Intercom ‘s take on things: Growth Hacking is Bullshit

A response to the Intercom Post on Growth Hacking-

Firstly, if you have been following this blog you will know that I believe the term Startup to be Bullshit. For clarity’s sake I hope Intercom see’s themselves as a business at this stage growth is about revenue and most importantly profit. A commercial company exists to make money which I am sure the guys make lots of.

So the guys at intercom decided to write a post suggesting that Growth Hacking is bullshit, which obviously they are completely entitled to their opinion.
the article is here and worth a thought provoking read if you can spare 5 minutes.

“Real growth originates from the very first line of code, from a great product, and from the work of an entire team”.

I think this is the statement that I essentially disagree with. Growth might start here, but I think the whole point of growth hacking is that you only write a line of code when you know you have an idea that doesn’t suck, because if you have a rubbish product, you won’t grow, no matter what colour your buttons are.

Intercom landed on a superb product, from years of seeing and knowing their business and their market, they identified a super niche for themselves and they carved that out with micro and macro battles to deliver exponential growth. At least that’s what I can see from the outside looking in.  I don’t know what process they applied of how they got their but they are bloody good and what they do which is great to see.

But lots of ideas are really crap and if intercom had been a crap idea, then using the principles behind an MVP (Minimum Viable Product), then they would have identified this before writing a single line of code. This to me is where my opinion differs from Ben Redmond of intercom.

Do I think Growth Hacking is bullshit? No, but I do agree that there are lots of bullshitters out there who don’t really get the basic fundamentals of the concept and how it can be applied successfully. There are lots of people floating about taking up growth hacking who have never once applied the basic principles to their business. They are the button colour people, that give it a bad name in my opinion. Growth hacking is far more dirty and far more hands on than that.

The key to a successful business through what might be an online product or an online journey is most definitely the sum of thousands of micro wins as described by intercom. These wins are what growth hacking is all about. It’s about iterative change that is measured, which then influences the next change. In the real world, this doesn’t look as pretty as the graphs online and in books you might read, but if taken as a principle to define change, it influences your product backlog and allows you to focus on the important stuff, not on the stuff you think will work. Obviously, what you think also comes into it but metrics are key to this process.

Red buttons and blue buttons is where the  digital version of Red Top Headlines come in and where the consultants who want to charge a fortune make their money selling their services to senior executives who don’t get it. It’s perfect conference material to get attention from people who don’t know any better.

Have I ever split test the colour of a button? No. Why would I?

Will I ever? Probably not as there will always be something that will deliver more for me. But I will decide on an overall direction of a page or a customer funnel on the basis of the results I see from measuring engagement within a page or a journey.

So what then is growth hacking and why do I believe it is a real thing?

For me essentially it’s all about:

1. Creating/modifying an MVP – minimum viable product
2. Testing for Product Market Fit until you get it right
3. Scaling when when you are comfortable with you numbers and know that your idea isn’t bullshit.
4. Iterate and grow the idea once it returns a positive return on investment.

That means

1. Find a theory or product your can test. If you happen to be a skilled coder, go ahead and build it. 1 in every 100 of you will build something that might be useful. If you are not a coder, test the theory. Surveys, graphics, one pager WordPress sites – Then Measure the response. That will tell you more faster than actually building a rubbish product

2. Test it out. Sell your wares, charge somebody something, give it away or do whatever it takes to see whether it sinks or swims.

3. If the product works – go ahead jump in.

3A – If it doesn’t – pivot idea and test it again or get back on another horse

Oh how I wish I was working for a company like  intercom where everything I built was going to be amazing from the first line of code I wrote ;-)

The word startup is bullshit – Period

Got your attention? Pissed you off? Or maybe you agree with me.

The word startup is bandied around at the moment by anyone with an idea. In fairness to lots of great startups, there are people out there doing it right but there are loads of people taking the piss and living the dream so to speak. It’s a serious worry though as there is an entire sub economy built up around it in Ireland and soon reality is going to kick a load of people in the hole from investors to State Support Agencies through to the startup “founder” (another silly word being used in the wrong context) and interns who are working for free for these idiots.

So having spent 6 years growing a business from a small business to a bigger business and having attended several courses and other incubator programmes I could be described as a founder of a startup but I don’t believe what I did was set up a start up.

