Growth Hacking Geniuses - Maree Jones - Visual Summary

Maree Jones

How Did You Start Your Journey in Growth and Digital Marketing?

You know, it’s a funny story and it’s something that I would never ever – ever – recommend for a business to do.

I actually started out managing social media for a company that I was working for many, many years ago. It was a magazine publishing company. I was already working there, doing advertising, sales, and I was doing really well. I was very motivated and won several contests. But they kind of put me in-charge of social media and, really, my only qualification was that I was the youngest person in the office. And so, kind of by default, I was given that role and took it on for an additional $25.00 a week.

Since then, I’ve kind of found my niche and have grown that role but, yeah, it’s something that I would never recommend businesses to do.

What Are Your Thoughts on Growth Hacking or Growth Marketing?

You know, I believe growth hacking and growth marketing is really a response to the way that different online avenues have really changed the marketplace. Being reactive is really being the new proactive. As these technologies emerge, people who are able to respond, who are able to practice growth hacking have a huge advantage over people who only practice kind of the traditional marketing.

Growth hacking certainly does not take the place of traditional marketing but it’s a really cool compliment to it in that you can have those longer planning cycles but you can also be reactive in real-time.

What Are the Top Three Qualities that a Growth Hacker Should Have?

I think the first one is that they’re always looking for partnerships or integrations that make sense.

The smartest growth hackers that I’ve seen and worked with understand that one plus one equals three and that, the more you can find people and organizations to work with and to kind of grow your business, the better off you’re going to be in this environment.

You know, the second one I would say is a sense of curiosity or experimentation – being willing to try new things, new approaches, and really being reactionary while the marketplace may change or new technologies may develop.

Finally, I would say that user experience as well as the technical chops are very important. But thinking about the value that you can provide to a potential customer or partner is really important. Yes, you do have to have the technical chops to kind of bring it to life but you also have to have that creativity and that understanding of human experience to kind of bring to the table as well.

What Are Some Resources You Encourage People to Explore?

You know, a lot of times, I will come across clients who are maybe startups or entrepreneurs and they’re simply strapped for cash. They do not have a budget for marketing or PR or social media management. They can’t afford it so they kind of resort to approaches that are more along the lines of growth hacking – you know, referrals, loyalty programs, and things like that. Because of that lean cash flow, I like to point them in the direction of free resources as much as possible, if I can help them.

Sites like Kissmetrics have a wealth of information about growth hacking and even some of those non-conventional sites like Quora have a lot of information that’s community-driven and, really, heavily slanted to growth hacking.

Which Tools Do You Use to Grow Your Business or Help Clients Grow Theirs?

I specialize mostly in PR, content, social media, and there are lots of different ways to kind of growth hack those and to put some things on automation so that you can continue to work on your business. You can kind of set it and forget it, so to speak.

I really like tools like Hootsuite or Buffer that really make managing those multiple channels and social media more effective and having to log into an account or change a password or things like that. It saves people a lot of time in which they can work on other things and not have to worry about social media growth. It kind of puts them on auto-pilot a little bit.

For email marketing or content, there’s lots of really great things like CoSchedule. I use Emma for email marketing. I’ve also used MailChimp. Those kinds of tools have a lot of options that are very affordable if not free. They’re really great resources to kind of build your email list, build your social media following so that you can embrace kind of those principles of growth hacking.

Growth Hacking Geniuses - Patrick Campbell - Visual Summary

Patrick Campbell

How Did You Start Your Journey in Growth and Digital Marketing?

It’s funny. I think I’ve only accepted growth marketing as kind of a label in the past couple of months, actually, which is kind of funny because I think that although what we were doing at Price Intelligently and what we continue to do is kind of in the growth framework. It’s definitely not something you typically think of when you think of growth hacking.

My background is in econometrics and math. I started working for the US government in the intel community for a little bit out of college. From there, I worked at Google for a little while. At both places, I was doing econ modeling which is just kind of a fancy phrase for basically taking a bunch of data inputs and getting some sort of optimize output. That kind of started me down the path of being able to use some of the skills in kind of a marketing capacity.

When I worked at a startup after Google, that was the first time I started working on pricing. And so, that kind of led me to basically realizing just how important pricing was and is and how little we just know about it in general. That kind of led me into the growth world because our big thing is about you use pricing as actually a huge growth lever in your business. And then, also, from a meta perspective, obviously, growing the business, you needed to be growth mindset in terms of how we attracted our own customers, how we attracted brand and those types of things.

That’s kind of the ramble-y version of the story so far but, yeah, just kind of cranking in this world from using those skills and that background.

How Did You Become Passionate About Business Growth?

I’m not sure how it is in Montreal or in some of other places but, you know, when you’re in high school or secondary school and then university in the States, if you’re not going to be an engineer or something in medicine, a lot of people end up like, “Oh, I’ll go be a lawyer!” or something like that.

And so, for me, I had the false choice of wanting to be a lawyer for a while and I kind of fell more into business but I think, if we talk about falling in love with it, I think it really came down to ultimately really getting attracted to the hunt in terms of growth, growing a business, those types of things.

I used to be motivated by money but I kind of realized that my real motivation was really around taking an idea, putting it into practice, seeing if it worked or failed. If it worked, seeing how much you could make it work.

That’s kind of the long story short in terms of falling in love with business there.

What Are Your Thoughts on Growth Hacking or Growth Marketing?

What’s funny is that growth, it’s definitely gone from this early stage thing with Sean Ellis and Hiten Shah coming up with the term, coming up with the concept. I think it’s gone through the first wave of people being very emphatic about growth hacking and not necessarily knowing what it is. Everyone and their mom has growth hacking now in their LinkedIn bios and things like that.

And so, I think it’s one of those things, for me, I’ve had a little bit of an aversion to the term “growth hacking” but I think the concept of speed and high-tempo testing that Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown talk about a lot, I think it’s huge. I think it’s one of those things where, if you’re running a marketing team in a very slow way or a very quarterly campaign-based, you’re probably missing the mark in a lot of different ways.

For me, personally, I think it’s one of those things where we’re actually probably going through another stage of the growth hacking world where now people are just getting the idea of high-tempo testing and now it’s about how do we properly understand our customers in a way that we can make those high-tempo tests worthwhile.

I think the industry is really kind of fascinating. If you’re not doing some sort of growth-focused marketing, you’re going to end up failing. That doesn’t mean you have some big growth team like Uber but it definitely means that your marketers that you hire need to be more growth-focused than just kind of what they used to call arts and crafts marketers which is kind of like a derogatory term. But, you know, it’s some of these folks who don’t get the growth side of things, essentially.

Which Daily Habits Have You Installed to Maximize Your Results with Clients?

Our clients are more our customers. I’m not growth for hire. I’m more kind of focused on our software and our customers so it’s a little bit different. I’m pretty bad with habits, actually. I’m trying to get better but I think that some things that I do to kind of set the guardrails up properly are things like making sure that, for instance, making sure that all of my meetings, I try to push most of my internal meetings to Monday and then having the rest of the week try to do only external meetings or actual work.

