20 Growth Marketing Case Studies (Unicorns, Enterprise, SaaS, Apps, Marketplaces)

It’s one thing to have a list of “growth hacks” and a general sense of growth marketing methodology and process…

But quite another to learn how other companies went from zero to traction, then scale and growth.

More than anything else, I regularly come across people asking for growth marketing case studies.

They want to discover what other companies have done. To see what’s possible, across channels, growth processes, “growth hacking”, and growth teams.

Uncovering hidden growth opportunities takes time, effort, analysis, and constant testing.

So, I sat down to analyze and study how “unicorns” made it.

What you’ll see in this article are a wide range of companies; SaaS, apps, marketplaces, e-commerce, platforms…

Many went from small to big, fast.

And here are your 20 growth marketing case studies…

Growth Marketing Case Studies Reveals Variety of Growth Paths

Given the spread in types of companies, you can expect to learn about a variety of growth strategies, tactics, and the path they took toward exponential growth.

Some took years, others took months. But one way or another, they tapped into a market, a need, with a product or service that solved their problems.

Growth Case Study #1: Etsy

From June 2005 to early 2015 craft super seller, Etsy went from a concept to nearly 2 billion in sales (in 2014) 54 million users including 1 million sellers and 20 million active buyers. Now, Etsy is a publicly traded Nasdaq company (ETSY) valued at $2 billion. How did they do it? Here’s the snapshot.

A Needed Change: Craft sellers were aggravated that eBay was so cumbersome, stingy and seemed to lack care for sellers. These factors created an environment that was supercharged for a platform like Etsy.

They Weren’t Lazy: A marketplace is unique because it requires both buyers and sellers to be successful. Without awesome products, there would be no need for buyers. The founders went to every artisan flea market and craft fair to introduce them to the craft specific selling platform.

Finding Buyers: Etsy was able to tap into a rise in the craft industry fueled by a feminist renaissance of handmade crafters. Some of these early product creators had built an audience, but hadn’t interconnected or listed their items through an ecommerce platform.

Growing Organically: Typically, Etsy only pays for around 2-7% of their traffic (which is insane). This “grassroots” growth comes from getting out of the way of their sellers. With 150 third party apps and sellers who are empowered to grow their own business as they see fit, getting out of the way has led to the exponential growth of both sellers and buyers.

Continued Growth: Since its IPO, Etsy has continued to grow rapidly. Now, growth comes primarily through experimentation and a growth marketing strategy handled by teams of people. Split testing, coming up with experiments, breaking down features and changing small elements to gauge usefulness and user response has fueled growth.

Key Takeaways from Etsy

  • Having a keen sense of market need can lead to initial traction and validation.
  • One of the best ways to see growth in a new online business is to promote it through physical events to the public.
  • Provide the right tool(s) and networking with key players (that have an audience that needs your stuff).
  • Figuring out ways to empower users into becoming brand ambassadors is a key to long term and sustainable growth.
  • Large amounts of growth is possible at every level. Strategies may change and teams may grow, but organized experimentation, failing fast, and setting up processes will help you succeed.

Growth Case Study #2: Nasty Gal

From 2006 until 2008, Nasty Gal was an eBay business that bought and sold vintage goods for it’s founder (Sophia Amoruso) to try and make a living. In 2008, she opened a stand alone e-Commerce site and by 2011, it hit $28 million in sales. The next year, Nasty Gal reported $100 million in revenue and began experimenting with physical locations. Here’s the brief on how.

Consistent Persistence: Amoruso started an eBay store (called Nasty Gal Vintage) back in 2006 to pay rent. She realized a heavy desire among millennials to dress in vintage clothes due to the unique styles of previous eras. When she hit what would be a detrimental blow to most (her eBay store was shut down) it didn’t stop her. That persistence led to an independent site with $28 million in revenue by 2011 (all from vintage clothing arbitrage).

Leveraging Platforms: Using share worthy style, high margin vintage finds, and a few local models; Nasty Gal built a large following using eBay and social platforms like Myspace (well before Facebook ads). Her strategy was simple in the early days. She made her models not only look but feel awesome and set out to, “…sell things for more than you bought them.”

