GHD Speaker Notes

So you are coming to speak at Growth Hackers Dublin? Awesome! We owe you one.

Now, here are some notes on how to prepare for the big night. Lets start with the basics:

What is Growth Hacking

To be honest, nobody really knows, but Sean Ellis, the guy who coined the phrase, describes a growth hacker as someone who is more likely to use analytics, copywriting and code to develop new customers rather than just managing an advertising spend.

Growth Hackers generally have a technical background. Their tactics are often scrappy. They might bend the rules and they use their technical chops to execute Guerilla Marketing tactics.

What the GHD audience is looking for:

This crowd is a bit of a mixed bag. There are failry sophisticated online marketers mixed with social meeja_ consultants, startup fanboys and investors. Many have an app they are looking to build traffic for. There BS detectors are normally set to kill. They are looking for geniune stories their can learn from.


They are not looking to be impressed. They would rather a detailed story of modest succes than a some magic happens here moment.

The Church of Dave MacClure

Dave Mac is a Silicon Valley super-angel who came up with Pirate Metrics a set of metrics to measure your SaaS (software as a service) development progress.

Dave preaches the five important meetrics in growth hacking …

  • _A_ctivation: Getting customers to your website. Driving traffic in any way.
  • _A_cquisition: Persuading those visitors to sign up for your service. This might mean clever copywriting or free trials or follow up phone calls or anything else that could work.
  • _A_ctivation: The users which actually get value from your product. Sure – they may have signed up – but how many of them actually get to see the value?
  • _R_etention: The number of people who come back to try and use your product again. This is typically stimulated by lifecycle emails, follow up phone calls, network effects etc.
  • _R_evenue: The people who actually pay. Any stories here about how you manage to get people to hand over some money after seeing the value in your product.
  • _R_eferral: How do you get people to recommend your product?When putting your talk together, think about which category your insight best fits into. This will help the audience relate it back to the overall Growth Hacking ethos.

If none of this makes sense, email James or Jason and lets work on a plan. to make your talk take the roof off.


Be at the the venue half an hour before kick off (aka: 6pm). Send us your slides 48hrs before the event. Let’s set up your presentation in advance to make sure all the technical gremlins are worked out. We will be using a Mac to present your slides.

My Data Drive Face Plant

I hated the name Piehole. As a nerdy tech guy, I had a vision of one day running a company called CyberStar or maybe BlueSoft. But no. My partner, Prsicilla, had other ideas. She came up with the name, and the obtuse pink colour scheme. I grumbled but gave in.

Despite complaints – “Your logo is disgusting, it should be taken off the internet”, we persevered.” – the name has been a great success. It makes us stand out from the crowd and while some people hate it, the people who love it, really love it.

Now, six years later, I find myself partnering up with an old friend, Richard, on a new opportunity. He runs a IT support business in Dublin, and he had two clients in the one week ask for an online purchase order system. Some googling later, he discovered there wasn’t really a great fit for his clients unless they wanted to implement thousands of euro worth of SAP.

We decided, together with another partner, to write and market the software ourselves.

This was my chance to at last put a reasonable looking tech name on my LinkedIn profile. Some keyword research later, I found and registered

Of course, Richard had other ideas. He came up with the clearly ridiculous as a name for our new venture. I smiled, thought to myself “over my dead body”.

A few weeks into the project, the question of selecting a name came onto the agenda. The temporary was being used for our belly to belly sales while I marketed online.

We needed a way to decide which to go, and I came up with one which I was sure would get the right result:

I set up two ad groups in adwords. Each with identical ad copy and landing pages, save for the name of the url. One had and one had

You can see where this is going.

Adwords naming test

Completely not the answer I was gunning for.  The ad came to $26 a lead while came to $101 per lead.  Of course, what really matters is sales, not leads.

Interestingly I also ran a poll, which ran against what adwords is telling me. 7 out of 8 people preferred yet rubberstamp seems to be 5 times cheaper in terms of acquiring leads.

So tell me. Is there a flaw in my “experiment”?


