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Book Summary – Hacking Growth: How Today’s Fastest-Growing Companies Drive Breakout Success

Hacking Growth - Book summary

How can you acquire new customers, keep them engaged, convert them to fans and ambassadors, and leverage technology to grow your revenue with a shoestring budget? This book by Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown presents the concepts and method for hacking growth—using rigorous analyses and rapid tests to identify, test and implement high-impact growth opportunities. It can be used by any company (big or small) and for any function (e.g. marketing or engineering). In this free Hacking Growth summary, we’ll give a brief overview of the components and processes involved in the growth-hacking approach.

In the 2000s, Sean Ellis started testing unconventional approaches to help various companies to grow rapidly given a limited budget and tough competition. These techniques and processes were gradually expanded and refined to become the growth hacking model presented in this book.

For example, Dropbox grew from 100,000 to 4 million users in 14 months without any traditional marketing. Instead, it offered 250MB of free storage to each user who referred a friend to try Dropbox. Airbnb struggled to grow initially until it cross-published with Craigslist to redirect searches for short-term vacation rentals to the Airbnb booking website.

Hacking growth requires a rigorous method for rapid, cross-functional experimentation. Today, many leading firms—such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Quora, Tesla, Adobe and Airbnb—all use growth hacking as a key engine of growth instead of relying on costly marketing and advertising campaigns.

Hacking Growth: An Overview

Here’s a graphical overview of the key components and processes involved in growth hacking.  We’ll briefly outline these elements in this article. You can get more details (including examples and specific steps/tips) in our full Hacking Growth summary bundle.

Hacking Growth summary_growth hacking overview


There’re 3 pre-requisites that must be in place before you’re ready to drive growth via high-tempo testing:

  • Growth team: A growth team optimizes results by bridging the silos found in most organizations. Growth teams must have cross-functional expertise, including business strategy/goals, marketing, data analysis and product development. They complement rather than replace traditional functions, and can range from 4-5 people to more than 100.  [In our full Hacking Growth summary, we’ll dive into more details about growth team roles and setup.]
  • Must-have product: Don’t start rapid growth experimentation until you have a must-have product, i.e. you know its core value, to whom it’s a must-have, and why. Pushing for growth prematurely can be costly or even fatal since you’ll waste resources promoting something that no one wants, and end up generating critics instead of fans. [In our complete Hacking Growth summary, we’ll explain (i) what’s a product’s “aha moment”, (iii) the 2 tests for evaluating if you have a must-have product, and (iii) the 3 methods to address the gap(s) if you do not yet fulfill this pre-requisite.]
  • Growth levers: Once you know your aha moment, your goal is to get as many users to experience it as quickly as possible. However, you won’t create a big-enough impact by testing lots of small changes (e.g. different button colors). You need to focus on high-impact, high-potential tests, i.e. you must identify the right growth levers and have a proper growth strategy.  [In our full Hacking Growth summary, we’ll explain the concepts of a growth equation, essential metrics, and why/how to narrow down to 1 “North Star” metric that best captures the core value for customers.]


Once the pre-requisites are in place, you’re ready to start the growth-hacking process. This comprises 4 key steps—analysis, ideation, prioritization and testing—that run in a continuous cycle.

In a nutshell, you’ll need to

  • Analyze: gather data and insights, and compile/share them with the growth team ahead of your growth meetings;
  • Ideate: generate ideas after your meetings, with each submitting as many ideas as possible in a templated format.
  • Prioritize what to experiment, by scoring each idea and discussing only the top ideas (and managing the rest in an experiment pipeline).
  • Test, i.e. run the experiments, focusing on those that can be done in the coming week.
  • The cycle is repeated when you review/analyze the results to decide on the next steps, and communicate the results.

Get our complete 16-page summary for (i) a breakdown of each of the 4 steps above, and (ii) tips and a sample agenda for your weekly/bi-weekly growth meetings.

The Growth Hacking Playbook

This playbook breaks down how you can start implementing high-tempo testing across the entire sales and marketing funnel: acquisition, activation, retention and revenue.

Hacking Growth: ACQUISITION

A must-have product means you’ve already achieved Product-Market Fit, i.e. you have a compelling product for your target market. To start acquiring new customers rapidly, you must achieve 2 additional types of fit (Language-Market Fit and Channel-Product Fit) and create viral customer loops.

