This article is included in Entrepreneur Voices on Growth Hacking, a new book containing insights from more than 20 contributors, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders.
Growth hacking is an interesting concept and has helped many startups surpass initial hurdles and become successful. Some people love growth hacking. Others hate it.
All of your favorite tech titans have growth teams, from Facebook to Instagram to Snapchat. The term was supposedly first coined by Sean Ellis back in 2010, but people have been growth hacking long before the term was coined. In fact, one of the most well-known growth hackers is Soulja Boy, who built his career from scratch through clever digital strategies.
Traditional “corporate” marketing is focused on building on what’s already there. Marketers use a number of techniques to expand audiences, build a strategy for long-term results, branding exposure, press, etc. While these steps are necessary and valuable in an established business, they don’t work well for new ventures that have virtually no presence at all. In the early days of the startup, marketers need to focus on growth, and they have no tools, recognition, branding or industry presence to fall back on.
Growth hackers are hyper-focused on growth and building a brand. While traditional marketers will also focus on it, they don’t dedicate most of their time and energy on it. For them, growth isn’t the sole focus because they have other goals to meet as well. This strong focus on growth has created a number of strategies and techniques that just didn’t work with traditional marketing.
Soulja Boy burst onto the hip-hop scene in an unconventional way. The world first came to know of him when his break-out single, “Crank That,” was officially released in September 2007. It reached the number one spot on the U.S Billboard chart. This story sounds very similar to other break-out stars. They get noticed by a label, release a hit song and suddenly they are everywhere.
Soulja Boy’s story is somewhat different because he wasn’t really discovered by a label. The rapper had already established a solid online presence and following before his breakout single. He recorded a number of songs in a home studio with a $200 mic and an old computer. He uploaded his songs to a website called SoundClick and sold the songs for 99 cents. Half of the proceeds from the sales went to SoundClick. Despite that, he earned around $10,000 a day.
When MySpace launched, he migrated to that platform and started to build a following there as well. After he created "Crank That," he uploaded it to MySpace for downloads under the name of different popular artists such as 50 Cent, Britney Spears, etc. People would download the song assuming that it was by those popular artists but would instead get his song.
In a video interview he said, “Youuuuu … They’d be like, 'what’s this shit? This ain’t 50, this ain’t Britney.' Then, would start feeling the song.”
Related: Growth-Hacking 101
Soulja Boy developed a large following and quickly gained the necessary ground swell that he needed to make the industry take notice. This was well before the time of established YouTube celebrities. He was the first artist to sell more than 3 million digital copies of his music and is recognized as the digital trailblazer for hip-hop.Soulja Boy’s growth hacking techniques made him fast money, established his brand and changed the way artists entered the industry. That’s why he’s considered the OG growth hacker.