
As we’ll see with most of these examples, one of the crucial reasons why companies can “go viral” with growth hacking is that they are providing products and services that people want. In the case of Dropbox, the founders had built something that solved a common problem.
These days, it’s hard to remember what the internet was like before online storage became widespread. If you wanted to share a file, the only way to do it was through email. However, larger files couldn’t be sent, which meant that you had to transfer it to a storage device (i.e., a USB drive) and then download it onto another device.
Dropbox changed the game for the better, and that’s why it succeeded so much. By being one of the first to solve this problem, the brand was able to corner the market and become synonymous with online storage.
THE COMPANY: Hubspot
The Numbers: $250,000 in revenue in 2007, $15.6 million in 2010
The Growth Hack: Becoming an Authority in Inbound Marketing
These days, when you want to learn about new marketing tactics or information about the industry, chances are that you visit Hubspot first. However, why is that the case? Why is this website so integrated into the world of digital marketing?
A large part of that success and growth was that Hubspot was good at producing high-quality content on the subject. By becoming a resource for marketers, businesses, and consumers, it became a one-stop shop for everyone who wanted to grow their brand.
One could argue that Hubspot essentially invented the concept of inbound marketing, and the site’s success is a testament to how well it works. If you’re not familiar, inbound marketing is when you generate content that brings people to your page. Hubspot did this better than anyone (and it still does), which is why the brand is so massive today.
Why it Worked
Being one of the first people to master a new trend helps. If Hubspot hadn’t figure out the secret to inbound marketing, some other company probably would have, and that name would be on everyone’s mind.
Once again, it was a killer service that helped propel the company to success. By producing content that was better than the competition, Hubspot was able to quickly gain a following that would stay engaged as new material was created.
In cases like this, all it takes a commitment to quality that can drive success and growth in a short period.
THE COMPANY: Airbnb
The Numbers: Three million users in 2012, 100 million in 2017
The Growth Hack: Piggybacking on Craigslist’s Massive User Base
It’s safe to say that Airbnb wouldn’t exist in its current form today if it had been developed before Craigslist was a thing. Also, had the online network been quicker to spot and squash Airbnb’s technical team immediately, the company would have had more of a struggle reaching a massive audience.
So what did Airbnb do? They reverse-engineered a way to use Craigslist to their advantage. The founders knew that many people were searching on Craigslist to find temporary lodging and housing, which is precisely the type of market that they needed to tap into for growth.
Understandably, Craigslist doesn’t want third-party companies using its user base to grow the competition, which is why this hack required some technical expertise and faithful adherence to the mantra “it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.”
The way it worked is that Airbnb hacked a way for hosts to post their listing on both the app and Craigslist. By doing this, hosts would have access to a much more extensive database of potential users, which helped make sure that their listings would be seen.
When a user clicked on the link to view the space, that person would be prompted to download the Airbnb app. As more people did so, the app grew and grew to the point where, when the inevitable happened (i.e., getting shut down from Craigslist), it didn’t matter.
Why it Worked
Before Airbnb came out, finding temporary lodging was a tricky situation. Travelers either had to stay in a hotel (too expensive) or search on sites like Craigslist to find a room (too sketchy). Neither option was excellent, but it was all that they had.
Thus, Airbnb offered a better solution. For travelers, it was so much easier to find reputable places to stay that were much cheaper than hotels, while also providing the fun of visiting with other fellow travelers. For hosts, Airbnb offered a reliable source of revenue that enabled people with extra space to earn money and meet new people. It was a win-win scenario that paid off for everyone involved.
Also, when you consider the fact that, unlike a hotel chain, Airbnb didn’t have to invest in infrastructure (i.e., building new properties), their growth could become exponential as a result.
THE COMPANY: YouTube
The Numbers: 8 million videos watched per day in 2005, 5 billion per day in 2018
The Growth Hack: Embedding Video Content
It’s hard to imagine a world without YouTube, but if you can think back to 2004, there wasn’t any way for videos to be shared over the internet. Sure, some sites could do it, but uploading and managing video content was an arduous task.
YouTube changed the game by enabling users to upload their clips quickly and efficiently. However, what helped it grow into the powerhouse it is today was the embed feature.
When you want to share a video from YouTube, you get an embed code. This code allows you to post the video onto your site without having to do anything too technical. Each time a site does this, YouTube gets free press because people see where the video originated.
Also, by embedding from YouTube, additional content is linked once the clip finishes. You’ve probably noticed recommended videos pop up, which guides users back to YouTube if anything strikes their fancy.
Overall, YouTube was able to build a system of instant referrals and traffic to the site. As more and more people used the embed feature, it would entice new users to come to YouTube to see what else they could find. Remember, YouTube is a search engine, not a content platform.
With that in mind, YouTube was also able to expand quickly because the site didn’t have to invest in new content. Unlike streaming services like Netflix, all of the videos on YouTube were uploaded by users. Thus, as long as the servers could handle the traffic, there was no limit on how quickly they could grow.
Why it Worked
Video content is much more engaging and successful than any other kind of marketing, and YouTube is driving much of that success. Making it easier to upload and manage video clips means that businesses and consumers can watch hours of content without having to download or buy it.
Now, any website could utilize video content seamlessly. Bloggers could share viral videos and write articles about them. Businesses could create their content and share it to YouTube to make it more accessible. Simply put, the site made video sharing a fundamental part of the internet experience, which changed the game forever.
As soon as people realized that YouTube was a valuable resource for watching and sharing videos, it was inevitable that it would take over the world.
What These Successes Mean for Your Brand
As we’ve established with these examples, one of the most crucial elements of growth hacking is building a product or service that people want. In each of these cases, if the product sucked, then it wouldn’t matter what growth hacks were put into place.
For Twitter, if the company hadn’t changed its signup procedure to get users engaged, it would have floundered. With Airbnb, if sketchy hosts were the norm on the app, then no one would want to use it, for fear of getting robbed every time he or she stayed in an Airbnb location.
Thus, when it comes to growth hacking, building a killer product first is going to matter a lot more than the hacks you use to get it noticed by the public. As long as you’re able to validate your idea, you know that you can gain traction and achieve monumental success in the process.
The second part of growth hacking is being able to expand rapidly without needing infrastructure or massive capital to do so. Airbnb didn’t have to build hotels, and YouTube didn’t have to create a studio to create content. If you have a product or service that can scale up quickly and cheaply, then you’re poised to explode.