Ian Andrew Bell https://ianbell.com Ian Bell's opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Ian Bell Fri, 24 May 2024 20:42:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=6.5.4 https://i0.wp.com/ianbell.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/cropped-electron-man.png?fit=32%2C32&ssl=1 Ian Andrew Bell https://ianbell.com 32 32 28174588 Dennis Bell’s Epic Article – The Carcross Parrot https://ianbell.com/2023/03/28/dennis-bells-epic-article-the-carcross-parrot/ Tue, 28 Mar 2023 22:54:29 +0000 https://ianbell.com/?p=6964

Reprinted here without permission, my father Dennis Bell‘s 1972 article (impossible to find online in its unabridged form) which was heralded as Canadian Press’ Story of the Year in 1972, and was the source of some controversy. Dad spent a lot of time in Canada’s north exploring and looking for stories, was embroiled in the creation of the Sour Toe Cocktail, and became inexorably tied to the story of Polly the Foul-Mouthed Parrot. In a less-lauded follow-up, Dennis reported that Polly died in November 1972, not long after my dad’s article had been reprinted in hundreds of newspapers all over the world and journalists and tourists began to flock to the Caribou Hotel — this led to speculation that the story was contrived, but my father and the hotel’s proprietors insisted it was 100% (okay, mostly) true. Dad went “viral” decades before that would become a thing. But as with most of his adventures, the story about the story is practically more interesting than the story itself.

Parrot Reformed but Hates Everyone

By Dennis Bell – October 20, 1972

The world famous Carcross Parrot is probably the oldest, meanest, ugliest, dirtiest bird north of the 60th parallel—but he remains as this Yukon community’s one claim to international fame.

He hates everybody. Which is understandable, because the damned old buzzard has resided within spitting distance of a beer parlour since 1919 and has had to endure 64 years of beer fumes, drunks who mash soggy crackers through the bars of his cage, and phantom feather pluckers.

The Carcross Parrot seems to have been in the Yukon ever since the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898. He is at least 125 years old and has lived in the Caribou Hotel since 1919. He has survived a fire that flattened the premises, fall frost and ferocious winter blizzards and has outlived everyone who ever owned the tiny 22-room hotel. And that’s quite a few people.

The Carcross Parrot gets fan mail. People from as far away as California have heard about him and some have travelled all the way to the Yukon after hearing about him from parents and grandparents.

Bird of Ill Repute

Time was when the Carcross Parrot had a reputation as one of the most formidable drinkers in the North. Tipsy miners used to stagger out of the adjoining beer parlour and slip him a short beer or a scotch neat.

“The parrot used to be quite a drunk,” said Dorothy Hopcott, who has owned the hotel since 1959. “People would come in and give him a few belts. He’d get so drunk he’d fall off his perch and lie on the bottom of the cage with his feet sticking in the air.”

But the parrot got religion. A few owners ago, the hotel was run by a man of piety who toned down the Carcross Parrot’s purple prose and cut off his booze ration. According to the locals, the former owner patiently taught the bird several choruses of Onward Christian Soldier and eventually eliminated the somewhat racy sea chanties from his reportoire.

There’s nothing worse than a reformed drunk, so the saying goes, and the Carcross Parrot is no exception. Somewhere in the dark recesses of his tiny brain, the Parrot associates all adults with his days of ribaldry. 

Squawks at Guests

Nowadays, anyone who comes out of the little six-table pub gets squawked at. Then he turns sullen. Won’t say a word. Polly want a cracker?

“Go to hell,” is the Parrot’s stock answer.
“He can’t stand drunks,” sighed Mrs. Hopcott. “He can smell beer fumes and he gets mad.”

The Parrot’s disposition changes abruptly whenever children are nearby.

Somehow he’s figured out that kids don’t drink. On Sunday mornings when the pub is closed and the restaurant is open, he likes to strike up long involved conversations with children which make absolutely no sense at all.

“He gets down in the corner of his cage and mumbles away to himself,” said Mrs. Hopcott. “A lot of the time we can’t understand him. He’s picked up a lot of strange words and strange accents over the years.”

Nobody is too sure how the bird got to the Yukon, but the first recorded owner was a Captain Alexander, who operated the Engineer Mine near here during the First World War.

