Growth Hacking for Startup Founders: What is it, and how can I do it too?

• 5 min read

"Growth hacking" is a weird thing, and rightfully so. Ironically enough, though, it's simple. SaaS Founders have limitless potential with creative growth hacks, and we're exploring some of those rabbit holes.

Growth Hacking for Startup Founders: What is it, and how can I do it too?

What in the world is growth though? Let's find out.

For many founders, "growth hacking" is a weird thing. This ambiguous buzzword of a concept doesn't really make any sense - except that it really does? I don't know about you, but I'm already confused tbh.

It's for that reason we're heading down this rabbit hole together. As I learn more about growth, hopefully you will too. We're going to explore two classic examples, implications for pursuing growth hacking vs. traditional marketing, and some ways you may be able to be one of the cool kids and hack away at your own growth.

Follow along on Twitter as we explore growth and generally good memes

Allow me to introduce myself - my name is Growth.


Sean Ellis (of Hacking Growth fame) has said that growth hacking is "...about how to engage, activate, and win..." your customers over " they keep coming back for more." Ok, cool. So what?

On the surface, that sounds like normal old sales:

You make Widget.

John wants Widget.

You tell John how he can't live without Widget.

John gives you all his money - spoiler: he didn't even need the Widget in the first place. Oops.

How is growth hacking any different? Why is it so important? Why are investors telling you your business won't succeed without it?

Well, the devil is in the details it seems. While traditional growth is safe, and reliable, and maybe even sort of easy depending on who you ask, it's expensive. Like, prohibitively expensive. Seriously, I sold Google Ads for two years and that s#&$ is expensive.

Growth hacking doesn't need a marketing manager, ad exchange, or influencer dollars. Growth hacking pretty much only requires a founder's three best friends:

  1. Grit
  2. Creativity
  3. Resilience

Ok that sounds good, but what do I do?

To get out ahead of this one, and probably an unpopular opinion: there is no playbook.

I said what I said.

There are guidelines and suggestions and hell even tips, but no playbook on this one. Sorry.

Some of my favorite examples are so simple. Some of them are wildly creative. Some are even straight up weird. But they all have one thing in common: they were absurdly uncommon. One comes to mind you may have heard of - AirBnB.

AirBnB sells...what?

Almost everyone has some idea of the cereal box scheme Brian Chesky + squad came up with to pay the bills when things weren't looking so great. To be honest, that's the weird one but I love it. The scheme you may not know about however hits a little closer to the core product we all know today.

AirBnb created "Cap'N McCain's and Obama O's to pay the bills

Early on, AirBnB had a major distribution problem. Can you guess who didn't? If you said Craigslist, then beers are on you tonight!!

Realizing people trusted Craigslist (weird move) and they had way more traffic at the time, engineers went to work and duct taped together a solution to redirect vacation rental traffic back to their own website - sick. Plot twist: that still wasn't their coolest growth hacking move. They took things a step further, and started offering free photography services to elevate listings and provide legitimacy - super sick.

Remember that old adage about doing things that scale yadda yadda yadda? Well, here's Example A why there's no playbook to literally any of this so you might as well just get started.

"DVDs are cool, we swear!" - Netflix

What would a case study on startup growth be without everyone's favorite content blackhole? You know the one. Where you sit down, hit play, and suddenly it's 42 hours later and you've finished three seasons of Stranger Things without standing up? You know, Netflix.

I'm sure a lot of people are familiar with Reed Hastings, his video conglomerate, and the death of Blockbuster. But do you know how they drove DVD adoption, when pretty much everyone was still wondering why would you EVER try to replace the VCR?

As it turns out, DVD manufacturers were in a tough spot, at first. In the early 2000s, adoption wasn't quite at an all-time high, because DVDs weren't as accessible as VHS tapes. This meant DVD player sales were also down, because why would you buy something that's hard to use cough Zune cough.

In swoops Netflix, to save the day of the very industry they would eventually pulverize to a shiny, everlasting-in-a-landfill pulp. Why don't we offer coupons, for Netflix, in the box of DVD players? That way, people know exactly where they can get DVDs? BINGO. Manufacturers like Phillips, Panasonic, and Sharp ate it up. In a year, Netflix more than 2x'd it's user base. Seriously, because of coupons.

Alright maybe this does work, so what now?

I'm not promising I'll make you into the Netflix of Taxes of the AirBnB for ghost kitchens, but there are some cool ideas I've read about/thought about/tried that I think could be useful for you too. In no particular order, and purposely vague (growth hacking is really just a vibe, not a framework, lets be honest) take this list and run with it.


Growth Hacking Strategies you can try too.

  1. Write an email. Make it witty, silly, smart, serious, whatever. Give away a ton of content, and make it free.
  2. Raise your prices. Seriously. Add 10%, or a 0 at the end, and see what happens.
  3. Giveaways. Literally ALL people like getting things for free. Be creative.
  4. Audio Only Events. No, not AMAs or "How to" sessions. Talk about your favorite TV shows. Do a live roleplaying/tabletop game with a crowd. Have a personality and maybe people will see your company and think "whoa, that's the DnD girl. What's she up to?"
  5. Scavenger Hunts. Sprinkle clues in your blogs, tweets, podcasts episodes, even in your product itself. Let people find the end of the rainbow, and reward them.
  6. Sell an NFT. Fundraise, build a community, and get some FOMO started all at once.
  7. Curated Playlists. Start playlists on Spotify for specific moods, tasks, or events. Watch likeminded folks stream in.
  8. Free Stuff. Did I mention people love free stuff? Add a freemium product to your lineup, have customer appreciation events, or get generous around Christmas and let everyone sign up for free.
  9. Brew your own beer. Two in one team building and growth event. Go to a brew-your-own brewery and create a beer lineup. Proceed to sell (PSA: I did NOT tell you to profit from this, technically), give away, or feature at events and meetups.
  10. Paint a ridiculous mural, in a ridiculous location. Keep it mostly anonymous. Leave clues to who you are. Create a mystique, just don't use LED signs, please.

Do you have more ideas that should be on this list? Have you tried any of these before? Head on over to Twitter and let us know your thoughts. We just might be doing some of these too, can you guess which?

Additional Resources

To learn more, check out the following resources.

The Most Reliable Growth Hack for SaaS - Lars Lofgren

How 9 SaaS Companies Hacked Their Growth - Neil Patel

The 7 Ways Dropbox Hacked Growth to Become a $4 Billion Company - Neil Patel

11 Proven Growth Hacking Stories from Successful Startups - The Next Scoop

Interested in learning more about growing your startup, and keeping your investors engaged? Sign up today at to claim your free account.

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