Before it became a $31 billion dollar behemoth, Airbnb was a barely-surviving startup with maxed out credit cards.

They were so hard up for cash they sold cereal during the 2008 election.

Use this growth hacker checklist so you don't have to sell cereal.
Image Source: Techcrunch

The truth is, almost all creators and entrepreneurs have stories like this.

Desperate times that called for desperate measures.

The ones that survive to tell these war stories all have what I call a Growth Hacker Mentality.

Those who have this don’t care how many times they fail — they will find a creative way to get it done. They believe everything is figure-out-able. There’s always a way to do it cheaper, faster, or better, they just need to find it.

You must develop a growth hacker mentality to become a successful YouTube entrepreneur.

But when you’re first starting out, it’s hard to recognize and diagnose where you are going wrong.

It feels like you’re trying to find your way out of a dark cave without a flashlight.

Instead of fumbling around in the dark, begging for attention with every video you create, what if you had a series of steps that pointed you towards growth?

What if you knew the exact strategies and tactics a growth hacker uses to maximize the growth potential of every YouTube video?

Lucky for you I’ve created this Growth Hacker Checklist. By using it, you can rest easy knowing you’re doing what the pros do to get your content in front of the right people.

But before we get to the nitty-gritty, let me explain exactly what a growth hacker is, without all “tech bro” terminology.

What’s A Growth Hacker?

In the startup world, the creative problem solvers I’ve described are called growth hackers. Sean Ellis, the first marketer at Dropbox and former CEO of Quarrloo, invented the term. Ellis says, “A growth hacker is a person whose true north is growth.”

Let’s go back to Airbnb to show you what this means in practice.

In the early days, Airbnb’s founders were struggling to bring people in their target market to their platform.

Without an ad budget, they were at a loss for how to get traffic to their listings. That is, until they figured out a way to get in front of another site’s audience, for free.

Their growth hack? Craigslist.

Craigslist had a massive user base that included people who had used the site for years to make couchsurfing arrangements all over the world.

Like I promised, I won’t bore you with the geeky details. Let’s just say Airbnb was quickly able to get their hosts’ listings on Craigslist and jumpstart their growth.

Airbnb probably has an amazing growth hacker checklist.
Image source: The Next Web

While this is all well and good for Airbnb, what does this mean for you as an aspiring YouTube creator?

Well, the key to igniting growth on YouTube is getting your content in front of people that will love it so much they can’t help but share it with their friends.

Every time you create a new video, it’s on you to make sure it gets seen by the right people.

Notice how I didn’t say all the people.

Instead, your mission is to get your content in front of people who are already passionate about the sort of videos you create. If it resonates with your target audience, they’ll naturally want to share it with their friends, which creates word of mouth and ultimately, virality.

This is exactly what this Growth Hacker Checklist is designed to set you up for. If you use it EVERY time you create a new video, you will dramatically increase your chances for explosive YouTube growth.

Sounds like something you’ve been waiting for, right?

Then let’s get started with the most important part of growth hacking YouTube — your content.

Step 1: Bake Virality into Your Content

There is no shortage of people who will sell you on the idea that they know the “secret” to going viral.

Let me assure you — when you hear this, run the other way.

Because no one — not even the biggest YouTube stars — can guarantee you that a video will go viral.

However, this Growth Hacker Checklist will dramatically increase your odds of doing so. And the single best way to do this is by creating your content in a way that makes it inherently shareable.

What makes any one video inherently shareable?

It elicits a strong emotion from the audience.

In fact, the best YouTube videos ALL do this.

Whether the emotion is awe, joy, laughter, or even negative emotions like anger, sadness, or outrage, your content must make your viewers feel something intensely.

As Jonah Berger, the author of the book on virality, Contagious: Why Things Catch On, says, “If you make people feel something, they will remember better. You can’t help sharing something highly emotional — it’s what humans do.”

So when you create your content, always ask yourself this question:

Does this video elicit a strong emotion?

There are plenty of ways to do this.

But I’ll let you in on a little secret.

After years of making viral videos on YouTube, we realized we used the same three strategies over and over again to elicit an emotional reaction from our fans.

These 3 traits are responsible for hundreds of millions of views on our channel:

  • Challenge assumptions
  • Have a unique perspective
  • Tell a compelling story

So when you go through this Growth Hacker Checklist make sure you are able to check off one of the following strategies:

  • Does this video challenge my audience’s assumptions?

Challenging assumptions is powerful because it shocks people into questioning their own beliefs about something.

