The Hidden Cost of Growth Hacks

Hello from the other side. I’m East of San Bernadino today in the mountains, with tea and a window view of fog and sunlight heating the frozen mountainside.

There are no clear resolutions or goals for me, rather deeper dedication and commitments. One of which I hope to illustrate below, as you have the same choices as me to make.

This post is about what you will do with this microphone sitting in front of you.
The opportunity to speak, share and connect is constant. In your home, on social media, with your friends, on a stage, in the workplace…

And your voice, when you find it, has its own unique tenor.

It’s own frequency that others are changing the channel in search of.

And sometimes that sharing causes us to sync. This is what a community is. We’re synced up on the same airwaves, and it’s started by someone who stands up and speaks first.
But this airspace, especially as of late, has become combative, and noisy.

In the race to the bottom for holding our attention, many choose to use this microphone not for expression and connection, but for power, dominance, and conversion.

It is easy to see how quickly those putting out media that is intentionally inflammatory are gaining a “voice.”

That trolling, controversial claims for their own sake, or manipulated brands that act to be something they are not are getting attention.

These growth hacks do “work” in that they garner views and attention.

And so the tendency is to want to join them…

But silencing your uniqueness to replicate the status quo is mediocrity.

And the downside of fast growth hacks, quick hits, and shortcuts for views using these tactics is this:

You end up attracting people you don’t care for, missing the opportunity to find those you do.

You make content you don’t care about, doing work that doesn’t push you to your personal edge.

And you miss the opportunity to build a product of substance, spending your focus on replicated tactics for conversion.

To be clear, sales, marketing, and data are not bad words.

Rather in my world, they are meant to help fuel a fountain from the microphone of a brand that springs such that people can’t help but pay attention to or opt-in. It’s using empathy and creativity with your microphone to find the others who care, and connect them.

And I admit, I have not always stayed on course.

I have not always respected or understood my opportunity with the microphone I’ve been given.

I work in an industry (media/brands/community) where many people are looking to others to know what to do next.

And when I speak with brands, I sometimes feel like an outsider. Because that possibility of what you can do next is exactly your opportunity. And it’s one that can be filled by something new that only you can bring.

My direction, which I have chosen to pursue for better or for worse is to build community and products that attract the right people, and win on substance, relationships and idiosyncrasy.

So what’s your direction? What’s your boundary? What are you after?

There is no right and wrong here.

But it is something to decide for yourself, so as to not waste time and opportunity moving toward what you want.

I’ve chosen mine.

You don’t need to compete when you’ve found your own voice.

Because at that point, the only thing others can do is… copy you.

Or join you.


Gratitude Between Us


The holidays are not my best time, but only because I don’t feel that I am at full power, with energy leaking to the change in the time zone, morning pattern and lack of physical movement.

I’ve meant to write you to add footnotes to the year, but I also have allowed the routine to slip. I don’t beat myself up over these things…

I’m guided by my notes and podcasts, along with a series of breakfast and coffee conversations about plans for 2019.

At some point soon I will be sending you a link to my first book, “Lead Yourself” which is a series of essays that read like these emails and cover what was underlying much of my thinking from the past year. The majority was written in a roughly 10-day sprint, and then a 20-day editing space, and a 30-day organization period.

The book is a change from the traditional format.

As a book to me is instead about refinement of ideas, sharpened to potency and carried by a throughline.

Whereas I like to be in your inbox more conversationally, more exploratory, and it’s a conversation where we generate our ideas together.

We never truly see each other.

During the holidays I find myself feeling immensely grateful for those in the service sector in every domain around me.

From the attendant at the gas station to the grocer, the movie popcorn assistant, and even those who sit behind the scenes, shipping our goods from all across the country.

No doubt each of these people has their own story, background, highs, lows, and I find myself picturing them at other moments in their life, not during the mundane tasks. Seeing the ring on the finger of the older woman pouring coffee with an image of a church and wedding bells ringing, or the gentleman steward on the airline instead tending to his grill or walking through the woods on a hike.

