Growth Hacks’ Hall of Fame: All time favorites

Table of Contents

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Some of them will blow your mind for how simple they are, some are genius work of engineering. What all these hacks have in common is the gigantic growth they brought to companies that had little to none money to spend on traditional marketing.

As a growth hacking agency, it’s our duty to tell you: there is no such thing as a universally effective hack. If something worked for a competitor it does not mean that is going to work for you. The hacks listed below were thought especially for their businesses’ needs at a particular moment in time. Copy-pasting them in your organization would do you no good.

Nevertheless, that does not mean you can get some inspiration out of it. Try to get inspired more by the mindset that generated the hack rather than by the hack itself, you should know by now, growth hacking is not a one size fits all kind of thing but a growth mindset is a common thread that holds everything together.

Piggybacking Hack

Borrowing customer bases like Airbnb and Paypal

Parasite is a strong word but well, you get the idea. Before they could stand on their own feet, now giants like Airbnb and PayPal found it easier to rely on bigger platforms. Taking advantage of an established customer base and making it their own was much easier, faster, and cheaper than building their own community from scratch. PayPal needs to thank eBay for this kind concession and Airbnb definitely owes one to Craigslist. Here’s how they did it.

In the beginning, when clicking on how do you want to pay? On eBay, you wouldn’t have found PayPal on the list of options. The hack in this case consisted of creating false user accounts and using them to ask eBay the chance to have PayPal as a preferred payment option. Due to the high demand, eBay had to agree and PayPal could benefit from all its customer base.

Quite similar, but even more bold, is what Airbnb did with Craigslist. When the founders noticed that their target audience was mainly on Craigslist they reverse-engineered its API (Application Program Interface) to offer users the option to post their properties also on Craigslist. Through reverse engineering, Airbnb managed to exploit Craigslist and build its so much needed user base. They eventually found out and blocked the access but it was already too late.

Referral Hack

Dropbox and Paypal: let your users do the work

Dropbox’s potential was enormous, but they were facing hundreds of dollars in customer acquisition costs for a $99 product. It only took a look at data to see that more than 30% of new users came from referrals of current users. Long story short: people loved the product but with no money for paid advertising nor to pay users to give referrals, it was destined to stay relegated to the tech-savvy Silicon Valley community. Then, the breakthrough: a reward perceived as extremely valuable by users as ridiculously cheap for the company: giving away 250 MB for each referral.

Dropbox’s acquisition rate skyrocketed in just over a year, going from 100 thousand to 4 million users, and all of this with no traditional marketing costs, no ads, email lists, or paid promotions.

PayPal’s work definitely deserves a mention. On top of the $20 users were getting to simply open an account, Elon Musk’s online payment system was initially offering $20 for every referral. They then dropped it to $10, then $5, until the value of the product itself was bringing new users in. Referrals grew their business by 7% to 10% daily, costing them just 60 million dollars. A little price to pay compared to the $1.5B in stock eBay paid to acquire PayPal in 2002.

Public Profile Hack

The first of its kind: LinkedIn

Someone googles your name and your profile shows up in the top five results. And you didn’t even have to pay for it. It’s something you are probably giving for granted now, but in 2006, when LinkedIn introduced this feature, real names and people were not something to be listed in organic search results. This hack generated more and more traffic and the fact that you had to sign up before being able to look at the profile made LinkedIn’s acquisition rate reach unexpected heights.

Puller Users and Influencers Hack

Tinder and Puma‘s Snowball effect

The idea behind this hack is that you do not need 100 users. You need 10 and the other 90 will follow them. And it all starts with an extremely well-thought-out targeting. For Tinder, their market was the colleges, and those 10 “puller users” were sorority girls. Once the girls were in, it wasn’t that difficult to get the boys on board. They organized offline events and the entrance fee for those parties was downloading the app.  

The hack consists of finding out who your puller users are, those whose presence will increase both value and acquisition rate, and meet them offline. If you think about it influencer marketing works in the same way, you offer your product to influencers and you receive visibility in exchange.

