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5 Inspiring Stories About Growing Your Business

by Harris Brown 5 Inspiring Stories About Growing Your Business

Whether you’re a hustling freelancer, a fast-growing startup or a Fortune 500 company, there’s never a wrong time to be thinking creatively about how to grow your business.

Often referred to as “growth hacks” in the tech world, here are five inspiring examples:

1. The Advertising Hack

By 1997, Hotmail had become *the* household name for email. Before then the company had been growing steadily, but not explosively. Then Hotmail, via a recommendation from one of its investors, deployed one of the most novel, effective growth tactics of its time.

Turning to its own product for growth, Hotmail decided to add a single line of text to every email its users sent: “Get Your Free Email at Hotmail.” That one-liner, with a link back to the Hotmail website, served as free marketing which became a viral growth trigger for the company. In less than one year, the tactic helped drive 12 million users to the platform, leading to their acquisition by Microsoft in 1997.

The takeaway: If you have a product, you have a space to market it…for free.

2. The Referral Hack

Dropbox is now a ubiquitous name in the tech landscape. But back in 2008, the startup was struggling to acquire a critical mass of users. After more traditional acquisition attempts, Dropbox turned to its users for growth. Capitalizing on the fact that we trust what our friends trust, Dropbox starting giving away free storage to its users, launching what has since become one of the most successful referral programs in history (from 100K to 4 million users within a period of 15 months). Dropbox also ingeniously built this system into its core product, ensuring that referring your friends to the service is as easy and seamless as humanly possible.

The takeaway: Leveraging your users via referral-based programs can be incredibly powerful.

3. The Content Hack

Many companies dream of acquiring 1.5 million users in 2 years and selling for $170 million, but Mint actually accomplished it. To help do this, Mint began churning out a cheap, abundant resource in-house: written content. The company built out a unique, targeted personal finance blog that “spoke to a young professional crowd that [they] thought was being neglected.” The blog eventually became the go-to site for personal finance material, which built trust around Mint’s brand and helped drive loads of users to Mint’s product.

The takeaway: The benefits of content are numerous; it builds trust and keeps your customers coming back for more.

4. The Waitlist Hack

When Mailbox launched in 2013, the startup found itself facing the best of problems — its launch video, with a viral 1 million views, had “originated too much interest too fast.” In response, Mailbox created a waitlist for users, which quickly amassed a whooping 260K users. The waitlist not only gave the company more time to scale its engineering systems for the influx of new users, it also served as an effective marketing tool to further drive users to the product. Exactly 37 days later, Mailbox was acquired by Dropbox, and ever since, many other startups have attempted this same tactic to jumpstart growth.

The takeaway: A little hype can go a long way.

5. The Grass-Roots Hack

Fixed, a new app that helps you fight parking tickets with the simple snap of a photo, has taken to the streets to fuel growth. The startup has employed a fleet of “Ticket Heroes,” or individuals that comb the city of San Francisco daily in search of ticketed vehicles. The “Heroes” place a branded Fixed “report card” on the windshield so that car owners know exactly where to turn for fighting that parking ticket. According to one “Hero,” the startup delivers approximately 4,000 report cards per day! (Fixed also uses the waitlist technique in rolling out to new cities.)

The takeaway: Don’t overthink it; Sometimes creative, directed grassroots growth efforts can be your most effective growth tactic.

So the next time you consider spending money on Google, Facebook or Twitter ads, take a step back and consider some non-traditional growth tactics. Some might be stabs in the dark but others undoubtedly have the potential to move the needle in a big way.

What are some “growth hacks” that you’ve used for your business? Leave a comment below or email us at to tell us your story!

photo of Harris Brown
Harris Brown

Harris is the Director of Growth at Shake, where he is focused on driving new users to Shake and ensuring they have an excellent experience once they arrive. While studying Economics at Stanford, Harris cut his startup chops as an early employee at Piazza, a Q&A platform for students and instructors. He briefly forgot how much he enjoyed the experience, but after a stint working in investment banking for UBS, he’s finally made his way back. Harris once took a coding course (or two) and sometimes likes to act like he can code.

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