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Growth Hacking for startups: how it works and some useful tips

18 January 2022Reading time: 6 min.

There are two things that almost all startups have in common: a limited budget and the need to gear up quickly. Some make it despite limited resources, others unfortunately remain at the starting gate, where their race ends. Why is Growth Hacking their solution? Let me explain.

Being a startup isn’t easy: you have a great idea, but your resources are scarce – not enough money to invest in marketing strategies to spread the word and not enough people to undertake the activities to help the company enjoy success.

How can you grow your startup if you don’t have the resources to apply the right techniques of Growth Hacking and a dedicated team to follow its strategies for social networks or to take part in the auctions of online ads? Not to mention all the activities of Growth Hacking and Email Marketing, another sphere to invest in to make your startup grow. 

This may sound like a problem without a solution. Unless you decide to change perspective: what if the classic approach to marketing isn’t the correct way to achieve your goal? After all, your starting conditions are much more delicate than those of a company already up and running. 

What you need is a more operational and less dispersive approach. What you need is Growth Hacking.

Why Growth Hacking is the solution for startups

Startups have one goal: growth. And, to stay on track, this growth must be fast and exponential.

In 2010, Sean Ellis coined the term Growth Hacking to suggest a new approach to the issue: seeking a hack, i.e., a quick, innovative and inexpensive method to achieve growth without having to follow conventional—and usually expensive and risky—processes.

Growth Hacking is a methodology that promotes a creative approach to marketing, based on testing new types of relationships with potential customers. Above all, it is an analytical and rigorous process, based on experimentation and analysis of performance. 

According to the Growth Hacking methodology of, every idea or strategy is tested before being implemented, and only goes forward if the results are positive.

As you can imagine, it’s a perfect approach for a reality that needs to invest its resources wisely and efficiently.

By implementing the right Growth Hacking strategy, a startup can accelerate its growth in a short time at minimal cost. 

Growth hacking for startups: focus on the customer

A fundamental difference between traditional marketing and Growth Hacking lies in the concept of marketing: as a marketer, the product will always be at the center of your actions; instead, your potential customers are at the center of every Growth Hacker strategy.

To get results from Growth Hacking you need to understand who your customers are and what they need. The product you offer must meet their needs, making it easier to sell.

How to understand your audience

Knowing your market and your audience’s needs are the two fundamental starting points for any company, specifically for startups: in this delicate phase, the Growth Hacker lays the foundations for growth strategies that will determine the success or failure of the startup project.

Understanding your audience means identifying the characteristics of the ideal customer:

  • their age, residence, their gender, socio-economic status, their line of work, their interests
  • the websites they visit, where they search information, how they behave online, the devices they use, their preferred ways of purchasing
  • their values, their manifest needs, their objectives and their problems

The Growth Hacker also identifies where potential customers are in their customer journey (in the phase of awareness, evaluation or conversion?), to insert them into the growth hacking funnel and implement an effective strategy on the appropriate marketing channels.

Growth Hacking Strategies for Startups

Every company should have a solid Growth Hacking plan to grow their business quickly. Increasing the user base is the priority goal, but how do you achieve it? 

Here are some Growth Hacking strategies that a startup can implement to accelerate its growth:

  • Study the main players in the market or niche it wants to enter to understand what works.
  • Build a social media community around the brand.
  • Follow a trend and make it your own.
  • Choosing an Inbound Marketing Approach
  • Collaborate with micro-influencers.
  • Collect contacts for Email Marketing.
  • Implement Email Marketing Automation solutions.
  • Segment your contact database and send personalized campaigns and notifications.
  • Use Retargeting.
  • Take advantage of Referral Marketing.
  • Make use of Social Media Marketing and social media growth hacks (with the appropriate social media platforms).
  • Offer discounts to beta testers.
  • Launch the product on platforms such as Product Hunt. 
  • Answer industry questions on sites like Quora or Reddit.
  • Do Content Marketing with the aim of providing valuable content to potential customers and become known.
  • Use customer feedback to improve the product or service it offers.

The Growth Hacking strategy you choose can be more or less aggressive (think of companies that chase people who have visited their site with banners on every other page, social ads and notifications). But the important thing is to approach the issue of growth creatively. 

An example? When Amazon was in its early days, it developed a system to circumvent the publishing house rule that required retailers to order at least 10 books at a time. This rule went against the company’s optimization criteria to manage its limited budget available as effectively as possible. Amazon then invented the following workaround: when they ordered a book from one of the publishing houses they sourced, they requested the book and nine copies of a very rare book on lichens that they knew to be sold out. The publishing house then sent the requested book, apologizing for the impossibility of sending the book on lichens, and took a long time to notice the deception. Meanwhile, Amazon continued to receive only the books it needed, saving on order handling and warehouse costs. 

That’s quite a stunt, isn’t it? That’s what a Growth Hacker thinks.

Tips for startups that want to implement Growth Hacking

The goal of rapid, exponential and sustainable growth over time can be achieved more easily by following some tips that streamline and make the activities of Growth Hacking more effective.

Opt for long test periods

If you are in the Growth Hacking phase it means that your situation is delicate: you can’t afford a misstep. Remember that some Growth Hacking strategies require months of break-in to be evaluated properly, so don’t rush and keep your test times long. That way you’ll know which strategies really work and which don’t.

Set SMART growth goals

Before starting up your business, set your growth goals. The most effective way to do this is by setting SMART goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and limited in time. Knowing what goal you want to achieve and measuring where you are with respect to your goals helps you manage your resources more effectively and time more productively.

The Growth Hacking Team 

Creating a full team of Growth Hacking can be very expensive for a startup. In the beginning, you may only need a couple of permanent employees: choose them carefully and make sure they are good at adapting to changing market conditions and company needs. 

Then, you can hire freelance professionals to help you with concrete projects and activities. This way you won’t have to face the fixed expense of one or two extra salaries per month and you can manage the various collaborations according to your business needs and budget.

This article was written by

Valentina Pacitti

Valentina Pacitti

Copywriter and translator since 2012, in charge of SEMrush Italia's blog since 2015. Words are my means of communicating with people - I read and write plenty of them. I like to know them inside and out, so that I can pick the best ones for every story I'm telling. Simple, clear, precise - this is the writing style I prefer. I'm more offline than online, but you can always find me on my social channels to discuss ideas and projects.

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