Introducing… PIRATE MARKETING: Why marketing in 2021 has a lot to do with Piracy

Julian Ivaldy
8 min readSep 20, 2021

I’m not an avid reader, but we all try to read a book or two during summer, don’t we? It was a selection of pirate books and novels for me, from “Treasure Island” to “Pirate Nation”. They inspired me far beyond what I imagined.

I was struck by the similarities between the pirate life and the way we do marketing with our companies at The Secret Company. I truly understood the meaning of Steve Jobs’ quote “It’s more fun to be a pirate than to join the Navy”. Large companies with closed processes and rules, metaphorically the Navy, are much slower to react to change than small startups (pirate ships). What I call pirate marketing is a dynamic way of marketing that responds to ever-changing markets and consumer expectations.

My name is Julian, Co-founder & Head of Growth of the startup studio The Secret Company. We are a crew of serial entrepreneurs, with a pirate mindset, secret co-founders of 10+ startups. Let me introduce you to PIRATE MARKETING.

It took me a while to really understand marketing and the scope of its practice. I used to confuse marketing with a lot of other things, like sales or advertising, which are in fact only small parts of this vast discipline.

Marketing is more about understanding the society and environment we live in in order to address an offer. It all starts with the pursuit of your product-market fit, investing in a graphic identity that makes sense to your market and your persona. Imagine strategies that will make your offer known, that will turn your customers into ambassadors, that will increase the value of your offer etc.

There are many different types of marketing like Traditional Marketing, Outbound Marketing, Digital Marketing, Content Marketing. These same types of marketing are often classified into marketing families like direct marketing, growth marketing, guerrilla marketing etc. In the end, a good marketing pirate is someone who is able to adapt to all these forms of marketing and make choices that make sense for the offering they are making and the market & people they are addressing.

Marketing is segmented into many components such as research, target market identification, communication, public relations, advertising, etc. All of this must be done within the budget and resources provided by the company. This means that marketers must be very strategic, as they must decide what tactic and plan they will perform each year to achieve their goals, whether it is to increase awareness or sales.

What I love about marketing is that it involves cross-functional teams from different areas of expertise working toward a common goal.

Like pirates, governed by treasure as a common goal, at The Secret Company we define a North Star metric for each of our businesses, and all of our team members strive to evolve that metric exponentially in different ways.


I have to admit something to you… I am hyper active.
So when I started marketing, I must admit that I was doing completely different actions every week and that my Focus Metric & KPI were quite general parameters like the number of views, signups, customers thanks to my actions. I quickly understood that this certainly led to a growth, but not an exponential and long term growth. So I took a lot of distance on my marketing & growth actions and I discovered the north star metric.

A North Star metric is the one measurement that is most predictive of a company’s long-term success. To qualify as a “North Star”, a metric must do three things: lead to revenue, reflect customer value, and measure progress. If a metric hits those three points, and every department contributes to improving it, the company will grow sustainably, or so the theory goes.

In the same way that pirates work together to find the common treasure, a good pirate marketing team will identify the metric that will allow the company to have exponential long term growth and everyone at their level will be able to influence it.

A simple example, Spotify’s north star metric is not revenue, not the number of signups but the time spent by each user on the application. Why ? Because if a user spends time, it has an influence on the company’s revenue (more ads or higher probability to be in premium version). This has a big influence on the perceived value of the company to customers, the more time they spend, the more they appreciate the application. And it can be easily tracked & analysed to see the progress the company is making to increase this value.

What is quite interesting is that both the person who does the marketing in the emailing department has this metric in mind when she writes her campaigns and sends the best ones are listened to every year. The designer who will work on the UI/UX interface also has it in mind, the developer who will create the onboarding system also… In fact everyone can have an influence on this metric and can participate in the long term exponential growth of the company.

As the ruthless Captain Barbossa says, “You are pirates. Hang up the code, and hang up the rules. They’re more like guidelines anyway.”

