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.

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.

What is growth hacking & how do you become a growth hacker?

Quick—what do Pinterest, Facebook, AirBnB, and Zynga have in common? The answer: They all used A/B tests, viral product features, creative e-mail marketing, landing pages, and Open Graph to grow their user bases from zero to millions. They all did it a little differently, but they all did it through growth hacking.

If you’ve picked up on the recent commotion surrounding this new concept and you have no idea what it’s all about, you’re forgiven. A quick Google search turns up a dizzying array of articles so packed with meaningless buzzwords that some of them have an almost Zen kōan-like quality to them. It’s as if they’re designed to make the complete opposite of sense. What do “sustainable virality loops,” “consumer behavior adoption,” “UX optimization,” and “the A-ha moment” really mean? What is the Buddha: A pound of flaxseed of course.

Clear your mind, grasshopper. Growth hacking is actually a pretty simple concept, even though the name itself is a bit flip. You can’t actually hack growth—no one ever has—and the world’s sharpest business minds haven’t figured how to do it quick, cheap, and easy, so there’s still no such thing as a free lunch. Rather, growth hacking is a data-driven outgrowth of the disciplines of marketing and product development. It’s about cultivating an understanding of how to get people to keep using a product once they’ve tried it, and how to get them to tell their friends and family about that product.

Everyone knows what “growth” means; it’s the holy grail of business operations. But not everyone is familiar with the term “hacking.” When most people think of the term, they imagine a programmer hunched over his or her keyboard trying to break into a secure network in order to steal credit card information. Hacking refers to the recent, Internet-inspired definition: a “quick and easy solution.” You may have heard of a site called Life Hacker, which is filled with cures for all sorts of modern-day troubles, usually for free, and nearly all of them are astoundingly creative. Want to figure out how to organize your computer cords with binder clips? That’s a hack. Want to affix your phone to your dashboard without paying for one of those ridiculously overpriced car mounts? That’s also a hack. A hack encompasses everything from the hilarious and awful (think duct tape) to the ingenious (put pancake batter in a ketchup bottle and squeeze it out for perfect pancakes every time.) So when we’re talking about hacking growth, we’re talking about creative approaches to growing businesses.

Here’s the simplest way to explain it: Surely you’ve heard of this radical new promotional concept called “word of mouth” marketing? It was developed 6,000 years ago by chicken farmers at a bazaar in downtown Babylon. When people talk about growth hacking, they’re essentially applying the art and science of product development to create a user experience that maximizes word-of-mouth marketing. This ensures the product has built-in, user-driven marketing scaled to the size of the user base.

Josh Elman provides a good example of growth hacking in his talk about working with the concept at Twitter. He figured out that if new users started following at least five to ten other users on their first day, they were more likely to keep using the social network. In order to harness the power of this factoid, Twitter started implementing changes in the product to incite users to get more involved and stay involved, which generated a more robust user base who told their friends and family about all things Twitter. That’s growth hacking.

You see, it’s not that difficult of a concept, but it does get more in-depth. In this excellent Quora article, several authors expound on their understanding of growth hacking, with each article ascending in complication. Mattan Griffel, a partner at GrowHack, says that in essence, growth hacking propels every decision a company makes with the ultimate goal being, well, growth. This means coordinating departments and building a culture within the organization that encourages and empowers everyone to keep growth first and foremost in their minds when implementing strategies and making decisions. So this is why those impenetrable terms keep popping up in your search. Growth hacking is a process which starts at the top and permeates into every other department; it’s a company-wide effort that requires a dedicated leader to push its implementation and execution on a regular basis. It is, at its heart, an interdisciplinary concept that synthesizes granular theories from a host of academic and practical fields. Luckily, you don’t need to be a theologian to put it to work; all you need is a solid grasp of the core concepts and a willingness to think outside the box.

Growth hacking has its critics, some of whom maintain that it’s merely the new face of online marketing, which will eventually replace the traditional foundations put in place by those Babylonian chicken farmers so long ago. But the truth is, growth hacking is such a radical departure from traditional marketing and incorporates so many different disciplines that marketers are not yet educated or equipped to put it into practice.

