3 things a growth hacker needs to achieve exponential growth

A few days ago the founder of an early stage startup asked me if they should hire a “How do they call it, I’ve heard this term of growth hacker…”.

I told him that I think it’s too early for a growth hacker and that first they need to reach a product/market fit… but that question got me thinking. When does it make sense to hire a growth hacker? What other things should be considered?

Here are the 3 things, which I think, a growth hacker needs to achieve exponential growth.

Is there a product /market fit ?

Does the company make a product that people want? It doesn’t make sense to bring in a growth hacker before finding the product/market fit. A growth hacker can only scale things that work. Growth hacking acts as a magnifying glass, it can only increase the value if there is value to be increased.

Is there room for exponential growth?

The promise behind growth hacking is exponential/aggressive growth. That can be only achieved if there is room for exponential growth. In a mature market, with a well established product, that answers a well established need and has little to differentiate against the competition growth hacking won’t help. Growth is still possible. Sure. Exponential growth is not.

Is there Support?

Sure, a growth hacker is a “jack of all trades”, meaning that he needs to have marketing & communication experience, product owner skills, data driven approach, understand the product capabilities really well and the advocate customers needs.

However, he won’t be able to execute the plan all by himself. He will be able to identify the best actions and implement some of them by himself, but if he is to succeed, everyone in the company needs to understand that growth is the main focus at this stage and they should support the person leading the efforts.

Do you think I missed anything? Please let me know in the comments below. Really, if you think of something else please let me know.



Startup Consulting: What I’ve learned

Back in November 2015, I did a small experiment, I launched an open invitation to everybody in my network: get free advice for your startup from me.

The deal was: I would offer advice to people with projects in the pre-launch or early post-launch phase that would need help with their overall strategy, marketing, user acquisition, or product development… as long as I can use their cases as study cases for my blog.

Well, the time has come to share the things I’ve learned/found by doing this experiment. Here’s the summary:

  • 13 people contacted me
  • 7 people actually followed up/ qualified
  • 5 people got actionable advice from me
  • 1 launched me on a 2,5 month research into what it takes to achieve your goals

Curious about my little experiment, read on:

  1. People fall in love with their ideas and build products and services that nobody wants.

Even though I wrote about this in the past, it was different talk with someone going through this. Let me tell you about it.

I met Carmen, in December, for a cup of tea in Café de Jaren, here in Amsterdam. She told me that for the last year she built a consultancy and certification service, which would help companies become environmentally friendly.

She would certify restaurant and hotels, after they would take the courses she offered, apply the lessons and pass her inspection. She spent over 7 months building the program, the website, the courses and for the last 3 months she had been trying to sell it to the companies… but there was only one problem nobody wanted to buy what she was selling interested.

Not one restaurant or hotel saw the advantage of 1) helping creating this standard, or 2) being judged by someone. And of course nobody wanted to pay for such thing.

To her this came as a surprise. She loved the idea and thought it’s an amazing service. She put a year of her time, energy, and focus in this only to find out that the need she imagined for companies was not a real one.

As I mentioned, this happens quite often. But why? From what I can see, it’s because people fall in love with their ideas and don’t test them until it’s too late. So how do you find out if your startup idea is good?

  1. People love acquiring customers, but hate researching what they want

The other person I talked to was Adrian, of ASADRA. He is building a marketplace where independent designers around the world show their unique collections to people interested unique fashion.

I loved his enthusiasm and vision so I ended up investing the most time. I wrote about 7 pages of actionable advice and instructions on how to get more information about what their customers want.

We ended up not continuing our collaboration because I thought he should invest more time in understanding his customers, before moving forward while he wanted to start building personas… without talking to his potential first.

But that’s the beauty of doing work pro bono: you can stop as if you don’t agree with your client.

  1. People don’t work on their ideas

This, I found the most interesting. In fact I was so puzzled about it that that I spent a lot of time after figuring out how does one achieve his goals.

Let me tell you about it. Another person that asked for my advice was Sinziana. She wanted to marketplace where Romanian artisans, aka indie product designers, would promote and sell their creations to the people interested in unique local products.

At first my biggest question was how she would differentiate herself from existent websites, like etsy. But after a few minutes into our Skype call I found out that she was pondering taking action for about 3 years. She was talking with lots of enthusiasm and she could tell me how the website looks like, what products she envisioned, how she would advertise it, etc… but hadn’t done anything to start the project. So my question became why didn’t you do anything about it?

I found it puzzling. How come someone so enthusiastic about her ideas wouldn’t or couldn’t take action. I didn’t know what to say other than just take the first step.

