What’s the difference between a growth hacker and a growth product manager?

What’s the difference between a growth hacker and a growth product manager?

I’m asked questions about product management from time to time. Here’s one I’ve answered recently:

Hi Jock,

I was reading your article about growth product managers. What is the difference between ‘growth hacker’ and ‘growth product manager’?


Read on for my reply.

What is a growth hacker?

A growth hacker as it ended up was a specialist marketer using particular techniques to rapidly drive up the numbers of users acquired and increase virality / referrals.

While there were some legitimate ‘hacks’ that produced the desired result in a sustainable and cost-effective manner (the famous Dropbox referral scheme, that really started growth hacking off, for example), more often than not, self-styled growth hackers simply poured startups’ money into online advertising and incentives. As soon as those schemes ended, the user numbers collapsed again.

The reason for this was often that the product had not yet achieved product-market fit, and so there was nothing intrinsic to retain users once you’d got them to use your product. This unsustainable / short-lived growth was the dark side (and after a while the only side) of growth hacking.

What is a growth product manager?

In comparison, a growth product manager is an actual product manager who happens to be focused more specifically on customer acquisition, retention and lifetime value (LTV). They work on products that have already achieved product-market fit. They can either be dedicated to a specific product, or work across a portfolio of products in conjunction with the ‘regular’ product managers.

Rather than resorting to unsustainable ‘hacks’, the idea is that they look holistically at the product and find ways within the product that are aligned with user needs to encourage better adoption, reduce churn and increase LTV.

Arguably this has always been part of the product manager’s role – it’s just what you do after achieving product-market fit – but given the range of tools and techniques available in this area, the specialism has emerged.



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The Practitioner's Guide to Product Management book cover

The Practitioner's Guide To Product Management

by Jock Busuttil

“This is a great book for Product Managers or those considering a career in Product Management.”

— Lyndsay Denton

Jock Busuttil is a product management and leadership coach, product leader and author. He has spent over two decades working with technology companies to improve their product management practices, from startups to multinationals. In 2012 Jock founded Product People Limited, which provides product management consultancy, coaching and training. Its clients include BBC, University of Cambridge, Ometria, Prolific and the UK’s Ministry of Justice and Government Digital Service (GDS). Jock holds a master’s degree in Classics from the University of Cambridge. He is the author of the popular book The Practitioner’s Guide To Product Management, which was published in January 2015 by Grand Central Publishing in the US and Piatkus in the UK. He writes the blog I Manage Products and weekly product management newsletter PRODUCTHEAD. You can find him on Mastodon, X (formerly Twitter) and LinkedIn.

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