Growth Hacker Marketing Book Summary and PDF

Growth Hacker Marketing by Ryan Holiday [BOOK SUMMARY & PDF]

The premise of Growth Hacker Marketing is that exponential growth as seen from the likes of Dropbox, Instagram and Facebook is not down to luck and it hasn't come from traditional forms of marketing. Their rapid growth has been engineered from the beginning and despite being late entrants into their markets, these companies have succeeded using new age marketing techniques. This short book from author Ryan Holiday is easy to read and an absolute must for the modern day marketer.





Who is this summary for?

The premise of Growth Hacker Marketing is that exponential growth as seen from the likes of Dropbox, Instagram, and Facebook is not down to luck and it hasn't come from traditional forms of marketing. Their rapid growth has been engineered from the beginning and despite being late entrants into their markets, these companies have succeeded using new age marketing techniques. This short book by author Ryan Holiday is easy to read and an absolute must for the modern day marketer.

About the author

Ryan Holiday considers himself a writer and a media strategist. With 6 books under his belt and an extremely successful blog, Ryan has covered a lot of topics surrounding personal and business development. He has a passion for philosophy & stoicism as well as marketing, business, success, growth, marketing, self-awareness, and learning. Ryan is the author of popular books The Obstacle is the Way and Ego is the Enemy. Ryan was the marketing expert for popular brand American Apparel and is definitely an expert on building awareness and buzz for a product or service.

In this summary

In this summary, we will first talk about the new era of marketing before covering Ryans 4 growth hacker steps; 1. Beginning with product market fit. 2. Targeting the right people and finding your growth hack. 3. Going Viral 4. Closing the Loop.



Ryan explains that traditional marketing was all about who the customers are and where they are. Growth hackers take this further, they look at the who and the wherein a scientific manner, in a way that is measurable. It becomes about metrics and ROI. It’s not a matter of making an educated guess any longer, Ryan describes growth hackers as data scientist meets design fiends meets marketers. They are a new hybrid.

With a rapidly-changing environment of new start-ups, websites and apps, marketing has had to dramatically adjust itself to meet the new expectations.


It Begins with Product Market Fit

”You know what the single worst marketing decision you can make is? Starting with a product nobody wants or nobody needs.”

Ryan describes traditional marketers as going to market with the product you have, not the one you want. This was, more often than not, met with failure and waster money. Growth hackers have radically shifted away from this train of thought, and now work so hard to develop products that are perfectly primed to meet the needs and expectations of the target market. It’s about creating the perfect product to meet the needs, no matter how many iterations and changes you have to make or the time this will take. Don’t go to market with whatever you currently have, until it is perfect. The target market needs to be defined, have a group of people who have a compelling need, and meet this need.

”You know what the worst marketing decision is? Starting with a product nobody wants or needs.'Click To Tweet


Ryan uses Airbnb as an example, what began as a platform to advertise living rooms with air beds and breakfasts to guests was adapted and improved upon. They discovered a market of people who weren’t interested in sleeping on an airbed but also weren’t interested in staying in a hotel. Airbnb was redefined into what we know it as today, they dropped the breakfast, a place where guests can rent anything from shared rooms to castles. They redefined their model based on market feedback, wants and needs.

Ryan explains that traditional marketing doesn’t return to the drawing board when their product isn't received as expected. They’ll continue to put more time, money and energy into the product as it is, expecting a better response. They key is to identify the customers, hone in on their specific needs, and develop something that will meet all of their expectations.

”The race has changed. The prize and spoils no longer go to the person who makes it to market first. They go to the person who makes it to Product Market Fit first”

How to find Product-Market Fit

Ryan emphasises the importance of being open to feedback, accept that you might not get it right the first time. Ask yourself the following questions;

  • Who is this product for?
  • Why would they use it? Why do I use it?

Then ask your customers the following questions;

  • What is it that brought you to this product?
  • Are you being held back from referring this product to others? Why?
  • What’s missing?

Tools like SurveyMonkey and Google Docs are really valuable when looking to collect and organise this feedback.

Ryan emphasises that the crucial step after gathering the feedback is to actually DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. This is where you go back to the drawing board, adapt and change your product.


Finding Your Growth Hack (Targeting the Right People)

Again, Ryan emphasises the importance of testing the product until you are certain that it’s meeting the market requirements. Never market the product until you are absolutely ready. You’re only setting yourself up for disappointment.

Ryan explains this using the example of Aaron Swartz, the man behind ever-popular Reddit. Prior to Reddit, he had developed two other products, an online encyclopedia (prior to Wikipedia) and a site called (similar to Both products failed to take off, but it wasn’t because the ideas weren’t good, clearly, other iterations of the same ideas are incredibly popular today. But Aaron didn’t attract the right people in the beginning. He hadn’t learned how to pull the right people in, he expected them to just come to him.

”With product market fit, we don't need to hit the front page of the New York Times to announce our launch. We need only to hit the New York Times of our scene”

Ryan makes it clear that it’s not about telling the whole world about your product, it’s about honing in on the select people who are going to want to use and pay for your product. Being strategic and specific about who you target is much more likely to work than being to broad and general.

