Growth hacking isn’t limited to Silicon Valley yuppies talking KPI’s and looking for investors. Usually, the unconventional, scrappy ones slightly off kilter are the best at it. This is because we can’t fit into a 9–5 box.
Growth hacking is a mentality. A practice. A lifestyle.
While conventional business folk all try to cram through the front door of growth, revenue and success, growth hackers break in through the kitchen window. Or slide down the chimney. Or sell crack to the people in line, waiting to get in.
What is Growth Hacking?
“Growth hacking is centered around testing and being data driven, combined with using innovating creative techniques to achieve maximum output for minimum effort.” — James Shamsi
For conventional businesses and startups, sustainability should also be considered. You’ll see in my examples below that not all growth hacks are sustainable…or legal.
Here, I’m going to emphasize the “innovative and creative techniques to achieve maximum output for minimum effort” part.
These are characteristics anyone can develop as long as they exercise their idea muscle.
We’re also going to look at some interesting case studies: Soulja Boy, Dropbox, bank robbery, Hotmail, crack, and Airbnb.
How Soulja Boy Growth Hacked Himself into Wealth and Fame
Soulja Boy is probably the least likely rapper to be recognized as an OG in the hip-hop community. But as a growth hacker, he’s been an OG before the phrase was coined by Sean Ellis back in 2010.
From his modest beginnings, Soulja Boy—a transplanted rapper you’ve heard from those damn ringtones, years ago— mastered a platform called SoundClick. He’d upload and promote his music and soon began generating about $20,000 per day (pocketing 50%).
Then Myspace came. He continued to build his brand and garnered a million plays. Then millions more.
Soulja Boy really became a bona fide growth hacker when he discovered LimeWire.
On LimeWire, Soulja Boy would upload his (now) iconic song Crank Dat, cross-referencing the top 20 billboard charts and change the title of his song to match the top songs on the list. From Eminem to Britney Spears. A lot of people heard his music who had no idea who (or what) he was. And he gained massive brand awareness.
His songs, “Crank Dat” and “Kiss Me Thru The Phone”, had more than 2-million digital downloads—each. In fact, as I write this, both songs are still ringing in my head. And I could use some Advil.
Soulja Boy is a true pioneer in the digital frontier for growth hacking.
If you don’t agree, maybe hundreds of millions of views, tens of millions of social fans, millions of downloads, and those fancy gold chains would change your mind.
Though you won’t find him on my playlist, I’m definitely a fan of his unconventional thinking and ingenuity when it comes to building his brand.
And if Soulja Boy isn’t enough to convince you that growth hacking is a real thing created by real (and unconventional people), here are some other fascinating examples.
Method: Invite a friend for free storage.
After realizing that paid media was costing more than the lifetime value of their customers, Dropbox had to start thinking out of the (drop)box.
They decided to start incentivizing customers to refer more business by offering additional storage space. They grew from 100k users to over 4-million in a little over a year.
Dropbox is valued at 10 billion dollars.
Method: Pass a note.
From 2009–2010, the Blue Note Bandit managed to rob over a dozen banks in a period of 3 months. He walked in with a note demanding money and walked out with money.
Though this strategy lacks long-term sustainability—unless you count free room and board in prison as sustainable—it definitely derives a least-cost approach for immediate gains.
My buddy James Shamsi often quips “Be cheap. Be Lazy.” Bank robbery is definitely a cheap and lazy approach to net—on average—$1,000–10,000 for a 2-minute “job.”
Method: Offer free email (at a time when email wasn’t as common).
OK. Maybe Hotmail beat Soulja Boy on the Oregon Trail of growth hacking. Waaaaay back in the 90’s Hotmail added a link at the bottom of emails: “Get Your Free Email at Hotmail”.
Hotmail managed to increase their users from 20,000 to over 1 million in about 6 months.
Link + incentive = massive users => growth hack.
2 years later, they sold to Microsoft for 400-million dollars.
Method: Add baking soda.
High volume, high margin. Yes, crack is whack. Yes, crack is profitable. And yes, the crack trend directly correlates with the worst crime and drug epidemics in the history of the United States.
By adding baking soda to cocaine, manufacturers immediately increase the product volume by 20%. It’s also way more addicting than cocaine, causing customers to re-up at a faster rate.
And crackheads don’t tend to have a lot of cash on hand to buy wholesale. Selling in smaller quantities allows greater retail margins, though the risk of getting caught also increases.
Sustainability? It’s still around. But probably not the right business venture to explore. Seriously, who wants a crackhead as a client?
Method: Get in bed with Craigslist
AirBed & Breakfast. Have you heard of ‘em? If it weren’t for their brilliant yet simple integration with Craigslist, you might have not.
Airbnb had a need: Get more users. And they needed to make it easy. They saw an open space on the well-known (and widely used) platform, Craigslist. And they executed with nerd-like grace, using bots and techy magic to become the powerhouse they are today.
They’re now worth 3.3-billion dollars.
Think Like a Bank Robber
It’s probably not a good idea to start robbing banks, cooking crack or rapping. But the above methods have been tried and true—to an extent.
Think like a bank robber. Think like Soulja Boy.
An unconventional mindset allows you to think outside the box. But acting on the wrong ideas could definitely lock you into one. So be careful, especially if your moral screws are a bit loose.
Find missed opportunities, look for profitable—and sustainable—shortcuts, be cheap, be lazy. And don’t let 9–5 walls and glass ceilings confine your creativity or potential.
Heck, if Soulja Boy could do it, anyone can.
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