I think that’s a pretty important thing, especially if you’re a CEO or someone – even a VP level – that has a team. It’s really, really complicated in terms of you can actually fail if you have too many meetings because you’re not getting anything done.

I think, in addition to that, personally, I think meditation has actually helped a lot and I was definitely not ever thinking I was ever going to meditate. I didn’t think it was dumb or anything; I just was like, “Oh, that’s not for me.” When I started doing it – actually, about a year and a half ago – it actually really helped me just kind of center myself or what I like to say gives me an extra second to react to things. I’m hearing news or I’m hearing something, it gives me an extra second and helps me stay on the rails here at the office and things like that.

I’d say those are some of the habits. I mean, there’s certainly a lot of habits. For us, we’ve just moved to a place where we’re trying to run five tests a week – you know, just in terms of growth, that’s something and I think that’s something you’ve heard a lot with some of the other speakers and things like that. But really trying to keep us on that focus of ship, ship, ship, ship, ship. Don’t overthink it. Don’t try to boil the ocean, they say, in terms of ideas and quality and stuff like that. That’s kind of where we’re at in terms of moving things forward.

What Are Some Resources You Encourage People to Explore?

Resources, I think what’s funny is there’s so much noise out there in the growth space. It’s really, really hard to find the right stuff. I would say that what I would recommend doing is following certain types of people who typically publish maybe not as frequently as some of the other stuff out there but the stuff they do publish is really, really good. Some of the folks I’ve already mentioned.

I really focus on Hiten Shah and Sean Ellis. Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown actually just wrote a book – I think it’s called Hacking Growth. I can’t remember the exact title but I’m pretty sure that’s the title of it. They’re doing super well in terms of, well, Sean was kind of the original growth hacker. Those three are really good to follow.

I think another couple that are really important are someone like Brian Balfour. Brian’s really, really good at just kind of the frameworks as well as the strategy. He’s had a lot of opportunity to execute for a few different companies and I think that that’s really helped him hone this whole concept of growth.

If it comes to pricing, I think the Price Intelligently blog, we’re the only folks who really publish deeply about this type of stuff from not only philosophy but kind of an actual practical way. And so, there’s a lot of stuff there, less so on the concept of growth but more so specifically on pricing.

Those are the folks that I’d recommend following in a couple of different ways for those types of resources.

Which Tools Do You Use to Grow Your Business or Help Clients Grow Theirs?

There’s a couple that we use. One is called HubSpot. HubSpot – I think everyone, not everyone but a lot of people have heard of them. That’s what we use with our marketing automation. It’s one of those things where it just makes it easy to, like, everything to tie in together. It’s got its quirks. It’s not always the most seamless, user-friendly product that we use, but it’s certainly something that kind of the workflow and the automation aspects of it really make it worthwhile.

We also use our own product called ProfitWell. That helps us keep really in tune with what’s going on with our financial metrics. It’s a free subscription financial metrics product that plugs into your different billing systems and it really helps.

And then, it’s a lot of old-fashioned Excel – or in this case, Google Sheets and Google Docs. That really helps us collaborate using Slack on our team just to make sure that we’re running the right tests.

There are some products out there like Growth Hackers has the Growth Canvas and there are some other growth-focused products. But, for us, right now, in our current stage, it just makes sense to kind of keep it there. To me, it’s more important, the tools are interesting but it’s mostly just how you use them, of course. We tend to stick to those foundational tools that I mentioned.

Growth Hacking Geniuses - Michel Koch - Visual Summary

Michel Koch

1. Can You Tell Us a Bit More About Your Business?

Time Inc. is a very well-known publisher – a leading consumer multi-platform publisher based in the US, leading in the US, but also has a branch in the UK which is the leader in terms of volume share with 23 percent volume share; leading also in terms of advertising with something like 33 percent market share; and with a reach of nearly half of the UK population.

We have 60-odd brands across print, web, mobile, tablet, and events. We reach 8.4 million users which is 17.7% reach of the UK internet population.

2. What Does Growth Hacking Mean for a Magazine Business?

That’s the interesting part, I think. You’re talking about a business of print magazines that has been declining for the last eight to nine years consistently across both newsstand and subscriptions as well as advertising. In many ways, advertising revenues going in a new direction now with more digital advertising than print advertising in terms of business. So, more and more of a shift towards digital. Obviously, magazines being print, they need to reinvent what they’re about.

So, I guess, growth hacking means for us looking at areas where we can grow outside of our traditional business. Rather than acquire new magazines or buy and sell more, it’s really about where else can our brands expand? How can we reach the same customers in different places? That’s really the exciting journey I’m on right now with looking at different ecosystems. But starting with one thing in mind, we’re about passion points with our stories and we can tell those stories in different places and we can go into adjacent markets such as events, eCommerce, marketplaces where the same customers are and where basically our brands can also stand for something.

3. What Are Your Thoughts on Growth Hacking or Growth Marketing?

As I’ve been on that journey for almost a year and a half now, I think the first thing is you need to be in a position where you can look at your business with a new fresh pair of eyes and challenge what you traditionally stand for.

Rather than saying, “We are a print magazine publisher,” we went back to our DNA and we thought, “What we do is actually tell stories.” Regardless of whether the stories are in text, on print, video, pictures, events, it doesn’t matter. It’s about storytelling. That’s what we’re good at and that’s what our brand stands for.

So, there’s an element of growth hacking that has to do with disrupting yourself and challenging your own business and thinking, “If we were to compete with ourselves, what would we do?” I guess you’re more creative when you’re trying to do that than when you’re trying to survive or trying to protect yourself. It’s about really attacking – hacking, in a way – your own business so that you can identify areas where you can move to. So, that’s one thing.

Another thing, I think, around growth hacking is speed. It’s about going fast – failing fast. Test, learn. A/B test all the time and not be afraid to fail in many ways because, otherwise, you just sit still and stand still and, therefore, do nothing.

That’s the key two things that come to my mind in terms of growth hacking – disrupt yourself and do it at pace.

What Are Your Top 3 Pieces of Advice for Growth Marketing?

As I said, if you want to be in a position where you can look at your business with a fresh pair of eyes, you need to think out of the box. The first thing is really there’s no bad idea. Interrogate your partners, your employees, everyone, and really start coming up with ideas that you would think maybe are crazy but actually they may make sense in a couple of years. So, test everything and think out of the box. That’s the first one.

The second one I think is thinking like a customer. Take the view of a customer. If you are passionate about cycling or equestrian or beauty and fashion – any given magazine brands stand for – what would you accept from that brand to tell you in terms of new stories? Would they be able to sell you anything? Think as a customer is the second one.

And then, as I said before, all ideas are okay. Generate ideas from inside the business. You know, there’s some really good people who are in your marketing teams, in your editorial teams, and they will come up with ideas and any idea is good. And then, it’s about having the arguments and the best argument wins.

What Are the Top 3 Mistakes to Avoid when Doing Growth Marketing?

I think the first one – and I see this repeatedly in businesses that want to move through digital, like retailers or catalog businesses that have gone through that transformation and change – it’s about working in silos – creating new silos and not collaborating.

