Summary of Growth Hacker Marketing by Ryan Holiday

  • Post category:Summaries
  • Post last modified:September 18, 2023

Summary: 7 min

Book reading time: 1h47

Score: 8/10

Book published in: 2013

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  • The product should be built taking marketing into account.
  • You absolutely need data.
  • Make your product easily shareable and superiorly good so that people share it.

Table of Contents

What Growth Hacker Marketing Talks About

Growth Hacker Marketing is a book written by Ryan Holiday. It explains a new way to do marketing with a maximum ROI and minimum effort and investment. It contains a series of tactics used by startups to drive growth. From focusing on giant campaigns to focusing on the product; from focusing on growth to focusing on retention.

It’s a bit outdated but gives an excellent idea of what growth marketers (should) focus on.

Since the book is fast-read, I’d advise you to read it.

If not, this summary will be more than enough.


Get the book here.

Summary of Growth Hacker Marketing Written by Ryan Holiday

Traditional marketing practices died with startups. Marketing, previously reserved to marketers, became an engineering role -> marketing is built into the product.

Growth hacking is about automating marketing.

“The end goal of every growth hacker is to build a self-perpetuating marketing machine that reaches millions by itself.” – Aaron Ginn

In the past, upon launching a new product, marketers thought they needed to strike hard and get everyone to hear about their offering, like the premiere of a movie – or fail.

Unfortunately, this is wrong.

Let’s take the example of Hotmail. Hotmail founders did not know how to advertise their service. They were suggested to write “Get your free email at” at the end of each email sent.

As a result, the brand accumulated tens of millions of users in a few months.

By just a very small act, the product spread like fire. This is what Growth Hacking is.

Small input, huge output.

It’s focusing on who and where your customers are.

Marketing used to be brand-based, but now, it’s metrics-driven.

It’s not about helping a big company grow 1% a year, but a small startup grow 100000% a year.

It is answering the question: “how do you get, maintain, and multiply attention in a scalable and efficient way?”

-> growth hacking is a mindset, not a tactic.

Growth hacking is a fluid process.

Step 1: Growth Hacking Starts With Product Market Fit

Why would anyone use that product?

Growth hacking is not about the perfect marketing strategy, but about the perfect product.

Growth hackers test and change their product until they reach fast growth, meaning they adapt the product until it fulfills a specific need for a specific audience.

Take Airbnb.

It started as founders offering a couch + breakfast in their apartment. Then they pivoted towards a networking alternative when hotels were booked for conferences.

Then it became a website for people that wanted to book accommodation, but neither a hotel nor a hostel. Then, they dropped the networking and breakfast part, and turned it into an anything-booking platform. And the growth was explosive.

Airbnb adapted to their market instead of forcing the market to adapt to their service.

Instagram started as a booking social network, then realized users mainly focused on pics and filters, to they pivoted towards that and achieved explosive growth.

In both cases, founders had to look for product-market fit: having the right service for the right audience.

The best way to reach it is to start with a minimum viable product and iterate based on customer feedback.

As a marketer, your job is to isolate your customers, figure out their needs, and design a product that will blow their minds. These are marketing competencies and they can’t be ignored.

Your role, as a marketer, is to be the bridge between the customers and how the product is designed.

In the past, authors would write a book for a year, then launch and hope for a big hit. It seldom happened.

Today, authors are bloggers that write blog posts, monitor the ones that will go viral, and expand these into a book.

They are data-informed. They test before building, so they can create the perfect product.

Evernote didn’t invest any money into marketing before developing the best product.

They did and saw rapid growth. Then they heard companies were unhappy to see their employees using laptops in meetings, so they developed laptop stickers that said “I am taking notes with Evernote”.

-> marketing is useless unless you reach product-market fit.

You need to repeatedly ask these questions:

  • Who is this product for?
  • Why would they use it?
  • What brought them to this product?
  • What is holding them back from referring other people to it?
  • What’s missing?
  • What’s golden?

Step 2: Find Your Growth Hack

Who would use that product?

The way you market your product may be different than the way customers learn about it.

Eg: you may have IG ads for your video game, but players play it because a famous YT played it.

