Let me start by defining what growth hacking is. Before that, a bit of background, Sean Ellis is the brains behind the term growth hacking. He coined the term about 10 years ago; by the way, he is the Chief Executive Officer of GrowthHackers. I usually prefer to put together a definition in my own words. Growth hacking is a multi-dimensional exploration of principles and approaches directed towards stimulating the continued growth of a business. Most people think that growth hacking is some preset formula used to make a business grow, well, it is not. Consider how hacking of computers or computer systems is done. It really takes a somewhat trial and error approach – growth hacking typically is like that. I will explain a bit more before discussing some examples of growth hacking.

Growth Hacking – Further Explanation

Growth is more of a process than it is an event. There are basically 3 things that are involved when it comes to growth hacking. These are marketing strategies, the use of data analytics, and the use of tech-based innovations. The thrust is to push business growth i.e. surges in customer bases and revenue inflows. The concept revolves around systematically conducting tests directed at growing an active customer base. Do not mistake growth hacking for marketing in general. The two are often confused especially because their core functions are somewhat similar. Marketing in essence is part of growth hacking.

In growth hacking, the metrics you choose to measure are extremely important. You must not only choose them but be sure you are choosing ones that really matter. For example, you cannot necessarily measure the growth of a business by solely looking at just the total number of people following your business page, say, on Instagram. Comments, likes, shares, and the like will be much more objective metrics to look at.


Dropbox did quite many things to expand its customer base. One of them was to incentivise customer referrals. Essentially when you refer other people to Dropbox you would get a data reward. There is also another way where customers could use outbound links on their site to social media sites. Just by the click of a button, you could connect to any of the common social media platforms such as Facebook. When you do that there were data rewards that you got. Remember that Dropbox is a file hosting service so those data rewards were extra storage space.


Just like Dropbox, PayPal also adopted a referral system to drive customer inflows. What they did was quite simple and straightforward – refer someone and then you and that person each get US$10. Through that strategy, their customer base grew by as much as 10 per cent every day. The idea is not just to give away money as PayPal did; it is about figuring out incentives you can use to motivate customers to refer others. The other strategy PayPal employed was that someone with a PayPal account could send someone (without a PayPal account) money. By implication, this meant that the recipient would have to open a PayPal account to access the money. This contributed immensely to the growth of PayPal’s customer base.


Airbnb also had to use growth hacking to get to where it is today. One of the first things it did was taking advantage of Craigslist. Craigslist was already a platform where accommodation listings would be placed. This means that the place of choice to look for accommodation listings was Craigslist. Airbnb then linked up its site with Craigslist to make it possible for one to copy a listing they have made on AirBnB to Craigslist. By so doing AirBnB easily tapped into an already huge customer base on Craigslist. Craigslist did also benefit from that arrangement because it was now also tapping into AirBnB’s customer base. Airbnb also used referrals to grow their business. For instance, when someone would refer someone and they subsequently rent a listed property they would get US$25. If a person you refer would end up listing their property on the site you would get US$75. This ultimately drove up AirBnB’s customer base in a remarkable way.


Netflix has used quite many strategies in its quest to rollout growth hacking. The earliest thing they did way back was to dualise its content. There was a time when Netflix content would be available either as DVDs or online. They basically redirected profits from the DVDs side to the online side to grow its strength. The other method they have been using is to purchase the screening rights of highly engaging television shows. This means if you want to watch them you can only find them on Netflix. Of which to watch them you have to subscribe first. They have also augmented this by creating engaging content that is exclusively accessible on Netflix. That way you will have to subscribe if you want to watch that content.


The coming in of EcoCash was, of course, a ground-breaking innovation but it also turned out to be a growth hack. The principle was simple – bring in and popularise a service no one else offers but everyone needs. It forced virtually everyone to get an Econet sim card and use its services. The introduction of agent and merchant lines even grew its customer base further because everyone had to sign-up. It is no wonder why Econet now has over 11 million subscribers and EcoCash has a market share of over 95 per cent.

I shared with you these examples so that you draw some insights. These are things other businesses did that you can use for your business too. Do remember that you should not be stuck to just these examples. You can copy them, that is good, but you can use them as inspiration to come up with your own growth hacks. If you are to survive in the world of business today growth hacking is inevitable. Just to show you how popular growth hacking is, get this: there are now over 32 million indexed web pages on the internet on growth hacking.