The first mistake is thinking you can do that in isolation. We need the people who know about the business, who know about the brand, who need new skills as well; therefore, you really need to involve your own experts is the one thing. And so, work across metrics, work in  multifunctional teams, and create those new teams that are going to hack growth.

The second thing is it should not be just a top-down approach. Obviously, you need buy-in from top management but that energy and that speed and that envy around growth hacking has to come from the bottom up.

The third one is a lot of people say they want to hack growth and grow and start doing labs and things like that but usually there’s no fund attached. So, you need to fund it and properly. I would say dedicate 15 to 20 percent of your marketing budget to growth. It’s probably the minimum.

What Are Some Resources You Encourage People to Explore? Any Favourite Book?

Rather than books… Well, there’s one I like that I’ve just discovered. It’s called The Growth Director’s Secret. It’s pretty good. I’ve just started reading it and it’s about the connections between consumer behaviour, organization strategies, and boards and so forth. So, it’s joining the dots between all these things that are available. It’s a good read by Andrew Brent.

There’s another thing in terms of resource that is probably more important than any book – your network. I think reaching out to your network, working with LinkedIn, asking questions whenever you have one, that’s the best solution I think in terms of resources.

Another resource is your own common sense. I think these are some of the interesting areas. I’ve also recently listened to a book. I think reading books is great but, if you don’t have time to sit down and relax, when you’re traveling, I think listening to books is also great. I recently listened to a book called Zero to One – it’s about start-ups – from Peter Thiel and that’s really a good book as well. Really, really motivating and eye-opening in terms of how start-ups create themselves and how you can just create roads from zero to one, basically.

Growth Hacking Geniuses - Dan Kaplan - Visual Summary

Dan Kaplan

1.  Who Mentored You? What Did You Learn From Them?

I love this question because I love to say that, as a marketer, I have not been mentored very much by other marketers.

I wrote a post in the end of 2016 about the sort of bias that Silicon Valley has against marketing in general as a discipline and how that bias has led to both a lot of value destruction in Silicon Valley – you know, venture capitalists losing money’ founders losing time, money, and energy; people losing their jobs, et cetera, et cetera – but, also has contributed to a significant lack of high-quality – or shortage, at least – of high-quality mentorship and great marketing skills in the technology industry in general.

That is not to say, by the way, that there are no great marketers in tech. There are many. There just aren’t so many that they’re easy to find and easy to work for. And I have worked for some really great people, but most of them were not primarily focused on marketing. They were focused on other areas of building a startup business.

And so, most of the marketing I’ve learned – and I’d like to say Hiten Shah is someone who’s really helped me think through some of the big marketing challenges. So, in the tech industry, it’s basically Hiten. But, really, most of my mentorship has come from outside of both tech and marketing itself.

The mentors that have been most important in my life were my long-form journalist teacher in college, a man named Paul Hendrickson who had built his career as a journalist for the Washington Post and later went on to write a couple of national writers’ award-winning books.

Another man named Robert Wright whose books – Nonzero and another book called The Moral Animal – really have profoundly shaped my understanding of the world and human nature in fundamental ways. I know it sounds like that’s kind of […] marketing, but it is actually my skills, what I learned in long-form journalist class was the absolute importance of being able to dive incredibly deeply into a subject and master its emotional and logical details in a way that really is valuable and, in a way, that really lets you see the full picture and tell that in a story that is coherent and compelling to the person reading it. That is what I bring to the table as a marketer in a way that I think makes me unique – not unique but somewhat rare in that way.

I bring a magazine journalist skill and deep investigative reporting and compelling storytelling to the problems that companies face – marketing, hiring, recruiting, strategizing, et cetera. So, most of my mentorship has come from the journalism area. The mentorship and marketing I got from reading books more than anything else.


2. Would You Like to Plug Your Current Business/Product to Show Us an Example?

It’s funny you called me at this moment because I’m literally at this moment up to my neck, pivoting or adjusting my own message and story and set of offers away from what I’ve been doing out of the last four years. But the way I’ve been talking about it in the last four years into something that aligns much more closely with what is both dear to me and important to me on an emotional, spiritual, and intellectual level. That is what I’m doing with Exponents.

While I’ve been working for the last four years primarily on seed and early SaaS companies, seed stage, Series A and maybe the occasional Series B as a client, I’m now expanding my focus to companies that are building potentially disruptive products. They can either be at the early stages of the development or they can be further along but have not fully “crossed” the chasm into the mainstream. So, they still have hundreds of millions – if not billions – of dollars of revenue opportunity in front of them.

I am pivoting my business to focus on helping those types of founders and teams and companies develop the strategies they need to successfully get to the next stage of growth. If they’re in the early adopter stage, that might be winning that early adopter segment and really dominating and becoming entrenched in it. If they’re at the brink of the chasm and they’re sort of saturated, they’re early adopters and they’re ready to cross to the mainstream, it will be helping them develop the strategies they need to really focus on the mainstream.

That type of thinking is most clearly demonstrated by a piece I’m going to publish this week about Twilio which is a company I used to work at, like, five years ago. The piece is about how Twilio’s current go-to-market strategy is leaving anywhere from 53.5 billion to 500 billion dollars on the table over the next five years and an explanation of why that situation is the way it is and three completely different strategies they can take to solve that problem and cross the chasm – you know, realize some of those returns. That’s the type of thing that I’m focused on now.


3. What Are Your Thoughts on Growth Hacking or Growth Marketing?

Those are different things, right?

Growth hacking – I have very strong feelings about. I actually wrote an essay three years ago that said, “Real engines of growth on the internet have nothing to do with growth hacking.” In preparation for that, I interviewed a man named Stan Chudnovsky who works with James Currier on NFX Guild and was also one of the first thinkers about strategic tech implemented growth; I’ve also interviewed Josh Elman who had been one of the leaders of Twitter’s early growth team and also worked with Facebook and LinkedIn and is also partner at Greylock; and Andy Johns who is now at Wealthfront and had been at Quora and founded Facebook’s growth team.

Basically, the point there – and I was a little too harsh in the post because that can be some of my writing style – there actually are some people who call themselves “growth hackers” who are really growth people who really understand how to do growth. People like Sean Ellis and Andrew Chen who are actually the people who coined that term and popularized it are actually legitimate growth hackers. They really understand the subtleties and details and nuances of growth or growth marketers or growth people.

The problem is that the term that they coined has been adopted by people who don’t really understand what growth really is and like the sound of the label, like the concept that they can be a growth hacker – both a marketer and a hacker at the same time – but, really, they’re neither that good at either of those things.

And so, the term – even though it’s popular – I find it very misleading.

Now, growth marketing, on the other hand, is something very different. That is applying the discipline of marketing to making a company successful. One of the big differences is that so many of the people who call themselves growth hackers are focusing things like top of the funnel acquisition – literally just like getting more people to sign up, conversion rate optimization at the very bottom, top of the funnel stuff – whereas the most important things in growth are retention, long-term retention – your ability to retain your actual customers; your ability to activate new customers – people who sign up and actually turning them from signups into engaged, happy initial early customers; and monetization – actually getting those retained and activated customers to pay you and keep paying you.

