The year is 2012 and the Olympic Games are on. Sir David Brailsford had an onerous challenge ahead of him. British Team Sky, the team he’s coaching, has not won a single major cycling tournament since 1966.
With an enthusiastic and positive attitude, Brailsford approached the task by breaking down every single thing he could think of that goes into riding a bike and then enhanced it by one percent. The health and nutrition of riders, the pillows that cyclists slept on, the gel they used for their massages, the ergonomics of a bike seat, the weight of tires: Brailsford made improvements to it all, in tiny bits.
Putting all those 1% margins together, or by “aggregating marginal gains”, Brailsford ended up with an interesting improvement. In 2012, Team Sky won the Tour de France and went ahead to win two more. At the Games, it triumphed with 70% of the gold medals in cycling. He proved that, rather than a solution, there’s a set of micro, cost-effective and human-centered optimizations that he can scale today to make considerably more value down the proverbial cycling road. This is the unique technique of Growth hacking, a unique yet proven way to approach a complex problem. It is a mix of skill sets and distinct methods driven by an unconventional marketing approach, engineering, creativity, data, and experimentation that enables growth hackers to develop and implement creative solutions to growth-related problems.
Brands like Uber, Airbnb, Instagram, Spotify, or WhatsApp have done an equivalent thing. They uncovered unearthed acquisition channels, iterated their features, stayed close to their customers and constantly optimized via a rigorous analytical approach. Growth hacking is an iterative customer acquisition and retention strategy that sits at the intersection of development and marketing. Coined by entrepreneur Sean Ellis back in 2010, growth hacking bakes marketing into the merchandise by counting on social dynamics and network effects.
Twitter’s “Suggested Users List” is an example. Described as “a bit like your local book store’s staff picks” by Biz Stone, one among the Twitter founders, the suggested user list helps novices find interesting accounts to follow. The suggested accounts are filtered supported whether or not they are an honest introduction to tweeting for a replacement user, does it have a wide and/or mainstream appeal and whether they are a celebrity or business. This simple micro-solution made early adoption of Twitter infinitely easier and spurred user base growth. Dropbox infused the “I get something if you get something” social dynamics. It gifted free 16 GB of space for storing to those that referred their friends to the service, and this social dynamics of gifting has become a fundamental part of Dropbox’s use. Mailbox, a slick and efficient alternative to Gmail, created an insane demand by both super-clean interface and showing what percentage others are before us on the waitlist for the service.
Growth hacking may be a philosophy, it is all-embracing and isn’t almost one tactic. This will have likely involved a variety of failures, tons crunching data and iterating with UX (user experience), language, product and marketing channels, and far more.