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“Growth Hacking” is BS (layeredthoughts.com)
105 points by Jake232 on Aug 28, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 53 comments

"So, why is the title “Growth Hacker” a bunch of BS? Because it’s just a way for marketing averse startups to hire marketers without having to publicly say they’re hiring marketers."

This is false, as you disprove a few paragraphs later:

"The goal of a marketer is to grow a customer base. That’s what these growth hackers are doing, they’re just doing it in a more technically advanced way via data confirmation and split testing."

That is the entire point of using a different term for it. Precise language is a useful tool. A job title that says "we're looking for technically advanced marketers" in a concise way will get you a better signal to noise ratio.

I don't understand why this offends you.

As a programmer, I'm already too embarrassed at this point to call myself a hacker. If our marketing team starts calling themselves growth hackers, I think the once honorable label will have been irrevocably soiled. If you haven't worked at a big company, this may seem puzzling, but just imagine the job ads, the Business Week covers.

The distribution channels for marketing are constantly changing. The marketers that don't evolve with the trends will be soon out of a job. And for online marketing, learning programming is a must.

I do agree that maybe we need some kind of concise way for referring to these marketers with software development skills, but using "growth hacker" is in the same league as using the words "ninja", "rockstar" and "guru". For me it's nauseating, while telling me something about the spoiled brats I'll end up working with.

What's wrong with "marketing engineer"?

I think "marketing engineer" is a fine and accurate term -- I've even called myself that at times -- but for whatever reason "growth hacker" is what's caught on.

You may as well argue over aluminum vs. aluminium.

I think he's just tired of buzzwords and took it out on the wrong title. Now, if he had a post titled "I'll bitchslap the next person who asks me to build something web 2.0". I would totally read that and upvote it to high heaven.

So lets call it a quantitative marketer then? It describes the role more precisely and it sounds cool.

Sure. The main point I took from the article was a frustration with the way people feel a euphemism is needed for "marketer" (which does seem rather elitist), and that avoids that, and also sounds less trend-following-buzzword-happy than "growth hacker" (which to me always makes we wish I could hack another few inches of height on so that I could dunk a basketball).

I feel like people who want to rename this type of role are either people who haven't worked with marketers very much, or look down on marketers--or both.

Marketing at big companies has involved intense data analysis for many years now. We don't need a new name for that.

It's still a marketer.

So what? So is Patrick McKenzie, people seem to be cool with him.

Patrick proudly promotes himself as an SEO/marketing consultant, not a "growth hacker".

I have apparently spent less time thinking of what I call my consulting practice than other people do, but I usually phrase it as "I make money for software companies" rather than any of the above three, for reasons similar to why I don't say "intermediate Rails coder."

I've been called a growth hacker before. Whatever. Couldn't care less either way. Lawyers get paid for caring about the precise boundaries between similar-sounding words. I'm certainly not a lawyer.

In fact, try applying for jobs to some east coast companies and tell them that you are a great "Hacker".

The word "hacker" may resonate well with the SV culture but outside that you might get a response saying "let us not get that extreme, we just need a good developer"

To me, "growth hacking" evokes more than just marketing.

Let's say my startup hustles like crazy and carves out a deal with a major coffee chain (like Square did with Starbucks IIRC).

Suddenly we have access to a whole lot more users. We grew the user base drastically, yet it wasn't exactly a result of marketing but rather one of strategic dealmaking.

To me, that is the quintessence of growth hacking.

Why not just call it business development? Why do we need the word "hacking" as part of what has been the way businesses grow?

It's better to use ordinary language to describe something ordinary like Starbucks using Square. Sales is a steady job that anyone can do (like programming.) Hustling like crazy and such is made to sound special when it's not particularly crazy at all.

There is too much talk about titles and too little talk about how to get a product development process in place that allows for great product design that also achieves key metrics.

This post doesn't go very far in furthering the discussion. The answers come not from anti-[job title] posts, but something more positive, like describing how things get done at Facebook, Dropbox, LinkedIn, Zynga, and other orgs that are good at shipping product.

I talk to a lot of companies, and it is pretty easy for them to think they want to focus on growth. The interesting problems appear when (as always) there is more to do than you have the resources to get done. How as an organization do you deal with that? Driving towards growth is pretty simple, but doing it in parallel to building and selling a compelling product is harder.

By the way, Dropbox had a referral program before I got there. I just helped turn the dial up a bit, in addition to separate product changes.

Here's the bit i never understood with this 'growth hacker' meme: if you're working on or for an early stage startup then everyone is a 'growth hacker', right? if your people aren't working to grow your product/service/community then what the hell are they doing?

To the self-proclaimed and aggrandized 'growth hackers' - the OP is right: You're a marketer who took (and absorbed) a stats class. Stop being so fucking pretentious. Joining facebook (or whatever) after the inflection point and claiming responsibility for its growth is like joining apple four years ago and claiming responsibility for tripling the share price.

Well, it's on my business card. I guess that's what I'm going to be defending for the next few years.

No. Context is very important here, and it's actually quite apt with regard to hiring and being hired.

