The essence of Growth Hacking lies in the basics

Have you ever rolled your eyes when someone told you about their new lean strategy or agile routines, about their job as a Growth Hacker at this super cool startup? Yes, me too. These days we like to give our activities fancy names to make them sound interesting. And it works. The three words I mentioned all have one or more bestselling books, you hear them everywhere and I believe a large part of the people using them has no clue what they actually mean. A popular Dutch comedian suggested that we start calling highschool teachers senior knowledge provider to make the job more appealing.

This is exactly the reason that I often start grinning when I tell the people around me that I started a traineeship in one of those buzzwords: growth hacking. Most of them do not have the slightest clue what this entails, but hey, it sounds cool, right?

You’re probably wondering why I signed up for a traineeship on a topic that I would roll my eyes at. The answer is simple: I thought it would be fun and there actually is a reason that several bestselling books have been published on this topic.

I’ve been interested in entrepreneurship throughout my studies and developed an interest in data analysis. As my programming skills are barely existent, becoming a data scientist was no option and growth hacking also requires working with and analysing data. Alright, want to know what a Growth Hacker is? Plenty of people have explained this, probably better than I can. Even Wikipedia already has an entry.

Innovation and growth hacking

Growth hacking stems from the startup world, where there generally is a lack of traffic, resources and time. Yet some startups succeed to beat existing companies that have plenty of those. This is because startups are very good at one particular thing: innovation. In 1997 Clayton Christensen already taught us how important innovation is, and well-known examples of Kodak and Netflix vs. Blockbuster show us that he is (at least partially) right.

However, most startups eventually fail. Not because they’re not innovating, but because they’re innovating in something that nobody is asking for. For me, one of the most important lessons you learn as a Growth Hacker is to validate what you’re doing. In the case of innovation this means validating your idea: do people even want this? If they do and it works, be sure to regularly take a step back and see if you can make it better.

The Growth Mindset

While the tasks of a Growth Hacker mainly focus on marketing activities, the underlying idea is what most interests me. The Growth Mindset (see, another buzzword, if you ask me) is essentially the idea that you should never stop learning, should not be afraid to try new things and keep evaluating what you’re doing. When something fails, use it to your advantage by learning from it and try it again in another way. When something works, try to make it even better. As Eric Ries put it: the only way to win is to learn faster than anyone else.” Is your business now really kicking off? Keep trying new things, because in a few years it probably won’t work anymore.

On the scale of a business idea or a whole company, I believe it may sound superficial or blunt, but you can apply this strategy at any scale you want. I think this is the most essential part of what can make a Growth Hacker successful: trying, analysing and learning. Insert creativity, structure and the right tools and you have a recipe for success.

It’s not rocket science

Everything that I have written about is absolutely no rocket science, but you’d be surprised about how often the most basic principles are ignored, causing trouble for the particular company. Whether they’re a corporate with difficult bureaucratic challenges or a startup team of five people, classic mistakes are made over and over again. Even though I’m writing about this topic, I’m sure that I will also make these mistakes again, once again confirming the importance of evaluation and analysis

My traineeship started with the message that all the content could be found on Google as well. Yet, I’ve never learned this much in a month before and Growth Hacker is a widely sought after job title. My advice? Take some time to dive into this topic online or take a (short) course to fully grasp the basic idea. I can guarantee it will help you with more than just the marketing perspective.

Guest blog by Leon Smits
Originally posted on

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