Each person I see is a moment of gratitude for what makes the lives of others easier. And so we can pay it forward to nod to that. I know money is exchanged, but it’s exchanged for time, and for that I’m grateful.

This year I’m following anti-resolution.

It’s not about seeing what I want to do.

It’s seeing clearly what happens if I don’t do.

It’s seeing what I’m missing out on (what I’m capable of).

I’m finding more sense of energy, direction, and purpose from purely recognizing the painfully truthful fact that time is passing and I do not get any more of it once it’s used up.

I picture time burning like a rope, and the moments that it’s burning and fraying are moments I spend uninterested or unengaged.

When I’m present, the rope hangs still, frozen. And even though time still passes, I feel I used it well, that I didn’t waste it, and I captured that moment.

I tried pulling up a photo from a year ago today, and instead, I found an old note from me to myself.

It had a statement on there that came true within 6 months of writing it.

And I again recognize that if we have a seriousness of commitment and a burning resolution for everything that we won’t accept in our lives, we can reconfigure the world around us quite quickly.

It’s not a lack of effort that delays us, it’s a lack of desire.

And so the anti-resolution is a via negativa.

A recognition of all that is currently not.

And a truthful understanding of whether or not that is acceptable to me.

And if it’s not… merely recognizing that is enough to plant the seed for growth that can take time to seep in.

But the moment it does…

The wind is at our backs.

Okay, I’m glad I got this to you. I’m going to leave it off here, I’m conscious and grateful of your time. See you again sometime in the next week, where we can pick up this conversation where we left off…

Grateful for the space between us.

xx David


What is a Luxury Brand?

Style is knowing who you are.

Luxury is knowing who you are and sharing that with the world so that others may claim a piece of it for themselves.

It is true, one human can cause a catastrophic change in the world. They truly can poke the world and the world will dent, or bend, or transform in a way that it no longer looks the same.

And a true luxury brand can only be started by a person like this.

They must be an outsider, a rebel of the system, and they seek to change the world around them. And by this definition, it places them away from the masses, those that go along with the status quo.

And in their process of evolution, they will get pushback. Remember, Steve Jobs was fired from his post. Bill Gates was hated. Elon Musk…

And so it goes.

But a luxury brand continues to embody the values of the founder. They are baked into it’s DNA.

If you were to try and replicate what creates a luxury brand in a laboratory, you’d say it was based on R&D.

That it takes years of research to understand the product.

This is true, as my favorite of examples, Brunello Cucinelli, taking years, decades to perfect his product.

But can anyone do years of R&D and create a luxury brand?

Is the Segway a luxury brand? Google Glass?

Another person might point out that luxury brands are expensive, that it’s about price.

This is true for a Ferrari, but not always true. Is the iPhone expensive, for the value you get over the course of 3 or 5 years?

And there are always pseudo-luxury brands. Brands which raise prices as a signal but lack the depth of reality behind it. Brands who focus on what is easily seen, but skip what’s difficult to identify.

And for the consumer, the luxury is really in the ability to make the purchase at all.

A Luxury Brand…

The moment of the transaction
is a confirmation of him or herself.

If we dig deeper, what this person is truly doing is buying a bit of the magic, hoping that some rubs off.

The Purchase is an attempt to solidify your standing as having some piece of resemblance to the creator of such a good or ideal.

The Logo is an encapsulated reminder to yourself of who you could be.

The Ritual, a regular, holy-like experience you place around using the product adds to the heightened expectations and awe, and novelty of such a creation.

Of course, many of these founders are mythic.

But just enough of it is true. Just enough of the internal desire and drive within the founder was absolutely genuine.

And this genuine vision is truly liquid gold.

A luxury brand is what emanates from this vision.

It’s one of the rarest things on earth.

Something even the wealthy craves, but never quite can fulfill.

A life of luxury is internal.

And so anyone can have one.

The external creations and purchases that we point to are merely an effect.