If you look at the graphs on this on Price Intelligently – Price Intelligently did a great post on this – the difference in the number of posts about customer acquisition versus the number of posts about retention, activation, and monetization is literally something like ten to one or worse.


4. What Are Your Top 3 Pieces of Advice for Growth Marketing?

The first thing is hacks and tactics are okay and sometimes not okay. But, generally, strategy needs to come first. If you don’t have a clearly defined set of frameworks and tools and approaches for strategically finding your ideal channels, leveraging those marketing channels, scaling those marketing channels, throwing out the ones that aren’t working, scaling them down when they stop working, your growth efforts will fail.

The second thing is the most important thing is long-term engaged usage and monetization. The most important things are retention and monetization. If those things are lacking, all of top of the funnel efforts you put, all the brilliant things you do at the top of the funnel will be basically pouring down the drain or lighting it on fire or both. I don’t know if […] works but you’d be throwing money away.

And so, the first thing is to focus on monetization and retention above all else.

The second thing is understand the psychology of your retained user. I got that from Stan Chudnovsky when I actually interviewed him. I like the way he says it. It’s basically understand what really motivates the problems, the needs, the desires, and goals of the people who are sticking with your products and also paying for you. Understand those people and then figuring out what it’s going to take to get a lot more of them and create a lot more of them.

The third thing is focus on – and this depends on the stage of your growth – focus on solving a really clearly defined problem. Now, that problem doesn’t have to be something that the market already knows it has, but it does have to be a problem they have even if they don’t know it or not, right? It’s obviously easier to sell people a solution to a problem they have already articulated in their own mind. But, if they haven’t, there’s a whole other set of things you need to do to take them from “I don’t even know I have a problem” to “Wow! I really have a problem! Your product is the solution for it and now I want to pay you for it.”

You know, understanding where in that spectrum your customers are and how you get them from wherever they are now to becoming a paying engaged user is the most important thing for long-term sustainable growth.


5. What Are the Top 3 Mistakes to Avoid When Doing Growth Marketing?

That is sort of the flip side of that thing, right?

Focusing on hacks and tactics over core strategy; focusing on acquisition before you’ve really figured out your retention, activation, and monetization; and trying to apply growth strategies or hacks or tactics or any of that before you’ve really dialed in who you’re selling your product to, what they really need, what they really want, what problems they have, how they think about those problems or not, and how your product or solution fits into their lives and dramatically changes them for the better.

Another way of saying that is definitely don’t focus on features. If you’re in the growth space, you know that already. One of the assumptions that a lot of growth people make is that the right thing to focus on – if you’re not focusing on features – is benefits and I actually say, “Go a lot deeper than that.”

Focus on transformation.

There’s a diagram that I love to use in my presentations from a company called UserOnboard that shows Super Mario. For instance, in a Mario game, there’s a little guy. Then, in the middle, there’s the fire flower that, when he touches it, will let him throw fireballs. And, at the end, there is Mario with the super fireball capabilities.

The fact is that most companies and products – even established ones that are successful – think they’re selling the flower. If they’re talking about features, they’re talking about, like, its petals. If they talk about benefits, they talk about how it lets you throw fire, right? What they don’t realize is that Mario is living in this world where he is under attack from walking turtles that then might kill him, flying bullets that also might kill him, pipes that shoot out plants that also might kill him, and a bunch of pits that also might kill him. He does not care about the details of the flower or even that he can throw fire. What he cares about is being able to destroy the enemies who want to kill him and eliminating the risk that one contact with them will kill him immediately.

So, focus on that transformation. Focus on transforming Mario into a badass, less easy-to-kill version of himself, and you win.

Growth Hacking Geniuses - Rick Kuwahara - Visual Summary

Rick Kuwahara

1. Who Are Some Successful Growth Hackers that You Learned From or Inspired You?

Well, I think everybody kind of, you know, there’s always the usual suspects. But there’s three little more under-the-radar guys who I like their stuff.

One is Ryan Stewart over at Webris – he has a lot of great stuff about processes and frameworks to help you scale. Love anybody who’s so process-oriented.

Dave Gerhardt at Drift – they’re doing a lot of stuff with content. Their approach is really unique and, you know, it’s disruptive. It’s different from everybody else. So, I really love how they approach it.

Bernard Hong – he was our point of contact for distribution over at when we through 500 startups. We were in Batch 18. He’s just an SEO wizard. He had some really cool hacks that he’s done in the past. If you ever get a chance to go on YouTube and see his presentations, some very cool things that he’s done when he was doing growth at 42Floors and Food by the People.

2. How Do You Attract Leads for Your Business?

Right now, we attract mainly all through inbound. So, SEO is a huge, huge growth lead generator for us. We targeted bottom of the funnel keywords that convert very well. You know, there’s just a lot of opportunity there. At any time, we focus on long-tail and, within a niche, it was lower competition and we’ve done well to rank number one for a bunch of good keywords that just, you know, search volume is not super high. It converts very well and it’s very revenue-driving.

And then, we do offline stuff. I think that’s something that’s undervalued a lot. So, a lot of events and we call them “social mixers” where we bring together customers and potential customers and that works like gangbusters, especially when we go to conferences. We pull people off of the conferences to our mixers. That’s done real well. That’s how we landed our first hospital deal.

Right now, actually, something that we’re going to be playing with is account-based marketing type of work to work our outbound sales a little bit. We’re really excited about that and we’re going to be doing that in the next month or so.

3. Top 3 Qualities that a Growth Marketer Should Have?

Well, I think, definitely, process-oriented. You know, if you don’t have a process, then you can’t scale and you can’t go back and see what worked or what didn’t work. So, definitely someone who can follow a process.

I think something that’s really underrated is being able to apply concepts because there’s really nothing new under the sun. I mean, marketing has been around for years. Everything has been done. But being able to apply a concept from, say, SEO to content marketing or SEO to, you know, your paid advertising, you know, that’s where success happens and that’s really how innovation happens – you know, when you’re able to apply, you know, “Someone did this over in e-com and you can pull it over to your B2B SaaS.” I mean, that is a skill that’s really undervalued.

And – everybody says it but it’s true – you’ve got to be curious. You know you have to want to pull apart a campaign or, you know, you saw an onboarding funnel that somebody did and, “Yeah, that was cool, how did that work?” and then, “How can I make that work for me?” I think that’s something that you always need to have.

4. What Are the Top 3 Mistakes to Avoid When Doing Growth Marketing?

I think tunnel vision is something that you’ve got to really watch out for, especially when you’re doing a lot of the experiments. You still need to keep in mind the big picture overall and that especially is true when you’re trying to prioritize things. You know, there’s a lot of frameworks to pick – you know, what experiments to deal with first – but, sometimes, you’ve got to factor in the big picture. What’s your strategy?

I think something else is making too much statistical significance. I think people get married to it sometimes and you can miss a lot of opportunity and move too slow if you get too caught up in needing that because, you know, data can be directional. You can be informed by it and still make a decision. So, sometimes, you’ve got to just make a call and move on, especially when you’re early and you don’t have much things – like, much traffic – to do, say, an A/B test on a landing page. You know, especially if you’re testing concepts and not small details, you don’t need a lot of data to make a good decision.

