Startup Chat #59 – Growth Hacking with Sean Ellis

sean_ellis_200This week we chat with “Mr Growth” Sean Ellis.

Sean has helped growth hack a variety of companies that you have heard of… and some you haven’t – the list includes Dropbox, Lookout, Xobni, Grockit, Eventbrite, Webs, World Golf Tour and Songkick.

We also discuss how you can apply growth hacking strategies to service businesses and content.

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Sean’s links

Other mentions

Notes about Growth Hacking

The background to growth hacking

  • Wanted to replace himself with someone who didn’t have the traditional marketing skillset
  • Wrote a blog post about it which become the start of the term growth hacker

Why he started

  • Was a behind the scenes guy for a while and wanted a place to chat with likeminded people
  • Didn’t want another site full of journalists writing about marketing
  • People submit articles and discuss and vote articles up
  • There is also some original content on there like these growth breakdowns.
  • 120,000 people have participated after the launch in October
  • Wanted to keep it as a positive community rather than a place where people are whinging

Typical growth hacking tasks

  • Worked with companies from customer 0 through to IPO
  • Came to conclusion that the most important work was in the first 6 months of customers using the product
  • Figuring out who really needed the product, who was a passionate user
  • The early tasks were very different to the general marketing activities that happen afterwards
  • Customer research, optimization, testing
  • Put everything in place to facilitate growth
  • Incentivised referral program at DropBox (refer a friend and get more space)
  • Built a widgetized freemium version at LogMeIn
  • Calibrating targeting with people who love the product
  • Inventing new channels rather than using traditional channels

 Why does growth hacking piss people off

  • Traditional marketers are no longer qualified for the growth jobs

Who should we follow

Great recent examples of growth hacking

  • Anything that increases retention (reduces churn)
  • As a consultant he asked for equity which had the result of investors pitching him to other companies


  • Using Qualaroo to ask questions after 30 seconds
  • Exit pop-ups work pretty well
  • University of Alberta case study A little Nudge
  • Driving people from one post to another
  • Looks at the whole customer lifecycle to work out whether changes in conversions are worth it
  • Learn from each thing you do, don’t try to predict the results

Future direction of growth hacking

  • The need is going to only increase
  • Marketing is getting much harder
  • The days of following a playbook are gone
  • The people who are the most innovative are the ones who will achieve the best growth
  • Much more transparency now, companies behaving much better

Validate first

Make sure you are sure the product has a product market fit before attempting growth hacking.


Dan Norris is a co-founder at WP Curve and a passionate entrepreneur with an obsession for content marketing.

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