You’re a Growth Rookie, not a Growth Hacker.

The mania and confusion about the concept of a Growth Hacker is now getting ridiculous. As one of the three people who helped to define (but I am certainly NOT a Growth Hacker)  in 2010 over mint juleps, let’s set the record straight.


1) A Growth Hacker, like a “visionary”, is only anointed with the sacred oil of growth hacking ex post facto. Once, you have delivered huge and exponential growth in users/leads/sales, you are a Growth Hacker.  Before that, you are a Growth Rookie. <— ain’t nuthin’ wrong with being a Growth Rookie.

2)  Growth hacking comes after the early stage chaos and post-product-market-fit.  This bears belaboring: growth-hacking comes after most, if not, all elements of your business model have already been figured out and shown to work — especially, the paramount elements of your market segment (who), your value prop (what) and marketing channels (how).

Think about it. Sean Ellis, Growth Hacker extraordinaire and definer of the term, is famous for building a survey tool that attempts to quantify how close you are to Product-Market Fit!

Question: Why would Sean bother do that?

Answer: You can only scale growth once you have something to grow. (Yes, that is a tautology.)

So, all you startups crying for a Growth Hacker to join your startup pre-Product-Market Fit to effectively “rescue’ you; you simply don’t get it.  And no true Growth Hacker will join you.

Worse yet, when used outside the context of Product-Market Fit, the term Growth Hacker becomes the next meaningless lame startup jargon: Social-Media-Ninja-Rockstar-Blah-Blah.

3)  Growth hacking is fundamentally a creative activity.  Once you meet true Growth Hackers, like Sean Ellis or Noah Kagan, you see inherent in their personalities is a frighteningly powerful combination of creativity and analytical thinking.  Sounds easy, right?  All of you are thinking: “Wait a sec, I am totally creative and, like, super analytical! Mom always said so!”.

Great. I am happy for you.  Add millions of users and you too can be a Growth Hacker.

PS Contra Andrew Chen, growth hacking has absolutely nothing to do with if one is able to code or unable to code.  Defining a Growth Hacker by the ability to code is like asking for point guard in basketball who can also post up and bang down low.  Yes, Magic Johnson was a 6’9″ point guard who could play any position on the court, but you’d take a great point guard however you could get him or her.

So, all things beings equal, yes, you’d take a GH who is able to code over one who is not, but that dilemma almost never arises and/or is a great one to have.  (Read: You don’t have that problem.)

Not only are Sean, Hiten and me not considered technical, but most of the “Shadow Growth Hackers” I know, the direct-marketing/PPC/super-affiliate marketing — you know, the people who really control the internet, aren’t either.

PPS If you’re in Los Angeles on August 17th, come see Andy Johns’ talk on Growth. FWIW Andy has added hundreds of millions of users over his career.

PPPS Pre-order a copy of The Lean Entrepreneur.

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