When you challenge a person’s assumptions, they’ll want to share it with their friends because they just discovered a new way of thinking (plus they get to look smart).

For example, we did a video where we took a confident guy and gave him an aesthetic handicap. Then we had him ask random women out on dates.

And guess what? He was successful.

What assumption did this challenge?

That looks are the most important thing in a potential mate.

These kinds of videos are popular because when people hear they might be wrong about something, their ears perk up.

And if you make them think differently, they are more likely to share what they saw.

  • Does this video offer a unique perspective?

There are 300 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute. How are you going to make sure your content stands out from everything else?

By offering a unique point of view.

Here’s an exercise to test the point of view of a video idea:

Ask yourself:

How many times has this exact idea been done before?

The fewer people, the better.

For example, this video is titled “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman.” It literally puts you in the shoes of a woman walking the streets of Manhattan. From that first-person perspective, you get a unique view of the not so great experiences women live through every day in major cities.

  • Am I telling a compelling story?

Most people assume they know how to tell a story, but they never actually stop and think about what makes storytelling so powerful.

Stories make people take action because they tell a narrative that helps us relate to each other and process the world.

And there’s no shortage of creative ways to tell them.

You can create an underdog story, a surprising plot twist, a tragedy, a comedy, a rags to riches tale. The list goes on and on.

For example, we made a video called, “How to Get a Girl That Doesn’t Like You Back,” which got over 4 million views. Every guy has a crush that doesn’t reciprocate, so it’s a very relatable story. But our story had a twist, in that it explored the pitfalls of wasting your time and energy on someone who just isn’t interested in you.

If you bake one of these traits into every video you create, you will dramatically increase your chances of going viral.

The next part of the Growth Hacker Checklist is all about getting people to press play when they see your video.

Step 2: Make “Pressing Play” Irresistible

You might think you’ve made the coolest YouTube video in the world.

But if you can’t convey that fact to your audience before they click play, how are they to know the extent of your genius?

Remember, before people choose to watch your video, all they can see is the title and thumbnail image for it.

People assume this part is easy, but here’s the deal: SO many people get this wrong. Mainly because they do it in five minutes and barely think about it.

This is a HUGE mistake.

When creating a title and thumbnail for a video you must consider your audience’s perspective.

The most common way YouTubers screw this up is when they create a title based on a joke they make in their video.

Why is this a problem?

No one gets the joke because they haven’t seen your video yet!

You might be thinking, “There are a ton of viral videos out there with terrible, uninteresting titles.”

And you’d be right.

But this is because that video you’re watching is on a channel that already has over 100K subscribers. Not only that, think about the views a creator is leaving on the table with such a bad title.

So…what makes a great title?

Well, try to put yourself in your audience’s shoes.

If you were a random person that came across your video, would you be compelled to press play?

Here are three questions you should ask for every title you create:

  • Is it clear and easily understandable to a random person?
  • Is it relatable to a random person?
  • Does it elicit a strong emotion?

For example, for our channel, The Human Experiment, we had a video where couples would reveal the number of people they had sex with to each other.

The first thing I did was come up with 10 potential titles. Then I picked my top 3:

“Couples reveal how many people they had sex with”

“Couples reveal their number”

“Couples tell each other their sex count”

So, from there, I played around with what I liked and didn’t like about each one. “Couples reveal their number” was interesting, but I didn’t think everyone would know what “their number” meant.

So I aimed to make it more clear, and I eventually ended up titling it: “Couples reveal their sex count to each other.”

I felt like this title was clear and intriguing. There was no ambiguity about the word “number.”

Getting to that final title took me about 30 minutes. You should put the same amount of thought into every title you create.

The thumbnail image goes hand in hand with your title. Similarly, the big question you should ask is:

Would a random person feel compelled to click on this image?

Aside from that, there are no hard and fast rules that are set in stone for thumbnails because it really just depends on your content.

But there is ONE question that applies to ALL thumbnails:

Is the thumbnail clear when it’s small?

When creators make their thumbnails, they’ll usually do it on their laptop or desktop where the screen size is 15 inches or more.

That is NOT how your users are going to see it.

First, it’s not just like YouTube shows you ONE video suggestion at a time and the thumbnail takes up the whole screen… they show you multiple suggestions.

On top of that, many people are on their phone. Those two things together mean people will generally always be looking at a small version of your thumbnail. So you have to optimize for that.

