Growth hacking is like Walter White in Breaking Bad: a digital marketer’s story of scaling smart


Anirudh Narayan, author of ‘Scale Smart: How To Get Your First 1,000 Customers In India’, speaks to YourStory about his personal experience in becoming a digital marketer and how growth hacking is crucial for scaling businesses.

Anirudh Narayan


“Growth hacking is like Walter White in Breaking Bad. You're like this chemistry teacher trying to set up a business and grow it while being experimental in nature and hanging on to dear life,” says Anirudh Narayan, author of Scale Smart: How To Get Your First 1,000 Customers In India.

In a conversation with YourStory, Anirudh, 32, spoke about growth hacking for Indian entrepreneurs and how his journey to becoming a digital marketer helped him understand its relevance in building and scaling a business.

It's been a long, nomadic journey

Originally from Chennai, Anirudh grew up in towns and cities across India as his father worked in the Indian Air Force. “It has helped me connect with people easily. I played basketball growing up, and I attribute a lot of life skills to basketball. It doesn't matter where you come from but just the skill you bring to the table - team camaraderie, the need to win, being competitive, and getting along with people from all walks of life. I think it has taught me to take the hits and still stand up,” he says.

Anirudh moved to the US when he was 24 to do his master’s in management science and engineering at Columbia University in New York. New York changed his life forever. “At the university, there was no spoon feeding, only abstract teaching. You learn how to build something when you are not given any direction,” he says.

Next came an internship at Rocket Internet in Nigeria, where the European investment company was building a platform similar to Jabong and Amazon. There, he first worked with a young founder and then at Lean Startup Machine, hosting and managing workshops in the Americas and Africa. The next move was to marketing at stock photography firm Shutterstock.

Despite a $2.7 million budget for a new product, an online learning marketplace, the team could not officially reach a product-market fit. Their customers would sign up but wouldn't stay on for more than three months.

“We were spending more money on acquiring them than their lifetime value. It was a subscription model where you had to pay $19/month to access thousands of courses across 17 different subjects," Anirudh recalls. What they hadn't done was closely curate a lot of content, he says, which led to a perception problem: "People thought they could access these courses on YouTube rather than having to pay $19 a month."

After that, Anirudh went on to exploring South America for seven months, while also remotely working for a San Francisco-based company.

The motherland calls

By 2016, Anirudh had returned to India, and since then has worked in digital marketing with industry body NASSCOM, edtech companies Simplilearn and Upgrad, as well as NUMA, among others. He was consulting in the US and India while also conducting workshops. His time abroad had left an impression by then.

“I think the biggest learning in master’s is you have to get out of your comfort zone. You learn how to learn -- through collaboration, feedback, and consuming content in audio, video, and text. This method has helped me in creating formats for workshops, marketing plans for clients, and courses in English and Spanish,” he says.

Back then, growth hacking was a new concept in India. The time was ripe to put his knowledge into a medium that could reach a larger audience.

“I was often asked how to scale a startup in my workshops. Although I was more comfortable talking, I decided to write a book; it was like a bucket-list thing,” he says.

Writer’s block

Anirudh wanted to "help a million entrepreneurs with growth, marketing, and their mental game" either through personal interactions or through content on the net.

“I feel entrepreneurs go through the most emotional turbulence than any other people. They feel like their world is falling apart, they've to take care of people, and have a personal life. They might have it the toughest. I've been there. And if I can help them in any way possible and make some difference in their life, that would be super humbling,” he says.

Anirudh felt that startups were not writing or talking about strategies used by them to scale. So he decided to start with growth/marketing breakdowns rather than stories.

“As I showed these stories to a few people, they were like, this is great but how do I scale my startup? How do I go about doing it on my own? That seemed like a bigger problem,” he reminisces.

The result: a book on growth hacking for startups

Anirudh claims that people who were interested in creating dating apps were excited about how Bharat Matrimony grew, but that didn't necessarily hold true for people from other sectors.

“So the book became more about how to scale your startup in India, whether its B2B or B2C while focusing on a larger audience. The book isn't purely growth hacks but is a how-to guide, a startup manual,” he says.

With hundreds of examples, live case studies, and marketing breakdowns, it gives a startup the roadmap to get their first 1,000 customers in India. It was created after interviewing close to 25 founders, including those of Bharat Matrimony, Practo, FusionCharts, BYJU's, Chumbak, Freshworks, and Freecharge.

“It takes you from - I have an idea, what do I do next - to how to scale using each marketing channel. For example, how did Chumbak get 500,000 community members? How did Crowdfire get five million followers on Twitter? How did ShoutMeLoud make $50,000/month using content marketing? It is a how-to book,” Anirudh says.

The biggest challenge, however, was writer’s block. Anirudh confesses that he struggled with motivation, putting thoughts together, being out of his comfort zone, editing, publishing, design, and every other aspect of giving birth to a book. Between 2016 and 2018, however, he managed to give it a structure.

In fact, he was working and writing at the same time since he felt more creative pressure otherwise. “If you think of book sales alone, you lose track of what to write next. When I finally finished the book, I cried out of relief,” he says.

Anirudh hopes that the next time he writes a book it won’t be too hard: “I am thinking of a VC playbook – how to reach out to them and give a successful pitch.”

Scale Smart is published by Notion Press.