Despark logo png
16 August 2016
How to think like a startup - whatever your size

Growth hacking is having a mainstream moment. It’s a phrase, and an activity, that started in the startup world. But what is it, and why are people outside of the startup world starting to pay attention?

What is growth hacking?

Put simply, growth hacking is using scalable, repeatable and predictable tactics to grow your business. Because the term derives from startups, where budget is usually lower and there’s a need to prove your place in the market - and fast - growth hacking can be viewed more practically as finding clever tricks to grow your audience or customer base quickly and cheaply.

With growth hacking, instead of putting all of your budget into trying one big idea, you spread your time and money across various experiments to see which is the most efficient way to reach your business objectives. It’s maths and creativity in equal measure: find the methods that work, and perfect these until you can calculate exactly how much money you need to spend to reach your target.

But what does growth hacking look like in practice? Here are some examples of growth hacks that really worked - and played a big role in getting these companies transcend the startup ranks.

Why should you think about growth hacking if you’re not a startup?

Growth hacking originated from startups who needed big results without having the big budgets to match. But it’s evolved since then. The term is now synonymous with data-led application of budgets.

The startups of today are the big brands of tomorrow, and these are the tactics they’re using to become market leaders, sometimes overnight. To stay relevant and keep growing, and to remain a key player - traditional companies need to evolve.

Even companies like Uber and Airbnb who mastered growth hacks to take them to big brand status still use growth hacking tactics - because they know they work.

How does growth hacking outside of startups work?

For big companies, growth hacking is less about specific tactics and more about key principles.

Make data your guide

Do you ever notice that something looks a bit different when you’re browsing a website you regularly use? That’s because it probably is. From the placement of every button, to the calls to action displayed by each product - big ecommerce companies are always testing and tweaking to make sure you make a purchase. This is even easier for big companies than startups as you already have years of customer behaviour data to work with.

Make your users your advertisers

Why spend money on huge advertising campaigns when you’ve got a whole host of happy customers ready to sing your praises? Sometimes they need a good incentive to share, and other times a campaign is too strong not to. A recommendation from a trusted friend is the best marketing you can get.

Make existing audiences come to you

Every time you see two companies with similar audience demographics working together and forming a partnership, that could be considered a growth hack. They’re both able to reach a new audience that they’re certain will also like their product, just by partnering up.

Make what you have work harder

Many startup growth hacks seem to focus on initial email data capture, because email is such a successful tool for making sales: 66% of online consumers have made a purchase as a result of an email marketing message. Existing companies already have the email addresses, so they can jump right ahead to testing which emails drive conversions.

How can you start now?

You already have data and probably a more significant budget than any of the big startup growth hacking success stories could dream of, changing your mindset to that of a growth hacker can make it your marketing budget go further than it ever has before.

Evolve your company culture

Testing variables, analysing results and adapting your practice is the basis of growth hacking. Encourage your workforce to embrace this - in every department. Be aware that testing more things means bigger successes but a greater chance of failure. Companies who adopt a growth hacking mindset must change their employees’ outlook so that failure isn’t something to be afraid of, it’s something to learn from.

Change your infrastructure

Make a growth hacker your next marketing hire, or ensure that the departments who examine your customer data sit closer to sales and marketing. These are just two small changes that can impact the success of the company as a whole.

Work with what you have

You already have social media networks and email lists, and years of data. Don’t be afraid to look at these in a new way, or try new things. From adapting email campaigns and encouraging social referrals, to analysing site data, make sure departments know the goldmine they’re sitting on, and use the new growth hacking culture to exploit that.

Create new opportunities

Growth is best built into products as early as possible. If you can’t quite gear your existing products towards accelerated growth, building new products that have growth at their core will help accelerate the rest of your company with a new level of engagement from your customers. The Ideation service at Despark can help your idea evolve into a successful product - get in touch to find out how. 


Growth hacking isn’t a quick or easy win - especially if you’re a big company with deep roots in traditional marketing. But if you take the time to experiment and examine data - the very fundamentals of growth hacking - there’s no doubt that it’s more effective, and your company’s bottom line will reap the benefits.

You can watch Vincent Dignan's insights on growth hacking at our latest Ignyte event here.

About the author

Lauren Goodenough
Lauren Goodenough

Lauren is on a mission to interview entrepreneurs and industry experts with interesting opinions to share with the Despark audience. Lauren co-founded Ignyte Event Series on behalf of Despark. You can find out how to join the upcoming free London events here.

Get in touch with Lauren