Successful growth hacking looks easy—the tactics that end up driving exponential growth can always seem obvious in hindsight. But what you don’t see is the sheer amount of time and brainpower behind all of the iterations that came before the success.

While it may seem like those who struck gold had a massive team behind them, the reality is probably very different. It’s usually just one person or a very small group that discovers the key ingredient for a breakthrough and acts on it.

Which is great news, really. Especially if you’re reading this as a small business owner or solo entrepreneur. The truth is, you don’t need a ton of resources to make it big.

Having said that, we can’t give you a step-by-step playbook that outlines everything you need to do to be a successful growth hacker. What we can give you is our analysis of some modern real-life examples and our most valuable tips to keep in mind as you work your way up.

But first, let’s start with the basics.

What Is Growth Hacking?

If you have a small team and limited resources but still want to scale quickly, growth hacking can help you gain momentum.

It’s essentially a fast-paced marketing strategy built around rapid user acquisition. It combines creative ideas, data-driven decisions, and constant testing to find the most effective methods for growing your business.

So, rather than relying on huge budgets and traditional tactics that take months or years to work, growth hackers use all kinds of different approaches to acquire users as fast as possible. They’re constantly testing new channels, tweaking copy, coming up with new offers, and trying out different strategies. When they find something that clicks, they get their team involved and double down on it.

With a growth hacking strategy, you can reach more users, improve conversion rates, and build a base of loyal customers—all without a massive marketing budget. However, it requires a very hands-on, agile approach. You need to get into the weeds, analyze data nonstop, and try new ideas as if your life depends on it.

The reward for all that effort? Fast, affordable, and hopefully sustainable growth.

Examples of Growth Hacking in the Wild

The best way to demonstrate the power of growth hacking is through real-life examples.

By examining their strategies, we can figure out why things worked out like they did. In some cases it’s pure luck, but most of the time it isn’t. Growth hacking may look haphazard, accidental, or even completely arbitrary from the outside.

But the truth is, there’s usually a real method to the madness.

You’ve probably heard the stories of AirBnB, Dropbox, Netflix, and similar brands. Those stories are amazing, but they’re not new. Rather than rehashing the classics, we took a direct look at revenue, funding, and user numbers of other brands instead. What we found were several successful growth hacking players from the last several years.

1. Klarna – A Unique Approach to Partnerships

In 2018, Klarna was virtually unknown in the United States. But today, it processes over two million transactions per day and owns over 50% of the buy now pay later market share.

Klarna’s growth hacking approach was twofold. It needed to appeal both to potential partners and to consumers, so its job was seemingly twice as hard. However, the company struck gold when it figured out how to keep both parties happy at the same time.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Klarna’s CEO found himself with more time on his plate and took a personalized approach, directly reaching out to U.S. retailers. His goal was to form partnerships that could help increase the retailer’s revenue by making products more accessible to the public—which was also facing financial hardships because of the coronavirus.

This effort, combined with the innovative introduction of Klarna’s new pay later feature for any merchant (even those without a relationship with Klarna), gave them everything they needed to skyrocket U.S. adoption rates.

By taking on the risk of offering buy now, pay later services for sales at any retailer, Klarna was able to gather heaps of valuable data and insights to fuel even more partnerships. Meanwhile, it also managed to make larger online purchases easier for everyday consumers, so it was a win-win on all accounts.

Klarna’s story shows how growth hacking through strategic partnerships, data analysis, and customer service can revolutionize an industry. Its innovative model and focus on both the merchant and the end-user experience helped it rise above its competition and become a leader in fintech.

Klarna appeased customers and forged key partnerships by making buy now, pay later essential. What can you make essential for your customers and/or business partners?

2. Anthropic – A True ChatGPT Rival Overnight

Anthropic is a poster child for explosive startup growth. In just 2.5 short years, it raised nearly one billion dollars in funding and reached a valuation of $4.4 billion with only 100 employees. How did those 100 people do it? By leveraging growth hacking strategies to accelerate their success faster than anyone thought possible.

