Improving myself through writing

I am constantly looking to improve myself in three key areas daily: mentally/professionally, physically, and emotionally. Even though I have authored two books, I still have trouble communicating effectively through writing. Drafting an email, or even this post, typically takes longer than it should.

So how do I propose to improve in this area?

By writing everyday!

By writing everyday I will become a better writer. A simple 25 minutes a day will eventually add up to 10,000 hours. I will be considered a “master writer” at that point. You see, sometimes it takes me a long time to structure and figure out what I am going to say in an email. Sometimes it is very difficult to articulate my thoughts in writing. Multiply this by the hundreds of emails I get per week and it’ll add up to a lot of wasted time. By writing everyday, not only will I get over this barrier but I will have a clearer thought process and communicate my ideas clearer. Combining writing everyday with reading everyday will improve my grammar and vocabulary. It will also boost my creativity and brainstorming.

This will lead to improving myself mentally.

How Growth Hacking Changed Marketing

Once upon a time, in a simpler world, marketers lived a good, easy life. There were a handful of television channels, magazines, and radio stations that serviced a huge percentage of the population and all a marketer had to do was create a strong message or compelling story to sell their products or services.

Oh, simpler times! Now there are thousands of fragmented markets, each serviced by a particular bevy of publications, mobile apps, web sites, TV channels, and online communities. Good luck developing a “one-size-fits-all” marketing strategy in 2013. Today’s buzzwords are “immersion,” “personalization,” “experience,” and “content,” all because of the advent of growth hacking. Below is a list of four ways growth hacking changed marketing forever:

Growth over budgets

The best growth hackers founded lean little startups while living in a friend’s garage and eating Top Ramen for lunch every day. They didn’t havea marketing budget, but they developed their product with a head for marketing.  The origins of growth hacking were humble and developed out of necessity. What this means for you is that you need to focus on arbitrage, not a budget. Part of your job is to make acquisition (at the top of the funnel) as low-cost as possible, which can be achieved with both paid and free channels. Most industries require a mixture of both; however, capitalizing on the growth generated from your free channels will help maximize your returns from paid acquisition channels in the long run.

Viral is everything

Good luck coming up with the next “viral” hit! You can create conditions in which something potentially viral has the best chance of going fully viral. This means building viral capability and sharing right into the product itself, then testing, retesting and retooling until you’ve got a design that maximizes its potential virality, that is, the best way to get your users to share it with others. The goal of a growth hacker is to reach a viral coefficient greater than 1. This means that for every person that uses the product, more than one other person hears about it. Even if you can’t get all the way to 1, you can still raise your coefficient from say, 0.3 to 0.6, which would be a victory in itself.

Marketing is dead. Long live marketing!

To some folks, growth hacking is an entirely new discipline. For others, it’s just a fancy new name for online marketing. But one thing that can’t be denied is growth hacking’s ultimate focus on the marketing aspect. Growth is plain impossible without some form of marketing because marketing is the primary agent of growth. However, a growth hacker knows that traditional marketing channels are no longer effective, so they’ve gone interdisciplinary in their search to find a killer advantage; the thing that will give them a leg up on their competitors. What this means is in order to achieve exponential growth, you’re going to have to skip the low-hanging fruit.

Marketing is part of a holistic operation.

Today, most companies have separate marketing, product and development divisions, but growth hackers are slowly changing this. By locating the focus of their marketing-driven growth efforts in the product division, they’re building something from the inside out with integrated tools capable of achieving scale at an outrageous level. Think about it: companies used to hire engineers to come up with ideas, then build a prototype and give it to the marketing department and tell them to figure out a way to sell it. Growth hackers incorporate a marketing aspect into the product itself so that consumers can easily sell it to their friends, family, and professional network. Growth hackers have shown the world that the marketing element needs to be baked right into the first prototype.

Growth Hacking is not a Marketing Strategy

Growth hacking can be a fun topic of conversation, but when speaking to someone about growth hacking techniques or just in general, there is one point that is always brought up that I always disagree with: the notion that growth hacking is a marketing strategy. To begin with, it’s not marketing. Marketing drives growth hacking.

