James Currier is an expert on virality and now he is focusing on IronPearl, a start-up in Palo Alto, CA, building software tools and methodologies to empower Growth 2.0.
→ His expert on virality
→ His background viral growth on the internet
→ His viral growth sold 100 million
→ His background in Tickle
→ How they were growing virally
→ Two phases of virality
→ Interesting themes that were viral in the future
→ His failure to successful business
→ His language techniques using software tools Growth 2.0
→ His thoughts on Iron Pearl
→ And a whole lot more
Bronson: Welcome to another episode of Growth Hacker TV. I’m Bronson Taylor and today I have James Courier with us. James, thanks so much for being on the program.
James: You bet. Thanks for having me, Bronson.
Bronson: Yeah, I’m truly excited about this interview. Looking over, you know what you’ve been a part of in the past, it’s going to be quite a treat to dig into some of the things you’ve been involved with. So let’s just kind of jump in to one of your big wins. All right. You might be the perfect guest to have on the show because one of your first startups, tickle. Tell Me If I’m Wrong was one of the earliest examples of viral growth on the Internet. You were so good at viral growth that I believe you sold it for around 100 million. If what the interwebs tell me is true. So first of all, are those things true? I mean, was it one of the earliest examples of viral growth and did it get sold for close to 100 million?
James: Yeah, well, that’s true. Well, that’s true. I think companies like Blue Mountain Search was probably the the site that came before us. We were among the first viral sites, along with a company called E Crush, which is a little more aggressive in how they were growing virally. But yeah, and then we ended up selling a monster in 2004 and we had our earn out for three straight years. So it was a little over the number you mentioned, but. Yeah. Yeah, that’s about right.
Bronson: That’s good. I’m glad I was under instead of over. So tell us just real briefly, what was tickle? But more importantly, way back in the day, because I believe you started in 99, sold it in 2004, he said, how did it go viral and what did you learn about viral growth kind of during that process from 99 to 2000?
James: For sure. Sure. So Tickle was a self-assessment testing site. So think of quizzes and that was an idea. We we knew that user generated content was going to be big. We didn’t think that it was going to be movies and radio and magazines, which was what Spinner and Broadcast.com and iVillage were all doing. Back then, we thought that every new technology explodes its own type of content, like TV didn’t really become TV until 1981, when MTV came out, for instance. But every new technology develops its own media form. We knew that user generated content, although that’s not what we call it. We actually called it Me Media back then, but that was going to be big. And we were looking for forms that that showed us that a Blue Man Arts was this greeting card site. We carry on greeting cards and send it to each other. And that that triggered my thinking. And then I saw people take a quiz offline on paper, and they were so engaged in it and they were so excited that I realized it would be a perfect form of user generated content. In fact, you could guide them by answering these questions and generate all sorts of different results that they could then share with their friends and they could share and compare. Mm hmm. Is that what people like to do? So that’s what Tickle was. And, you know, the problem with testing and quizzes and it’s not a generally sticky thing. You don’t take a test and the next day take a test and see if you have an email account like Hotmail. Use it again and again. Okay. Um, do you use it every day? Because that’s where you’re getting your email. But with testing, you don’t need to go back every day. So we necessarily had to get viral over and over and over again. When we first got viral, it’s what we called entertainment virality, where people just said, Dude, you got to look at this. This is areas. Right? And there are you know, they talk about viral videos on YouTube and other things. That’s typically cases of of entertainment, virality. Mm hmm. And that’s very helpful. And, you know, within eight days of us launching our viral tests are exciting tests on the site being a million hits a day because people are literally just telling each other about it by word of mouth. The press was reporting on it and people were sending it to each other in emails. And those are the three ways of getting viral back in those days. Yeah, really only those three words. And and then over time, as the excitement about the test and the quizzes diminished, where we were only maybe bringing on 40 or 50,000 new people a day, you know, we then had to figure out how to make it more mechanical, where actually direct people in the product to send it and share it and compare with their friends. Yeah. And then we created these boards where by sending it to your friends, when they came back, you would get to see their scores and you would be notified by email that so-and-so is now taking the test, find out what dog type she is or find out who her celebrity matches that’s from. And so that was sort of the second phase. Once the initial entertainment virality diminished, we then started learning how to do directed virality. Along with that, we started this is 2000 now to early 2001. We got into building, you know, ABCD testing type harnesses on the site. So we started looking at the various versions and I think we were one of the earliest companies to do that along with probably eBay and Amazon. Yeah. But from a media side without a really, you know, non-advertising based model, we were probably one of the first companies to do that.
