Are You Evil Enough?

Alistair Croll
The Startup
Published in
6 min readFeb 19, 2021


The short version: Emily Ross and I are writing a book on subversive go-to-market strategy called Just Evil Enough. We’ve been asked to create a live online course to go with it, and we’re doing some research.

Take me to the survey!

One respondent will win a keynote talk or workshop, to use as they see fit — something we normally charge a lot for. Another will receive access to the course, absolutely free.

If you want some context, read on.

When Lean Analytics was first published in 2013, few startups were talking publicly about the data that drove their businesses. Most founders were forced to guess what “good enough” was. By laying out clear guidelines on what and how to measure the growth of your business, we gave startups a way forward.

The book has gone pretty far since then. At my last count, it’s been translated into 14 languages. My co-author Ben Yoskovitz and I have spoken about it on five continents. Nearly 30,000 students have completed our Udemy course. I’ve had mails from students as far away as Madagascar who use it as their syllabus.

Perhaps most gratifyingly, dozens of people have told me it’s helped cross the divide between business and tech, giving people a common language by which to discuss analytics. Seven years later, it continues to be a staple of startup bookshelves and business analysts worldwide.

Someone even credited it with saving their marriage.

Why am I telling you this?

Because of all this, I’ve had a chance to talk with hundreds of founders and business executives worldwide. Most of them are marketers or startup executives. And there’s a common thread through all those conversations:

We spend too much time building a thing, and not enough figuring out how to get people to care.

Instead of writing spec sheets, or agonizing about long lists of product features, or flooding the Internet with even more noise, twenty-first century marketers need to create attention they can turn into profitable demand. But just as there was limited understanding of analytics in 2013, there’s little guidance on how to actually accomplish that today.

Every organization is part of a system of channels, competitors, and resources. The trick is to get that system behave in an unanticipated, unintended way. In other words, to find an exploit. Once you start looking for them, examples of great exploits are everywhere:

  • Farmville posting to your friends’ feeds;
  • Tinder playing chicken-and-egg with Sororities and Fraternities;
  • Tupperware turning dinner-party guilt into multi-level marketing;
  • Github’s artificial scarcity.

There are literally hundreds of stories like these. Each trick works when it’s first discovered — even the first banner ad got great clickthroughs — but quickly diminishes in value as it becomes widely known. Which means it’s not enough to employ the latest growth hacks. Instead, you need to actively find your very own zero-day marketing exploit. If your startup doesn’t have one, it’s probably already on the dead pile.

For the last few years, Emily Ross and I have been working on a project. It’s called Just Evil Enough, and it’s about subversive go-to-market strategy. Because there are underlying patterns and frameworks anyone can use to find and exploit vulnerabilities in the platforms with which they connect to their customers. You can learn how to do this.

As we’ve researched subversive go-to-market strategies, we’ve given the Just Evil Enough talk at events like Startupfest, Digital Copenhagen, and Martech. In every instance, the audience has clamoured for more.

The result is a book that combines game theory, subversive thinking, and behavioural economics. It shows you how to find and exploit loopholes in modern communication platforms that give you an unfair advantage. We’ll be publishing it in 2021.

Why make a book about evil?

We didn’t. We made it about subversiveness. We believe subversive thinking is vital not just for modern business, but for society and for humans in general. Consider that:

  • We face a pile of existential problems, from climate change, to resiliency, to accountable governments, to social justice, to public health.
  • Regulation seldom works. There’s good evidence that regulating a system is often more wasteful than the initial system. Instead, we need new equilibria that provide the right incentives.
  • We can’t fix today’s problems with today’s solutions. We need to find new, often unexpected ones.
  • If more of us focused on finding unexpected approaches that yield better results based on new technologies or changing norms, we’d fix those existential problems faster and better.

In short, we need to spend more of our time subverting existing systems. This is how evolution works: Constant, opportunistic adaptation to exploit new niches as they emerge. This is particularly true given the pace of modern digital innovation, where new niches and opportunities appear almost daily.

Those new opportunities can come about for many reasons:

  • A technological innovation, such as the rise of broadcast radio. Quack physician John R. Brinkley used the advent of radio licenses to sell fake medical cures — and along the way, launch country music and run for office.
  • A reframing of social norms. Electric cars were about sustainability and range until Tesla challenged supercars to a drag race. This made the conversation about performance, which its customers — initially rich coastal tech geeks — found much easier to talk about with their peers.
  • Something you know to be true, but isn’t widely known. Reed Hastings understood that the US Postal Service could become a “broadband network” by stuffing DVDs into envelopes and putting a $0.33 stamp on them, launching Netflix.

We aren’t advocating for actual evil. We’re suggesting that you be slightly evil, as a thought experiment, so that you can discover new ways to engage your customers and beat your competition. Besides, Just Evil Enough is an attention-grabbing title — and we’re all about subverting your attention.

Adding a live course

Something else has changed in the 7 years since Lean Analytics hit bookshelves. The rise of online learning, and tools that connect authors directly to audiences, are far more mature. In fact, the founders of Udemy and altMBA are launching a new platform, Didactic, to help authors like Emily and I create amazing live online courses. We’ve been asked to develop one of the first classes for the platform, so we’re doing a little research.

While we haven’t finalized the details yet, this will be a multi-week course with live classes, plenty of detailed frameworks, tasks for you to complete on your actual business, special guests, and dozens of case studies to learn from. To figure out how we should proceed, we have a survey for you. In keeping with the rest of the book, it’s not a normal survey.

Take me to the survey!

We’re going to give away one keynote or workshop, either virtual or in person, to one person who completes the survey. Our normal rates for that sort of thing are $15K, and you can use it however you see fit — at a paid event, for internal training, or whatever. Assuming we move ahead with the live course, we’ll also give you a free place in the class.

A little social proof

If you’re curious whether a keynote is valuable, here are some testimonials from places where we’ve done them in the past:

“It was exactly the right kind of keynote to close the conference.”

– Scott Brinker, founder, Martech conference.

“… the highest-rated speaker of the event, giving a talk on why traditional marketing is doomed entitled Just Evil Enough.

– Christian Groenning, Head of Conferences, The Danish Marketing Association.

“We invited Alistair to speak during the opening week of Techstars (and our inaugural Techstars accelerator program in Canada). His marketing talk entitled “Just Evil Enough” was superb. Alistair captivated the attention of the founders in a manner seldom seen, and provoked so much discussion and reflection.”

– Sunil Sharma, Managing Director, Techstars Toronto.

“Emily is, without a doubt, one of the smartest and most authoritative speakers in the industry, with a real knack for creating talks that have actionable takeaways, relevant insights, and real-life examples.”

- Mark Scully, Founder, Learn Inbound Conference.

Anyway, thanks for reading this far. Researching this has been a fascinating experience, and we can’t wait to share what we’ve learned with the world. Life’s too short to do things the way we always have.



Alistair Croll
The Startup

Writer, speaker, accelerant. Intersection of tech & society. Strata, Startupfest, Bitnorth, FWD50. Lean Analytics, Tilt the Windmill, HBS, Just Evil Enough.