But not the cause…

Today’s Tea Leaves (Dec. 2018)


Your iPhone is a key.

It unlocks pretty much everything related to your day to day living, from your car (summon an Uber), to maps, music, friends, destinations, bookings, reminders.

This is still just the beginning.

What is a store?

Everything is shipped to you. Fast fulfillment reigns, your average goods become commodities and we all know Amazon has the lowest price. And this is why we see so many “sheik” designed versions of the same old basics. The hip deodorant, or toothbrush, or razor.

You can no longer compete on price. So the vertical is in the packaging, brand and product aesthetic. At the end of the day, they’re the same goods.

A store is now a community gathering space and experience.

Watch for Apple and others to double down here.

What is a bank?

I haven’t been to one in 8+ months and I run a business. See point one.

Your private information is exposed.

You think that Facebook, Equifax, Sony, Mariott hacks are the end, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Wait for more dominoes to fall in centralized systems who haven’t invested enough in security.

Your info has been compromised, salvage what you can and try and not make future mistakes (all but impossible). If your personal career is reliant on gatekeepers, think before you tweet.

Lying to the public has been normalized.

Can we go back? I’m not sure. Has it always been happening? To varying degrees. Will the catch all tech giants and their filters help us or hurt us? And will the coming regulation around these networks make them any better for us?

We pay for the experience.

In the cushy life of delivery goods and Netflix we rarely venture out of the home, except for a live experience that gives us excitement, inspiration or online kudos for gathering IRL.

Smart strategies of the day relate to scarcity, like the recently acquired by Lauren Powell Jobs “Pop-Up Magazine,” 29 Rooms, and concerts which look and sound different in every show of the tour.

Sharing it online is the memorabilia.

Software Eats the World, but Not in Healthcare or Finance… yet.

We’re still waiting for 2 big pillars, finance and healthcare, to drop and re-arrange themselves around a new future. This will happen slowly and then all at once. There is a collective target on both of these industries from the valley.

The markets are huge, but the problems will need to be elegant to defy the complexity of existing systems.

Love returns?

Can new smaller communities and networks come from the learnings of the giants and bring back what we’re lacking in friendship, love, and companionship?

People are hurting and addicted. Tech can help, but only if it aligns for the benefit of the user instead of the advertiser.


no agenda with Paul Jarvis

Paul Jarvis ( has been an internet friend and digital “kindred spirit” for a few years now. I get the sense that many people feel that way.

I emailed Paul to ask him questions about his work, mostly selfish, so that I may steal some of his magic (jk) – so that we can understand better how Paul has carved his own path and built his own approach to work.

David Sherry: Hello Paul! I’m curious, who are you reading these days? Any blogs, newsletters or books come to mind?

Paul Jarvis: Hi! I don’t read a whole lot of internet bits and bobs, but there are a few gooders:

Jocelyn Glei’s newsletter (http://
Chargd (
Dense Discovery (

David Sherry: Working solo, I find that I have no one to really compare myself to when it comes to productivity or work capacity. How do you raise the bar for yourself, while working solo?

Paul Jarvis: I feel like if I was trying to continually raise the bar for myself, I’d end up at an unsustainable level of hopeful productivity. Really, if I can get a few solid hours of creativity in each day, and a few solid hours of admin work (to keep my business humming along), that’s more than good enough for me.

David Sherry: Most product development books tend to be about startups and high growth companies with large teams, but you’ve figured out how to do product development your own way. Being that it’s just you, or you and a few other’s on a project, do you have a set process for how you do product discovery and development?

Paul Jarvis: Nope, every single product is totally different, so I always tackle them in different ways. That said, there are definitely constants outside of processes that I always work at doing.

First is determining if there’s a demand. Running a business is hard so if I can take just a few things off of the “hard” pile and put them into the “easier, even slightly”, then I’ll do that. So lately I don’t even start working on any products unless there are lot of folks asking for them, pre-buying, or really showing a pain that the product would fix.