Perceived Value: Without even knowing what it was, Sophia knew that if she positioned clothing a certain way it would drive up the price of the early eBay auctions. Taking decades old clothing and styling it on the right college aged model with thoughtful positioning and accessories meant large profits early on and continues today. The way you present can alter the way products are perceived.

Initial Testing: Early eBay was a split testing ground for Nasty Gal. Testing everything including the headlines on auctions, the images available, product styles, and putting one article of clothing on several different models to test what hit and missed. This experimentation led to gains week after week, and a store that constantly performed better.

Raising the Stakes: Once the eBay store was shut down, the site came to life with a hefty social following and loyal fans. Selling out of merchandise led to Amoruso seeking a Nasty Gal line. Through continued experimentation, social presence, and sticking to their core audience the company has seen incredible growth. With $100 million in revenue (2015), $65 million in VC funds last year, and two physical locations the growth is set to continue.

Growth Case Study #3: Growth Hackers

This look at Growth Hackers will speak strongly to the frustrated founder who has hit a growth plateau. The company seemingly stalled at 90,000 users. After a little focus and only 11 weeks, that number reached over 150,000. Get ready for a straight dose of data as we take a closer look at how they did it.

High Tempo Time: Testing different growth strategies had slowed and goals weren’t being met. These two factors led to a stagnant user growth chart and a company literally not living up to their name. Recognizing this was a huge first step to setting a goal of three experiments per week.

Defining Experiments: The types of things Growth Hackers identify as experiments aren’t just a simple split test (even though those are included). New initiatives, new/revamped product releases and other things were included to test.

It Takes a Village: A team of people were gathered from around the company to be  involved with generating the ideas for experimentation. The Hackers cited that if one person is in charge of the idea process the number of experiments to be tested will run out without seeing the type of growth that is desired. Their efforts resulted in hundreds of ideas that then had to be prioritized by potential benefit and ease/speed of implementation.

Pace Yourself (and Meet Often): Some of the experiments took more effort than others (which is normal). However, when these larger tests were ran, it caused the crew not to hit their three a week goal. This problem required that they set weekly meetings to identify problems and methodically sort through their experiment list.

The Process Works: Growth Hackers was able to grow a number of users (62,000) within 11 weeks. That same number of users took 32 weeks for the company to attain during launch.

Growth Case Study #4: Slack

If you love growth stories, you’ve heard of slack. This would be game company who turned their focus to team communication has received an incredible amount of attention. From 15,000 users at launch (February 2014) to over 2 million active daily users now, their story is nothing short of amazing. Here are the highlights of their early traction.

Defining a New Tool: For slack, defining themselves was an issue at first. It was when they defined an entire software category that existed(but really didn’t) that they found their focus. Offices around the world were using dozens of different tools to communicate with other team members and colleagues which made slack a no brainer to create.

Selling the Dream: Slack is a useful tool, but offices had to be convinced they really needed it (borderline couldn’t live without it). Since they were able to identify a whole new market, they also had to deal with educating their ideal customers and convincing them it was a need. Once they were able to get this across, traction came like a flood.

Focus is Key: Early on, the slack founders were influenced to pick out the software’s key features and just do those as well as they possibly could. Winning big where they won instead of even focus across the board. Features weren’t wholeheartedly denied, but an incredibly level of care was spent perfecting file sharing and search synchronization (incredibly important to highly connected teams). Once offices saw the results, word of mouth caused growth to catch fire again.

Give it Away: Slack followed suit of some of the most popular organization apps and offered a free service that was incredibly useful. Teams who saw that value would go on to get the better options to a tune of a 30% conversion rate (free to paid). A freemium model was a huge factor to the early growth that brought all of the media and VC attention, but the app itself kept paying customers.

Smooth Onboarding: Since it is such a useful tool, slack had to be careful not to create a cumbersome learning curve for users. The development of a simple and intuitive interface that allows teams to be created seamlessly and communicate immediately helped more people hit the ground running.

