Is Growth Hacking a thing? The experts sound-off


By Kiki Schirr, {grow} Contributing Columnist

As I was beginning to write my second post for {grow}, Mark posted the following to Facebook:

Growth Hacking Mark Schaefer

Whoops. Guess I shouldn’t write about growth hacking, then!

But then I thought, a topic like growth hacking should stir some debate…

So I went ahead and asked some industry experts about what they thought about growth hacking–I think the results might surprise you!

Growth Hacking Has a Specific Meaning–and isn’t for Everyone — Sujan Patel

Sujan Patel, VP of Marketing at When I Work, and founder of, sees a distinction between Growth Marketing and Growth Hacking. “I wrote an ebook on Growth Hacking [100 Days of Growth] but I’m more of a growth marketer. Since I can’t technically write code (at least not anything good) I wouldn’t call myself a “hacker … it’s only okay if you can do both the growth (ideation and marketing) and the hacking (implementation). To me a Growth Hacker is 30% Marketer, 50% Developer, and 20% Analytics/Data.”

“If you’re a developer that has implemented growth hacks … you’re still a developer. You must come up with the idea, execute, and measure to be a true Growth Hacker.”

Growth hacking “will be around for the next 3-5 years until the industry evolves and/or something new comes along.”

Being a “Growth Hacker” is like having blue hair –– Jay Baer, author of YOUtility

“As long as online business remains, we’ll have growth hacking as a concept.” Jay said. “Whether the title persists over time, I doubt it. … it has a specific and particular connotation that is rooted in SaaS, startups, and online business.”

“If that’s your jam, go for it. But if that’s not your jam, tread carefully. It’s like going to the job interview with blue hair. Is it okay? Sure, but you’re making a statement.”

Jay has a specific and thought-out definition for growth hacking: “Obsessive optimization of tactics and techniques that increase online conversions.” But does he associate himself with the term ‘growth hacking?’ “My team and I at Convince & Convert are certainly engaged in many/most of the principles of ‘growth hacking’ –we just don’t position it that way…”

“Maybe because I’m old, maybe because we mostly work with enterprise companies.”

Growth Hacking is not a subset of Marketing — William Harris, VP of Marketing & Growth at Dollar Hobbyz

When I looked for someone who was using growth hacking principles on a daily basis, I reached out to William Harris, who is known for making a splash with his company Dollar Hobbyz. “The term is very polarizing.” said William. “People either love it (and abuse it) or they hate it.”

“Growth Hacking carries with it the connotation of a rapid iteration of something that might not really be marketing related (hacking), but can bring about huge gains (growth). An example to me would be using IFTTT to automate your Twitter account and double your followers in 2 weeks.”

“The term ‘successful marketing’ [referring to Mark’s quote] doesn’t instill in me any understanding of the process … using a term like ‘growth hacking’ tells me that something was ‘hacked’ to grow faster than ‘successful marketing’ would typically allow.”

“I think ‘growth hacking’ is as all-encompassing as the term ‘growth.’ It is not a sub-specialty of marketing, because you can have growth hacks in sales, customer service, networking, etc.It’s bigger than marketing, and yet, it’s smaller… because by its nature it is something that is quickly iterated to produce large growth with minimal input.”

Being a “Growth Hacker” is not Something to be Ashamed of  — Tracy Ingram, Growth Hacker

When I went to a Startup Grind meeting in Tampa, I was surprised to receive a new card from Tracy Ingram, a friend of mine. “Growth Hacker” it read in bold, red script. Startled, I asked him if he ever got ripped on for using it as a title. He hadn’t, but this was the debut of the card–and by asking if he got made fun of for it, wasn’t I also questioning the validity it?


Growth Hacker Tracy Ingram

Tracy’s business card clearly gives him the title of “Growth Hacker”

“It was the only term I could think of to take all of these traffic sources and turn it into a simple line.” Tracy said. As a consultant, the people that he wishes to appeal to — “a startup in trouble, a conference two weeks before an event, or someone whose Kickstarter hasn’t hit 20% in the first few days” –those are the people looking for a Growth Hacker, and that’s what he’s selling.