The good captain and his lady left the Parrot at the hotel to make a trip to Vancouver in the winter of 1918. They went down with the Princess Sophia, a CPR steamship that sank in the Lynn Canal off Skagway, Alaska, with the loss of all aboard.

The Parrot has lived in the hotel ever since. [END ARTICLE]

Epitaph: Polly is buried in the Carcross Cemetary after a crowded funeral, with a modest plaque.

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Putin Meets His Toughest Foe https://ianbell.com/2022/03/02/putin-meets-his-toughest-foe/ Wed, 02 Mar 2022 20:33:50 +0000 https://ianbell.com/?p=6869 Hello world, let me introduce you to Canada’s deputy Prime Minister, Chrystia Freeland. The daughter of a #Ukrainian immigrant, she speaks 5 languages (including Russian and Ukrainian) and has a lot of, erm, experience dealing with Soviet and Post-Soviet Russia. She features prominently in Bill Browder’s “Red Notice”, which documents his battle with Putin and the Oligarchs starting in the wake of Russia’s late 1990s economic collapse.

At 5 feet 2 inches tall, this diminutive lady has over the past week dramatically swung world events against Vladimir Putin. She was uniquely prepared for this crisis, and has almost single-handedly led the world in bringing Putin to his knees.

But let me rewind: Chrystia Freeland hails from the unlikely political hotbed of Red Deer, Alberta. Her dad was, from all interpretations, the son of a cowboy and a lawyer. Her mother Halyna Chomiak, who was Ukrainian by birth, was born a refugee in a displaced persons camp right after the Second World War in Bavaria, after her family fled the ongoing famine and Stalin’s takeover of Ukraine. Halyna became a lawyer and federal NDP candidate in Canada; and after moving to Ukraine in the early 1990s, was an author of Ukraine’s democratic constitution.

Ms. Freeland has a bachelors’ degree from Harvard in Russian History and Literature, and a master’s degree from Oxford in Slavonic studies. As a student, she spent several semesters in Kyiv studying and engaging with local activists seeking Ukrainian independence. There she acquired the KGB codename “Frida” and was actively tracked, engaged, and threatened by Soviet agents. The KGB, where Putin was building his power at the time, expressed concerns that she was doing material damage to the communist party as an activist, and used her as a case study. They had no idea what was coming.

After graduating she worked as a freelance journalist and eventually an editor for news outlets like the Economist, Financial Times, Globe and Mail, Washington Post and Associated Press over 20 years. Despite having been denied re-entry to the USSR in 1990, she eventually returned to and lived in Moscow as bureau chief for FT. Here she befriended Bill Browder and Igor Magnitsky and began to vocally report on the misdeeds of Putin and the Oligarchs. Insodoing, she became an existential enemy.

She returned to Canada in 2013 and entered politics, and has been at the right hand of the Prime Minister since 2015, originally as Minister of Trade and then Finance Minister. In 2014, she was one of 13 Canadians banned for life from visiting Russia by Putin himself — a list she declared herself proud to be on.

Even prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Freeland became Canada’s point person in response to the clear threat Putin posed to the country. On Tuesday Feb 22nd, days before the invasion, Chrystia began reaching out to her peers abroad and floated a number of sanctions that could and should be imposed against a belligerent Russian state. Among her proposals was the idea of cutting off Russia’s Central Bank — freezing the country’s overseas assets, prohibiting them from further borrowing, and nixing their so-called “rainy day fund” that was intended to be used as an economic buffer throughout this unprovoked war. She pitched this to the world’s governments and central bankers and quickly persuaded them to act after the invasion commenced.

The collapse of the Moscow Stock Exchange and the Russian Ruble, among other consequences, are a direct result of this action. Their economy is now in free-fall, by some estimates smaller than many African nations, and both Putin and his country are now flat broke. And she’s not stopping: our government is now, under her leadership, going after Russian assets in Canada — and encouraging other countries to do the same. She’s chasing the oligarchs right down into their financial rabbit holes.

The KGB was right about Ms. Freeland: but they picked on the wrong young lady, way back in 1989. This is her moment, and never has a person been so prepared for such consequential action. Among other résumé highlights, soon she may be able to add toppling a dictator.

