Does Growth Hacking = Lean Marketing?


In a conversation I had recently with Charlie O’Donnell, Partner at Brooklyn Bridge Ventures, the topic of growth hacking came up. “Explain this term to me,” Charlie said. “Everyone’s talking about growth hacking, but I’m not convinced it’s anything new.”

I explained that growth hacking is a set of frameworks, tactics and best practices designed to help startups think critically about the problem of user growth.

“That sounds like what a product manager does,” he said.

I told him that growth hacking is actually more of a philosophy of how marketing should be done at a startup, and as a result growth hacking incorporates a lot other disciplines like product management, direct marketing, brand marketing, and engineering.

“So growth hacking is basically lean marketing?” he asked.

I had to think for a minute, because I’d never heard it put that way. But I think he was right.

If you’re familiar with the concept of “lean” from lean manufacturing and most recently the lean startup movement pioneered by Eric Reis (The Lean Startup), Steve Blank (The Four Steps to the Epiphany) and others, then many of the concepts behind growth hacking should already be familiar to you.

The lean startup movement so far has been mostly focused on helping early-stage companies find product-market fit through customer development and quick iterations of the build-measure-learn feedback loop. At its core, the lean movement emphasizes validated learning, scientific experimentation, measuring progress, and getting valuable customer feedback. I’m a big fan.

Growth hacking is what happens when you take lean to the next level, beyond customer development and product-market fit. It’s what lean companies do once they’ve found product-market fit and now need to grow.

This helps us understand why Andrew Chen said that a growth hacker is a hybrid marketer and coder. At an early-stage company, the growth hacker is probably the first person who really thinks critically about user growth. They’re basically marketers, except that in order to operate lean at a very small company, they had better know enough about how to code to not be a liability to the company. Growth hackers have to be able to implement their own tracking code, put up their own landing pages, integrate with other APIs, and the like, otherwise they’re taking valuable time away from other developers.

Also, instead of minimum viable products, growth hackers develop minimum viable strategies. They need to quickly figure out minimum viable user acquisition strategies, minimum viable user activation strategies, minimum viable user retention strategies, and so on.

Growth hacking, lean marketing, agile marketing – whatever you want to call it – it exists. No one can deny it anymore. I’m excited to see where this goes :)