Growth hacking is a term coined by Sean Ellis to describe using empathy, experiments, and evidence to find growth. It’s often described in shorthand as “Lean Startup for marketing,” but this analogy really doesn’t do it justice. Ellis describes growth hacking more as “applying the known principles of growth.”

Consider that when a company achieves a growth phase, it’s not because in linear fashion, a product is built to specification; then handed over to product marketing, which describes its features and benefits; then handed over to marketing, which does a big launch; then handed over to sales, to capitalize on a this huge, primed market prepped for product purchase and delivery.

I mean, this is the fantasy version of startups.

Growth hacking principles use several business levers that practitioners adjust to find product-market fit. While they continue to be tweaked and adjusted and perhaps changed completely over the years to find new growth, they remain relatively static for a while, once the right lever combination is found.

For many tech startups, the primary levers are messaging, product features, and the concept of “delight.” This last word is not exactly right, but let’s roll with it. Intuit’s “Design for Delight’’ program is fifteen to twenty years old because it strikes the right note. It’s the part of a user’s experience that goes beyond features and benefits and varies from product to product, market to market, industry to industry. It results in customers “wanting more”—they become product advocates.

I’ll dive deeper into this concept in the Value Stream Discovery section, but the messaging lever is ostensibly about finding the right “utility promise” you make to a specific audience. The product must fulfill that promise. You mix in the indescribable part of the customer becoming delighted or passionate and you have product-market fit. The process of tweaking those components is growth hacking. In other words, you use empathy and experiments to find the right marketing message and build the right product features, such that a large market feels the product successfully fills a promise that is meaningful to them, and even goes “above and beyond.” This is product-market fit.