Ryan Holiday’s Growth Hacker Marketing  goes into great detail to describe what it is that a growth hacker actually does (my translation: he or she combines data with marketing and is able to ship, test, and analyze everything on his or her own).

What I found really useful was seeing what a growth hacker process might actually look like:

  • they merged marketing into their product development;
  • they kicked off growth with early adopters;
  • they added viral elements;
  • and then they relentlessly repeated these cycles, always guided by the data, with an eye toward optimization.

Cool! I can do that!

The book was super valuable for understanding the mindset of a growth hacker and also what growth hacking might look like in a startup or company. It feels much more attainable having read this. It feels right on point, too.

Always Be Tweaking

Growth Hacker Marketing by Ryan Holiday

The following are excerpts taken from Ryan Holiday’s Growth Hacker Marketing. Bold and italics and notes are mine. The rest is Ryan’s.


Growth hacker is someone who has thrown out the playbook of traditional marketing and replaced it with only what is testable, trackable, and scalable.

Noah Kagan: “Marketing has always been about the same thing—who your customers are and where they are.”

What growth hackers do is focus on the “who” and “where” more scientifically, in a more measurable way.

Whereas marketing was once brand-based, with growth hacking it becomes metric and ROI driven. Suddenly, finding customers and getting attention for your product are no longer guessing games.

Growth hackers trace their roots back to programmers—and that’s how they see themselves. They are data scientists meets design fiends meets marketers. They also add a strong acumen for strategy, for thinking big picture, and for leveraging platforms, unappreciated assets, and new ideas.

You are, in effect, the translator who helps bridge the producers and the consumers so they are in alignment. And this is true whether you’re making some physical gadget, designing a menu, or creating an app. Someone has to be the advocate for the potential market (customers).

To kick off and reach your first group of users, you have many options:

  1. You can reach out to the sites you know your potential customers read with a pitch e-mail: “This is who we are, this is what we’re doing, and this is why you should write about us.”
  2. You can upload a post to Hacker News, Quora, or reddit yourself.
  3. You can start writing blog posts about popular topics that get traffic and indirectly pimp your product.
  4. You can use the Kickstarter platform for exposure and bribe your first users with cool prizes (and get some online chatter at the same time).
  5. You can use a service like Help a Reporter Out (www.helpareporter.com) to find reporters who are looking for people to include in stories they are already writing about your space.
  6. You can find your potential customers one by one and invite them to your service for free or with some special incentive (that’s how small we’re talking).

It doesn’t matter how many people know about you or how they find out about you. It matters how many sign up. If handing out flyers on the street corner accomplishes that, then consider it growth hacking.


“Whatever your current state is, it can be better.”

  • Sean Beausoleil, engineering lead at Mailbox

As Eric Ries explains in The Lean Startup, “The focus needs to be on improving customer retention.”

Forget the conventional wisdom that says if a company lacks growth, it should invest more in sales and marketing. Instead, it should invest in refining and improving the service itself until users are so happy that they can’t stop using the service (and their friends come along with them).

This should come as a major relief to marketers—I know it did for me. It means that we don’t have to do all the heavy lifting. Instead, we can lean on and work with other facets of the company to make sure that lead generation is actually leading to sales.

I also think it’s important that Uber was thinking less about how to get new users and more about how to drive revenue from customers who had already signed up. Remember, raw growth is great, but at the end of the day, we’re running businesses here. We want to turn stats into dollars.

According to Bain & Company, a 5 percent increase in customer retention can mean a 30 percent increase in profitability for the company. And according to Market Metrics, the probability of selling to an existing customer is 60 to 70 percent, while to a new prospect it’s just 5 to 20 percent.

Ads drive awareness . . . to drive sales.

PR and publicity drive attention . . . to drive sales.

Social media drives communication . . . to drive sales.

Marketing, too many people forget, is not an end unto itself. It is simply getting customers. And by the transitive property, anything that gets customers is marketing.

The process I’ve outlined in this book:

  • they merged marketing into their product development;
  • they kicked off growth with early adopters;
  • they added viral elements;
  • and then they relentlessly repeated these cycles, always guided by the data, with an eye toward optimization.

Growth Hacking

If you were launching a start-up or new product, what questions would you ask yourself before launching?

I’d ask myself:

  • Who are my ideal early adopters?
  • How can I make my platform particularly enticing to them right now?
  • Why is this service indispensable?
  • Or how do I make it indispensable to them?
  • Once they come on board, does the service provide/encourage/facilitate them inviting or bringing more users with them?
  • How willing and prepared am I to improve based on the feedback and behavior of these users?
  • What kind of crazy/cool thing can I do to get attention—something that, ideally, no one has ever done before?

You can buy the book here. :)

growth hacker marketing cover

Posted by:Kevan Lee

VP of marketing currently living in Boise, Idaho. I work with the lovely folks at Buffer. You can join my email list to get an inside look at marketing and branding and team-building in tech.