Raffaele Gaito is a web marketing scientist. I call him that.

He is someone who not only knows strategies, platforms, and automations, but works on numbers intelligently and creatively, and when it comes to numbers, no one can escape an analysis done on qualitative data.

In this fantastic interview, Raffaele, host and speaker at my Authoritativeness LIVE 2018 event, tells us who the growth hacker is and what we can do today to improve our business performance and make our web marketing strategies more effective.

Raffaele Gaito the most famous growth hacker in Italy

Valerio: Hello and welcome back, I'm Valerio Fioretti of Valerio.it, the number one expert on developing authority online. Today I'm here with Raffaele Gaito, a growth hacker, probably the most famous growth hacker in Italy. "Gaìto" or "Gàito"?

Raphael: "Gàito," "Gàito."

Valerio: "Gàito?" Hi Raphael, welcome.

Raphael: Hello Valerio, thank you.

Valerio: Raffaele is the author of this wonderful book which is Growth Hacker: mindset and tools to grow your business, published by FrancoAngeli and which can be found on Amazon, in bookstores and in so many other locations, both online and offline. Okay, welcome Raffaele.

Let's start with some very simple questions. Tell us a little about yourself, who you are, where you come from, and what you do.

Raffaele: I'm Raffaele Gaito, class of '84 (so I'm going towards 34 in a few months) and I'm originally from Salerno, although I've been living in England in Cambridge for a while.

I was born as a programmer; I have a degree in computer science. I attended the University of Salerno, however, right from the time I enrolled, my more technical side was offset by a somewhat more entrepreneurial side.

I've been doing business ever since I enrolled in college, paid my way through college by being an entrepreneur, back when people were still making websites and making money with them.

Valerio: Okay.

Raphael: I started like this, as so many of us say of the...

Valerio: Yes, yes.

Raphael: ... from the old school. As an entrepreneur ... as a technician, let's put it this way ... Programmers often have blinders on, they don't see beyond the code, whereas I, also having a little more entrepreneurial aspect, was facing the problem of "okay I can be as good as I want to make a product, but then how do I sell the product? How do I get the first customers, how do I convince people?"

There I became passionate about the world of the web marketing And so on and so forth, maybe we'll talk about that later.

Who is and what fail growth hacker

Valerio: Okay. Look, who is the growth hacker, I mean what does he do?

It is a buzzword, that is, a word that is used a lot on the Web.

There's an avalanche of hashtags, there's a lot of chatter, a lot of blog posts about this, but then they always ask "but are you a growth hacker?"

What is a growth hacker?

Is what you do growth hacking?

Explain what it is.

Raffaele: Yes, you make a good point. First of all, it's definitely a buzzword of the moment, especially in Italy, in America maybe the hype has already passed a little bit. In Italy it's a buzzword and it's used inappropriately in most cases.

I tend very much to try to simplify the concept a little bit: growth hacking is nothing more than the intersection, the coming together of a number of disciplines, of things that have always existed, have always been done, under a new hat, a new name (which also sells books), with a well-defined process, well-defined steps, and the support of frameworks, tools, models, and so on.

È web marketing digital along with product development and data analysis, so things that individually have always existed, but for which, someone, one day said, "but why don't we conceive of these things as one process?"

This somewhat ends the paradigm in which product and marketing are two separate things, occurring at two separate times.

You experience them as two sides of the same coin.

Valerio: Well, so I just found out that I've been a growth hacker since the... I mean...

Raphael: In fact, when I give this definition, several then respond to me in this way.

The book #Growth Hacker.

Valerio: Listen, this book How did it come about, what is the idea behind it, the message you wanted to convey?

Why did you create it?

Aside from exploiting buzzwords and being successful with...

No kidding, however, where did the idea for this book come from?

You also talk about mindset, not just tools. One when one thinks about business, especially ours, thinks that those who work with marketing, Web sites and things like that are the geeks who are behind the keyboard, who know the code, the CSS, who know the tools, and they stop there. But no, there's also a mindset issue, right?

