January 15, 2014

How Scott Adams Growth Hacked His Dilbert Cartoon


If you've never heard of Dilbert before, you are most likely not an engineer, and you are probably not a big fan of comics. Dilbert is in fact a hugely successful cartoon by Scott Adams - you can today find Dilbert in 2000 newspapers in 65 countries. You may first think that Scott Adams is only a cartoonist, but he's also an author and an entrepreneur. He has also failed a lot, and he has collected his failures in the book How to fail at almost everything and still win big - Kind of the story of my life. In the book he described how he grew Dilbert from a side project to his main job.

Dilbert wasn't Scott Adams first cartoon. He recalled that his first comics were dreadful, and when he tried to submit them to Playboy and the New Yorker, they were rejected. Scott Adams has always had several side projects because they gave him energy to endure his boring job. One of these projects became the sketches for Dilbert.
"I would wake at 4:00 AM to draw before my commute, then work all day in my cubicle prison and come home to draw all night."

According to the book Growth Hacker Marketing by Ryan Holiday, Step 1 in any growth hacking process is to have a product where the product and its customers are in perfect sync with each other - a Product Market Fit (PMF). Starting with a product nobody wants or needs is the single worst marketing decision you can make. Step 2 is finding your growth hack, Step 3 is going viral, and Step 4 is optimizing the product.

Product Market Fit
Scott Adams submitted his Dilbert cartoons to several comic-syndication companies in 1988. One company accepted and sold Dilbert to a few newspapers in 1989. Dilbert quickly gained a small but enthusiastic following. 98 percent of the readers might have disliked the comic, but 2 percent thought it was one of the best comics in the newspaper. Scott Adams had a product where the product and its customers were in (almost) perfect sync with each other. 

Find your growth hack and go viral
One year after the launch, the sales to newspapers stalled, so Scott Adams needed a new way to generate more interest in Dilbert. He had to wait until 1993 when he decided to print his e-mail address in the margins of the comic. What he wanted to do was to open a direct channel to his customers and modify the product based on their feedback. Friends and co-workers had earlier given him criticism, but friends and co-workers tend to be nicer than anonymous Internet users. He got several e-mails filled with hate, but he also got real criticism he could use. What he realized was that everyone preferred the comics that took place in the office.
"So I changed the focus of the strip to the workplace, and that turned out to be the spark in the gasoline."     

Optimize the product 
Whatever your current state is, it can always be better, so Scott Adams needed to constantly try new iterations to optimize Dilbert.  
  • A television series. Scott Adams tried to make a Dilbert television show that involved human actors, but it failed miserably. But he learned a lot from the process, so the next attempt to make a Dilbert television show went far better. The now animated show ran for 2.5 seasons.
  • A movie. He has tried and failed to make a Dilbert movie for fifteen years.
  • Internet. When Dilbert stalled in newspapers sales, Scott Adams decided to generate more exposure by making it possible for people to read Dilbert online. Dilbert was the first syndicated comic to run for free on the Internet. He was concerned regarding piracy, but he realized that piracy helped more than it hurt.
  • Blogging. The main reason why Scott Adams is blogging is because it energizes him. But blogging also increases traffic to Dilbert.com by 10 percent. 
  • Simplicity. Dilbert was designed from the beginning to be simple to create, and Scott Adams continues to streamline the process.  
  • Books. The Dilbert Principle and Dogbert's Big Book of Business brought Scott Adams a lot of attention and put a turbo boost on sales of Dilbert to newspapers. 

Book review: How to fail at almost everything and still win big

You can today find Dilbert in 2000 newspapers in 65 countries.

The comic strip Dilbert needs no introduction, but the author of the comic, Scott Adams, needs. To help us, he has written the book How to fail at almost everything and still win big - Kind of the story of my life. It was released in late 2013. The book is not a classic biography on Scott Adams's entire life - it's a book on how to improve your life based on the author's life experiences. But you will get a few glimpses into his life. You may first think that Scott Adams is only a cartoonist, but he's also an author and an entrepreneur, and has a broad background from several other endeavors.

