Credit: Soulja Boy

Soulja Boy is probably the least likely rapper to be recognized as an OG in the hip-hop community. But as a growth hacker, he’s been an OG before the phrase was coined by Sean Ellis in 2010.

First off, what is “Growth Hacking”?

“Growth hacking is centered around testing and being data driven, combined with using innovating creative techniques to achieve maximum output for minimum effort.” — James Shamsi

For conventional businesses and start-ups, sustainability should also be considered. You’ll see in my examples below that not all growth hacks are sustainable…or legal.

Here, I’m going to emphasize the “innovative and creative techniques to achieve maximum output for minimum effort.”

How Soulja Boy Growth Hacked Himself Into Wealth and Fame

From his modest beginnings, Soulja Boy (a transplanted rapper you’ve heard from those damn ringtones years ago) mastered a platform called SoundClick. He’d upload and promote his music and soon began generating about $20,000 per day (pocketing 50%). Then Myspace came. He continued to build his brand and garnered a million plays. Then millions more.

Soulja Boy really became a bona fide growth hacker when he discovered LimeWire.

On LimeWire, Soulja Boy would upload his (now) iconic song Crank Dat, cross-reference the top 20 billboard charts and change the title of his song to match the top songs on the list. From Eminem to Britney Spears. A lot of people heard his music who had no idea who he was. And he gained massive brand awareness.

His songs, “Crank Dat” and “Kiss Me Thru The Phone”, had more than 2 million digital downloads — each. In fact, as I write this both songs are still ringing in my head. And I need to take some Advil.

I’ll probably get some ridicule for stating this: Soulja Boy is a true pioneer in the digital frontier for growth hacking. And deserves some acknowledgement.

Don’t agree? Maybe hundreds of millions of views, tens of millions of social fans, millions of downloads, and those fancy gold chains would change your mind.

Though you won’t find him on my playlist, I’m definitely a fan of his unconventional thinking and ingenuity when it comes to building his brand.

And if Soulja Boy isn’t enough to convince you that growth hacking is a real thing created by real (and unconventional people), here are some other fascinating examples.

5 Uniquely Notable Growth Hacks:


Method: Invite a friend for free storage

After realizing that paid media was costing more than the lifetime value of their customers, Dropbox had to start thinking out of the (drop)box.

They decided to start incentivizing customers to refer more business by offering additional storage space. They grew from 100k users to over 4 million in a little over a year.

Dropbox is valued at 10 billion dollars.

Bank Robbery

Method: Pass a note

From 2009–2010, the Blue Note Bandit managed to rob over a dozen banks over a period of 3 months. He walked in with a note demanding money and walked out with money.

Though this strategy lacks long-term sustainability (unless you count free room and board in prison as “sustainable”), it definitely derives a least-cost approach for immediate gains.

My buddy James Shamsi often quips “Be cheap. Be Lazy.” And bank robbery is definitely a cheap and lazy approach to net (on average) $1,000–10,000 for a 2 minute “job”.

Credit: James Shamsi


Method: Offer free email (at a time when email wasn’t as common)

OK. Maybe Hotmail beat Soulja Boy on the Oregon Trail of growth hacking. Waaaaay back in the 90’s Hotmail added a link in the bottom of emails: “Get Your Free Email at Hotmail”.

Hotmail managed to increase their users from 20,000 to over 1 million in about 6 months.

Link + incentive = massive users => growth hack.

2 years later, they sold to Microsoft for 400 million dollars.


Method: Add baking soda

High volume high margin. Yes, crack is whack. Yes, crack is profitable. And yes, the crack trend directly correlates with the worst crime and drug epidemics in the history of the United States.

By adding baking soda to cocaine, you immediately increase your product volume by 20%. It’s also way more addicting than cocaine, causing your customers to re-up at a faster rate.

And crackheads don’t tend to have a lot of cash on hand to buy “wholesale”. Selling in smaller quantities allows greater “retail” margins, though the risk of getting caught also increases.

Sustainability? It’s still around. But probably not the right business venture to explore. Seriously, who wants a crackhead as a client?

Credit: Dave Chapelle


Method: Get in bed with Craigslist

AirBed & Breakfast. Have you heard of ‘em? If it weren’t for their brilliant yet simple integration with Craigslist, you might have not.

Airbnb had a need: Get more users. And they needed to make it easy. They saw an open space on the well-known (and widely used) platform, Craigslist. And they executed with nerd-like grace, using bots and techy magic to become the powerhouse they are today.

They’re now worth 3.3 billion dollars.

Conclusion: You Can Do It!

I’m not advising anybody to start robbing banks or cooking crack or even rapping. But the above methods have been tried and true.

Growth hacking isn’t limited to Silicon Valley yuppies talking KPI’s and looking for investors. And usually, the unconventional, the scrappy, and the ones slightly off kilter are the best at it. Because we can’t fit in a 9–5 box.

Growth hacking is a mentality. It’s a practice. And a lifestyle.

While everybody is trying to cram through the front door, growth hackers break in through the kitchen window. Or slide down the chimney. Or sell crack to the people in line waiting to get in.

Don’t rob banks or sell crack or break the law. But think like a bank robber. Think like Soulja Boy. Find missed opportunities, look for profitable (and sustainable) shortcuts, be cheap, be lazy. And don’t let 9–5 walls and glass ceilings confine your creativity or potential.

Heck, if Soulja Boy could do it, so can you.



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