Tales of a PO: Week 7 – Hacked…Growth Hacked

During the last few weeks, the hot topic around the office has been focused on growth hacking. We’ve each been learning as much we can through researching, experiments, and  sharing how the latest startup was able to pull it off. These articles were the most helpful so far: 21 Actionable Growth Hacking TacticsGrowth Hacking, Email and Mullets and then there this is one: The Definitive Guide to Growth Hacking.

The following is what stuck out to me the most, especially since I work in a intrapreneurial startup incubator:

There are some areas of growth hacking that larger companies cannot get away with. Some growth hacking tactics flirt with the boundaries of either legality or good citizenship, that are really only employable when you are small, scrappy and easily forgiven.

It’s all so Machiavellian, growing users by any means possible.


It then struck me…I’ve growth hacked in the past. It was 16 years ago, but whatever…. I did it like a CHAMP! In the span of one day I grew the users of my first website by 900%.

This is the rest of the story.

It was 1997ish when my family bought our first REAL computer, a Micron. I remember it really well because it came with a PC game that absolutely blew my mind, POD. My interest in PC games quickly grew from there, as well as my interest in learning to build websites.

Building pages became my life. Making text flash, marquee, and animating GIFs was the jam, as well as using MIDI files to set the page’s mood. I hosted on either AOL or Geocities, and I remember the first time I had to upload everything to a site… with no clue or understanding of what I was doing. I thought I was essentially building a complicated MSWord document.

Age of Empires Horse
Animating my own GIF’s. One of my life passions…one pixel at a time with screenshots

The site was called “The Basement” (I so wish I had some kind of screenshot). It encompassed everything I knew about my favorite PC games; Command and Conquer, the Neverhood, Age of Empires, Resident Evil, and Diablo. I posted cheats, videos, saved game files, and there was even a hosted crack for Paint Shop Pro  6…dumb kid.

What does this have to do with growth hacking?

With all the content, tips and tricks, and even cracks I was sure somebody was going to find it. But how could I tell? Google Analytics didn’t exist yet.

The answer was a sweet/tacky web counter.

A week into having the counter, I reached a whopping 7 hits. I’m pretty sure they were all me too.

Really…7….I didn’t get it. The page covered lots of topics, provided great content. I even had an amazing navigation system using frames 😉 I was so sad.

I was now focused on one measure, how many hits can I get. I started posting links in chat rooms, forums, and spamming every source I could find, but it wasn’t working.

While researching (cheat codes for Quake) in the school library, it hit me that security on the schools computers nearly didn’t exist. Operation: Get Hits, was now in effect. There were a ton of library workstations and students used them constantly.

My solution, change the Internet Explorer homepage on every computer in the library to point to my site. BOOOM!

That evening my counter read 108. I was a happy guy…until the pesky IT guy in the library realized what happened and changed the security.

I didn’t care though…I started getting regular visits from kids in school and even made friends from it. It was my first growth hack.

Lesson learned

Act as if…..you were a 14 year old kid who has nothing to lose.

Diablo – Soundtrack