Bronson: Yeah, absolutely. You mentioned kind of two phases to your virality. You had the entertainment phase and then you kind of had the more planned mechanism phase, like we’re going to build it into the product. Would you advise startups to even try the first phase or is entertainment just luck? You just happened to have something like Gangnam Style. Nobody thought it would have that many views and it does. Can you actually plan for entertainment virality or should startups jump to the second one and ignore kind of your success in the first part.
James: Two comments on that? There are people who believe they can architect viral videos and they have all websites about this saying if it’s including, you know, babies or kittens or politics and put it this section of the video, and then you do this. They’ve seen themselves get repeatedly viral. I’ve never tried it. They claim they can do it. It seems hard to me. Yeah. Number one. Number two. But I would discount the fact that some people could do it. Sure. Number two, if you’re going to get entertainment, virality, what you want to do is build a platform where lots of things can be tried. Mm hmm. And no cost to you so that you can then get lucky.
Bronson: You want to be YouTube, not the video. Correct. There you go. You want to be the person, you know, getting the user generated content, which is what you did with Tickle. You weren’t just a single quiz. You were a platform for all kinds of quizzes and different sorts of entertainment value at the time from tickle until now. So you sold it to us for, you know, here we are nine years later. Has virality changed or is it really the exact same thing, just new players? How do you see it as one of the kind of the early people to figure it out?
James: So what’s interesting is that the themes that were viral in the past seem to be getting viral again in the future. Mm hmm. So things like E crush, you know, and quizzes or things that were viral in the past continue to be viral. I think photos is a good example. Mm hmm. Right. As soon as Friendster came out, I was really the first site that was leveraging the growth of digital photography. They got viral, and then we launched a photo sharing site called Rango, where we grew to 47 million people in six months virally. And then we added the feed. And then 18 months later, Facebook added a feed. And then, you know, Instagram comes along just last year and boom gets viral on photos. So. Things haven’t changed in the sense that we all like the same things we always liked. Yeah, but the mechanics of it have certainly changed. As I said, there were three ways of getting viral before. Now you’ve got Android and iOS and you’ve got Craigslist and Pinterest and so many different places you’ve got to go to find your your spread, your viral spread. It’s it’s much more complicated environment.
Bronson: Yeah, you could almost say that the psychology has remained, but the channels have, you know, become greater. And I notice with everything you say, you talk about it from the user’s point of view. People like quizzes, people like photos, and then we’ll get to that towards the end of the interview, because I think that that’s maybe a theme in your career is a deeper understanding of psychology than most product guys, but I’ll come back to that. So after Tickle, you started Google Labs and tell me if I’m wrong. It seems like it’s a greenhouse slash incubator for startups. Is it really for startups or is it just for your own ideas or are you actually incubating there?
James: Yeah, for the first few years it was just for our own ideas with a lot of ideas around things that we could do to help the world, like in medicine or education or family connections. Charity. We were we were trying to use our tech. Now, we felt very fortunate to have what happened to us, that tickle happen, that fellow. We could use the Internet for good. Yeah. And so we, we had a bunch of ideas that we workeengines some of which didn’t work, but ended up becoming other businesses, some of which worked really well. We ended up with a social gaming company that came out of there. We came we came out with a marketplace and a network around medical apps that’s doing quite well now. And then, of course, Iron Pearl came out of it too, and I talk about later. But so we had three good companies in four years, which is not the best track record, but it’s but it’s pretty good and that’s.
Bronson: Pretty good given the death rate.
James: And we were just trying to, you know, use apply these marketplace and network principles. And remember, growth isn’t just viral, viral, it’s sort of free growth. But the other half of growth is buying traffic and learning how to do that. So vertical, you know, we got to 3 million users before we spent a dime of marketing dollars and then we started buying more and more. By the end, we were spending perhaps $2 million a month buying traffic. Wow. And the same thing happened with Wonderful, our gaming company where we got the first 13 or 15 million users virally. But once we found a hit game where we could actually monetize the users enough to pay for traffic than we did. Yeah. And that company, we ended up spending as much as $6 million a month buying traffic to it. So it’s both viral and buying and combining them often. Yes, it’s very well.