So, what is a Growth Hacker?

Although the term is relatively new, growth hackers have actually been around since the advent of Web 2.0. A growth hacker is someone who leverages different fields to move users along a predetermined “user experience funnel.” Funnels differ for each business, but most mirror the diagram shown below.

The user experience funnel:




To accomplish this, growth hackers create built-in, scalable marketing features in a product and ensure that every aspect of each user’s experience is  custom-tailored to lead them to the next step in the funnel. The entire process is designed to enhance the customer’s experience by being as unobtrusive as possible.

You see, growth hackers are individuals who have finally faced the music—traditional marketing strategies just aren’t as effective as they used to be, and the old online marketing strategies are failing. Blinking banners and “one weird tip” ads aren’t cutting it, and there’s ample research on social media advertising to know that click-through rates on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest are in decline.

To compound our online experience, in the off-line world, we are now exposed to a flood of information that’s far too vast for our poorly-equipped brains to absorb. In 2009, CBS News estimated that the average American views as many as 5,000 advertisements in a single day. As it turns out, those brands aren’t resonating with the public and those ads aren’t convincing anyone to part with their hard-earned cheddar. In fact, the exact opposite is happening: Consumers are starting to experience ad fatigue. With each of the thousands of ads they’re subjected to, they’re a little more inclined to tune out completely, a little more likely to finally program that DVR to switch stations during commercials, and…you get the picture. Every innovative marketing strategy introduced in recent years has been something of a Pyrrhic victory: The advertising is getting more sophisticated but it’s everywhere and consumers are tired of it.

The idea behind growth hacking is to find a way to cut through the clutter and reach the target audience through non-traditional marketing techniques and product development. However, in order to stand out as the “signal in the noise,” growth hackers have had to get creative. Content marketing, social media marketing, virality, product features that encourage sharing and involvement—all of these differ considerably from traditional direct marketing techniques and resonate with consumers in an organic way that doesn’t send them screaming into the wild to escape the daily marketing deluge.

Most importantly, a growth hacker uncovers scalable methods for growing a company.Yes, marketing is at the heart of growth hacking, but a hacker must have solid product instincts—highly creative strategies that transcend traditional methods of online marketing. Growth hackers aren’t interested in mass ad-buys; they’re interested in creating a viral loop that will self-perpetuate a marketing process that reaches millions of people without meddlesome direct marketing techniques.

So you see, a growth hacker is much more than a marketer; a growth hacker is interested in a holistic approach to business that focuses on creating a pattern of viral growth that, once set in motion, will expand at an exponential rate, hence the term “growth hacking.” Growth hackers know that a great product alone won’t draw people in and retain them. There are specific points in the user’s experience (often called “a-ha! moments”) that can make or break their ultimate retention, and a growth hacker specializes in ensuring that each of those moments will be met with an enthusiastic “a-ha”!

How do you become a growth hacker?

There’s no teacher like experience—it’s your best bet to learn the challenging discipline of growth hacking. It also helps if you have a mentor who’s already a growth hacker and understands the intricate theories that underpin the concept’s successful implementation. So how does one learn the tricks of the growth hacking trade? The short answer is to work for one.

If you’ve got programming chops, try to get a position at Facebook, after all, it recently reached a user base of one billion people—that’s billion with a b. If anyone out there has a good handle on growth hacking, it’s the geniuses responsible for creating the world’s largest social media platform.

Facebook isn’t the only company that has successfully implemented the practices of growth hacking and increased their user base by millions (and in some cases, hundreds of millions). There’s a long list of businesses that have done this by centering their strategies around virality—a concept or idea that catches like wildfire such as Twitter or a “Harlem Shake” video. These companies live in front of the drawing board, constantly retooling in response to feedback, consistently experimenting with new formats and configurations to find their consumer’s “a-ha moments,” and of course, performing endless hours of A/B testing. A lot of growth hacking is also in the realm of search engine optimization (SEO) and disciplines that are strictly in the marketing sphere (content marketing and so forth), but if you really want to learn to become a growth hacker—especially if you’ve got a startup—you really need to understand virality, and the best way to learn is to work for a company that understands what it is and how to create it.

