What is Growth Hacking?

So you want to be a growth hacker huh? Or are at least interested in finding out more about growth hacking. You might have heard of all the crazy internet buzzwords and keywords that describe growth hacking.

I am going to be frank. There is a lot of crap out there about “growth hacking”. Most of it is shady used care salesie. The amount of bad information about the topic is really annoying. Because of the amount of straight up lies and false information, I’ve written this detailed article about what is and isn’t growth hacking.

In this article, you will learn where the original definition of the term. What growth hacking means and more importantly what it doesn’t. Think of this text as a growth hacker growth hacking 101 class manual. Again, this growth hacking article is really long, so I broke it up into sections. Below is a table of contents to help you jump around this growth hacking 101 post.

Growth Hacking 101 Overview / Table of Contents

The Essence of Growth Hacking is G.T.L

What is G.T.L? An acronym I created standing for “guess,” “test,” “learn.”  In business, growth hackers are part scientist, part marketer, part designer; they are alchemists. They use “pseudo-science” to conduct mad experiments, which focus on growth.

Veteran growth hackers are disciplined creating a repeatable process that they use over and over and over again. Using their version of guess, test, learn.

G. Guess

First, you create a hypothesis. A giant guess. For example, “I guess if I remove the navigation on my landing page I will get more conversions.”

T. Test

After guessing, growth hackers implement their experiment through various techniques, customer reviews, A/B testing, etc.. Focusing on measurable data so they can chart results.

L. Learn

The stage in the growth hacking process is where individuals learn from their data. Reflecting on was the experiment. Asking questions like “Was this a success? What can we do better? What is another experiment I can do?” Questions, questions, questions.

What is a Growth Hacker?

Who are growth hackers? What is growth hacking?

Growth hacking is a term coined by Sean Ellis. Here is the original, not altered or polluted definition:

A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth.

Growth Hackers are renaissance individuals of the digital era. They are part developer, marketer, designer, innovators, or anything else. They are a jack of all trades. They are the get it done sort of person. Thinking outside the box by combining seemingly unrelated skills to experiment with something new. They focus on measurable growth. If it isn’t quantifiable, it didn’t happen. They guess, test, and learn. Then do it over and over again. To put it simple growth hackers are unicorns that always focus on growth in business or personal life.

Growth hackers are unicorns? Jack of all Trades… eww

I know some people are probably already zoning out. If I say growth hackers are “jacks of all trades,” they whisper, “but masters of none.” Today it seems that there is a desire in technology to be a master of ONE thing. You are either a Javascript Developer or Python Developer. You are either an Onsite SEO Marketer or an Offsite SEO Marketer. You are a social media marketer… You get the point.

But, where did our desire to label people start? Was it the toys we played with as children? Our upbringing and moral compass? Our school systems? Personally, I believe all of these items contribute, but I theorize our current school systems heightened the divide. (I promise this all relates).

In America from kindergarten to sixth-grade students go to a school where they interact with different subjects within one classroom and with one group. Teachers blend lessons of the “arts” and STEM into one experience. Around 7th grade, we change everything. We move from a classroom where students play with subject two segregating into different subjects of math, English, History, foreign language, etc. Why did we do still do this? For efficiency.

Classrooms today are modeled upon a 150 old system. A system devised during the Industrial Revolution. Our students in high school move from classroom to classroom after the bell rings. Like factory workers moving from station to station. The basis of the term “Factory Model of Education.”

But our divide of subjects or jobs doesn’t stop in high school. You see this even more in higher education. Our universities have Schools of Arts and Schools of Science.  Graduates of each program either earn a degree and B.S. a Bachelors of Science or B.A. Bachelors of Art. This divide in academia still exists today. Scholars debate which is more important: art or science. But why the split? Edward O. Wilson who wrote in his book “Consilience” which tries to explain the importance of art and science:

Science needs the intuitive and metaphorical power of the arts, and the arts need the fresh blood of science

We see this divide continue past academia and into biology.

By now you are probably thinking okay, bla bla bla, how does this relate to Growth Hacking. I will tell you, but first, there is one more related tangent.

There is no left vs. right brain. We can strive to grow.

There is an old theory that people are either born left or right brain. The left brain describes people who aren’t intuitively creative because they use the left part of their brain for the majority of their cognitive tasks. The right brain represents analytical and the belief is these individuals use a majority of their brain power from the right side of their brain. There is a divide amongst us from a biological level of left brain versus right brain. But, where did this idea come from? Is it backed by scientific fact?

In the 1870s two scientists, Broca and Wernicke started poking around the left hemisphere of the human brain. They discovered areas in the brain which control speech. This is said to spark the public’s imagination and  supposedly inspired the creation of works of art like “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson.