I think the last mistake is just not talking to your customers – you know, not just only email but getting on the phone with them and talking with them. You can learn a lot about people and really build your personas and understand who your customer is if you just get on the phone and a lot of people just don’t want to pick up the phone anymore.

5. Which Tools Do You Use to Grow Your Business?

We use the typical stuff like Salesforce for our CRM and we use Autopilot for our email marketing and Google Analytics and things like that.

But, you know, some unique things that we do, we use something called Clearscope. We were lucky to get early in on a beta of it and I think they’re going to launch pretty soon, actually. Basically, it gives us data-driven recommendations on how to improve our content. You can reverse engineer what top-performing Google content is out there and it was definitely something that helped us get to number one and some of those keywords that we targeted.

So, Clearscope, you’ve got to check that out whenever it comes out live.

Upwork is something we use to scale a lot of our – I would guess – grunt work or things like that. I mean, Upwork is very cool. If you have good processes in place to train people, you can get a lot out of it.

And then, the last thing is the super underrated – like I said before – the phone. You know, we use the phone to grow our business – whether that’s talking to customers or being quick to call back someone. I mean, they really appreciate it. We have very good, loyal customers that way and it helps us close our deals faster. It really shortens the cycle that way.

Sujan Patel - Visual Summary

Sujan Patel

1. How Did You Start Your Journey in Growth and Digital Marketing?

I started off in SEO years ago in 2001, 2002, made an e-commerce website. This was before the luxury of Shopify, Big Commerce and those types of companies. So building it using a lot more rudimentary platforms. I put a lot of money into it, I was in high school and college. I built the website, no one came, I had to figure out a way to get people there. I stumbled on SEO. The business failed but I successfully kick-started my SEO career. As SEO has evolved over time, it’s become really just all things marketing. And so, over time, I expanded beyond SEO to just all things digital marketing. Growth has always been something I’ve been measuring myself against – what is actual growth numbers? There’s a lot of fancy numbers and things you can measure against, but at the end of the day it comes down to growth, which is really why you’re doing digital marketing in the first place. So growth is a new name for something I’ve been going off of, I call it ROI, fast-paced marketing. That’s kind of my entry into growth and digital marketing.

2. Could You Tell Us a Bit More About Your Company, WebProfits?

WebProfits is a growth marketing agency. When I say growth marketing, I mean we don’t do fluff, we don’t focus only on one channel, we can’t help with just SEO and PPC. When we help companies, we’re going to help them with all things growth, and we peel back the layers of going into the organizations – what else can they be doing on the customer support side? So we’re looking at all parts of that funnel, more than just driving more traffic or increasing conversions. And the services that we provide right now: one is content marketing, which we provide à la carte, and the other is called Fluid Marketing. Really what that means is we come into an organization or if we’re talking to a potential client, we want to understand what they’re struggling with, what are their channels that got them there, what are big opportunities, and we’re helping with all things growth. Our fluid service will adjust over the month to what we focus on. So we may start with an heavy emphasis on let’s say Facebook ads because that’s a great opportunity. But 3-6 months in, that’s gonna be on optimization mode, we’ve done a lot of the work, we may shift our focus to SEO or content. So we really focus on an omni-channel approach, leveraging any advantage a customer has to grow.

3. What Are the Top Three Qualities That a Growth Hacker Should Have?

Number one is hustle. Hustle is, I think, lacking in most people, not just marketers. What I mean by hustle is you gotta figure stuff out. I get lots of emails lately around people asking me questions and my response is Google it! Learn as much as you can by reading publicly available information and I guarantee there is publicly available information on every topic. You can be an expert coin collector. I want to help.

Ask people for help once you’ve gotten stuck or you’ve gotten to a point where “I got this, this, this information, this is what I’ve done, I’m stuck can you help me?”. That, to me, is hustle. People go immediately to the easy route. So that’s number one, the hustle, it’s working long hours and doing things that suck.

Some of my biggest success in marketing has been with working with customer support, it’s come from sending cold emails and doing the dirty work that you would probably outsource to a VA myself. Now, at some point, we’re going to scale those channels or tactics. But at the end of the day, it was the willingness to put in that hard work and doing it.

Number two is agility and understanding that it’s not necessarily tactics or certain channels that are always going to help you grow. You’ve got to think beyond the channel and think really to growth, what is going to help a company, your company, or whoever you’re working with to grow. That may not come from things you’re used to. So when I say agility, it’s the ability to move around, being uncomfortable, doing things again that are not sexy.

The last thing is testing. To be honest, nobody has a silver bullet. There is no silver bullet. Why work with me over someone else? It’s probably because I’m more relevant, I have more experience. Again, that can be said for someone else. Really, there is no silver bullet. Digital marketing has become so complex, it’s just as complex as offline marketing, and if not even more. It’s saturated, people are moving fast, you’re competing with people with bigger budgets. You have to be willing to get uncomfortable and learn and test new things, because you’re going to find things that work and then you gotta figure out how to scale them.

4. Who Are Some of the Successful Growth Hackers That You Learned From or Inspired You?

Honestly, there are so many people, I really love what Hiten Shah and Stellie are doing on the startup chat. Hiten is from Kissmetrics and CrazyEgg, and Stellie is from, great podcasts and great community around startup people. It’s not really what they say, it’s what they do, and it’s the fact that they’re solving problems which is awesome. I’ve been bringing people to that community. Obviously, Neil Patel. Dan Martell is a great guy, he’s taught me a lot, he’s with He taught me the power of mastermind dinners and networking and really just going out there, and even simple things like how to ask for advice. Guys like Gary Vee are awesome inspirations to see what they’re doing. Again their hustle – I work probably 50% if that of what Gary Vee works, and that teaches me how to be a better hustle. These days I look at their actions and the little things they do outside of that which really inspire me. Morgan Brown is another great guy and Sean Ellis, creating a great community around this. There’s so many people so it’s hard to list off these things.

The counter to that is it doesn’t matter. These guys are all great and inspiration, you can read all the knowledge you want on growth hacking and growth, but at the end of the day, it’s not about what you read, it’s about actions, testing, and then figuring stuff out, then scaling. At the end of the day, execution is the key, and these people personally inspire me to execute.

5. What Are Your Top 3 Pieces of Advice for Growth Hackers?

One, don’t believe everything you read. It’s probably true, but it’s very situational. Everyone write an article on how Hotmail did this, or how AirBnB grew by this, or how my company did this and that happened. Look, it probably did happen, use that for inspiration. Minimize your reading or silo it so that you’re reading maybe one hour a day and not throughout the day. Tip number one is focus on execution and try to read less, don’t ever thing you’re going to get the same results. Think “Oh, this is something I can test.”

Number two is split up your ideas and planning. That is right brain and left brain thinking, meaning your ideas should never be limited, but you don’t want to execute and plan when you should execute your ideas when you’re thinking so freely. You need to write everything down, so many people make this mistake is that they may be great at executing, but they don’t execute on the right things. And I’ve made this mistake many many times. In fact, I make it probably fairly often because I work on so many companies. But at the end of the day, let your right brain be creative and brainstorm ideas, write them down in Excel or on a napkin, but make sure you come back and you think about what’s the impact of that, maybe even sleep on it, and the next day plan when you can execute those based off of resources required and the impact it’s going to have. I emphasize the impact, because tactics are never going to be a winning strategy.

