Burning Down the House

image of author Paul Murphy

Paul Murphy


3 min read

Animated character in the middle of a fire


Not many people in my industry heat their home solely with wood. I do. I know too much about wood. I can tell what kind of tree it came from by looking at it, and I can tell how well it will burn by picking it up.

It’s cold where I live. I’m in the mountains. It’s windy, and it snows. I burn a lot of wood.

I use a big fireplace in the kitchen to keep it warm. I also cook there. In winter I work at the kitchen table. The previous owners of this house used to move their bed into the kitchen as soon as it got cold. I “upgraded” the house by installing a wood-burning stove that keeps the upstairs bedrooms warm-ish.

So I have two fires to manage, all the time.

Actually, I have three, but the third one is metaphorical: user acquisition.

User Acquisition

What does user acquisition have to do with managing a fire? Not much, but the dynamics are oddly-similar.

For the record, I’m not a pro. I’m not a marketer or a salesman. But I work for a startup, where user acquisition is everyone’s job.


Managing a fire, especially at the beginning, is a near-constant source of anxiety. Do I have enough paper? Should I use cardboard? Is the kindling dry enough? Do I have the right sized wood once it gets going?

And at the beginning, a fire has to be fed constantly.

User acquisition is like that?

Yup, especially at the beginning. Am I capturing the right contact data? Should I send email? How often? Is my email annoying? Will they mark it spam? Maybe I should use social media. Will anyone pay attention? How do I get more followers? What about a blog? I could write a blog! Then people can read it on their own time. What should it be about? Signing up for our service? No, too direct. How about building fires? Hmm. Good idea 😉

You with me on anxiety?


Now let’s talk about procrastination. If you want to survive the winter in my house, don’t procrastinate.

Order wood in August. Lots of wood. Pile it up so air flows through it. Cover it in case it rains.

Every day, bring in enough wood before it gets dark. Don’t forget. We have scorpions and vipers here. They’re usually not in wood piles when it’s cold, but you never know. Daylight helps.

Remember I mentioned the anxiety of feeding the fire? You can’t forget. Keep checking. Feed it often at the beginning, then less often. And pay attention to air flow.

When I’m working, I have to set alarms. It’s the only way.

User acquisition? Same thing. Don’t procrastinate.

Setup all the systems you’re going to need to engage with your users. You need social media accounts, an email management platform, and a CRM. At the very least.

Send out email updates on a regular basis. Engage with your followers on social media. Don’t let them forget you! Write the blog post. Not tomorrow. Today.


The anxiety is useful. It’s necessary. It forces focus, and prevents procrastination. Maybe once you’re a pro, the anxiety goes away. I don’t know.

What I do know is that once a fire really gets going, once it’s producing enough embers to cook a chicken, or once it’s strong enough to burn a huge log all night, I feel very satisfied. I feel joy. I feel like nature is rewarding me for all the effort I put into her.

I also know that when the user acquisition fire finally gets going, once it’s self-sustaining, once I know – or at least think I know – that we’re delivering what users want, I feel very satisfied. I feel joy.

Burning Down the House

Unfortunately, this is where my fine analogy ends.

I never want my fires to get out of control. But if our user acquisition gets out of control and forces our ops team to run around putting out fires, I’ll be OK with that. Definitely more joy.

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About author

image of author Paul Murphy

Paul Murphy

Toucan co-founder.
Rabbi, driving instructor, and acrobat in parallel universes.

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