Second, I try to get a first version out the door as quickly as possible. It’s hard to tell how well something will do or how valuable it’ll be until there are paying customers using it on a regular basis. So I work to get V1 done and launched asap. Then things can change, pivot, grow, update, add to. Launches are iterative, not singular, so getting the first out of the way is always the goal.

Finally, I try to listen and empathize. I want to know why people are buying, how they’re using it and where wins are happening. That way I can build on that, expand on it if needed, and start to use their stories to sell the product (through testimonials or case studies).

David Sherry: You’ve made a shift into more pure software products lately, with Fathom Analytics and some other experiments I’ve seen. What is a recent learning from working on these products?

Paul Jarvis: Software is tough! It takes work to get something built, built right, and built in a way that builds trust with an audience. I really enjoy doing it though and with my recent focus on privacy-based tools, I think folks are really starting to realize that free software is never actually free. And they’re starting to make smarter decisions around what they agree to in terms of allowing big companies to know more about them and use their data.

David Sherry: You’re pretty good about taking breaks for yourself, be it from your newsletter or social media. What benefit do you see from hitting pause for a bit, that others don’t see or haven’t placed enough value on?

Paul Jarvis: Creativity needs space to thrive. If I don’t take breaks, I don’t get the space I need to create. It also feels more productive to stop working for a while, recharge, then when I do get back to work I’m refreshed and charged up, and can get things done faster. It’s counter-intuitive, but for me at least, it always works like this.

David Sherry: What personal change or growth are you most proud of? Was there any specific moment where you remember your work taking a turn for the better, or an “Aha” moment?

Paul Jarvis: Determining my own “enough”. I feel like enough is the antithesis of endless or unchecked growth. If I know what my own enough is, in terms of revenue, audience size… anything really, then I can work towards it until I hit it, and then work to optimize it once I do. It’s freeing to think about business in this way because I don’t need to compare myself to others, work more to get more (if more isn’t needed) or bust my ass with growth if things are already enough to suit my needs.

The “aha” moment for this was out surfing with my buddy years ago. We were in the line-up, it was Sep or Oct, he was like, “hey buddy, I’ve made enough for the year, so I’m done with work and I’m going climbing til Jan”. I was like, SIGN ME UP FOR THIS TOO.

David Sherry: In a few words, what is a good daily reminder to have posted on a sticky note above your laptop?

Paul Jarvis: OVERHEAD = DEATH. Which is a story from my internet friend Miranda Hixon about her dad in the 80s that I tell in Company of One. It’s just such a powerful reminder that we don’t need to spend more to make more, and in fact, the more we spend, the less we make.
In the world of E-courses, webinars and digital marketing most “Influencers” have a short shelf-life, cashing in on trends and following whatever is currently hot. This stands in contrast to Paul Jarvis, who has continually and consistency built a brand around teaching those around him in a humble yet unabashedly Paul Jarvis ( way. I came across Paul’s work from an early E-book on veganism and cooking ( , but he’s most known for his Sunday Dispatches (email list), The Creative Class ( , Chimp Essentials ( , (an E-course on MailChimp) and now he’s got a new book coming out, titled “Company Of One ( .”

App: IAWriter (
Band: Wintersleep (
Blog: Austin Kleon (
Tool: Mailchimp (
Follow: @margoaaron (
If you’re just joining us, I’m David Sherry ( , and you signed up to Creative Caffeine, or found me through Death to Stock ( . I also host the no agenda. ( podcast and live stream.


The Unspoken Secret (and opportunity) of Every Workplace


We are meant to learn.

We are meant to practice.

We are meant to exert our effort, and create, to risk, to “work.”

But there is a dilemma the occurs when in a hierarchy.

One that is as old as time.

And one that has a resolution, if we are to understand…

The dilemma is that the person who works under a boss or “manager” never gives work their all.

I’ll say it again.

The dilemma is that the person, who works for a boss or manager, never gives their all.

They will never give their full effort.

And how could they?