I have launched multiple business some that have had varying degrees of success, some that worked others that haven’t worked as well.

I started young with a holy bagging business when I was 9 years old. This could be described as a startup, but unlike the hundreds of arseholes (not all of them in fairness but a percentage of them) who think they run a start up at the moment, I made money from day 1, I had an investor and a line of credit because of my lineage. I had a fixed cost and an opportunity to grow and scale for a number of weeks by producing more bags of holy.

The concept was easy, go to the corporation market in town, buy a massive bale of holly, bring it home, chop it up with a clippers (tools of the trade) and put it in small bags . The audience was different than you would expect, I was going to sell it in the supermarkets so it was mainly Mums who were not dressed to buy a Christmas Tree that were my target customers, so by having it in a bag they wouldn’t get pricked by the sharp leaves or get themselves dirty whilst buying the shopping. The USP was so obvious in hindsight. I sold hundreds and hundreds of bags, with my order getting bigger and bigger every week and the product flying off the shelf.

That to me was a start up in my opinion but I didn’t have what startups now have and the important point is I didn’t need it.

When I was 9 I didn’t get invited on a tax payers paid incubator program, but I learnt about the value of business, about customers, about stock, cashflow, invoicing, costs & profit. It cost nobody

there are hundreds of them now and the only people benefiting is the people running them and the trainers and mentors involved in them. The best part of being involved in them is the networking. So why bother with the other bits. (Harsh but mostly true)

There are people going on these courses constantly, for years on end, there are guys who are on the “circuit” bouncing from one course to the next, collecting cash, grants and other supports along the way.

Did I do this, I was on 3. The first one was utter rubbish but some of the people I met on it are still very good friends today and have been very important in the growth of our businesses.

The second was very good. was given money to do it so it was definitely worth it.

The third, I paid thousands to be on and provided me with a foundation of which I work with today.

So there was benefit, but I was luck to get onto these courses. I could have been on dozens of other ones but was busy growing a business.

So what is my problem?

My problem is that thousands of people are floating around in the economy with pipe dreams based on really poor concepts that have no chance of succeeding. Because of the startup culture which has developed in Ireland there is an acceptance of people pissing around for years on end because they have been empowered by words like pivot and pre revenue. Pre Revenue!!!! WTF ! If my holy business was pre revenue it wasn’t a business.

I think there are hundreds of people that need to take a long hard look at themselves and figure out if they are cut out to run a business. If they aren’t, the need to get out. No amount of training courses, incubation space and support will give them the personal skills to do it.

This is what I planned to say at Dub Biz Net

So it’s Tuesday night, the night Apple unveil their new iphone6 and iwatch and the world is listening to their new free, but paid for U2 album.

So I got to thinking, what am I going to say to 250 people on Thursday night? It’s a big crowd, I have 5 minutes so what do they want to hear?

This is what I plan on saying, and I will publish this post straight afterwards. What I am keen to see is if I can actually stick to what I intend saying.

I will discuss where I started, bagging holly, selling Christmas trees, then move through to the early days to talk about family business and getting out of bed early on Saturday mornings.

I’ll talk about the early days of Flowers Made Easy, putting in place procedures like how to answer the phone and how to price bouquets. I will talk about the first time you do everything – first order, first corporate order, first wedding but also the more difficult tasks like the first person to leave your business, the first person you unfortunately have to fire not to mention your first bad debt. How all of this shapes you and provides you with a unquantifiable amount of life experience that no MBA can teach you, especially if you are young. From cashflow to stock management, to expansion and missed opportunities which on reflection may have been the right ones to miss?

Advice – I will talk about advice. How advice needs to be taken into consideration but not always acted upon. Nobody knows your business better than you do and therefore advice can often not be provided in the right context in relation to your business. Examples of this would be several people laughing at how diverse a business we had in. 2007. What they couldn’t see is that the diversity meant we were protected and sheltered from exposure to one large client, and also more importantly we were sheltered from a single market and single customer so when the crash came we survived. We survived because we were diverse. The diversity allowed us to see things happening in the market others couldn’t. That’s why out of the 3 largest florist businesses in Ireland at the time of the downturn; we are the only one who didn’t go bust. This is something that we are incredibly proud of and something that also gives us significant advantage as things improve, not just because we have been loyal to our suppliers but also because we know that we can cope with anything that comes out way.