Here, she is interviewed in 2000 about Russia’s bumpy and vastly unequal transition to capitalism:

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Launching Hey, Michael Jordan, and the Rise of Conflict Marketing https://ianbell.com/2020/06/19/launching-hey-michael-jordan-and-the-rise-of-conflict-marketing/ Sat, 20 Jun 2020 00:21:46 +0000 https://ianbell.com/?p=6692 Yesterday, I believe I coined the term “Conflict Marketing” on Twitter.

I’ve been watching with interest as the Basecamp creators have waged war against the Apple App Store over the principle of app approval. Basecamp’s corporate entity 37 Signals is rolling out a marginally interesting platform called HEY, a premium-priced email hosting service with some smart filters and UX improvements. This obviously requires client applications on iOS and Android, and thus these were created and submitted to their respective app stores for approval.

Jellyvision Q&A with DHH & Jason Fried - YouTube

Apple has a very specific policy, though, when it comes to apps which do signup and payment for hosted services. In essence, Apple thinks that if you’re acquiring customers on their devices and paying for their service via your own app functioning within their mobile app framework, you oughtta pay them 30%. This has worked favourably for mobile games and some other types of entertainment products which lean on in-app purchases for revenue, and for whom the 30% is worth it to focus their funnel on the app ecosystem almost entirely, and wash their hands of transaction management — leaving all of that up to Apple.

Where you have to build this anyway, however, for the web and for the management of subscriptions to a service, the economics of handing 30% to Apple vs. 2% to a payment processor start to look punitive.

I have surfed this reef for more than a decade, and the workarounds are generally well-understood. Netflix and many others offer subscription services, yet you can’t sign up via the iOS app. Slack might allow you to sign up / sign into a group as a user, but the flow quickly exits the app and continues via email if you start creating a new group. Is this ideal? No. Does it allow Apple to suck and blow at the same time, allowing app developers to serve their users on Apple devices while still escaping usury at the hands of Phil Schiller? Yes.

The creators of Hey, for their own reasons, chose not to use any of these workarounds — workarounds they clearly have made use of in the past for their core SaaS business. I’m not here to point out the merits or pain associated with Apple’s 30% policy. I’m here to speculate on the reason for the crusade undertaken by DHH and Hey in picking this fight simultaneous with the launch of their app.

Michael Jordan Air Ship

First, a rewind: in 1984, Nike was roundly criticized for signing an unproven basketball player to a $250,000.00 endorsement contract and designing a special basketball shoe — just for him. That player was Michael Jordan, and the first shoe out of the factory was the Jordan 1. You can read more about the history here, but because of the shoe’s controversial appearance it was banned by the NBA. Initially, they fined Michael Jordan (Nike paid the fines) and then banned the shoe outright for breaking “uniform rules”. This could have been a disaster for Nike. Instead, they used it to propel a marketing campaign positioning Nike as a countercultural revolutionary. This pitted the black, urban fan base that the NBA was attempting to cultivate at the time against them, and positioned Nike as sympathetic to the issue of race inequality at the hands of powerful corporations. The NBA gave Nike a huge gift with the ban: previously, basketball shoes were just leather and foam and stitching; but the NBA gifted the Jordan 1 with symbolism.

Jordans were not just taken up by urban kids aspiring to dunk in the Big League; they became objets within a hodgepodge of American, and indeed global, misfits and countercultural types. Everyone from skaters to grunge rockers to oddball intellectuals donned Jordans as a sign of rebellion. Thanks to campaigns and contributions from the likes of Spike Lee, the shoes became a symbol of the rise of black culture (and hip-hop along with it) that wonderfully infected global culture for the next three decades, and which continues today. While that unproven basketball player clearly delivered on the court and in the community Air Jordans attained a cultural prestige that grew far, far beyond the NBA. As the story goes: the NBA eventually relented, the deal with Michael eventually became worth tens of billions of dollars to Nike, and Jordan became an enduring symbol of freedom, athleticism, aspiration, and more.

This was an early example of conflict marketing. It turns out people generally side with Davids, not Goliaths.