Bronson: That’s really good to hear from you, because sometimes we think, you know, we have to be a purist. It’s either purely viral or it’s not real growth. It’s not really exciting. So it’s great to hear that you, you know, start with virality and you understand that deeply, but then you’re not afraid to go and spend millions a month on ad buys because growth is growth. And as long as you got something that’s work and it’s work and it doesn’t have to be just viral to be growth. So thanks for kind of sharing that insight with Google Labs. You say that you focus on networks and marketplaces. Do you feel like networks and marketplaces are just more susceptible to growth? Is that kind of why you’re drawn to them? Because you feel like if you can get something to work, it can spread through a network and through a marketplace. Well, why are you drawn to those?
James: Yeah. So the first few years of Google, we were doing our own ideas and those are networks and marketplaces, except for the gaming company, which, again, is a perishable thing, but. The last year, we’ve just been spending time with companies that weren’t our or our ideas and helping them with growth and whatnot. And we are focused on marketplaces and networks because those are the winner takes all markets. So if you’re if you’re a social network and your MySpace and your friends or your high five or you’re, you know, something else, you’re lost. Your loss to the one that takes it all. Or if you’re some sort of a marketplace for collectibles or for cars or eBay one, these things tend to be winner takes all market. So whoever grows fastest and get those network gets those network effects. Those are the companies that not only become multibillion dollar valued companies, but they also end up forcing everybody else out of the space. So if you’re not that guy, you might as well not play the game. So when we go in to help a company figure out their growth strategy, they know that there are six other or eight other or 12 other guys that was going to be the winner and the rest will become irrelevant. Yeah. So their willingness to actually do what we suggest to do is extremely high. As they know that’s the game and we know that that’s the game. So they’re our value to them is extremely high and their valuations get extremely high. So it’s just more renumeration to us. Yeah, it’s more fulfilling. You know, when you take when you take a market. Yeah.
Bronson: It seems like you’re going for a grand slam with the kinds of ideas that you go for. You’re not looking for singles and doubles. It seems like the risk of failure is higher, though, with Grand Slams. Is that fair to say? Because it’s a winner take all. And, you know, there’s no second or third place to pull out of single or double. You just become high five like you’re gone eventually and you’re okay with that risk. It’s worth it to you to go for the grand slam.
James: Absolutely. That’s that’s the only way to change the world. That’s the only way you really change things.
Bronson: Yeah, it seems like you’re willing to go for it. I read your letter on the Google Labs front page. It’s kind of your letter to all your colleagues languishing and, you know, in their cubicles. I would recommend everybody go to the Google labs dot com is that where to find it go and read that because you’ll get an insight into your mind through that little letter, that little memo that you sent out, that you really do go for it. And I think to get true viral growth or even to buy growth, you have to have that kind of mentality. Am I wrong? You have to be the guy that’s willing to play a game where only one person can win to have awesome growth.
James: That’s right. And I think that. You know, this mentality about growth is really the important thing. I think you had mentioned before we started that, you know, you want to get down to the real growth stuff. But it’s funny because around growth, it’s largely your mentality. It’s it’s a little it’s a little squishy, you know, and if you go to Stanford Business School that the most the course that everybody loves is called touchy feely. And but at Harvard Business School, the course that everybody loves is called lead because it’s all about psychology. And it was in that lead course that I first took the Myers-Briggs test, which led me to the idea for Tickle. Yeah, because it is it is about human psychology. It’s about all of our psychologies.
Bronson: Yeah, absolutely. So what do you know about psychology that herbals doesn’t that allows you to compete in markets where there’s only one winner and then to actually be the winner more than not? Like, what is it about your own psychology that allows you to break through where other people just can’t or don’t or won’t?
James: Well, I think it’s pretty clear that we are always the winners in our markets. You’re being you’re being much too generous. We we lose a lot.
Bronson: I guess. I don’t see the losers. The TechCrunch doesn’t write about them as much as I see the winds. I guess.