Raphael: Look, I really pushed hard with the publisher to have the word "mindset" in the title, because for me it's a balance, it's 50/50. Unfortunately, we live in an age that exalts the practical part, (so the geek as you were saying).

For some reason today you are cool if you are the one who knows how to use tools, especially the very young have completely lost sight of the importance of strategy, of vision. Doing business is first of all that, the technicality comes later.

If you don't know what you're doing you can be great with a tool (which then the tool passes, changes its name, gets acquired, gets shut down, changes its interface and so on), the moment you lose the tool, you lose that opportunity. Instead, it's first of all a mindset, so I pushed a lot on the mindset issue, even within the book.

This is, in my opinion, one of the main aspects that then brought growth hacking to entrepreneurs of any size, in any industry, beyond technicalities, beyond tools, and beyond tools.

Valerio: Look, so your ideal client is what?

Raphael: Look, I actually work with all kinds of clients, I have to tell you the truth. When I started doing this stuff the first ones that came in were, definitely, start-ups (actually very trivially because they're the ones that are a little bit more attentive to what's coming from the United States of America, so they had already heard this stuff, they were already studying some American case studies).

It has been talked about a lot because it is a methodology used by Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Dropbox, all the Silicon Valley biggies.

They were, therefore, probably the ones who were a little bit more ready to embrace the novelty. Once that moment passed, thanks to the book and a lot of activity that I also did in evangelism, in raising awareness of the issue, traditional businesses also came along.

Today I have among my clients also SMEs, professionals, and in the last period, I would tell you in the last 6-9 months, even some corporations. It's a beautiful thing because one maybe always thinks "growth hacking = startup" and actually no, actually it's not.

In the book I also recount the classic example of Coca-Cola that went from growth hacking

The customers of the growth hacker

Valerio: Okay. Are your clients Italian?

Raphael: Yes, I work with Italian clients.

Valerio: With Italian clients, okay. What are the difficulties you encounter (or see) that Italian companies have in approaching digital today?

Raphael: This is a good question, so in my opinion the mindset part is crucial before the technicality. It is always very difficult to talk about change when you come in-house, especially if your client is a big company.

You can never get there and tell the entrepreneur, "okay, you've got it all wrong ..."

Valerio: "Now we do as I say."

Raphael: "...now I'm going to show you, now I'm the good one, the cool one, and I'm going to tell you how it should be done from tomorrow, let's revolutionize everything, processes, etc.," that maybe sends you to f*****o, it also does well if you use that kind of approach.

What we need to do is, in my opinion, first of all start from the bottom, perhaps with what can be pilot projects, bounded activities, even work within a specific team, a "sandbox" (pass me that term).

Valerio: Yes.

Raphael: So bringing the first results like that, in the small way. That plus the case study part, evangelism, as I said before, it helps you a little bit at a time to break it down, to use it as a crowbar and then maybe get to something bigger.

What is needed, in my opinion, is an initial information/training phase, precisely because very often enterprises are not just not ready for growth hacking, they are not ready for what comes before either.

Maybe they're missing a lot of those tools, a lot of that terminology, a lot of those approaches, etc., that maybe we insiders know well and take for granted. I guess it happens to you, too.

So you have to take a little step back, remembering that in front of you is an interlocutor with whom you have to speak simply, without big words, without buzzwords.

You have to bring the numbers, talk to Excel instead of talking to the pipsqueaks that we, insiders, do to sell more.

Valerio: That's true, that's true. Look, but do all growth hacks have beards? Because...

Raphael: No, no no...

Valerio: ...between social media managers and growth hackers, they're all pretty bearded...

Raphael: For some reason they are all handsomely bearded, I by the way am also bald, which is another typical digital characteristic.

