“What are the best books for startup growth hackers? ” Is one of the most common questions asked by aspiring growth hackers.
Truth be told, is that there is no “one” book that you read and become a good growth hacker. To be more precise – there’s also no one skill that will qualify you to be one.
Growth hacking is a combination of different skills set (Data, Coding, Marketing, Product, UX and more) combined with the right mindset.
The ideal growth hacking team is one where each team member has its expertise but with a great understanding of the big picture, methodology and guidelines for fast-paced experiments.
For smaller scale startups, you’d often have a multi-disciplined marketer or product manager. Somebody who knows how to work with data (at least at a basic level), some coding (API integration and Python skills) and basic knowledge of running campaigns.
So with that mixture of trait and collaboration needed, how does one start their journey into the Growth Hacking realm?
What should you read?
I’ve created a list of 12 books which I think can be a good start.
Some focus on the mindset while others are more “hands-on” with a specific skill.
The complete list:
- The Growth Marketer’s Playbook by Jim Huffman.
- Hacking Growth by Sean Ellis & Morgan Brown
- Lean Analytics by Alistair Croll & Benjamin Yoskovitz
- Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights by Steve Portigal
- Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth by Gabriel Weinberg
- Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal
- Startup Growth Engines: Case Studies of How Today’s Most Successful Startup Unlock Extraordinary Growth by Sean Ellis & Morgan Brown
- Email Persuasion: Captivate and Engage Your Audience, Build Authority and Generate More Sales With Email Marketing by Ian Brodie
- Viral Loop: From Facebook to Twitter, How Today’s Smartest Businesses Grow Themselves by Adam L. Penenberg
- Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing, and Advertising by Ryan Holiday
- Crushing It by Gary Vaynerchuk
The Growth Marketer’s Playbook (Jim Huffman)
The growth playbook isn’t the most in-depth Growth Hacking book, but it is sure one of the best resources to help get your head in the game.
This book talks about all aspect of growth hacking, from a mindset perspective, including the introduction of the different growth frameworks, managing your growth team, the various steps in the growth funnel and how to treat them.
It’s relatively short, digestible and will easily take you from 0-100 in understanding the Growth Hacking framework and mindset.
Hacking Growth (Sean Ellis & Morgan Brown)
This is the real heavy hitter.
Sean Ellis, the original Dropbox marketer who coined the term Growth Hacking, teamed up once more (they have another book in this list) to write the ultimate manual for aspiring growth hackers.
This book has mindsets, processes, practices, examples – everything you need to setup up your game as a growth Lead in a company.
Brown & Ellis who’ve collaborated on products and the Growthhackers.com community in the past, really go into depth in explaining the concept from all perspectives while mixing it up with real-world examples.
This is without a doubt the best book to read if you want to master the Growth Lead position (adding to the previous real-world experience of course).
Lean Analytics (Alistair Croll & Benjamin Yoskovitz)
I think Lean Analytics is the first book every startup marketer and product manager have to read before starting any measurement effort.
Lean analytics is a perfect book to help you understand the importance and meaning of measurement and analytics.
It starts from covering the very basics such as “what is a good metric” to the extent of offering analytics frameworks based on your startup and business model and structure.
An excellent resource for beginners and professionals alike.
Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights (Steve Portigal )
User interviews are probably one of the most important traits you’ll need to master while growing your startup.
Analytics might help you uncover a pattern, but a good user interview will give you the ‘why,’ the motives and thoughts guiding your user as they use your product.
For some reason, people feel you need to “know” marketing, data science or product management, but have the notion anybody can conduct a good user interview.
That is dead wrong.
In his book, Steve Portigal gives you the tools to understand the importance of conducting user interviews, the different frameworks and approaches you can use, how to phrase your questions to get the most insight without skewing your data and more.
Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth (Gabriel Weinberg)
Duck Duck Go’s founder wrote “Traction” to help startup marketers better focus their marketing efforts and strategies.
