What is Growth Hacking: 3 Case Studies and Tips

by Corey Philip
September 28, 2019

The term growth hacking has gained some traction in recent years, although people are quite divided about it.

Some business owners are on board with the idea and are willing to pay money for growth hackers for the promise of a quick increase in revenue or audience. However, many are skeptical about it for various reasons.

Just the word hacking connotes questionability. Also, I think we’ve all been warned about the perils of instant gratification and instant successes at least once in our life. I understand why some people would not readily believe growth hacking which guarantees instant or at least a fast-paced business growth trajectory.

But before you disregard it completely (or maybe you’re here to solidify your belief in it), let’s know what exactly is growth hacking and why many are jumping on board the concept.

Growth Hacking vs. Marketing

Growth hacking is a lot like marketing, only its purpose and goals are solely focused on driving results and metric successes. Think an increase in sales, more registered users, or wide reach and engagement on social — and these are just a few examples of what growth hacking can bring for a business.

Growth hacking taps on any aspect of a business and tests out ways to optimize it for maximum growth with minimal-effort strategies. If you’ve ever heard of the 80-20 rule, what growth hacking intends is figure out the 20% of work that needs to be done that would give 80% of the results.

Have you ever thought it absurd and impractical to find a McDonald’s within 15 miles of each other or every 30 minutes of driving? That’s actually growth hacking.

If you’ve ever experienced a product so good you recommended it to all your friends, that’s growth hacking. Growing by word-of-mouth is also considered growth hacking, and it’s not accidental. The company probably spent so much time and effort into curating the best product so users would also market it themselves without them realizing it.

You’ll know more below!

3 Case Studies of Companies that Achieved Wide Success Through Growth Hacking

We put a spotlight on our 3 case studies to demonstrate how growth hacking is more focused than marketing, and how it has affected massive growth in a short time for these companies.


You probably already know the story of how AirBnB started. Two broke roommates who, in 2008, struggled to pay rent found a way to earn extra rent money by offering affordable accommodation to which 3 people responded to.

airbnb logo

In the process of building this product, they founded what is now a company worth more than $30 billion and that has over 5 million lodging listings all over the world.

Of course, it didn’t happen overnight, but the rate at which they grew every year since 2011 is exceptional for any business. Their milestones were something out of the ordinary.

They improved the product so much so that it became a household name for travelers. It’s immediately considered as an alternative to hotels.

Growth Hacking Technique: Be a Pioneer

Before AirBNB, travel accommodations were only limited to hotel or hostels, two opposite options in the spectrum. One offers luxury, while the other depends only on how much travelers could afford, and to budget travelers, they want to spend the least.

AirBNB was the middle ground and at the same time, a completely new experience. AirBNB’s allowed you to experience a place like a local in a lived-in space, which you can’t achieve in either of the previous 2 options. It combined the best parts of both options, which is the less expensive price and the private, luxurious experience of having a place to yourself.


You may not be as familiar with the specifics of Instagram’s success story, but it’s a well-known fact that they are almost literally an overnight success. 

instagram logo

Within a week from launching, the app has garnered at least 100,000 users. Two months later, they’ve amassed more than 2 million.

It originally started as Burbn, an app that allows people to check-in anywhere and post it. Its difference to other apps is the option to post a photo, and also liking and commenting on other people’s photos. Naturally, it became the most popular feature on the app.

It was then reprogrammed to make that the main feature, then it was renamed Instagram. Now what made Instagram so appealing to people were the filters. It took a year to build the app, but 8 weeks to polish it into what it was when it launched.

Since then it’s been one of the top photography apps.

Growth Hacking Technique: Connect people

Unfortunate as it is, we’re becoming less social in real-life settings and louder in our social media activities. Apps that seemingly connect people more are easily picked up by a large demographic of young and old users alike.

Any app, service, or product that gives the illusion of getting people closer to their family and friends are always helpful for people, and an audience is bound to be created.


Uber became a poster brand for private startups when they first rose to popularity. It has had its fair share of controversy since then, but still it comes out today at the same level playing field as Ford Motor Company and General Motors Company.

uber logo

The controversies are actually part of what made Uber a fascinating company to watch grow. What’s most admirable about the success story of Uber is how it used word-of-mouth as a growth hacking technique.

When you sign up for an account in Uber, you can give a sign-up code to your friends that would give you both discounts on an x number of rides. This encouraged people to get their family and friends on the app and pay less for what is basically like a taxi. It then makes it cheaper than the traditional taxi.

Also, because they have more flexible routes, it became especially intriguing for the ride-hailing market in cities where public transportation is not always an option. When you go to a friend’s house and they ask you how you got there, you can easily say you rode an Uber.

This is the clever way that Uber made their customers work their marketing for them without pushing it on them. And it has worked well considering they now have millions of cars registered across the US.

