My Q3 2016 Review - Photo of Techweek Toronto

Thankful for a Fabulous Q3 2016!

I can’t believe Q3 (July, August, September) is over! The weather is getting cooler, light jackets are back in use, but still enjoying a few hours of sunshine. I’m reviewing the quarter that was — what went well and what would make them even better.

Techweek Toronto – July 25-28, 2016 – Mars Discovery District and Berkeley Church

Got to see the beautiful Berkeley Church and Mars Discovery District. I visited the booths at the startup pitch contest, the hiring fair, and an amazing day of tech panels. Techweek’s Amanda Signorelli and her amazing team celebrated women in technology with a great breakfast event where I got to meet some awesome ladies. The panel discussions covered relevant topics on tech startups and entrepreneurship. I got to see who’s who in the local tech scene. It was pretty cool to meet Ben of Instigator Blog, a website I followed from way back in my Startup Philippines / Pinoy Web Startup days. Life-changing as well was connecting with Markus Latzel of Palomino (WebPal), one of the panelists.

Peer Nutrition Program

OK, not related to digital but absolutely essential to adulting! What an absolutely educational and practical program run by the Toronto Public Health! Our group had a very informative moderator named Ana Lina. Over a span of 6 weeks we discussed the Canada Food Guide, grocery shopping, and food safety guidelines. Every week we would try a new recipe that I immediately tried after our session. I appreciate how the course has shortened my learning curve with adapting my meal-making repertoire to what’s locally available. My favourite is yogurt parfait!

Freelancing 101 – August 15, 2016 at BrainStation

Dan O’Donnell was generous with sharing his framework for working with clients. I found myself nodding along and relating to a lot of what he said about scope, pricing, handling client discussions. What will make you stand out is understanding user requirements and managing and clarifying expectations. At first, you might not necessarily be able to estimate accurately your hours but as you work on projects more often, you can specialize and you become more efficient.

Sketch Basics – August 30, 2016 at RED Academy

I’ve been using Sketch since it first came out, mostly for manipulating images, graphic design. So when I got the RED Academy email about a Sketch Basics workshop for UX design, I thought what a fabulous opportunity to learn some new tricks! I usually learn these tools on-the-job so it was nice to try the classroom mode of instruction. The classroom setup at RED does seem to foster collaboration and the quality of instruction was remarkable.

Tech Toronto – September 19, 2016 at RBC WaterPark Place

I got to see what #TechTO is all about! Including a chair yoga session. What a great level of energy and enthusiasm Alex, Jason, and Marianne get! I want Jason’s hoverboard!
Some takeaways (far too many!) There are many more markets outside of US and Canada that you can expand to. Plan for lean, mean expansion. Design for growth, internationalization, localization. Median time to IPO is 7-8 years, so you better choose well when you decide what you startup idea you commit to.

Intro to HTML and CSS Workshop – September 14 & 21, 2016 at HackerYou

I felt right at home volunteering as a Technical Mentor for this Ladies Learning Code workshop. Just like my days at Philippine Web Designers Organization or when I was coaching junior designers. I loved seeing the faces of the participants light up when they made their webpage background change color or when I guided them through debugging. I’d love to volunteer here again.

Sales & Marketing Connections Info Session at ACCES Mississauga

My friend UX MVP Regnard gave glowing recommendations about ACCES so I finally gave them a visit. They have programs that support newcomers in shortening the learning curve for adapting to the Canadian workplace. This specific program is for newcomers with at least 3 years of sales and marketing experience outside of Canada. Quite a trek from where I’m staying but well worth it. 

Look out Q4! 

I’m really excited about all the buzz, the exposure, the people, the ideas from the events I got to attend. I’m definitely on the lookout for more quality learning sessions and maybe ways I can contribute. 

Feeling thankful I’m in a meetup and talent-rich city! Happy Thanksgiving!

gimme the good stuff photo

Blog Disclosure Policy

OK. Since I’m getting back to publishing, I’m doing some reorganizing and planning. One of the concerns that has come up is going along with FTC (even though I’m not in the US), and to let you know what to expect about some of the content I publish. So what should you know?
* I may make money from posts an/or ads on my blog. If you click on a link, you may assume that I will receive some form of compensation (commission or free credits) from that link.
* If I receive free stuff to review, just go ahead and assume that I got the item for free.
* I still of course will come up with my own opinion based on my principles and parameters. I keep an open mind and anyone who knows me will tell you – I’ll tell you like it is.

The photo is of a notebook… because notebooks are one of my not-so-guilty pleasures. I love to visit the stationery section in a store. Ha! I also enjoy makeup, books, trips, clothes, purses, gadgets…

book notes photo growth hacker marketing

Book Notes: Growth Hacker Marketing by Ryan Holiday

I’m excited to share some book notes with you — a testament to how Ryan Holiday inspired virality with how he wrote the book! Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing, and Advertising provided a good overview, listed a plethora of examples, a case study, and inspires action.