But this made me realize I need to learn more about this topic. Especially since after the call I met more and more people at my Startup Maze meetups, who had the same problem. How else would I be able to help them out?


All in all, it was a fun experiment with a great deal of learning for me. I realize I am capable of giving valuable advice, but I do need to hone a few things. Interested in getting my feedback on your project, get in touch through the contact form.

Free advice for your startup, from me

Hi there,

I’m looking for people with projects in the pre-launch or early post-launch phase that would need help with their overall strategy, marketing, user acquisition, or product development. And I’m willing to help you for free as part of the Startup Maze Coaching Program. 

Why? Because it’s fun, I’ll learn new things, and I would like document the work and publish it on startupmaze.com, as a lesson for other people in your exact same shoes. This means I would use your questions and my work as a study case for others. So make sure you’re ok with that.

How would this work?

 You apply for the program via the survey below and let me know a few things about your startup/project.Then:

  • I will select the projects I think I can add value to. Don’t want to waste your time or my time.
  • We will then have a meeting/skype call so I can understand better where you are (I might record that btw)
  • I will go research and come up with the best solution I can think of
  • I will send that to you & and we will have a meeting to walk you through the thought process
  • I will publish a study case on my blog about the project
  • Depending on the complexity of the problem the whole thing could last a few days or a few weeks. Also depending on my work schedule, as I will do this in my spare time.

Who am I?

  • Initiator of this awesome meetup group
  • Founder and editor of startupmaze.com (blog and podcast)
  • Working in startups and startup like environment since 2008
  • I have an MBA in marketing form Rotterdam School of Management
  • Passionate about innovation and early stage projects
  • Full info on my linkedin profile



Keep in mind that I will be able to work on only 2-3 projects at the same time. So it will pay off to be among the first to apply. 


TheThingsNetwork Amsterdam Meetup – Celebrating a successful Kickstarter

Check out the full picture gallery on Facebook

Last Firday, I had the pleasure to attend the ending ceremony of TheThingsNetwork Kickstarter project. With ˜300K raised, they got twice the amount they were aiming for. Not bad for such an ambitious project, which doesn’t come from SF but from the heart of Europe.

IMG_3996 copyAfter we all counted down the last 10 seconds before the end of the campaign, Wienke took the stage to thank everyone involved. And a shortly after that Johan gave us a demo on how to setup a gateway

and a brief introduction on how to set up a node on the TTN.

I also had a chance to talk to Marcus and found out a few important things that contributed to their Kickstarter success. Here is what I remember:


TheThingsNetwork Amsterdam Kickstarter tips

    • Before the campaign, Wienke and Johan were talking at events and getting people pumped about it; thus in the day of the campaign they had a big email base they could contact. Crucial!!
    • 30% of the funding came in the first 2 days
    • The majority of the backers came from NL, but they had a very international crowd in the long tail
    • Pledges stayed pretty constant/flat during the campaign, except the last day when they saw a big bump.
    • Trick: they told their backers the campaign starts at 2pm and the press 3pm, so when the journalists dropped by, they already had a massive amount of support.
    • They transformed interesting acker in study cases:

IMG_4003 copy

Grants (aka non-repayable funds) for your startup – the what, how, who, and where

Last week I had the pleasure to organize a Startup Maze Amsterdam meetup about: Grants (aka non-repayable funds) for your startup – the what, how, who, where.

Our speaker was Rik van der Wel, the owner of De Subsidie Informatie Groep, a cooperation of independent entrepreneurs specialized in government grants for Dutch SMBs. Rik started his organization in 2010, when he saw a lack of support for businesses that wanted to file for grants. His mission is to spread the word on what grants are available and making it easy for entrepreneurs to get the most out of them.

Below is a video I recorded during the presentation and underneath it you can find his Prezi slides. (sorry for the video quality.. it should be 1080p… but my gopro does not do low light…)


And here’s his presentation:

Dutch grants: how do they work?

Basically Dutch government will give you money as long as you ALSO make an investment in your business. Most of the times the grants allowed are in the shape of tax reductions, percentage wise from your total investment. So if you invest €10.000 you could get X% back from the state, or you don’t need to pay it in the first place. As far as I understood all the available funds come from the EU.

Dutch subsidies: who can get them?

These funds are available for both SMBs as well as for large corporations. There are interesting ways of getting money back at any level.

Dutch grants: why do they exist?

The Dutch government is willing to give grants in the form of tax reliefs and allowances to business because it helps boost the economy. The funding is available for both small and medium sized businesses but also large corporations. The Dutch government is willing to give non-refundable funds to companies because this effort helps boost the economy overall.