James: That’s right. Now, you got to lose a lot. You got to lose a lot. And I mean, I think that I don’t know anything more than anybody else knows. It’s just I was just one of the early people to realize that it was really important. And, you know, the psychology I have of sort of sustaining days and weeks and months and even years of failure try to get to that thing that works. That’s the hardest part about it, internal psychological perspective, because you do have to fail so much and you have to take your team with you. And so you come up with another idea and they try it and they work their guts out for 2 to 3 weeks and then you try. That doesn’t work again and again and again. That’s the hardest part, is keeping the faith and keeping moving forward. Yeah, but in terms of human psychology, I just think that you have to notice, you know, what other people really like as opposed to what you might like. Okay, you have to spend time. Just noticing when you go to the when you go to the gym, which are the pages of the magazine which are most wrinkled, was sweat because that’s what people spent the most time on in the supermarket. What’s their. When you when you look at the companies that have a lot of traffic. What? Why? You know, what is it? What is it there in the language that makes sense to people in their psychology lives? A lot in our emotions, but those emotions are often triggered by language. And so to be a real student of language, if I had a fight and a blog that wasn’t the OGA Labs blog, if I just had a James Courier blog, it would be called Finding the Language, because that’s at the core of all these things. Yeah, I.
Bronson: Know. It’s very insightful. One follow up question. You talked about being able to go from failure to failure and still go again for the success after spending a few weeks on something, is that process easier or harder after you’ve had one big win? Right. So you sell tickets, you have a big win. Does it actually get harder because now you’re supposed to win or is it easier because now you have, you know, a bankroll to try a bunch more things? How does the psychology within you change after having one big win? Is it easier or harder to keep trying?
James: It’s a good question. I think it’s harder because you don’t need to anymore spend the first one your backs against the wall. You have no chill. You got.
Bronson: This idea.
James: It’s do or die. Yeah. And after you’ve had a success, sometimes you’re like, boy, this is a pain in my ass. Why am I doing so?
Bronson: Why do you do it?
James: Because if you’re not growing, you’re dead. Yeah. If, you know, like, the plant grows until it dies. And then that is just the natural cycle of life. There you go.
Bronson: That’s right.
James: So a sun sun grows until it explodes. And then, you know.
Bronson: And then we have, you know, a cold death. That’s right. So one of the things you mentioned earlier that Google Labs incubated was Wonder Hill and you sold Wonder Hill and it produced Dragons of Atlantis and it had quite a bit of growth. I don’t know the exact numbers, but I mean, right now it has over a million likes on its Facebook page, so I can only imagine how many people are actually playing the game. Yeah. So I think it’s fair to say it went viral in its own way. I don’t know how it compares to tickle if it does, but it had a tremendous growth. Was its growth different than Tickle? Was it a totally different growth mechanism? A totally different things you had to learn? Or was it kind of the same thing? You looked at psychology, you found out what pages are wrinkled, and you put it in to play with their product. I mean, was it a totally new learning experience or was it the same thing as Tickle?
James: It was similar to Tickle in a sense, that Tickle we built a platform and then developed quizzes, and it wasn’t until quiz number 28 that we got viral. Okay, so 27 failures. Okay. And 43 venture firms that I talked to who all said no. And then as soon as that one went viral, four said yes. Yeah. One. I was the same thing. We built a game and then we built out a platform for building games. We built six more games that were all failures. And the Dragons of Atlantis was game number eight, and it worked. So it was similar in that respect. It was different in the sense that when we built Dragons of Atlantis, we knew we were trying to build a game that you could buy traffic to. Okay. So there was Farmville and and that sort of thing. And that was very viral with all the mechanics that Zynga was doing. And they were making about $0.04 per day per player. Okay. But that doesn’t really give you enough lifetime value to buy a traffic. Yeah. So you need to find a lifetime value that’s going to be giving you $0.20 a day per user for a long period of time. So we knew what we were trying to build a game like that. And, and so we did and we researched what types of environments people like to play these games and we tested out lots of different names and conceits as we call them. So in L.A. they call movies. What’s the conceit of your movie? So we use this. We use the same word when talking about our products and our and our businesses. Mm hmm. And, you know, what’s the conceit? And the conceit of it was you’re in this fantastical place of Atlantis. And is the conceit Amazon’s is it realms, is it wars, is it floods? Is it dragons? What is it? And we decided on Dragons of Atlantis is being sort of the most enticing thing that people were looking at. Yeah, we built the game around that. That idea. Yeah. And then we, you know, started buying traffic and slowly $50 a day, $100 a day, $300 a day. And then it started ramping. And that was $4,000 a day. And off it went. Mm hmm. Until it was sort of hundred thousand dollars a day. $200,000 a day. We were just buying all the traffic lights. But you buy all the people in and they all start talking about it. So you get actually a little lift. And the word of mouth, I got you on top of it. Yeah. So I was really there. It was. Whereas Tickle grew virally for a long period until we figured out how to monetize it. Mm hmm. As opposed to we knew how to monetize Craigslist. We just had to figure out how to get people in there to do it.
