Growth · Growth hacking

How do you decipher between true growth hackers and wannabes?


March 22nd, 2015

Seems like the term "growth hacker" has amok - anyone and everyone calls themselves a growth hacker or claims they are good at growth. What are the best questions to ask or ways to decipher whether or not someone is really good at growth and knows what they are doing giving the newness of it (and less historical experience?

Alan Peters VP Product and Technology at BusinessBlocks

March 22nd, 2015

My two cents: if you are in here at an early stage you should not be talking to growth hackers at all. Legit or otherwise. Growth hacking is an activity to optimize organic (esp. viral) adoption. Until you have a proven value proposition, well executed, with real traction (1000s monetized MAU at a very very minimum) - you have nothing to optimize. Build first, optimize second. HTH _A

Jeremy Grodberg Web CTO & Software Architect - Available

March 22nd, 2015

It happens a lot that you want to hire people but do not have the knowledge and experience to tell if they are good at what they do. You need a logo, how do you tell an exceptional logo designer from a competent one? 

For growth hacking, proven experience is best, but everyone has to start somewhere. Look for a background in and understanding of consumer psychology, user experience design, social media marketing, A/B testing, and analytics. Have they read and understood books like Influence, The Power of Habit, Nudge, Ideas That Stick, Predictably Irrational, The Laws of Simplicity, and The Paradox of Choice? Do they have a firm grasp of UI/UX concepts?

If you want to give someone a trial run, see what they can do to move a KPI in the right direction. Keep in mind, though, that even at its best, growth hacking involves a lot of trial and error. AirBnB touts their successes, but they (like everyone else) have a lot more failures (that is, changes that do not improve their KPIs) than successes.

Even more important is demonstrating the ability to formulate a test, evaluate the results, and generate knowledge from it. In my book, a change that lowers a KPI is only truly a failure if you don't learn something from the experiment. If you lower the price and fewer people buy, it tells you that at some level your customers want to be buying a premium product. If you make that change and learn that lesson, the experiment was a success. If you make a change and have no idea why it generated the results it did, then that is a real failure.

Of course, I also agree with Alan Peters: do not even bother to think about growth hacking until you are sure you have achieved product/market fit and are ready to scale. 

Matthew Griffiths Technology Entrepreneur, CTO, Startup Executive

March 23rd, 2015

Hi Lucas,

It does seem that Growth Hacking is the latest and greatest buzz word and just as Brad said there were people using data and technology to 'hack' growth well before the term was coined.

I would advise you to be clear about what you are trying to achieve, rather than simply trying to source a growth hacker.

For example, if you are trying to segment and existing market (informing your competitors clients about your niche or price point) or trying to develop a new market (identifying and educating early adopters of new solutions) then you need to understand where these customers 'are', how they can be reached and what you need to tell them. Can you do all of this, some of this or, none of this? The answer here should give you an idea of the kind of skills you need to buy in.

In short, growth hacking (like everything in business) will not be effective unless you have a strategy and clear idea of what you and your company wants to get out of it. Once you know this, it's likely that you know understand the skills you need better and will be in a better position to source candidates.

As always, please feel free to PM me if you would like to discuss anything in more detail.

Keith Hopper Product Innovation

March 22nd, 2015

If they don't have results, I'd be skeptical. If they don't have these, they should be eager to prove it to you. Give them a growth task. Compensate as appropriate. Hire if (beyond) satisfied.


March 22nd, 2015

I love this question.

I have talked with a few dozen people in the last week or so that claim to be growth hackers and founders.

They have zero experience.

They all claim to be able to do something they just need to be introduced to a guy with money or given the chance yet they all want money upfront to get started or huge salaries.

When I talk with someone who claims to have experience, I have started to ask for references, this stops them in their tracks. I have also asked to see tax papers, they claim to have made hundreds of thousands on projects, I want to see and verify taxes paid.

As a developer I have little money to spend myself but I try to fund as much as I can, I think that for a startup everyone should share expenses so when someone wants the majority of stock and claims to have "Growth Hacking" experience but is not willing to put money in or trade equity for time, its a red flag.

I understand that there are so many different variables that can effect what works or fails but there must be some track record other then the words "Growth Hacker" on a LinkedIn profile :)

Christopher Nolte Co-Founder & CEO at TapTape

March 23rd, 2015

I learned from the CEO of a strong inbound marketing company that they look for "Growth Hacking" / Digital Marketing talent via the Acronym DARC. D - Digital Native: The person has to be a digital native vs someone who grew into the digital age A - Analytical: Marketing is no longer just about the creative, but also strongly about the analytical. You need to find someone that can work with data and get counter-intuitive insights out of pivot tables. R - Reach: Your marketer needs to have some sort of reach online (i.e. many twitter followers or something of the sort) C - Content Creator: The person needs to be outgoing online and able to come up with interesting content. This is the creative side of things. If you can find someone that fulfills 2-3 letters of this acronym, you've got someone worth looking at. Cheers, Chris

Mike Masello

March 24th, 2015

Growth hacking, as many have stated, is a new term for an old "skill".  I say skill because like other areas of marketing, it's an art.  A track record of growing business is a must.  It's not a degree, so you can't say you are it just for completing course work.

Once you find people that have grown users, revenue, etc; ask them how they did it.  If they simply were given an ad budget for facebook or google I wouldn't count that.  Having an analytical mind should be part of the equation. Growth hacking should include some form of creativity; whether it be creating a mechanism for driving traffic or an ability to convert more from existing traffic.

Max Avroutski Building EV Charging & Electric Energy Access company

March 24th, 2015

Growth Hacking is achieving uncommonly high growth. More signups per $, more signups for higher profit product, increasing retention, increasing referrals, virility, ext.

I disagree with few previous posters in that you need to design product using Growth Hacking or Gorilla Marketing or What-cha-ma-call-it and not think about it at a later time. It's all part of data driven Marketing, Customer development, Product development, ext.

Brad Cooper

March 22nd, 2015

There were people good at driving growth before this term become fashionable.  

Ask for specific examples, what his/ her role was, what were the metrics, etc. Otherwise, it's the new "social media expert"

Ron Peled Tech cofounder & CTO @ Educents

March 23rd, 2015

I find that growth hacking is more of an approach/attitude than an actual skill. So personal questions on how would you go about getting XYZ done seems to serve me well in interviews and meetings. 

However, there is no real answer here besides figuring out what is growth hacking in your book first, each company works slightly different and in different pace, so based on that information you can draft better questions to see if a candidate is in alignment or not. Good luck!