My Original Brand Was in Growth Hacking

I pitched growth hacking to Twitter; they passed on it—but they let me invest

Oct 09 2019

Naval: Strangely enough, my brand started out in growth hacking. I co-built a Facebook app that got 20 million installs pretty quickly, and I used that as my calling card with entrepreneurs. This was in the early days before Andrew Chen blew it open for the world.

A friend told me about Twitter. Back then, it was still text-message based and very much a toy. It was the pre-app. I tried it and liked the product. I tracked down Evan Williams to ask about investing. 

Ev had just given a bunch of money back to investors for a failed podcasting venture called Odeo. He’d kept Twitter, the one thing out of that studio that looked interesting.

At that point his round was done and he had a little bit of allocation left.  He more-or-less asked, “Why should I let you invest?” I got on a whiteboard for half an hour and laid out what little I knew about growth hacking, while he and his deputy watched.

At the end he said, “This sounds great. We’re not going to do any of it because it’s against our ethos.” I respected him for that. But he was impressed enough that I cared and I’d thought about it, that I got a chance to invest in Twitter. That was my first major angel investment that worked out.

Ryan Hoover and Patri Friedman have interesting brands

Nivi: Are there any new angel investors who have done a good job building a brand?

Naval: I don’t know if they necessarily built brands to invest, but I think a few developed brands through their natural activities that will give them the ability to invest. The rest of it—judgment, capital and so on—is still up to them.

Ryan Hoover has a great brand. His Twitter game is among the best I’ve seen; he builds community on Twitter simply as a side effect of breathing. He’s going to have a good brand as an angel investor, especially with consumer companies.

Patri Friedman also has a strong brand. He’s investing in startup countries and sovereign individual projects. It’s a distinctive enough thesis and angle that all of the libertarians and free-state types will flock to him. He’s the first to put a stake in the ground and say, “I’m going to fund these kinds of activities,” which means he’ll get to see all of the limited dealflow in that space. 

At the same time, there are lots of other projects, especially in crypto, that will be naturally inclined to let him invest. They aren’t necessarily about starting a free state but overlap in some way. The people starting those companies are sympathetic to free-state projects and are themselves sovereign individuals. These are the people who signed petitions to free Ross Ulbricht and Julian Assange—and I’m one of them, by the way.