14 Books to Unleash the Growth Hacker Within

Growth hacking–the blur between marketing, engineering and product management with a continuous level of high tempo testing. Growth Hackers, the new VP’s of Marketing as Andrew Chen has explained. It’s the strategy that built Twitter, Facebook, Dropbox and many others. It’s the process of continuous high tempo testing, finding traction in the best channel for massive growth for your company.

But how do you break into becoming a better growth hacker? Or even become a growth manager to begin with? Education. And practice. The following books will help you on the education side. Practice is on your end.

1. Genghis Khan

Genghis KhanMove fast. Break things. It used to be a Facebook company mantra. Zuckerburg wasn’t the first to see the strategic advantage of moving fast and being willing to break things. The first to discover the wisdom in speed: Genghis Khan. Conquering more territory in some 20 years than Rome did in 400 years, Genghis Khan knew how to grow an empire faster than anyone else has.

There’s are few lessons growth hackers can take away from this book. One is the speed Genghis Khan moved. Two as he conquered more land, the new technology he adsorbed from each new culture he conquered. Three, organizational structure allowed each team to move independently of Genghis Khan. Four, test, test, test. A failed test to divert a river attempting to flood out the competitor almost ended up flooding his own camp. Genghis Khan tested new techniques, new strategies, and new technology.

2. Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game

MoneyballIt’s the original story of growth hacking. A manager find the one north star metric (runs at bat). The entire team is built around the north star metric–on-base percentage for the Oakland A’s. It’s the story of hacking growth with a smaller budget, less talent, all in one season.

It’s a story of being data driven in a world where the highest paid person’s opinion (HiPPO) still had the final say. Kill the HiPPO in your company. Find the true north star metric. Design the entire team around it. Find the talent that others overlook. Take small bets to verify the north star metric. Use data to measure traction towards the north start metric.

3. Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth

19 marketing channels to test. Each channel featured also includes a case study on how an entrepreneur used that channel for growth. There’s probably one or two channels that will end up making the difference, but it’s the discovery process to find the one or two channels that work. Referrals built Dropbox.

Instead of trying to build a company using all 19, find the two or three that work better than all others and double down. Figure out what works and go deeper down that channel. Don’t chase every channel.  You’d end up spreading yourself thin. Do the work it requires to constantly improve the channels that work best for you.

4. The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful BusinessesThe Lean Startup

The lean startup uses the lean manufacturing approach to guide building startups using a rapid testing and experimentation approach. It’s using data to measure actual progress instead of ego-fueled vanity metrics. Test the vision of the founder day by day instead of blindly building and realizing too late it’s the wrong vision.

The scientific experimentation based approach allows you to build a company and product in the face of unavoidable uncertainty. Future customer tastes, competitive landscape, changing platforms–the reality remains building a company faces future risks the founders can’t see. Adapting the Lean Startup way allows you to experiment and consistently mitigate some of the future uncertainty.

5. Smartcuts: The Breakthrough Power of Lateral Thinking

SmartcutsGrowth hackers main focus remains accelerating growth faster than traditional routes. In Smartcut, Shane Snow details three success accelerants: shorten, leverage and momentum. Those three accelerants allow growth hackers to think laterally. Lateral thinking approaches problems indirectly without compromising.

Shortening the time it takes to get the result, growth hackers can pivot or switch the ladder they’re trying to climb. Almost all presidents haven’t take a direct path upwards to the presidency. Almost all have taken an indirect approach. With leverage, growth hackers can take platforms like Craigslist, Facebook, eBay to accelerate the time it takes to acquire millions of users. Finally, momentum helps continue swinging to new heights.

6. Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products

HookedStarting off as an eBook, Hooked quickly became a Silicon Valley favorite. It’s not hard to see why. It details the scientific research behind what creates a habit-forming product. The four-part loop behind every product with a habitual returning customer. Trigger. Action. Reward. Investment. Those four steps are part of any habit loop. Hooked shows you the research behind the loop and how to build parts of the product for each part of the loop.

The action steps at the end of each chapter help solidify the advice as well as make this book a practical manual. Hooked was written for product managers, but growth hackers will get as much or more out of it. Hook cycles will bring customers back, again and again, to use the product without relying on paid marketing.

7. Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing, and Advertising

Holiday was one of the first to identify and use the new wave of growth hacking–although he was about five years too soon. Holiday has used the unconventional approach to gain attention for PR and word of mouth for him and some of his clients. In Growth Hacker, Holiday explains marketers “have thrown out the old playbook and replaced it with tools that are testable, trackable, and scalable. They believe that products and businesses should be modified repeatedly until they’re primed to generate explosive reactions.”

