'Growth Hackers' Are In Demand: Here's Who They Are And What They Do

Growth hackers are a cross between Silicon Valley’s tech land and Manhattan’s ad world. Image: Jon Hamm who plays Don Draper in Mad Men. Source: IMDb.

The day-to-day work of a “growth hacker” – an increasingly popular role in business, regardless of what you think of the name – isn’t set in stone.

It’s a hybrid role that is spread right across a company – from marketing to product engineering – and is something akin to a business scientist.

They experiment and test different theories to see if the results will move the needle on what ever it is the company is trying to grow or define.

The term was originally coined by Qualaroo and growth hacker community founder Sean Ellis in 2010, and it’s grown from defining one person’s role in a company to whole teams.

“I think these kind of people have always been the ‘ideal candidate’ for the kind of tech businesses they are working for, however until recently there was no real term that differentiated someone who takes the growth hacking approach to marketing from someone who takes a traditional approach,” design prototyping app InVision’s marketing director Aaron Beashel said.

“Now that the term ‘Growth Hacker’ has come about, awareness for that differentiation and the benefits of a growth hacking approach has increased dramatically and so therefore has the desire to hire these kind of people.”

Tech companies are racing to hire the position but with candidates expected to have such a wide range of capabilities it isn’t a big talent pool to pick from.

“I definitely think there is somewhat of a race to hire ‘growth hackers’ and there is certainly not enough supply to meet the demand,” Beashel said.

Inbound marketing company Hubspot recently added a growth hacker to its team in the US, company CTO and co-founder Dharmesh Shah said growth hacking takes creative thinking.

“They take a creative, often engineering-based approach to growing a business. They generally focus on ways to improve the user experience, removing points of friction and adding lightweight, natural ways for a product to spread via word-of-mouth,” Shah said.

The company’s new VP of Growth, Brian Balfour is a growth hacker by trade and says to grow a company it takes a team of people.

“Growth is not a single person or role. It is the result of a team that combines engineering, product, marketing, and data skills all in one,” he said.

A growth hacker who is awesome at their job has a versatile skill set, Balfour says. They can pitch in on design, engineering and marketing.

“Everyone has a core expertise but are also very versatile. This is very important considering the fast pace we set. Some qualities we look for in the growth team are a technical/data background, competitive in nature, huge appetite for learning, resilience, and always has ideas on how to improve things,” he said.

Balfour said growth teams look at a product in a holistic way, attempting to understand “how users flow in and out of the product at each layer” including being introduced to it, interacting with it and referring it to others.

What this means is many companies now track user behaviour and analyse data to determine where a user is in their decision making process. Companies look at how long you stay on different parts of their website, how you interact and how often you return. Growth hackers then test different hacks or theories including introducing content, design and new features to get you to either buy what they’re offering or get you closer to that point.

This approach to marketing and growth is now possible because of some big changes in the tech sector.

The biggest changes hitting the tech sector include access to data, increased competition, speed of growth and types of technology, Balfour said.

“Over the past 5 years there have been four major changes. Our access to data has become much easier with the explosion of analytics tools,” he said.

“We’ve seen an explosion in the number of platforms that we can plug our products into (Facebook, Twitter, iOS, Android, LinkedIn, etc).

“The scale/speed at which companies grow has accelerated. Marketing is merging with technology (i.e. Hubspot, Optimizely, Intercom.io, etc).”

These four trends have made room for the growth hacker role and moved tech companies away from traditional marketing which usually only looked at brand awareness and customer acquisition, expanding marketing’s scope.

“Traditional marketing is generally limited in scope to things like advertising, collateral, and websites, which are all made to market the product but are not part of the product itself,” Beashel said.

“Growth Hacking on the contrary isn’t limited in scope and the best growth hacks are often things to do with the product itself, like Dropbox’s referral program or AirBnB’s craiglists integration.”

Balfour is currently heading up one of Hubspot’s internal ‘startups’ Signals and is focussed on increasing the growth rate of weekly active users.

“To do that we engage in a very systematic cycle where we run experiments at every stage of the product funnel,” he said.

“This may include testing different campaigns, copy, retention/viral features, and so much more. An important part of this process is identifying and removing friction at each one of those layers.”

While over at InVision the growth team is charged with boosting signups, upgrades and monthly recurring revenue.

But for a growth hacker to succeed in a company and push the needle the culture needs to allow for failure and experimentation, something which Hubspot international MD Jeetu Mahtani told Business Insider is engrained in the company. You can read more about Hubspot’s culture code here.

“One of the big things around our culture is experimentation,” Mahtani said.

“At any given time we have multiple experiments running within Hubspot.

“The way our experiments work is if an employee wants to execute on a new idea they bring the idea to the team and they work on the idea in the nights and on the weekends to test the idea and move it from alpha to beta and get more management buy-in.”

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