The False God of CPC

As a Catholic, I’m not new to the feeling of being let down by my church. You, as a fellow parishioner for adwords, Facebook advertising, LinkedIn ads etc, should get used to the feeling too.

Instead of faith, the Church of SEM (Search Engine Marketing) espouses numbers and data as the touchstone for truth. Sadly, these numbers can be used to abuse our trust. Lets take CPC (cost per click) .

We can all understand how we bid for keywords, and using a fair and well understood algorithm, the price for that keyword is set by demand. It is up to us to convert the traffic we buy, and the better job we do of that, the more we can afford to ay for a keyword in the first place.

This weekend while listening to the excellent weekly webinar, my eyes were opened.

Jon pointed out that, in Facebook advertising, CPC is meaningless. All that matters is the price it costs to acquire a customer (at least if you are interested in making any money).

The problem is, there are two conversion numbers – the CPC (Cost Per Click) and the conversion rate from visitor to sale. The latter is often called CPA (cost per action) but I think CPS (cost per sale) is a better name for it. Because it is only the CPS that will tell you if your ad has achieved ROI.

If you are still with me, you might be wondering why I feel so aggrieved.

Here it is.

Google provides a CPC metric because it suits them. It focuses me on paying more money to them. It doesn’t focus me on achieving ROI. I’m focused on making Google money, not me.

The second conversion rate, from visit to sale, can occur at a rate anywhere between 0 and 100%. But that is my problem right?


The intent behind the traffic that I’m receiving is key to whether or not I’ll be able to convert that traffic. Certain traffic sources (read: keywords) will end up converting to sale better than others. For example, if I were selling online invoicing software, the keyword “Free Invoice Template)” will provide plenty of fairly cheap traffic. “Online invoicing software” will be a lot pricier, but convert much better. The second conversion rate (at 0-100%), makes the first completely irrelevant.

So what does this mean to you and me?

  • Ignore CPC.
  • Configure your ad network to register actual sales as a goal. If you can’t do this yourself, contact me
  • Change your bidding strategy to optimized CPM where available, making the network focus on the traffic which results in sales, not CPC.

You might be disagreeing with me right now. What do you think?



Inside Sales for Scaredy Cats

I’m astounded. SaaS businesses are leaving thousands of dollars on the table.  Following up with people on the phone is an essential strategy for anyone with less than 150 customers. Period.

It is pretty well documented that 0.5 – 1.5% of visitors will turn into paid customers if allowed to waft in from the internet and sign themselves up.

Lets compare this with a summary of sales at Piehole Voiceovers where we follow up leads on the phone (aka: inside sales).


But why trust me? Use your own common sense. If you were able to talk personally with your last 100 leads, do you think they would be more or less likely to buy having talked to the founder?

You know the answer. You maybe just aren’t ready to admit it.

So why isn’t everybody following up their SaaS leads on the phone?

Because it is socially awkward. Good men and women, with great apps are getting burned to the ground because they were relying on a 1% conversion rate based of 10′s of visitors a day.

Do the math. 1% of 100′s of visitors a month will not pay your mortgage.

It is enough to make me want to cry.

But I’m not writing this for the good of my health. Let’s prove it. I’m looking for a SaaS app that needs a sales team. I’ll do the sales for you. You’ll pay me based on effort, and we’ll 10X your growth rate.

Lets talk or, if you’d like to learn how to implement your own inside sales strategy, sign up for the email course I have just written in the popup on this page.

magic happens

What Would a Useful Growth Hacking Meetup Look Like?

We recently had a “Growth Hacking” meetup in Dublin sponsored by and Predict. We had some great speakers. I wonder what could have made it awesome.

For me, the best single moment of the evening came when Kevin O’Connor put some real life numbers on the board. He showed a screengrab of a recent facebook campaign, and explained how he built a funnel around it that pushed people into a “live” (read: prerecorded) webinar going through the benefits of his service

His talk was

  • Authentic: not super polished, fresh from the trenches
  • Measured: he had measured the effectiveness of the campaign through to dollar conversions
  • Detailed: There was no “some magic happens here” moment. He mentioned all the tools used.
  • Reproducible: I felt like I could reproduce the campaign after watching him walk through it.

