One way I’ve used to growth hack a business

There’s nothing complicated about this method. It simply involves the following elements:

  1. A copy of your latest business plan, or a similar document.
  2. A day or half day according to your availability.
  3. The desire to align your marketing and overall business aims and objectives.

In the successful example working with curry snack food retailer Mindi’s I created a half day workshop using the business model canvas approach, and focused on a social model canvas version, which aligned with their business objectives. To note they hadn’t got a detailed business plan to work with, even though their business was already up and running.

Anyhow the results speak for themselves. Since the June 2013 workshop PR coverage rocketed, and the business has gone from strength to strength. I don’t claim credit for their hard work or product innovation, simply for the approach in aligning their marketing and business model canvas, to create a simple shared understanding between the co-founders of what needed to be done.

Six surprising facts about potential startup founders


Party Time

Party Time

Teaming up with Bloomberg Beta, the ‘startup signals tracker’ Mattermark studied 1.5m budding entrepreneurs in the US to see who was likely to be a startup founder.

Below are the six surprising facts they discovered – I have to confess pretty much all six surprised me. I wonder what Berlin Startup Ranking will find out about London startups, when it launches in the capital in the next few weeks?

  • 38% of venture-backed founders are over 40 years old

  • Only 15% of venture-backed founders have a Computer Science degree

  • Management consultants are more than 2x more likely to be venture-backed founders than engineers

  • 43% of venture backed founders worked at a venture-backed company immediately before founding

  • Two thirds of venture-backed founders were not in a senior leadership position prior to founding

  • Contrary to conventional wisdom, being “stuck” in the same company or position for a long time (even a decade) does not diminish your likelihood of becoming a founder

ECE Startup Campus launches in Rotterdam

The ECE Startup Campus, an initiative of the Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship, launched on 2nd March in the city of Rotterdam: “Got the entreprenuerial spirit, join our community.”

It holds flexspaces, meeting rooms, a lecture-room and a workout facility. It is already providing place for these startups, with some pretty interesting and impressive business models:

  • Symbid – Global leader in online equity financing that helped fund other ECE startups (Gambitous, Equidam and Declaree). “Symbid is the only platform in the Netherlands where investors become shareholders via a cooperative. Via financial partner InterSolve, the invested money is under supervision of the Dutch Authority Financial Markets and the Dutch Central Bank,” Eric Recter, Founder Kidswatcher.
  • Gambitious – Global leader in gaming crowdfunding: “The first managed crowd finance platform dedicated to the games industry! Connecting international investors with innovative companies and promising entertainment projects.”
  • Equidam – Valuation of SMEs and Startups: “supports information transparency for the growing sector of online investments in high growth startups by offering a cloud system for financial and accounting services.”
  • EnWake – World’s first Smart, Personal & Portable circadian rhythm solution: “EnWake is an innovative solution presenting an intelligent “pair of glasses”  (incorporating sophisticated light system) connected to your Smartphone, which helps you optimize your sleep/wake cycle and adjust your  energy levels to match your lifestyle.”
  • Declaree – Online expense reporting: “Take a photograph of your expense using the mobile app and it will automatically be stored online.”
  • Intigames, developers of the game Helix (one of the finalists of the ISPO sports business trade show in Munich and available in 10 countries this summer): “We believe that anyone can play passionately, anywhere, anytime! Our goal is: worldwide, playfully encouraging people to move!”
  • Effortless-Housing – Student to student housing provider – that’s it!

How businesses can learn from a growthhacking approach to pricing

It occurred to me today that perhaps the most commercially important on the subject of the relevance of growth hacking to traditional business, a piece in Harvard Business Review by pricing guru Rafi Mohammed which examines the popular ‘ridesharing’ startup service Uber, and its growth hacking style approach to pricing and whether that works or not in the marketplace (he suggests it needs some serious tweaking). But rather than focus on Uber I want to focus on Rafi’s blog whether there’s a simple explanation of understanding pricing through the eyes of the customer:

“The key to better pricing involves setting prices that capture value. Manhattan street vendors understand the principle of value-based pricing. The moment that it looks like it will rain, they raise their umbrella prices. This hike has nothing to do with costs; instead it’s all about capturing the increased value that customers place on a safe haven from rain.