The awesome Andrew Chen published an amazing list in 2012 of the best growth hackers in the industry, along with their Twitter handles. Andrew recently updated the list to include a list of expert consultants who can answer any of your hacking questions on a site called Clarity. If you’re looking for a comprehensive list of folks who are known for their growth hacking skills and can teach you the ropes, check out Andrew’s list.

Recommended Reading/Viewing

- Dave McClure’s Startup Metrics for Pirates.

Aaron Ginn on Tech Crunch:

  1. Three Common Characteristics
  2. Growth Is Not a Marketing Strategy
  3. 5 Ways Growth Hackers Changed Marketing
  4. Building Growth Into Your Team
  5. Debunking the 6 Most Common Myths About Growth Hacking

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

3 Things To Improve On Daily To Become The Ultimate Version of Yourself

TL;DR: Work on improving yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally everyday so that you can achieve greatness.

Every day I strive to be the best version of myself. How do I do that you might ask? I work on three aspect of my life that I can control. I look to these aspects and try to improve on them daily, even if it’s only by a few basis points. Thanks to the power of compound interest, these actions will compound and show a huge improvement by the end of the year. What are the three aspects of my life that I improve on daily? My mental, physical, and emotional state.

Improving my mental state

I work on improving my mental state in a few ways, but mostly in an intellectual fashion. I [try to] set aside 30 minutes a day to read an actual book. Books are a powerful medium because they are immensely focused on a specific topic and provide a wide depth of knowledge that blogs just can’t cover. Most people don’t do this because they “read blogs” or Twitter or consume all of their information through Wikipedia. This is such terrible practice because there is no depth to these blog posts, articles, and tweets. There is no real creativity, and most of the time it’s such bullshit, feel-good, ADD blogs like BuzzFeed. While reading a blog, you can easily feed your ADD and hit up twitter after a few seconds… the average attention span in 2013 was 8 seconds according to Static Brain. On that note, people mostly just read headlines and think they’re experts… but I digress.

Besides reading, I challenge myself with new tasks that push me out of my mental comfort zone. In the past few years, it has been to dive into the deep end of web development. This was a topic I never had any formal background in (I was in finance for 6+ years), and it was indeed a challenge. But guess what? I learned how to program, and I can now build any web app I can think of. Fuck outsourcing to India and fuck asking someone to build out your ideas.

Writing a book was also a challenging task, but I ended up writing two before the age of 26! Did I mention that I got kicked out of my first high school for bad grades? I did not let that deter me and set off to prove myself wrong. I originally was able to complete such a feat by writing 500 words per day. When it was time for the second book to be written, I had enough confidence to complete it that I pushed myself to write 1,000 words a day. Guess what? I did it! At the end of the day, as long as you mentally believe you can do something, you will be able to accomplish it if you apply discipline. Doing something uncomfortable builds mental toughness, and everything is mental.

Improving physically

This one is straightforward—lift weights and eat steaks. Working out and eating clean isn’t just for being healthy or looking your best (well most of it is ;)). Working out and improving yourself also helps build your confidence. This confidence translates into other parts of your life—business & personal. It’ll give you the confidence to complete tasks that you previously didn’t think you were able to do because, just like working out, they are gradual improvements. Anyways, eating clean and working out will give you more energy throughout the day, and it also helps you think clearly. Working out isn’t just for physical endurance, but to mentally challenge your body to push yourself. It is also a good place to clear your head.

Improving emotionally…. Or learning to control your emotions

Not everyone can remain stoic through tough situations, but it is a good practice to start applying such principles. Responding with emotion always puts you in a position of weakness and can easily deter you from achieving your desires. If you take a step back, think through your emotional judgment, and try to think of a logical RESPONSE, then you will be put in a position of strength. Remaining stoic through a situation where emotions are high will always put you in a position of power. This will translate into inner peace, since you will have achieved the outcome that you wanted. Start each day by reading a few quotes on Stoicism and apply the quote/principle. I have listed a few quotes I start my day with at the bottom of this post. Feel free to use them.