Authoritativeness in growth hacking

Valerio: Listen, you know I have a thing about authority, that is, growing one's brand, so a man emerges from the crowd through effective and efficient communication of his message, using what I call his own voice.

So I'm talking about getting your voice out to the people who are best suited to receive it, so then it's much easier flow of sales, acquisition, retention, what have you.

Can growth hacking help with that as well, can it intervene in the authoritativeness part? (I call it "authoritativeness," but really we're basically talking about branding, brand awareness, everything that goes with it).

Raphael: Absolutely. Let's say that one of the main features of growth hacking is that if we look at a classic sales funnel (without going into too much detail), it can be used in any step of this funnel, because it's a process, basically.

As a process you apply it where you have the need. In the case of authority, or branding, if we want to use another word, you simply apply it at the top of the funnel.

You then apply it to everything that happens before the sale, like building a very strong brand, reaching the right people, increasing the trust people have in you, and so on, and then in the long run selling something to those people.

I would say, therefore, absolutely yes. Especially for those who maybe start from scratch and have to, for example, position themselves in a niche or create a niche, once you identify what your need is, you apply the growth hacking process at the top of the funnel, there in what is usually called awareness, branding...

Valerio: Sure.

Raphael: ... and so on.

The tools of the growth hacker

Valerio: Look, what do you think are the top three tools, the ones you like the most, the ones you use the most, the ones that give you the most satisfaction, the ones you enjoy using the most for you and your clients?

Raphael: As tools do you really mean the -- or do you mean -- tools?

Valerio: Tools, platforms, tools...

Raphael: So, look, I'm a big fan of qualitative data (again, this opens up another eternal struggle between quantitative data and qualitative data). We have been focusing too much on analytics and forgetting to talk to our customers, this has been happening in the last few years.

Among some of the tools I always use, which I always have my clients use, is Hotjar.

It's a beautiful platform, it's a suite of different toolkits useful for doing activities like hit maps, but it's also useful for doing activities like customer chats (so doing surveys, real-time interviews and so on).

Hotjar is a nice little package with lots of little tools inside that are useful for something a little bit more specific. In particular, for the part of doing customer interviews, there are a couple of useful tools.

For example, there's Zendesk which is very strong, Customerly, there's this macro category of tools that allow you to open, basically, that famous little window in the bottom right hand corner where you ask users questions in real time.

Valerio: Okay.

Raphael: I recommend it to people who are watching, use it because they are life-changing tools. Sometimes you find out things about how your customers use your product, what they think about you, that make you then, really, review your business.

Third, there's the whole strand of usability testing, so again we fall into the macro category of qualitative, so you'll have, therefore, tools like UsabilityHub, WhatUsersDo, and so on, the ones that allow you to basically do what used to be focus groups

Valerio: Yes.

Raphael: ... let's say that, for lovers of 80s, old-school advertising. They allow you to do it completely online. If I, from my home, want five people in the United States, between the ages of 25 and 35, male, to try my product and give me feedback, with tools like this I can do it, and it's a blast if you think about it. I can do it with pocket change, sitting from my couch.

Privacy and Cambridge Analytica

Valerio: That's pretty cool. Look, that brings me to another question. It occurred to me, since you live in Cambridge, everything that's going on right now in Cambridge Analytica, which is their use of data from this mass collection of 50 million profiles.

It is not the profiles as they say in the news that they have hacked 50 million profiles.

They didn't hack 50 million profiles. They saw the interconnections and the likes and dislikes, the trends, the conversations among 50 million people and they figured out what were the keys to turn, or rather, where to go to put their finger to change people's opinions through other media, through advertising.

So if they were talking about Trump being with the porn star, they saw that and they had to do something else to counter this kind of...

Anyway, these things are important, then now there's a whole talk of privacy, on May 25, 2019, the European GDPR came into effect here in Italy as well... in short, a lot of hassle.

However, you, how do you see this issue of our Zuckerberg having it in stars and stripes in a while?