Growth Hacking Technique: Create a great product

When you invest so much time in perfecting your product, you will not have a problem marketing it. The best products that are extremely useful and makes a huge impact on customers' lives are the ones that they’re compelled to share.

In this way, your product is driving traffic to itself, which can triple and quadruple your growth. That’s exactly what Uber did, and that’s why it grew quickly from word-of-mouth.


Sometimes companies take a whole brand overhaul to succeed. In Starbucks’ case, it was a change in management.

By the time Howard Schultz bought the company, the company was in shambles with divisions among the people working for it and uncertainty about the new owner. 

starbucks logo

At that time, Schultz was also trying to rise from his mishaps with a previous business idea.

Even with some ‘failures’ under his belt, he set some goals for Starbucks that ultimately catapulted it to success. He had this intense interest for caffeine, particularly the latte, after a heavily-caffeinated trip to Italy. From a couple of Starbucks locations (less than 10), he doubled it fast and ended up with 17 by the middle of the 1980’s.

And then we all knew what happened: Starbucks started popping up in multiple locations at once until eventually there’s at least 2,000 stores by the new millennium.

According to him, the success of the Starbucks is really instigated by those couple of wins at the beginning when they achieved goals on time or even ahead of schedule. It set the tone for what they can do and still does to this day.

Growth Hacking Technique: Set ambitious goals and chase them

During the first year when Schultz was trying to expand, he was only aiming to open 75 stores within 5 years. Even then it was an ambitious goal for Starbucks, a name that was just trying to establish itself.

Before 5 years had passed, that was achieved, and they went on to build more outlets. This technique of not delaying expansion plans made Starbucks a household name for coffee.


When you look for recommendations, where does Google take you? One (or 4) of your Google results probably lead you to Yelp.

Jeremy Stoppelman and Russel Simmons had the initial idea of a new venture on the Internet that allowed people to search for local businesses in their area through their mobile devices.

yelp logo

Members can share businesses they liked and they can follow other people to receive updates of their recommendations. It didn’t catch on in the early days, with people leaving less than satisfactory reviews about local businesses.

However, there’s a button on their website that allowed random people to submit their reviews even if they didn’t have an account. It was getting some traction, but not to its full potential because it wasn’t highlighted in their website interface.

Eventually, Yelp transformed their website to ease users into using that feature. Slowly, reviews started to come in and people weren’t only writing single sentences or phrases; they were writing actual reviews of their experiences accompanied by pictures.

This is what made Yelp the review and directory website that it is today. Now it has billions of users and has attracted the same range of views and traffic to their site.

Growth Hacking Technique: Ride the trends

Jeremy Stoppelman and Russel Simmons did adjust their website which paved the way for its success, but it wouldn’t be fair to mention that the major reason why they really achieved the success Yelp got is because they rode the trends in a smart way.

The social aspect of Yelp made it appeal to young audiences who keep looking for the next hip thing to do. This was also the time when gadgets and devices were becoming more of a staple for daily living. The fact that it was so easy to browse through Yelp so people could find the best restaurant or any other business nearby made more people use it.


Dropbox is a bit of a silent growth hacker. It just sneaked up on us and suddenly, when we think of storage, it’s one of the first few platforms we think to go to. But Dropbox really mastered growth hacking to reach levels they’re at now.

dropbox logo

Within 4 years from 2012 to 2017, they were able to see steady growth from hundreds of millions in revenue to finally hitting their first billion. It’s being actively used the hundreds of millions, with an estimate of 250 million downloads. Not only that, billions of data are being uploaded to Dropbox every day.

Growth Hacking Technique: Polished brand and product

Dropbox started off giving a certain amount of free storage. That’s how they entice users who are desperate for a place to store their files and data. This is even separate from their landing pages which are very limited in text and are optimized so people would either choose to watch a video or sign up, with the latter being more pronounced.

People are convinced to sign up immediately. The free provided storage fills up quickly and that’s when paid storage is introduced to users. At that point, they’re convinced of Dropbox’s convenience and importance that users are willing to pay to have more storage.

That wouldn’t have been possible if Dropbox didn’t create a clear brand and product. To users, Dropbox is almost synonymous to storage. So when they need it, the company name immediately pops up.

Even with the rise of other storage platforms like it, Dropbox has remained on top of the game because they’ve made it fast and convenient for users even with billions of data it uploads each day.


Growth hacking is the experimental process that other competitors wouldn’t be willing to go through or do because they’re either saving their funds, playing it safe, or are comfortable where they are.

At such a high risk, growth hacking techniques could fail miserably, but it could also catapult you into unfathomable success. Those are the companies that people think grew as an overnight success. They don’t know that in the years leading up to their visible success, they took the most leaps to try anything that they think will bring the most to the business even at great risk.

About the author

Corey Philip

Corey Philip is a small business owner / investor with a focus on home service businesses.

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