So a growth hackers job, as Ryan puts it, is to pull in your customers, and to do it in a cheap effective and unique way,

The right people are key

“Not All People—the Right People”Click To Tweet

It’s time to forget the traditional marketing way, attempting to reach EVERYONE. Ryan explains that growth hackers have to resist the temptation. And instead, search for the early adopters, these are the people who are going to make or break emerging new tech services, and they are going to want to do it as cheaply as possible.

Ryan has a few options for when you’re looking to try and reach your initial audience:

  1. Email the current sites that you know your potential users would frequent, see if they are willing to write about you.
  2. Upload to Reddit.
  3. Start a blog, write about topics that a popular and will drive traffic to your site.
  4. Use Kickstarter.
  5. Invite people to use your service/product for free.

”The point is: do whatever it takes to pull in a small contingent of initial users from your particular space.”

In its early days, Ryan explains that Reddit created hundreds of fake profiles, this made their service look more popular and used than it actually was. It’s the crowd mentality approach!

'Do whatever it takes to pull in a small contingent of initial users from your particular space.'Click To Tweet


Turning 1 into 2 and 2 into 4 – Going Viral

In this day and age, everyone is obsessed with the idea of going viral. Ryan explains that going Viral is actually simpler than some may think. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Well, why should customers share your product?
    • Have we actually made it easy for them to spread your product?
    • Is the product worth talking about?

Too many people assume that ‘going viral’ is an act of magic, something that just happens. But Ryan explains, that going viral, is never an accident. There are a few things that come into play when a product goes viral. It’s only ever going to happen to a very specific type of product/service. It has to be WORTH spreading, and it has to make people WANT to spread it.

”Look, virality at its core is asking someone spend their social capital recommending or linking or posting about you for free. The best way to get people to do this enormous favour for you? Make it seem like it isn’t a favour.”

Make it worth their while

Expecting people to share your product for free can be a really big ask. There are ways to encourage this while rewarding the customer. Ryan uses the example of Groupon. Their daily deals, come with a second offer. “Refer a friend and get $10 when they make a purchase.” This is free for the original user, it takes a moment of their time, but may pay off with $10 credit! In comparison to simply ’Share this on Facebook’ or ‘Post this on Twitter’, the refer a friend offer seems a lot more valuable to the customer, therefore, they are likely to share!

Another example Ryan uses is Dropbox, by referring a friend who successfully signs up, the original user is rewarded with extra storage. Essentially, this costs Dropbox nothing, and it quickly pays off with more sign-ups. Ryan refers to this as engineered growth.


Closing the Loop: Retention and Optimisation

The job of a traditional marketer, Ryan explains, is to bring in the customers. But that’s where it ends. It’s someone else’s job to get them to stick around and keep them interested. But Ryan asks, does that make any sense? Especially in the case of small business and start-ups, there might not be that someone else who can focus on retaining the customers. The job of a marketer should be to find customers and create life-long users. There’s little point in wasting all of your energy and money on bringing in one-time customers, as the cycle will be never-ending.

“Always be tweaking. You need to make your users stick. There's no point driving heaps of traffic if the traffic doesn't convert. Growth comes just as much from internal optimisations as it does from lead generation.”

For more on optimisation and AB testing, check out The Lean Startup by Eric Ries.


Key Takeaways

  • Growth hackers focus on metrics and ROI. It’s a science, no longer a guessing game.
  • Define your target market, establish their needs.
  • Find product market fit
  • Get feedback, adapt and change your service/product based on this feedback. And keep working on it until it is perfect.
  • Never go to market with a product/service that isn’t ready.
  • It’s not about marketing a product/service to as many people as possible, it’s about finding the right group of people, and targeting only them.
  • If you want to go viral, make it as easy for people to share as possible. They have to be motivated to share your product. Give them a reason to.
  • The key is customer retention, don’t waste all your efforts on simply getting a customer, dedicate time to keeping them.

Further Reading

Other reads by Ryan Holiday include Ego is the Enemy – a very complimentary continuation on from The Obstacle is the Way that focuses on how when on the road to success, we mustn't let our ego's become a controlling factor in the way we act and make decisions. Also by Ryan, Trust Me I’m Lying – is an eye-opening insight into how the modern media operates, the economy that drives it and how the system can be manipulated.

Robert Greene was one of the most influential people in Ryan Holiday's life and his book The 48 Laws of Power outlines key steps to understanding how to use and enforce your power.

Other great reads are The Thank-You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuck – an insight into the changing platform of marketing where Vaynerchuck emphasises the importance of social media in any business venture. And Inspired by Marty Cagan which details the process of creating a product, whether that be internet based or physical.

Guidelines is my eBook that summarises the main lessons from 33 of the best-selling self-help books in one place. It is the ultimate book summary; Available as a 80-page ebook and 115-minute audio book. Guidelines lists 31 rules (or guidelines) that you should follow to improve your productivity, become a better leader, do better in business, improve your health, succeed in life and become a happier person.

Action Steps

  • If you're developing a product, ask yourself, who is this product for? Why do they want it? What are they going to do with it? Try and define the audience early on.
  • Take feedback, take as much criticism as necessary and act on it. It takes time to develop a product or service, you won’t get it perfect the first time and that’s OK.
  • Research some of your favourite companies, how did they get off the ground? What were their marketing strategies?
  • Buy the complete book on Amazon.



This summary is not intended as a replacement for the original book and all quotes are credited to the above mentioned author and publisher


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