That’s kind of my last piece of advice. Whatever you’re doing is getting old. Digital marketing and growth moves fast. The lifespan of a tactic or strategy is getting shorter and shorter and that’s ok because the resources and tools and avenues for us as marketers to grow and leverage is getting bigger, so it kind of counters things out. So always be thinking about what the next thing is going to be, and think of how you can test. So, that way, as you have scalable channels that you’re working on for your business that are consistently growing or predictable growth, you’re also testing in new channels that may be unproven but you still have proven channels on top of unproven ones. So you have a chart, of graph of consistent growth, and then you have these crazy graphs of ups and downs of things that could work. And realistically, probably you’re not going to get everything you test to work, maybe one or two out of ten, and that’s ok, you still have the consistency. So combining those two is very powerful. Never rely when you’re done or out of scalability on your current channels to then start testing, you’ve already lost a strong foothold on growth.

I recommend that you spend 25-30% of your time in the exploration phase. This will also help you and your team be creative and think outside that box, because frankly as a marketer the worst thing you can do is not innovate because six months or a year your strategy is going to be either milked completely dry or not as scalable. If you look at Facebook ads, years ago they were the hottest thing, you could get clicks for cheap. Now you’re paying more than Adwords sometimes and how much things cost. Things get expensive, and if your economics don’t work out, if you’re not first there or early in, you might be starting at $6 CPCs and that may never work for you.

Wes Walls - Visual Summary

Wes Walls

1. How Did You Become Passionate About Growth Hacking and Digital Marketing?

Before I discovered digital marketing, my big career passion was music. So actually I went to school for music and spent many years focused on that. One of the things that I love about music and attracted me to that is obviously, among many things, the creating aspect and the idea that you can sort of marry the creative and the technical to produce something that people can experience and listen to.

There was always that attraction to merging creative and technical I think. So when I decided that music wasn’t something that I was going to do as a long-term career, I was looking for something else and digital marketing was a natural fit just because of that.

When I started it was sort of an emerging field, a lot of people were learning what it is and developing the concept of digital marketing so there were a lot of opportunities, and in Montreal where I was living, the digital marketing community was very well becoming friendly and it just felt like a natural direction to head in.

2. Would You Mind Telling Us More About Your Role at Bandzoogle and Your Work With Other Companies?

I’ve been with Bandzoogle for about a year, and before that I was working with a startup called LANDR. The role really is pretty straightforward, it is helping to grow the company and the bottom line at the end of the day.

Practically speaking, what it comes down to is as a growth hacker, it is sort of bringing all the skills that I have and everything that I’ve learned working in the past at agencies specializing in various areas of digital marketing and bringing all that in and becoming a generalist, to pull everything together and do as much as you can with those skills. It’s everything from planning, the big picture, understanding where the business seems to go, working with key stakeholders in the business, so everything from that to, because we’re a small thing, to doing most of that as well. I’ll bring in specialists when needed, for design, copy, videos, or whatever, into projects.

But aside from that, it’s everything from tracking, analysis, strategy, planning, execution, and the range of tactics that run the gambit, from paid ads, analytics, copywriting, design, PR, outreach, tactical SEO, project management, conversion optimization, email marketing, among many other things. It’s using everything, pulling all the stops to grow the business.

Bandzoogle is a platform for musicians who need a website, essentially, so if you’re a band or any kind of music artist. It’s a platform that has everything you need to promote your music and sell your music in one package. You don’t need any technical skills to do that, for most musicians they don’t necessarily have a lot of technical skills, obviously.

Most musicians would prefer to spend their time making music, not necessarily learning how to make a WordPress website. Bandzoogle allows people to not have to do that, so everything is drag-and-drop, really easy to use, very low learning curve, and there’s no need to look around for all sorts of solutions, everything is there, ready to drag-and-drop into your website. That’s the idea of Bandzoogle.

It’s really a time saver. I remember that myself, as a musician, obviously promoting yourself as an artist is a pretty important thing, and a website is a really key part of that. There are obviously many other things that you need to do, but a website is sort of a keystone. I remember spending quite a lot of time myself learning how to use WordPress and build a WordPress site, looking at WordPress templates, learning to play with HTML and stuff like that. Personally I would have liked to save myself a lot of time and Bandzoogle would have been a good solution had I known about it back then.

3. What Are the Top 3 Qualities That a Growth Hacker Should Have?

I think there’s probably more than three, but I think from my perspective, one of the things that is a daily challenge as a growth hacker is there is no rulebook. You have a challenge, you have a problem to solve, but there is no rulebook for solving it. So I think having that sort of analytical problem solving ability is an important thing. So being able to, first of all, creating a framework for where you want to go and where you’re starting from, developing a process for how to get from A to B without any sort of reference in terms of how to do that or you’re trying to do necessarily. So it’s really being able to work with stakeholders to create your own objectives, getting to know what your objectives are, getting to know what your metrics are, and figuring out for yourself how you can move your needle on your metrics. So I think you need to have some good analytical problem solving skills to achieve that and be successful in your role as a growth hacker.

I think definitely creativity is an important one. No matter how many skills you have, technical skills you have, how much planning or strategy you do, if you’re not able to put together a compelling campaign, you probably aren’t going to see much movement on what you’re trying to do. I think there’s an art form to good marketing and I think having that creative ability to create good marketing is a good quality.

The last thing is, this is the best way I can say it: having a fire under your feet. You need ideas obviously to start from, but ideas are the easiest things to come with. The hardest thing to do is actually getting stuff done. Even not necessarily knowing what the outcome will be when you start. It’s not always clear how things are going to work or what exactly you’re gonna do. So having that fire under your feet to just do stuff, because you need to do a lot. There is a lot to do. That sort of idea of moving fast, failing as fast as you can, learning from that, and getting better. So having a good strong pace is important, getting things done and moving quickly.

4. Who Are Some of the Successful Growth Hackers That You Learned From or Inspired You?

This is an interesting one. I have to give some credit to my colleague Justin Evans, who I worked with at LANDR, he’s one of the co-founders of LANDR. At the time I was moving from an agency role to a role where I was more of a growth hacker in-house and working closely with Justin among other people. Justin is very masterful at the art of marketing and compelling messaging. And I really learned how powerful and effective that can be when it’s done right.

Creating something that really resonates with your audience when you communicate it in a certain way. I don’t think he would define himself as a growth hacker, but I think as somebody who does that myself I learned the power of that. From Justin I also learned not to be afraid of even your craziest ideas. No matter how big and crazy your ideas might be, just embracing those big crazy ideas and oftentimes those end up being the ones that are producing the most amazing results.

I have a couple of other ones here. I think neither of them are actually growth hackers but there are some good lessons that I’ve learned from them in my journey.