So shouldn’t every “Growth Hacking” talk be like this? I wonder if we could find 5 people who could do the same thing and give everyone 15 minutes at the board to explain how they did it.

But why not just do the same thing in a blog post?

Good question.

I guess you could pitch an in person meeting as having more confidentiality. The people in the room can be asked to respect the commercial nature of the information shared, while still learning from the content.

It is all very well reading about the marketing results achieved by someone half way across the world but it is hard to beat eye-balling someone as they explain their approach.

Do you have a growth hacking story that could meet the above criteria? Is so, reach out to me, at james [at]

Analysis is Expensive and Error Prone

Thursday night, spnosored a Growth Hackers Meetup in Dublin. Caelen King from kicked off proceedings with his trademark unprepared, off the cuff and killer advice.

The whatclinic team have build up their site to 2 million monthly visitors, generating more than five million dollars worth of enquiries for doctors and dentists daily.

Analysis is expensive and error prone while experience is cheap and accurate

Caelen King,

It sounded like sage advice, and everyone nodded in agreement.

But hold on, everyone knows that careful planning can help avoid making costly mistakes.

In fairness, we can probably guess that Caelen is talking about running online advertising than building the Luas line.

Caelen’s thesis is that the time spent analysing a problem, requires skills that are more expensive to hire. Smart people with good analytical skills are pricey and their output is, to put it bluntly, unreliable. It can be far cheaper to just try something, especially online, and see how it works.

Which I guess is why his next piece of advice …

test the cheapest thing first

Caelen King,

makes sense. If it is cheap to test. Do it. Cheap in this context refers to the time and money it would take to get insight.

There is one big problem. The last piece of advice he gave was something we all kind of knew in our hear of hearts …

A/B testing is useless

Most of us, and even a site like whatclinic will take days if not years to get enough statistically relevant information on a hypothesis. So I’m left wondering, if AB testing doesn’t work (or at least doesn’t work at the traffic level of any of my sites) and analysis is error prone and expensive then how else are you supposed to test?

Superman Goes Home

The closer that Superman came to Krypton, the more he lost his super powers. As I sit on a plane on my way back to Ireland, I know how he felt.

Being a startup guy abroad has some disadvantages. You have no network. You don’t have a list of old clients to call upon when things get sticky. Sometimes you can’t even get a visa for wherever it is you have lived for the past year.

You do however acquire a number of super-powers. People are strangely attracted to the man from the little heard of island hanging off the west coast of Europe.

By default, people love the Irish. It is up to us to mess it up after that.

Now that I’m heading home I’m reminded of just how lucky I’ve been. I didn’t get the best grades in school, go to the best college and I don’t have a great track record in business. All that doesn’t matter. My MacGuffin is my birth place and charming a accent. I didn’t earn it but I’ll take any unfair advantage I can get. When I’m back at home I’ll be a mere mortal who has to make his mark some other way.

If you are a marketeer or growth hacker, I’d like you to come along to our first Growth Hacker Dublin Meetup on the 6th of March, downtown Dublin.

Growth Hackers Dublin

I came up with the term Growth Hacker to avoid getting a tonne of job applications from people who were used to “managing budgets”. — Sean Ellis

There has been a lot of debate about what a Growth Hacker is. Some people think it is someone without any money to spend but who still needs to grow their online business.

I’m not sure I buy that definition. It probably is someone who puts looks for non-traditional marketing opportunities before just shovelling ad spend over to Google or Facebook.

If a traditional marketing manager uses banner ads, radio ads, trade shows, magazine articles and PR then a Growth Hacker is probably more likely to use lifecycle emails, meetups and a code editor.

Traditional marketeers measure CPC, CPM and CPA. Growth hackers add viral co-efficient, kout scores and Pirate Metrics.

Whatever it is: it helps find customers. Which I like. Next Thursday the 6th of March, Jason Roe and myself are hosting a Growth Hacker meetup. We have some great speakers lined up. Jason and I are buying the beer, and if you are in Dublin, I’d like you to come along.