The concept of virality is central to the premise of growth hacking. It must be built into the product during the development phase; it’s not something you can tack on after the product is complete. This is why a marketer isn’t a growth hacker and vice versa. Traditional marketing sells an existing product; growth hacking creates a product that will market itself.

Growth hacking is not only changing the world of marketing, it’s also changing the world of product design and development—the core of growth hacking. To further convince you, here are four reasons why growth hacking isn’t a marketing strategy:

Growth must be the top priority of the company

 It’s not enough for a company to simply place growth in its portfolio of goals. Growth must be the one element that unifies all company objectives. If a product feature or user design experience isn’t achieving virality, it’s wrong, plain and simple. In the old days, the product team would come up with something, and the marketing team had to figure out how to sell it to the public, either by educating them or using old-fashioned marketing magic to create demand. In the age of the growth hacker, the product team and marketing team work together.  Growth hackers might be in the business of marketing, but they’re also present at every single product development meeting to make sure that the right elements are built in from day one. You have to be proactive to achieve growth—no one ever saw their company explode while resting on their laurels, no matter how awesome their product might be.

Growth hacking is interdisciplinary

We’ve covered this before, but it bears repeating. Marketing is primarily focused on growth, and the product is partially focused on growth, but only the growth hacker has the chops and the obsessive, single-minded preoccupation to consistently push the metrics up and to the right. Growth hacking doesn’t apply a set of cookie cutter tools or principles into a marketing strategy; it’s a stand-alone entity that requires more than direct marketing techniques, quantitative analysis, and zeroing in on distribution and user engagement. You need to simultaneously achieve all the goals set for your business with a single product—that is, develop a product that’s fully optimized for each stage of the funnel—in order to move beyond marketing and into growth hacking.

Marketing targets the top of the funnel

We started talking about this in the last bullet point, but let’s get into some details, shall we? Unlike a marketer, a growth hacker follows a customer all the way down the funnel. A marketer’s job is to get people to use the site or create an account, while a growth hacker’s job is to bring them all the way through the narrower parts of the funnel to the point where they refer the product to their friends and start paying for the service. In particular, a growth hacker’s sweet spot in the funnel is user retention. This is the channel that is least saturated and the key to maximizing returns both up and down the funnel. As more people become regular users of a product, the easier it is to achieve activation and acquisition. Similarly, with a large user base, it’s a lot simpler and more effective to tweak the product to make it easier for users to refer others. And once the product or service reaches a significant portion of the population, the lotus opens up and the jewel in the middle becomes your company’s revenue stream.

Growth hacking research and development is completely different than marketing research and development

As a growth hacker, you’re not just figuring out new ways to direct people to your landing page; you must also guide the efforts of the product development team in order to maximize your user base. Where a marketing strategy might test, experiment, and retool a particular strategy for a static product, a growth hacker might send an entire web site back to the drawing board if it isn’t properly primed for a viral coefficient greater than 1.

Common Myths of Growth Hacking

If you own an online business, you’ve probably heard a lot of boilerplate tripe about how to increase your client base. Most of the growth hacking advice out there is the same old marketing copy drag dressed up to look shiny and new. If you search for specific answers, you’ll most likely get platitudes and vague generalizations because increasing your user base depends on numerous factors that aren’t easy to control and that change from business to business. These people have no interest in teaching you how to become a growth hacker—they just want you to come to their page so they can sell more ads.

Hey, folks, the emperor has no clothes. There are a lot of myths and legends swirling around about growth hacking, and we’re going to put them to rest, once and for all.

If you’re a business providing real value and there’s a viable market for your product or service, you should be able to use growth hacking to continually expand your user base and increase growth year after year. The old saying in marketing goes, “It’s easier to go where your customers are than to get them to come to you.” And that’s also true of growth hacking (at least in the beginning). As long as you’re current with Internet trends, users’ level of sophistication and evolving expectations, if you apply certain principles and take specific steps, you should be able to    growth-hack your way to new business. That is, if you don’t fall prey to the myths and falsehoods being spread around the Internet by unscrupulous dark-arts marketers. Here are the three most ludicrous myths about growth hacking we’ve seen out there thus far:

Growth hacking is a quick, easy fix for a struggling company

 Come on, people. There’s nothing quick or easy about growth hacking, just like there’s nothing quick or easy about marketing or product development. In fact, growth hacking is more difficult and complicated because it encompasses both marketing and product development. This doesn’t mean that a properly designed product with built-in virality won’t attain hockey-stick growth if you’ve got a wiz growth hacker at the helm, but don’t think for a minute that if your company is struggling, all you have to do to turn the ship around is hire a growth hacker. If your product doesn’t have good viral potential to begin with, it’ll need to be completely redesigned from the ground up. And not everything goes viral, so not every company can benefit from growth hacking. You must incorporate rapid scalability into the concept of the product. A web site, for instance, can benefit from growth hacking. A mom and pop coffee shop? Not so much.

Growth hacking is a brand new discipline

Only if you think the Internet is a brand new phenomenon. Well, okay, the Internet and the web are a little older than growth hacking, but not by much. Companies like Facebook and LinkedIn have been using techniques now called growth hacking long before the concept was a glint in Andrew Chen’s eye, and memes were going viral the minute the Internet was introduced to cats (meow!). Since then, people have been trying to figure out how to replicate that virality. Just because we’ve got fancy new terms for these things doesn’t mean they’re new; most of these concepts are older than your high school-aged kids.

You have to be a programmer to be a growth hacker

Partially false! This is where people get tripped up on the “hacker” part of growth hacker. We’re not talking the 1990’s movie with Angelina Jolie; we’re talking the 1980’s TV show MacGyver. It helps to be a programmer, especially if you’re working with a business that’s primarily online, but you don’t need specialized technical knowledge to guide a development team’s efforts to build virality into a product. The whole key to hacking growth is to find previously undiscovered distribution advantages that your company can leverage. And while it’s no surprise that most of the original growth hackers have backgrounds in engineering, as they’re the ones directing product development, it’s no longer the case that you have to be a coder in order to hack your company’s growth. All you need is a good command of the basic principles and a willingness to commit to a strategy that prioritizes growth in all aspects of the business.

This article was an excerpt from “Growth Hacking – A How To Guide On Becoming A Growth Hacker” By Jose & Joe Casanova.

Growth Hacking Tactics you can implement now

Early in 2013, Michael Geer, the growth hacker responsible for growing Badoo’s user base to over 70 million people, gave a talk at a GrowHack Meetup in New York City in which he touched on viral channels that don’t cost a dime. If you’re looking to become a growth hacker, virality is going to be a major component of your day-to-day life, whether you’re involved in a consumer or business-oriented enterprise. But virality isn’t something that’s just baked into a product for the sake of growing the user base. Virality is, at its core, about offering value to users so that they’ll organically want to refer other people to your product. So, interested in viral channels? Here are Michael Geer’s suggestions:

Webmail address books

Use a service like Openinvite and ensure you’re incorporating APIs for the four largest webmail providers: Yahoo! Mail, Hotmail, AOL, and Gmail.

Social media APIs

This one’s a no-brainer. Make sure you maintain an active presence on major social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Google +, Yammer, Tumblr, and SalesForce. Also, to get a leg up on the competition, make sure all of your content is easy to share on Reddit, one of the most-trafficked social sites on the Internet.

Phone contacts

If you’ve got a mobile product (and if you don’t, why not?), make sure it contains a built in function that makes it easy for people to share it with their phone contacts.

Facebook apps

The social media giant has over one billion users—a seventh of the world’s population—so you can’t go wrong with a Facebook app. Also, the information you’ll collect from your users’ Facebook activities will prove priceless in the long run.

Contact files

A lot of folks use their own customer e-mail lists or contact files in .csv and the like. You need to be using these! If you come across an enterprising business owner who wants to share your product with a huge number of people because it dovetails nicely with his or her own marketing push, you want to make it as easy as possible for him or her to share via less known contact file formats.

Of course, this is only a partial list of free viral channels. There are plenty of options out there, both free and paid, but the real task is finding the best ones in which to invest your time and money and then keeping your tactics well organized under a single, goal-oriented, and cohesive strategy.