As a founder of Basecamp and creator of Ruby on Rails, David Heinemeier Hansson is notorious for picking fights on Twitter. Like a certain orange-tinged President, DHH has learned that by being controversial he can garner attention. Attention is a currency he can then bestow upon his programming language, his project management software, his books, or whatever else he seeks to promote. This has worked pretty well. Basecamp is worth >$100Bn according to estimates.

With the launch of Hey, DHH and his partners have taken this conflict-centred marketing technique a step further: they picked a fight with Apple.

What’s most conspicuous about this, leading me to conclude that the conflict was deliberate, is that prior to launch the Hey crew submitted a fully-featured app to the App Store, sans signup/payment, for approval. Once this was cleared, available for release, and the launch had commenced, however, they uploaded a newer version which explicitly conflicts with Apple’s policy. This leaves the working app in the store, available for download. — while they are free to carry out their campaign against Apple to reform that policy.

They have now taken the guise of the revolutionary, positioning Apple as the big bad corporation, hiding behind its greed, old-world-thinking, and ideological zeal. They have become Jordan, and Apple is the NBA.

Email hosting is notoriously difficult to market, and even once users do sign up for a service it’s very difficult to onboard them. Who wants to change their email address? Who wants to abandon an online inbox filled with gigabytes of mail? Who wants to pay for an email service when they can use Gmail, Hotmail, etc. for free? How many people know how to move their personal domain from one email host to another, manipulating DNS and configuring SPF and DKIM? The audience narrows rather quickly.

As a result true innovation around email has been very slow, though we can all admit it’s very needed. Very few companies have launched that represent new ideas in the past ten years, let alone the past 20. And on the surface, “better email” is a bit of a yawn compared to, say, free music available instantly from the entire pantheon of recorded music.

So it makes sense, if you’ve spent a ridiculous amount of money (my guess is the hey.com domain name cost ~$2M), to juice the marketing at launch in any way you can. Most developers will see this fight as a worthy one, so their desire to amplify someone punching up at what they see as the schoolyard bully shaking them down for lunch money is strong. There has been resounding support in the several days since this has emerged. And the story of Hey’s launch, which did garner some attention because of who was launching it, has now been vastly overshadowed by the story about this fight. The natural early audience for Hey being a technical one, this also represents very good targeting.

Still, Apple maintains these policies for a reason, and the technique driving this controversial launch may in fact be backfiring. Hey could in fact find themselves with no access whatsoever to the Mac or iOS app stores, if they stick to their guns and let this controversy rage, which I assume they will.

Still, this mission could ultimately prove quixotic.

Michael Jordan has spent his entire adult life recognizing the need to fulfill his role as an inspiring and uncontroversial professional athlete in service of his brand. Along with Kaepernick, Woods, Gretzky, and other greats he has successfully cultivated a public image as a David smashing goliaths with sheer determination and some degree of moral righteousness.

Hansson and Fried, on the other hand, have used their pulpit to pick on Venture Capitalists, justify excluding employees from equity ownership in startups, and taken on other questionable debates. Nowadays there is no great shortage of programmers with messiah complexes, and one of this pairing may in fact be the patient zero of that phenomenon. In other words, DHH and Fried are far from puritanical when it comes to their business ethics, and this may ultimately blunt their assault on Apple, though they very clearly have delivered one or two slam dunks.

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Identity Theft is Forever https://ianbell.com/2020/05/24/identity-theft-is-forever/ Sun, 24 May 2020 20:34:00 +0000 https://ianbell.com/?p=7041 For Auth0 (now OKTA) I wrote and produced a short documentary featuring one of the 147 million victims of the Equifax identity breach in 2017. Imagine this story repeating itself 147 million times.

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Net Neutrality: Defending the Stupid Network https://ianbell.com/2018/06/11/net-neutrality-defending-the-stupid-network/ Mon, 11 Jun 2018 16:05:29 +0000 https://ianbell.com/?p=6629 For much of the 1990s and 2000s I argued against the US and Canadian federal governments taking the opportunity to exert influence in the development of the web, internet, and realtime technologies.  Recently I was invited to speak @ UBC on the topic in a debate of sorts with Thomas Struble of Washington DC think tank RStreet.