Growth Case Study #5: New Relic

New Relic is an analytics company that reveals the deepest secrets of cloud software and apps. From their start in 2008 until now, they’ve managed to gain 11,000 clients and monitor over 1 million websites and 1 billion (with a b) apps. Their customers range from startups, fortune 500s, and government agencies. Their growth is incredible, with 69% revenue increases in less than a year reported in 2015. How’d they do it?

Solve a Problem: The basic rule of entrepreneurship is to solve a need and New Relic knew that they would have to create something great for a market as picky as a development community. Early traction can almost all be traced by to the quality of their product and its usefulness making their focus to provide an excellent tool worthwhile.

Create Salespeople: Early marketing efforts were heavily focused on not only selling to large development firms, but specifically Ruby on Rails programmers. This approach was different in the sense that New Relic went after people instead of agencies, leading to popularity among those who would actually use their product. Things like t-shirts for users and meetups led to a sense of community all built around their excellent product.

Give It Away: A freemium model would give skittish developers a chance to view their program’s analytics, enticing them to upgrade to paid. New Relic’s marketing was simple, convince prospects to sign up and deploy to get a t-shirt and let the product do the rest.

Spending Money: In addition to shirts, the company is spending money on social ads and traffic at a high rate to gain relevant traffic. The brand is also employing multiple tools and SaaS products to gather the data they need to grow even faster.

Addictive Personality: With the product just being so dang valuable, their customers actually get dependant on the insights gained from it. This need for the data has led to an almost unheard of negative churn rate (meaning their customers spend more year over year). This rare occurrence happens due to the amount of data created and space taken up on servers. Talk about growth.

Growth Case Study #6: Tinder

Shrouded in scandal and misinformation, tinder has a truly fascinating story. Their growth has come from a mix of newsworthy attention as well as innovation in a stale and competitive market. From the start in late 2012 until now, they’ve garnered 40 million downloads and users use the iconic “swipe” feature over 1 billion times per day. How much they’re worth and how much trouble they’ve seen may be cloudy, but the best story is in their growth. Here’s the snapshot.

Ground Game: Online dating is a notoriously tough niche, but tinder knew what they needed to succeed. A large amount of females using the app would then entice guys to join, but the supply of potential dates had to be there first. They met this problem from sorority houses, getting girls to sign up one dorm at a time. Next, you just had to tell the college guys there were girls.

Make It Fun: The need for loads of users in each town led to the gamification of the tinder app itself. By creating the ability to keep “swiping” you create a sense of wonder and hope that you’ll hit the jackpot with another flick or two. This feature has been a huge factor of the overall success.

Make It Better: Tinder was able to not only create an app in a crowded market, they were able to highlight some common issues with the giants and make them better. Ladies are less likely to get heckled by countless heathens with features built into the app, making more women use (and even enjoy) the app.

Keep Going: To keep people’s profiles fresh and used, tinder continues to add features and tweak it into a more social experience (without losing it’s core value). Add-ons like ‘matchmaker’ which allows someone to introduce two friends through the app, or ‘moments’ which allows a user to share edited visuals with matches.

Growth Case Study #7: Stripe

If you want to create a company that attracts investors like a bug zapper on a front porch, listen to stripe’s story. A couple of guys (with previous success) managed to create an online payment processor that attracted the attention of the guys who made one of the first (PayPal). With a current valuation of $3.5 billion, stripe processes billions more every year. How’d it happen? Let’s see.

Addressing Elephants: While payment processors existed, they were incredibly cumbersome. Connectivity and customers were growing at a far greater rate than the ability to take payments. This obvious problem led the three founders to have a simple goal, make it easy for ecommerce businesses to take payments.

Being Different: Figuring out the frustration of other popular processors (PayPal, Google), Stripe was able to develop a platform that was business friendly. Features that set them apart included the ability for customers to stay on the seller’s site for the entire transaction, and reducing backend features that were confusing and difficult to navigate.

Close Customer Base: Stripe used its surroundings to find it’s first loyal customers. Since the company was part of a community of companies from an incubator, they were able to use that as leverage (most of them needed a payment processor).

