Finding a growth hacker
The business wold has been abuzz for the past few years with this new, almost magical skill called growth hacking. Most laymen think growth hackers use their magical skills to ‘grow stuff ’ or ‘increase customers’. It is of no surprise then that many companies are itching to find these professors of growth, and are aggressively hiring candidates who claim to be growth hackers.
But despite the huge media attention that growth hacking has gotten, companies know very little about growth hacking or what makes a growth hacker. Sean Ellis, the CEO of the company GrowthHackers, coined the term ‘growth hacker’ in 2010 to refer to ‘a person whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinised by its potential impact on scalable growth’. Most of the companies need to understand that growth hacking is a mindset more than a toolset. It is a set of skills gained through doing and out of necessity. These growth hackers have a common attitude and follow a certain process, and are rather different—unique—from everyone else. If one is to hire such growth hackers, it is important to understand just what makes them unique.
Growth hackers believe data trumps all
One of the core aspects of any growth hacker, no matter the background they come from, is their love of data. They are the masters of the realm of metric and analytics. This strong dependence on data makes them very objective towards seeing success for what it is, and steering away from vanity metrics. For instance, something like media coverage might seem like success to most other team members, but to a growth hacker he/she needs to see the coverage translating into actual customers. Rather than looking at metrics as strictly a reporting mechanism, growth hackers view it as inspiration for a better product through a process of theorising and testing. Jesse Farmer, cofounder of Everlane says, “The best growth hackers take a rigorous, empirical approach to growth and distribution.” This is best represented by the case of Etsy, the highly successful e-commerce website focused on handmade and vintage products. Back in 2012, infinite scroll was the trend; rather than having to click on the next page to see more content, content would just automatically load on the screen a user was at. YouTube uses this same feature today. Etsy, seeing that this was the ‘cool’ thing to do, jumped on the bandwagon and released the new feature on their website. The team of course celebrated at first, but then the numbers came in, and their growth hacker realised that people were buying fewer things. Needless to say, they got rid of the infinite scroll. This shortcoming would not have been discoverable without the team’s focusing on data.
They are also creative
The focus on data may make it seem like growth hackers have to be people who are only analytical; however, being able to think out of the box is the foundation of being a growth hacker. While driven by data and moving metrics, growth hackers are also creative problem solvers. A growth hacker has the mental dexterity to think of innovative ways to acquire and retain users. Growth hackers do not stop at data but use their imagination to see how they can leverage their knowledge to create new frontiers for the business. Michael Birch—one of the first growth hackers and cofounder of Bebo, the social networking and messaging website—says, “Growth hacking is both art and a science.” The mixture of both creative and analytical mindsets allows a growth hacker to come up with a cohesive picture of the product. Creative people design what’s best for the user, while data-driven people provide great insight.
They are obsessive
One thing that needs to be clear is that growth hacking is not an aha! moment. It is not just a matter of trying out an idea five or six times, and then watching the money roll in. The truth is that growth hacking is about trying out various ideas and facing hundreds of dead ends until you find that one thing that works for your product. Therefore, it is paramount that a growth hacker needs to be obsessive by nature. Growth hackers are constantly curious and have an innate desire to learn.
The irony is that for all they do, they should not care much about whether growth occurs, but about why customers acted in a certain way. They need to be able to look deeply into the behaviour of the customers and their psychology. All that matters to a growth hacker is whether they can replicate the method over and over again. Balke Commagere, founder of MediaSpike, says, “Facebook still has a team whose main focus is growth. All they do is ask what would happen if they did this. It seems to be working, as Facebook has over a billion users.” Since real growth has to do with not just one breakthrough but several small wins, it is very crucial that a growth hacker be obsessive. They need to be able to stay the course and improve the numbers day by day, seeing that in a year’s time they will have made a remarkable stride.
Growth hackers do not stop at data but use their imagination to see how they can leverage their knowledge to create frontiers for the business
They are a jack of all and master of a few
To be able to generate the tremendous growth that growth hacking is supposed to create, a growth hacker needs to be very skilled. They need to have a holistic understanding of the product and the customers. Therefore, they need to know a little of everything. A little bit of psychology, a little bit of marketing, a little bit of coding. However, that is not enough. They need to have certain skills in which they dominate—they are experts in these areas. This distribution of knowing little of everything, and deeply about a few things creates something called a T-shaped skill—where the horizontal bar represents the many skills they know, and the vertical bar the few skills they dominate. The reason a growth hacker needs to be T-shaped is that they need to be able to draw their understanding of data and inspiration for new ideas from various interdisciplinary fields, and be able to execute them through their field expertise.
Growth hackers are a rare breed—individuals who represent a highly unlikely mashup of data, creativity, obsessiveness and diverse skills. As growth hacking is a fairly newly defined field, companies who want to hire them need to be able to recognise who is and who is not a growth hacker. The right choice will lead their organisation to remarkable growth. The wrong one could just destroy the little that they had.