There’s a guy named Michael King, he’s a SEO thought leader. I was following him a lot for a while because he was the first to promote the idea of researching for SEO and combining that with audience personas to create a framework for not just optimizing for keywords and SEO, but also for user experience, from the search engine results page all the way through to the end results of the user is hoping to achieve. And the reason I mention that is the idea of merging these two different ideas in a creative way and the tactical and creative aspect to that. Even though I don’t think he would call himself a growth hacker either, that quality of creatively coming up with these sets of solutions for problems and challenges, especially in the case of growth hacking it would be in an applied sense to specific business metrics. I think that’s the definition of a good growth hacker.

And I think the last one I’d mention is sort of a boring answer, but the author of The Lean Startup, Eric Ries. He’s pretty well known. I mention him because that methodology is something I use everyday at Bandzoogle – coming up with an idea, developing a minimum viable product for it, whether that’s the basic landing page variant in Optimizely or whatever, something quick and easy, testing it, measuring it, and optimizing it or just figuring out what they’re not […] The idea of just failing as quickly as possible so you can move on to the next step. I think that’s a really powerful methodology that works really well for this field of work.

5. What Are Your Top 3 Pieces of Advice for Growth Hackers?

The number one thing would be: being a growth hacker, every day is diving into the unknown to an extent. You might have your bread and butter channels or tactics that you know boost results. But you can never stand still. You always need to be pushing the boundaries in some way. So what that means is you’re always diving into unknown territory. Being bold and fearless is what I would say as a growth hacker, and learn to not be afraid of the dark, embrace the unknown.

I wrote an article a couple of years ago when I was starting, it was a reflexion on my growth hacking role. One of the things that really stood out to me at the time, and still is very much true today, is be prepared to use every tool that you have available in your toolbelt. So use every tool that you have, and not just once. Always be using every tool. You never have enough tools, you always have to find new ways to grow things, and you’ll keep adding new tools to your belt, so you always have to be pulling all the stops and using everything you have. Use every tool in your belt.

The last thing I would say is keep building your personal library of case studies. I don’t mean writing case studies. You’ll always be meeting new challenges everyday and as you progress and you overcome challenges, those lessons that you’ve learned will almost be inevitable and useful in the future. So when you’re approaching a challenge, being able to say that you did this, that happened, this is why it happened, it’s a lot more useful than just being able to say “If we do this, then that might happen.” You can reference something that you’ve done before, the lessons that you’ve learned. Maybe writing it down and keeping a record of the case studies. Making sure that from every challenge you encounter you make sure to learn something from it and remember what you learned so you can use it later.

Nectarios Economakis - Visual Summary

Nectarios Economakis

1. What Are You Up to These Days That You’re Passionate About?

First of all, thanks for having me on the show. Good to be here and be chatting.

So I think in terms of what I like doing, I left a pretty cushy job at Google to start my own thing to ultimately be able to do what I want to do, which for me is a huge happiness factor – just being able to work on the stuff that I want to on a day-to-day basis. In terms of my day-to-day is trying to help entrepreneurs and executives with their overall strategy, usually focused on growth. It takes several forms, not just growth hacking or online, it takes a lot of different forms. Being able to work with leaders in various levels, be it in smaller tech companies or larger more traditional organizations.

You’re dealing with these core very strategic issues, you’re there almost like a business psychologist trying to figure out how to help these companies get to the next level, how do you help them stave off, or if it’s a declining industry, for example, how do you turn it around? It’s a lot of fun, you’re pushing your mental limits to the extreme in trying to solve these deep strategic issues, it’s not cookie-cutter commodity kind of thing that we’re trying to provide in my new gig.

With tech startups and tech SMBs that are post-traction and gaining revenue, it’s not really pure startup trying to figure out what you’re doing, those are usually focused more on “we want to grow, we want to scale.” It’s very deep technology conversations, it’s very deep go-to-market conversations. As well as corporate development, so how do you build your company to be acquired, to be bought, if that’s your goal of course.

Or the opposite if you want to grow to be able to acquire different pieces that you’re missing. It’s a very different conversation than we have with more traditional organizations, which tend to focus more on – I hate to use the term digital transformation because it’s a bit of a buzzword, but it’s more increasing velocity, how do you go faster.

Usually, in more traditional organizations, they haven’t been able to match where their customers are. Their customers are more advanced in terms of how they’re using their products and services, so it’s a playing a game of catch-up with their end consumers. It’s more about velocity, they require things such as internal team, internal talent, to integrate partners. Bigger companies to have more resources so they tend to bring in other parties to the table to help them grow.

Ultimately, what’s fun about what we do is we play bit of a connector between those two worlds. So, tech SMBs would like to have partnerships with bigger and more traditional organizations as clients, and larger traditional companies can learn a lot from the DNA of a tech company. Being matchmaker between those two worlds is a lot of fun right now. I don’t know if forever we’ll have a nice split between those two customer sets, but right now it’s fun to basically help both sides equally.

2. How Did You Consistently Generate 50% Growth for Google Montreal?

I can’t take too much credit for that. At Google the product is obviously world-class. In this case, my role was being an evangelist, speakers were coming in as high-level consultants to help companies, understand how they spend across different channels. And obviously we spend on online media, it’s much more measurable, it’s more tied to performance metrics.

So once you’re able to prove profitability, then spend as long as you’re reaching a certain ROI objective. It wasn’t that hard when you have world-class products behind you. So the challenge here is convincing executives that the world is changed, and the old way of budgeting or siloing your marketing department is passé. So for a example a lot of the firms I’ve worked with have fixed marketing budgets, and when it gets to May 30th and we spent the last money, then we shut off. As a startup, that makes no sense. Spend as long as I’m hitting my LTB objectives, for example. So being able to coach companies and tell them “hey guys, you’re leaving money on the table by not focusing on performance,” that was the big factor that helped people understand “hey we need to shift in terms of how we operate,” specifically when it comes to market.

3. What Have You Learned in Your Experience With Large Corporations That Can Be Applied to Startups?

I think smaller companies can definitely learn from larger ones as well. If you want to use the word startup, they tend to run in a lot of different directions and don’t necessarily follow a very good planning process. I think bigger companies, once you reach a bigger scale, you need to be more structured. But I think a lot of the smaller companies can benefit from applying strategic planning methodologies to what they’re doing.

So at the start of the year, figuring out where you want to go, what your objectives are, and reverse-engineering that process. I think the advantage that startups have is they can do this in an Agile fashion, so really re-iterate and pivot quickly based on what they’ve learned. I think smaller startups don’t want to become the big bureaucracies that they’re trying to disrupt, but at the same time, as soon as they’re getting traction, they’re applying management methodologies that mimic those big companies. They have to think a little bit differently, when it comes to simple things like management practices.

4. What Are Your Thoughts on Growth Hacking?

How can I say this politely? I think the word growth hacking means everything and nothing today. It’s become a real big buzzword. That being said, behind it there is some real fundamental interesting stuff that this domain is applying. In the beginning marketers were like “Hey we want to be growth hackers too, don’t leave all the fun stuff to the engineers.”

But today, it basically boils down to a lot of the stuff that you see in marketing, like acquisition, retention, and engagement, which all fall under the traditional marketing hat. It’s a big difference with growth hacking as an entity is the methodology behind it – being able to iterate quickly, being able to deploy multiple tests.