“The right way to set prices involves capturing the value that customers place on a product by “thinking like a customer.” Customers evaluate a product and its next best alternative(s) and then ask themselves, “Are the extra bells and whistles worth the price premium (organic vs. regular) or does the discount stripped down model make sense (private label vs. brand name). They choose the product that provides the best deal (price vs. attributes).”

And therefore reading between the lines, coupled with the Uber piece, this suggests a pricing strategy for an existing business, adopting a growthhacking data-driven more dynamic approach to pricing, could potentially yield significant commercial benefits. I’ll no doubt come back to this subject and add more thoughts as and when I find useful info/insights. For now see my original blog post on Chinwag which sparked this train of thought to see where I’m coming from: Why ‘Growth Hacking’ Isn’t Just For Startups

13 or so startups to watch

A great list of rising startups from Mashable, highlighted for the creative ‘geekfest’ that is SXSWi 2014; I’ve just numbered them for you so you can more easily spot the one you want to follow. For me its #11, based in London, its YPlan.

  1. Mulu, a company that currently offers ad plugins that allow products to be bought directly on a webpage. Mulu was started in 2011 and is led by CEO and founder Amaryllis Fox.
  2. Dapper looks to simplify men’s fashion in much the same way as Cool Guy by creating shoppable outfits for various occasions. Dapper launched on Feb. 24, making it among the youngest apps in attendance.
  3. Of course it’s not just about making the sale. Customers must be retained if a business is to survive. Windsor Circle, founded in 2011 and based in Durham, N.C., was started to track sales, analyze data and execute retention strategies to make one-time buyers into loyal customers.
  4. Enter Kiwi Wearables, a Canadian startup that is taking preorders for its first product. Kiwi Move is a small, nondescript wearable that attempts to link together just about anything in your life. The company, which was founded in mid-2013, claims its wearable will be able to understand gestures and track your activity level and even control voice-operated appliances.
  5. Wearables also offer a unique opportunity to do away with the dreaded password. Bionym‘s wearable bracelet uses your heartbeat to determine your identity. The company believes it does not need to stop at passwords, and could even do away with keys and even credit cards.
  6. Bionym was started in 2011 and joins a burgeoning field of biometric security startups like FST21and Microlatch.
  7. Active Protect has developed clothing that can detect falls and deploy small airbags to protect the hip bone, an area that is particularly susceptible to injury for older people.
  8. Kinsa is going after the other end of the age spectrum with a thermometer that plugs into smartphones to help parents track the health of their children.
  9. Start-ups from around the world will be at SXSWi in unprecedented numbers. Companies from 74 countries will take part in the festivities, up from 57 in 2013. Denmark is represented by The Eye Tribe, which seeks to bring affordable eye tracking to smartphones and tablets.
  10. AddSearch, from Finland, stays true to its name, adding a fast, effective search option to websites.
  11. YPlan was formed in the busy nightlife scene of London. It wants to help you find local events and pay for tickets in as few taps as possible.
  12. Eyeris is an emotion recognition company that can look back on webcams and read facial expressions to determine how a person reacted to a video.
  13. Large companies have been taking notice of the appeal in eye-controlled software. Facebook bought a similar company, GazeHawk, in 2012.


Why growth hacking is harder than it looks

Growth hacking is usually known as the sweet spot where engineering and marketing meet, where coding and customers combine to great effect. Or to put it another way, “a growth hacker lives at the intersection of data, product and marketing”.

That all makes a lot of practical sense, as you need to have a marketing mindset to focus on the right customers to grow your business. And as a growth hacker you also need to have the technical skills and/or know-how to put those hacks into effect and monitor their effectiveness, and adjust accordingly.