Growth Hacking Tactics you can implement now

Everyone knows that a scattershot series of marketing tactics that lack a unifying strategy is one of the quickest ways to blow through precious resources. There’s a direct causal link between marketing goals and strategies, and although tactics are the fun part of growth hacking (let’s face it, planning strategy is boring), we can all agree that it’s not fun spending time, energy, and money on your funnel only to see nothing come of it. As you read this section, bear in mind that we have included the following tactics in order for you to learn about them and incorporate them into a goal-oriented strategy. Without further ado, here are the four best growth hacking tactics you can implement right now (for free!)

Strip down your home page to the bare essentials

Yes, this flies in the face of conventional wisdom, but people aren’t growing their user bases by millions overnight because they’re using the same old methods. You need to design your web site using a minimalist approach. Remember, most people won’t find you through your home site—they’ll come in through some other page that’s ranked high on Google or through a link someone shared with them on Facebook or Twitter. That’s all good and well, but if they like you, they’re going to go to your home page to learn more about you. If your home page is a mess of distracting elements that diverts their attention from the reason they came there in the first place, they may give up and leave. Notable examples of companies that have stripped down their web pages include Dropbox, Twitter, Quora, Facebook, and Groupon. Not a shabby group!

Integrate your product with a business that has a large user base

No, we’re not talking about the impressive (and perhaps dubiously legal) AirBnB’s. Think about the company Spotify—instead of sweating to build up its own user base, it became one of the first businesses to integrate its products directly into Facebook’s News Feed. Some other good examples include PayPal integrating with eBay and Zynga integrating with Facebook.

Speed up your web site

If your web page is taking a long time to load, you’re going to lose customers, plain and simple. Most folks’ sites are approximately three seconds slower than they could be because the load times are bogged down by resource-intensive elements like Flash and large embedded videos. You can test your load time by checking out Pingdom. If any of your pages take longer than two seconds to load, it’s time to reengineer that sucker to make it sleeker and quicker.

Establish “street cred.

Actually, this is a marketing concept known as “social proof.” The truth is that human beings value others’ opinions and advice when making decisions. It helps us navigate uncertainty and reassures us that we’re doing the right thing in the right way.  You need social proof on your site—and lots of it—to help your new customers navigate while your product is still new to them and calm them down as they move through your funnel. This can be accomplished through customer testimonials, logos of established companies, customer statistics, and a host of other features you can cram into blank space on your site.

Again, and it can’t be stressed enough, these are effective tactics, as long as you’ve got a goal-oriented strategy guiding your business. You need to have specific, measurable goals so that you can get the most out of specific, measurable tactics. Remember, growth hacking is data-driven, so you should constantly test, experiment, and retool in order to get the most out of your efforts.

This article was an excerpt from “Growth Hacking – A How To Guide On Becoming A Growth Hacker” By Jose & Joe Casanova.

First hackathon

How I lost $20,000… 11 things I learned at my first hackathon

I entered my first hackathon this past May and it was pretty fucking awesome. I didn’t win the grand prize of $20,000, but now I know what it takes to win next time around. Here are a few things I learned from my first hackathon rodeo:

You can go by yourself and join a team, or start your own

I went to the hackathon by myself and was not sure what to expect. Turns out I wasn’t the only one! People were forming teams from the get go, others had teams already formed. Its OK to join a team, don’t be shy. If you’re not interested in joining another team then form your own.

Come with an idea of what you want to build

Have a general idea of the product you want to build before coming into the hackathon. It is beneficial to have an idea in case you don’t join a team that already has one. The reason for this is so that you don’t waste your limited time on idea generation when you can be building. Also, be realistic of WHAT you’re going to build. Keep it lean and eliminate the bells and whistles. You don’t want to scatter a few hours before the hackathon ends trying to finish the core product because you spent all of your time on a random feature.

 Two types of people that go to hackathons, which are you? 

There are two types of people that go to hackathons. People that are completing to win the prize and people that just want to have fun by building something or learning a new technology. What group do you fall in? If you’re in the competing class then you’re going to take the hackathon a lot more serious than just a few people having fun.

Bring some toiletries 

After working for 24 hours straight it is always nice to freshen up. A clean t-shirt and toothbrush can do wonders to your mood. It is like flipping a switch to make you feel brand new and it will re-energize you.