The founder was a former VP of research at OpenAI—and he saw an opportunity on which he could pounce. Externally, the company presented itself as the voice of reason, safety, and human values in the frenzy OpenAI created. It leveraged its existing network and credibility to get in front of the right investors and partners.

Before you knew it, Anthropic had developed Claude, one of the only true and capable competitors to OpenAI’s ChatGPT. Not only that, but it continues to improve its AI models at breakneck speed, even beating OpenAI to a model with increased memory limits.

Aside from leaning into the buzz and controversy of AI, the company openly talks about the future of AI and how it will change how people work. It stokes excitement by promising continued progress. At the same time, it positions its people as responsible leaders focused on managing risks and evolving safely. They participate in conferences (an underutilized channel), help with open source projects, and frequently publish research for everyone to see.

Anthropic’s partnership with Zoom to add AI to the Zoom platform was a growth hacking masterstroke. Now the company’s technology can reach hundreds of millions of meeting participants who might never have heard of it otherwise. And more recently, its new partnership with Google Cloud will open up even more fast-growth opportunities.

Anthropic’s story shows the power of growth hacking for startups. By leveraging relationships, controversy, a media frenzy, and key partnerships, it accelerated to a massive scale and billion-dollar status in virtually no time at all.

For founders looking to replicate Anthropic’s success, finding opportunities to partner with major brands, piggybacking on existing excitement, positioning yourself as a thought leader, and leveraging your existing network are the key strategies Anthropic used to explode into the market.

3. LinkTree – An Unexpected Growth Hacking Success Story

In just seven years, LinkTree went from just an idea to having over 35 million users and a $1.3 billion valuation—all without any outside funding (or major growth) until the last few years. Case in point, it’s doubled in size in the last two years. For a product as lightweight and seemingly simple as LinkTree, these numbers are nothing short of incredible.

First and foremost, LinkTree created an entirely new category of software built to solve one hyper-specific, first-world problem: not being able to add multiple links to your social media bios. For a while, it was the one and only dedicated, affordable option for people who wanted to put more than one link on their Instagram, Twitter, YouTube or TikTok profiles.

Since then, LinkTree has gone on to land some very high-profile customers, including HBO, The Rock, Pharrell Williams, Tony Hawk, the LA Clippers, and Selena Gomez just to name a few. It also scored partnerships with major platforms like TikTok, GoFundMe, and Amazon to enhance its offering and make creators’ lives easier.

Essentially, LinkTree figured out who was using its software and doubled down on the product-market fit, specifically for its users.

It then introduced a freemium pricing model that brought in droves of new users while also marketing the product to anyone who views one of those free profiles.

Once LinkTree hit it big, it capitalized on that success by cultivating a community of creators, engaging with audiences through charity campaigns, crisis fundraising, and taking a stand on critical social issues.

While competitors have emerged, LinkTree remains on top by consistently releasing new features and products tailored to customer needs. What began as a simple link aggregator has become an indispensable tool for influencers and creators who rely on that one link in their bio.

By identifying an underserved market and creating a solution for a hyper-specific need, LinkTree engineered massive growth. Once it had that growth, it captured success by using social proof and partnerships to gain high-profile customers, and staying relentlessly focused on the needs of its audience.

4. Cazoo – Partnerships, Acquisitions, and a Brand New Buying Process

Five years ago, Cazoo didn’t exist and everyone in the United Kingdom bought cars in person. Last year, it brought in over £1.25 billion in annual revenue.

How is it possible to grow a complicated business with a buying and selling process no one was comfortable with before that fast in just four years?

A combination of innovative thinking, strategic acquisitions, partnerships, tapping into buyer’s emotions, and leveraging data meant Cazoo could offer more transparency, competitive pricing, and a seamless, yet compelling user experience in a world where you can buy just about anything on the internet.

