What is Growth Hacking and how does it work?

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Growth Hacking has become a big concept in the marketing world in recent years and is seen by many professionals as the future of marketing. The beauty of Growth Hacking is that it can be used in many different ways, for different challenges. 

But what exactly is the definition of Growth Hacking? What are the activities of a Growth Hacker? And how do you actually get started with Growth Hacking? In this blog, we tell you everything you need to know about Growth Hacking and share some useful real-world examples and tips.

What is Growth Hacking?

Growth Hacking is a term that few people really understand yet. As a Growth Hacker, when you start explaining to people what kind of work you do, many will respond with “It’s something to do with Facebook and Google Ads or something, right?”. And these people are right. But Growth Hacking is much more than that!

When someone asks you what Growth Hacking is, you’d better answer with the following: 

“Growth Hacking is growing businesses through innovative and proven experiments based on data.”

The term “Growth Hacking” was introduced in 2012 by Sean Ellis in Silicon Valley. Previously, the term was mainly known among startups because you can get started with relatively little investment. Nowadays, large companies have also picked up the term and started using it as well. The power of Growth Hacking is mainly in testing, optimizing and repeating the experiments. If you notice that an experiment produces results, the key is to optimize that experiment.

What is the difference between Growth Hacking and marketing?

“Isn’t Growth Hacking just a fancy name for online marketing?” No, it isn’t. Not surprisingly, the terms Growth Hacking and marketing are often compared and the difference between them is unclear to many people. In fact, there is a lot of overlap between marketing and Growth Hacking, but there are definitely differences:

  • Whereas marketers are often busy with ongoing marketing projects and maintaining and optimizing current channels, growth hackers focus on new growth opportunities. 
  • A growth hacker deals with the entire funnel. Marketers often look at the first 3 phases: Awareness, Acquisition and Activation. Growth hackers also handle the Retention, Revenue and Referral phases. So they think about the entire customer journey, rather than just promoting and marketing a product or service.
  • A marketer is often concerned with large, long-term projects, while a growth hacker is often concerned with experimentation. These experiments then test what works and what doesn’t in a short period of time, and further scale up success. 
  • A growth hacker works data-driven. Whereas in marketing departments, this is far from always the case. So when a growth hacker starts an experiment, it will always be based on data. 
  • Because a growth hacker works a lot with data and often has to obtain this data himself, it is necessary for a growth hacker to have technical skills. Think of programming, tooling and automation. This is not always the case with marketers.


The last major difference is that a growth hacker is not only involved in the promotion of a product, like a marketer, but also in the product itself. This is because a growth hacker is also heavily involved in the retention of active customers. 

What does a growth hacker do?

Skills of a growth hacker

Growth Hacking is done by, you guessed it, Growth Hackers. So a Growth Hacker is someone who works according to the methods of Growth Hacking. To do this, you need to have a number of skills and characteristics. These include skills such as programming, dealing with data, full funnel marketing and understanding the basics of UX/UI design. 

In addition to these skills, there are several traits that characterize a Growth Hacker. First and foremost, it is important for someone to be able to act quickly and operate independently. In addition, as a Growth Hacker, you are much engaged in experimentation. To come up with innovative ideas, it is therefore also important that you are open-minded and creative. No challenge is too big and nothing is too crazy. But at the same time, everything you decide must be based on data, which, by the way, you also obtained yourself. 

Growth Hacking now probably sounds more like something only superheroes can do, but believe us, it is more accessible and easier to apply than many people think 

This is because you always work according to a certain model, the Pirate or AAARRR funnel. Also, Growth Hackers work with the 80/20 rule. This rule means that with 20% of your knowledge or time, you can do 80% of your tasks. But we will explain this in more detail later in the blog. 

What skills should you have as a growth hacker?

