The term Growth Hacking has been used to describe a lot of things. Generally speaking, anything new and technology driven in the area of marketing gets tagged as Growth Hacking. I was recently asked to give a talk on Growth Hacking to the District3 Innovation Center so I to a closer look at the origins of the term to see how it has evolved.
Sean Ellis is credited with coining the term in a 2010 blog post entitled "Finding a Growth Hacker for your Startup". Sean is Silicon Valley's go to person for growth. He helped LogMeIn and Uproar go public before becoming the first marketing hire at Dropbox. Sean went on to start Qualaroo, something to do with kangaroos apparently ;)
According to Quicksprout, "He essentially became a one man growth shop, setting up systems, processes, and mindsets, that could be maintained after he left. Eventually, he would hand over the keys to his growth machine to someone else, and he would ride off into the sunset."
Sean later defined a Growth Hacker as a "person whose true north is growth. Everything they do is scrutinized by its potential impact on scalable growth." That's ok, but I'm sure many marketers primary goal is growth, but that doesn't make them Growth Hackers.
Andrew Chen further popularized the term in an article entitled, "Growth Hacker is the new VP Marketing" in which he used AirBnB's hack of Craigslist as a prime example. He said that Growth Hackers "are a hybrid of marketer and coder, one who looks at the traditional question of How do I get customers for my product? and answers with A/B tests, landing pages, viral factor, email deliverability, and Open Graph." Informative, but a bit long for a definition.
TechCrunch columnist Aaron Ginn defines a Growth Hacking as a "mindset of data, creativity, and curiosity." Terse, but vague.
I'm a writer not a fighter but none of these resonate completely with me, so I'll propose my own. Growth Hacking is...
at the intersection of marketing and technology,
on the edge of ethics.
Why bring ethics into it? Hacking has become an endearing term but it's origin is in computer crime. I'm not suggesting Growth Hackers are criminals, but they are often faced with tough ethical questions. The grand daddy of growth hacks is AirBnB's hack of Craigslist. AirBnB allowed users to simultaneously post to AirBnB and Craigslist with a backlink. Craig was too busy kite surfing to notice until half his users had crossed over to AirBnB. Was it ethical to highjack Craigslist? I can see arguments for and against, so ethical tension should be part of the definition.