I’ve actually reversed my earlier position — I think that now is the time for regulators to step in and enshrine the tenets of Net Neutrality that have helped the internet to flourish as the fastest growing communications technology in human history.

Here’s the PPT Slide Deck (better in its original Keynote form below):

… and better yet, here’s video of the event:

… as always, a huge influence on my approach to the internet, and communications technology in general, is David Isenberg… in particular his paper “Rise of the Stupid Network“.

I also gave an interview to the Vancouver Sun in 2017 underpinning the same argument: that is, that if carriers are permitted to prioritize traffic commercially, the result would be immediately chilling for early-stage ventures who can’t afford to pay the vig.

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How To Pitch Your Startup https://ianbell.com/2017/11/01/how-to-pitch-your-startup/ Thu, 02 Nov 2017 03:26:20 +0000 https://ianbell.com/?p=6061 Last week I gave a quick presentation at Emily Carr University of Art + Design on how (and when) to pitch your Startup, giving many of these students their first look at the process of pitching investors in the Angel and Venture community on their next killer idea.  We also conducted a lengthy workshop where we went through their concepts, and I was inspired.  I was also really invigorated by the quality of questions from the students and their instructors, and hope I was able to deliver a (mostly) positive and affirming aspect on reality.

Also, some funny stories from Silicon Valley bubble 1.0

I’ve uploaded the slide deck here.  Of course, delivery is always better when given by the deck’s creator.  For the students, I promised to post some of my favourite startup pitch deck breakdowns: here, here, here, and here.

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Why Team Athletes Make the Most Valuable Employees https://ianbell.com/2017/10/17/why-team-athletes-make-the-most-valuable-employees/ Tue, 17 Oct 2017 21:16:15 +0000 https://ianbell.com/?p=6016 Originally published @ PROFIT.

Famed UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden once said, “Sports do not build character. They reveal it.” A considerable body of social science research has explored the positive impacts of athletics, in particular team sports, from youth into adulthood. Playing sports can be a tremendously positive influencer on us physically, emotionally, socially and ethically.

I’ve certainly bought into this idea: I play hockey on several teams three or four times a week. I’ve also invested years of time and money into building RosterBot, a service designed to increase the accessibility and enjoyment of team sports for youth and adult athletes of every skill level.

But when I set out to hire a team to help me carry the company up the hill to future success, and I decided that each of our staff should be a team athlete, my intent was rather more direct. The thinking was that as athletes—and particularly team athletes—each of the crew would be bringing a useful set of perspectives from their own daily experiences with their teams and apply those to building the product. In short, by hiring team athletes, we would be assured they’d be eating their own dog food.

This is largely true. But I actually ignored the rather more significant set of benefits to hiring and working with a crew that is truly inured in team athletics. And since then, I’ve learned a valuable lesson, one I will carry with me as we continue building our team in this company and on to the next venture.

Here’s an interesting study result: the multi-decade U.S. National Longitudinal Study of the High School Class of 1972 found that men at age 31 who played high school sports were paid 12% more at their jobs than those who did not. That’s compellingly outside the margin of error for such a large sample size.

But hey, money isn’t everything. Multiple studies have shown that sports participation can help build character, encourage emotional growth, and teach players the value of honesty, respect, teamwork, dedication and commitment. Call me crazy, but these are attributes I value in a co-worker.

One of the more frustrating aspects of my time spent working in Silicon Valley during the 1990s technology bubble was working with people who were in it purely for themselves. They were mercenaries and were on board with the plan for as long as it seemed clear that things were moving forward unobstructed. Whenever their startup encountered choppy waters, employees would simply hop over to the next venture-backed vehicle, rather than sticking with it and doggedly facing the opposition.

This job-hopping happens quite often in the current froth in Silicon Valley, too. A friend recently shared with me an unconfirmed but totally believable rumour that the most senior software developer working at Twitter these days has been there only two years. There isn’t even any shame in having a string of 10-month-long employment engagements spanning half-a-dozen companies in Silicon Valley anymore; it’s just par for the course.

