Growth Hacking is Overrated

“Growth hacking” is a technical term for customer development. Essentially, it involves figuring out what your customer wants without ever having to talk to or interact with them.  How?

By using tools like OptimizelyGoogle Analytics and KISS Metrics, you’re able to learn more about your customer based on a specific set of metrics. These types of programs allow you to discover their likes, dislikes, and interests solely by monitoring their Internet usage and what sites they frequent most.

So, what’s the problem with customer development via growth hacking?

The Problem with Growth Hacking

You can’t growth hack your way into your customer’s mind.  Sure, you may gain a little understanding about them thanks to the software program, but your growth will be faster if you actually keep a finger on the pulse of your customers. How do you do this? By having real conversations with them.

The software developers responsible for creating these types of programs are partially to blame. I’m not saying that they are schmucks, but not all of these growth hackers are worth the beaucoup bucks they’re generally paid.

A large number of software developers (and non-savvy business developers) have the illusion that “if they build it, they will come.” In this case, the second “they” refers to the customers who they expect will adore everything they do and flock to their software simply because it exists.

In all fairness, this way of thinking is not entirely their fault. We fawn over stories of icons such as Mark Zuckerberg with Facebook and dream of being that one in a billion.

However, overvaluing software developers and undervaluing business developers can give software developers a giant ego and false sense of worth. Unfortunately, it is this inflated ego that can drive them to quit projects midway through to pursue their own passions. And, why not? They can, right?

While it’s great for anyone to follow their passion, this is bad luck in these types of situations. Plus, it’s just awful for the teams they leave behind.

Growth Hacking Can Be Good…Within Reason

Personally, I love the concept of growth hacking. In fact, by definition I am a growth hacker. But I also know that you cannot – 100% cannot – grow your company without getting to know your customer face-to-face.

For instance, consider the concepts behind Lean methodology which forces you to GOOTB (Get-Out-Of-The-Building) and talk to your customers. It’s so much better! Why?

It makes your potential customers part of the growth process so you become customer-centric. When you follow Lean methodology, you are constantly putting your product or service in front of them to test their response, giving you immediate feedback that is essential to your growth power.

One way to do this is by signing up for Lean Startup Machine. This is a three-day course designed to teach you the process by which you can learn enough about your customer base to make your business more successful.

When it comes to Lean methodology versus growth hacking, Lean methodology wins every time!

Customers Aren’t Numbers

Customers aren’t just numbers.  They have a voice.  So, hiding behind the numbers and hacking away at code, pretending that you’re staring at a matrix screen that somehow tells you all you need to know about your customer… that’s all bunk.

Your front end sales people have the pulse on your company.  Your business development people actually know what your customers are saying – and they’re worth listening to.

That’s why I believe that growth hacking is seriously overrated and may, in fact, be one of the worst effects of modern tech culture.

What’s your opinion on growth hacking? Do you find it helpful or not? We’d love to know your thoughts!

IGNITE Santiago: Introducing the Anywhere Startup in Santiago, Chile

IGNITE Santiago: Introducing the Anywhere Startup in Santiago, Chile | Live Work Anywhere

IGNITE Santiago: Introducing the Anywhere Startup in Santiago, Chile | Live Work Anywhere

20 slides, 15 seconds each slide, 5 minutes.

That’s the format for IGNITE. An IGNITE talk reminds me of a TEDX talk or the old Gnomedex run by Chris Pirillo. Except that it’s even more niche. It’s likely derived from the PechaKucha format, in which designers were challenged to talk with 20 slides auto-advancing after 20 seconds each. The content is inspiring, humorous, or pensive. And generally presented by nerds.

I gave my first IGNITE in Chile in January 2014. I wanted to introduce the concept of the Anywhere Startup.

I’ve been living and working from cities around the world for several years, but thanks to the increase in fiber, Internet, technology, resources, with near ubiquity driving the cost of access down, airline costs decreasing overtime, and other trends such as Startup workshops, in-flight wifi, etc, more people have the flexibility to travel and stay connected to one another.

I used to swear that I would do anything to get back to Spain, even if it meant I had to clean toilets with a toothbrush. Thankfully, I no longer have to do that. I’ve found success following an entrepreneurial path, and I want to help people get to that place too.

Here’s my Ignite Talk in Chile, introducing the Anywhere Startup:

The core points from my talk include:

1) I grew up sheltered, in rural America. I was 20 years old and I’d never left North America.
2) In college, I went to study abroad in Spain. I had never been on a plane, train, bus, or taxi. I had to do it all, within 24 hours, and – in SPANISH. My world was completely turned upside down.
3) But it was also during this time that I realized that I would to do whatever it would take to continue traveling.

That was 1997.


4) I had only just started using email in 1994. Twenty years ago. In the University in Spain, my friend would sneak into the computer labs on the weekend with to use a computer (on DIAL UP) to send e-mail.
5) After school, I was to told to get a job. And I did. But even with the Internet, there was no mobility. I was still stuck in an office, watching the clock every day until 5 pm. Waiting to leave, or rather until someone else told me I could leave.
6) What happened to the days of being a pioneer, an explorer, of sailing our ships through unknown waters – navigating through obstacles and discovering new lands, creating new maps? Why couldn’t workers combine the Internet and travel?
7) The morning of my talk I physically worked from Santiago, but I was really working in New York and San Francisco. There is no difference between working right next to someone and being thousands of miles away, whether you’re in the air or sitting on a rock.


