4 of the Best Tech Startup Growth Hacking Campaigns
Julia Payne

First – what is growth hacking?

It’s an important question. Today, many marketers like to describe themselves as ‘growth hackers’, when the truth is they are nothing of the sort – they’re simply trying to sound a bit cool and clever to the uninitiated, like they’re in on a special secret that only they know about.

Put simply, growth hacking is the process of rapid experimentation and implementation of ingenious sales and marketing practices that result in the equally rapid growth of a company.

Rapid growth. That’s what growth hacking is all about – and not everyone who calls themselves a ‘growth hacker’ can truly claim that there is anything ‘rapid’ about the growth they achieve.

In truth, many of these people are inbound marketers. And, let’s be clear – a good growth strategy needs to employ a combination of both inbound marketing and growth hacking. A growth hacker, as marketing guru Neil Patel makes clear in his Quicksprout blog, is not a replacement for a marketer. Nor is a growth hacker better than a marketer. A growth hacker, says Neil, is just different than a marketer (and has a cooler-sounding job title).

While the aim of inbound marketing is to use content, education and other organic SEO practices in order to achieve sustainable, long-term growth and cement a company’s reputation, the aim of growth hacking, on the other hand, is to achieve a rapid, short-term high-yield haul of new customers – often without any regard whatsoever to building reputations, winning the trust of prospects and customers, or improving things like the SEO value of websites.

Growth hackers, indeed, are single-minded – all they want to achieve is as much growth as possible in as short a time as possible.

4 of the Best Tech Startup Growth Hacking Campaigns


In order to achieve the rapid scaling of a company, growth hacking campaigns often push the boundaries of what is normally expected or even advised when using more traditional inbound marketing methods.

So, let’s take a look at some successful tech startup growth hacks that have skyrocketed the companies in question to dizzying new heights.

1. Dropbox

Even if you don’t use Dropbox, you’re no doubt aware of the company and what it does. And if you do use Dropbox, then you will no doubt have referred a friend, and you may well have signed-up after receiving a referral yourself.

Why? Because Dropbox gives you loads of free storage each time you bring a new person on-board – and then each of your friends are asked to do the same.

This is growth hacking, pure and simple – and is a big part of what led the company towards its 2014 valuation of $10 billion, with rumours of it going public this year.

What makes the Dropbox ‘refer a friend’ story so remarkable is that the cost of new signups quickly fell below the cost of advertising – in fact, traditional advertising didn’t work for Dropbox (as it often doesn’t for many companies). Instead, they developed their now famous referral system, which essentially incentivised users to spread the word about the service, and such recommendations proved to be far more credible than ads.

So simple, but oh so effective.

2. PayPal

Here’s another growth-hacking-via-referral success story.

Similar to Dropbox in the sense that rewards were offered for referrals – but instead of storage space, back in the early 2000s, PayPal rewarded everyone who referred a friend to the service with cold, hard cash.

In fact, in those early days, PayPal paid $20 to every new person who signed up, and gave them another $20 when they referred a friend.

This remarkable (not to mention expensive – it cost the company $60 to $70 million) growth hack saw PayPal achieve 7% to 10% DAILY growth, and its membership increase from 1 million to 5 million users over the space of a few short months.

Gradually, the company phased out this reward scheme, because it simply no longer needed to incentivise new people to sign-up – the value and ease of online payments the solution offered was now proving valuable enough in its own right.

Though, to be fair, it’s unlikely that PayPal could have continued to afford this growth hack forever – giving away money is not the ideal way to run a profitable business, after all. But it’s precisely this sort of daring, innovative, ‘breaking-all-the-rules’ thinking that growth hacking is all about. It sent the company viral in a way that no amount of traditional advertising or inbound marketing ever could.

And indeed, just as a side note, we mustn’t forget that PayPal leeched off the success of eBay in those early days, too – a growth hacking triumph in itself.

3. Instagram

Those distinct-looking square photographs, made to look edgy or quirky or just a bit different with a choice of filters, set Instagram apart from other social networks. But it was these other social networks that indeed proved to be the enablers for the rapid growth of Instagram.

It may have faded somewhat from our memories, but it never used to be as straightforward as it is now to post mobile photos to the likes of Facebook and Twitter. But Instagram was built for just that purpose – and made it quick and easy to for users to cross-post directly to other networks, including Facebook and Twitter, but also Tumblr, Foursquare, and many more besides.

The result was that those distinct-looking photographs began popping up on the networks that people were already using – serving as free advertising for the Instagram app.

This is what’s known as a ‘platform hack’ – and is one of the simplest yet most effective growth hacking tactics around. A simple, strategic choice like this helped Instagram reach 100 million users in just over two years – far quicker than some of the other big names in social media, as the following infographic from Jeff Bullas reveals.

4. Mint

Sometimes, growth hacking and content marketing techniques overlap – and that’s exactly what happened with Mint.

Mint is a personal finance management service – but, long before the launch of its app, the company realised that in order to target its audience of young, digitally-savvy, busy professionals, it needed to figure out a way to engage with them online.

And so, the company turned to content to promote their brand and stimulate a buzz that could quickly be turned into rapid growth upon launch.

And that’s when MintLIfe appeared – a personal finance resource blog within which considerable amounts of free content is published. The blog site makes heavy use of infographics and videos, and offers exciting articles jam-packed with financial advice (often from third-party experts) and all the most interesting aspects of finance.

What happened was that MintLife quickly became the go-to online resource for everything to do with money. It spoke out to young professionals looking for financial management and stability, and solved people’s problems.

MintLife achieved 20,000 subscribers even before the app was launched – one of the greatest examples of a content marketing growth hack out there.

Over to You

There’s more than one way to growth hack. And indeed, there are plenty more ways and success stories than there’s room for on this list. The secret of growth hacking is to get creative, to be daring, to hustle, to break the rules, and go above and beyond what your competitors are doing. And then do it all over again.

While the growth of these tech startups may seem like someone waved a magic wand and it all just happened, when we drill down into each story we can see a well-thought-out strategy at play. Whether you’re enticing referrals with free stuff (or even money), leeching off another company’s existing success, spreading your message across multiple platforms, or going into overdrive with content marketing, growth hacking is all about strategies and choices that will secure short-term rapid growth – and then it will be down to your inbound marketing efforts to sustain it for the long-term.

If you’re looking for a company that can apply some of these growth hacking techniques to your tech startup, don’t hesitate to get in touch with the growth marketing experts at Incisive Edge today.