Famous companies like Paypal, Airbnb, and Uber are notorious for their ‘’Growth Hacks’’
Some of the businesses we have grown to love employed smart yet borderline unethical strategies in their early startup days when they were struggling to grow.
Most worked and the companies grew to be worth billions of dollars.
Below are some of the many companies who growth hacked their way to where they are today.
PayPal, The online payments pioneer, created a bot that bought goods on eBay and paid using PayPal. In other words, they piggybacked their growth on eBay, while offering a superior payment method. After PayPal became the norm for payments, eBay bought them for $1.5 billion.
Airbnb, the peer-to-peer room rental service, created a bot that automatically responded to housing posts on a rival site, Craigslist. They stole people from Craigslist and made them users on their own website, leading to a ton of early growth.
Airbnb also created a small army of photographers that helped their customers drum up their business by providing a free professional photo service. “Taking crisp, well-lit and composed photographs that accurately convey the look and feel of the space is the most difficult part of creating a listing, so we make it easy,” Airbnb explains.
After this explosive beginning, Airbnb is now valued at roughly $24 billion.
To get their first drivers, Uber cold called black car drivers and offered to pay them an hourly rate while they tried out the platform. Three of the first 10 drivers that he called, agreed to give it a try. To incentivize passengers, they offered free rides & free meals at local events in the tech-savvy San Francisco community.
Uber employees ordered and canceled more than 5,000 rides from their rival, Lyft. This decreased Lyft drivers’ availability and jeopardized income that Lyft drivers depended on.
Word of mouth is one of the biggest drivers of sales and Uber spent next to nothing on traditional marketing. However, ordering and canceling could be considered quite unethical.
In it’s early days, Facebook had access to the e-mail addresses of all the Harvard students and blasted e-mails to them about Facebook. The platform spread to different college campuses and eventually to 1.2 billion users. It is now one of the Internet’s most valuable websites.
No one likes spam e-mails so you may want to think twice about employing this strategy.
MySpace, the now-defunct social networking website also employed a ‘spammy’ strategy and blasted a database of around 100 million e-mail addresses announcing their launch.
Again, no one likes spam e-mails! But it seemed to have worked for Myspace and Facebook.
Dating websites like Tinder created fake accounts in order to boost users and introduce the first thousand users. Less than four years later, Tinder is now valued at $5 billion. Other companies like Reddit are also known for artificially boosting their user base.
This strategy definitely compromises user experience for the sake of growth and is somewhat deceiving, but technically, it doesn’t break any rules.
We wouldn’t encourage you to employ all these strategies but this is what successful startups did for viral growth. You can definitely learn from these “hacks” and apply similar strategies to your business. Be creative and don’t do anything that will get you sued!
Stefanos is an e-commerce entrepreneur and writer who focuses on Saas, Entrepreneurship, Start-ups and e-commerce. He is a third-culture kid who has spent the majority of his life in Indonesia and the Netherlands, having obtained a double BA in Business Management and Public Administration from The Hague University.