How to Grow

I’ve been interviewing for a couple of positions as a ~growth manager here in Berlin and abroad so I thought I’d do some brushing up.

I started here – with a lecture by Chamath Palhapitaya who was the growth lead at Facebook fairly early on. He’s got a very distinct, assertive style but his insights are spot on.

Key takeaways:

  • Focus on core product value, don’t just optimize for virality score (k). Does your product have value for your target demographic?
  • If your product is useless and you come up with some way to game people into sharing it, your new user numbers will spike but you’ll also lose users just as quickly (in addition to losing face)
  • Use the test/measure/try loop to continuously seek out what works
  • Virality is just getting people in the door, you need to focus on activating those people, engaging them and then getting them to share as an intrinsic part of the experience
  • Don’t let egos get in the way. Disconnect hypotheses about what is occurring/what will work from the people behind them

Something I would add – user acquisition is more expensive than ever unless you bake it into your (awesome) product experience. Millions of college kids saying “Facebook me” is the cheapest acquisition channel ever.

Acquisition channels from cheapest to most expensive:

  • WOM (Word of Mouth)
  • Virality (baked into product), often referred to as k
  • PR (cheap initially, diminishing returns, – SIDE RANT: startups are stupid and want to be in TechCrunch although none of their users will find them there. TechCrunch is for when you’re looking to build hype to raise money or BDev but that’s about it. Focus PR on where your ideal user gets his info)
  • Paid (TV, billboards, Facebook, AdWords blablabla and the list goes on)

Paying for installs is ridiculously expensive these days because the app economy is going crazy and anybody with a marketing budget and zero knowledge can set up an AdWords campaign. But the first three scale really well – if you build sustainable growth into a great product or build good relationships with journos (like this guy) then you can get great returns on your marketing budget.

Be careful with paid marketing – you better know how much a user is worth before you blow your marketing budget on Facebook ads. That’s why Rocket/funded German startups spend so much money on advertising – they’ve run the numbers every which way and they know they’ll make the money back (and more).

Here is the spreadsheet Delivery Hero uses to calculate their max Customer Acquisition Cost  (Spoiler, DH can spend up to 41 EUR on acquiring a customer and STILL MAKE MONEY! That should help make sense of why Rocket Internet bought 30% of Delivery Hero for half a BILLION dollars).



Episode 1 of Cheer Up Berlin!

Sven, Johann, Imke and I have been working on “Cheer Up Berlin!” for a few months now. It’s a talk show centered around the experience of living in Berlin and the little ways people find joy here.

Sven hosted, Johann shot and edited, and Imke provided the jokes/structure. It’s in German, but pretty hilarious even for English speakers! We learned a lot from shooting the first version and we’ll apply the lessons to the next shoot on April 19.

Cheer up Berlin! – Episode 1 – Teil 1 from Glenn Vase on Vimeo.

Cheer up Berlin Episode Teil 2 from Glenn Vase on Vimeo.

Getting better requires iteration/rework

It’s never good enough. But already so much better.

  • Reduced length by half (now just under a minute)
  • Better voiceover (with an actual script!), recorded with Røde microphone
  • Fewer markers, but more call-to-action-y :)

But let’s see if it generates any orders.

Starting a side business called Elenote

I shot this promotional video starring my buddy Johann who uses his Elenote every day – taking notes, observing things, reflecting.

I did the voiceover and edited it myself, MVP-style! Let’s see if it moves some product! Would love your feedback.

It’s also a great opportunity to show off Videopath – a company I’m working with. They put a simple but powerful interaction layer on top of plain-jane videos, boosting user engagement and conversion.


Don’t care what the pundits say – Özil’s slide-rule pass for Alexis’ goal was sublime. Watch at the 1’57” minute mark:

Behavioral Approaches to Education

Education is transformative – it elevates our understanding of the world, allowing us to interact with it on a higher plane. It is also practically useful in creating opportunities for a better life.

In the past few decades, we’ve seen an explosion in the nature of knowledge – it is abundant and newly accessible to anyone with an internet connection. A child in Africa can stream quality lessons on almost any subject from respected institutions like MIT and Stanford. However, an incredibly small percentage of the population accesses these resources, and an incredibly small percentage of those people stay with those courses through the end.

When educational resources are abundant, why are so few people taking advantage of them?

The answer is simple: because we are humans. Our motivation, time and willpower are finite. As the Germans say, our inner “Schweinhund” prevents us from making useful investments in our education which can have a potentially large payoff over time.

In many respects, the contemporary challenge in education is entirely different from that of previous generations. It is no longer a question of scarcity, but of taking advantage of abundance through delivery and interaction. How do we defeat the Schweinhund?

Ideally, we’d be able to plug into a machine and download skills or knowledge. But until then, there has to be a better way.

At UnlockYourBrain, we believe in designing and delivering education for people with their humanity in mind. Rather than disrupt their daily routines and force them to tax their limited willpower in order to learn, UnlockYourBrain integrates learning into everyday life. We’ve found that micro-learning – learning in small chunks over a period of time – can actually be superior to traditional forms of learning. Over time, we hope to integrate learning into life so seamlessly that it becomes imperceptible and effortless – defeating the inner Schweinhund.

Our current product is an app that puts a two-second question on the lock screen of your smartphone. Every time you access your phone, you answer a math problem or vocabulary question in order to learn another language. You can skip if you’re in a hurry, but we found that most people don’t. In a couple weeks time, we will launch a marketplace with content from many subject areas, as well as a tool with which users can create their own custom content.

This is only the first attempt at delivering education that is behaviorally in-sync with our quirks and limitations as a species. It isn’t perfect. But it is a major step. Moving forward, we’d like to extend UnlockYourBrain to multiple platforms across mobile and web, as well as implement new pedagogical methods to teach as well as train. It won’t be easy, but we are convinced this is a fundamental challenge in education and we are determined to surmount it.

Great birthday!

For me, my birthday and New Year’s Eve are two of the highest-pressure days of the year. Everyone wants to ring in the New Year doing something memorable or special, the pressure of having all eyes on you during a birthday celebration can be a bit intense.

But this year, I managed to get the birthday right! I threw a little birthday picnic at the Weinbergsweg Park in Berlin Mitte. I got there early with a blanket, some prosecco and snacks, and friends dropped by at various points through the day. The weather couldn’t have been better, and my only regret was that many friends were traveling for Easter, a weekend bookended by public holidays here in Germany.

All in all, a wonderful birthday. Looking forward to the year ahead!