I think this is a really big problem. As an employer, and as the captain of an ambitious startup plying the choppy waters of a volatile sea, I’m not interested in mercenaries. I’m interested in people who wake up each morning thinking about how they can build better tools for people just like themselves. I’m interested in co-workers who understand accountability to their teammates, to their coaches, and to their investors and customers. I’m interested in people who will inspire the people around them as well as empower (and enrich) themselves. I’m interested in grinders, playmakers and snipers who work to fill whatever role(s) they can in helping advance the team.

In short, I am now resolved to exclusively hire people who have the emotional makeup to join us for the long haul because they grew up playing, and with luck still play, team sports–whether it’s a business dedicated to sports, or any other.

Startups are hard. You need to be working with a team you’d gladly go to war with. I want to look at everyone around me and know that if we’re under fire, they’ll have me covered. I expect them to hold me to the same account.

For more than a year, this approach has been paying daily dividends in my day-to-day dealings. I suspect that it could lead to long-term success for all of us. In the interim, it’s also helped us to field a pretty good company hockey team.

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Why I Surround Myself with “Yes” Men (and Women) https://ianbell.com/2017/10/12/why-i-surround-myself-with-yes-men-and-women/ Thu, 12 Oct 2017 22:39:22 +0000 https://ianbell.com/?p=5998 During an ill-fated teenage dalliance into acting, I took a class on improvisational comedy. For two credits per week I learned the ins and outs of building a scene, in real time, with my fellow actors.

The key lesson you learn in your first improv workshop is to never say “No.” In improvisational comedy “No” is death of the scene, and negates everything your scene-mate is trying to build within that narrative. “Yes” is always the appropriate response to any question posed to you, and it is from this building block that entertaining (and we hope also hilarious) narratives grow and flourish.

Little did I know that this simple lesson learned in the tenth grade would do me a world of good later on, when it came to running a small team building the world’s coolest startup. When we assembled the RosterBot team for the first time, I gave an introductory presentation on our mission, direction, ways of doing things, and my own personal philosophies of leadership and what it means to work at a technology startup. While I didn’t use the acting allegory (I didn’t want anyone digging up any old VHS tapes), I did find a way to express the same sentiment as it applies to innovation.

I don’t think this is particular to the world of technology startups, but over 25 years of working and socializing with technologists I have come to seperate them along this vector. Four words on a single slide of that (and every future) introductory presentation said it all about the types of people we tend to work with: “Yes if…” and “No because…” I made it pretty clear to my team which one I preferred to surround myself with.

“No because” people tend to be self-appointed experts. If you’ve ever been in a planning or design meeting, you’ve met these people. They crave authority, and their means of asserting that authority is to find a roadblock in something the team is exploring or planning to do. By saying “No because” they instantly come off as the knowledgeable, wise, responsible ones. All attention in the room is diverted away from problem solving to contemplation of your pearls of experience when you use this phrase.

“No because” people snuff the creativity of teams, starving the room of oxygen, whether they mean to or not. More often than not, when you begin to creatively probe a “No because” person, it becomes obvious that they are considering a single or very few reasons for objection to a given idea or direction, and they’re stuck there. In introducing their blocker in this way, they drag the rest of us into their quagmire. Good ideas can become marooned on the rocks of this form of objection. Instead, there’s a better way.

“Yes if” people are oftentimes no closer to a final solution than the naysayers. The way in which they voice the perceived roadblocks identifies that just the same, but does so in a way that encourages contribution. Teams working from a “Yes if” statement can continue to problem-solve as peers, and no self-delegated authority is perceived to be standing in their way. “Yes if” people solve problems in creative ways, invent new things, and find innovative approaches to business opportunities.

“Yes if” people are valuable contributors to problem solving. They extend the plausibility of a solution to any problem, regardless of how ludicrous their “if” condition might actually be. The odds are good, in my experience, that someone will jump in with a slightly less ludicrous means to combat their ludicrous condition. And so, we iterate to solve the problem, jumping from “Yes if” to “Yes if” like lily pads, until the problem is solved.

Every nerd loves the movie Apollo 13 and this one is no exception. In this scene we see the beginnings of the triumph of “Yes if” over “No because”:

The results, as the actual history books show, speak for themselves.  The impossible became possible.

If you truly want to break new ground, chase something innovative or simply tackle the hard problems, you’ll need to banish “No because” from any discussions. And reward every “Yes if” regardless of how ridiculous it may seem. The Yeses have it, every time.

