Is Growth Hacking a Viable Long-Term Strategy for Your Small Business?

Growth Hacking

By Aaron Agius

Entrepreneur Sean Ellis had been involved in the explosive growth of a number of Silicon Valley companies, such as Dropbox, Eventbrite, LogMeIn, and Lookout. However, whenever it came time for him leave a company and find a replacement, he found that people who had only traditional marketing experience were not suited to take on his very specific goals. As a consequence, Ellis coined the term for a new type of marketer: “growth hacker.”

A growth hacker is someone who is able to think outside the box, rapidly test new hypotheses, and as a consequence, drive explosive growth. As Ellis says, “A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth.” Ultimately, growth hacking is all about creating big wins in short periods of time—hence, why the term is commonly associated with startups.

Long-term vs. short-term gains

I’m often asked whether growth hacking is viable as a long-term strategy. I like to answer this question using the analogy of sports. As an amateur athlete, you can achieve rapid development by learning a new technique or two, but as a professional athlete, your improvements will be the result of slow incremental progress.

While living in Thailand, I was fortunate enough to train in the sport of Muay Thai. In a few months of training, a person can develop a decent proficiency in the sport by learning basic footwork, how to strike in the clinch and at range, basic defense, and even some flashy special techniques like spinning back elbows. However, for a person to become a Muay Thai master, they get there by slowly improving their fundamentals and doubling down at what their good at.

This is no different to growing a business. I’m very much in favor of coming up with and deploying growth hacks that will deliver big wins, but eventually you need to move on to a more sustainable long-term strategy.

Airbnb’s Craigslist integration

Growth should always be a part of your company’s culture, but for certain powerful growth tactics, there is usually a limited window of opportunity. One of the best examples of this is Airbnb’s infamous unauthorized Craigslist integration.

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To generate early momentum, Airbnb recognized Craigslist as a platform that already had the kind of customers it was looking to acquire. With some technical wizardry, Airbnb was able to redirect Craigslist’s vacation rental traffic to the Airbnb website, while also creating an interface where Airbnb hosts could automatically post ads on Craigslist.

This caused Airbnb’s user base to explode for awhile, but eventually Craigslist closed the door on the integration. Airbnb continued to grow, however, because it deployed sustainable marketing practices (with the occasional powerful growth hack here and there).


Similar to Airbnb’s idea of harnessing another platform’s user base, I recommend looking for companies that are in the same niche as you, but aren’t direct competitors. This opens the door for cross-promoting products to an entirely new audience with a proven interest in your niche. When another company promotes your products and services to its mailing list, you can acquire an abundance of new customers in a short period of time.

However, while I thoroughly recommend this tactic, it shouldn’t be the cornerstone of your marketing strategy. Eventually, you will need to perform some retention marketing to ensure that your existing customers make repeat purchases. It’s important to remember that 70% of companies say it’s cheaper to retain a customer than acquire one. Despite this, most marketers I speak to heavily focus their efforts on acquisition rather than retention.

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Facebook ads

Facebook is one of the most powerful advertising platforms available at the moment, but as Gary Vaynerchuk once said, “Marketers ruin everything.” The platform is becoming more and more competitive—eventually it may no longer be viable for small players.

Facebook advertising can be looked at as a growth hack, because when you find the perfect product-audience match, you can scale your campaign to the moon and drive explosive growth. And if you’re just getting started with internet marketing, this is infinitely more appealing than slaving away for months on publishing content with the eventual aim of achieving high SERP rankings for key terms. However, all ad campaigns encounter attrition. You can only show your ad to a finite audience so many times before your conversion costs start to skyrocket.

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I’ve known marketers who have driven amazing results using Facebook ads for a few months, but after exhausting their targeted audience of laser targeted buyers in certain niches, the platform stopped working altogether. In some cases, Facebook was their only form of revenue, so the consequences were disastrous.

By all means, use Facebook to drive explosive growth, but don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.

What comes after growth hacking?

Once you transition from a startup to a mature company, you can still continue using growth hacks—but your path to sustained growth will become incremental. I refer to this next phase as growth mapping.

Growth mapping isn’t so much a change of tactics; it’s more of a change of perspective. Instead of conjuring up new ideas and testing them quickly, growth mapping involves looking at what is already working and then making tweaks and alterations to get even better results.

If you’re at this stage, I recommend performing a growth audit. This entails giving scores to each facet of your marketing campaign, so that you know what to focus on in the future. Check your KPIs in order to ascertain the ideal length of your blog posts, what types of content are generating the most shares, what is your ROI from paid Instagram influencer shout-outs, and so forth.

In order to map your way to a sustainable future, it’s important to base your strategy on data—not assumptions. I wish you the best of luck.

RELATED: 5 Ways to Manage Business Growth Without Losing Momentum

About the Author

Post by: Aaron Agius

Aaron Agius, CEO of worldwide digital agency Louder Online is, according to Forbes, among the world’s leading digital marketers. Working with clients such as Salesforce, Coca-Cola, IBM, Intel, and scores of stellar brands, Aaron is a Growth Marketer: a fusion between search, content, social, and PR.

Company: Louder Online
Connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+.

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