08 Sep 2015

The 2 Different Phases of Growth Hacking

The 2 Different Phases of Growth Hacking

Recently with the rise of tech startups and the ever increasing capital available for funding, the term growth hacking has become quite a trend.

Google Trends for the term "Growth Hacking"
Google Trends for the term “Growth Hacking”

Some people are skeptical with the term, others embrace it and others are looking for their unicorn growth hacker who will make it rain users!

Now, I am a “growth hacker” myself at a fairly established software startup, with both a SaaS product and a deployed enterprise one, but I consider myself a growth marketer.

Although, I believe the term growth hacker accurate labels the job of someone who is obsessed with growth (not branding, not social media engagement, or other metrics not directly related to growth), the “hacker” component is a remnant from *specifically* the AirBnB case, where they… actually hacked their way to growth!

Not all growth hackers are created equal though…

As I see it there are 2 major, different growth phases in every startup:

1. Early growth and product/market fit

This is when a startup tries to find its product/market fit as soon as possible.

You need a growth hacker here in the sense that you need someone who will bring you a meaningful number of early adopters, as cheaply as possible *and* as fast as possible.

It’s not rocket science, you start by a hypotheses that a specific group of people need your product and then you start “growth hacking” (or hustling) your way to get them to use your product.

To find them, you ask questions like “who are my potential customers?” and “where I can find them and get them to try my product?”. Once these questions are answered, a creative process should start on evaluating possible ways to get those early adopters, with as few resources as possible.

Usually the person(s) doing all this, is the founder(s) trying to get their first customers.

The term “hacking” to me is whatever you are doing that is repeatable and will set you apart from the rest and provide you sustainable growth every week.

Example: Let’s say that you find out that you are great at being featured in podcasts and you can drive growth with them. Then go and get on every relevant podcast possible. If you run out of possible podcasts to attend, you will figure out the next move, no worries.

In the case of Stripe, one of their growth hacks was the Collison brothers (founders) signing up *manually*, on the spot, everyone who expressed interest in their startup.

But, how could you employ this information now that you have it?

Here are 2 ways to get you rolling:

  • Just because your product is online doesn’t mean you should neglect offline. Whatever is the best way to get your initial growth…. fast!
  • If someone shows interest in your startup, be polite, but try and get them on your startup as soon as possible.

These steps above can help you find product/market fit and then move on to the 2nd growth phase.

2. Fast startup growth and scaling

Ok now that you have your first customers you know who you are after. You don’t need to go to a broader audience, because this will be inefficient. Only once you max out your first audience/market should you consider going after a broader one.

Before you do anything, it would be good to do some further and deeper research than you did in the previous phase. Go find where they hang out online, what language are they using, what are their questions, thoughts, fears, desires… Combine that knowledge with what you have learned from customer support and you are golden.

Ideally, you should have built up a CRM and a document with these details, so new growth hires can quickly get a grasp of what’s going on.

Anyway, let’s move on to the hot stuff…!

From what I have experienced, growth hacking in this phase has 2 major channels that work  in almost every B2B SaaS (if not in all of them):

1) Advertising / PPC (pay per click)

2) Content marketing

Ok let’s break them down…

1. Advertising / PPC

This is the only scalable way to acquire customers once you have some systems in place. In my mind there is literally no scale without PPC.

There are 2 main issues here that might hinder your progress:

A) Psychological

If you think that spending a *big* amount of money per day might not be ok and you feel like you should be slowing down, you have fallen into this psychological trap.

As long as you are making more money than you are spending, spend as much as possible, as fast as possible, before the competition catches up to you.

B) Numbers

Things here are very delicate. Get your numbers wrong and you might end up closing shop.

Track ruthlessly your numbers and know at any time how much you are spending, how much you are making, miscellaneous costs, ratios, etc.

Now on to the second growth hack…

2) Content Marketing

I am sure I am not the first to tell you that content marketing provides a great ROI, especially for B2B SaaS. But, I believe I am among the few ones who will tell you that you shouldn’t start right away with content marketing.

That’s for another post, when to start content marketing, but know this: It’s a long term game

Now, I might get a lot of slack for what I am about to say, but in an ideal world you could/would track direct ROI from each blog post. However, from my experience most of the time, the cost and difficulty to go into such detailed tracking is simply not worth it.

Of course you should track some KPIs, but know that content marketing has a lot of benefits that you simply can’t track, like thought leadership, word of mouth and branding.

It will be good to have one or two KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), like an increase in free sign ups or free trials to your SaaS, or even the amount of your brand searches per month, since you started blogging, but other than a couple KPIs I think it’s overkill.

By all means dedicate time and effort to optimize your content marketing, call to actions and track changes. Just don’t get lost trying to assign a specific dollar value in each blog post. Not worth it.


In short there are 2 phases of growth. When you are trying to find product/market fit as soon as possible and once you find that, scaling as fast as possible.

The 2 best methods to scale are PPC/advertising and content marketing.

What would you add or change to the above?

Let’s chat in the comment section below.

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