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Traditional marketing is dead. It is interruption marketing. If you are driving and see a billboard, it is essentially asking you to risk an accident to receive its message. How absurd is that? People see more than 5,000 messages every day and the cost of putting out a message is increasing.

There is a better way to get consumers’ attention: growth hacking—a trend among Silicon Valley technology start-ups. The vice-president of growth is the new vice-president of marketing. While the definition is still evolving, this is how I understand it: features, aspects or functionality of your product or service that provide a quick, maybe inelegant, way to acquire users.

Dropbox is a good example of growth hacking. As soon as you sign up, you are given free storage. Then Dropbox bribes you to experience its most amazing feature, its syncing capabilities, by offering additional storage when you install on multiple devices. It bribes you to tell friends about it; you get additional storage by tweeting about or putting it on Facebook. Sharing is dead simple, which encourages people to share more. In this manner, it gets users to market it. It now has more than 300 million users and Dropbox is worth over $10 billion.

At Chartcube, my new start-up, Jack Mardack, our head of growth, has been growth hacking at companies like event listing platform Eventbrite, social gaming site Friendster and Prezi that helps prepare presentations, even before the term was coined. So Jack and I researched what best-in-class companies do and incorporated it at Chartcube.

How do we create a message that intrigues consumers? Users will give you mere seconds to understand the message, so the message needs to be compelling. They will spare only minutes to try the product; if the experience is delightful, they will be hooked.

Dropbox makes a simple and attractive promise: “your stuff, anywhere". Prezi is a presentation tool that lets you “be a great presenter". Mailbox is a mail app for mobile devices that allows you to “fly through your email". Evernote is a note-taking application that allows you to “remember everything".

How do we get people to use the product and make them loyal? Evernote has acquired more than 100 million users by prompting them to add more notes—a text note, a note with a photo, a reminder or a list—and increasing its value to them. Dropbox rewards users with more storage when they install it on multiple devices.

How do we get our users to want to show off our product? At Prezi, Jack focused on nudging users to make and share more Prezis. Evernote’s presentation mode allows you to project any note on a large screen. Dropbox allows you to show the stored photos with swipe gestures.

How do we make sharing part of the experience? Dropbox made it so easy to share that it has became a part of the core experience. I can copy a link and share a website address in an email, SMS or instant message and you can click on that link to access the file.

How do we get our users to invite others? Mailbox targeted the overflowing inbox folder and helped users get to zero inbox. The first time a user gets to a zero inbox, she sees a message congratulating her and is prompted to share her achievement on Facebook and Twitter at a time when she is elated and is most likely to do so.

These questions can help any start-up acquire more users at lower cost. Even start-ups in traditional businesses. For instance, why can’t a clothing retail company equip its trial rooms with a selfie stick to let customers post their pictures on social media, inviting friends to say whether they like the garment or not?

Growth hacking can not only help your company, but also your customers. They learn about your product from people they trust, hopefully in a way that creates value for them at the very first instance of learning about your product.

Pankaj Tibrewal is the founder and chief executive of Chartcube, a start-up in the Silicon Valley that has created a new way for people to review, share and discuss data. Tibrewal has an Master’s from the University of Texas at Austin and an MBA from Kellogg School of Management.

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Updated: 23 Apr 2015, 01:46 AM IST
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