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The Zen of John McPhee: Rising From The Plains

“Hollywood cannot resist the Tetons. If you have seen Western movies, you have seen the Tetons. They have appeared in the background of countless pictures, and must surely be the most tectonically active mountains on film, drifting about, as they will, from Canada to Mexico, and from Kansas nearly to the coast.” - John McPhee, Rising From The Plains

Rising from the Plains not only changed the way I look at the Wyoming landscape, but left with me a certainty that geological awareness is good for you.

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Growth Hacking A Best Seller

The end goal of every growth hacker is to build a self-perpetuating marketing machine that reaches millions by itself. – Aaron Ginn, Head of Growth, Stumbleupon

There’s been a lot of talk about “growth hacking” lately.

The term is en vogue but no matter what you call it – growth hacking, lean marketing, marketing 2.0, marketing 3.0 – it’s shorthand for the methods used by a new generation of multi-billion companies such as Facebook, Dropbox, and Airbnb to build their brands without spending a dime on “traditional marketing.”

Growth Hacking at its core means putting aside the notion that marketing is a self-contained act that begins toward the end of a company’s or a product’s development life cycle. It is, instead, a way of thinking and looking at your business. A “growth hacker” is someone who has thrown out the playbook of traditional marketing and replaced it with only what is testable, trackable, and scalable.


I recommend that people don’t get caught up on the term “growth hacker” or even a specific definition for it. Focus instead on the concepts behind it. – Sean Ellis, CEO, Qualaroo


Let’s keep it simple:

Growth hacking is marketing in today’s media landscape. It’s about maximizing ROI – about expending resources and energy where they will be most effective. At it’s core, marketing is lead generation. Anything that gets customers is marketing. It’s a shift from focusing on customer acquisition and creative profitability over ‘awareness’ and ‘publicity.’ Now more than ever, doing more with less is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.

Enter Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing, and Advertising by Ryan Holiday.

Ryan Holiday is a media strategist and prominent writer on strategy and business. He dropped out of college at nineteen to apprentice under Robert Greene, author of The 48 Laws of Power. He then went on to advise many bestselling authors and multiplatinum musicians. He served as director of marketing at American Apparel for many years, where his campaigns have been used as case studies by Twitter, YouTube, and Google and written about in AdAge, the New York Times, and Fast Company.

Ryan has been on my radar for many years. Back in 2007 I was googling “Marcus Aurelius” and an interview Ryan did with UVA literature professor Gregory Hays was a first page result. There was very little in the way of commentary about Meditations out there at the time and here was this guy, my age, in marketing, blogging about stoicism. I thought that was really cool.

Since then, Ryan has had an impressive career. His first book Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator was a best seller. Ryan’s book The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph from earlier this year is an excellent introduction to practical Stoicism. The applicability of both these reads is not by any means limited to those interested in marketing or philosophy. I recommend you pick them up.

A couple of months back, Ryan put out a blog post announcing that he was looking for someone to help with the release of his upcoming paperbackGrowth Hacker Marketing. I pitched him an idea about how we might go about building a powerful pre-launch team of early adopters by offering a free advance copy of the book to college students actively enrolled in Fall 2014 courses covering advertising, PR, new media, entrepreneurship, and computer science.

With Ryan’s help, we massaged that idea into a successful lauch campaign.  The campaign was executed in 5 week-long stages: building and testing the site, organic promotion, targeted free promotion, and paid promotion.


Virality isn’t luck. It’s not magic. And it’s not random. These a science behind why people talk and share. A recipe. A formula, even. – Johan Berger, Contagious


Our objective: generate a wave of Amazon reviews, pre-orders and word-of-mouth PR from our pre-launch audience. Our goal: get 500 qualified sign ups with a potential cap of 1000.

Our strategy was a success and Growth Hacker Marketing launched with a wave of pre-orders and positive Amazon reviews.

So here’s how we executed from start to finish:

The techniques Ryan used to create and promote Growth Hacker Marketing – including our launch strategy – are detailed in-depth by The New York Observer: “Disrupting How Bestsellers Are Made: Apply Startup-style Growth Hacking To Publishing”. Be prepared to settle in. This article tips the scales at over 4750 words. If you’re looking for details and actionable advice, here you go. You can also read more about the project on Ryan’s website.

For a shorter recap of the project, here’s a SlideShare on how Ryan took Growth Hacker Marketing from a minimum viable product to a bestseller.

It was a pleasure working with Ryan.  It’s easy to see how his work ethic and ingenuity have made him so successful.

I also highly recommend you check out Ryan’s reading list newsletter. I typically pick up at least one book he recommends a month.


Growth hackers have a common attitude, internal investigation process, and mentality unique among technologists and marketers. The mindset of data, creativity, and curiosity allows a growth hacker to accomplish the feat of growing a user base into the millions. – Andrew Chen


“Disrupting How Bestsellers Are Made: Apply Startup-style Growth Hacking To Publishing by Ryan Holiday via The New York Observer

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