Last week, I attended the Growth Hackers Conference in San Francisco. The Keynote speaker, Keith Rabois of Khosla Ventures, gave an interesting presentation about Growth vs. Growth Hacking, providing three incredible examples of growth hacking. Here’s my version summarizing his awesome presentation.

Growth and growth hacking should not be confused with one another, as they are not the same thing, nor can they be focused on at the same time within a company. They are two very separate stages in a startup, and one cannot occur without the other. Growth, is sort of like the pre-requisite to growth hacking. You can’t focus on growth hacking without having an initial phase of growth to start. And once you’ve reached a certain stage of growth, growth hacking is a strategy that grows your business exponentially without as much investment in time or money.

I’ll show you three famous examples of growth hacking and explain what Keith meant by having growth before you can focus on growth hacking.

1. LinkedIn started as a community for professional networking. They were able to grow their users from 2 million to 200 million within a few years due to this awesome growth hacking tactic: allow users to create public profiles so the search engines index their profiles and show up organically in search results. Prior to LinkedIn, it was very rare that you could find yourself within the top 5 search results, unless you were famous or written about frequently.

In order for this simple SEO concept to work successfully, LinkedIn had to grow their users from 0 to 2 million members first, which means they had to undergo some extent of growth before they could enter the growth hacking phase. Once their growth phase was to a substantial size, they could start indexing these 2 million profiles into the organic search results. By entering a search for an average working-class individual, LinkedIn URLs are now showing up as the first search result on the page (as seen below with my profile).

2. Youtube, now the second largest search engine after Google (which also owns YouTube), started out as a platform that allowed users to share their videos. So how did YouTube take advantage of growth hacking? Like LinkedIn, they had to go through a period of growth first. By reaching a certain amount of initial users with their first few thousands of users and videos, they could start focusing on growth hacking. Here’s what set YouTube apart from the rest.

The growth hacking success of YouTube was their ability to implement the nifty and easy-to-use “Embed” this video script. By making it relatively easy and painless for users to upload their videos and embed the entire video player onto any other website contributed to what it is today, having over 1 billion unique visitors each month and 72 hours of video uploaded every minute.

3. PayPal has a slightly different story, but an equally awesome growth hacking success. eBay, the leading auction site for online seller to consumer sales, allowed sellers to include their preferred forms of payment in their listings. Over time, more and more listings were accepting “PayPal,” but this wasn’t an option that was available in eBay, so sellers would write PayPal in several spots on their listings, sometimes totaling in over 10 locations on the listing.

As PayPal noticed their growth among eBay sellers, they worked out a deal with eBay to include the PayPal logo on the listings that accepted PayPal. The logo sat side by side the other preferred forms of payment, like Visa and MasterCard logos. This growth hacking idea was successful because eBay was already well-established, so PayPal was driving growth from the success of another company’s success. As more and more sellers only accepted payment via PayPal, this forced consumers and buyers to create PayPal accounts, hence the start of growth hacking. Since then, eBay acquired PayPal for $1.5 Billion and is now the only logo that is shown on eBay listings in the payment methods section. Not too shabby in my opinion!

All in all, I really enjoyed the Growth Hackers Conference and am looking forward to the next one. It’s a great conference for start-ups and marketing professionals who are seeking insights for growing their business and learning real examples of how leading companies grew their businesses. I’ll release some other blog posts later this year with other really interesting presentations related back to growth hacking. Thanks Keith Rabois for sharing these three awesome examples of growth hacking! Have you had a great growth hacking idea you’ve tried in the past that you’d like to share? Tell us in the comments section below.

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