We have awesome speakers from health startup, marketing automation supremos Hubspot, funnel optimisation experts and

If you aren’t in Dublin, or you can’t make it, I would really appreciate sharing the event with someone who might. I’m doing this to try and reconnect with the Dublin startup scene as I’m hoping to return to Dublin in June. Anything you can do to help me would be appreciated.

You can sign up at our event landing page.


The Evolution of an Analytics Addict

tl;dr : The stages of my analytics evolution were, “Is anyone out there?”, “Stare and Hope for Inspiration”, “Event Obsession”, “AARRR Age”, “So What – the teenage years” and “Question Driven Analytics” and “Simple Numbers”.

What gets measured, gets done

Peter Drucker

I read that quote years ago, and Peter Drucker is rich and has written lots of books, so I took it to heart. He is of course correct. Providing clear metrics on my performance, and the performance of others, is the easiest and most liberating approach I’ve found to working with a group of folk. Everybody owns a number. But, before I managed to make use of the data, there was a lot of wasted time. So here are the stages of my analytics evolution …

Is Anyone Out There?

Just like a newborn kid, I didn’t know much when I first installed the analytics tracking code into my first website. I stuffed the pretty graphs into my eyeballs like an infant satisfies their oral obsession by stuffing anything they can get their hands on, into their mouths.

It felt good. Staring at the number of hits was fascinating. Eventually I got bored with GA and moved on to Statcounter. The big difference here was being able to see the actually IP addresses of my visitors versus which GA anonymises the data.

At this stage, I didn’t even know that looking at the numbers was supposed to be a pre-cursor to actually taking action. Instead I used it as a kind of visual therapy. Reassuring myself that at least someone was landing on my website.

The Stare and Hope for Inspiration Stage

Eventually I realised that analytics wasn’t just there to make me feel less lonely in my lonely underground office where I saw no one from one end of the day to another (as it turned out, selling SMS gateway access in 2000 wasn’t a big money spinner). I’m so glad I got out of that business.

I got frustrated with the pretty graphs. They sat there laughing at my inability to turn their information into more money in my back pocket. I resolved that I just didn’t understand them enough. Like a crazed technical day trader I spent an hour or so each morning poking my way around the data.

No one told me that GA was really built for publishing businesses, and couldn’t really help me understand how to sell my SaaS app without some serious configuration tweaks. It was the wrong tool for the job.

It was a “stare and wait for inspiration” strategy that actually, at least taught me how to twiddle all the interesting nobs like filtering traffic by source.

If I were selling ad space in a publishing business, I need never really have gone any further. I could see which pages were popular, and I could see where the visitors came from to view those pages.

I did notice that was sending me some traffic because I had uploaded a SMS Outlook plugin to their review site but for some reason this didn’t prompt me to go find other review sites to upload my software to. I had no way of knowing how much that link was worth to me. I had no goals or eCommerce settings configured. If I had, maybe I could have extrapolated forward and figured out how much review traffic I needed to become wildly wealthy or at least rich enough to pay the rent.

But I didn’t and inspiration never came.

The Event Obsession

Part of my struggle when it came to my analytics account was the raw volume of data. It’s too much of any mere mortal to parse and it sure as hell isn’t structured with a boot-strapped programmer with no marketing experience in mind. It was time to start eventifying.

Events are custom snippets of code that can be used to track specific occurrences. I think they were originally used to help track AJAX calls in an app that didn’t trigger page refreshes.

I used them for something else – to cut through the crap. By attaching events to specific clicks on the webapp, eg: the pricing page, followed by the sign up link I began to just focus on the events that meant something to my conversion funnel.

Events were also useful for pulling in data from other sources such as the phone system. I could begin to see which traffic resulted in time on the phone, which I knew resulted in sales.

I was taking back control – not just taking what was given to me.

I became more active in my thought process around what was important. Using events you can design the interaction flow you’d like to see, and then see if it works out that way.

I still mark out key events and track them rather than relying on URL’s.