Along with controlling your emotions, comes controlling your expectations. The sad reality is that people typically disappoint. People are inherently selfish, and there is nothing that we can do change that. All we can do is change how we respond to people in general. Remember, at the end of the day, the only things you can really control in life are the thoughts you think, the things you visualize, and the actions you take (h/t Marcus Aurelius). Take action by managing your expectations when it comes to people. As long as you keep a positive outlook on things you can control, then everything will be OK.

In conclusion, strive to continue improving daily. Imagine improving yourself just 1% a week… that translates into a 67.7% compounded improvement over the next year! Do you know what type of return that is given compound interest over your lifetime? With that type of discipline and growth, you will be able to accomplish anything and everything you have ever dreamed of. You will accomplish every goal you set to hit. It works for me, and it will work for you. So remember, if you believe in yourself and strive to make small improvements daily, you WILL achieve greatness.


Accept whatever comes to you woven in the pattern of your destiny, for what could more aptly fit your needs.

~Marcus Aurelius

How ridiculous and how strange to be surprised at anything which happens in life.

~Marcus Aurelius

 Men are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take of them


 So other people hurt me? That’s their problem. Their character and actions are not mine. What is done to me is ordained by nature and what I do by my own.

~Marcus Aurelius

Today I escaped from anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions—not outside.

~Marcus Aurelius

 When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own—not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me.

~Marcus Aurelius

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

How I piggybacked (Growth Hacked*) My Growth Hacking Book

TL;DR: Piggybacked on the sales of Ryan Holiday’s growth hacking book by publishing it before him

I recently launched a book called “Growth Hacking — A How To Guide On Becoming A Growth Hacker” ( and it hit #21 on the top 100 marketing books on Kindle (#1 on free Kindle books during the KDP run). Am I a famous author? No. Did I do much marketing for it? Not at all. So how did I get it on the top 100 marketing books on Amazon? Well, besides luck, I used a sort of quantitative approach to get sales… with minimal effort.

It started with the keyword, “growth hacking”. I recently came across the Google Trends data for the term and saw that it was hitting an all-time high. This gained my interest because when I searched for any books on the subject, I came up with nil. So when there is a growing interest in something and no all-in-one resource for the subject, it created a market for a book. Along with some cross referencing with Amazon listings and Google Keyword, this gave me the idea to write a book on Growth hacking- a subject I have experience/domain knowledge in.

What I also noticed was that Ryan Holiday was coming out with a book titled “Growth Hacker Marketing” in September (2013), so I was on a strict deadline in order to be first to market (Should help long term) and possibly piggyback on sales of a best-selling author. Yes, I didn’t see Ryan Holiday’s book as competition but opportunity. Why? The Amazon description showed that Ryan’s book was only about ~60 pages, this gave me the opportunity to provide a longer and more comprehensive book for readers that wanted more. This was also an opportunity because we would be the only Amazon books under the keyword “Growth hacking” and anyone searching for Ryan’s book would come across mine via the nature of the keyword.

Once the content of the book was completed, so our next step was design. Most Kindle eBooks that I have some across have terrible cover design and I am sure this effects the conversions. You can’t skimp on design! Why would you spend all this time writing a book, and then get a shitty cover design? People will judge the quality of your book by the quality of the cover design. The saying “Don’t judge a book for its cover” is very well alive, so I planned on having a kick-ass cover that was easily readable via a thumbnail. I splurged on the cover design and after a few revisions I ended up being very happy with the result, I am confident this helped our bottom line.

Once we finished the book, we launched it using the KDP program that Kindle offers. This helped rocket the book to #1 of all (free) Kindle books for 3-5 days. This enabled us to get ranked on Hacker News and Reddit /r/ startups. Once the promotion was over, they were still ranking well on these sites… helping us generate sales. The original seeding to social networks gave us the initial traction that we needed, helping us with our long term sales.

From the launch of the book, Growth Hacking — A How To Guide On Becoming A Growth Hacker (, we learned a few lessons. eBooks really are dominating the publishing industry, so focus on developing a great eBook experience. We did so by providing links inside the eBook to resources we gathered. Just to note, a soft cover edition of the book was created, but that has only been about ~10% of sales.

