What Is a Growth Hacker and Why Does Your Company Desperately Need One?

If “growth hacking” is something that you “sort of heard of,” but dismissed it quickly because you thought it’s for bigger companies, let me correct you right now.

You NEED a growth hacker, irrespective of the size of your company.

And no, not because it’s trendy. Because it’s the norm.

Let’s see why.

What is a growth hacker?

The term was coined in 2010 by Sean Ellis who is now, as you might expect, the founder of GrowthHackers.com. But before he founded GrowthHackers, he helped a lot of other companies like DropBox and Eventbrite grow.

According to Neil Patel, Sean Ellis coined the term out of frustration. He wanted to hire someone to replace him. And he got marketers. But he wanted something else. He wanted growth hackers.

In Ellis’ own words, “a growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth.”

The difference between growth hackers and marketers

Just recently, Coca-Cola’s CMO (chief marketing officer) retired. After a four-decade career in the company, this is hardly breaking news. What is breaking news, though, is the fact that Coca-Cola decided to discontinue the position altogether and hire a CGO instead.

You guessed it, CGO stands for chief growth officer.

I know what you’re thinking. As a marketer by trade, I was also dumfounded (and, to be honest, a bit irritated): what can a growth hacker do that a marketer can’t? After all, a marketer’s job is company growth, right?

Absolutely right! And still…

A traditional marketer will take your product and come up with ways to sell as the best thing that happened to your target audience since electricity. And that’s pretty awesome. Every company needs a marketer.

To do that, your CMO will work with SEO copywriters to come up with compelling copy that can be easily found, buy PPC ads, create a top-notch website and set up killer social media profiles. Briefly put: your CMO will create and implement a marketing strategy.

In turn, that marketing strategy will bring sales, ideally even a significant year-over-year growth. So, yes, marketers can also bring growth about.

On the other hand, a growth hacker will focus on nothing else. 

So is a growth hacker better than a marketer?

Sean Ellis says they are simply different.

Oftentimes, a startup will hire a marketer to do things that aren’t necessary yet. Strategic marketing plans and huge marketing teams mean nothing if “scalable, repeatable and sustainable way to grow the business” has yet to be found.

This is where the growth hacker comes in.

This person will think of nothing other than growth. If something doesn’t serve the ultimate goal — aka company growth — it will be quickly eliminated from the list. This is how you could end up having a start-up with zero social media presence or no e-mail marketing strategy. If it’s irrelevant, it will be postponed until it becomes a growth factor.

When a marketer comes up with ways to market your product “as is,” a growth hacker can even suggest you discontinue it and focus on something else. Alternatively, a CGO can suggest you transform it until it becomes a growth factor.

Why do you need a growth hacker?

I know, everything with “hacker” in it has a negative connotation. Plus, when you consider the possibility that someone could suggest your product is garbage and you need to throw it out the window and start from scratch, growth hacking doesn’t sound so appealing anymore.

And, if your goal is to continue to run a small business, my advice is to never hire a growth hacker.

If, on the other hand, you want more out of your company, then growth hacking is the way to go. Yes, it will be unpleasant; and you may hear things you don’t want to. But every seed must break its shell in order to evolve into a mighty tree.

Think about this: a growth hacker is first and foremost a very analytical person. With the myriad of analytics and big data tools available today, all you need is someone who can put the information together and extract the gist that changes the face of your business forever.

Growth hacking may be unorthodox (and it should be, especially in order to fuel fast growth), but it will always be based on cold, hard facts. Let’s say you bought an ad in New York Times. It’s a major investment. But did it help you grow your business?

If all your marketing department has to show for the hefty sum you paid to see your ad in New York Times is brand awareness, then it has to go. It needs to be replaced by something that brings real growth.

What does it take to be a growth hacker?

First of all, no, you don’t have to be a software engineer. That’s not what the “hacker” part is about. What you need to be is a visionary.

If a marketer understands what the world wants today and maybe even what people will want tomorrow, a growth hacker sets trends instead of following them. While not a software engineer, a CGO is tech-savvy enough to understand how the newest gadgets and APIs work and how to use them to achieve growth.

Unorthodox and disruptive, growth hackers are bound to be tomorrow’s stars in any company.


Adriana Tica is an expert marketer and copywriter, with 10 years in the field, most of which were spent marketing tech companies. She is the CEO of Idunn, a digital marketing agency that helps clients all over the world with copywriting, social media marketing and marketing strategy. Follow her blog here: http://idunn.pro/blog.

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