Team up with people that are more experienced that you 

It is always a good idea to team up with people that are more experienced that you, hackathon or not. This will allow you to learn from experienced developers and provide a resource for you in case you run into any issues. Veteran hackers will be able to help you out faster than Google. They will also be able to push you to learn and help you troubleshoot any issues you might come across.

Be honest with your skill set

Be honest with your team regarding your skill set. It doesn’t matter if you’re a rookie that is just learning HTML or a seasoned h4x0r, it will help the team assess where the best use of resources will be. With that said, don’t be the guy/girl that says they’re an l33t Rails h4x0r and haven’t even written a line of Ruby. This will be a waste of your time and your teammates. They won’t be upset with rookie talent… they’d actually help you!

Its OK Try new technologies

Pushing yourself is the only way for you to grow, especially as a developer. Try building something with a new technology. Team up with someone that has experience with that stack/language and ask them questions if you ever run into any issues. Again, you can go to a hackathon to learn and have fun!

Take a break every once in a while

Sitting for a few hours head down will start to take its toll on you. Take a break every few hours and go for a walk outside. It’ll get the blood flowing, let you clear your head, and give you a boost of energy. This will do wonders for your productivity since you will have a clear head to solve problems with.

Manage your energy 

Manage your energy properly. Don’t get super drunk right off the bat, remember, you’re most likely going to be on limited sleep. Getting blackout wasted isn’t going to help you early on. Also, monitor your caffeine levels so that you don’t crash and be forced to work through that low energy. Finally, take a NAP! This is so important, towards the end of the hackathon it was taking me three times as long to code something up because my head wasn’t clear… I was tired. I took a 20 minute nap and felt completely refreshed and was able to be more productive. That 20 minute nap got me just enough of REM/deep sleep to keep me going.

It is all about the presentation

Holy fuck was I underestimating this part of the hackathon. I thought the point was just to build something cool… I didn’t know you actually had to do a badass presentation. Boy was I wrong, presentation is KEY to winning a hackathon. You have to be able to sell the judges on what you built with a great presentation and product demo. This is by far the most important part of the hackathon if you’re looking to win. Design is important too, at least some of it.

Have fun

This is the most important piece of advice I can offer for people looking to enter their first hackathon! HAVE FUN! Yes, it’s a competition, but enjoy yourself… that’s the reason why you entered it in the first place. Have some fun, make some friends, network a bit, and build cool shit… that’s what it boils down to.

PS: Check out my new project, Full Stack Entrepreneur and sign up for a FREE bonus!


What is a Marketing Funnel?

The first lesson to take away from growth hackers is to have a sense of humor about your work. That’s what legendary entrepreneur Dave McClure kept in mind when he was developing his AARRR system, also known as Startup Metrics for Pirates. Take a look at this video of him giving a presentation on growth hacking when it was in its infancy, but be warned, it’s a journey through the far-reaching mists to the ancient era of 2007.

AARRR stands for Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Referral, and Revenue. If you think this looks a lot like the funnel from the previous post, you get a gold star! AARRR is the granddaddy of growth hacking, so we’re going to give it some love. Below is a list of some valuable lessons that can be learned from growth hackers, categorized by their respective place in McClure’s acronym:

  • Acquisition:

o   Highrise. This company used extensive A/B testing to create a landing page engineered to generate more sign-ups. Result: They doubled their user base.

Takeaway: They learned that large images of happy, smiling customers on their landing page was effective and that characteristics (race, gender, hair color, age, etc.) didn’t seem to have an effect on the particular focus group they were working with.

  • Activation:

o   Mint. Mint is a business located in Silicon Valley that coordinates its customers’ various financial accounts into a single, manageable, and personal economic tool. Mint was well aware that no one was just going to hand over their banking information to a new company. They knew they would need to work hard to earn the trust of consumers. The quickest way to establish their trustworthiness was to grow their user base. They were one of the first companies to fully utilize content marketing by constructing high-quality and useful landing pages and blog posts (devoid of the same old marketing tripe) for virtually any searchable personal finance-related set of keywords. They also made sure their SEO was locked on, which helped increase their visibility and establish trust in their brand.