We also learned that it does take some luck, how would we have done if Ryan Holiday didn’t come out with his book? Would we have pursued writing it on such a short deadline? What if we didn’t piggyback on Growth Hacker Marketing? Did we steal some of his traction by piggybacking? Probably.

EDIT: Ryan Holiday wrote a great response, I encourage you check it out.

For what it’s worth, I believe Ryan and I have two different goals when it comes to publishing. From what I have gathered, he writes books that he aims to become best sellers and does an immense amount of research before writing them (correct me if I am wrong). I, on the other hand, am looking to build a large and diverse portfolio of books to generate passive income.

I originally published this on Medium.

How I “hacked” Kayak and booked a cheaper flight

Let me start this out by saying I didn’t “hack” something in the black hat Hackers way, but by finding a market inefficiency and leveraging it to my advantage. It must be the day trader in me. No harm was done to any computers or systems in the making of this post.

TL;DR: I booked a flight through Kayak using a VPN and saved ~$100.

Long version: I was looking for flights to New Orleans when I realized that the flight price I checked yesterday was ~$100 cheaper. I started to think why the price went up so much in one day and tried checking the flight again using only Google Incognito but there was no price budge. Maybe my VPN had something to do with it? The night before I was using a VPN (I use BTGuard btw) and Kayak thought I was from Toronto, Canada. I guess if you are not from the departure city then flights are cheaper?

So what did I do?

So I had originally went to Kayak today and checked flights from Miami to New Orleans (Mardi Gras, w00t!). This was done without a VPN but using Google’s Incognito feature. Take a look at how much the flights were:


Flights to New Orleans from Miami (Non-VPN)

Also, check out where my IP was saying that I was from:


This is my “real” IP, no VPN

I thought this was strange since the night before I had checked flights and they were ~$100 cheaper. I realized I was logged into my VPN and thought it might have to do with that (BTW, I use the VPN to mask my internet traffic… sorry NSA). So what did I do? Tried checking again while being logged into my VPN!

This is me being logged into my VPN:



And here is where my IP is saying that I am from:

Canada, eh?

Canada, eh?

So I tried Kayak again, while being “shown” as being from Canada and this is what I got:

Check out the Canadian flag at the top right

Check out the Canadian flag at the top right

That is about a ~$70+ price difference (I don’t think that included taxes)! Also, when I had checked earlier, that $345 flight wasn’t there… so it was a +$100 difference. When I went to book my flight my checkout total was in EUROS! The thing is, it wasn’t 380 euros, but 207 euros!  That converts to about $280 USD.

Euros wuddup

Euros wuddup

Moral of the story? Try booking your flights through a VPN, maybe you’ll save a few bucks….. even if you pay in euros.

PS: I checked my online bank statement and I paid $281.60 total!

PSS: The flight is now over $400 on a non-VPN via Kayak + Google Incognito.

Discuss on Hacker News

Ruby Methods of the Week: Push and Pop

I am going to write about a Ruby Method every week. This will expand my “mental method library” and help me become a better Ruby developer. Also, this will help me clearly communicate verbally what a method does. So let’s get started:

The Ruby .push and .pop methods.

The .push method is used in an array. It pushed any given object to the end of the array that it is being used on. Here is an example in IRB:

1.9.3-p392 :001 > a = [ "a", "b" ]
=> ["a", "b"]
1.9.3-p392 :002 > a.push(“c”, “d”, “e”)
=> ["a", "b", "c", "d", "e"]
1.9.3-p392 :003 > a
=> ["a", "b", "c", "d", "e"]

The .pop method is also used in an array. The difference between this method is that .pop removes the last element from the array or nil if the array is empty. Here is an example:

1.9.3-p392 :001 > a = [ "a", "b", "c", "d" ]
=> ["a", "b", "c", "d"]
1.9.3-p392 :002 > a.pop
=> “d”
1.9.3-p392 :003 > a
=> ["a", "b", "c"]
1.9.3-p392 :004 > a.pop(2)
=> ["b", "c"]
1.9.3-p392 :005 > a
=> ["a"]