The AARRR Metrics Age

I owe a lot to Pirate Metrics. Mostly because it taught me to stop worrying and love the data that mattered. The torrent of information is mostly useless and combined with my newfound love of events, it is fairly easy, even in GA, to start to organise the traffic into something more useful. Of course, GA’s media publishing background means it is still pretty lousy at helping you to track individual users.

Moving to means that I have a whole new playground of tools to play with, while not having to dirty the code with new JavaScript snippets. Better still, it means that the data is tracked consistently across all analytics platforms.

For Pirates, does the best job of helping to look at your users in terms of cohorts and (got forbid) real people you can interact with. Its built with AARRR in mind and you can assemble your events into the appropriate stages within the app without having to do too much thinking before hand.

The ‘so what’ Teenage Years

This is all great. I’m measuring my app like the fancy Silicon Valley investors recommend me too.

How reassuring.

But hold on. How do you use this? After all this evolution, am I any closer to actually using my analytics setup for anything other than masturbatory aid to believing I was making progress.

Separating out steps in the funnel through Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Referral and Revenue was okay, but “so what”? If wasn’t AB testing each stage, calling up prospects / doing whatever it took to push people through that funnel, it was all for nothing.

The Question Driven Phase

So lets turn this on its head. Lets forget about code and talk about activities. The things that my analytics account measure are either changes to the app or the effect of marketing effort. Both take time. A thing I have a finite amount of.

So lets instead imagine a block of 100 marketing hours. What would really be useful for me to know about that effort. Lets take a simple one …

Which marketing hours created a customer?

Interesting. Now when I crack open my dashboard, I have a question to answer. Suddenly things aren’t so confusing. The colourful graphs can be ignored unless they help answer my question. This of course normally highlights woeful inadequacies of the setup to tack things like offline sales or even which of the marketing team were effective in generating those sales.

But these are problems that can be solved.

But that isn’t quiet enough. There has to be some impact on activities having found our answer. Let us say we find that most of our sales come from Quora comments. Do we have the ability to comment more or are we maxed out on the available topics we could comment on?

Which leads me to a more interesting question to answer.

Which activities don’t result in new customers?

Just as important as focusing resources on the things that get results, is freeing up resources on things which have no impact. Traffic sources (I’m looking at you Google+) that don’t result in customers but do take time to maintain need to be cut. Then it is a question of reallocating those resources to the activities that do get results. Or, looking for new activities that might yield results.

Enter, Lean Analytics.

Although the book claims to be about analytics, its really about metrics and how to come up with metrics you can use to take action. It emphasises simple metrics that everyone can grasp, that ties your team together. Those AARRR metrics aren’t a bad start. We started by sharing the numbers out to each member of the team. At weekly meetings we call out our number and discuss how we are going to nudge it in the right direction.


Simple Numbers

The AARRR metrics are a good start but they might not be the key metrics for every business. There is an art to figuring out which numbers really matter. For us, the number of leads, and the time on the phone are the key indicators. We also track the number of enquiries we are driving, and with those three numbers, we drive the business.

These are the numbers I pull out and slap onto a very, very pretty dashboard.

The fewer numbers on that dashboard the better. You can then do something clever like put them on the office wall on a nice big flat screen TV. Marketing can focus on their leads number, and sales can focus on the conversion. Everyone gets to see on a tidy screen together and everyone can see if a problem pops up. Eg: There aren’t enough lead or the conversion rate plummets.

Tools like dashing do a great job of pulling these numbers together.

Have I evolved?

So what is the next stage of enlightment for the analytics addict? Is there anything beyond question led analytics and communicable metrics or have I reached the highest level of enlightenment?

Having a pool in your back yard, 10 meters away from your office, does not help you become a workaholic.

What if you are not a Workaholic?

Let’s face it. Building a dream life takes a lot of work. In many ways, We cheated. We moved to lower cost economies, took advantage of free money and right now, you can’t spend more than $30 on a meal for two at our local restaurant.  I have a swimming pool in my  back yard and our rent is less than $600 a month.

So as a non-workaholic, am I doomed to working for the man, putting in a 40 hour week or eeking by a minimum wage existence in some geo-arbitraged state?