My proudest moment was getting a Photobooth to work 20 minutes before I walked down the aisle of my own wedding. It was a silly idea myself and a friend of mine Lachlan(Locky) Munday came up with over a beer in Brisbane and I decided to try out at our own wedding. It turned out to be a MVP before Sean Ellis even knew what an MVP was :-)
It has flourished into a super little business all on its own. This week it is in Google and later in the month it is for the forth year running going to be at the Ploughing Championships and already nearly booked out over Christmas.

Networking – This is not something I was ever very good at in the traditional sense of the term. What I have found to be incredibly beneficial is to surround myself with several people who are in a similar situation to me. For example they could be at the same stage as I in their career or business. This works best when you can bring together a group of people to socialise with or meet up with to discuss your issues. So look out tonight for people who might share the same sort of issues you might have.

If you own a business – what’s your exit strategy? Mine was to sell to Interfora or 1800Flowers and become a millionaire………. but hey, maybe someday! Despite my moonshot moment, I spent every day working for my own companies doing something that meant I didn’t have to do the same thing the next day. My objective was to make myself unemployed; I succeeded, perhaps a little too well!
In 2012, I realised that I had no longer anything to do with the day to day business. I have hired over 20 staff, allocated everything that needed to be done, put in place processes to beat the band and built a super system to do everything from manage invoicing through to printing labels and driver run sheets. So I handed in my notice and left. The test was this – would anyone call and ask for me by name?

3 months later… 6 months later….

2 years later – no calls.

The business is more profitable and more successful than it ever was when I was there, which is a great thing.

Becoming unemployable – the one big fear I had, who the hell was going to hire me? It’s a question lots of people ask me and something I had serious concern with myself at the time. I had recruiters saying that I should settle for a crap job, I had the head of an agency tell me that she would position me as an account manager and see how I went. I had HR managers scared I was going to destroy their process and all of this was before I even opened my mouth. The truth is that if you ever do end up looking for a role like I did having been self employed, it might bring you down a peg, but one thing is for sure, working for someone else is easy street compared to where you have come from. Embrace that and don’t be afraid to stick to your guns despite what people tell you.

So let’s see what I actually said and was it anything remotely like this :-)

Updated – that was fun :-) not sure what I said if I’m honest.

Photo Stolen from #DubBiz hashtag


Half the battle is understanding

Having spent most of my life surrounded by technology and all things online, the conclusion I have come to is that half the battle in this world is understanding what purpose technology has.

Having grown up in a house where computers were a core part of the household with my Dad being a massive tech head, I always had access to a computer. He used to only allow me play computer games if I could write them myself – constantly giving me coding books and trying to positively encourage me to create something. Like a form of Coderdojo only 20 years earlier for me with a single mentor.

Fortunately and unfortunately, there were better coders and game makers out there than I was ever going to be but I could see something much different, a window of opportunity, a way to interact and engage in a meaningful way. I didn’t spend all my time playing games but I did always wonder how I could improve things using kit. What would happen to the experience if I had a joystick or what would it be like if we did…

As the years went on games consoles became a common household feature but not in our house. We had a computer – why would we need a Nintendo.

I remember the first time I used the internet. It was in a friend of my dad’s house and we spent what felt like a hour waiting for a canoeing website to open, but it was inspiring and engaging whilst being utterly crap at the same time. The graphics were horrible and the text was informative. The photos where the thing that impressed me most even though they were really poor quality.

Then the first time I used email, I don’t think it was even known as email back then, we used telnet to send messages to other kids in Australia using a thing called kid cafe, on telnet, all dos based command line back then. What stands out more than anything to me about 1990/91 – was that is was almost a decade after that before banks had email, it was a decade before most companies had websites. It was 8 years before Google existed!

The thing is though that understanding the potential of technology that exists today in its basic and more purest form is what will make people rich in the next decade. Understanding the implications of having a fully online car, or a web connection in the back of everything in your house including your cooker is what will make the next generation of millionaires.

The technology itself is the easy part, it’s understanding how it can fit in an environment that will have a generated demand for its use on a daily basis.

