There’s been no shortage of marketing buzzwords in the digital age. From “snackable content” and “SoLoMo,” to “influencer marketing” and “micro-moments.” It can be hard to keep up.

But one term that’s been getting a lot of mileage over the last few years is “growth hacking.” Its buzzworthy status comes as no surprise when you consider the hardest reality in the startup world: grow fast or die. And this term represents the singular pursuit of growing a customer base across multiple channels.  A growth hacker doesn’t care about business expenses or even conversions; they only care about growth.

Marketing guru Neil Patel has addressed this very topic in an in-depth growth-hacking post. The blog doesn’t pull any punches, making it clear that this hacking requires highly targeted strategies and an intuitive understanding of your audience. That said, the piece does make clear that there are a number of steps you can take right away to growth-hack your business to wild success.

These include:

  • Offering a product or service that has value and desirability to people
  • Targeting a niche market and helping your customers spread the word
  • Choosing the right growth model for your product or service
  • Ensuring the customer’s first experience with your brand is a happy one
  • Retaining users via multi-channel brand messaging
  • Continuously front-loading cash through strategies like customer prepay
  • Understanding your product’s referral potential through simple metrics like industry benchmarks
  • Constantly improving your product or service

I know, easier said than done, right? Executing all of the above to optimum results seems like an insurmountable task. Even Patel himself acknowledges that few companies are successful at leveraging multiple growth engines to their fullest potential. While one company might have some luck going viral, maybe their efforts in the paid marketing path fall short.

But there are examples out there of startups that had a very scalable product. When they applied certain metrics during the funnel stage, they found they had the potential for runaway growth. By implementing these techniques and focusing solely on increasing the customer base, they saw revenue returns practically unheard of. Here are some of their stories.

Airbnb

The hospitality monolith might be the most striking example on this list in that it encompasses the core spirit of growth-hacking: growth at any cost. Also it adheres to that core tenet of this process: offer a product people want.

When Airbnb first started, few thought the idea of a couple guys renting out air mattresses in the loft apartment they couldn’t afford in San Francisco would be a product-to-market slam dunk. But when three people of disparate backgrounds rented the three air mattresses for $80 a pop, the guys knew they indeed had a desirable product on their hands.

And they didn’t have to spend seed money they didn’t have on various marketing costs to get the word out—they simply had to know their target audience. Who are Airbnb’s customers? Travelers, of course.

After a while, Airbnb’s founders were confident they could achieve mass growth and reach a staggeringly wide audience. They knew that to achieve this meant not targeting everyone, per se, but by targeting everyone at the intersection of travel and hospitality.

The result is that, in 2016, Airbnb saw higher growth than each of their previous years combined.

Instagram

Companies spend small fortunes on customer behavior research and customer acquisition costs. And none of this is necessary. In the growth-hacking world, rather than guess at specific customer behavior, you want to accurately determine customer behavior. An effective way to do this is through feedback.

Instagram understood this concept. The founders listened to the users of one of their first social media apps (a location-based check-in program for the iPhone) and discovered one commonality: their users loved the app’s photo-sharing features. The guys weren’t immediately sold because the market was already overstuffed with photo apps.

But rather than ignore a trend, Instagram’s founders spoke with their target audience, welcoming feedback about what did and didn’t work with the current apps on the market. When the founders realized photo-sharing wasn’t even the prime feature on most apps out there, they saw a weakness they could exploit.

So they went all in on photo sharing. The result is that Instagram was born, became a dominant social media platform, and was famously sold to Facebook for one billion dollars.

Dropbox

Founded by an MIT student, the file-hosting service was once what many new businesses are now: a cash-strapped small-timer competing with giant brands with million-dollar marketing budgets. So, without capital to diversify, and rather than spread their money around on many different tactics, Dropbox’s founders decided to focus on a single strategy.

But they didn’t just pull an idea out of a hat. They thought carefully about their singular strategy and what they wanted it to be. They eventually decided that going viral would be the best way to supercharge growth. This is how Dropbox’s refer-a-friend strategy was born. So rather than spend money on lavish release parties and brand-marketing campaigns, they released their product simply at 2008’s TechCrunch Disrupt conference.

The sales pitch was simple: users could sign up and get free space, so long as they referred someone they knew to the product as well. This indeed created buzz and strong word of mouth. Then Dropbox further capitalized by offering even more free space and tying social media accounts.

The result is that subscriptions increased by 60%, and even today Dropbox is still the most recognized name in cloud storage.

Conclusion

These are just a few startup companies that turned a negative (lack of capital) into a positive by focusing on growth above all else. There are plenty of other examples out there, from YouTube to PayPal, and they all serve to illustrate one simple fact: your startup can achieve that very same success—if you know where and how to place your effort.

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