  • Data Tracking/Analysis
  • UX/UI
  • Customer Retention
  • Visual Design
  • Copywriting
  • Growth Hacking Mindset
  • Conversion Optimization
  • A/B Testing
  • SEO Basics
  • Automation
  • Referral Programs 
  • Acquisition Marketing (Advertisement)
  • Customer Psychology

T-Shaped professional

Although you need to know many things as a Growth Hacker, you really don’t need to be an expert in everything. Therefore, as a Growth Hacker, you operate as a T-Shaped professional. This means you have a broad base of knowledge, but specialize in some things. In fact, unless you are gifted and there are more than 24 hours in your day, you cannot be very broad AND very deep oriented. More realistic is that you have one or two specializations, for example Branding & SEO, and beyond that a good basic knowledge of everything. If we visualize this, it looks like this:

Growth Mindset

Another important trait of a Growth Hacker is the “Growth Mindset. Possessing a Growth Mindset is difficult to measure, but it can be demonstrated by several factors:

  • Data-Based Decisions: All decisions made within experiments are made based on data collected and analyzed. This way, you allocate your time as efficiently as possible and ensure that there is always an underlying reason why you perform a particular experiment or task. 
  • Outside the box: Although the term is incredibly cliché, it really is part of the Growth Mindset. This is because a Growth Hacker doesn’t just stick to the standard tools that every marketer uses, but instead wants to experiment with the latest tools, such as AI tools. Indeed, it is precisely the experiments that are not so obvious that can yield the best results!
  • Speed over quality: This may sound crazy, but what is meant by this is that a Growth Hacker works relatively quickly. By setting up an experiment quickly and simply, you can test what works or doesn’t work in a relatively short amount of time. This way you avoid putting all your time and energy into a task that is not effective at all. So you are actually allocating your time in a more efficient and smarter way. 
  • Develop: The name Growth Mindset actually says it all, as a Growth Hacker you are constantly growing. We are talking about growth of your customers, but also personal growth. Because you are busy experimenting, you keep learning as a Growth Hacker. You test new things, read up on them, do research and ultimately improve your knowledge and skills. 

Why should you start with Growth Hacking?

There are numerous reasons why you might start growth hacking as a business. First of all, traditional marketing tools are becoming increasingly expensive and saturated. In addition, (online) competition is fierce and the ways in which you can reach your target group are endless. High time for a new and more efficient way of working.

The advantages of growth hacking in a row:

Use of the entire funnel: growth hackers are T-shaped specialists. This means that they have the basic knowledge, but are often specialized in 1 or 2 parts. This way they can easily switch with other experts and recognize opportunities in each funnel phase. 

Working smarter with a smaller budget: growth hackers are constantly looking for the most efficient way to grow. This is done in short periods of time, through experimentation. No unnecessary budget is spent on campaigns that yield nothing and they quickly switch to ways that do work. So your budget is spent smarter.

No experiment is too crazy: By using creativity in different areas and being able to start this up yourself, you provide more out-of-the-box solutions to problems that are pragmatic at the same time.

Everything you undertake is data-driven: As one of the foundations of growth hacking, data-driven work is also something that allows you to properly demonstrate within the organization why you made certain choices.

So with growth hacking, you put the customer first by mapping the entire funnel. Because you see exactly where things go wrong in the process, you know exactly which knobs to turn to achieve a better result. Moreover, because you experiment in a short period of time, you can switch to new and more effective means faster. So by using growth hacking tactics, you find out faster what works and what doesn’t work for your business. You achieve more, with less. In short; more traffic, leads, sales and ambassadors. And all with the same – or even a smaller – budget.


Growth Hacking in practice: 5 steps

Now that you know all about what a Growth Hacker does and what skills he or she needs, it’s time to get started yourself! Of course, the best way to understand and learn the craft is to do it yourself. Pick one small problem that you yourself or as a company are facing and start with that. 

Step 1: Do the Growth checklist

  • Always look at the product or service first. Is there demand for it and is the target group large enough, in other words, is there a product-market fit? After all, if your product or service is not properly mapped out, Growth Hacking is never going to deliver the desired results.
  • It is essential that you can measure what you have done and what the results are. It is therefore a priority to set up your analytics and tracking tools first.
  • Do you master the basics needed for your experiment? Every experiment requires different skills. Read up and make sure you have the basics before you start. 

Now let’s get started with growth hacking!

Step 2 Identify the problem or obstacle.

First, it is important to understand what is holding back the growth of your business. Where is the bottleneck for your organization? And at what stage of the funnel is the problem located? The funnel that most Growth Hackers use is the Pirate or AAARRR funnel. By mapping this funnel you can see at a glance where in the process the problem is located and thus discover the weakest link for your company.

You find the bottleneck by looking at data: where do people drop out or do you not reach the right target group? Do your own research!

You find the bottleneck by looking at data: where do people drop out or do you not reach the right target group? Do your own research!

