Book Notes: Growth Hacker Marketing by Ryan Holiday

book notes photo growth hacker marketing

I’m excited to share some book notes with you — a testament to how Ryan Holiday inspired virality with how he wrote the book! Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing, and Advertising provided a good overview, listed a plethora of examples, a case study, and inspires action.

My first valuable takeaway is that growth hacking is an approach, a mindset, that can be learned. Take the time and effort to test, study the data, to value and to listen to your customers. A blend of product development, marketing, and sales, this very much aligns with how I like to approach business development.

Growth Hacking is business strategy that throws out the playbook of traditional marketing and replaces it with customer acquisition techniques that are testable, trackable, and scalable. Its tools are emails, pay-per-click (PPC) ads, blogs, and platform APIs instead of commercials, publicity, and money. While traditional marketing chases vague notions like “branding” and “mind share,” growth hackers relentlessly prusue users and growth — and when they do it right, those users beget more users, who beget more users. They are the inventors, operators, and mechanics of their own self-sustaining and self-propagating growth machine that can take a startup from nothing to something. (p. 83)

A growth hacker is an employee with a simple job: growing the business by any means possible. This role, according to Andrew Chen and many Silicon Valley pioneers, has come to supplant the typical VP of Marketing. Growth hackers’ main task is to build great marketing ideas into the product during the development process. Growth hackers often have a programming background, but it’s not required. Growth hackers are pros at hypothesizing, testing, and iterating different versions of the product to create hockey stick growth for their companies… (p.82)


  • “Growth Hackers are the new VPs of Marketing, and this book tells you how to make the transofrmation.” – Andrew Chen
  • Marketing = Who is your customer? Where are they?

Step 1: It begins with Product Market Fit

  • Product Market Fit: product and customers are in perfect sync
  • Not “build it and they will come”
  • Companies need to do whatever is required to get Product Market Fit, be it rewriting your product, changing out people, saying yes/no to customers whether you want to or not, even raising dilutive venture capital
  • Open up to feedback, collect data, e.g. Survey Monkey, Wufoo
  • Examples: product development journeys of Airbnb, Instagram, Snapchat

Step 2: Find your Growth Hack

  • Test until you have a product worth marketing
  • Growth Hacking: Pull your customers in
  • You don’t have to be in front of everyone, just in front of the RIGHT people for your product
  • Go for a strategic stunt to catch the attention of your core audience
  • Do whatever it takes to pull in a small group of initial users from your particular space
  • “Focus on customer acquisition over ‘awareness'” – Sean Ellis
  • Bring your first customers in –> turn them into an army
  • Step 3: Turn 1 into 2 and 2 into 4, Going Viral

    • Dropbox tested ad spend – $233-388 per paying customer. Then tested incentivizing referrals.
    • Virality is engineered
    • Make it easy to spread the word and built a product worth sharing
    • Examples: Dropbox – get 500MB free for every referral, Hotmail/iPhone/Blackberry email signature, Spotify with Facebook login

    Step 4: Close the Loop: Retention and Optimization

    • CONVERT and RETAIN users
    • Track conversion rate and stickiness, vs vanity metrics
    • Examples: Based on Twitter user data, users are more likely to stay when they follow friends on the first day, so they built this into the signup process
    • Always be tweaking
    • 5% increase in customer retention ==> 30% increase in profitabilty (Bain & Co)

    The Goal

    To reach people in an effective, scalable, and data-driven way


    1. Cheaply test your products, improve based on feedback, then launch
    2. Reduce barriers to entry; use targeted media and platforms to bring your customers on board
    3. Aim for a WOW factor and response from your customers
    4. Build your email list

    Definitely a must-read for anyone interested in growing or starting a business in general, and especially relatable when you’re in tech. Taking these principles and bringing to traditional industries are sure to cause disruption.

    Have you read this book and applied what’s in it? Have any other book recommendations?

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