Growth hacking is

  1. Testing
  2. Marketing

Sometimes, a great product isn’t sufficient. Wikipedia and existed in another version before being invented. The name and the team behind the product were different.

These teams failed because they didn’t pull customers to the product, which Wikipedia and subsequently did.

The growth hacker must find the fans, the people that are dying to use the product, and pull them in.

Uber offered free rides for people going to SXSW conference (tech conference). In the beginning, Uber targeted young tech people, so they went to find them.

If you don’t know who is your audience, you don’t know your industry well enough to even launch a product.

How to Reach Your Audience

  1. Go to the news site that your target customers read and pitch them your startup. “This is what we do, this is who we are, this is why you should write about us”.
  2. Upload on social media and content aggregators
  3. Write a blog
  4. Use Kickstarter or similar platforms.
  5. Find your customers one-by-one and invite them to your service for free

The more innovative your product is, the more innovative the way you will reach your customers has to be.


  1. Be exclusive with waiting lists
  2. Create fake users to give the illusion of popularity
  3. Piggyback another service (PayPal with Ebay)
  4. Launch in a niche, dominate it, then expand
  5. Host events and drive users to the app
  6. Bring influential advisors and investors

These are done with a specific purpose, targeting a specific crowd.

Focusing on brands nowadays is a waste of time. Brands will come with users. Your first mission is to build an army of them.

Customer acquisition should be your sole focus.

Step 3: Turn 1 Into 2 and 2 Into 4 — Going Viral

Why would users share the product?

When VCs ask to make a product go viral, the growth marketer answers: why would anyone share and talk about the product? Is the product worth going viral? Have we done anything to make it so?

Things go viral for a reason. They are whether extraordinary things, or people that do make it viral have a reason to do it (refer a friend and get 10 euros, refer a friend and get free space, etc).

Step 4: Close The Loop: Retention And Optimization

Why would users keep on using the product? What do users that keep on using the product do?

It’s useless to drive people to your app or website if, in the end, they don’t use it.

At Twitter, they noticed that users that followed 20 people stayed, while users that followed less than 10 did not.

So they figured out a way to make sure that people followed more than 10 users as soon as they signed up.

Facebook noticed that users that added more than X friends after X days were much more likely to stay on the site.

So they designed the product to encourage adding friends.

At Dropbox, users that stayed were those that added at least one file to Dropbox.

-> find the metric that means users will come back, and force your customers to do the things that people that come back do (force interaction).

Find the right metrics. By right metrics, we mean the ones that actually inform growth. Don’t measure an amusement park’s success with the number of visitors, but with how happy visitors are.

In order to satisfy their users, Airbnb sent a professional photographer to new listings on their website. It cost money, but over the long term, it paid off.

This is exactly what growth hackers do. They grow the business without chasing down their customers.

While finding PMF is great, it doesn’t mean product development is over. You need to continually improve it and make sure your customers remain satisfied.

Make sure:

  • Your email system is on point.
  • Your notification system is on point.
  • Your landing page is on point.
  • Your sign-up flow is on point.
  • Your UX is on point.
  • Etc

When the author signed up for a service then stopped using it, someone from the company called them to ask what was up.

Unscalable, but powerful.

Often, the best acquisition strategy is to focus on customer retention (aka best product + customer service).

  1. You keep your customers and make them happy
  2. Your customers bring you new people

Putting the Lessons into Practice

When Tim Ferriss contacted distributors for his book The 4-Hour Chef, none of them wanted to publish it.

He and the author had 60 days to come up with a marketing strategy. So they treated the book like a startup.

Product Market Fit

Tim tested which part of the book responded the best, and edited the rest. Each was designed for a specific audience.

Growth and Attention

They focused on blogs in the niche of the 4-Hour Chef. Traditional media outlets then spoke about the book.


They partnered with BitTorrent and gave the community a bundle of interviews and videos to download.

Optimization and retention

They looked at all that they did during the campaign and noted what worked and what didn’t.

The Future of Marketing

Growth hacking makes marketing cheaper and more specific due to data and the possibility to test.

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