The Entrepreneur's Guide to Hiring a Kickass Growth Hacker
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
This article is included in Entrepreneur Voices on Growth Hacking, a new book containing insights from more than 20 contributors, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders.
So you’ve heard of growth hacking and you want it. If you’re an entrepreneur, you’d be crazy not to want it. Growth? Hacking? Heck, yes! I'll order three of those, please!
Unfortunately, growth hacking is often misunderstood. Because, the word “growth” is undeniably positive, and “hack” is a buzzword. But what we’re left with is an emotionally appealing word without a whole lot of substance
So, how do you hire a growth-hacking ninja who will skyrocket your startup to the top?
1. Understand what growth hacking is and what it is not.
Let’s use Wikipedia’s definition to wrap our heads around the concept: Growth hacking is a marketing technique developed by technology startups which use creativity, analytical thinking and social metrics to sell products and gain exposure.
In other words, it’s marketing where you are free to color outside the lines. Gone are the marketing conventions of Mad Men. In those admen's place are a slew of social-media-oriented and Internet-powered techniques combined with other mystical ingredients that together make up today’s digital marketing milieu.
Yes, growth hacking is all of that and more. But don’t let “techniques” throw you off. Growth hacking isn’t all technique. Growth hacking is a mindset -- a way of approaching the whole idea of marketing. Sean Ellis -- the man who coined the term “growth hacking” -- defined it as a person whose true north is growth. And that definition says nothing about techniques.
That’s why I want to emphasize growth hacking as a mindset -- a focus, rather than a set of systems. Growth hacking requires outside-the-box thinking: skepticism toward conventional marketing methods, plus the ability to pivot and adapt to new situations. So, how exactly do you find the perfect person who possesses all of these characteristics?
2. Look for a strategist, not a technician.
You want to find someone who is a master of strategy rather than actual technical implementation.
Let me illustrate. One growth-hacking technique is split testing (a method of conducting controlled experiments to improve a website). You could do one of two things: 1) Hire a conversion optimizer who is skilled at split testing; or: 2) Hire a growth hacker who tells you to do split testing (but may not personally be able to do it). See the difference?
The growth hacker knows that you need split testing in order to have a website that is optimized for conversions. The conversion optimizer knows how to do the split testing and how to implement the winning variation.
Strategists can pull together all the different pieces of marketing and growth, synthesizing them into a powerful force that allows you to grow at a ridiculous rate. They may not know the nitty gritty of every piece, but they recognize the importance of every piece and how they work together.
3. Look not for a 'growth hacker,' but a marketer with a growth-hacking focus.
Here’s a classic rookie mistake. An entrepreneur wants a “growth hacker.” So, he or she prances off to Craigslist or LinkedIn to find one. But, hold up a sec.
Remember, growth hacking is a mindset. It’s not a job description. It’s an approach to marketing. If someone calls himself a “growth hacker,” he may or may not indeed be a growth hacker. In some cases, he may completely misunderstand growth hacking altogether.
Rather than look for a “growth hacker,” then, seek out a really good marketer who possesses a growth-hacking focus.
4. Seek out someone who’s done it before.
The best growth hackers are those who have hacked growth before. This should be obvious. Unfortunately it’s easy to get swept up in the hype and the verbiage, and in the visions of exploding growth. When the happens, you can overlook the basic qualifying feature of the growth hacker: Has she done it before?
Sean Ellis became the consummate growth hacker of Silicon Valley when he discovered the power of disruptive marketing. He was able to think beyond techniques, to truly analyze the characteristic aspects of a business. And he got results. He didn’t have a playbook he could hand off to a “marketing guy.” Instead, he created systems and processes that could be scaled and maintained, to channel torrents of growth into a business.
Can you hire Sean Ellis? Yes, kind of. But the more important thing is to find someone who has a few notches in his or her marketing belt -- innovative approaches to marketing that have produced bottom-line results.
5. Become a growth hacker yourself, and hire growth hacking specialists.
One of the most direct routes to finding a kickass growth hacker is to be one. How, you ask?
At this point, it’s become a mantra in this article, but I will reiterate it. Growth hacking is a mindset. It’s not a set of sexy techniques. It’s not a method. In fact, growth hacking can get wild and out of control. Why?
Because it’s a mindset. Growth hacking is fueled by an insatiable desire to grow, come hell or high water. Growth hacking stops at nothing to achieve the goal of growth. Growth hacking rests on trial and error, sometimes to the point of losing touch with reality. But that’s kind of the whole point.
Growth hacking doesn’t come with a how-to guide. Growth hacking feeds off innovation. So, here’s how to begin your personal transformation into a growth hacker:
- Understand marketing at a foundational level. I’m not talking about methods. I’m talking about the entire approach of marketing. You must know your customers, your market and understand data.
- Discover what’s working. Become familiar with growth-hacking techniques that have worked for other startups. Read about the growth sagas of Airbnb, Dropbox and Uber to learn how they did it.
- Innovate. Create. Test. You’ll find your greatest successes come from just trying stuff. As Sean Ellis wrote, “Since most growth ideas fail, it becomes critical to test a lot of them. The faster you can hack together an idea, the sooner you can start testing it for some signs of life.”
The minute you think you understand growth hacking is the minute you forget what it is. Don’t worry, you’re in good company. Growth hacking is an elusive concept. Nobody owns a definition. Just as there’s no single correct definition, so is there no single right profile for the ideal growth hacker. There are no lists of qualifications, years of experience or types of software a growth hacker needs to know.
You’ll know your growth hacker when you meet him -- or her. She’ll be wild-eyed talking about growth, and passionate about innovation. She will be experienced in the art and ready to make a positive impact on your business.
Have you hired a growth hacker? What’s your experience?