How FreeCharge Growth Hacked

The team also created a fake Facebook id (a beautiful girl) that got to a few good thousands of friends.

[Editorial Notes: Some do it. Some don’t. Growth hacking comes naturally to few founders. Here is presenting an analysis of few companies who growth hacked all the way to glory. Guest article contributed by Laxman Papineni, cofounder of] is an Indian company based in Mumbai, which lets you recharge your prepaid mobile balance, Internet data card and DTH (TV) packs through their website and mobile app … free of cost. Yes you read it right.

Here is how it all works.freecharge_logo_small.jpg

You log onto the website, enter the relevant details of the pack you want to recharge, and make the payment. The payment can be made through Debit or ATM card, Internet banking, credit card or cash card.

Then you will receive coupons of the same amount you have paid. FreeCharge has partnered with some top notch companies like McDonald’s, KFC, Costa Coffee, Café Coffee Day, Myntra, Barista, Domino’s, PVR Cinemas, etc. and these coupons will allow you to make a purchase at these companies and your coupon amount will be redeemed.

Today FreeCharge is one of the most popular websites in India for recharging. But they did a lot of marketing to reach this level.freecharge-new-logo

Below I will attempt to explain the growth hacking methods employed by FreeCharge to become so successful.

Identifying the target audience and reaching out to them

The target market of FreeCharge mainly consists of youngsters.

In case you don’t know, in India it is the youngsters who are the more tech savvy. People in old age don’t use smartphones, computers or Internet that much.

Additionally it is the youngsters who go out to places like McDonald’s, Barista and Café Coffee Day. At least much more than the old people.

Hence FreeCharge was pretty sure it wants to target the younger people. And they decided to do that manually.

They had some cousins and friends in top notch colleges of India like the IITs and IIMs and they reached out to them urging them to try out their free coupons and also telling them to distribute the coupons to their friends.

Naman Sarawagi, one of the members of the company, even visited the IIT Bombay campus to assist the students to recharge.

Some of the students there didn’t had debit cards, so Sarawagi sat down in the campus on weekends and transacted on the website through his own card and collected cash from the students and handed over the coupons immediately.

Soon the word spread and coupons were delivered to all IITs and IIMs.

In fact, the team also created a fake Facebook id (a beautiful girl) that immediately got to a few good thousands of friends. The idea was to reach out to several college kids using the fake id, which they did (with mixed response – watch the video towards the end for more on that).

Media coverage

One of the best ways to attract an audience to your company is to steal it from those who already have one. In other words, if you want a lot of visitors to your website then show yourself on other websites which are already getting a lot of traffic.

Now there are many ways to do that. Either write a high quality article and submit that on a top notch website with a backlink to your own site. Or, if your website is ground breaking, you have something awesome to offer, then reach out to some website owners and ask them to mention your site on theirs. If your website will be of interest to their readers then they may respond in the positive.

FreeCharge was covered in top notch websites like,, Alootechie, telecomtalk, Rediff, The Hindu and Outlook.

ET Now airs a show about startups named Starting Up and they requested them for a coverage. ET Now thought that they will be a good fit and hence they did a story on FreeCharge bringing them more publicity and more visitors. 

Video spoof on Emotional Atyachaar

Emotional Atyachaar was one of the most popular programs amongst youngsters in those days. It was a reality show based upon the state of romantic relationships amongst the Indian youth.

Suspicious lover contacted the team of Emotional Atyachaar, requesting them to do a loyalty test on his/her partner. Their team carried on the investigations with hidden cameras which recorded the entire episode and then aired that on national television.

FreeCharge approached The Viral Fever to do a spoof on the show, advertising The Viral Fever had already done quite a few spoofs on some other popular shows and movies and their videos had become very popular on YouTube hence they were the right candidate.

The video runs as follows.

A girl named Pooja comes and narrates the story of his boyfriend whom she decides to call by the pseudonym Subramaniyam Raju to the host Grih-Pravesh Rana. She suspects that her boyfriend is recharging the phones of many other girls besides her. So she asks her friend Neha to do a loyalty test on him.

She sends Neha to his flat telling her to ask him to get her phone recharged while she is hiding in the flat already. Raju opens the door, Neha tells him she wants him to recharge her phone and Raju welcomes Neha in cordially.

Then he uses his smartphone to recharge Neha’s phone through the FreeCharge app. Note this is the first time that FreeCharge is mentioned in the video. The video is 15 minutes long and this scene appears at 10:03.

Then Pooja suddenly jumps out from behind the curtain catching Raju red handed. She accuses him of recharging the phones of other girls and thus “cheating” on her.

Pooja, Neha, and the hidden cameramen then all start beating Raju. Raju keeps crying out – “Please listen to me” but no one does.

After the beatings are over Raju confesses to Pooja that yes he did recharged other girls’ phones but only because of Pooja. He says he used FreeCharge to do all the recharges and hence he got a lot of free coupons from the site. Then he used those coupons to take Pooja out for coffee, burger and movies.

This shot occurs at 11:38 and again FreeCharge is mentioned only in passing. They didn’t dwell too much on the company or their business model so as to not distract the attention of the audience away from the main storyline of the video.

Pooja, understanding the complete situation, forgives Raju and they patch up with each other.

Hearing this, Rana gets extremely annoyed because he says he only invites those lovers on his show who have been cheated by their partners. Since Pooja was not cheated on, Rana asks the security to throw her out of the studio.

In the ending credits the following text is displayed: “Issued in public interest by”

This is a classic example of native advertising. The whole attention is on the story and the humor and FreeCharge appears only on the side, hence not boring or detracting the audience.

So did the video resonate with the audience? Oh boy! At the time of writing of this article the video had got more than 1.5 million views on YouTube.

I hope the three methods discussed above would have helped you understand how FreeCharge became so popular. Let me know in the comments below what you think of this piece.

BONUS : Watch Freecharge Founder, Kunal Shah talk about human behaviour and technology startups (and how Freecharge cracked the model).






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