Data-driven marketing (DDM) is a huge thing now because it reliably magnifies revenue streams. However, the skill set to execute on such strategies is a bit non-traditional for marketing. If you want to hire someone to help build your DDM team, you don't necessarily want a business grad or a top salesman. What you want is an math or engineering transplant, someone with the statistical and technical skills necessary but who knows or is interested in learning the business and marketing aspects.

"Growth hacker" moonlights as a buzzword, but it's actually a great way to spin a job opening to appeal to the audience you need to attract: tech-to-business transplants. Ergo, it can also be effective self-branding if you're a tech-to-business transplant looking to make $$$ for helping to create well-documented X% to XX% revenue improvements.

Totally agree with you. I think this is about hiring the right type of people. Honestly, marketing has a bad reputation with many technical people. So if you tried to hire a CS grad into an online marketing role, it might be tough. Hence the new title. Whatever works!

I disagree with this article. A "Growth Hacker" is an engineer that applies himself in the field of marketing. This means coming up with interesting and innovative ways of lowering the cost of user acquisition. The distinction is important since Marketing itself is a very loaded term.

Companies like Zynga thrived because they found cheap ways of getting users: early un-managed FB platform, and app referrals. Same with AirBnB and their craigslist post automation.

Growth hacking isn't going to make your product better, but more people will be aware of it.

<blockquote>A "Growth Hacker" is an engineer that applies himself in the field of marketing.</blockquote>

or a marketer who learns how to code?

It's possible you might end up with an equivalently effective person, but I think it'd be easier to transition from coder->marketer. I suspect that the knowledge required to be useful is about 70-30, or maybe 85-15, heavily on the coder side.

To pick up some marketing ideas that will start moving the needle on your startup, read a small book. You'd probably already know enough to start iterating on 3 or more techniques.

To get a marketer to pick up the most basic coding skills, start with flow control and variables. It could be a month before you're useful, in one language only. Then understand HTML, SQL, the server-side language, maybe jQuery, plus maybe security so you don't start adding lots of useful but dangerous code. Understand performance, so you don't kill the server with a loop in customer-facing code. Not just be able to click a "add new test" button, but integrate ABingo without hassling the rest of the team (if that's the best tool for the job). The point is: whatever it takes. You need to know enough technical concepts to be fast and loose with whatever will move the needle best. You're making few marketing decisions, but many technical ones.

So: fully agreed with your other comment. Marketers will be well-served by getting into some of the code, because it'll enable them greatly. But if I were hiring a marketer->coder, I'd be a lot more wary.

Up until today, I've disliked the growth hacker "thing". But these posts have clarified it for me. I'm generally irritated at the non-bschool vibe around here, but on this issue I'll lean heavily on the coder side.

All the details of programming are complicated and you can justify it with your expert knowledge as fact. Perhaps marketing is just as complicated but seems simple since you just see the output / results and do not have the expert knowledge to realize the detail that went into it?

I certainly don't think world-class marketing is simple at all. You get brilliant people in all roles, and I'm in awe of the best in the business. But most startups don't need killer deep-knowledge marketers who could design a marketing strategy for Coke but have learned to program a bit. Most startups need someone well-versed in technology who knows enough about marketing to move the needle on growth.

Yes, anyone can become a really bad marketer by reading a book, just like anyone can become a really bad Engineer by reading a book.

The thing is? being a good marketer has more to do with who you know (and who knows you) than what you know. (just like being a good Engineer has more to do with how well you can figure things out than with how many languages you know.)

knowing people that can get you press is super important for marketing people (and, of course, the ability to get people to like you.)

My mistake; I would define it either way.

Rather than pooh-poohing this new word or dismissing it by claiming that people use it so they can avoid calling themselves marketers, ask yourself: "Why do people find this distinction useful?"

That would make for a much better article, IMO.

Here's a thread where I attempt to justify the term: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4309570

Probably because the group of marketers using technology wants a name for themselves to convey the meaning that they're not normal marketers, but marketers that use and create advanced technology to make better decisions.

Absolutely. The term has a definite meaning. It refers to a software engineer with enough market awareness, copywriting savvy, and statistical ability to run a campaign full stack. There aren't that many people with this skillset, but they are valuable. By contrast, the typical person listing "marketing" on LinkedIn is just not that technical.

A good growth hacker can conceptualize and code the AirBnB/Craiglist integration; most of the people listing marketing on LinkedIn can't do that, skilled as they may be in other respects.

Sounds like you are referring to a generalist.

I think you might have come off as more credible had you said that 'Growth Hacker' is a BS title. That is just a title and anyone can really have that. I have a site with 25 million page views per month, I've been running it for years all by myself, am I a growth hacker ? No. Did I do some growth hacking ? Yes. I used some innovative methods to garner and maintain traffic; methods that traditional marketing folks wouldnt't probably use.