Organic Growth: The product spoke well to online business owners and received incredible word of mouth exposure during it’s early days. To accelerate this advocacy, stripe sent care packages, including shirts and stickers, to developers who used the product. There were also meetups and community events that fostered loyalty.

Constant Improvement: Stripe knows who their customers are and have continuously created new solutions for developers to keep them happy and talking. From offering specialized support for all popular programming languages, to adding new features, there is always a better stripe in development. They’ve even begun to tackle mobile payments which almost ensures more growth in the coming months.

Growth Case Study #8: Spotify

Spotify. You’ve probably heard the name. You may even be one of the 50 million users (over 12 million of which are paid). Valued at $10 billion in just six years on the market, this story is incredible. We’ll take a quick look at the key ingredients to this explosive growth.

Be Different: Music is a giant industry, and the competition couldn’t be tougher. However, there was a gaping hole in the market. Spotify launched in the U.S. with the simple, yet powerful difference of all the music you want for a low monthly fee. From a per album and track pricing method to unlimited is almost the definition of disruption. Growth was immediate.

Deliver the Goods: There were other services, but with no options. These early versions were more like radio and lacked to ability to create a soundtrack to your life. Spotify allowed people to be in control of their music, a feature that many would pay for instead of being fed music.

Free Growth: The freemium model is one often used to help disrupt industries. Spotify does this by delicately placing ads and limiting features as not to upset users or be classified as pirating (70% of ad income goes to song rights holders).

Multiple Launches: Before launching in the U.S. in 2011 (partnering with Facebook which was another huge proponent to early growth), the company beta launched and then officially launched in multiple European countries. These tiered released allowed them to hone their message and buyer personas.

U.S. and Facebook: Launching in the U.S. (after finding their voice) caused Spotify to explode, increasing web traffic well over a million visitors a month within four months time. Their partnership with Facebook and integrating with the social network garnered another exponential growth session gaining 1 million new users within one month.

Growth Case Study #9: Airbnb

Necessity may be the mother of all invention, but AirBnB almost didn’t succeed. Sometimes it takes real tenacity to see growth and it worked out well for the lodging giant. Now worth $10 billion and responsible for more stays than anyone else in the hospitality industry, this company has seen themselves through tough times to sit on the top of an industry in record time. We’ll give you the highlights.

Hustle Fund: Well before their 450 million in funding, the founders of AirBnB had to raise their own capital. Creating a couple of politically geared cereals (Obama-O’s and Cap’n MCcain’s) the team was able to raise 30k of crucial funds.

Using Your Skills: One of the most questionable factors to Airbnb’s growth is their pillaging of Craigslist. These gifted developers engineered a solution that was able to pirate both visitors and rental listers from the popular community site. This tactic isn’t easy and is borderline taboo, but was used to create the largest vacation property site on the internet.

Do What You Gotta: Early on, too many properties were struggling with revenue. The problem was traced to bad pictures which created less interest. The solution was very hands on; renting an expensive camera and taking high quality photos of every property in New York. The income doubled and eventually became an expensive (yet effective) program. AirBnB now employees 2000 freelance photographers and revenue has hit exponential growth since the program’s introduction.

Removing Fear: There are obvious concerns when renting your home to strangers (and vice versa). The company realized that removing fears of those who were interested in using AirBnB (yet hadn’t rented or listed) was a crucial element of growth. Introducing social integration allowed visitors to see connections and social proof of those who had stayed in a particular location.

Going WorldWide: With so many beautiful locations around the world, AirBnB has started to see another round of huge growth from international stays. This outlet will also be a focus for continued increase in the coming years.

Growth Case Study #10: WhatsApp

WhatsApp started as a company that stuck to its guns to do one thing (allowing people to message inexpensively) and do it without ads. This initial goal helped them attract users for the messaging app quickly, but had them second guessing any funding. After some tenacious VC’s the app now boasts over 500 million users and 1 million more daily! Here’s the brief story of how it happened.