A few tips:

  • Interview your target audience. This is also called qualitative research. Get insight into why your target audience would or would not choose your product or service, where they drop out in the process and what they need to eventually make a purchase.
  • Download HotJar to see where people drop out in the process on your website. Hotjar gives you great insight into the online behavior of your website visitors. You can quickly see on which web pages visitors click away and you know where you have to make improvements first.
  • Look at benchmarks in the market in which you operate. This will help you set realistic goals.
  • Ask current customers for feedback. Why do your customers choose you? How can you improve the customer experience? And what are customers still missing from your product or service? By asking these types of questions, you can gain insight into where improvements lie for your business.

Step 3: Growth Hacker Setup for Growth Experiments (G.R.O.W.S. process)

Now that you’ve found the bottleneck in the AAARRR/pirate funnel, it’s time to start thinking about what you can do to solve it. Be sure to keep in mind your “One metric that matters” We at Sprints & Sneakers always use the G.R.O.W.S. Process here (link). 

Before you start, it is important that an experiment is not going to cost too much time and money, be critical of this as well. If an experiment does not seem to succeed, do not pay extra attention to it. If it has potential, see if you can scale it up. In this way, a Growth Hacker always ensures that the ROI (return on investment) is higher. 

The G.R.O.W.S. Process includes the following steps:

1: Gather ideas

2: Rank ideas

3: Outline experiments

4: Work

5: Study Outcome

Step 4: Analyze, adapt, improve

The most important thing about Growth Hacking is obviously data, if all goes well you can track incoming data and know the metric that applies to the experiment. Look at the results and see where you can tweak or improve things. Constant testing is what is going to bring success. So do the same in a structured and mindful way and give your experiments time!

Looking back at the hypothesis set up, did you achieve your goal? It is important to know why certain goals are or are not achieved. This can be a simple reason, such as lack of time or an unrealistic goal, but external factors can also play a role. So read carefully about things happening in the market as well.

And if something really doesn’t work, scrap the experiment and don’t pay unnecessary attention to it. Start your next experiment! 

Step 5: Repeat, repeat, repeat

From every experiment and at every stage, you will encounter new things that you can learn from. No doubt you will encounter a new problem in your next experiment and you can then repeat the process. The art of growth hacking is to do this in a structured way and with discipline. Eventually, this way you will know better and better what works and what doesn’t, which will also improve your results.


Examples of successful Growth Hacks

1: Puma

Puma used a very simple growth hack in their earlier years, even before Growth Hacking was an existing term at all. Puma had employed the soccer player Pelé as an influencer by having him tie his laces right before the kickoff of the game. he was one of the best players in the world at the time, so logically, they zoomed in on him at this moment to visualize what he was doing. And there it appeared: the Puma logo. Global exposure with a huge reach, in a very simple way. This moment went “viral,” another term they were unfamiliar with at the time.

2: Pinterest

A somewhat modern growth hack is that of Pinterest. Pinterest is also known as a visual search engine. There is little text and beautiful, large images take center stage. As a result, visitors also scroll through their timeline faster than on Facebook, for example, because they hardly have to read anything. Previously on Pinterest, users could only scroll to a certain height and the message “click to next page” would appear at the bottom of the page. The page then had to reload, causing many users to drop out. Once infinite scroll was introduced on Pinterest, this was a thing of the past. Visitors now stay on the website much longer because they can scroll infinitely. It also allows the platform to collect more user data, further improving the website and therefore making it more attractive to visitors.

3: Dollar Shave Club

Dollar Shave Club also successfully applied Growth Hacking by finding the perfect Product/Market Fit. With their subscription razor, they created a business model where people return monthly. This created a lot of word-of-mouth advertising. In addition, Dollar Shave Club invested in an insanely good video for their campaign. In the video, they praised their product in a unique and comical way. In this way, they were able to turn a relatively boring topic into a very fun creative campaign. Which also created a lot of word-of-mouth advertising.

4: Slack

Slack actually tackled a very big problem and provided the ideal solution for many people. Many people suffered from an overload of information, mainly coming in through their mailbox or chat channels. For this reason, Slack came up with a solution for less information overload and less stress. They created a channel where you can efficiently and conveniently communicate with each other, share files and exchange information. Slack’s full focus was on the user experience, which also made it a Unique Buyer Reason for many people. What you saw is that employees started asking their employer if it was possible to start using Slack as a communication tool because it would be less stressful. This would allow them to work better. So a win-win for both parties.