Takeaways: Provide useful, high-quality content to consumers in your niche and you’ll earn their trust. Leverage SEO to get the most out of your content marketing efforts.

  • Retention.

o   Twitter. The guys and gals behind Twitter have established a gold standard when it comes to growth hacking. When the micro-blogging site was looking for ways to retain users, they redesigned their product to encourage new users to follow established accounts and receive tweets, rather than showing up, tweeting their empty brain into an ether where no one is listening, getting bored, and never using the service again.

Takeaway: Evaluate how consumers use your product, experiment, and recreate until your find a strategy that attracts and retains long-term users.

  • Referral:

o   AirBnB. When you search for information on growth hacking, AirBnB’s “Post to Craigslist” feature comes up again and again as a sterling example of McClure’s Referral. This company provides a platform for vacationers to “trade homes” rather than staying at a hotel. They made it incredibly easy for their users to also post on Craigslist exporting the ad directly, which saved their users time in reposting on a second site and provided AirBnB with free advertising on a site with a mass amount of traffic. This strategy was the reason millions of users signed up on this site within just a few years of its launch. Unfortunately, Craigslist caught on and shut down that feature, but AirBnB will forever be remembered for their ingenuity.

  • Revenue.

o   Of course, this will be completely different for every business because it’s the bottom of the funnel. As long as you’ve worked hard to tailor your business to the AARR of the acronym and you have a viable, tested business model, you’ll soon be swimming in revenue.

We previously talked about Dave McClure’s Pirate Metrics: AARRR!—Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Referral, Revenue, but there might be folks out there with a limited knowledge of marketing who have no experience with funnels outside of changing the oil in their cars. If that’s the case, you should know the basics of a marketing funnel so you can understand the underlying structure of Dave McClure’s AARRR growth hacking funnel. Here’s a quick primer on marketing funnels—what they are, why they work, and how marketers put them to work to increase a company’s user base:

  • The theory.The basic idea behind a marketing funnel is to track the steps people take in between hearing about a product (the top) and buying that product (the bottom). A marketer’s job is to influence people at every step, which encourages them to move on to the next one until they reach the purchasing stage.
  • The stages. AARRR’s stages correspond fairly closely to a traditional marketing funnel, although marketing funnels are tailored to each individual business, depending on the product or service they offer. In essence, however, a paying customer will almost always take these basic steps:
    • Become aware of the product.
    • Compare the product to the competition.
    • Consider the benefits against the cost of the product.
    • Purchase. 
  • The differentiation.You already know the difference between a growth hacking funnel and a marketing funnel, but there’s also such a thing as a sales funnel, which can sometimes be a totally different process, even at the same company. Consider 24 Hour Fitness, the popular national chain of gyms. Their marketing funnel works hard to increase acquisitions through TV ads, promotions, and mailings, but once you step inside the gym for the first time, you’ll encounter a separate sales funnel which works to get you to sign up for a membership. 24 Hour Fitness is an example of a company that has seamlessly integrated their marketing and sales funnels; the marketing department creates traffic at the top and middle of the funnel (called “lead generation” in the industry) and as those prospective customers move further down the funnel (that is, closer to a purchase), the sales team takes over to close. 
  • The evolution. Sadly, traditional marketing has largely gone the way of the buffalo in the digital age. How nice it must have been to be like Don Draper in Mad Men! All you had to do was create a single compelling message for a generally homogenous population. However, the social upheaval that caused the fragmentation of the market is the same social upheaval that enabled technologies like the World Wide Web in the first place, so we’re all better off for it—marketers too. It just means that marketing has gotten a lot tougher. Rather than simply crafting a strong ad or choosing colors, a marketer has to know all about content propagation, social media, user experience, user expectations, customer behavior, consumer psychology—the list goes on and on—and they’re not teaching this stuff at the local university either. It’s a changing world, and the marketing funnel has changed right along with it. There are even folks who say that growth hacking is just the future of online marketing, although the emphases on product and design probably make it too rarefied a discipline to become a Bachelor’s program any time soon.

This article was an excerpt from “Growth Hacking – A How To Guide On Becoming A Growth Hacker” By Jose & Joe Casanova.