Paul Jarvis

I don’t wanna grow up to be a growth hacker

Every single day I get growth hacker type emails from people telling me how much they love my work, my writing, my newsletter, my podcast, etc. While, in theory, this should be something awesome (or at least something that strokes my ego a bit), I actually hate it.

I hate these types of compliments because I can see through them. Not because my spidey-sense for bullshit has been carefully honed through years of training, but because it doesn’t take a spandex-clad superhero to see through crude growth-hacking tactics.

The formula (because that’s what it is) is easy to spot:

Hi Paul,

I’m a huge fan of your work, I’ve been following/subscribing for quite a while. Your posts about marketing always hit home. Is there anything I can promote for you?

Also, I’d love to talk about writing a high-quality piece for your newsletter or being a guest on your podcast. It’d be a win-win!

Your friend,
Growth-hacker

While it’s great that people think I’m important enough to bother with these messages, they’re just so disingenuous. If this is how growth or promotion works on the internet, I almost want to quit. It makes me want to start a new internet, a better internet, one with zero growth-hackers on it. It wouldn’t “10x itself” (whatever that means) every month, and that’d be the point.

Part of what I dislike about these shallow tactics is that it’s exactly what knowledge without wisdom looks like.

The internet is full of information—we can basically find the answer to anything, literally, online, within seconds (and now, from our watches! While surfing!). Where the problem starts is that just because we’re given an answer doesn’t mean we have enough wisdom to effectively put it into practice or use it adequately. So people google, “how do I grow my business/get more publicity/increase my reach”, they find some shitty article about growth-hacking (because as much as I’m slamming them here, growth-hackers are really freakin’ good at SEO), get a template for putting their own growth-hacking into place, and then the spamming begins.

Knowledge without wisdom is dangerous

Miles Kington, a British journalist, reported that “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.” In our case, knowledge is learning tactics to grow a business, and wisdom is not spamming the shit out of everyone, all the time.

What also rubs me the wrong way (luckily spandex doesn’t rub at all) is that I value the relationships I make online. I like being able to work with people I actually like as friends, and most of my friendships have started through email or social media. So when people pretend to want a friendship, and then take it from 0-100 instantly, it feels… gross. When I ask someone for something via email, it’s only because I’ve known them for ages, we’ve actually connected several times, and only after careful consideration as to whether it’s both relevant to them and it’s something I should be asking for (and even then, not without worrying heavily that I’m asking for too much).

So I never want to be a growth hacker

We should just call growth-hacking what it really is: being a self-centred, self-serving and fake-ass person on the internet.

I don’t want to hack anything in my business or with my mailing list. I want to build and create sustainable and long term assets. I want them to grow not because I spammed the most people, but because people actually enjoy something I’ve made so much that they tell others. Growth-hacking puts short-term gains above long-term plans, because no business, no matter how many “smart” growth-hackers it hires, can sustain their tactics for long without generating ill-will. It’s why we also need to consider an alternative to capitalism.

Luckily, I’ve spent the last year researching this subject matter for my next book, and the data backs me up. Growth-hacking is for businesses that don’t care if they’re around next month. Making real and genuine connections is how businesses can thrive next month, next year, next decade.

I’m not saying that all marketing is wrong either. Hell, I consider myself a marketer and actually love doing it (and I teach a course on it). I do think there’s a difference though in the mindset of attempts at exponential growth at all costs, versus working to genuinely help and connect others to what you’re selling. One’s like a pop and fizzle, while the other is more of a slow, sustained burn.

If growth-hacking is about finding morally-ambivalent-at-best methods for furthering yourself or your business, then I’d rather not grow my business at all. I like being a tiny company, with zero employees and just enough customers to support what I do. Zero growth-hacking required.