I have an impression that the startup ecosystem in Nigeria may be too young to understand the value of growth-hacking. I’ve recently seen a job ad, which was presumably directed to growth hackers, but in fact, it was a job ad for copywriters and content managers. The other time, in turn, I heard that we have growth hackers but “they don’t want to be called this name”, because they’ve been considered as marketers in disguise.

In my opinion, traditional marketing in online business is dead. It has been replaced by a discipline that is somewhere in between marketing, technology, and data analysis.

From marketing, this new discipline takes its methods and philosophy, in which the center stage is reserved for a client (user) and a value that we create for him or her. Thanks to technology, it is possible to reach a precisely defined group of users at a very low cost. Data analysis enables us to measure results immediately and very precisely, which, in effect, helps to make quick decisions.

I have an impression, that, in general, data analysis is the key to the reasonable money spending in startups

If we want to have efficient marketing, we can’t do without data analysis and technology. In particular, this is true about startups, which have limited budgets, and at the same time have unbelievably ambitious growth plans.

Big corporations or governmental organizations do not feel this pressure and this is why they quite often “blithely blow” massive sums on marketing. The results are not measured or assumed on faith.

The main task for a Growth Hacker is searching for rapid growth (growth) with the minimum resource input, often by using unconventional methods (hacking).

Growth hacking is a bit like science, and a bit like arts. Every single startup dreams about mastering it. When a subtle change on a website generates profits that are similar to those generated by an advertising campaign, which costs tens of hundred thousand zlotys, this is growth hacking. The results are rarely so spectacular, but one always needs to aim high.


This list is very long. The adequate choice of tools and the ability to use them is often 50 percent of success. In order to achieve our goals, you use external tools, but a startup can also develop its own. The basic daily portion of information about site traffic, popular content or user’s return rate can be provided by Google tools, namely Analytics, Webmaster Tools and Trends.

We can also get access to very useful data about our competition by means of Similarweb or SEMrush. Unbounce allows us to quickly create and test a landing page for a given target group of users.

KissMetrics is a very useful tool for A/B tests, creating conversion funnels or creating more advanced reports, which enable us to better understand the efficiency of given channels. In turn, Buzzstream (so-called “PR CRM”) turned out to be very useful for building relations with bloggers.

Tools for data analysis and marketing for mobile apps is a completely different story. We quite often use our own scripts, which can collect data from several sources or do something on a large scale.

Virtually, growth hacking almost always involves technical and non-technical actions. This is why I think that this dichotomy is not particularly useful.  You can achieve quite a lot by making simple optimizations on website or in application.

The United States of America – the promised land of growth hackers

Classic examples are, of course, Airbnb and their rapid growth after introducing professional photos, or Dropbox with its referral program, which gave you additional space on online drive for every invited user.

Recently, Slack had an impressive growth rate. This is a platform for communicating inside companies (particularly attractive for programmers). At the moment, its business valuation is now around 2.8 billion dollars. Surely, this success is the result of a number of hard-to-grasp factors.

In my opinion, theirs is a matter of its incredible intuitiveness, integration with other platforms that are usually used by programmers, and of course, “buzz marketing” that is sort of embedded in the product. Slack reaches more and more friends and co-workers by being highly functional, but also thanks to having its sense of humour, which is visible while you load an application or when you talk with SlackBot, its appeal rises.

Slack is a great example probably because it reached an impressive number of users and huge valuation in an astonishingly short time

Such an important area as growth building should stay inside the startup. In fact, the degree of growth building mastery is the decisive factor that determines whether a given startup achieves a spectacular success or remains unnoticed. For sure, growth is the priority for startup founders, but, ideally, this should be also the priority of every member of the team.

Of course, it is good to use external know-how. In the testing phase of new growth methods, we can use an external expert, but the moment one of these methods turns out to be efficient, it should be “incorporated” in the company. It usually means learning more about this area (as a rule, by trial-and-error method) or hiring a person who already knows it.

In a startup everyone should be a member of growth team

What characterizes the right people for this role? First, being proactive and responsible. Secondly, BAST skills (Business, Analytics, Storytelling, Technical).

Of course, the candidate doesn’t have to be an expert on everything. What’s important, is the basic knowledge in every area and in-depth knowledge in one or two. If we find someone, who has both good attitude and skills, then this augurs well for our project.

Data analysis

The metric which is often overestimated is the accumulated number of registered users. Of course, it is an important information if you want to understand a current product reach, but it can be misleading in terms of growth prospects.

It is definitely more useful to observe the behaviour of users in cohorts. In others words, compare the groups of users, who at a relatively similar moment registered or accessed the website for the first time.

Comparing cohorts is certainly a better metric of growth prospects. Otherwise, we put in one group the users who are completely new and the users who are on the website for a month or more and whose experience or the factors determining their behaviour are completely different.

One needs to be critical in interpreting metrics. A thousand registrations can be an impressive result for one company (e.g. targeting executives Forbes 500) or merely trivial for other (e.g. nationwide news portal with free registration).


I would recommend reading the books from the series “Lean Startup” by Eric Ries. Aside this book, it is also good to delve into “Running Lean” or “Business Model Generation”.

Methodology for developing startups, which is described in these books, is very different from a traditional approach to business development (with huge launches, traditional marketing, and market research), but this is a very efficient methodology, which is perfectly applicable to high-risk businesses such as startups.

It is based on the iterative development of small parts of the product, sharing them with users, and learning on the basis of feedback. The key is to find a difficult problem for some group of users and to surmount it. The next step is to build a profitable business model on the basis of this solution. All other things are secondary.

Photo Credit: {Thud} via Compfight cc

Marek Zmyslowski Author

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