Cazoo reconfigured the entire process of buying and selling a car—from test driving and purchasing to refurbishing, financing, and receiving white-glove delivery at your doorstep.

To scale fast, Cazoo acquired Drover, a vehicle subscription service, gaining its expertise and customer base essentially overnight. Cazoo also purchased a vehicle storage and reconditioning facility to control costs and quality. Finally, the company also partnered with major car manufacturers so it could use those existing audiences to boost its own.

These strategic partnerships and acquisitions gave Cazoo more ownership over the full experience, reduced its expenses, and unlocked a shortcut for growth.

Wisely, Cazoo also keeps an ear on its existing customers and leverages data to make strategic decisions. Case in point? It uses customer data and trends to understand which vehicles are in highest demand so that buying and rebalancing the inventory is optimized. Doing so means costs are even lower, which means offers can be even better than those of traditional sellers.

By enhancing the buying experience through innovation and pivoting according to customer needs, Cazoo achieved 91% revenue growth from 2021 to 2022, eclipsing the billion pound threshold.

Cazoo’s story is really a masterclass in growth hacking. By completely rethinking an industry, focusing on experience, smart acquisitions, key partnerships, and data analysis, it revolutionized the car buying industry in the UK.

5. Clubhouse – FOMO, Exclusivity, and Explosive Growth in 15 Days

Clubhouse grew from 3.5 million downloads to over 10 million users in just 15 months, thanks in large part to a few smart growth hacking strategies.

In early 2021, Clubhouse was an invite-only audio social network available only on iOS. Though nascent, its timing was impeccable. People were stuck at home during COVID-19, craving authentic human connection. Clubhouse offered exactly that—a digital room where people could talk casually and listen to each other.

To generate buzz, Clubhouse leveraged influencers and celebrities who were actively using the platform, like Jared Leto, Kevin Hart, and Oprah Winfrey. Users were dazzled by the chance to listen in on their conversations and potentially participate in the discussion.

Then, in February of 2021, Clubhouse hit the growth hacking jackpot. Elon Musk appeared on the platform to discuss Robinhood’s controversial decision to halt GameStop stock purchases. The massive public interest in that topic, combined with Musk’s appearance, propelled Clubhouse to 8.1 million users almost overnight, up from 3.5 million just two weeks prior.

Clubhouse created a VIP experience by being invitation-only, fueling a collective fear of missing out. Paired with regular visits from cultural elites, the feeling of exclusivity made Clubhouse highly desirable. For a short time, the platform was able to leverage controversy, influencers, and exclusivity to achieve meteoric growth.

While Clubhouse’s popularity has since waned, its early growth hacking success demonstrates how these techniques can be powerfully effective for gaining users quickly. By manufacturing buzz and scarcity, leveraging influencers, and piggybacking on current events, Clubhouse was able to engineer its growth in a big way.

Four Tips To Start Growth Hacking

There’s no single, surefire way to achieve success. And since it’s all about experimenting and trying different tactics, we can’t tell you exactly what’s going to work for you and your audience.

We can, however, share our most valuable tips and lessons learned from doing it ourselves.

Make Sure You’re Really Ready

A lot of the tactics you try won’t work, but if you keep trying, some of them will. You can try to guess as best you can, but the reality is that you probably won’t know what’s going to start the fire. Or when.

The most important thing you can do is make sure your entire system is capable of handling growth before you start.

First and foremost, take time to define and understand your target audience, validate your idea, identify your unique value proposition, and map out how you fit into the market. From there, you should run stress tests on your team, as well as your onboarding process, documentation, support, and logistics mechanisms.

The whole point of growth hacking is to increase volume, so you don’t want to be blindsided by a failing piece of the puzzle when you finally get what you’re after—the last thing you need is a steady stream of new customers having bad experiences because something fundamental breaks down, takes forever, or doesn’t work as promised. You want them raving about you, not lamenting that you grew too fast.