8) Access to resources is nearing ubiquity and the cost of technology has plummeted. Airlines are now starting to offer FREE WIFI. I’ve been mid air sending emails, chatting, and making calls via Google Voice … and nobody … even knew … where I was.


9) This is the concept of the Anywhere Startup. A startup that, simply, you can run from anywhere. It’s based on a set of what I call the Mobility Criteria.
10) I run 2 anywhere startups. One is an e-commerce company (or beer commerce, if you like) called Beer2Buds that allows you to send a friend a beer anywhere in the world. The other is a SaaS product called PromoBomb. I’ve been traveling while running these startups from anywhere.
11) The most obvious elements of the mobility criteria are strong wifi, continuous power, quiet private space. Thanks to co-working spaces popping up around the globe certainly feeds this ecosystem. But it hasn’t always been that easy….
12) In 2009 I went to Costa Rica lured by the promise of strong WIFI and continuous power. When I got there, the line was shared by 12 other businesses and the power would go out, people would shrug, and head to the beach.
13) In Budapest, I found a cafe open til midnight that had strong wifi, not shared with other people. Bingo. I arrived at quarter to 8.
At 8 pm, on the dot, the wifi was shut off. The waiter said they do it so people would socialize.
14) Learning my lesson, I went to Buenos Aires and got my own apartment with my OWN strong wifi and power. I was on a conference call with Budweiser, when all of a sudden someone started jack hammering through the wall. Jack hammering. My noise-canceling headphones were no match for the jack hammer. I also lost power and the call was over.
15) Things can and will happen, but the most important part to an Anywhere Startup, is having a system in place. 3 components of a perfect system are:




An Anywhere Startup requires a different type of commitment, different style of communication and new processes.
16) My Anywhere Startups have teams that are dispersed all over the world. We use a variety of tools for collaboration. We set our clocks to ONE timezone, in our case, EST. We set weekly meetings based on this time. No matter where we are on the globe, we all adhere to EST.
17) During our meetings, over Skype, one person may be having pizza for lunch, while another is having balut for dinner . Our sales team battle cries are “Walang Aayaw” and “Lage Raho.” We are an international team running on one single system.


18) What will the next twenty years look like? Did you know that only 30% of the world has metadata? In Nicaragua and my address was – 2 blocks down from San Miguel’s store, down the street past El Mar restaurant, and on the left hand side…
19) Imagine a world with 100% metadata, and, as access to resources becomes even more ubiquitous, people who never before were able to share their vision with the world could now do so. We create cross-cultural entrepreneurship, and global cooperation.
20) Imagine a world that where, when you land in Chile, it doesn’t say “roaming” you turn on your phone. It just works. I’m navigating the waters of the Anywhere Startup and building a map for the next twenty years of Anywhere Entrepreneurs.

What does your Anywhere Startup dream look like?

A Startup is Not a Company

a startup is NOT a company live work anywhere

I was just at an event last night where we went around the room and introduced ourselves.

Many people talked about their “company.” It’s hard to tell if they were talking about the company they worked for, the piece of code they were working on, or the group of friends they worked with to raise a seed round.

Steve Blank gave the best definitions of a startup I’ve ever heard: A temporary organization designed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.

It’s a project. Until there are paying customers, a formed corporation, and a need solved that’s scalable, it’s a project. Startups fail because they are experiments.

Of course, it depends on where you are in the process. Anyone can turn from XYZ into CEO overnight with a project. It’s easy to give yourself a title and to build a prototype. That’s the simple part.

A startup moves from the project phase into the company phase when there is revenue. Revenue comes from paying customers.

By now, Lean Startup has become a common term. Lean Startup takes the principles of Customer Development and Agile Development and combines them. It’s important to think of customers first—who will actually buy your product? It ‘s usually not who you think! After you figure that out, how quickly can you iterate on your development when you learn this? This is known as agile development, or SCRUM.

On the other hand, there is no need to start a company (or even incorporate) when all you have is a project. Unless there are some patents, trademarks, etc that are essential to the core of the product, then all you really need to do is experiment. That’s the beauty of a startup. It’s not failure if you are experimenting and documenting what you’re learning.

A startup project is fun, exciting, and experimental. A company deals with real revenues and expenses, customers and support issues. So if you want to build a company, it’s okay to begin with a startup. Just keep in mind that customers are your goal. With customers comes real business decisions. If you don’t want a company, keep building startups! It’s all about the learning.

In your experience, at what point does a startup become a company?

Origin of Sending a Beer

The origin of Beer2Buds was in 2001 while sitting at my desk in Milwaukee. A friend from Sweden sent me a virtual beer in an email and I thought if I could only redeem that locally what a great idea that would be.

What a great way to stay in touch with friends and reconnect over the feeling you had and the memories you created when you were together.  After spending time learning web and product development, payment systems, incorporating, choosing right – and wrong – business partners, was launched in February 2009.

If you can’t convince people it is a good idea it’s for one of 2 reasons – 1) it’s a bad idea 2) it’s too early.

Now sending people drinks are popping up all over the country and the world – sounds like a good idea – just a little early. But with advances in smartphones, web apps, and independent businesses adapting to needs of customers and coupons, sending a beer will start becoming even easier.