Ian Bell has been bending bits into business since 1993 and is creator of ‪TingleRosterBot and other things celebrated and ignominious. Follow him @ianb on Twitter.

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It’s Time to Retire the Term “Growth Hacker” https://ianbell.com/2017/07/31/its-time-to-retire-the-term-growth-hacker/ Mon, 31 Jul 2017 23:56:47 +0000 https://ianbell.com/?p=5917  

It’s time we nipped this in the bud, people.  I’ll confess that, in writing this column, for the first time I googled the term.  I’ve heard it thrown around for at least half a decade, heard it misapplied to various marketing and software and product management roles at various startups on both sides of the border, and heard people use it to describe.. me.

It’s an appealing term for someone who began his career as an actual hacker: trying and failing and trying again until ultimately succeeding at various software and actual [ahem] hacking projects.  Eventually, I progressed to Product Management and Marketing and that is where I’ve hung my hat for 20 years.  So, you’d think I would be all over this validation of my craft, right?

Click to view slideshow.

Wrong.  Here’s the problem:  like so much modern business terminology, “Growth Hacking” has become quickly co-opted, misconstrued, misapplied, over-promoted, and ultimately used to denigrate the role of marketers within the startup community and elsewhere.  In particular, I recently noted a company with no VP Marketing or any senior marketing roles on their web site, advertising for a Growth Hacker role.

Despite its title-du-jour status, Growth Hacking is not a replacement for Marketing.  It’s one of the arrows in the quiver.  People often like to cite the “hack” of Hotmail juicing their growth by appending a footer to every outbound email by default that promoted the service and contained a link to the site.

In the early days of RingCentral, and before that BuzMe, we ensured that all callers to users of our service got a hint at what service was routing their calls.  We didn’t think to call this “Growth Hacking” or anything else.  But while pitching Venture Capitalists in those days, this was our response to how we made our service viral.

This sort of engineered virality has become a staple of early-stage service and product marketing: what is it about your product that the very act of using it helps promote it?  But that’s just the thing: it’s not all they do.

But wait!  There’s more:  During this interview about How Stewart Butterfield scaled Slack, wherein he provides no actual information about how he scaled Slack, Butterfield does drop this little gem about so-called “Growth Hacking”, and why he hates it:

“It’s so easy to fall into the trap of like maximizing for some local position or juking the stats in the– Juking the stats. Yeah, in ‘The Wire’ terminology. So a quick example of that is an email that Twitter would send that would give you the top five interesting tweets from your network today. And they would show you the tweet, but they didn’t link directly to the tweet. They linked just to the timeline of the person who tweeted it. And the inference, and I’m almost positive this is why, they did it is because you would go click on the timeline, and then you would try to find that tweet. And you would end up frustrated and angry at Twitter, but you’d spend a few more moments on the site. And so when they did A/B test, if some people got this email and some people got this email, they’re like oh, people got this email spent a little bit longer on the site, and that’s the result that I want.”

Looking purely at the data yields a false dividend.  And in the specific case cited by Stewart, frustrated users.  Services compromising their user experience in favour of techniques to maximize time-on-site or other metrics ultimately could corrode growth and engagement, or much worse: leave a service open to an attack from a competitor.

Concepts like Growth Hacking can grab hold of a culture, within a community or a company. This one in particular seems appealing

because of its implication of low cost, accessibility, and measurability.  But taken as a snapshot without the benefit of a broader marketing approach, or an appreciation of the product’s need to service happy users, the overall effects and the burden of expectations can bury the noblest of intentions for those who identify themselves as Growth Hackers.

I’m all for the idea of taking ideas and techniques for building and marketing better businesses, applying labels to them, and sharing the concepts broadly.  But the danger in too much hype around these concepts is that they’ll be considered and promoted by some as an end-all / be-all solution, which none of them is.

Every successful marketing effort blends the appropriate mix of marketing techniques and, yes, hacks.  That alchemy is as unique as the team, and the organization, implementing it.  There is no panacea.  Beware of anyone who says there is.  I feel like I say this a lot.

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Prediction: Trump Will Win https://ianbell.com/2016/09/07/prediction-trump-will-win/ Thu, 08 Sep 2016 00:25:30 +0000 https://ianbell.com/?p=6615 Reposted from Facebook, September 7, 2016.