The fear is that if more work is given to you, you won’t have the slack to pick that up as well.

And so you always leave some room and your plate, even as you promise that it is full.

Or, you have a side project, a separate dream.

And in this separate dream, you save your best ideas, and your best pieces of yourself to give to it.

And so there is always a pulling in two directions.

A boss or a manager, trying to get as much out of an employee as possible, sometimes more than they’re paid for.

And an employee, trying to do enough that’s required, but not more.

They will live here in a push and pull, this is the nature of the workplace.

It is a finger-trap.

And so managers will never create an environment that produces the best possible work from their employees.

And so we come to the devastating conclusion that employees will never truly share their full potential in an organization.

That as a society we are holding back the very best in most all of us…

But there is a way out of this dilemma, both for the employee and for the manager.

And it is simply one that comes through a shift in perspective, nothing more; one that aligns both the manager and the employee, rather than pits them against one another.

An artist gives their all to their work.

An artist doesn’t hold back anything. When they write their album, create their short film, write their poetry, they will empty all of themselves into the work.

They will take use any and every idea at their disposal.

They will work late into the night, think about the work as they dream, and take inspiration from anywhere.

They will work overtime without thinking of it as work.

For the artist, it is more pleasurable to invest your entire self into a project in this way.

And for the artist, simply “ticking” the boxes of a quota is a numbed state of existence.

So here is the magic trick, that can occur with a change of thought.

If an employee acts as an artist, on any project they pursue, the work will become meaningful and great, the manager will be happy, and both will come out ahead.

You see, at the root of art is giving.

And giving is not zero-sum.

Giving takes zero, and turns it into +1, or more.

But the artist, as employee, has been trapped by fear. They have falsely believed that giving in this way is the trap, when in reality it is the release. That giving reduces their opportunity, depletes their savings…

When in reality it is the fountain of opportunity, growth and engagement.

It is also up to the manager to create an environment that is also conducive to this wining outcome for both of us.

We can foster an environment in which management, are themselves, artists, embodying the spirit of that which the employees also follow.

We can create a culture that rewards individuals who do problem solving in their own way to accomplish the goals of the business.

It is not the goals of a business that artists have a problem with, it is the constriction of the process in which we attain those goals that we reject and numb ourselves from.

And so I say to the artist who is not employing her talents fully:

You are a bird in a cage in which the door is already open, and in which the cage is of your own construction.

It is up to you to see the work that is in front of you, whatever that may be, as a part of a larger movement and expression of who you are.

That it is more pleasurable to work in this way, than to work numb.

That your unique method for problem-solving is welcome and generous in this domain.

That taking ownership of the project, diving into the details and going above and beyond is not for the organization, but for you. Not only practically for the future (this way of working would advance your career far faster), but practically for the now.

This is what creates a bond between the artist and the manager that is void of the “Carrot” and the “Stick.”

The “carrot” and the “stick” are adverse reactions to fear.

And a reaction to fear will never produce something great.

The best Leaders do not manage.

And the best employees are true artists, who go the extra mile by internal drive and passion…

xx David

(h/t to Seth Godin for this insight)

Each Step Forward


Everyone begins their journey naive, and sometimes… bold.

If you’re lucky, people put up with your naiveté long enough for you to gain wisdom. I was lucky in that regard. But I choose the startup route. It seemed to fit my strengths, which in most other areas were weaknesses.

Startups allow for the unknown to rise, there are fewer gatekeepers, so it’s easy to get in motion, but to come out the other side is a different story. If you do build a product with some traction, you’ll be amazed at what you can start to see unfold without having any prior knowledge…

You just put one foot in front of the other.

And you pick up the know-how you need in a just-in-time fashion.

But your first shot doesn’t always end well.

Ditto for your first job, or your early career.

And no one is truly qualified when they get out into the world. So you hustle to prove you’ve got the chops, you work the extra hours a day, or weekends, and you dedicate yourself to learning the internal language and structure. Maybe your boss is demanding in a way you didn’t expect, or the career you stepped into wasn’t as you expected it to be.