To be a pirate in marketing, you should never focus too much on market rules. Like an unknown sea, we keep exploring strategic alternatives and we are not scared to try different paths. In marketing, there are just a few one-size-fits-all absolutes in setting your business strategy. Markets are dynamic, always shifting and changing following consumer demands, such as new product launches or emerging competitive threats. The only thing that counts at the end of the day are the actions taken.


Software engineer Andy Hertzfeld once said, “Being a pirate means moving fast, unencumbered by bureaucracy and politics.

When pirates set out on an adventure, they have no choice but to do whatever it takes to reach their goal. A very simple reason, they have a limited amount of resources and live under the credit of the treasure they will find.

In pirate marketing, we work in a similar way. We operate in a hostile environment, with limited resources and time constraints.

I personally start by identifying a problem, a sticking point or an area of improvement, i formulate hypotheses that i write and evaluate (Impact, Confidence, Ease) and i implement the most relevant idea.If this idea works and metric associate evolves in the right direction, I will optimize it again and again. If it doesn’t work after 1 week, I tackle another hypothesis.

Many people give too much importance to ideas and strategies and forget to execute and act. It’s the same with entrepreneurship. Many people want to start a business but say they are waiting for the idea. THE IDEA doesn’t exist, the most popular companies are not the ones that had the best ideas, they are the ones that turned their idea into reality, focusing on execution and accepting to see their model and ideas iterate.

The challenge is to find the right balance between reflection and action and it depends on your type of business, your marketing campaign, the problem you are attacking…

What I really like about pirates is the relationship they have with their image, their (brand) identity.

They understood that they could rely on their reputation & their great victories, to make them a strength. Each pirate had his own flag, which allowed him to attract new talent, win battles without even having to fight, etc.


Pirate flags were used to strike fear into the hearts of all those unfortunate enough to encounter them. They also served as a way for pirates to identify each other. They all had the traditional black pirate flag with the skull and crossbones, the Jolly Roger, but most importantly they all had a flag specific to their crew & ship.

Pirates have always worked on the image they spread through elements of distinction such as flags, ships, accessories. Francis Spriggs’ flag, for example, was a red skeleton on a black flag, while Bartholomew Roberts’ flag was a caricature of him sharing an hourglass with Death. Blackbeard, on the other hand, adorned his beard with lighted matches to look like “a fury from hell.

Developing this strong identity allowed them to scare their enemies, recruit new pirates and expand their power. Pirates developed their dominance through their successes, their treasure finds, the battles they won… and they liked to show it off to assert their authority.

Developing a strong brand identity is an essential concept for a marketing pirate. This includes design choices, brand ubiquity, and brand awareness. Like pirates, building a strong image allows you to attract new people on board your ship, to be recognized, and feared.

It took me a while to understand the importance of branding, brand identity and brand awareness. I was very attached to the category A customers, those who really have the need and are actively looking for a solution. But I never got too attached to the B and C customers, those who are not actively looking for a solution or those who didn’t even perceive the problem I was going to fix for them.

For long-term exponential growth, branding & brand identity & brand awareness is an essential and key element of success. Pirate marketing is about creating an identity that doesn’t need to be presented to be sold, that speaks for itself.

Being a pirate is really a way of life, taking risks, giving everything on the ship, following a common treasure.

After a victory, pirates used to celebrate, party, have fun. But real pirates didn’t give up the pirate life easily after a quick victory, they quickly returned to a ship for new adventures.


Yes, we’ve all heard of pirates hiding treasure on remote islands. In reality, this was more of an exception than a rule. Pirates didn’t expect to live very long, given the trade they were in, so planning for the future was certainly not on their minds. They preferred to take any treasure they could find in a pirate-friendly port and spend it on booze and women as fast as they could, then go back to sea!

Pirating is a way of life. It’s a hard and fascinating life, just like business development. In business, we enjoy every step of the process. We like to jump right into action, follow strategies, aim high, take risks, and achieve the goal.

Likewise, we like to celebrate hard work with our team whenever we accomplish something important. We have fun, we party, we spend, we reinvest for new adventures… and then we go back to the adventure, with a new treasure in mind or a new step to get to that treasure, loving it just as much.

So, Are we actually seeking the treasure or the adventure that will lead us to that treasure?