The internet of you and the internet of things are the future and understanding them is the big opportunity.

Cool stuff I found in France

So 2 weeks in France, phone switched off, email app disabled. Don’t think about work they said.

Easier said than done when your brain works like mine.

I spent a few weeks in Argeles sur le Mer, which is south of Perpignan in the South of France on the Mediterranean.

So I thought I would share a few things I saw that I thought someone could apply here.

1. Crap Buildings used to house cool restaurants.
There are dozens of these sorts of things all over the place. So this area opens in late April and the Season runs until Sept 30th. It’s filled with European holiday makers looking for perfect weather and a choice of places to eat. So when was the last time you saw a hole of a place without a bamboo roof serving food in a holiday destination in ireland? Ok granted, they have got the weather, but the principle stands. Why do we waste so much money on buildings and infrastructure to last 12 months of the year when really our summer season is a lot shorter? Places like, Lahinch, Strand Hill, Rosslare all come to mind if only planning would allow people to so more with less .

2. Electric Barcode scannable Price Tags

These are class. Having a warehouse full of thousands of products – these would be incredibly handy and save a fortune.

3. Decalathalon – Self Serve


This is so simple. Again, having built a full online and offline POS system, Self serve makes so much sense. This is something many businesses could apply pretty easily. I have to say , the system itself was pretty slow which was a let down and seriously disappointing for a business of this size. Definitely something and are going to apply at some point on their development roadmap.

4. Aerlingus are all over Social Media in a good way.


Well done guys.

5. Online booking works but there is a serious opportunity that hasn’t been achieved by anyone yet.

We booked a rental car, car hire excesses, flights & airport parking. We haggled via email for our accommodation and got a 60% discount.

So what’s the opportunity…. A proper online travel agent. Somewhere I can do it all in one place, supported by webchat.

It doesn’t make sense why I have to put my details into 5 different websites to go on holiday. I should be able to go to one place and do it all.

So who is going to disrupt this space?

Until my next holiday.

Get Shit Done

Having just come back from a holiday, I wanted to share with you a short review of the book “Get Shit Done”.

Firstly, yes I know Niall for nearly 10 years now, in fact the title of the book is technically incorrect it should be

“From Bedroom to Boardroom in a @flowersmadeeasy Van :-)

So I got stuck into the book on the plane over and within a short few days between trips to the pool I had finished it.

Was it good? Yes absolutely. It defines a lot or simple things you may have been told before and never put into practice.

It also provides a great deal of life hacks that are definitely of benefit depending on what stage of life you are at.

What it does more than anything though is show the highs and lows of setting up a business and the extremes both financially, emotionally and personally that people go through during the process.

Have I gotten anything from the book? Yes – I’m writing this blog post because of it. It has given me that kick up the arse I needed to get back blogging. I started blogging in 2003 before it was mainstream and then fell off the wagon for different reasons but having watched Niall build 3 businesses on the back of good content and having done it myself a few times, I know I really should get back at it, so please check back when you can :-)

Would I recommend it? Absolutely. It’s a super read and no matter who you are it what you do, there is something in this book for you.

The Book is so good in fact we bought 75 of them for the staff of :-) see picture below.

Niall, if you happen to find this in your pings, you should be incredibly proud of yourself for doing this. It can’t have been easy and unlike a lot of us, it’s open to a point that 99% of us wouldn’t even dare to be.


Irish eCommerce business and the Irish Sea

This might seem really simple but I believe the Irish Sea in the reason Irish businesses are struggling to get direct B2C business up and running and out of Ireland.

Imagine if you would, an option for Irish companies to add parcels into their existing Irish delivery network, and have that extended into the UK, or better still the whole of Europe?

It’s there all ready you say and it is – At a cost that is uncompetitive for your average Irish SME.

A few things to consider. If you are in the British Postal system, you can send a package from London to Edinborough or London to Belfast for the same price. You can all do that will most of the delivery networks in the UK.

Likewise, in Ireland, delivery to Belfast from Dublin is the same prices and Dublin to Galway or Dublin to Cork.

So the British System allows any business based in the UK to deliver to 60M for the same price. That’s exiting.

Now enter small Irish SME. Not so exiting now is it. An Irish Business needs to get its product into the UK network at a cost. A cost which currently needs to be funded which means it is outside of the reach of most Irish SME’s.