Pivot Power: Most companies don’t reach success offering their service they way it started. WhatsApp started as an app to let others know you weren’t available by phone. This idea failed to catch fire, until push notifications were invented. This new feature allowed WhatsApp users to alert friends of their status instantly across the world, giving life to the idea for a messaging app.

Principle Power: The app’s founder has a note taped to his desk professing “no ads” among other things. Their product doesn’t use ads and is free for the first year($0.99 cents/year thereafter). These core principles are still alive and set WhatsApp apart from dozens of competitors aiming for ad revenue and other gimmicks.

Pricing Power: WhatsApp is such a low cost alternative to many other carriers and services in other countries that international growth is faster than most other famous startups combined (Facebook included). Pricing to scale is a popular feature among startups.

Timing Power: WhatsApp had expenses for the free service that required a paid option. This problem led to the $1 price point it has today, but the timing of the paid option came with an ability to share pictures which meant growth stayed steady.

Facebook Power: The app has been purchased by Facebook, which has more than added to the growth (to the tune of 25 million users a month). However, the change does come with skepticism due to Facebook’s privacy concerns.

Growth Case Study #11: Linkedin

Executives, middle class job seekers, and networking connectors love Linkedin. Within a year of going live (2003) the networking social platform had half a million users, and the growth didn’t slow down there. It’s now a publicly traded company (LNKD) that boasts well over 200 million users and over 4000 employees worldwide. Here’s the quick look at their growth story.

Start With a Need: The need for quality prospects on both the employer and employee sides of the job coin warranted a solution. While there were other options in the early 2000’s, none offered a place for executives and decision makers to find the connections they needed. The opportunity that Linkedin capitalized on.

Niching Down: While the startup did find resistance in the beginning (tech bubble trouble), they were able to focus on Silicon Valley and find executives eager to fill their sparse staffs with qualified talent and connect with others. This choice would eventually garner the acceptance of the professional community.

Not So Free: While Linkedin did remain free, they weren’t making significant revenue from ads. When they added paid features like job listings, subscriptions, and more recently and ad platform, their revenue began to take shape.

Focus on Strength: Monitoring analytics allowed Linkedin to notice that they were very good at engaging the initial traffic reaching their site, but not as good connecting with a cold email audience. This fact led them to focus on their homepage conversions rather than email, a difficult but effective solution that led to exponential growth.

Testing to Virality: Before the company would concentrate on revenue it had to secure its growth. To do this there was a heavy period of good old growth hacking experiments, tests, and analytics until they reached a planned viral loop.

Audience Before Business: Building a large and engaged community of users before concentrating on revenue gave Linkedin the opportunity to build a business model around an audience they already knew (and had in their pocket). This knowledge has led to acquisitions (slideshare) and content platforms (Pulse) that are driving continued growth.

Growth Case Study #12: Yelp

If you love a good not so underdog story, then yelp’s story is probably a one you’ll enjoy. In a world of social review sites, yelp managed to rise above some big branded names and boasts over 95 million reviews. The site received an average of 85 million views in fourth quarter of 2015 on mobile devices alone. It started from humble San Fran beginnings and has went on to become a publicly traded company worth around $5 billion. Here’s the snapshot.

Openly Different: Yelp decided early on that reviews wouldn’t be anonymous (like the other review sites). Instead, users have profiles and are empowered to share more reviews becoming a valued member of a community.

Fostering Quality: Other review sites are often full of overly negative and one time reviewers. Yelp has created a system to reward regular reviewers with titles, ranks and other goodies to encourage a constant and accurate stream of reliable reviewers.

Start Small: Starting in the local San Francisco scene, the Yelp team was able to fix issues and gather a tight knit community. Afterwards, it was easier to take on city after city which made growth naturally exponential.

Genuinely User Friendly: So many review sites have to cater to advertisers. The problem with this model is that most ads are for the companies being reviewed (an obvious conflict of interest). However, Yelp has managed to keep the focus on a democratic review system and is seemingly unbiased.

Natural Growth: When you can create a user generated environment that allows visitors to genuinely find the best place to spend their money, you will have the type of growth that Yelp has seen. This growth has in turn spread to the businesses that deserve it. Local places that have the reviews see a jump in revenue.