The theory of right-left brain became even more popularized in the early 1980s by Nobel Prize winner Roger W. Sperry. While studying epilepsy Sperry discovered if he made an incision on an individual’s corpus callosum (the structure that connects the left and right side of the human brain) some patients experienced strange symptoms. Some couldn’t access parts of memory perceived in their left side of their brains and visa versa. Sperry attested this to the “fact” that certain individuals utilize one side more than the other. Left brain vs. right brain. This “fact” is still fiction.

Recent research has disproved the left vs right brain theory. The University of Utah, while researching Alzheimer’s inadvertently disproved the popular myth. After studying 1000 brands under MRI machines, while focusing on 7000 different areas, they uncovered that, while although certain regions of the left and right hemispheres control various aspects, humans don’t favor one side of their brain over another. We utilize both hemispheres equality. Don’t believe me, I understand, I am not a neuroscientist but read the results for yourself here. I am not saying that there aren’t specific regions of the brain that we utilize for specific functions. But your brain activity isn’t limited to one side.

Believing people are “naturally” analytical. Or making excuses for yourself, “I am just bad at (math, art, drawing, etc.),” is having a fixed mindset. A fixed mindset is the direct opposite mental framework growth hackers must have to grow.

Growth Hackers have Growth Mindset

Whether they know it or not, growth hackers have a growth mindset. A growth mindset is a belief that failure is a springboard to growth. Failure isn’t bad; challenges aren’t bad. There is growth through trials and tribulations.

True growth hackers don’t take the easy route. They’re the ones that wander the road that’s less traveled by which makes all the difference. It isn’t all peaches and cream. Growth hackers fail, a lot. To overcome failure growth hackers adopt a growth mindset mentality.

What is growth mindset ?

Growth mindset is when an individual believes in incremental or small growth. That failure doesn’t define the personal success. They think that their core that their success is due to hard work and determination. That they can do anything, they set their mind too. Do people with a fixed mindset believe everyone can be the next Einstein? No, but they do think they can always get better, even if it is ever so slightly.

Growth mindset is all the buzz in education. Growth mindset is a term coined by Carol Dweck, a psychologist from Stanford University. Dweck sought to discover if there are critical differences between students who are successful at learning and those who aren’t. She attributes more successes to those having growth mindset over fixed mindset.

What is fixed mindset?

Fixed mindset cripples growth by the fear of failure. Fixed-mindset individuals make excuses like, “I am just not good at math.” Letting failures, or fear of failure, define their efforts. To be a growth hacker, you have to embrace failure. You can’t say, well I am just not good at Math. With this mindset, you are limiting your ability to grow. Relying on “biological” reasons to not push yourself. Making excuses, “I can’t do X because I am right brained.” A complete and utter cop-out.

Why should I care about “Growth Mindset”?

If you are a parent, employer, or just breath, it is essential to know the existence of growth mindset. Think about your life, do you make excuses for something. Personally, I have thought in the past, “I am just terrible at writing.” Well look at me know, I am writing a semi-legible article about Growth Hacking.

But really, consider this study/article. Carol Dweck and her team surveyed elementary school children. The researchers had young students take an IQ test. Half of the subjects they gave praise on results, example “Wow, you are brilliant.” The other half of the subjects they provided praise for their effort, example “wow, you worked very hard.” Same tests but different praise. After giving the students praise the orchestrators provided the students with a harder challenge. The results were astounding.

Students that received praise for effort attempted the harder challenge. Students praised on “smarts,” or performance were less likely to try the more intensive task.

Next time you are going to give praise to an employee or student, think about what type of mindset you are setting.

Most importantly what are you telling yourself?

Again, why does this matter? Because, Growth Hackers fail a lot. This mindset, focusing on growth, and failure as fuel allows for Growth Hackers to continue.

For the billionth time Growth Hackers fail… a lot.

Failure must become a growth hacker’s best friend. Growth hackers can’t be afraid to fail. Think every business person was successful on their first try? Nope. Growth Hackers fail, fail, fail, fail and then fail again. Because although growth is the true north, growth isn’t linear.

Progress isn’t linear.

Progress doesn’t always shoot up. Just look at a Google Analytics account, or the stock market, there are dips and valleys.

Growth hackers repeatedly fail. There isn’t an overnight success. It is hard work, no shortcuts.  A quote that resonates with growth hacking:

Build, Destroy, Rebuild. I have mastered the art of bouncing back, now to master the art of not having to” – Dau Voire

The essence of growth hacking is trial and error. A constant battle of reworking, retesting, always growing. This is growth hacking. The continual push for growth. Individuals who have growth mindset.