To Tracy, “Growth Hacker” is a new term for what people used to call a “Rain Maker,” some one called in to make things work. Tracy had been in SEO for over 10 years, but sees the dominance of search engines fading and social slowing taking their place. “I think of growth hacking as getting the growth or leads in a way that increases ROI with the lowest possible cost.” And ultimately, he concludes that Growth Hacking is a thing “because it works.”

Growth Hacking: the haterz

When I asked on Facebook about Growth Hacking, I received some very witty comments:

Kiki Schirr Growth Hacking

Note the ‘likes’ –it got even more after I screen capped this picture!

Gregg Hilferding Growth Hacking

I thought this comment was insightful, and I always appreciate the use of the term ‘1337.’

Mitch Neff Growth Hacking

I think that Mitch and Mark might get along splendidly! They certainly had similar opinions regarding growth hacking!

Growth Hacking is more complicated than you think — Nichole Elizabeth Demeré, Customer Success Evangelist,

I sat down with Nichole Elizabeth DeMeré to get her opinion of Growth Hacking. Although Nichole is an internationally-known Customer Success Evangelist and growth hacker, of, Product Hunt, and formerly I read her parts of what others had said about growth hacking, and that got her started:

“Conversions are just part of what you’re trying to optimize, the conversions are not the end goal. The end goal is retention, customer lifetime value, think the full customer life cycle,” she said.

“I can get rankings and conversions all day but if I’m not retaining, improving the customer lifetime value, or creating brand advocates, it doesn’t matter.”

“In growth hacking, you do experiments with hypotheses to prove or to disprove, and in either case, you learn something important. If you learn that the hypothesis is true, you need to determine what to do next to take advantage of it, and so you should iterate on it–quickly!”

“Don’t spend time on things that don’t work. i.e. Don’t use Pinterest if it’s the wrong distribution or acquisition channel. Come up with a hypothesis, prove it or don’t, and then you’ll figure out what to do. –and then, from there form another hypothesis.”

“Part of the issue I have with the whole ‘we improved our homepage conversions by 50%’ thing is that you could be in a local maxima problem–where your page isn’t the ultimate version despite all the optimization you’ve done. Therefore, I don’t 100% agree with all of these quotes, it’s not always about optimization, sometimes it’s more about improvements through ‘crazy ideas.'”

“Optimizations are about small increments, Growth Hacking is not conversion rate optimization, though it’s about the same. This is because Growth Hacking is also about embracing crazy ideas, sometimes.”

And finally, Mark Schaefer has his say. (This is his blog by the way!)

Is growth hacking a thing? Five people have weighed in favorably about “growth hacking,” and they have had five quite different definitions. There’s a clue.

But whether it is “iterating quickly” as William contends or “testing hypothesis to optimize retention and customer lifetime value,” as Nichole claims, guess what? It’s all still marketing!

I am keenly aware that taking the unpopular position that “growth hacking” is puffery could mark me as a geezer, but I also have an obligation to call it like it is and I am siding with Greg on this one: “Growth hacking is what you call it because you don’t know what you’re doing is marketing”

Do people honesty believe marketers have never iterated quickly before the Internet? We’ve never done market testing? That “hacking” quick prototypes and using every available technology to test ideas is new this year? Marketers have been doing this for decades, at least the good ones.

Blogging is not “word hacking.” It’s still writing.

Implementing a CRM system does not make you a sales hacker. It’s still personal selling.

And marketing is still marketing, even if you use computer code to help you do it.

What do you think?

It’s time for you to sound off. I’d love to hear your opinion on what you think of Growth Hacking in the comment section.

KikiSchirrKiki Schirr is a cofounder of the fitness app Fittr, and also does the company’s marketing. She is the author of the Product Hunt Manual and hosts her own blog at

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