Growth Comes with Ethical Challenges

Growth Comes with Ethical Challenges

Today, I ran across Grabby on Product Hunt. Basically, it’s a super easy way to collect email addresses associated with a domain.

There are tons of apps like this. Email scrapers are nothing new. The only thing that’s new about Grabby is it doesn’t look the site was made in the 90’s and their logo is damned adorable.

Of course, a cute logo doesn’t change the fact that many companies will use this tool for nefarious purposes—like signing you up for a newsletter you definitely did not sign up for yourself. So if you’ve wondered why your company inbox is chalk full of spam, you’ve got this little app above to thank.

Of course, the ethical snaffus of Grabby were not lost on the Product Hunt community members. Here is a snippet of the conversation volleying back and forth on the merits of Grabby:


Spamming and Growth are One in the Same

It is important to note that Alex is absolutely right that Grubby has basically created an automatic gun for spammers. But here’s a fun tidbit: These spammers run some of the most successful companies in tech.

Growth, above all, is prioritized in tech. While I am sure there are many tech companies who have built up their email lists using innovative content marketing campaigns that are completely ethical, that’s not the norm. In reality, most tech startups employ sketch tactics such as combing for email addresses from a list of domains.

There are a number of reasons for this sort of shoddy behavior.

  1. Money. Collecting emails is expensive, especially if you’re bootstrapping.  It’s also a risk unless you have some pretty in-depth knowledge of how Google AdWords works. Hundreds of dollars can easily be lost in days if the wrong keyword is targeted.
  2. Sales. Sales teams live on leads. And since a lot of sales people are paid on commission, they are pretty incentivized to use tools like Grabby that will let them open and close a sale cheaply and in the least amount of time.
  3. Value. People pay attention to their inboxes, and it is still one of the best ways to reach customers. The conversion rate of an email subscriber, even if they are obtained unethically, blows Facebook and Twitter right out of the water.

All of this combined creates a perfect storm for startup founders who want to drum up business and do so quickly.

When you’re broke, have employees to pay, and need just one more client to pay your bills, becoming the spammer that Alex detests is not the worst situation to be in.

Additionally, most people don’t care that they’ve been auto-subscribed to a newsletter that much. Sure, it’s annoying. But that’s about the extent of it.

For instance, one startup I worked with had over three of their MailChimp accounts banned due to using products like Grubby to subscribe potential small business customers to their list. They didn’t care. And I am sure there investors didn’t give one hoot either. The business they drummed up from that shady tactic helped keep their business open for another day.

To grow, you sometimes need to be a spammer. And high-minded statements like “not doing nasty things is much more important than profit” are basically useless in the face of a cash crunch. High-growth demands demand that startup founders and their underlings employ in email collection practices that are lowbrow at best.

Does that make it right? No. But until growth becomes less of a priority, Grubby and other apps like it will continue to top the boards of Product Hunt for a long time to come.