At the our HowTo Conference on September 30 and October 1, panelists demystified growth hacking.

By Vanessa Mason (Contributing Writer, Women 2.0)

Growth hacking may be a hot trend now, but what does it really mean? Growth hacking started in the earlier days of Facebook’s growth as a way to reach the audacious goal of 1 billion users. Coined by Sean Ellis in 2010, a growth hacker is defined as someone who adopts creative and data-driven approaches to scalable growth after a startup has identified product-market fit.

The last panel of Day 2 of the HowTo Conference told tales from the trenches about growth hacking. Erin Turner, product manager at Google and co-founder of the Growth Hackers Conference moderated. Panelists included:

How to Define Growth

Klein urged entrepreneurs to only think about growth after achieving product-market fit to avoid growing bad products. Having seen and observed growth teams in action at Facebook and LinkedIn, Elman distinguished marketing in a traditional company from growth in startups by emphasizing the need to both build awareness AND convert users to more engaged users. For Haider, growth entails segmenting the user funnel by how “healthy” users are, or understanding how engaged they are with the product and other users as it predicts retention.

How to Build for Growth from Day 1

While a growth hacker is not an early employee, it is still crucial for startups to position themselves for growth on Day 1. Drawing on the example of LinkedIn, Elman confirmed that leveraging network effects by reaching out to friends and friends of friends will prepare startups for future growth. Rekhi encouraged entrepreneurs to go through their onboarding process early on to understand the user experience in new communities on Day 1. According to Klein, better to have a smaller room with a few smiling happy faces rather than a large crowded room of people who mostly are unengaged.

How to Retain Growth

Noting how retention is essential for scalable growth, Haider described the need to resurrect users lost in the user acquisition and/or conversion funnel. Klein added both quantitative and qualitative data are needed to avoid making the same mistakes over and over. The best key for retention is getting to know early customers for Rekhi; unpredictable early customers for her contact management product included a professional clown and two reverends.

How to Build your Growth Team

Rekhi advised startups to think about building their growth team when they start thinking about team specialization in the rest of the company. At SECRET, Haider doesn’t have a dedicated growth team yet because the product has seen so much organic growth. She does see greater user segmentation in the future to better understand how distinguish value from the clicks that analytics track. For Elman, the ideal growth team combines the best of marketing, product, engineering and design.

More From These Speakers

How does your startup approach growth?