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4 Growth and Mentality Hacking Lessons from Rand Fishkin

A year ago, I interviewed Rand Fishkin. He was open, candid and insightful.

A few weeks ago, we did a follow up interview. Not only does he have a new hair do, he has a new perspective on life and Moz. In the spirit of Rand-like transparency, I need to come clean — not only did I lose audio altogether in the first interview, but Rand let me do a retake, and the audio/video is still choppy, which is very frustrating considering how much testing and QA I did before both interviews.

I may have bungled the audio/video tech, but at least I got from him the secret to marketing success — really, all success — and I’m going to give it to you in bullet points.

1. Perception is not reality

A year ago, Rand make it clear he wasn’t happy: about Moz’s performance, product launch issues, his stewardship of the company … well, just generally. Rand was willing to be open about a fear most of us, well at least I, share … that everything is messed up, and I’m at fault — or so it seems.

A year later, Rand made a critical distinction between perception and reality. In reality, little had changed in a year, but his perspective had noticeably brightened. He was clearly able to separate reality from perception (which, by the way, seems also to create a lot of happiness).

This is a critical take-away for marketers on two levels. First, this is why a marketing strategy/plan is critical; it establishes goals we’re working toward and steps to get there so that we’re not on a constant emotion roller-coaster ride through the process that can cause bad decision-making. Second, our job as marketers and product developers must be to let the data guide us, not our changing perceptions. And if we don’t have enough data to make a decision, create a plan to gather that data and execute.

2. Transparency as a personal imperative

Having known Rand for a while now, I’ve been awed by his willingness to say anything and go anywhere. The pessimist in me wondered whether he was doing it because it’s a good marketing strategy or that’s how good businesses are run.

But Rand set me straight: he’s transparent because he “needs to be” … it’s a compulsion. He admitted there are times it may not make things easy, but he just doesn’t feel right if he’s not 100% open and transparent.

Personally, I think it’s working. Despite any product or competitive challenges, Moz continues to be one of the top independent marketing analytics companies. Moreover, his compulsion for transparency is a welcomed breath of fresh air in a world where many let fear of the competition, negative press or vulnerability run their decision-making.

3. Great products can’t be crowd-sourced

Something that Rand emphasized even more strongly is that product development can’t be crowd-sourced. While customer input is important, there must be a single leader who drives the product forward. He emphasized this in all our conversations, but I wanted to share his more detailed take from our recent conversation (sorry again for the audio/video issues).

I really agree that great products can come from all sorts of teams, but I also relate to Rand’s sentiment that working in small, tight teams is the most fun. Personally, I find the triangle of techie, designer, biz lead to be incredibly powerful.

4. Success is in the Eye of the Beholder

From my perspective, Rand is an online marketing industry God. He was able to leverage his consulting work into developing products that help not only his clients but everyone trying to gain greater insights into search and web analytics.

From his perspective, Rand is doing okay but not totally crushing it. He keeps looking up at how things can be improved, bigger goals.

I can relate and so can many growth hackers, I believe. The truth is that it’s fun to hit bigger and better milestones, but then the floor resets. If we can achieve X growth in Y time, then we need to achieve 3X in Y/2 time. It’s a necessary attitude for exponential growth hacking.

Thanks, Rand, for both of these conversations.