The Tradecraft Effect
Back in April 2014 I wrote a post titled How I’m Moving From The Sidelines And Getting In The Tech Game. It was about the factors and decisions made that led me to join the growth track at Tradecraft. It’s been a fun ride since then, and I’m just getting started.
Many people have reached out to me via email and Twitter asking about Tradecraft, either out of curiosity or because they’re thinking of joining the program. I have been writing relatively often here on Medium, I tweet most days, and I wrote a Quora answer about TC in the summer, so it makes sense that people have contacted me. By the way, I’ll refer to Tradecraft as TC from here on out because that’s how we refer to it. I’m happy to answer any questions; if you have any, contact me and let’s chat!
“A rising tide lifts all boats.” ~ Unknown
I had the idea for the title of this post from looking at the impact TC has had on my Medium stats. Below is a graphical representation of the number of views and reads on every Medium post I’ve published.
The first spike is the “moving from the sidelines” post I mentioned in the first paragraph. That post was shared and recommended by the staff and first cohort of TC, which we refer to as TC1 (I was in TC2 and TC12 just started recently). Since then the number of views on any of my posts hasn’t dipped below 1,000. The bump is mostly due to the increased amount of people recommending my posts, which helps them spread to new Medium readers that might not have seen them otherwise. These aren’t the type of numbers that would have Buzzfeed knocking on my door to offer me a job, but they’re significant to me and have helped give me a bit of a boost in credibility within the tech and growth marketing communities.
“#2 pencils are useless now.” ~ Seth Godin
TC is not a school in the traditional sense. There are no tests, there are no grades, and you technically aren’t required to do all the assignments. TC is much more than a school. In fact, it’s a movement away from traditional schooling. In school you just need to learn the material that will be on the test in order to pass, which is part of why many people coming out of college have trouble working in early-stage startups. I like to think of TC as more of a people accelerator. They’re looking for people who are intrinsically motivated, are thirsty for more in their careers, and are willing to put their lives on hold to get to where they want to go.
“The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.” ~ Aristotle
TC is 12 weeks of intense study, interspersed with amazing mentor visits (see some mentor visit pics I took during my time at TC on the left), growth consultations with early-stage startups, and project work for startups.
In the growth track there was a laundry list of material we needed to cover. It ranged from basic topics like Excel, data analysis (LTV, CAC, A/B testing), messaging, paid acquisition channels (SEM, Facebook, display), SEO, and a general knowledge primer on front and back end terminology, to more advanced topics like technical Excel techniques (pivot tables, advanced formulas), complex data analysis (cohort analyses, virality, data visualization, multi-channel attribution), web scraping, RTB, engagement/retention, and basic programming. I know, that’s a mouthful (and probably a run-on sentence), and it’s not even comprehensive of everything we learned!
Since TC is not a traditional school, it provides more flexibility. In practice, it means that my experience was different than the other members of TC2 growth. For example, I was less interested in display advertising and decided to focus my attention on different aspects of the curriculum (much to the chagrin of Graham!). I took more of a generalist approach, meaning I wanted a wide knowledge of all aspects of growth and to double-down on my existing knowledge. The reason for doing so was because I knew I wanted to join an early-stage startup where I would be the growth person and would need to have a wide breadth of knowledge about all things growth. That knowledge, combined with my past experience in sales and as a sales manager, gave me a great foundation to make an impact from day one at an early-stage company.
“To hell with circumstances; I create opportunities.” ~ Bruce Lee
I think some people who come into TC are expecting their experience to already be mapped out or preordained. While this was mostly true for the first week or two of “onboarding,” the remainder of my time at TC was more fluid and less pre-determined.
For example, I assumed before joining that there was a calendar full of mentor visits lined up. Instead, it was purposely left relatively open so students could reach out to mentors to line up visits instead. I got the sense from some of the other students that this really made them go outside their comfort zones. Many of the students were new to the tech industry and had few ties to it before starting TC, and then all of a sudden they were cold emailing people who were years ahead of them and probably extremely busy. I immediately saw this as an opportunity to create mentor relationships with the people I reached out to that could extend beyond the three months I was in TC.