The idea is simple – there are 19 traction channels a startup can leverage (SEO, Paid Media, Social Media, Content Marketing, PR, etc.), every startup eventually has 2-3 that works for them at scale, and you need to focus your effort in finding yours.
The books starts with explaining the “Bullseye” framework to test the different traction channels in a fast and efficient way and goes on to review the 19 channels, describing how to use them while incorporating examples and case studies.
I’m not 100% the content ages well, as methods come and go, but the principles are evergreen, and it can help you get some clarity and focus.
As a growth marketer, you need to master a few technical skills to be able to run your experiments, own your data research when needed and be able to communicate with your technical teammates and understand the possibilities in store.
This book is a very hands-on, goal-oriented book to help you get started with these technical skills.
From mastering SQL databases and complex queries, designing and building interactive data-driven websites to being able to work with automation, cookies and more to hone your data and practical code.
Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products (Nir Eyal)
I think ‘Hooked’ is a game changer book for product managers.
The way Nir Eyal breaks down the elements in creating habit-forming products makes it sound so simple and understandable.
Learning and absorbing the principles of Eyal’s framework is a lesson anyone looking to build a product with high retention should be eager to learn.
The 4 steps “Trigger – Action – Reward – Investment” model will help you think of your product’s features and “reason to be” in a different way.
It will also help you make better decisions in what should be your focus area when optimizing your product flow and usage scenarios.
Read this before planning your product road map or tweaking an existing feature.
Startup Growth Engines: Case Studies of How Today’s Most Successful Startup
Unlock Extraordinary Growth (Sean Ellis & Morgan Brown)
A big part of coming up with new experiments to test is getting inspiration, and Sean Ellis & Morgan Brown’s (remember them from before) case studies book is filled with those.
This book is a collection of great growth hacking examples and stories from some of the fastest growing companies around.
Now, I think case studies should always be taken with a grain of salt, but having a good book to draw ideas from, while getting a glimpse to some brilliant people’s decision making processes – is always a great idea.
Email Persuasion: Captivate and Engage Your Audience, Build Authority and Generate More Sales With Email Marketing (Ian Brodie)
Email marketing is one of the most important marketing, nurturing and retention channels. Yet, it got some bad reputation in the past, and now a lot of marketers automatically think about it as a major spam channel.
Email is one of the best channels your startup needs to learn how to harness, as it can bring you tons of value and revenue if you do it right.
Brodie’s book is a great starter to fix your attitude about email, but also teach you valuable lessons about copywriting, types of email you can send, email automation and different technologies you have to master to win the email game.
Viral Loop: From Facebook to Twitter, How Today’s Smartest Businesses Grow Themselves (Adam L. Penenberg )
Referrals are one of the most undervalued but highly important marketing channels startups miss out on.
Most startups look at referral (or referral programs) as something you deal with later on down the line.
Having the right viral loops as an inherent part your product can easily mean the difference between struggling for growth and skyrocketing your user acquisition.
Adam’s book covers the history of viral loops and how today’s fastest growing start-ups use them to scale fast.
Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing, and Advertising (Ryan Holiday)
I’m not 100% this book is qualified as a growth hacking book in a way most startups understand or use the term, but Ryan Holiday has been able to put the mindset he describes in his book into some amazing marketing plays over the years.
I think it’s one of the first books written on the topic and it delivers some great insights on how to think about growth in general.
While all other books were written by mostly startup focused personal, I think Ryan’s commercial background at American Apparel brings a lot of added value to the mix.
Crushing It (Gary Vaynerchuk)
I know, Gary Vee is not an example any growth hacker would even consider mentioning.
Still, I think his mindset and approach to the new and underpriced channels is outstanding.
He is probably one of the best marketers out there, with reach and engagement numbers most startups can only dream of – and with content types, most startups don’t dare to create (and lose for not taking the risk)
If you want to learn how to think creatively about the platform your potential users are using, get there and capitalize on them before anyone else – Gary Vee will take you there.