Bronson: Yeah, absolutely. That’s great. Do you know anything about video games before creating this one? I’m just curious now.
Bronson: That’s a sense. I guess that’s why I’m wondering. See, I thought you were a gamer. And you. You know, this was a passion. It sounds like you this ab tested yourself into, you know, a game that could grow. Is that is that accurate?
James: Little bit. A little bit, yeah. We knew nothing about it when we when we started. Underhill The first game was a fluke. The first game just worked out and gave us a revenue stream to say, Okay, we’ll go into the gaming business. And then the next six were all failures because we knew nothing about it. But in the end we actually sort of got rid of all the gaming people involved with the product and just did it ourselves and said, you know, what would we do if if we wanted to make this business successful as opposed to we just love making games because the game is they live to make games that reflect their in their soul and that’s for a good business.
Bronson: That’s so interesting because it’s hard to not do it that way. It’s hard to not create a company that represents your inner soul. It feels like we’re destined to do that and we’re supposed to do that. And here you are, almost like casually and coldly and calmly stepping back and saying, No, it’s not my inner most passion, but I know how to make money with it, and it seems diametrically opposed to the way so many companies are made. I think that’s maybe the takeaway from this whole thing so far.
James: Well, but but that is an interesting take away. But remember, I only got to that point after about two years, year and a half of failure, failure, failure, failure, failure. But I had raised money on the from investors who I trust and admire and I didn’t want to lose the money. We had 30 employees, and I didn’t want them to have a failure. Mm hmm. So at the beginning, we started a different type of a company that I had a lot of passion for. Uh huh. Was in my inner soul. But that game just was a fluke. All right. And so we kind of had to follow it because it was working. I gotcha. So. So when I start companies, I do start companies that are a reflection of my inner soul. It’s just that sometimes, most of the times, reflections of your inner soul don’t make good businesses. Huh? And then when you get far enough down in your bank account, you get you know.
Bronson: You go in, it’s working. Yeah.
James: You get a little cold and analytical and then you just. Yeah. Well, after the money, so that you can have a successful business and then do it again. Yeah. No. And as critical was supposed to be a self-improvement type of a thing, learn about yourself, find a better job, find a better mate, you know, talk to your mother or dad better. Like we wanted to change the world and improve the world. Uh huh. And, you know, it was largely sort of a moneymaking venture. Yeah, but that’s kind of what ends up happening. A lot. Is that what you wish people wanted? It’s not what they want.
Bronson: Yeah. And then you can always do things later in life that are purely not for profit. Or you can really just give and do without the expectation of return. You know, if early on you follow the the flukes that happen to be monetizable. So yeah, I get it. Well, let’s transition a little bit into Iron Pearl. And to be honest, this is what I’m most excited about because I don’t know anything about it. I see a landing page and I’m incredibly intrigued by it just because of who you are and your past. So I want to know more about Iron Pearl because it seems like from the little bit I can glean from it, that this is kind of like your magnum opus. This is like all roads lead to Rome, all roads for you kind of lead to Iron Pearl. And maybe that’s overstating it. Maybe that’s inaccurate. But you tell me, what is Iron Pearl?
James: So I may end up disappointing you because.
Bronson: That’s quite all right. Only the first.
James: Time. Yeah, there’s not. You know, basically, Iron Pearl is the accumulation of what we’ve learned about growth over the years. Mm hmm. And. Growth. People think it’s about getting new users, and it is. But more importantly. There’s a more refined way of looking at it, which starts with retained users and monetized users. Mm hmm. So what you want is to bend the monetized curve up and to the right. Okay. And the one that’s above that is the retained curve. They might be retained, but they’re not monetized. And the one above that is not retained, but just new. Mm hmm. So you’ve got these three curves, and you’ve got to develop the products and the tactics and the language. Mm hmm. The way that bends the bottom.
Bronson: Yeah. The revenue one.
