Growth Hacking = People + Process

There was a recent discussion on about whether Amazon advertising the Fire Phone on their shipping tape should be considered a “growth hack” or not.

Was it a growth hack, in 1987, when the car dealership put their name and number on the plastic license plate holders on my grandpa’s Buick Regal? Or was it just a clever marketing idea?

There is a tendency to talk about growth hacking in terms of tricks and techniques. I don’t like it. It contributes to the myth that there are silver bullets in marketing.

Growth hacking is not about tactics–it’s about people and process.

Sean Ellis, the man who coined the term, says:

Growth hacking is experiment-driven marketing.

I’d take it one step further:

Growth hacking is experiment-driven marketing executed by people who don’t need permission or help to get things done.

Tactics always evolve. To me, the real sea change has been in who is responsible for growing a company and how they go about it.


Traditional marketing teams are comprised of non-technical people that often rely on developers, designers, and data scientists to implement their ideas. Growth teams, on the other hand, are made up of autonomous hackers that generate ideas and execute them from start to finish.

When hiring for your growth team, a good question to ask is: “After you come up with an idea for an experiment, what part are you going to play to make it happen?”

How far can someone navigate around this wheel without putting items on someone else’s TODO list?

Balfour's Growth Hacking Process

Prior to the mid-2000s, I’d never seen a marketing department with technical talent. Now, every marketer should be technical.

Designer-developer hybrids (what I call ogre-mages) are every bit as powerful on growth teams as they are on product teams. If you can find people that can ship code and make things look pretty, snatch them up immediately! Not only are these people highly in-demand, they’re just rare to begin with.


While traditional marketing teams might appear to operate like growth teams in terms of the channels they use (SEM, content marketing, email, etc.), many are run purely on intuition and conjecture, which can be poisonous. Decisions about what actions to take, when to take them, and how much money to spend are made in the blind or based on what may have worked historically.

Growth hacking is about running experiments, analyzing results, and iterating quickly. And for this, you really need two things:

  1. A method for running experiments
  2. A system for tracking and reporting

Running a single A/B test every third Wednesday doesn’t count! You need a process that enforces rhythm, assimilates learnings, and keeps the people accountable. (I love Brian Balfour’s system.)

So, the next time you come across one of those posts entitled 176 Top Secret Growth Hacks (My Cat Loves #8) remember–these are not growth hacks. At most they are marketing tactics that might be worthy inputs to your growth hacking machine.


  1. Raleigh Leslie

    Rob this is an amazing article I stumbled upon on twitter. Myself and my company firmly stand behind the growthhacking perspective you have in this article. We are also so tired of tactic based “strategies” in general.

    Keep it up brotha! You’re on it! Cheers – Raleigh

    • Rob Sobers

      Thanks Raleigh! I really appreciate the kind words. I think it’s so easy to get wrapped up in tactics that people forget about process and discipline.

  2. Hi Rob, I’m Raleigh’s business partner. He texted me the link to this post and said I had to read it today. So I did. :) Man, I’m glad I did!

    Great perspective. We used a similar line of thinking to create a framework that systematically maps the buyer’s journey for our Inbound Marketing clients. We often get brought in to deploy a tactic, and spend most of the initial meeting coaching clients off the silver bullet ledge (dangerous thinking!). Almost always, we can significantly map the buyer’s journey within the first 90 days using: HubSpot + Content Marketing Plan + workflow automation tutorials (step by step). After that, and only after that, do we make recommendations on tactics, then continue to refine based on data. The framework takes your People + Processes formula to heart very much. Thank you for the post! You’re speaking our language buddy!

  3. Federico

    Amen! I fully agree with every word, sad to see so many marketers not having any digital skills still…

  4. A very good read. A marketer needs to be technical and with the progression I see Digital taking over tradition just because it’s measurable, convenient and has a wide reach.

  5. Rob – great post! No silver bullets to growth, death to the Orange Button blog articles! It’s all about the right people following the right process with an emphasis on test velocity and learning as fast as possible.

    Technical skills for marketers is becoming increasingly critical — If you’re running web experiments, everyone everyone on the team should learn the basics of stats, HTML, CSS and JS (jQuery is a godsend when setting up quick and dirty tests). Tools like Codecademy and Codeschool make it easier than every to up your tech chops.

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