Growth Case Study #13: GitHub

Programmers and developers love the idea of open source, but had a cumbersome process to add value and create. Seeing this need has led GitHub to an incredible amount of success. From initial traction of 100,000 users in a year, to now having over 10 million active customers with 10,000 more every day. Here’s how it took shape.

Make Something Easier: The problem with using open source software was the process of downloading, making changes, and then actually seeing them used. Essentially, it was the entire process that was broken. Creating a hub for git repositories that could easily be worked on and shared was the answer (namely GitHub).

Let It Ride: With developers loving the now easier (but not perfect) way to develop open source, it became a place that offered many new programs. This supply led to those seeking (demand) and you had a rapid growth process that would eventually be a full audience of people developing solutions and others who needed them.

Making Money: Startups that offer a freemium model often times run into trouble getting users to pay for premium memberships. GitHub had a natural solution come to them. Businesses and other developers wanted a private repository and were willing to pay for it. This structure created an entirely different membership that the company could charge to use.

Open Popularity: Since open source software is a huge deal, GitHub was in the perfect place to become the posterchild of a movement. This position was in some ways deliberate, but in all ways has led to crazy user gains.

Fast Delivery: GitHub doesn’t linger on new features. The developers find a way to deliver things quickly and then work to improve it after feedback. This quality has led to continued growth and loyalty from existing users.

Growth Case Study #14: Upworthy

While Upworthy may not be a SaaS app, or other type of software tool, its story is just as grandiose. Scrolling through your Facebook feed you’ve seen posts from this popular viral site (or others who are emulating their success). Endearing stories, funny videos, or multitudes of other entertaining posts are created to influence social users to visit the site. Shortly after their launch (in 2012), Upworthy was seeing traffic to the tune of almost 90 million visitors a month (by November 2013). Here’s how they did it.

Fast Changes: Originally, Upworthy wanted to capitalize on an election year and cover mainly political topics. The team quickly realized that this material wasn’t getting them the traction that they needed, and switched to other topics that were already popular.

Strictly Wants: Instead of providing a need, Upworthy provides the types of content that people seem to naturally gravitate toward. Instead of text based articles, they concentrate on visual content that speaks to human emotions and behaviors.

Solid Formula: While they can’t bottle virality, they sure are good at it. Their success has come from a solid formula of curating content from around the web as well as a proprietary system of editing and evaluating it. It essentially comes down to using data to find the content, tweaking (again by using the data), and analyzing it after it’s published (creating more data to use).

Conversions: Without a steady base of social traffic, the site wouldn’t have nearly as many visitors. To gain a steady increase of likes and followers, the team has had to A/B test various methods. These experiments have led the site’s facebook page to nearly 5 million likes since launch.

Emotions Driven: Since the click is performed by a human and the content isn’t a need, emotions play a major role in getting a visitor to the site. The need to compel leads to tests of material, but more importantly headlines. The click is the most important aspect so those few words that are shown are the most vital aspect (along with the image).

Future Growth: With mobile being the future, the brand has made changes to make mobile users just as click happy. In addition to mobile, the international market is ripe, but needs different forms of content and more testing is needed to see the growth already achieved in the states.

Growth Case Study #15: HubSpot

Unless you’ve been under a rock over the past few years, you’ve heard the term “inbound marketing”. You can thank HubSpot for that. On top of crafting a new term, they’ve become a billion dollar company. Their story is great for those who have high dollar products, but still want to see rapid growth. With each client bringing in an average of over $6000, they’ve managed to see incredible gains in a short time. Here’s how.

Inbound Marketing: It’s no surprise that HubSpot practices what it preaches and uses inbound as an incredible source of growth. Having multiple blogs (that provide intense levels of value) and a great overall compelling online presence, has given them a ton of success (and continues to do so).

Free Stuff: There are few other sources online (at least for marketing) where you can find so much value completely for free. Guides, courses, templates, you name it and it’s there. One of their most successful drivers is the free website grader (it search 4 million sites in five years).