Raphael: I think certainly a lot of misinformation has been made about this particular issue, even you were saying that. The newspapers talked about a violation and there was no violation, it's us who clicked on the applications, it's us who agreed to use the little game of turn giving in exchange in our data. Someone then took this data, did 2+2 and said okay....

Valerio: Yes yes...

Raphael: ...if you like this thing, this thing and this other thing, you probably vote Republican. That's all.

Valerio: That's right.

Raphael: That's what happened, fed this data to algorithms and then secondly used it to show you one ad over another, but it all started with us. I, the reflection I would make, is "okay, these giants have a lot of power in their hands, it's probably time to be a little more careful, think about regulation and so on.

But how careful are we with our data, with our privacy?"

Valerio: Exactly:

Raphael: Perhaps we have become accustomed to giving away our data too easily for free, and then getting certain services that we have now become accustomed to. Let's therefore, for a moment, take a little step back.

Yes, Facebook has its faults, yes Cambridge Analytica has its faults, however, it is also us jerks who for years clicked on anything to get it for free, despite knowing all along that when the product is free, the product is us...

Valerio: Sure...

Raphael: ...and now came a landmark case that made us wake up, "oh my god they use our data." Yes, my friends, they've been using our data for years, so this stuff is free.

Valerio: Well, sure, there's the old saying "when you sit down at a poker table and you don't know who the chicken is, maybe the chicken is you."

Raphael: Exactly.

Valerio: The same thing applies...

Raphael: We are the chickens, Valerio, that's the truth.

Growth hacker tips

Valerio: Look, in conclusion, if we want to give some suggestions to some entrepreneurs, professionals, freelancers, who want to leverage growth hacking strategies or methodologies to their advantage, what would you suggest?

Raphael: Look, so... again, trying to simplify so much, regardless of the buzzwords, the big words...

Valerio: Yes.

Raphael: ...from trends, and so on, in my opinion there are some things that this book can give as concrete takeaways.

We say, "but 'this stuff then how do I use it practically in my business?"

The first thing you can do is to stop looking at web marketing and product as two separate things. Gone is the era in which I develop a product for two years and then, a week before the launch, I pose the problem of how I acquire users.

It's too late raga, you don't do this anymore, it was fine 10 years ago.

Today the web marketing and product are two sides of the same coin and should be considered as such, marketing is an integral part of the product itself. The second thing is to talk to your customers, just please, because although it is such a simple, cheap and powerful thing, very few people really do it.

So, I was saying, the customer really becomes part of the process by which we sometimes make products, getting feedback from them, talking to them all the time, iterating, going to change what our product is, going back to them for feedback, and so on. Data must then be at the center of your strategy, your vision. I am one of those who believes that in business there is no such thing as intuition, instinct or experience.

There is data, and it is easy to fill your mouth with big words like data driven, but then being data driven is actually not easy at all, because you have to know what data you have to read, how to read it, and most importantly what decisions to make based on what you read.

You must also be able to say no when things are not working and when the data tell you no.

These are, in my opinion, 3 very very simple but very pragmatic takeaways from the daily grind that one can take home from growth hacking, from this book, and from this macro topic that we have addressed.

Valerio: Okay, perfect, thank you. Beautiful.

Raphael: Thank you.

Valerio: You've given a lot of interesting insights. I would say we can also end here, I thank you so much for being here with me, here with us.

I'll remind you of Raphael's book, it's this one right here, I really show it nice and pretty, in fact there's more light here. Here it is.

Published by FrancoAngeli, Growth Hacker: mindset and tools to grow your business, I recommend it very much. Thank you again Raphael.

Raphael: Thank you Valerio.

Valerio: We meet again here on Valerio.it in "PODCAST," YouTube, on the blog, everywhere, just search for me and you will find this and other interesting interviews.

That's all for now, thank you, and as always my best wish: make a difference and create an impact, because the world is waiting for you. Greetings from Valerio. Hello!

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