Growth Hacking is a Lifestyle

Growth hacking is a lifestyle. If we go back to the original quote that coined the term. The non-twisted, non-labeled, non-get-rich-quick-scam version. A powerful message of personal growth ensues. Sean Ellis initially described growth hacking:

A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth. ~ Sean Ellis

This quote should fuel a lifelong journey of improving, always growing, and always experiment. Because growth hackers know at their core, if they are not always changing, testing, adapting, the world will change around them. They will be dated, obsolete.

Growth hacking isn’t easy, fast, or overnight

There are tons of terrible blog posts about, how to get rich fast using growth hacking. How to gain a million billion followers using these few tips. This is all nonsense and bullshit. I am just going to say it, it is 100% bullshit.

Growth hacking isn’t easy; you fall on your face over and over and over again.

Growth hacking isn’t fast; people spend countless hours of failed ventures to become an overnight success. You continuously work on different frameworks, channels, and timing.

Any article or company that claims the opposite is full of complete shit.

I’m sold how do I start growth hacking?

Lucky for you, I created a framework on where I suggest starting. If you subscribe, I will give you a video on how to use this framework.

But if you don’t want my other free content, cool. I will still tell you anyway. You might not know this, but I gave away the answers already at the beginning. It is G.T.L, guess test learn.

First, you guess

Growth hacking is alchemy, a pseudoscience. First, you must generate a theory. I have lots of videos on how to do that as well. This theory can be for your personal life, business, digital marketing, social media marketing, pay per click, search engine optimization, etc.. etc.. anything you can have a measurable outcome and timeframe.

To create a good guess, I recommend writing down a theory in this format:

IF I do x THEN y will happen.


IF I post 30 comments Instagram each day for a month THEN I will get more followers and engagement.

Now I have theory I can test.

Next, you Test

With my theory created it is now time to test. How do you test? Come up with a system first. Think about all of the materials and assets that you need to have before you start the test. How are you going to collect the data? How often? When will you report? Again it is about a measurable outcome. If you don’t take measurements, you can’t see the results.

Questions to ask yourself before testing:

  1. What do I need to conduct this test?
  2. Do I have everything I need to implement this test? If not, what do I need?
  3. How and what data will I record?
  4. How often will I record it?

Perhaps you will write down every day in a journal. Or you have a fancy spreadsheet or software? I am not sure, but the point is to have a sound method first.

Once you have all questions answered, start testing right away!

Conduct your experiment! Why are you waiting? Test and get ready to learn.

Then, you Learn

Once the data has been collected, it is time to learn. After testing is where the growth really happens. Regardless of if you got more sales, Instagram followers, or learned a new language. With your data, you can see, did my experiment work or not? If it did, congratulations! If not,  congratulations! Either way, you are growing.

Sit down for some reflection. Ask yourself:

  1. Was this test a success?
  2. What did I learn from this test, and how can I use it going further?
  3. How can I improve this test, or what do you want to test next?

Now repeat!

Once you get in the habit of G.T.L, you will see that experiments start to lead into each other. You get excited asking questions, what if I did this or this! OR THIS!

Sometimes you will improve 10% other times, fall back 5%. But like a 401k investment, over time, the small gains create tremendous momentum. Then the world needs to watch out.

A Growth Hacking Framework

Now if you don’t want to go through all that work, I have created a growth hacking framework. Download your FREE growth hacking framework here! If you understand how to use the framework, great! Get going!

If the sheet looks complicated don’t worry. If you subscribe to my growth hacking resources newsletter, I will send you a usage video on how to use the framework. In the video, I will help you set-up your first experiment.

The framework will help set-up real growth hacking strategies. Where you focus on your own experiments for growth. Again don’t trust “growth hacking strategies” that promise overnight success. Those “growth hacking strategies focus” on vanity, not real growth.

A Real Growth Hacking Strategy: Sales Funnel Experiments

In the video, I will show you how to focus your efforts based on your sales funnel. You will discover which section in your funnel is the weakest. Identify the most significant pain point for your client. Then design an experiment to fix them and start growing in the right direction. If that isn’t enough, you will get all sorts of other recommended growth hacking resources.

Recommended Resources for Growth Hacking

Hopefully, you are interested in all things growth hacking by now! If you sign up for my newsletter, I will send you tons of information.

What sort of growth hacking resources will you get?

  1. Favorite Growth Hacking Books
  2. Favorite Growth Hacking Sites
  3. How to Growth Hack video on how to utilize my growth hacking framework
  4. Example Experiments

Now get growing.