Don’t be fooled into thinking influencer marketing is a recent trend: it was 1970 when Pele was paid 120 thousand dollars to tie his Puma shoes before the World Cup Finals kick-off, and we still remember it.

Video Marketing and Youtube Hack

Build a brand on videos like GoPro, RedBull, and Dollar Shave Club

Wondering what a camera brand, a razor manufacturer, and an energy drink have in common? Video marketing. Pretty confusing, right? Well, GoPro, Dollar Shave Club, and Red Bull owe their massive growth to video marketing. YouTube, to be more specific.

Dollar Shave Club’s biggest obstacle was the well-established presence of Gillette dominating the market. A viral video, 19 million views, 48 hours, and 12 thousand orders later, Gillette was not that big of a problem anymore. The video is a brilliant, hilarious marketing masterpiece, and if you haven’t seen it yet, stop what you’re doing and watch it here👇🏼 Since then, Dollar Shave Club never stopped taking the marketing world by storm, did you know their advertising strategy including even 18+ website? Don’t believe us? Click here.

GoPro used YouTube to showcase high definition videos made with the camera. Through the video sharing platform, this camera company was able to share its product experience and build a solid customer base. The relationship with customers grew stronger when GoPro started asking users to tag them in their videos for a chance to be reposted.

At Red Bull, they weren’t just trying to sell an energy drink, but a whole high energy lifestyle. No wonder they used YouTube to do it. YouTube gave them the chance to put their values in a video and broadcast it to the mass.

If you look at these companies’ numbers and think of how much they would have had to pay in advertising to reach the same amount of people, you will see how building a brand on YouTube is much cheaper than buying space on traditional media. Invest in video marketing: videos are a huge part of online activities and a single video has the potential to take over the market.

Face to Face with clients Hack

Start small, stay humble, be like Netflix

Netflix actually started as a DVD rental company in the late 90s (talking about growth!) and today counts more than 182.8 million streaming subscribers worldwide. Again, good targeting is to thank. It all started very humbly, reaching out to DVD enthusiasts on online communities and forums to let them know about Netflix, where the rental was cheaper and with longer return policies. It ended up with a domino effect and 100 thousand orders, the rest is pretty much history.

Viral Hack

Trust the domino effect to work its magic: Facebook and WhatsApp

Five billion people have access to the internet. 2.6 billion of them are Facebook active users. 2 million have WhatsApp installed on their devices. The largest social networks in the world also ignited their growth with hacks.

For Facebook, the first one was a simple email notification system that kick-started engagement rates. They then asked users to refer Facebook to their friends and it sparked a chain reaction. Notification emails were sent to said friends when their name was mentioned on the social network, and to see if they were tagged and what people were saying they had to sign up to the website.

For the messaging app was even easier: there was a need in the market that WhatsApp not only fulfilled but in a super-efficient way. The main hack was word of mouth, they gave users the chance to send a link to their contacts to invite them to join in and let the viral effect do its course.

First Use Hack

The most important step is the first: Uber

Let’s say you have a product you think has great potential in retention but you struggle in the acquisition stage. You are quite sure after their first use, users will turn into long term customers, but how to break through that initial wall? Uber found itself in that very same position and its solution was offering $20 for new users booking their first drive. Once they overcame that initial obstacle, users could see the value of the product: how easy was to get a drive without the hustle of calling, waiting, and paying for a cab. All they had to do was sit back and let word of mouth do the rest.

The Iconic Hotmail Hack

Best for last. It’s such a stroke of genius that we couldn’t call it any other way. The concept is astonishingly simple: at the end of every email users were sending it was automatically added the message with a link:

P.S.: I love you. Get your free email at Hotmail.

Zero costs, even less effort, 3000 new accounts a day. The more emails were sent the more advertisement Hotmail got, cheap and highly effective: in the first six months they reached 1 million users, and they doubled the number over the next month. 

Sprints & Sneakers

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