My position on Hillary (not that you care): Lots of Americans hate her. They think she lies. This may not be justifiable, but it’s understandable, and I think it was a mistake for Democrats to select her as their nominee. Why?

Because for 30+ years the Republicans and their wealthy donors have seeded a cottage industry of rumourmongering, legal wrangling, and Federal investigations targeting the Clintons. Among these efforts, more than $100 Million of public funds have been spent on partisan attempts to attack and disgrace the Clintons.

From Whitewater to the Impeachment, to Benghazi, to Emails there is little kindling to build a raging fire of corruption. But by promulgating these and more “scandals”, most manifested purely in the imaginations of Bannon et al, Republicans now assert a “where there’s smoke there’s fire” blanket indictment; even where the smoke has largely been billowing from between their own cheeks.

Why are they so fixated? Because Hillary once tabled a supposedly radical, single-payer health care proposal that threatened to sideline trillions of dollars of privately-owned health insurance and healthcare provider companies. That she dared to posit the notion that perhaps human wellness should be a sacred right and perhaps NOT a profit centre for a mature social democracy massively alienated much of corporate America. That this initiative might actually be SUCCESSFUL is a clear and present danger to the fundamental fabric of the Republican Party, as it could shift Americans appreciably to the left for decades to come.

The very same people who now criticize Hillary for voting in favour of the ill-advised, ill-conceived, ill-planned, and woefully-poorly-executed invasion and occupation of Iraq would have called for her to be convicted as a traitor had she done otherwise. And that, my friends, is the majority of Americans. Hypocrites, all.

Fundamentally and broadly, Americans now do what they’re told. And they believe what they are told to believe, largely without cross-checking information and/or throwing sources under the cold light of context. And the general theme across most major media is that Hillary is a liar and Trump (who is a baldfaced, habitual, and reflexive liar) is a straight-talking though controversial outsider.

Frankly it is amazing that a population could be so stupid as to follow this line, but I remind myself that many of history’s most savage and incompetent leaders were indeed elected and widely lauded.

I have seen so many Americans who support #Trump assert “facts” about their candidate or the other which are demonstrably false with even the smallest amount of effort that I am convinced we have entered the Post-Truth Era of American political life. In a Post-Truth era, that which confirms your uninformed beliefs supersedes that which might challenge them. We now value opinion and impulse as more favourable than reason and information, a condition which I suspect is only possible in the wake of a 40-year conservative assault on public education in North America and elsewhere. When you combine this with fuzzy notions of American exceptionalism and Randian rational self-interest (which are the same thing, really) this cocktail of objectivist bullshit is the result.

Similar to the #Brexit fiasco, the months and years following a Trump victory (and there is no question — he will win) will be endowed by a period of instant regret and malaise, political chaos, and systemic entropy. The logjam inflicted upon the US by the Republican Congress and Senate during the Obama years will be further intensified by an ineffectual, diffident President, floundering to gain this segment’s favour or that for easy gratification and political sustenance.

Little of consequence will transpire, which for many on Wall Street will be deemed favourable, and the rich will continue to raid the cupboards of the middle class until the phrase becomes a demented oxymoron. America’s role in the world will diminish, apart from a few conflicts here and there, and their shrinking buying power will throw many overseas markets into chaos.

For his part Trump, a modern-day Emperor Nero, will fiddle while Rome burns and American society and infrastructure decays.

This is bad for Americans, no doubt, but a decreasingly potent America will render new opportunities for nations brave enough to wade into a new paradigm. I doubt that will be Canada, for what it’s worth..

In summation: Trump is a symptom of a set of wider problems, not a protagonist. He will ultimately have little positive or negative effect on what has been a long-term decline in harmony and commonwealth during his reign as clown-in-chief. He will denigrate and embarrass the office and his nation, and will be openly corrupt.

I struggle to imagine how, apart from the denigration and shame thing, a Hillary Clinton presidency will ultimately differ. While she may have a steadier hand on the tiller, the nation continues to drift toward the waterfall of ecological, social, and economic collapse… all the while partying like it’s 1999.

Bummer.

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