Always be ready to pivot and adapt to keep your customers once you get them. When growth hacking, the speed at which you acquire new customers doesn’t mean as much if you can’t retain them. You need to build the foundation to support the rapid growth you want to achieve. Otherwise you risk ending up like Clubhouse from our examples above.

Make sure your operations, team, and infrastructure are ready to scale before you unleash a flood of new interest and new customers. If done right, you’ll be poised to make the most of your growth hacking strategies and turn interest into lasting success.

Measure and Analyze Everything You Do

It can feel chaotic trying to move fast and figure out what’s working to gain more traction. But having a comprehensive data and analytics plan is what turns your haphazard energy into a real strategy.

When you go in with a plan for exactly what data you need to gather and how you’ll analyze it, you gain the insights required to make calculated growth decisions.

Developing a detailed data plan that outlines the key performance indicators you want to track is crucial. So is defining the tools you’ll need to capture quantitative and qualitative data, alternative data sources, filter and segment the data, and visualize insights.

Having a well-thought out plan ensures you don’t miss any important information that could make or break your strategy when you finally find something that looks promising.

While the speed of growth hacking can seem frantic, regularly analyzing your data helps you spot meaningful trends quickly amid the chaos. It’s important to check in on your experiments frequently to make sure everything is tracking as expected and see if the numbers point to any clear paths forward. Always be sure to give your experiments enough time to generate statistically significant data before changing direction, but always be ready to act fast when magic starts to happen.

As a growth hacker, data is your not-so-secret weapon for progress. Putting a comprehensive data and analytics plan in place before executing anything gives you a strategic advantage. You’ll have the timely, actionable insights to make confident decisions that drive real growth. With data on your side turning chaos into strategy, you’ll have the power to turn rapid experimentation into measurable success.

Embrace Iterative Experimentation

To achieve rapid growth, you need to adopt an experimental mindset. Growth hacking is all about running constant experiments to discover combinations that drive growth. So don’t be afraid to try new, unconventional tactics to find what works.

Think about other brands that seemed to achieve viral success out of nowhere. They tried many ideas, even weird or controversial ones, until they found the mix that propelled them forward. No idea should be off the table. Try platforms you’ve never used. Switch up your content formats, pricing models, referral programs—anything is fair game. Controversy and emotional triggers can work well too, assuming they align with your values.

With practice, you’ll get better at crafting experiments that lead to gains. Don’t be afraid to fail fast. The brands that seemed to get “lucky” with sudden success probably experimented way longer than you think before finding a winning combination.

It may also be helpful to set up a simple system to track your ideas and results so you know what’s working, needs improving, or hasn’t been tried yet. A basic project management tool like Trello is more than enough.

Running constant A/B tests on new tools and strategies takes work, but it’s the key to growth hacking success. Try as many new things as possible, measure the results, improve, and repeat. You never know which ideas will take off, so approach each new experiment with optimism and an open mind.

Reverse Engineer Success Stories on Your Competitors

If you have competitors who seem to have found growth out of nowhere, take a close look at what they’re doing. Study who they’re targeting and spend time trying to uncover what’s fueling their rise.

There are all sorts of ways to get a closer look. Sign up for their mailing list. Map their entire sales funnel and customer journey. Monitor their social ads. Learn their acquisition channels. Analyze their content strategy. See who talks about them and what they’re saying, especially industry influencers.

You can even check their job listings to spot upcoming priorities.

On the flip side, you can also explore the idea of collaborating with your competitors or conducting business in similar spaces to access their audiences. It could look like a joint live stream, an interview, or a friendly conversation about a topic that resonates with your audience.

You could even set up a custom integration with their tools.

The goal with this approach is to get them talking about you to their audience. As long as their audience overlaps with yours, they may do a lot of the work for you.

Having said all that, this isn’t a substitute for testing your own ideas. Nevertheless, analyzing what works for your competition can help you pick up on the right strategies for you sooner. Just don’t assume that their success will also be your success—keep experimenting!