My first valuable takeaway is that growth hacking is an approach, a mindset, that can be learned. Take the time and effort to test, study the data, to value and to listen to your customers. A blend of product development, marketing, and sales, this very much aligns with how I like to approach business development.

Growth Hacking is business strategy that throws out the playbook of traditional marketing and replaces it with customer acquisition techniques that are testable, trackable, and scalable. Its tools are emails, pay-per-click (PPC) ads, blogs, and platform APIs instead of commercials, publicity, and money. While traditional marketing chases vague notions like “branding” and “mind share,” growth hackers relentlessly prusue users and growth — and when they do it right, those users beget more users, who beget more users. They are the inventors, operators, and mechanics of their own self-sustaining and self-propagating growth machine that can take a startup from nothing to something. (p. 83)

A growth hacker is an employee with a simple job: growing the business by any means possible. This role, according to Andrew Chen and many Silicon Valley pioneers, has come to supplant the typical VP of Marketing. Growth hackers’ main task is to build great marketing ideas into the product during the development process. Growth hackers often have a programming background, but it’s not required. Growth hackers are pros at hypothesizing, testing, and iterating different versions of the product to create hockey stick growth for their companies… (p.82)


  • “Growth Hackers are the new VPs of Marketing, and this book tells you how to make the transofrmation.” – Andrew Chen
  • Marketing = Who is your customer? Where are they?

Step 1: It begins with Product Market Fit

  • Product Market Fit: product and customers are in perfect sync
  • Not “build it and they will come”
  • Companies need to do whatever is required to get Product Market Fit, be it rewriting your product, changing out people, saying yes/no to customers whether you want to or not, even raising dilutive venture capital
  • Open up to feedback, collect data, e.g. Survey Monkey, Wufoo
  • Examples: product development journeys of Airbnb, Instagram, Snapchat

Step 2: Find your Growth Hack

  • Test until you have a product worth marketing
  • Growth Hacking: Pull your customers in
  • You don’t have to be in front of everyone, just in front of the RIGHT people for your product
  • Go for a strategic stunt to catch the attention of your core audience
  • Do whatever it takes to pull in a small group of initial users from your particular space
  • “Focus on customer acquisition over ‘awareness'” – Sean Ellis
  • Bring your first customers in –> turn them into an army
  • Step 3: Turn 1 into 2 and 2 into 4, Going Viral

    • Dropbox tested ad spend – $233-388 per paying customer. Then tested incentivizing referrals.
    • Virality is engineered
    • Make it easy to spread the word and built a product worth sharing
    • Examples: Dropbox – get 500MB free for every referral, Hotmail/iPhone/Blackberry email signature, Spotify with Facebook login

    Step 4: Close the Loop: Retention and Optimization

    • CONVERT and RETAIN users
    • Track conversion rate and stickiness, vs vanity metrics
    • Examples: Based on Twitter user data, users are more likely to stay when they follow friends on the first day, so they built this into the signup process
    • Always be tweaking
    • 5% increase in customer retention ==> 30% increase in profitabilty (Bain & Co)

    The Goal

    To reach people in an effective, scalable, and data-driven way


    1. Cheaply test your products, improve based on feedback, then launch
    2. Reduce barriers to entry; use targeted media and platforms to bring your customers on board
    3. Aim for a WOW factor and response from your customers
    4. Build your email list

    Definitely a must-read for anyone interested in growing or starting a business in general, and especially relatable when you’re in tech. Taking these principles and bringing to traditional industries are sure to cause disruption.

    Have you read this book and applied what’s in it? Have any other book recommendations?

    From SAHM to Working Mom Photo

    Transition from SAHM to a Working Mom

    From Web Professional to SAHM

    Three years ago, I said goodbye to a promising corporate web project management post, a job that really matched my skills and interests with a talented, hardworking team. With only 2 months maternity leave in the Philippines (for NSD, 3 months for CS), so much change had happened in our lives, with my body, my thoughts, my soul, it was a tad overwhelming to do well in both worlds. Striving for work-life balance is easier said than done with a 2-hour commute and called for a reevaluation of priorities. And so. I said hello to diapers (even went through a cloth phase, yes), tot school, nonstop nursery rhymes, and babywearing. I constantly feel so grateful and fortunate that I braved through the newborn months, the stormy phases, teething, fevers, even exclusively breastfeeding for 30 months. Of course, JP’s support made a big impact. Full-time mom was I, along with acquiring some homemaking skills.

