A short history of growth hacking strategies

The following is a list of successful tactics, techniques and "hacks" employeed by companies to acquire, retain and engage with customers.

1958

Bank of America introduced the credit card by mailing 60,000 cards to the residents of Fresno, California, giving them access to between $300 and $500 in instant credit. This tactic is now known as the "Fresno Drop". TIME, a16z


1996

When Hotmail launched, it added this signature to the bottom of every email sent from a Hotmail account: "PS: I love you. Get your free e-mail at Hotmail’ at the bottom.” 6 months after launching, the service reached 1 million users. 18 months after launch it had 12M users and got acquired by Microsoft. Techcrunch

1999

Netflix convinced the manufacturers of the top DVD players manufacturers to include a free coupon for Netflix's DVD rental service inside the boxes of DVD players sold to customers. From December 2000 to February 2002, Netflix’s subscriber base doubled from  250k to 500k subscribers. Observer


2000

Paypal famously introduced a cash referral program, offering $20 for any new account and 20$ for every referral. The amount was later lowered to $10 and $5. The program, which ended up costing about ~$60 million, helped PayPal get 7% to 10% daily growth and skyrocketing their user base to 100 million members.  Elon Musk interview


2004

After finding that only 25% of new users were inviting new users to the platform, LinkedIn invested in contact importing to nudge users to add more connections. The strategies evolved from an Outlook plug-in to scan for a users contacts to tools to find profiles and present users with colleagues who were on LinkedIn. Growth Hackers

Gmail launched on April 1st of 2004 with an invite-only program. Initially built to limit the load on Google's infrastructure, the Gmail invitations became blazing hot, with some invitations selling on Ebay for as much as 150$. Google only dropped the invite program and made the product generally available in 2007. Gmail has currently +1B users. TIME


2005

Youtube made embedding videos into MySpace easy - the leading social network at the time. The embedded videos gave notoriety to the Youtube brand and helped it grow their user base exponentially. The Next Web


2
006

LinkedIn, already with growing network of users, introduced public profiles so that LinkedIn profiles would appear on search engine results. This supercharged LinkedIn's brand recognition and helped drive thousands of users into the platform. Growth Hackers


2007

HubSpot launched the "Website Grader", a free tool to analyse the performance of any website, to generate buzz and drive organic traffic and leads to HubSpot. The tool analyzed over 1 million websites just 2 years after launch. HubSpot blog

Yelp was one of the first companies to use gamification and status in an online social environment at scale. The company incentivized users to leave reviews, creating an "Elite" category of the highest contributing reviewers. Yelp quickly surpassed in incumbent CitySearch with its highest review content and thriving community. In 2011, 65.8% of Yelp users had done six or more reviews, vs 4.8% on CitySearch.  Search Engine Land, Growth Hackers

The famous (or infamous) "Sent  from my iPhone" email signature was introduced by Apple along with the first iPhone. The tactic has received much criticism over the years but it is undeniable that accelerated the growth of the iPhone brand across consumers. The Guardian

2009

Dropbox introduced a 2-sided referral program where users received 1GB of storage for every referral they sent, and the invitee would receive 500MB. Dropbox made the referring process effortlessly and it paid off. Signups increased by 60% and within a 15 months Dropbox went from 100k to 4 million registered users.  Slide deck from Drew Houston, Growth Hackers

2010

Airbnb leveraged the Craigslist user base to automatically scrap short-term rental offers on Craigslist website and email the hosts to cross post their listings on Airbnb's website. Andre Chen's blog

To help small businesses that provided black car and limousine services to the service fill downtime, Uber offered iPhones (with the Uber app) to all its drivers. It created a win-win scenario where businesses filled vacant time of their drivers and the consumers had more cars on the platform and lower wait times. Super Pumped book

When Twitter discovered that users who followed at least 30 other users (even if they most were not followed back) become long-term active users, they reshaped their onboarding process to help new users find top people to follow of their interest. Forbes , Hacking Growth book

2011

Launched in 2010, Instagram made it intentionally easy for users to cross-post to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Foursquare. The distinguishable squared images and filters made the Instagram brand recognisable and helped convert millions of users from those social networks to Instagram. The Next Web

Spotify was one of the first companies to integrate its app with Facebook's newsfeed so that users could publish the Spotify songs they were listening to directly to Facebook. Within 2 weeks of its announcement at Facebook’s F8 conference in 2011, Spotify user base grew from 3.4 million to 5.3 million. Growth Hackers

2012

To drive attention to the new service and to give visibly to riders, Lyft added a pink fluffy moustache to the front of all their cars. It would become the most recognisable side of the brand until it was discontinued in 2015. Wired,TechCrunch


2013

Before launching, Mailbox famously drove virality to their product with an exclusive waiting list. Users could download the app, would claim a spot in line and see how many users were in front of them. Within a few weeks more than 1 million people signed up to the waiting list Business2Community

To drive local professionals to their platform, Thumbtack used job boards with large user bases (e.g Indeed) to channel customer requests. Whenever a new consumer listed a job they needed to get done on Thumbtack, the team would turn it into a job listing and post it in several job boards. Local professionals could apply for the job, and if the job was no longer available, Thumbtack would prompt them with the platform's USP and drive them to Thumbtack's marketplace. [Internal Source at Thumbtack]

2019

To wrap up the decade, Spotify built on the success of past years and released the ‘Your Decade Wrapped’ curation, a mixtape of the top songs, artists and music genres of a user's decade on Spotify. Beautifully designed and easy to share, the feature was posted on social media by thousands and seen by millions of existing and prospective Spotify users. Hackernoon

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