James: The revenue. Yeah. And. There’s software tools you can use that we’ve developed over the last years. Mm hmm. There’s language techniques. There’s market approach techniques. Mm hmm. There’s there’s a there’s just a huge tool kit of things one should be doing to maximize your chance of winning in a space that is generally opaque to everyone. But having done this, you know, for 15 years and put in my 10000 hours of stay in business partner, having put in his 10000 hours. Mm hmm. You know, we know what the tool kit are. We know which tools to grab to help out with a particular company. So it was our way of of focusing in on helping people in a more systematic way do that sort of thing. And generally, we’re working with. Companies that are already pretty hot. Mm hmm. That have already gotten pretty far. And we’re trying to take them from something that’s working. To the number one in the space. And taking out everybody else.
Bronson: Yeah. So do you come in as a kind of a two man consulting team you mentioned, Stan. Do you guys come in and, you know, take share in a company or take an insane amount of money and just say, now we’re going to show you kind of open the kimono. Here’s what works. Here’s what does it. Is that really what I am early in the day?
James: Yes. Yeah.
Bronson: So you’re ninjas for hire.
James: So it’s suite of software that, you know, having built so many of these viral platforms, it’s a suite of software that combines different pieces that haven’t been combined before.
Bronson: So are you guys going to allow other people to access our software, or is it only just a few companies when they come to you that really get access to that, that software you’re talking about?
James: We have to a super product. We haven’t decided yet. Yeah, but is it right now it’s working well where we’re just focusing on a small number of companies because it is so much of a mindset. You can’t just give someone a tool and have them fly up. Absolutely. It’s. The way the software is built, it’s obvious what to do if you know what to do. I hear you. The problem is getting to even understand why you should be doing something is the problem. That takes time. And you can’t just convince a CEO of that. You’ve got to explain that to the VP of Engineering, the VP marketing, and then all the people that work for them. So it’s going to be a real thing. Yeah. So we don’t know that there’s a real business in just distributing the software like a KISSmetrics or something.
Bronson: Absolutely. Let me ask you this, if you would.
James: You know, we don’t take any money. It’s all it’s all equity. We say that in equity.
Bronson: Part because I mean, if it’s really going to work, then your equity is going to be extremely valuable if you believe in your product. So that’s great. Is part of the fear of releasing it as a product that by releasing it to something that anyone can access, that you actually kill what makes it work? That when everyone starts doing these things, most of them won’t understand enough. So that there are things that are deeper than just once everyone starts doing them, it breaks.
James: Yeah. No, no, that’s. That’s not a worry of itself. Yeah. There’s now so many platforms to buy on. So many platforms to get viral on. Those platforms are is changing at a rapid pace. It’s changing all the time so fast that there’s very few collisions. I mean, every month we just weep for all the opportunities that no one grabbed. Yeah. You know, like, no company grabbed that opportunity on the on the Android platform that’s now closed because they changed in their new release. I gotcha. It’s just the possibilities for growth are sitting everywhere. Mm hmm. It’s just a matter of grabbing them, being in the right place at the right time. So, yeah, we’re not. We’re not worried about competition in that way. It’s. It’s so big and moving so fast.
Bronson: Yeah, I love hearing that perspective because when you’re new to this, it feels like a zero sum game. There’s someone else who’s already got the traffic. There’s someone else who’s already did this. But when you see it as I’m on the bleeding edge, there’s always a new opportunity. And some people, some opportunities will be taken by nobody. There’s so many of them. It gives you a different mindset. It allows you to really think like, I can win this game. I can grow. There’s more opportunities, you know, than I have time to to worry about. So that’s great. You mentioned the home page of I Am Perl that it’s growth 2.0. I was intrigued that because I’d never heard it before. But what is growth 2.0 and what was growth 1.0 in your mind?
James: Growth 1.0 was just looking at new users. Mm hmm. Growth 2.0. I was looking at monetized users.
Bronson: I gotcha. Makes total sense. Let’s come back to the psychology part again real quick, and then I wanna have you give back to the community for a moment on the home page. I am Perlis Azure hiring. So if people are listening to this, you know, go check it out. Obviously, after this interview, you’ll probably be interested in working with James. You say that they need a deep interest in psychology. Does that go all the way down in the company or is it just for the CEO and the CMO and the CTO? Does everyone really need this psychological bent to the way they view the world to to make something grow the way it needs to?