    From SAHM to Working Mom

    Having studied economics and having run a consulting company, my brain is wired to think in terms of billable hours and comparative advantage. Now that Sam is getting older, she would benefit in a lot more playtime (outdoor and indoor) than I have the capacity for. It might be time for the professionals. She’s been learning to do things herself for a while now, she’s potty-trained, feeds herself, has the bedtime routine down pat — preschool, here we come. She’s ready. I’m ready.

    Mom Guilt

    There’s an inevitable risk for mom guilt, which I’m addressing with coaching and a support network and just plain being open to a conversation about it. (Is there such a thing as ‘dad guilt’ then?)

    Transition Plan

    Now that we’ve settled in our new place, I’m getting ready for the job search and I’ve put in motion our transition plan. She started daycare. Home routines and events are on the calendar.
    I’ve been updating my front-end dev skills, which has always been quite a joy for me to do. Getting into the CMS (content management system) myself for a client has always been handy. Switching my version control mindset from SVN to Git. Doing some inbound marketing / digital marketing work too.
    I had a conversation recently that brought to light that web project management is what I do, what I am. I’ll want to write more about that. Moving to Canada was a project we successfully completed. A lot of my life is “managed” in my journal and tools such as Google Calendar, Trello, Wunderlist, Simplenote.

    To Be a Professional Again

    I’m testing out different methods for the job search. One of which includes adding here — hey, if you can connect me to a project coordinator / web project manager post here in Toronto, or have any advice, I’d love to take you out for coffee (or tea!) Email me at mariecasas at gmailD0tcom or DM me @mariecasasTO

    marie and sam at dock

    Why I Said, “See you next time, Manila”

    This year is already a hallmark one for our family. We upped and left my hometown and all our immediate relatives to make a new life in Canada.

    In the span of 8 weeks, we found a new apartment, set up our desks (of course!), and are still going through the Settlement Checklist! It’s a grand new adventure I never thought possible and now here we are!

    first few days checklistsettlement checklist

    New people I meet here in Canada have been very welcoming and friendly. Sometimes I get asked “Why did you move to Canada?” And my answers seem to change every time.

    So… why?

    Like many Filipino migrants, we could live a comfortable life in Manila, especially with the low cost of living and a relatively safe suburban lifestyle. That’s the key word – COMFORT. Family, friends, and everything you know is there.

    A New Adventure

    Yet, when you stop and think about it. We’re in our early 30s. We’d probably have another 30+ productive working years. The world is your oyster. Time for a new adventure, a new chapter of our lives.

    Planting a Flag

    Would be nice to have, say, 2 Flags! Flag Theory is an idea spreading among “nomads”, “perpetual travelers”, “location independent” professionals and entrepreneurs. It teaches that being tied down to just 1 country’s government that controls your citizenship, your residence, your assets, and your livelihood is not ideal – best to spread your risk and plant flags in different countries. Multinational corporations do it, after all, have a corporate headquarters in one country, establish subsidiaries all over, manage offshore banking accounts. Certainly an interesting read here, here, and here. OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) already have it down by working abroad and being exempt from income tax.

    Our Child’s Future

    Indeed, having kids changes you. A huge turning point was when we visited John Tracy Clinic (JTC)in Los Angeles. JTC is a nonprofit that advocates for children who are deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHH). Recommended by Dr. Norberto Martinez, one of the handful Cochlear Implant certified surgeons in the Philippines, I signed up for their online course and learned a great deal, especially about the auditory-verbal approach. We attended a panel of children, each child or teenager wearing hearing aids or cochlear implants. They spoke about school and their friends, their hobbies. One of them was in the choir, another one played the piano. They all spoke so well – so different from my preconceived idea of a DHH person. I got teary-eyed then just as I’m writing about this now. How I wish for this future for Sam.
    I don’t know if that outcome would be possible for Sam in Manila. It felt like it would be against all odds, taking a great magnitude of time and energy (and money!) from all of us. I already saw the odds of her being teased, whispered about, and pre-judged. Something I’m quite aware of, being ‘morena’, a supposedly nicer way of describing someone with dark brown skin, in a colonized country where fair skin equates with beauty.

    The Westerner Inside of Me

    I’ve always felt a heavy Western influence in my thoughts and beliefs. My parents let me visit the US when I was 12 and found the cool climate in San Francisco quite pleasant. I grew up reading American literature, watching American TV shows (I’m sorry but you cannot pay me to watch Filipino soaps), I walk around and talk to myself in English. I have a lot of quirks that seem to be, well, quirks in Manila, but feel quite normal or accepted in the West. So here’s to being in a place where I can be me. Just like my friend Pam feels like she should be in South Korea.

    Off to a Beautiful, Multicultural, Nature and Tech Loving City

    And so I did what I do best and did some R&D. Research a way to move to a developed country, found options, and found Canada to be the best in so many aspects – culture, diversity, education, social welfare, business. The adventure begins!