Over time, I think the buzzword will fade, it won’t really be called that, it will roll back to the traditional marketing practice. Marketing as a whole will benefit as a result. So things like being able experiment quickly, making a lot of tests and fail, being really super user-centric in terms of your approach. I think that these are all things that a lot of companies are still learning to doing well.

I think the word will fade, but the actual practice of marketing is gonna basically change. Because as we’re all connected as you know, data points are only continuing to multiply so data-driven marketing is the way forward.

I don’t think we’ll go back to the past paradigm of “hey my audience is females age 25-54 and I need to reach them via traditional media.” The way you measure them and apply the program is gonna be completely different. The hacking part refers to, I remember back in the day you’d figure out tips and tricks on the facebook platform let’s say, you could hack some parts that people hadn’t figured out yet. You’re able to get little areas of growth that people haven’t figured out, and there’s where the word hack came from.

Now it’s a catch-all phrase for everything that’s growth, which is fine, it puts a light on it in a positive manner, but I think we just need to remember what we’re trying to achieve ultimately, it’s about growing in a profitable way for a company.

5. What Advice Would You Give to a Startup Looking to Raise Capital?

I think it’s very contextually-based. I think it’s hard to give catch-all advice to everyone, because really depends on the context of every specific startup.

The one thing I’ve seen lately and it’s been around for two years now, is there’s a lot of appraise for companies that raise money, which is a positive milestone, you cannot deny it. If someone decides to write you a big check, it’s a good thing, obviously, but it’s almost displaced real-performance metrics.

People celebrate the success of raising but not realize it’s just a milestone along the way. And a lot of startups are focused on just raising. You don’t realized you’re just buying yourself a boss, basically, or several bosses who are now holding your feet to the fire, and making sure that you’re performing.

I don’t think it’s necessary for every single startup to raise. It depends on where they are in their life cycle. Ultimately, as the head strategist and the person who calls the shots, he needs to figure out when is the right time to do it, and what the money is going to be used for. Really knowing that I have products that work and I need to hire 5-10 people, 5 people in marketing, 15 engineers, and hit the ground running. Then I have a legitimate reason for growing and asking for money. But if you’re not quite certain and you don’t have a certain game plan as to why you need to raise, I think it needs to be re-evaluated.

If you’re doing a seed round and you have a really good idea but you don’t have traction yet, that’s fine, it’s pretty congruent to capital. There’s a certain subset of investors interested in very early stage. I’ve done some of that kind of investment too in the past, where It’s a powerpoint, there is no real prototype or MVP. But in that case, you need to be very solid on on the proposing.

If you’re doing a photo-sharing app, no one is going to be that interested today.

If you’re doing something very cool that has a solid chance of success, even if it’s one out of 100 – startups are still a risky endeavor – you’re putting more chances on your side to win with an investor and win in the marketplace.

One thing that we focus on is helping companies with putting an Agile practice in place, so I like how you called the group Agile, I really think you brought it from an agility perspective. Software is “eating the world” today. And the main methodology used to build software nowadays is Agile. Applying the Agile methodology to your management practice has a huge benefit as well, because you’re able to re-iterate quickly and on an ongoing basis. It’s not a one-time thing where you’re doing an A/B test for example, it’s part of an always on practice that you have to have in place.

Sammy Najar

1. Would You Mind Introducing Yourself? Who Are You? What’s Your Background?

I’m a Marketing major, then I was trying to find a job in marketing. I thought I would find a crazy fun job in advertising, but you know what marketing is not that easy. I finally ended up in a web agency. I didn’t know anything about web or digital, it was still called web back then, but I learned a lot.

The digital space is really fun place to be. It’s dynamic, it moves a lot, there’s always something new so you’ve got on top of your game if you want to follow. There’s one thing that I found out in this industry – there’s a lot of opportunities and a lot of space for entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs have always been people that I highly respected and I always wanted to become one, so that’s why I created Commentts.

Commentts allows you to react to the trending and latest news. What we do is we gather the best and trending news from cities all over North America every day and every hour and bring it back into the app. Then you get a normal news feed. Then we put the comments up front. In the app, you select a news, you create a Commentts – it’s an image with a bit of text on top, with a style and filter to enhance the aesthetic value of the comment.

Really what you get is a feed of visual comments on what’s happening around you, instead of a normal boring news feed.

3. Who Is Working on Commentts?

We’re two co-founders. My partner is Jean-Sébastien Lozeau. We have two different backgrounds. I’m more from the marketing digital agency world. He’s a pure a creative, book writer, movie director, he made a documentary. He’s the total opposite of me, and that’s a good thing.

The two of us together can cover 360 degrees. What we’re missing is a CTO, but we’re good at finding the right people to work with us. At this moment we have a few developers, front-end and back-end, and we’re looking to hire a new one for Android because we don’t have an Android version yet.

So we’re really building the team, and obviously behind us there’s a good investor that really believes in our product and our team, and that’s also important. I’m more the spec-down-to-earth guy, and my partner lives in the cloud, so we try to find middle ground and complement each other.

4. How Did You Come Up With the Idea?

I used to work with a media company and so was Jean-Sébastien. We met in a meeting, exchanged different ideas. We liked each other and after a few months we went for a beer, Jean-Sébastien had an idea that evolved into Commentts. The idea was to do a comic strip on the news, which is not simple to execute. We got together and evolved the idea into a social network around the news with people expressing themselves with images, and this is how it came to life.

It was a long journey, it is not something that you do in a week, it took us almost two years before we were ready to leave our jobs and work full time on the product.

The first thing that we did is a marketing search, we created wireframes, we set up a pitch, and we went looking for an investor. We were lucky enough to find someone that believed in us, lent us some money, which allowed us to build a prototype. With that prototype we were able to find more money, and actually develop the app that is available in the market now.

We always took it step-by-step and kept our focus. You have to put in the hours, and always move forward and never stop.

5. What Did You Learn From the Challenges?

People think that you have success over night. Facebook and Twitter guys worked a lot before they got to where they are now. We’re trying to have an operation in our own backyard, in Quebec, instead of spreading across all of North America right away. We released the app, got some promotion and some user acquisition, then we stopped and pulled the plug on acquisition. It’s a crazy thing to stop the momentum on user acquisition, but at the same time we wanted to get a first feedback from our users. We validated every step before, but the ultimate validation is with actual users playing with the app.

We learned, for example, that our target market was wrong. The persona we created was wrong. But that’s a good thing, you gotta start somewhere and put it on the table, then validate it or reject it and create a new one.

Right now we’re validating our persona, and looking at what users are doing within the app. We’re actually talking to them a lot, over the phone and interviews to get insights.

We’re at the stage to fix a few things before going into full growth and user acquisition again.

You gotta test the market and be smart about the way you do it, otherwise your server will explode, or get a lot of downloads without retention. I rather get 10,000 downloads and 5,000 people in the app, as opposed to 1,000,000 downloads and 10,000 users in the app.
Go step by step, don’t try to take big leaps. Baby steps, always in the right direction.