And is it ever?

We never truly know until we go through it. And it’s always more complex and winding than we think. Which is what we didn’t understand in our youth; that the professionals at the top have undergone a much greater journey to get there than we could have imagined.

In school, you’re always taught that there is a right answer, but in the real world not only are there always multiple answers, but there are also multiple methods for arriving there. And life’s not always fair.

And timing and luck dictate your path more than you’d like to admit.

That and that the work is so arduous, or so complex that you continue to question whether or not it’s for you. You get home at night and you put your head down and you’re wondering how you got here and who that person you were is now becoming…

But we can only hope for a role which demands that they must rise to an occasion much greater than the one we have chosen for ourselves.

That we’re forced to run up this mountain instead of walking it.

To walk it is to spend years or decades in small discomforts and a bit of pain before we reach a landing from which we can breathe.

To run up it is to spend only a few years of intense pain but to arrive much faster, and the added benefit is that you may, after taking only a short break there, look to the next mountain to run up. So it’s more painful, but you go farther, faster.

What we fail to remember is that with each step forward, another who wishes for the same successes or impact must walk every step that we have to date.

And it is in the pressure, the moments we have to rise to meet the occasion that we truly build our skill. It’s only when we’re walking on the edge through a mountain pass with cliffs on both sides that we begin to do something great.

That it is precisely these moments which are building the most fundamental parts of our journey.

That every new step forward is a learning you take with you in your pocket.

And this is your advantage.


Thursday Link Stash (Dec. 5)

Disconnect http://( is a beautiful online Magazine Shop. (

Kimberlite App Let’s Podcasts Charge fans for exclusive content.

My friend Ben has been working on this app, building it in for his own podcast, Acquired ( . This trend will continue, as we see more podcasters like Chris Delia and Marc Maron build their own apps and communities.

Loose Threads is one of the most important blogs analyzing consumer products. (

Understand information warfare ( ) and a good follow up to the new Yuval Harari Book.

@Web  for DNVB brands and the future of retail.

Gwern http://( for self-experimentation and individual research.



In 2019 I…


I want to hear about your goals in 2019.

Reply and write whatever comes to mind.

This can just be a thread between us, which you can use to clarify your thinking or just get them out on paper.

Or, for a few of you, with your permission, I’d be happy to share them with the group as well. It’s a chance to share with others here, and even rep or promote something of your own.

Up to you.

Here are some questions to spark your thinking:

What needs to change?

What do you know deep down you should do, but haven’t yet committed to?

What are you scared to get serious about?

What open questions do you hope to answer?

What would you like to finish?


Answer all or none k thanks bye.

xx David

Pioneer App

Pioneer is a fund for global talent. It is so simple but so powerful that it almost seems silly that we didn’t have it before.

Then again, before, we didn’t have the internet.

And we didn’t all feel connected by our passions.

You see the trust that you can build online is surprising. With direct trust mechanisms like ratings on Uber/Airbnb… or because with consistency, you can signal much about yourself through public works, effort, contributions or even writing.

This trust that’s built also helps with another problem, finding people like you.

The thing is great minds exist everywhere, but their circumstances don’t always allow for them to shine as brightly as they can. Which is suppose is true of everyone generally, but is especially true for some people specifically. And when you’re bright, but the place around you isn’t, you feel like an outcast.

Those with passion and smarts tend to feel like the odd one. If you’ve got a big dream or an audacious goal those living with the status quo don’t tend to want the change that you want. Or they dismiss that this change isn’t possible.

But change is possible, actually, it’s inevitable. Of course, things can go slowly or fast depending on infrastructure.

Pioneer is infrastructure to speed up the pace of innovation globally by backing the odd and intelligent.

It’s encouraging you to get around like-minded people who also believe it’s possible, because they were outsiders too, and they want to bring you inside.

And so there’s a global opportunity to make the world better by funding individuals with unique talents and passions to make the world better.

This feels like progress.