Companies can use the financial aid to launch their businesses, grow their businesses, hire more employees, make their business more sustainable.

Dutch grants: what are the most interesting grants for startups?

The most interesting thing for starting entrepreneurs is that you can declare your time as an investment and you can value your hours at a max of €60 per hour. So if you invest a full week of your time in your startup (remember you also need to invest in your startup) you can say you invested €2400. In a month €9600.

What is the official website for Dutch subsidies?

http://www.rvo.nl/ – good luck with it.

For more info you can always get in contact with Rick via Info@dsig.nl or through his LinkedIn profile.


The often-overlooked, but essential habit of successful entrepreneurs

“I was leading, but they were not watching me. They were looking down the road. Instead of their faces, I was seeing the backs of their heads. So something at Tabac was more interesting than the leader – and then I remembered the photograph and braked as hard as I could.”

As Juan Manuel Fangio was approaching that corner he was leading the race, so in theory all cars should have been behind him. It made no sense to hit the breaks before that corner. However, the day before the 1950 race, he saw a picture of a similar accident, which happened a few years before on the same track. That made him realize something is wrong. In an instant he acknowledged the situation, recalled the picture, connected the two and hit the breaks as hard as he could, avoiding a crash that could have been fatal.

I find this to be an inspiring story for all aspiring entrepreneurs out there. You see, we all love to talk about the success of people like Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and so on. But few look at the mistakes people have done on their journey to success… and more importantly learn from those mistakes.

Just like that picture that prevented Fangio to crash at full speed, entrepreneurs should find their own pics of people that “crashed” before them. I believe that in order to become a great entrepreneur you need to understand journeys in their totality, with both mistakes and smart moves.

Good luck in the startup maze,


Growth hacking, supercars and the anatomy of fast

What makes a fast car? A powerful engine, light body, aerodynamic design, turbocharger… That’s all good to gain speed, but to maintain it you’ll need something else: good brakes.

Seems rather counterintuitive right? But you see, in a supercar good brakes don’t slow you down, they put you in control. Good brakes let you turn corners faster and avoid crashing the car in front. Mere speed without control is an accident in the making.

For me growth hacking is similar to driving a super car at high speeds. We all see the sexy part of it: acquiring users, gaming the system and creating clever shortcuts. But we often forget of something essential: we need a product with an amazing user experience.

If you don’t have a product that people love, you have no control over your growth. You can add users at insane rates, but those same users… will churn faster than you can say growth hacking, and that will lead to an inevitable crush.

So yeah, we all like to talk about sexy terms, magic solutions and shortcuts. But remember that’s only part what of what you need.

Many things in life seem counterintuitive, but that doesn’t make them less valid.

How to solve difficult tasks

Many of the things we consider to be difficult aren’t. The key to solving them is to break them smaller pieces and then keep working on those tiny pieces. Tiny steps can take you very far. 

Let’s take my case. I would like to write over 100 quality blog posts per year. Seems a lot, but if I break it down it means that I only need to write 2 blog posts per week, for a year. The key is to break the task in bite size pieces and create a steady rhythm.  54 weeks per year X 2 blog posts per week = 108bp/year

Or let’s say you would like to make $1000 per month as passive income. If you break that down, it means you need roughly $250 a week. That means you need to get ~$36 per day. If you create a valuable online product, priced at $17.99 you need only to convince 2 people per day to buy your product. 2ppl X $18 X 30days=$1080

And the great thing is that you can apply this to anything to make it more approachable. Now think about your startup. Big task ahead of you? Maybe you haven’t started yet, because it’s so big… Well, I challenge you.

Define the tasks, the effort and the frequency. Then keep going at it. Keep a steady rhythm and you will be amazed of how tiny steps will take you far.  

Fail fast, fail often, fail early – clay pots, startups and perfection

Fail fast, fail often, fail early – words we inevitable hear when talking about startups and entrepreneurship. But what does it really mean? What kind of failure are we talking about?

A few months ago I stumbled across a very interesting story about failing, which might explain the obsession with failing culture and it’s hidden benefits. This story is from a book called: “Art and Fear” and it goes like this:

“The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.

His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorising about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”

In other words, when people say fail fast, fail often, fail early what they actually mean is practice, practice, practice because getting good at your startup is not different from any other capability. Making mistakes at the beginning is normal, but the more you practice the better you become. And the earlier you make those mistakes, the faster you learn.

And let me leave you with this awesome quote from Thomas Edison:

Thomas Edison Photo Quote 2

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.