And another thing: TEXT WILL NOT SAVE YOU! In fact, too many words often distract from your image. And using the exact same words from the title is a big no-no.

Remember, these images will likely be SMALL. Think about the big things you want to communicate, rather than the small details. What’s the big idea? What message do you want to clearly communicate?

Ask yourself if your thumbnail makes sense without having to watch the video first.

With that said, here is the checklist you should go through when creating your thumbnail image:

  • Does this thumbnail elicit a strong emotion?
  • Does the thumbnail stand out in some way?
  • Is the person in the thumbnail making eye contact with the camera?
  • Is the person in the thumbnail have an emotional facial expression?
  • Will this thumbnail intrigue a random person scrolling through YouTube?
  • Does this thumbnail complement my title?

Now that you have your video primed for sharing, let’s talk about how to get it in front of the right people.

Step 3: Meet Your People Where They Are

Let’s go to Airbnb’s Craigslist growth hack from earlier.

Airbnb basically borrowed Craigslist’s audience for their own devices. They realized where their target market hung out online and took their product to them.

This is exactly you want to do with your YouTube content, especially in the early going.

Your product is your content, and your goal should be to get in front of people who are already primed to love it.

Whether that’s a Reddit subreddit or a blog, the best way grow your audience is by borrowing one. So before you launch any content, you need to have a gameplan for seeding it in places your target audience hangs out online.

There are two types of places online where you can do this: online communities and blogs.

Online communities are things like Reddit subreddits, Facebook Groups, Quora, and forums.

The key to successfully seeding content in online communities is ADDING VALUE before you post your own stuff. Share other content, give advice, anything that adds to the discussion.

Moderators of these communities are quick to spot spammers and they’ll be more than happy to ban you from the community for doing it.

Getting your content on blogs is a little trickier. Editors get hundreds of pitches a day from people looking to get their stories covered. Your job is to stand out from all the other pitches by making their job easy.

So keep your pitches short and to the point. You want to seem like a respectable, interesting person, and give them a reason to actually watch your video.

Getting picked up by a blog takes persistence — meaning lots of pitches. But it only takes one to open up your YouTube channel to a brand new audience, so be persistent.

Here is your checklist for promoting your YouTube videos:

Online Communities

  • Find 3-5 online communities that fit your ideal audience.
  • Have I added value to each one in the past week?
  • Create a post for each one that follows community guidelines and introduces your video.


  • Create a target list of 10-20 blogs to pitch.
  • Create a pitch that you can personalize for each site.
  • Follow up with each pitch that doesn’t get a response.
  • Thank editors who feature your content.

Step 4: What Is Your Call to Action?

Do you remember MySpace?

I know, I’m dating myself.

But back in 2005, MySpace had 25 million users and was the dominant social network! Mark Zuckerberg was barely getting started taking over the world with Facebook.

At the time, video hosting sites didn’t allow other sites like MySpace to embed their videos because they didn’t want to pay the hosting costs. They were also afraid of losing traffic to their sites.

This seems insane today, but at the time it was conventional wisdom.

YouTube recognized an opportunity and told conventional wisdom to take a seat. Their growth hack was to develop a “Share” button that allowed you to embed video on any site.

They were willing to absorb the cost of hosting video on other sites in exchange for the marketing boost they’d get from having their videos appear everywhere on the web, specifically MySpace.

As you can see in the graph below, this was a good call by YouTube…

YouTube can add embedding video to their growth hacker checklist.
Image source: The Next Web

Here’s the infuriating irony of this story.

YouTube created the “Share” button as a growth hack that led to over a billion users and getting acquired by Google for $1.65 billion.

And yet, I constantly see videos from creators who never ask their viewers to share their content! Or subscribe. Or buy what they sell. Or join their email list. Or even give a comment.



Most creators either simply forget to do this when creating their video, or they’re too bashful to ask.

Let me tell you something about the world we live in. You’ll never get anything unless you ask for it.

So ask your viewers to share your videos and subscribe to your channel!

You’ve already done an incredible amount of work to create content your passionate about and proud of. Don’t leave out the one the one thing that directly leads to growing your audience and increasing your influence.

You don’t have to sell it like a used car salesman, be casual about it if you want. But make sure you are asking your audience to take action with every video you create.

Here’s your short and sweet checklist for your call to action:

Call to Action

  • Create a persuasive call to action at the end of your video.
  • Does your call to action align with your YouTube goals?
  • Clearly point out and link to any “subscribe” or link buttons.

That’s it for The Growth Hacker Checklist!

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