Growth hacking might be a buzzword. But to me, it means coming up with a unique and viral way of attracting users to your product. There is a lot of unchartered new territory in marketing - social media being a big one. (turntable.fm had an interesting user acquisition route, I'd call that growth hacking)

Personally, I'm excited to see the new and innovative ways in which marketers will leverage these new technologies to reduce the cost and increase the speed of user acquisition.

Maybe instead of arguing of meaningless titles for these roles, we should get back to building things, finding users, making money, and all that jazz.

An important art of politicians is to find new names for institutions which have, under old names, become odious to the public.

-- Tallyrand

Personally I've decided to accept that buzzwords and titles will proliferate, and that this is impossible to prevent. Isn't the whole not-caring-about-titles thing part of startup culture? As long as you can do your job, I don't care if your business card says growth hacker or marketzilla or SEOgasaurous. You might face greater scrutiny if your resume says "Rails Ninja" on it, but in the end it's about whether you can program, and whether a Rails Ninja is a good culture fit when everyone else is a Javascript Pirate.

Doing due diligence (i.e, a proper interview) for a hire means figuring out the truth behind the bullshit. If you don't actually have enough knowledge to differentiate between a bullshit $TITLE and a good candidate who happens to call themselves $TITLE, then you don't have enough information to make a good hire anyway.

Hell, the titles are helpful sometimes. Candidates non-ironically self-identifying as a trendy title can help you filter out idiots. They're doing you a favor.

This post is at risk of becoming a "reverse" self-fulfilling prophecy by exposing more people to the buzzword. I have personally never seen it in the wild (except once through HN, when the term was first introduced).

I think most marketers are supposed to have some technical experience if you are looking for a job in SV. I notice people saying being a growth hacker is like being a marketer but more technical. Most marketing job positions require at least a little "front end" developer knowledge. In short calling someone a growth hacker is annoying because it is trying to obfuscate an easy to understand job title and is unnecessarily buzzwordy.

Confused. Growth hacking is BS, but growth hacking is marketing, and marketing is legit?

You summed it up nicely.. growth hacking is marketing using technical skills. I think that summary is very attractive to technically minded people, and makes it unique compared to traditional one way marketing.

If growth hacking is introducing marketing to a technical crowd and enable them to grow customers in a tech centric industry (startup), why the frustration? Is there some underlying issue with non-tech marketers not being able to connect with results in tech startups as well?

Having a foot in the technical and business world for the last decade has shown me that techs tend to learn more about business than vice versa. Capable people are everywhere though, maybe we need Growth Hacking 101 for marketers?

I always thought "growth hacking" meant a hacker that has strong knowledge of "hacking" tactics (a/b testing, optimizing on boarding funnel, etc) as well as a keen business sense (markets, distribution, etc) to grow the startup's user base.


You're right sir.

And this helps answer another popular theme of 2012: should people learn to code? YES.

This is a great example of what other professionals (non-coders) can do if they learn new tools, if they learn how to work with code.

So, growth hacker is a marketer. Fine. But not all marketers are growth hackers. My understanding is that, growth hacking is a specialty in marketing which focus on consumer web marketing. It is also a very technical and hands on position. As a growth hacker, you not only need to have a marketing plan, but also need to implement or help implement the marketing plan. There is nothing wrong for giving a name to a sub-category of marketing profession.

This would be a lot more credible if lean startup and cloud deployment weren't described as "talking to your customers early and often" and "hosting as a service".

I think I've read the term "growth hacking" too many times between the post and the comments and now it sounds like something a bad oncologist does.

I should go to bed.

I believe one of the nuances of the "growth hacker" title (cheeky title concerns aside) is the implication that user acquisition and product dev need to be interlaced. Consumer web is too competitive today to build a product and bolt on user acquisition. A role that sits on both the growth team and the product team is essential. Thus the birth of the growth hacker.

While the term used is irrelevant.

I would say there is a big difference between the typical marketer and someone that's able to execute something like the airbnb/craigslist integration (and by execute I don't mean code every line).

Or someone that's able to take a product from 0 to 500k users.

I do agree though in terms of online, not knowing about any of this stuff makes you a much less effective "marketer".

I partly agree to it. The web is full of buzz words meaning nothing. Growth Hacker, however refers to a combo of marketer +coder. I get totally pissed off at terms like python rockstars, javascript pirates rails ninjas. Seriously WhyTF do we need such pompous terms? An experienced programmer goes well.

I somewhat get the argument that using the word "hacker" in relation to a marketing function somehow defiles the coveted word. But it does describe a role that is distinct from other marketing roles, so it deserves a different title. Call it what you will, but the semantics don't bother me.

Everyone in digital media trying to have you click an ad is practically a "growth hacker"

A bit off topic: how do I go about finding a freelance marketer? People I find on odesk seem to be of the spammy kind. Any advices?

You might want to try some of the business schools that are future looking and might have strong eng / entrepreneurship programs and often cross pollinate these students in their admissions or classrooms. Students are often willing to help out to gain their own experience, especially those desiring career changes from eng to business. for example: MIT, Stanford, etc.

It's different in a way that growth hacking looks at retention and marketing doesnt.

So using the term "growth hacking" rather than "marketing" is marketing?

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