Startups have to get creative with their marketing to become successful. They can never outspend the mega giants like Google and Microsoft who have billions of dollars in cash at their disposal. Instead, they’ve got to think of ways to get customers and users without spending a lot of money, preferably no money at all.
The best entrepreneurs are able to do this to a CRAZY scale, gathering thousands or even millions of customers and website visits within days. Founders will do whatever it takes to grow their business, even if it means doing something completely unconventional and downright wild!
Here are the 5 WILDEST growth hacks that made startups successful.
Reddit with thousands of fake accounts
Forum websites like Reddit are only as valuable as their user base. More users mean more posts, more posts mean more value, and more value brings in more users. But websites like that often face a cold start problem: they start out with zero users.
When Reddit first launched, the founders created thousands of fake user accounts to give the impression that the website already had a lot of people on it. They would even create and reply to their own posts to make it look like those users were fully active. It was a full-on “fake it till you make it strategy.”
It worked like a charm. The real user base in December 2019 was 430 Million per month.
PayPal giving away free money
PayPal is now the defacto service for sending money online. But it wasn’t always that way. Like any other startup, they began with very little users and being a financial services company they needed loads of traffic to survive.
Their trick was to literally give people free money (Mr. Beast anyone?). Every new user that joined would get a free $10 and another $10 for referring a friend. That was real money, as in, you could spend it right away from your PayPal account.
According to Elon Musk, this strategy resulted in 7–10% daily growth. That is ridiculous. Elon Musk also says that PayPal spent between $60-$70 million on this growth hack. But that’s OK considering PayPal was worth about $51 Billion in 2019.
The Muse emailing everyone they know
The Muse is one of if not the best website for career advice and job opportunities. It serves about 50 million users a year, connecting them with top companies like Facebook and McKinsey.
But things weren’t always so big for The Muse. When company founder Kathryn Minshew first started the website, she knew that user trust would be critical. Career-related websites and platforms rely on their reputation and at the very beginning, The Muse didn’t have any. She needed to build that reputation through word of mouth.
Kathryn created an excel sheet of every single person she had ever emailed and sent them an email asking to spread the word about The Muse. Google eventually shut down her email account after they thought it was spam, but not before she was able to build up The Muse’s traffic and user base to a sustainable level. Today, it’s at 50 million users per year.
Instacart sending beer to investors
Instacart now delivers groceries all across the USA and Canada in record time! Delivery services need a lot of cash flow to cover their costs such as buying vehicles and paying the drivers. Of course, cash is hard to come by.
The founder of Instacart, CEO Apoorva Mehta came up with a clever way to get the attention of his future investors. He literally sent them a six-pack of beer delivered by Instacart. Just half an hour after the beer arrived, he got a call back, asking him to come into the Y Combinator Headquarters the very next day. The rest is grocery history!
Salesforce and their fake protestor attack
The growth hack Salesforce did was probably the craziest of them all. Today, the company is recognized for its supreme business strategy, but that’s not what got them their initial growth.
Cofounder Marc Benioff has done all kinds of crazy stunts to grow the company and squash rival company Siebel Systems. He once hired fake protestors to attack one of Siebel’s conferences, a stunt that eventually drew in the cops. At another one of Siebel’s events in France, he rented every single airport taxi, hired the drivers, and then instructed them to give a pitch about Salesforce to every person they drove to the hotel where the event was being held.
Marc isn’t afraid to do things himself instead of hiring either. He once was giving a speech at an Oracle conference. Instead of going through with it, he invited the whole crowd to a nearby restaurant to give an entirely different speech for his product. He’s also known to throw crazy 90,000 person parties featuring famous people like Tony Robbins and Richard Branson. Now THAT’s how you bring in a crowd!