5: Tinder

Tinder is a dating app that almost everyone is familiar with. In fact, it has almost become a household name. Even though Tinder has a huge number of competitors. How did they do this? With Growth Hacking! In fact, in order for the app to become very popular in a short period of time, Tinder started organizing student parties or in American flat parties where you could get an invitation via Tinder. This went big among students in the U.S. and Tinder was downloaded en masse. In no time, this put it in the ranks of the biggest dating apps.

Want to learn more about Growth Hacking?

Now if you can say of yourself that you are an expert in growth hacking that would be fantastic! Unfortunately, it’s not that easy and you learn it mostly through practice. Should you want to learn, read or watch more about growth hacking we have collected for you some books, blogs and courses that can help you to become a real expert.

Courses & Traineeships about growth hacking in 2023

Growth Tribe – Become a Certified Growth Hacker:

Growth Tribe has been one of the forerunners for some time when it comes to digital courses for Marketing, UX and Data. This online course will train you to become a true growth hacker! GrowthTribe does everything possible to make the experience of the course as good as possible, which is why it scores a 9.3/10.

The Talent Institute – Become a growth marketer in 6 months:

This is a paid traineeship in Amsterdam where you will be trained to become a real Growth Hacker within 6 months. Only 25 people will be selected for this traineeship and you must have completed at least an HBO Bachelor’s degree.

Magnet.me – Growth Hacking Traineeship:

Like the Talent Institute, Magnet.me offers a fully paid traineeship where you will be trained to become a Growth Hacker within 6 months! You work during this traineeship in a Start-Up, Scale-Up or agency and thus get the full Growth Hacker experience!

Books about growth hacking in 2023

  • Hacking Growth – Sean Ellis
  • The Growth Handbook – Andrew Chen & Intercom-team
  • Growth Engines – Sean Ellis
  • Explosive Growth – Cliff Lerner
  • Growing Happy Clients – Daphne Tideman & Ward van Gasteren
  • Don’t make me Think – Steve Krug
  • Growth Hacker Marketing – Ryan Holiday

Platforms & Blogs about growth hacking in 2023

  • Grow with Ward: Ward writes one of the best and most relevant blogs on everything related to Growth Hacking!
  • Gust de Backer: Gust de Backer is another big name in the Growth Marketing world and thus a good source to get information from.
  • Growth Tribe: Growthtribe is at the forefront of digital courses and writes very relevant and good blogs!
  • Reforge: Reforge is the biggest platform for developing your career and also writes a great blog on Growth Hacking.
  • Brian Balfour: Brian Balfour is the CEO/Founder of the above mentioned Reforge. And writes very relevant articles on Growth on his own website!
  • Sprints & Sneakers: Of course we think we belong in this list when you are the #1 Growth Hacking Agency of the Benelux!
  • Ycombinator: On Ycombinator you can find relevant information about everything. With a little detective work also very good articles about Growth Hacking!
  • Start Up Lessons Learned: At first glance perhaps not the most attractive website, but in terms of content what can be found there is definitely worth it!
  • Demand Curve: Also one of the larger platforms and also one with an awful lot of blogs on various topics!

Need help with Growth Hacking?

You now know the definition of Growth Hacking, the work of a Growth Hacker and you have a roadmap to get started with Growth Hacking. Notice that you still need more information to get started? Or do you have specific questions for your company? Please contact us and we will help you on your way. After reading this blog, do you think Growth Hacking is for you? Take a look at our vacancy page. Our team is always looking for reinforcement!

Come make a positive impact with us

At Sprints & Sneakers, we are on a mission to use growth hacking to make a positive impact on the world. Because all that growth can also have a detrimental impact on our planet. As the first B-corp certified growth hacking agency in the Netherlands, we do this by helping companies grow that (want to) do good for the world. This is how we make positive impact as an agency and reshape the future by growing meaningful brands.

If you’ve read this blog up to here you probably find people and the environment as important issues as we do. Are you or know someone looking for a job? We are always looking for fun and talented new colleagues! Check out our vacancies here, apply and our Anique will contact you directly.

Ready to take your company to the next level with growth hacking? Let's boost your strategy together. Contact us today to start your growth journey!

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