Tailored CTA: HubSpot offers multiple types of content (as mentioned), but if you read a blog post, your offer is going to be catered to that topic. Most B2B companies have one guide, whitepaper or resource for their ideal clients. HubSpot continues their content marketing with content specific calls to action which increases conversions (and growth).

Webinars: Early adopters in the webinar game, HubSpot was able to tap into internet savvy companies and give them free tips in an online presentation. Webinars are a key proponent of their social growth as well as the overall success of their brand.

Growth Case Study #16: Evernote

If your company is fledging or even on the brink of shutting down, maybe you can derive a little inspiration from Evernote. After almost closing their virtual doors, they’ve went on to gain 75 million users and a lot of VC attention. They had to start somewhere and so do you, so let’s see what factors led to their success.

Surviving Trouble: Evernote was born in the midst of a world of social and new websites (not apps). This early trouble led them to only have a few weeks worth of funds in their accounts at any one time. Fortunately, a lone user loved the product and at the last available minute wired enough funds to keep them going.

Good and Bad Timing: Evernote launched in the modern app era (2008). There were millions of users ready to download, and not a whole lot of other apps which helped early growth. The team would also work hard to be in the new app stores on the first day opened. The funding factor wasn’t as good with the economic situation being so awful.

Useful and Impressive: Evernote desired to create an app that could act as your memory, storing anything of any size from anywhere. On top of that, they wanted an interface that was easy to use, functional and enjoyable. Making something useful and easy are always key metrics for growth.

Freemium: One of the early adopters of the freemium model, Evernote used a basic free version of the app to entice new users. The genuine usefulness of the product has led to a financial success to the tune of a billion dollar valuation. The value of the product increases with use, and so can the revenue.

Literal Ambassadors: Many companies hope to create advocates for their brand, but Evernote literally does it. Naming a select few from prominent industries as ambassadors for the app has led to incredible word of mouth and user success. Meetups are held where the ambassador answers questions and shares the usefulness of the product in that particular field.

Continuous Improvement: In an effort to keep growth levels, Evernote has continuously put out new features and entire apps that make their initial success more useful. Every new product or acquisition has the same goal: to be useful, and beautifully functional which in the end can sell itself (with a little testing).

Growth Case Study #17: SnapChat

Sometimes your products aren’t used the way you intended and it can lead to problems. The SnapChat founders understand that, but it didn’t lead to their growth stalling. In fact, the popular picture/video sharing app has went from starting in 2011 to having about 9000 “snaps” every single second.

Provide Freedom: So often many young people feel the need for expression that can’t be obtained on most social channels. SnapChat offers users the ability to post a very expressive product that is live in real time with no lasting ramifications. The freedom that comes from the ability to just hop on and share a moment (that won’t last) is a compelling feature that drives both engagement and growth.

Controversial Growth: Meant for colleges, the app found its start in high schools. It seems teenagers were attracted to the idea of messages that could be shared with friends and not be seen by anyone else (and no evidence). However, the app received negative (potentially unwarranted) early press centered around the new “sexting” phenomenon. Growth continued.

Competitive Help: Facebook saw the popularity of SnapChat as a threat and created their own similar app (called Poke). The attention only gave more fuel to SnapChat’s popularity sending their growth even higher while Poke declined.

Natural Engagement: Due to the nature of the app, messages sent between users are rarely unopened. The wonder of what could be inside makes most open the messages they receive and compels them to send their own. This engagement also creates an excellent word of mouth.

Social Acceptance: More recently, heavy hitters in the online community (namely Gary Vaynerchuck among others) have begun to adopt the platform. This popularity has online audiences running to the platform and sure to equal growth.

Growth Case Study #18: Uber

Continued growth on an exponential level  is a rare thing when it comes to billion dollar brands. Uber continues to amaze, more than doubling growth year after year even after they boast an almost $4 billion valuation. Not to mention they’ve done all of this since 2009 starting out as a small local service. Let’s take a brief look at how they accomplished so much.

