6 Companies that used Growth Hacking to Find Success

Growth hacking – sure, it sounds cool, but what is it, exactly? 

Sean Ellis, an entrepreneur and angel investor, first coined the term back in 2010. So it’s not a very old concept, but it’s certainly finding itself in vogue as of late.

The phrase refers to a person who is one part marketer, one part analytics expert. But a Growth Hacker probably wouldn’t consider themselves to be a marketer, because the things they do often stand in opposition to traditional marketing practices.

This should come as no surprise. As most digital marketers know, there’s a lot to learn after college – and change is the only constant! There’s nothing traditional about marketing in modern times.

The primary goal of a Growth Hacker is to achieve rapid user acquisition for the brand they represent. One of the best ways to learn how to be a successful Growth Hacker is to work with a branding agency for small business, as you can learn from their experience growing their own company. 

Here are 6 companies that used Growth Hacking to find success.


Hotmail was one of the first web-based email platforms. People may turn up their noses at it now with so many other webmail options with advanced functionality, but Hotmail Growth Hackers practically pioneered the field.

Their awesome Growth Hack? Inviting new users to try the platform with every new email sent by existing users. At the bottom of the message, it would read, “This email sent with Hotmail, Join Hotmail now.” Simple, but effective!


Airbnb actually employed two major growth hacks that enabled them to rise rapidly to success.

The first was an (unauthorized) Craigslist integration that happened automatically with each new listing. This allowed Airbnb to expand it’s reach using an already established platform with millions of users. Technically, it wasn’t really allowed, but Airbnb decided to do first, ask for forgiveness later. Prospective Growth Hackers take note, but exercise caution!

Airbnb also initially hired professional freelance photographers to help people take professional pictures to make their listings more enticing. The result? More engaged people listing their spaces, and more bookings from customers! Photographers aren’t cheap, but achieving platform success was worth it to Airbnb.


Many social networks have started to realize that their success is determined by users having people to interact with, right off the bat. As such, Twitter used Growth Hacking to find success by automatically suggesting accounts for new users to follow. Users that connected with other accounts were more likely to stick around and make use of the platform.


Mailbox, an innovative email management app, manufactured demand by requiring new users to sign up to be placed on a waiting list – not having automatic access to the app. Not being able to use it right away drove up interest and even got the app additional press! However, the platform didn’t make it long and has recently shut down, but it’s worth noting as a decent growth hacking strategy.


Paypal paid for new users by incentivizing existing users. As a digital payments app, they decided to let money do the talking. They used Growth Hacking to find success by offering a friend referral bounty – $10 to the referrer, and $10 to the referee. Although they gave money away, they still saved on advertising expenses associated with acquiring new users. If you know your costs, you can come up with an incentive that makes sense for both you and your customer.


On a similar note, Dropbox achieved rapid user acquisition by giving users additional free space on their account when they referred new users. They also encouraged new users to learn more about the platform by giving them additional free space by quickly going through a virtual tour of the system. They realized that a person who understands what the company offered was more likely to stick around after initial signup.

As you may have realized, encouraging or incentivizing your existing users to refer new users is a lot less costly than PPC advertising. Regardless of the cost, gaining new users through your existing users typically will reduce the average cost per acquisition.

Besides these specific examples from companies that used Growth Hacking to find success, there are many high-level lessons learned from successful Growth Hackers. Kissmetrics put together an article sharing 13 critically important lessons from over 50 Growth Hackers. We also recently talked about Growth Hacking on the blog with some important takeaways for marketers.

Now that you’ve had a chance to see how these (now) large companies were able to use intelligent growth hacks to grow their user base on a budget, how will you use this information? How will you use Growth Hacking to find success?

A great first step should include sharing this article with members of your team. Once they’ve had a chance to read and digest it, hold a brainstorming session to see how you can break out of your traditional marketing strategy to try something that can lead to something new and great. You don’t have to be a technology company to employ Growth Hacks!

Finally, whatever you decide to do, make sure that you test your results, and adjust as necessary. Growth Hackers love digging into analytic data, and are able to change their course based on critical analysis of what’s resonating with customers, and what isn’t.