Three take aways of Growth Hacking and Full Stack Marketing for Startups

On 15 June, Sirris ICT expert Nick Boucart participated in the Growth Hacking and Full Stack Marketing workshop by Casey Armstrong ( and Patrick Vlaskovits (Superpowered), hosted by Rockstart, an Amsterdam based accelerator. A personal review. 

Casey Armstrong and Patrick Vlaskovits are two “veterans” in the growth hacking space: both have earned their scars, developing different services and sites on very tight budgets. In this one single day, they provided a general overview of what growth hacking and full stack marketing is, some places to start from and some of their low-risk hacks. Here are three things I took home from the workshop. As a bonus, I will share some of their hacks too. 

1. The medium is the message

While Omar Mohout says 'the product is the channel', Patrick Vlaskovits describes it as 'the medium is the message'. Point is, when you have a new, innovative product, something people don’t necessarily or immediately understand, you not only have to be innovative in your product (message), but also in (the use of) your channels (medium). 

In itself, this is nothing new. In 1938, Earl Tupper invented a new type of food container. It was made of plastic, was much lighter and more durable than the glass or steel containers that were the standard at the time. On top of that, this “Tupperware” dish was smaller, thus easier to store and much easier to clean.  Mr Tupper made deals with all the major retailers, so they would stock up and sell the new Tupperware products. Mr Tupper had it all figured out, but despite of it all, sales of Tupperware were flat, only a handful of people bought his wonder product. It was simply too revolutionary, too innovative and too good to be true.  

One day, Mr Tupper received a letter from Brownie Wise. She bought some of the Tupperware products and was so enthusiastic about it, she told all her friends, and even invited them over to her house, to experience the benefits of these new products first hand. Such hands-on demo convinced Mrs Wise's friends and all of them would rush to the store to buy their own Tupperware. The famous Tupperware home parties were born.

Lesson learned: if your message is innovative, so should be the medium. 

2. From medium to channel

According to Casey Armstrong and Patrick Vlaskovits, there is a big difference between a medium and a channel. When a medium becomes mainstream, it becomes a “channel”. Typically, a medium goes through a life cycle, like this:

0. The Hyped Next Big Thing
1. The Wild Wild West
2. Hockey Stick Growth
3. The tragedy of the Commons
4. Governance and Civilization 

In the beginning, a new medium is hyped as the next big thing, it’s super cool, but nobody knows if it will be around two months from now (think of Facebook or Twitter mid 2000s).

With initial traction, the Wild Wild West starts: early adopters experiment with the new medium, in new and exciting ways. If the medium breaks through, exponential or hockey stick growth can become reality. Those who are at that moment leveraging that medium, are lifted up too. As an example: FarmVille grew exponentially thanks to leveraging Facebook and its growth. 

Success draws attention, so copy cats will appear, and before you know it, the user experience deteriorates. Half a year or so after FarmVille's success, you had a gazillion of this kind of games, making  a user's entire Facebook timeline look like a zoo. 

This typically is the time when the owners of the medium come in, update their terms of service and ban most of the 'cowboys'. This is why you don’t see FarmVille on Facebook anymore. 

It’s only possible to do hacks that have an exponential uptake, when the medium of your choice is at phase 1 or 2. Once past these phases, the medium can still be a nice component of your growth though, but it will be increasingly more difficult to get exponential growth based on that medium. 

3. SEO is here to stay, especially when you realize that SEO is broader than Google

SEO, or "search engine optimization", is everything you do to present your content so that Google algorithms optimally understand it. When you do this well, you can draw a lot of free, organic traffic to your site. But SEO is more than Google alone, there are plenty of places out there that in a way act as a search engine. In most cases, their algorithms are less sophisticated than Google's, making them easier to influence.  

Take as an example: it is a search engine for your products. If you are into content, or Flipboard are places where people might find your content. If you are a small business, many people might find you through Yelp. Be sure your content is friendly to these algorithms. 

4. Bonus points: three example hacks for you to explore

a. When you have a YouTube channel, you could append '?sub_confirmation=1' to the url you share when pointing people to your channel. If you do this, YouTube pops up a confirmation dialog for people to subscribe to your channel. Check for a demo. 

b. Email harvesting devices: you can build a small tool in the periphery of the products and services you are offering, and require an email address for the user to get access to the results. This works well for white papers too. That email address might be the start of a prosperous business relationship. 

c. ifttt or if-this-than-that is a site that allows you to automate a lot of things, using simple recipes. For example, want to automagically update your Twitter profile picture whenever you update your Facebook profile? There’s a recipe for that! Want to share your instagram pictures immediately to Flickr and Facebook? You guessed it, there are recipes for that.  

Do you have growth hacks you would like to share? Love to hear from you in the comments!