Growth hacks that helped Facebook get off the ground

Growth hacks  that helped Facebook get off the ground

Growth hackers are principled hackers who study how people use a product and continually test and optimize every digital touchpoint in order to get prospective customers to take action.

- Andy Johns - one of the premier growth hackers in Silicon Valley -


  • Embeddable Facebook badges or profile widgets for users to post on their own sites and blogs
  • Purchase of service providers in third world countries to acquire their technology to help get hold of more email addresses
  • A secret tactic to attract highly desirable targets to sign up, which Johns wouldn’t tell Forbes about (how intriguing is that?!)

Johns’ first growth hacking job was at Facebook. He didn’t have any experience in growth hacking, but Facebook leadership wanted it that way. As Johns described it, “The idea is when you’re trying to solve something that hasn’t been solved before you hire a bunch of smart people without a predisposition towards solving a problem a particular way. Then you put those people in a resource constrained environment and drive them to figure it out.”
Johns admits his first 6 months were pretty turbulent and he felt he could be fired any day – but he soon found his stride. “Facebook is one of the few companies that does an amazing job of really driving people towards producing results and giving employees an incredible amount of accountability,” Johns said. “In fact, at one point our executive team set a goal of acquiring 200 million users in 12 months.”

According to Johns, the growth team did surpass the 200 million user challenge by allowing each team member to act as their own General Manager. “As an individual, I had to propose what I was going to contribute every month and for the year. Each of us was responsible for profit and loss of users (acquisition of new users) and I needed to determine what resources I needed to succeed.”

The growth team was able to track direct contributions from team members because we had built incredible data infrastructure that allowed us to be precise in the measurement of everything we did.

So how did they do it? Johns was reserved but did discuss three growth hacks that really moved the needle. The first hack involved giving users embeddable Facebook badges or profile widgets to post on their websites and blogs. Johns told me that these widgets served billions of impressions per month, which led to hundreds of millions of clicks and consequently millions of signups. By extending Facebook through the user base, Facebook was able to generate a massive number of sign ups.

A second hack involved buying service providers in third world countries. Most of the press following these acquisitions were left scratching their heads. In fact, in 2010 Michael Arrington was mystified by the Facebook acquisition of Octazen Solutions, asking at the time, “The big question is why Facebook would need to acquire a company located halfway around the world if all they were doing is standard address book imports via OAuth and APIs, or proprietary but well documented protocols like Facebook use.” It turns out Facebook was purchasing these types of companies to acquire their technology to help procure more email addresses.

The third hack involved the acquisition of people who had not yet signed up for Facebook, and were highly desirable targets for strategic reasons. This involved some creative but inexpensive advertising techniques that Johns could not elaborate on. This campaign was so successful that the advertising network Facebook was using asked Facebook to modify its method.