As the title suggests, Scott Adams has failed a lot. In the book he explains each failure in detail. The failures range from job interviews to computer games, from internet startups to stock picking, from health issues to failed corporate careers. But each failure taught him a new lesson, and with a little bit of help from Fortuna, he finally succeed with Dilbert.
"Not matter how well the business actually does, I will come out of it with a detailed understanding of the startup process, a new network of highly capable contacts, a wealth of new knowledge in half a dozen areas, and about 75 new jokes for Dilbert." 

To become successful, you need to constantly acquire new skills, which is what Scott Adams did when trying multiple ideas. He believes that every skill you acquire doubles your odds of success. And you don't need to be an expert since if you are good at two skills, then you are better than if you are an expert in only one of those skills.
"I have poor art skills, mediocre business skills, good but not great writing talent, and an early knowledge of the Internet. And I have a good but not great sense of humor. I'm like one big mediocre soup. None of my skills are world-class, but when my mediocre skills are combined, they become a powerful market force."

Failing is never fun. To endure each failure, Scott Adams believes that you need to exercise and eat right to feel good, avoid reading depressing newspapers, you need to be an optimist because an optimist tend to notice opportunities that pessimists miss, and you need a few side projects that you really enjoy. He usually steps out of bed at 4 AM to do his creative side projects. His goals with these side projects is to have a real chance of changing the world, help humanity, and/or make a billion dollars. What gave him energy before Dilbert was the prospect of starting his own thing and leaving his boring job.

But one the the keys to Scott Adams's energy is actually coffee. He says that you should drink two to four cups a day to make you more alert, happier, and more productive. If he didn't want to exercise, he drank one cup of coffee and his motivation to exercise increased. The same with writing a book. A few sips of coffee, and his motivation increased.
"Coffee literally makes me enjoy work. No willpower needed." 

If you want to learn what he did to succeed with Dilbert, you should read this article: How Scott Adams Growth Hacked His Dilbert Cartoon.

(Adlibris, Adlibris

January 13, 2014

Thinking about growth by Jared Fliesler

According to his LinkedIn account, Jared Fliesler help founders design and implement creative solutions to scale products, teams, and revenue. He used to work with growth at Square where he optimized products and built programs to grow the merchant and consumer bases and massively scale the product offerings.

Lessons learned
  • It used to be easy to get a lot of traffic from sites like Facebook, but it doesn't work anymore. There are very few channels that give you that type of exposure, so you need a more sustainable way of growing your company. 
  • Finding one little "trick" (Such as a link on the bottom of each e-mail) to get a lot of traffic doesn't work in 9 cases out of 10.
  • There's no program you can follow that guarantees growth. All products can't grow. "If it doesn't work, it's not going to work." 
  • Most companies focus on finding new users, but it's better to focus on the users you have.
  • There are 4 things that gives you value from users - try to optimize these: 
    • Money - they give you money
    • Views - they see you (like ads)
    • Content - they give you content (they upload their videos on YouTube)
    • Other users - they give you other users who in turn gives you the other three things above
  • Don't reinvent the wheel - use tools that already exists and don't build everything yourself.
  • You don't always need a team specialized in growth because all products can't grow.
  • Member of the growth team should be multidisciplinary - they need experience from product, design,  marketing, etc.  

January 10, 2014

Rand Fishkin on how to earn customers without paying

Rand Fishkin is the CEO of Moz that sells inbound marketing and marketing analytics software subscriptions. He is also behind the social news website Inbound where you can find the latest news about SEO, social media, content marketing, conversion rate optimization, etc.