  • Language-Market Fit is about describing your product in a way that resonates with your target audience;
  • Channel-Product Fit is about selecting the most effective marketing channels for your target audience; and
  • Designing customer loops so you can enjoy virality not just from word-of-mouth, but have virality built into your product itself (instrumental virality).

[We break down each of these components and steps in our complete Hacking Growth summary, including tips for creating successful viral loops.]

Hacking Growth: ACTIVATION

Having attracted your potential customers, you must now activate them, i.e. get them to use your product.  In our full summary bundle, we elaborate on (i) 3 steps to activate customers effectively, (ii) tips for running effective surveys, and (iii) removing common obstacles to activation (including how to explore hacks and triggers to optimize activation).

Hacking Growth: RETENTION

When you retain customers, you can get more repeat purchases (without the corresponding acquisition costs), have more opportunities to understand them and improve your product, and get additional word-of-mouth referrals. A study found that a 5% increase in customer retention rates can improve profits by 25-95%.  Retention can be broken down into 3 phases (initial retention, medium-term retention and long-term retention) plus resurrecting customers who’ve abandoned your product. Do check out our full Hacking Growth summary for those details.

Hacking Growth: MONETIZATION

Ultimately, your goal is to earn more revenue from each customer over time, i.e. to increase your customers lifetime value (LTV).  You can use high-tempo testing to identify/optimize opportunities from monetization along the entire funnel, and run different experiments for different customer personas or pricing levels.

At any/all parts of the funnel, you can apply Robert Cialdini’s 6 persuasion principles to get better results.

Getting the Most from Hacking Growth

Ultimately, every product and business model is different, and the job of growing a business is never finished. The only way to uncover the best growth opportunities and hacks is to keep experimenting. Prevent complacency by using growth teams to drive continual data-driven innovation and create a virtuous cycle of growth. And, when a growth team hits upon a winning idea, invest to get the most from it (including opportunities for cross-fertilization) instead of simply moving on to new areas. In this article, we’ve briefly outlined some of the key insights and strategies you can use to achieve desired change. For more examples, details, and actionable tips to apply these strategies, do get our complete book summary bundle which includes an infographic, 16-page text summary, and a 25-minute audio summary.Hacking Growth summary - book summary bundle

This is a detailed guidebook that takes you through the process of hacking growth step-by-step, including specific guidelines, case studies, sample questions and tips to help you grasp the concepts and tailor them to your specific product or business model. You can purchase the book here for the full details or check out more resources/details at

[Check out the Hooked book summary on how to build habits and virality into your product. You can also check out our Influence summary to learn more about Robert Cialdini’s 6 persuasion principles.]

About the Authors of Hacking Growth

Hacking Growth: How Today’s Fastest-Growing Companies Drive Breakout Success is written by Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown.

Sean Ellis is an entrepreneur, investor, and startup advisor. He is the CEO of Growth Hackers and was previously founder and CEO of Qualaroo. Ellis graduated from the University of California. He was the head of marketing at LogMeIn and Uproar, and was the first marketer at Dropbox, Lookout and Xobni. He is an advisor to KISSmetrics and Eventbrite, a mentor at 500 Startups, a Board Member for Mavenlink and SignNow, and an investor in Bitium.

Morgan Brown is an author, speaker and a product management director at Facebook. Prior to that, he helped various startups (e.g. ScoreBig, Qualaroo, Science) to bring new ideas to market, and was the COO and head of product at Inman.

Hacking Growth Quotes

“Growth hacking is not about throwing ideas against the wall as fast as you can to see what sticks, it’s about applying rapid experimentation to find and then optimize the most promising areas of opportunity.”

“The companies that grow the fastest are the ones that learn the fastest.”

“You cannot know ahead of time which experiments are going to be most effective. The best you can do is stay nimble and data-driven.”

“Ideas are the rocket fuel of growth. And you need a pipeline of them delivering a steady flow.”

“While we certainly notice the friction in the products we use, we often don’t recognize sources of friction in the ones we’ve been involved in creating or marketing.”

“Driving growth is a job that is never truly done. The breakout companies that sustain their success are those who constantly push for more, leveraging their success, capitalizing on new opportunities, and creating a virtuous cycle of growth.”

Click here to download the Hacking Growth summary & infographic

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