The secret of successful companies like Facebook, Airbnb, and Uber is right there in the open for all to see. They created unique networks, of course, but they rose to fame on the back of other people's networks.

How did these companies explode into prominence? Facebook launched using Harvard's network of students, Airbnb used Craigslist, and Uber relied on the network of smartphones in users' pockets.

Startups following an "other people's networks" strategy can experience rapid growth (rather than waiting for years to build momentum), but it requires a fundamental shift in mindset.

Entrepreneurs Need to Adopt the Growth-Hacker Mindset

The concept of "other people's networks" is a variation on the real estate investment concept known as using "other people's money." Starting with very little capital, you can leverage the bank's money to control large assets.

Just as in real estate, using other people's resources is a huge lever for creating wealth when starting with next to nothing. Other people's networks allow you to build an audience or acquire customers simply by figuring out how to use the networks others have built.

To begin leveraging the power of OPN, you need to shift from a traditional marketing mindset to a growth hacker's mindset.

Growth hacking is simply smart marketing in a post-gatekeeper world. The Internet has demolished old barriers to entry, and anyone with a Wi-Fi connection has access to massive networks with billions of users. Anyone can become a publisher on WordPress, start selling their products directly on Amazon, or build a massive audience on YouTube.

A growth hacker's job is to capitalize on these cheap methods of customer acquisition, retention, and referral and then automate systems that will continually fuel themselves to provide future returns. Basically, they're looking for ways to use other people's networks to accelerate growth.

Consumers today are very well connected, and each one is a mini media channel. If a consumer likes a product, he'll tell his friends. That recommendation is amplified across the web and leaves a permanent record. When nurtured, a company's customer base can become its most effective marketing medium.

How to Get Started Using OPN

Once you understand the growth-hacker mindset, using OPN is nothing mysterious. If you're on LinkedIn, you're already using the power of OPN.

Other people's networks are all around us: email, Amazon, Google, Craigslist, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, etc. You can build an email list that allows you to reach hundreds of thousands of people with the click of a button at minimal cost. List your products on Amazon, and you're in a marketplace where one of every three e-commerce transactions occurs. People are building multimillion-dollar businesses on YouTube through ads alone. This is OPN thinking.

The most lucrative tactics are changing constantly, but here are a few basic strategies I use:

  1. Go zero budget (or really close to zero). I'm in search marketing. After seeing that there were a lot of people searching for stand up paddleboards online, I built a company using Google and other search engines to get in front of customers looking for these products.SEO is free. PPC is paid. Both leverage OPN, but SEO is closer to true growth hacking. PPC can be turned on overnight. SEO takes six months or more to pan out, but if you get it right, there's a perpetual payoff. I get 50,000 unique visitors to my website every month from SEO that I did years ago. The value on that perpetual payoff is in the millions in advertising dollars saved.
  1. Keep your head on a swivel for OPN. High-profile success stories like Airbnb are exciting, but OPN is just as much about leveraging small networks. Inhabiting the personal network of one customer--and doing this for thousands of customers--is powerful.
  1. Think about adding value, not harvesting. Tapping into a network is intuitive to most people, but typically it comes from a mentality of "harvesting." People today are all about leveraging their social network, but that won't get you very far unless you want to pay for advertising. Instead, focus on adding value for those audiences.Forget about guessing the latest algorithm tweak, and learn what products and information people are searching for. Satisfy that demand. Sometimes it's great content; sometimes it's a particular product at a particular price.

Using OPN is an exciting and lucrative strategy for entrepreneurs, but it's still business at its core. Growth hacking can help you connect with more customers, but it's up to you to meet their needs.