What I’d like to do benefiting from my own experience is to explore growth hacking from the intersection of growth hacker tactics and business strategy. Here my inspiration is not from data science or coding but from the day to day job of a 21st century marketer and why even the best ideas in the world don’t always work.And realising such failure can be for numerous reasons – it’s not just about just about the technical failure of a tactical approach in acquiring customers for example. But taking into account your startup team’s mindset and the objectives of stakeholders and investors, the obstacles to success include business issues such as how to convince the board, to back your growth hacker approach when it appears at first glance to contradict overall strategy.

Sure at one level it’s all about getting the desired product/market fit right (or not). And in this context all you really want to know how create a structured framework that focus these growth hacker techniques on the areas that will move the needle. That’s tricky enough. But bearing mind it’s said that most startups fail, and that learning from failure is good, then considering growth hacking within the overlap between business tactics and strategy, could make the difference between success and failure. Why? Because in reality that overlap is the space that growth hacking occupies. And if you (or your startup CEO) know that reality in advance, and use that insight to your advantage, you are less likely to fail as a result.

So sit back and enjoy the benefits of my hard won hindsight, examples where unknowingly my tweaks and hacks to grow a business have unintentionally strayed into the realm of wider business strategy and implementation:

Global imaging software startup

The challenge

At MedicExchange from its launch in 2006, we’d struggled to get significant traction with our customer base, despite initial professional market research and despite achieving a market value of $15m by 2007.

The ‘hack’
I secured key partner BioMed Central to provide free high quality scientific content, thanks to their innovative use of open access publishing.

In hindsight
My content hack didn’t make a significant difference as it attend to the wider issue of what customers wanted, it was still along the lines of what we thought they wanted.

eBay Inc’s

The challenge, a hugely successful startup from the original dot com boom, had a strategy to grow revenue by conversions by improving the user experience, and by improving the social experience and engagement with online customers.

The ‘hack’
Along came Google Panda in the Spring of 2011 which had a big impact on search listings for and its sister site DealTime. After many global conference calls to figure out a SEO response I commissioned product guides in a ‘social SEO’ play.

In hindsight
Google Panda was just one part of the strategic issues facing the business, and a new CEO pivoted with a business focus which elevated the site’s B2B role connecting retailers and publishers, as part of the eBay Commerce Network.

In both these cases tactical growth hacks looked promising but ultimately failed to move the needle, set in the wider context of the business strategy and the market reality. Just as with social media marketing where the complaint of other parts of the business has often been “what’s the ROI of that?” then your growth hacking’s utility depends on linking tactics to your overall business strategy. That way it will flourish in the world of startups needing to use hacks to make the product/market fit, but potentially play a larger part in established businesses looking for smarter ways to connect with their customers.

eBay's sportscar




What happens if you don’t do customer discovery properly

I thought I’d start a post with a few collected #thinslicing hacks, rather than randomly post them to Twitter and get lost in a sea of noise. Anyhow…

University of Life (UOL) hack: you only see the cause of a problem, after you’ve solved the problem, without knowing what the cause of the problem was exactly. At college they teach you you need to discover the cause, then apply the appropriate solution. But at the University of Life they understand things aren’t usually that clear cut. And in fact they’re only clear after you’ve solved the problem.

Application of this UOL hack: this isn’t anything new, just another way of saying value creative problem solving, as your business is unique don’t expect the expensive consultant, or off the peg software solution is going to do the job without you first doing the dirty work of understanding the nature of the problem from the inside out

Example: at one medical imaging startup I was involved, Medicexchange from its launch in 2006, we’d failed to get traction with our customer base, despite initial professional market research and despite a market value of $15m by 2007. So we called in Atos Healthcare to figure it out for us. What we really needed to do was talk with medical imaging staff on the ground, and find out if our mini-use licence solution was what they really needed. While we did commission imarket research, we didn’t ever ask individual paying customers what they thought of the product in any meaningful way. Atos didn’t seriously suggest that customer discovery approach either. We failed.

Why are movies so much more fun to make fun of than television?

I posted up MacGuffin on the ideas platform Toucan today, with a nice summary I wanted to share, with the benefit of some additional links:

An app to share whatever comes into your head after you’ve seen a film!