It’s an easy read. It’s short and to the point. And the perfect introduction to the world of growth hacking

8. Contagious: Why Things Catch On

What makes things popular? If you said advertising, think again. People don’t listen to advertisements, they listen to their peers. But why do people talk about certain products and ideas more than others? Why are some stories and rumors more infectious? And what makes online content go viral?”

“Wharton marketing professor Jonah Berger has spent the last decade answering these questions. He’s studied why New York Times articles make the paper’s own Most E-mailed List, why products get word of mouth, and how social influence shapes everything.” This is the guidebook on the science behind word of mouth. Berger reveals the six principles behind all sorts of things becoming contagious.

9. Hacking Growth: How Today’s Fastest-Growing Companies Drive Breakout Success

Facebook, Pinterest, Airbnb “didn’t explode to massive worldwide popularity simply by building a great product then crossing their fingers and hoping it would catch on. There was a studied, carefully implemented methodology behind these companies’ extraordinary rise. That methodology is called Growth Hacking.”

Growth Hacking methodology involves cross-functional teams tackling market share growth. It’s no longer enough to build a great product. Today’s startups have to build and then continuously high tempo tests on acquisition, activation, retention, and referrals. This book is the toolkit to manage that testing pipeline. It’s the guidebook on how to build a custom-made growth hacking strategy and team.

10. Viral Loop: From Facebook to Twitter, How Today’s Smartest Businesses Grow Themselves

“By designing your product the right way, you can build a flourishing business from scratch. No advertising or marketing budget, no need for a sales force, and venture capitalists will flock to throw money at you.”

Many of the most successful companies YouTube, eBay, Twitter and Facebook, are prime examples of what journalist Adam L. Penenberg calls a “viral loop”–to use it, you have to spread it. The result: Never before has there been the potential to create wealth this fast, on this scale, and starting with so little.

11. Running Lean: Iterate from Plan A to a Plan That Works

It’s the system of quickly vetting ideas. Testing for product/market fit. Building on the work of the book, The Lean Startup, Ash Maurya takes you deeper into the lean process. The entire process centers around 1) Finding a problem worth solving. 2) Testing quickly with smaller iterations. 3) Build a feature, then measure customer response. 4) Know when to pivot. 5) Maximize speed, learnings, and focus.

It takes The Lean Startup Methodology and makes it concise and actionable. It’s a practical step by step guide to building a startup without wasting time and money on the fruitless effort. Time is the largest non-renewable and important asset for the founder. It’s a book that will allow you to stop wasting time without moving your startup forward.

12. Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days

Genghis Khan. Erwin Rommel. John Boyd. They all understood the value in moving fast. Faster than competitors can comprehend or react. Speed is a winning strategy. Today’s companies like Facebook hold the mantra, move fast and break things. Since no one can predict what products will catch on with consumers nor what features will be the most engaging, the ability to test, quickly, will determine more winning companies.

“A practical guide to answering critical business questions, Sprint is a book for teams of any size, from small startups to Fortune 100s, from teachers to nonprofits. It’s for anyone with a big opportunity, problem, or idea who needs to get answers today.”

13. Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time

As marketing merges with product management, tomorrow’s marketers need learn the scrum process today. It’s the process that development teams use to achieve breakthrough productivity. Marketing projects will increase with complexity. Not only knowing how to deal with complexity and but also keep the team agile and efficient becomes even more important for future growth teams.

“Teams often work at cross purposes to each other. And when the pressure rises, unhappiness soars. Drawing on his experience as a West Point-educated fighter pilot, and V.P. of engineering or CTO at eleven different technology companies,” you’ll learn Jeff Sutherland’s scrum system. It’s a system of deep accountability, team interaction and constant iteration.

14. Making Websites Win

Most website owners and those working on sites attempting to improve the growth rate turn to A/B testing. After years of case studies, most chase after easy wins picking random elements to test and celebrate with a 20% gain. Then there’s the methodology approach where you systematically identify after talking to customers what elements are most impactful then prioritizing from customer feedback. The Methodical approach is not only more sustainable but also more impactful with gains much larger than 20%.

Enter CRE, or Conversion Rate Experts who lay out this methodical approach in the book, Making Website Win. In the book Dr. Karl Blanks and Ben Jesson layout step by step a process to identify the power of CRO, identify problems with your current site, and identify tested-designs to improve. On top of the process, specific tools are recommended for each step. Significant growth could be next implementing a growth process and testing methodology.



Knowing the mechanics of growth hacking aren’t the only part needed. Books for management, strategy, marketing, startups, and executing will round out domain knowledge.