As an example, early on during TC I reached out to Jesse Avshalomov from Teespring, who runs a kick-ass technical growth team that specializes in A/B testing. Instead of simply bringing him in for the typical one-hour talk/Q&A, I invited him to grab coffee beforehand. During the meeting, I learned how he landed a job at the early-stage Teespring (something like I was looking to do post-TC) and some of the challenges he has experienced during his ~2 years working for the company so far.
The story could’ve easily ended there, but I thought our interaction could lead to a longer-term mentor relationship since we had good rapport. After TC ended, I reached out to Jesse to get feedback on how to position myself well when applying and interviewing for positions at early-stage startups. His insights on the mindset of an early employee at a startup were helpful in landing me a position at Emissary as their first dedicated growth hire.
Jesse was helpful yet again when I took my laptop literally around the corner to the new Teespring office in SoMa to get his help with a landing page test we were running. He was able to quickly confirm that I was on the right track and should kill one of the tests even though we didn’t have a ton of traffic, or statistical significance for that matter. In other words, he showed me that early on it’s better to move fast and not be afraid to go against conventional wisdom in order to keep things moving forward.
“If you’re going to be two-faced, you have to know who you should be nice to and who you can get away with being nasty to. In the startup world, things change so rapidly that you can’t tell. The random college kid you talk to today might in a couple years be the CEO of the hottest startup in the Valley. If you can’t tell who to be nice to, you have to be nice to everyone. And probably the only people who can manage that are the people who are genuinely good.” ~ Paul Graham
I also strive to be as helpful to Jesse as he has been to me. It’s not a transactional or quid pro quo thing at all. It genuinely feels good to be helpful and can only serve to benefit both of us. I’m a Teespring evangelist and don’t miss an opportunity to tell friends and colleagues about them. I have also mentioned Teespring to TC grads looking for a company that’s growing insanely fast and poised to do awesome things. A related side story: during one of my visits I got to hangout during an all-hands meeting where they announced their monthly revenue numbers and my jaw dropped at the number. Jesse shot me a quick look and said, “Don’t tweet that!”
The importance of being helpful and paying it forward was emphasized over and over during TC. Paying it forward is important not only with our fellow students, but with mentors and peers we meet throughout our careers. It could be as simple as a retweet, as valuable as an introduction to a potential key hire, or anything in-between.
During TC1 a student put together a spreadsheet of recent audio stories that had been on Umano. Then all the rest of the TC students tracked down the original written stories and the Twitter handles of the authors of the stories. The students then tweeted at all those authors to let them know that their work had appeared on Umano. This may sound trivial, but it’s something that each one of those authors will remember. As someone who’s writing has been featured on Umano previously, I can tell you from experience that they don’t notify the original author or reach out prior to featuring your work. It was a bit odd to hear a voiceover actor reading my article, but it was also pretty cool.
The more time I spend in SF, the more I realize how small the startup world is.
Since finishing TC, I’ve worked for Emissary and left after three months to start a company with a couple of co-founders. I met my co-founders while with Emissary because they were working in the same co-working space. The CEO of Emissary, Jon Howard, is also good friends with one of my co-founders, Kosuke Hata. I decided to tell Jon I was taking the entrepreneurial leap the same day that Emissary was moving into their first legit office, which happened to be the next door down the hall from our co-working space. I know, it all sounds like a recipe for weirdness, but it couldn’t have gone any better. In fact, we all recently watched the Super Bowl together with our girlfriends and it was great. Jon has also been helpful for bouncing ideas off of and he’s a regular beta user/evangelist of the iPhone app we’re working on.
While I may have been able to get to where I’m at without joining TC, it would have taken much longer to assemble a comparable and growing support network of friends and colleagues. The value of TC extends well beyond the awesome job you end up landing after the program is over and makes the $12,000 look like a steal. If you’re on the fence about attending, my advice is to jump all-in and bet on yourself. You won’t regret it.
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