Lessons learned
  • Startups are rarely an engineering problem - startups are mostly a marketing problem. Building something that other people want is challenging but you can always solve the challenge. The problem is letting those people who need your solution know that you got what they need.
  • Since 2010, Moz has never paid a dollar to find new customers. They used the "inbound" marketing channels to find new customers: SEO, blogging, RSS feeds, Referring links - which is all the traffic that you don't pay for. 
  • People on Facebook don't click on ads - they click on what their friends like, and you need to be what their friends like. The same with Google search, 82 percent click on the search results and 18 percent click on the paid results.
  • To earn customers without paying, you need content: a blog, a community, a product that people want to share, or data.  
  • Google has NOT been replaced by social networks - 92 percent are still searching on traditional search engines. 
  • Optimizing conversion means measuring & testing.
  • At the end of the talk, Rand Fishkin showed a few examples of inbound marketing, including a company that had grown with the help of a blog and a company that had failed to connect a viral video with their company so they didn't get the results they wanted.  

January 8, 2014

Book review: Growth Hacker Marketing by Ryan Holiday


The book Growth Hacker Marketing is a short book (92 pages on my iPad) and is written by Ryan Holiday. He has earlier written a thoughtful book called Trust Me I'm Lying where he explains how easy it is to manipulate (hack) both traditional newspapers and blogs. The book Growth Hacker Marketing is actually a little bit related to his old books since it explains everything about growth hacking and one of the methods used by a growth hacker can be to manipulate the media. 

A growth hacker is a new type of job related to marketing. The general idea is that a growth hacker should analyze data related to the company and come up with new ways to get new customers and keep old customers. One of the first growth hacks was when Hotmail, which was one of the earlier e-mail providers, came up with the idea to include at the bottom of each e-mail the following link: 
PS: I love you. Get your free e-mail at Hotmail.
The result of this small line of text was that the company grew exponentially since people who got an e-mail from someone who used Hotmail clicked on this text to get their own e-mail address. Just one e-mail in India spread to 300,000 new e-mail users within 3 weeks.

Another good example is from my biography on Elon Musk: "The Engineer". Elon Musk had founded a new company called X.com which would later become known as PayPal, and now he needed to find a way to attract new users. X.com offered $20 to anyone who opened an account, and members who referred new customers were awarded $10 for each referral. The result was similar to Hotmail's, as explained by Elon Musk:
"X.com is really a perfect case example of viral marketing where one customer act as a salesperson for you for bringing in other customers. So you had this exponential growth. It was like bacteria in a petri dish. We didn't have a sales force. We didn't spend any money on advertising."

Ryan Holiday's book is filled with similar examples and I recommend it if you need a good introduction to growth hacking. But remember that everything can't grow - growth hacking is not a holy grail. So the first step is always to find a product that can grow.   

If you need more free information on growth hacking, you should visit this page: Best Marketing and Selling Articles, Talks, Books, and Media

January 6, 2014

The Engineer update


I've published a new version of my Elon Musk biography The Engineer - Follow Elon Musk on a journey from South Africa to Mars. Here are the updates:
  • A slightly changed cover image
  • Reorganized some chapters and improved the editing
  • Model S has now its own chapter
  • Changed how the references are displayed
  • Changed the main preview chapter from Elon Musk's ancestors to Tesla Motors's first small steps
  • Added new information (about 4000 words from 40 new sources), such as: 
    • Elon Musk on kitesurfing
    • What happened when a Tesla employee leaked information to a blog
    • More about James Cameron's views on space
    • A short history about the solar power industry
    • Why Elon Musk's kids didn't like the Model S

January 1, 2014

Books I read in 2013

This year I've read the following books:
  1. Freakonomics
  2. SuperFreakonomics
  3. The Best of edw519 (available for free)
  4. Think Python (available for free)
  5. Olja
  6. London to Ladysmith via Pretoria (available for free)
  7. Masters of Doom
  8. On Writing Well
  9. On Writing
  10. The Elements of Style
  11. Casino Royale
  12. Big Data
  13. The Flinch (available for free)
  14. Quiet
  15. Web Analytics Demystified (available for free)
  16. Nio drakar
  17. Steve Jobs
  18. Winston Churchill Del 1. 1874-1939
  19. Unbroken
  20. Midsommargryning
  21. The Engineer - Follow Elon Musk on a journey from South Africa to Mars
  22. Yes, Chef
  23. Predictably Irrational
  24. The Everything Store
  25. The PayPal Wars
  26. The Hobbit

Other years: