Growth hacking

How 32 Tech Companies Grew Their User Base

Growth hacking definition

Growth Hacking is a marketing technique utilised to gain exposure and deal with user growth.

Growth Hacking offers start-ups alternative tactics and best practices which focus on innovative, low-cost marketing with the singular goal of growth.

Sean Ellis, who created the term, defines it as “a person whose true north is growth”.

Smule 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012 2014 1996 1998 Facebook Airbnb Paypal Dropbox Youtube Pinterest Instagram Linkedin Uber Napster Reddit Tinder Whatsapp Gmail Mailbox Buffer Spotify Evernote Snapchat Hubspot OkCupid Foursquare Facebook Messenger Draw Something Timehop Twitter Hotmail Quora YEAR FOUNDED 0 1 10 100 500 1000 OVER 1 BILLION NUMBER OF USERS (MILLION) Yo! Slack


Growth Method: Viral
360 million users

Hotmail launched in 1996 with the footer “Get Your Free Email at Hotmail” of each outgoing email. Users could click the link and create their own account. Their user base grew quickly as a result and six months later they had one million users.


Growth Method: Leveraging Ebay
169 million users

Paypal made itself popular through eBay, which encouraged users to use its services. Sellers then started offering Paypal as a method of payment once they realised how easy it was to use.


Growth Method: Shareability
57 million users

Napster used a darker form of growth hacking by allowing peer-to-peer music sharing, for free. By bypassing copyright and piracy laws they fundamentally changed the internet forever.


Growth Method: Leveraging Google
97 million users

Linkedin’s gained popularity by allowing users to create public profiles, meaning they would appear organically in search results. When you searched for a person’s name, Linkedin would often appear in the top results. This allowed the network to go from two million to 200 million very quickly.


Growth Method: Accessing Student Community
1.49 billion users

Facebook was a closed community where you had to be a student to access the network, increasing the popularity among university students. As of March 2015 Facebook had over 1.44 billion active users every month.


Growth Method: Exclusivity
1.17 billion users

When Google launched Gmail, it had an element of exclusivity. Users could only gain access to Gmail if a family or friend invited them to join. Gmail went public in 2007 and today has 900 million users.


Growth Method: Content Creation
30 million users

Free online dating website, OkCupid, first launched using extensive amounts of data to create fun and engaging posts on dating, sex and desires. These were presented in well-designed infographics that captivated social media. In 2007 OkCupid was listed in the top 10 dating websites by The Times magazine.


Growth Method: Leveraging Myspace
1 billion users

Back in 2005, YouTube used Myspace to grow its popularity. With nearly 25 million users Myspace was the biggest social network at that time. YouTube shared the cost to embed videos in return for brand recognition.


Growth Method: Fake Population
36 million users

Reddit had no users for several months after launch. Founders Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian submitted all the content from fake accounts to fill up the front page, allowing them to set the tone and gain traction. Now considered The Front Page of the internet, Reddit gets millions of page views every day.


Growth Method: Enhanced User Experience
316 million users

Initially Twitter had a retention problem. Users signed up but didn’t actively engage. By understanding the difference between active and non-active users, they discovered those following numerous accounts were more likely to engage. Twitter rebuilt the user experience making it easier to follow others and the impact was instant.

Growth Method: Leveraging Reddit
10 million users became the number one blog for personal finance quickly. The main goal was to build a content rich platform, interviewing young professionals who were usually neglected. They also made the most of community sharing services like Reddit. As of November 2013, had more than 10 million users.


Growth Method: Content Creation
15,000 companies

HubSpot invented the term ‘inbound marketing’, using this to grow their business. The founders focused on rich content like expert blog posts, webinars and tools. In 2011, they passed $29 million in revenue, an impressive 81% annual growth, and the following year increased to $53 million.


Growth Method: Leveraging Facebook
75 million users

Spotify was initially invitation only, creating exclusivity and interest. Then it allowed users to post what they were listening to on Facebook. Six years later, Spotify is valued at more than $10 billion, with more than 50 million users, of which 12.5 million pay for the service.


Growth Method: Referral Scheme
300 million users

Dropbox realised acquiring new customers was expensive. As a result they started their referral programme, awarding 500MB free storage for a successful referral. Dropbox sent out 2.8 million of these direct referral invites and 15 months later had grown from 100,000 to four million users.


Growth Method: Shareability
1.2 million users

Sharability is their hack. Users sing along to their favourite songs and share their performance with a community, inviting friends and other user to the app. It’s a fun way to share and was featured by Apple as the best new ap. It now has over 50 million users.


Growth Method: Leveraging New App Stores
34 million users

Evernote make sure they are present from day one of any new app store. They were dedicated to making sure the app was ready and compatible with any store that was launching. This still happens today, with Evernote one of the launch apps for Google glasses. Evernote has 75 million users and more than $1 billion valuation.


Growth Method: Leveraging Craigslist
2.1 million users

When it first started out, Airbnb used Craigslist to post listings of their properties to the well-established customer base.


Growth Method: Word of Mouth
800 million users

Whatsapp grew their business to 400 million users without spending any money on user acquisition. This is because the app is good, simple and easy to use. They used word of mouth and their core values of no games, no adds and no gimmicks certainly helped. In October 2014 Facebook bought Whatsapp for $22 Billion.


Growth Method: Offline
8 million users

Uber is more of a non-internet based growth hack. In San Francisco they drove entrepreneurs and investors to their pitches, helping them get press coverage, sign ups. It also meant current and future influencers talked about the brand. Uber now operates in more than 35 cities worldwide and is valued at $3.76 billion.


Growth Method: Leveraging Facebook
45 milllion users

Foursquare’s allowed users to post check-ins on your Facebook timeline for your friends to see. In 2013 Foursquare was said to have 45 million users.


Growth Method: Enhanced User Experience
Estimation 5 milliom users

Quora ran user experiments and quickly produced changes to the technical infrastructure. This ability to respond quickly enabled them to optimise user acquisition. One of Quora’s best moves was to observe their most active users and study their behaviour patterns.


Growth Method: Leveraging Social Platforms
300 million users

Instagram made it easy for users to share posts across other social media platforms. Instagram’s distinct looking photos appeared on other social media platforms and users didn’t have to post the same photo across all the different sites.


Growth Method: Exclusivity
72.8 million users

Like Facebook, Pinterest access was by request only. Users would request an account and were emailed to say that there was a long wait but that they would be given an account as soon as possible. This created a buzz around the site, increasing its popularity.


Growth Method: Acquired another company
1.3 million users

Buffer allows users to schedule which updates to be posted on social media websites, by selecting a date and time. The acquisition of the Digg Digg floating share bar allowed users to have all social media sharing buttons in one place.


Growth Method: Word of Mouth
100 million users

Creating an app where teenagers could share photos freely without appearing on a timeline was popular. It was word of mouth in high schools that helped Snapchat become very popular. In two years it went from an idea to 350 million snaps per day. It’s now an $800 million business.

Facebook Messenger

Growth Method: Accessing Phones Contact List
700 millions users

Not that Facebook needed any more growth but with Messenger they asked their users permission to continuously sync their address book to find other Messenger users. This allowed users to invite friends that use Facebook but not Messenger. As users add more friends they will be prompted to invite them to the app.


Growth Method: Leveraging Facebook
12 million users

Timehop helps users schedule a tweet or Facebook post with a promotional message for their future self. By doing this, when the tweets and Facebook shares go live, it brings users back to the app and invites new users at the same time.


Growth Method: University Parties
50 million users

Tinder used offline growth hacking strategies to grow. They kept it simple and the app was good, it just needed more users. The founders organised Tinder parties at universities. To go to these parties all you had to do was download the free app. Now there are more than 50 million users and 1.5 billion profiles.

Draw Something

Growth Method: Leverage Facebook
100 million users

When they launched, DrawSomething used Facebook connections to reach the top. They made it easy to invite friends to play, encouraging more users and reaching 100 million daily active users.


Growth Method: Exclusivity
1 million users

Launched in early 2013, an email management app used the popular growth hack of waiting lists. Users would register for an invitation and see where they were in the queue. This led to more than a quarter million users registering for the waiting list. This technique worked as Mailbox was acquired by Dropbox for a supposed $100 million.


Growth Method: Shareability
250,000 daily users

Slack started generating interest by allowing friends to test the product in their own teams at various size companies. This combined with the media attention caused 8,000 people to sign up on the first day and now has 250,000 daily active users.


Growth Method: Negative Media Coverage
1.13 million users

Financial Times writer Tim Bradshaw called Yo "ridiculous" in an article that kickstarted a press frenzy over the app. News sites started reporting on Yo in droves and downloads doubled overnight.

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