So imagine if you would, a government initiative sponsored by EI, that would fund a truck a day traveling from Ireland to the UK, allowing delivery of Irish products into the Royal Mail Network? This could be truck to Belfast or a 40ft across to Holyhead. This would be cheap to do and benefit every single Irish business looking to expand overseas.

It ticks all the boxes and protects indigenous companies and opens doors for a huge growth surge of Irish businesses.




The internet of things

There is lots of talk about the internet of things but I get the feeling that a lot of people don’t get the simplicity of what it means so I thought I would write a post about it to try and explain it in simple terms. Hopefully I can answer some questions as well.

2 weeks ago Google announced the purchase of a company called Nest for a sum of $3.2Billion. If you read the headline only in a story like this you would be worried that this is another bubble and that a company you’ve never heard of couldn’t be worth that kind of cash. But what you might not know is that despite the pure simplicity of their products – a smoke alarm & a thermostat that in fact the simplicity of their products and who is behind them is what has generated the value.

The Products are genius, one saves your life and protects your home better and the other saves you money and makes you more comfortable, both without you having to do anything. Simplicity!

Check out the videos below.

Nest Thermostat

Nest Protect

Not only are the really obviously beneficial, the guy behind best designed the first iPod and the first iPhone for Apple and recently at the websummit.Net he said that when asked the question why a smoke alarm and a thermostat? What’s sexy about that? You must be mad, he laughs because that’s what people said to him with the first iPod and then again when Nokia owned the phone world and Apple launched the iPhone.

Tony Faddel and Matt Rogers, see things before we see them.

So that’s all well and good but what else is going to happen? have designed wifi enabled light switches and wifi enabled plugs that are controlled by an app on your phone.

There is a sunbeam casserole dish which is wifi controlled.

Linksys have mobile phone controlled security cameras from €59 (I’ve had them for 3 years)

Apple TV, ChromeCast, Xbox, all of these things are the internet of things.

2014 is going to be special because we are now in a position to embrace these sorts of technologies like never before with mobile technology rushing ahead and with 4G on its way, it’s the perfect time for a bit of hype.

Imagine turning the heating and the lights on or starting the over on route home or based on where you are travelling to and in what direction your going? Imagine your kettle boiling as soon as a motion sensor in your room sees you’ve sat up in the bed?

Life is about to get more organised and time will be handed back to us that we thought we would never see again.

So everything will become connected.

Mobile Social – the elephant in the room

Ok so Facebook is turning good numbers. Google is going in the right direction with + and twitter is shaping up to be a serious business with a sense of identity.

So its all good, invest in tech, it’s not a bubble. It’s growth growth growth.

Bullshit. There is a huge elephant in the room and everyone has their back to it. No one wants to acknowledge it’s existence.

That elephant is the reality that more people are browsing and interacting on social platforms through apps on their phones. So what? So when was the last time you saw an ad in a social media app that you actually engaged with?

So more and more people are moving onto android and iOS devices to engage on different social platforms and none of the networks or ad agencies are making money from this. Silly isn’t it.

So forget about timeline and all the other distractions. The reality is revenue is going to tank if they don’t figure out a way to monetize mobile.

The answer will be through engagement but it will be long time before companies really understand that. When they do, personalisation resulting from accurate information will win big.

The featured image shows what Aldi did with Social in the summer of 2014

Blackberry will be an amazing App

It’s like a an incoming recession, the lights are off but the party is still going. Blackberry are going to give it one more roll of the dice.

It’s time to call an app an app. Blackberry’s USP is it’s trust around email, which it could easily deliver as an app across all platforms and devices and absolutely nail the Business users market.

What it can’t do is innovate beyond its existing consumer competitors with the money it has left.

It’s an App. It will be a damn good app and incredibly appealing to the hundreds of thousands of businesses around the world that had blackberry at the core of their IT security policies when they were drawn up.

Web usage on blackberry is less than 1% from what I can tell meaning that like me, any remaining users of the dreaded phone also use another phone at the same time. Crazy to think that in 2013 we are carrying around 2 devices that do the same thing all because of email security.

So please blackberry – give it up and make a killer app. Don’t waste your last hand on trying to reinvent something your not very good at.

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