I hope not.

I don’t even think that not working is a good thing. We went through our four hour work week phase and, to be honest, it gets boring. Mendoza is a beautiful garden city at the foot of the Andes where we spent 6 months lounging around in our jacuzzi or going on wine tours.

We put in about 4 hours of work a week – and we were miserable.   I can honestly say it was the worst time of my life.

If you aren’t working, you aren’t achieving anything. Lacking a sense of achievement is soul destroying. That is why I aspire towards working more.

But how do you do that if you aren’t a ‘workaholic’ by nature?

Over the past three months, I’ve hacked becoming more of a workaholic. It hasn’t been easy and I’ll explained what worked, and what did not.

  • Holding yourself accountable: this started off with a weekly chat with a fellow bootstrapping friend over Google hangouts. We chatted about our outgoing and upcoming weeks. It felt good to hold a mirror up to what I was focused on. I got all excited and brought a new project onto the agenda. The project petered out, and I wasn’t so keen to face up to my failures, so the meetings dwindled. Holding myself acocuntable wasn’t enough.
  • Working with someone else: I then started working with an old colleague from piehole voiceovers. This was bettter. I got a few clients in for her Growth Hacking skills and getting paid by someone else for work to be done was a great motivator. It meant we had to get sh*t done and justify ourselves at the end of the month. Working with Sasha also helped me keep more regular hours. She was in Chile and I’m in South Africa, so it meant I had to be available in the afternoons at least, online and working. Of course, this schedule didn’t always work for both of us, and this kind of dwindled out. I couldn’t rely on her to keep my at my desk. I needed something else.
  • Time-sheets: I introduced time-sheets as a way of making sure that the billable time we spent was allocated properly. I didn’t want to spend too little time on a client, or too much as we have other businessses to look after. In honesty, I introduced them to make sure that Sasha was spending the right amount of time on client work. She had a tendancy to spend too many hours on a project and burn herself out (she actually is a geniune workaholic). In actual fact, tracking my own time became vital to getting more done. I forgot about “efficiency” and just concentrated on the number of hours work done.
  • Pomodoro Technique: The Pomodoro Technique is a fancy say of saying you work for 25 minutes, take a 5 minute work and then head back for another 25 minutes of work. I used to work in batches of 40 minutes or an hour. I don’t have the concentrate span for that. Mostly, by the end of a 25 minute segment, I’ve still got gas in the tank, and it means I have to tear myself away from the desk. Which means I’m raring to go when I get back to it. Now I measure my day in terms of the number of Pomodoro’s I complete. It works really well.
  • Retrospectives: The great thing about timesheets and Pomodoro’s are, you have a list of the activities you undertook at the end of a week. If I feel like beating myself up for not getting enough done (read: making enough money) I can review the timesheet and decide how to deploy the effort better next time around. While everyone else seems to need to work smarter, not harder, I just want to work harder first and figure out the other bit later.
  • Exercise:  Now that I was tracking my time, and reviewing it, it became easier to see what set me up for success.  I always kind of knew this, but days that started with exercise where 3 times more likely to result in 10 Pomodoros compared to an average of just 3 Pomodoro’s on days I didn’t kick off with some exercise.  Having the data in black and white in front of me really makes a difference.  I’m not exercising more and working more.
  • Podcasts:  I used to listen to podcasts while working. I tricked myself into thinking they were relaxing.  Now that I’m tracking what has been achieved every 25 minutes in a time-sheet, I can see that they just distract me.  The 25 minute discipline means I don’t have that much time for any task.  It focuses the mind.  Now I just listen to music if anything at all.  Lots of Fat Boy Slim, not so much Garth Brooks.  Lyrics are just as distracting as podcasts.

I wrote this post after listening to Rob Walling and Mike Taber talking about Avoiding Shiny Object Syndrome on their podcast.  They have some really good advice in there, lots of which overlaps with what I found.

I can’t really believe I’m the only person that struggles with working hard. I can understand why no one wants to admit it, but why is there so much bravado about when it comes to working.  Am I really the only small business owner that finds it hard to work hard?