James: I think so. I think so. I think the difference between, you know, why is it that so few companies are good at growth? Mm hmm. It’s. It’s because they don’t have the whole mentality. Mm hmm. Throughout the stack of the company that. You know what? What the language is is important. Mm hmm. And testing and retesting and letting yourself be surprised. And that’s okay. Mm hmm. And if you really understand psychology, I think you. Get a sense that there’s no right or wrong. And I think a lot of people, especially in the engineering trade, were like, this is right and works. This is wrong and it doesn’t work.
James: It’s binary. And I don’t I don’t think that’s true with the so having people on the team that enjoy exploring the the AB testing and the ABC ETF testing, and that’s just really important to the DNA of the company so that you can move through all the failures and the months of failure until you find the thing that finally works. Yeah, that’s great.
Bronson: It makes a lot of sense. So now give back a little bit. You you’ve had, like you said, 15 years of learning and growing and doing and failing and succeeding and all those things. What would you say right now is the best training ground for someone who wants to understand startup growth? They’ve never experienced it. They’ve never been up close and personal next to somebody growing something successfully. What do they do to get in this game? Is it something they read? Is it somewhere they go? Is it something they build? What would you recommend someone does just to learn the beginnings about startup growth?
James: I think there are some great bloggers out there like Andrew Chan and and others who are now blogging a lot about this. Yeah. And I think just by reading their stuff, you can get a good basis for the discussion. Yeah. And it’s that it’s a matter of joining a startup and just hacking away and, you know, trying and failing. Mm hmm. You know, there are some guys in Washington, D.C., who figured out how to get really viral, and they ended up building LivingSocial, you know, top five. They had the some sort of top five app that they try and it was like their 20th attempt off went, you know, and they were able to hack into the whole viral channels inside of Facebook by themselves. Yeah, in D.C., which is hard to do because a lot of the viral stuff and a lot of the growth stuff that happens around here in Silicon Valley, we all learn from each other through lunches and dinners and parties and being friends with each other. Yeah. So. But it can be done. So I think just getting out there, reading all the stuff, you know, spending 72 hours, spending a week and a half, just reading and reading, collating stuff, putting in a word document. So you feel like you’re kind of studying it and looking at which people are using what the history of it, you know, getting to recognize some of the names of the people who actually have done it well over the years. Yeah. Then and then just practicing.
Bronson: Yeah, that’s great advice. And I like the way you make it. Something you really study when you say Put it in a word document, it goes beyond casual blog reading when I’m laying down to go to bed now it’s this is something to learn, like dove in deep and don’t come out for air until you figure something out. So so I like that mentality because you need that mentality. Let me ask you one last question and then we’ll close out because it’s been an incredible interview and I don’t want to keep you any longer. What are the biggest growth dead ends that you see companies make? I know you invest in companies, you start companies or they just the growth dead ends that if you could just warn us all about right now and save us a year of our life, we’ll be better off for it. Or should we not be doing to grow?
James: You shouldn’t be spending money when the lifetime value doesn’t support it. Mm hmm. In order to impress VCs to invest in your company.
Bronson: Trying to get the ramp up right before the meeting. Because it’s not sustainable.
James: It’s not sustainable. And it teaches your whole team that this is the kind of thing you’re going to do. Mm hmm. And then they lose faith. And if you lose faith, then you’ve lost it. Because this is an iteration game. Yeah. That’s one thing that people do. What’s another thing they do? Being too aggressive with your users. I think, you know, ten years ago, you could get away with that. Mm hmm. But that was a long time ago. I think you have to be smooth with the users. Not aggressive. Yeah. You know, you have to change the language so that it doesn’t feel threatening.
Bronson: A language again. Yeah.
James: Right. But you can’t. You can’t just be overly aggressive in the UX so that you. The UI needs to be smooth. Mm hmm. But the UX needs to be gentle. Okay. Yeah. So you don’t go off and just start slamming people because it will end. It will end badly.
Bronson: Now, that’s great advice and we can end right there. James, this has been an incredible interview. You know, people are going to watch this and rewatch this. Thank you so much for your time.
James: Thank you, Russell.
Bronson: And if anybody wants to find more about James, the links will be persistent below this video. So click on them and find out what he’s doing and maybe apply for one of his job openings. Thanks again, James. Later.
James: Okay, bye.
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