MacGuffin is all about creating connections in a film you watch, the more trivial the better!

It’s a really a game using your imagination, the hunt for the oddly significant in a film, which everyone else thinks is simply trivial.

Try the game yourself. Try watching ‘The Shining’, Kubrick’s classic horror film. Is it really about fake moon landings, and why is the pewter tankard on the hotelier’s desk my MacGuffin? Go figure. Let us know!

You see MacGuffin is not another movie review app. It’s an app for people who want to share what they see in a film, not what the director or the critics want you to see…

See the presentation created for the app MVP, created by Leicester DMU graduates Krishna & Avinash.

Monetization opportunities exist in the possible gamification of movie product placement created by this app, and the associated global mobile community. Think the humorous use of mini-Tardis placed in different studios in the run up to the 50th anniversary of Dr Who, but then with an app designed to gamify such placement.

PS: A short scene from Comedians in Cars Having Coffee (09:21-09:39) neatly points why the magic of MacGuffin works so well.

Jerry Seinfeld: “Why are movies so much more fun to make fun of than television?”
Joel Hodgson: “They’re aspiring to present God’s point of view, this is life, in all it’s fury”
Jerry Seinfeld:”Did you like Avatar?”
Joel Hodgson:”I did!”

The MacGuffin MVP created by Leicester DMU graduate students Krishna Yakkala and Venkata Chowdary:

The customer questionnaire supporting the MVP creation:

Is the UK Government unfairly subsidising big business?

Calling on Britain’s army of self-employed and micro business owners to back his mission, Tony Robinson OBE has set himself the task of stopping the ‘corporate thieves’ who receive billions of pounds worth of government contracts, funding and support while giving a raw deal to their suppliers, their local communities and, often, their workforce and customers too.

Robinson cites the desperation of business owners that cannot afford to refuse invoice terms extended to 60 days or more and employees that have to accept less than the living wage or part time and zero hours contracts from these large corporates. The self-styled crusading enterprise expert reckons ‘enough is enough’: “It’s not about new legislation or more government inquiries after they’ve ripped everyone off. It’s simple – either stop funding them or negotiate a better deal for their suppliers and employees before you release any money to them.”

We're not in Kansas anymore!

We’re not in Kansas anymore!

In an open letter to the Hon Dr Vincent Cable (Government) and Chuka Umunna (Opposition), the MicroBizMatters Champion and Co-founder of the Enterprise Rockers Community notes that the last three Governments have directed billions of pounds towards the handful of big businesses that rule each sector. This policy, he says has a hugely negative impact on the majority of the UK economy, 95% of which is made up of micro businesses of less than ten employees.

“Many of these large corporations, in receipt of government contracts, funding and support steal from suppliers by paying their bills in an average of 68 days – through unfair contract terms and/or late payment. Many ordinary employees of these larger corporations are not on a living wage because of rates of pay or restrictive part time or zero hour contracts while paying their executives, often obscene, salaries, bonuses and perks.

“As has been highly publicised, many do not pay a fair amount in corporation tax and/or regional/local community levies. They get away with it because successive Governments have allowed it. Government can and should specify that they’re not going to release any money to these corporations unless they pay all their suppliers within 30 days and all their employees the living wage.”

The petition, entitled ‘UK Government: Stop Funding The Corporate Thieves’ also calls for a withdrawal of funding and contracts to any corporation that returns to unfair practices. If it is found that they are still treating suppliers and employees unfairly there should be financial penalties.

Mr Robinson adds: “Getting cash flowing throughout UK enterprise and hardworking people getting a living wage is vital. My petition is important because it creates a fairer enterprise and employment environment for the majority of businesses in the UK – and it will help local communities to thrive too.

“Whilst we can’t stop political leaders, of any political party, supporting the biggest companies we can insist that in return for government funding, support and procurement that more employed and self-employed people get a better deal. It will enable more start-ups and micro enterprises (the 95% of all businesses in the UK) to survive and thrive. It will mean fairer wages for millions of employees and will allow more local independent enterprising communities to flourish.”

To sign the petition, visit