Monopoly Buster: Cabs are terrible. Uber fixes that problem. While it’s not perfect, this new transportation method has become the very face of modern business disruption. The added bonus of shaking an industry is not only the joy of being useful, but the media attention (negative and positive) that further fuels growth.

Strategic Launch: If you’re going to provide a service, it’s best to give it to those with platforms. Choosing San Francisco to be the first Uber city was a strategic choice. A place of notoriously bad taxis and people who loved new technology and had blogs and audiences of their own (people like Tim Ferris).

Driver Love: Obviously, the travel brings the revenue. However, Uber understands that they are a liaison service between two parties (one being the driver). With better pay and putting laid off drivers back to work they created instants advocates in each new city.

Focused Launches: Each city isn’t just an expansion for Uber, it’s a new place to dominate. Taking each new location seriously has led to continued growth. This tactic doesn’t mean slow growth, they have expanded rapidly as well as meticulously across the globe.

Testimonials: Word of mouth is still one of the biggest growth drivers in the world, but Uber gets it from those who have used their service. By someone sharing their experience with someone else (a testimonial) it becomes even more compelling. Uber also gives free rides to have more and more people telling their story.

Creating Wow: Uber loves testing different experiences for their customers. Trying to ever improve the ride has led to some great experiments and an almost guaranteed good time across town (which creates more testimonial situations).

Growth Case Study #19: Belly

Everyone hates it when customers leave. The average churn rate of a company can destroy growth. Belly Card started out to help small and medium sized businesses increase the retention rate of clients. A unique business model that isn’t well known, but has over 1 million users and 5000 business clients. The neatest part about them, is that it all happened in about 15 months! Here’s how.

Market Research: A key driver to growth is starting with something valuable. A lot of times it’s a hunch from a founder, but not in the case of Belly. The team hit the pavement and talked with hundreds of merchants to figure out how to improve customer loyalty for local businesses.

Getting It In: After creating the product to help, they got to work. Selling in person, on the phone, and other “traditional” methods helped get them their early traction and user base. Belly worked Chicago until people and merchants were talking about their service.

City by City: With a few successful city launches under their belt, the Belly team was able to roll out that strategy in new cities with the same success. Soon after, the word of mouth took off as users and merchants loved the engaging elements (gamification) that the product provided.

Selling by Data: While national chains of independent owners are a lucrative market, selling the owners equals a slowed rate of growth and selling to the chain may not be as effective either. However, Belly was able to take the data of the independent owners that were already using the programs (places like Subways and Chic-Fil-As) to entice the chains to use the service. This process would increase sales for Belly and (in most cases) chains/franchisors as well as garner loyalty for the owners themselves (win-win-win).

Growth Case Study #20: Square

Software companies can be one of the most attractive looking ventures, but Square was able to do something different. The company applied a payment processing company behind an attractive and conversation starting trend centered around their hardware. The growth is amazing, from starting in 2009 to being one of the most popular small business payment processor with 600 employees. Here’s a quick look at how they gained traction.

Needed Change: Square makes it possible for anyone to take credit payments. With the hardware (see next point), it had never been easier for small businesses to take multiple forms of payments and sell more stuff. Whether it would be at flea markets, or in their home office everyone could take credit. Something that was needed and wanted and that created an environment for growth.

Physical Hardware: One of the most revolutionary things about Square is the invention of it’s iconic credit card processing hardware. It’s simple, easy and opens up credit payments to a world of entrepreneurs and business owners. The company is still doing this with iPad integrations and register POS systems today. The wow factor and talking points definitely helped them with early traction.

Happy Customers: In addition to small business owners getting an easy way to take multiple forms of payments, they like it for other reasons too. Not only is the product useful, but incredibly attractive and hip. Middle class business owners often know others like them, fueling the number of people who are using the new device (and the processor of course).

Founder Foundation: Jack Dorsey (also cofounded Twitter) was an obvious piece to the early growth of the platform. It wasn’t just his name, but his approach. He wrote a list for those who may be interested in funding the startup. The list laid out 140 reasons why the company may fail as well as their counter points. The gimmick worked and it has garnered significant investment and popularity.