Shane Heywood

Musings on market-oriented approaches to International Development

‘Growth Hacking’ and Micro-Enterprises

Call me crazy, but I don’t like the phrase “hacking.”

At best, I think of a less than sharp axe trying to cut a tree. At worst, numerous bloody screenshots from the “Saw” series.

Yet, in the start-up world, hacking is a commonly used word, with one phrase getting more attention: Growth Hacking. There are a bunch of definitions for this, but one common element across many definitions is a rapid, data-driven experimentation process with a singular focus on growing a company’s customer base.

In my view, like start-ups, very small businesses in the developing world may well benefit from “growth hacking.”

From Micro, to Macro

In Jamaica, I had the chance to see entrepreneurs running micro-businesses. A problem though is that many micro-businesses, remained micro-businesses. This is not a problem specific or restricted to Jamaica – I have seen the same in Nigeria, Ghana and this is a common model across the developing world.


Here is the key question: if we want to make meaningful, sustainable change in poverty reduction, creating mass employment opportunities is key – and micro-businesses will not get us there.

Of course, there is a large amount of literature discussing why few micro/small businesses in the developing world “upgrade” to medium / large firms – a discussion which will not happen in this post.

I think a more pressing matter is this: is it possible for micro-businesses to sustainably execute and benefit from ‘growth hacking’?


What techniques from the ‘Growth Hacking’ mindset might Angella in Jamaica (see below) use? During Andrew Chen’s discussion on Growth Hacking, he mentioned the role of Partnerships in driving growth. In other words, could Angella work with the nearby butcher, so that after buying a cut of mutton, a shopper would then also buy some conch from Angella?


To be clear, there are obvious challenges around implementation, if only because mico-entrepreneurs / social entrepreneurs may the capability to quickly read, much less effectively test and measure the outcomes of each test. Andrew Chen might aslo say these businesses are too small to think of ‘Growth hacking’ techniques.

Nonetheless, the point is this: for people seeking to change lives through enterprise or even to only eke out a means of survival, it is to them which these potential lessons on rapidly testing and growing businesses also holds tremendous potential. It is to them these ideas need to be shared with. And we must wonder, what can they do with it?

Here’s to hacking away at poverty.






Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on November 25, 2016 by in Caribbean, International Development, Social Entrepreneurship, Women.

If you want to be notified of whenever I publish a post, sign-up below.

Join 1,339 other subscribers
%d bloggers like this: