Newsflash: Getting users to love your product and to love it so much that they tell their friends, is hard. If you look around the startup ecosystem these days, you see countless stories of the latest apps with MAU growth at 40%+, but you don’t hear about the multitudes more of these stories where the startup struggled for months even years to achieve this level of growth.
Context and user effort to engage in your service plays a huge part in determining what is a realistic growth level and what isn’t. GiveGab is a site about motivating consumers to volunteer more by making it easy and fun to discover opportunities, challenge themselves, and tell their story to the world alongside their friends. It’s our job to make people love to give. At the end of the day though, the transition from GiveGab - “the web site about volunteering” to actually volunteering requires a personal level of commitment that doesn’t necessarily have the “crazy fad” or “what’s in it for me” aspect that lots of other services have. When you are sitting on public transportation, you might search for volunteer opportunities, but it still requires you to commit time outside of swiping your fingers a few times on that transit ride.
We here at GiveGab live this day in and day out. It’s the most pressing and hardest challenge on our plates and always at the forefront of our minds. We’ve read blog after blog, talked to different product managers who seem to have a bead on this and have watched and taken many professional short courses on this topic. It’s a constant stream of ideas in our own minds that we synthesize with different tactics and strategies leveraged by other products.
I like to refer to all of this as a “dark art” or magic that happens in the ether of product development which leads to user growth.
How We Got Here
So I’d like to tell a little bit of our story… at GiveGab, we are both a consumer product to volunteers, and an enterprise product to organizations. We have the typical two sided marketplace problem that Sangeet Paul Choudary describes here (http://platformed.info/two-sided-market-seeding/) and also blogs about at platformed.io. We must provide enough content, specifically, volunteer opportunities to volunteers as well as the reverse of that - enough volunteers that can start to build up the network of interaction that makes our platform powerful to the volunteer managers and administrators at organizations that rely on that engagement and content for doing their jobs.
Our strategy to seed one side has been to work in an unscalable fashion directly with volunteer managers and administrators at organizations to bring their volunteers on board and to post opportunities. This approach has worked quite well with organizations that have truly embraced and engaged on GiveGab where typically 80%+ of the members they invited through traditional referral channels have activated and engaged. On the flip side, for those volunteer managers or administrators at organizations that don’t embrace the platform, we see only a 5%-10% conversion rate. We know there is some secret sauce in the approach that the heavily engaged organizations have taken so we continuously learn from them and use that as we onboard new organizations. We still have a long ways to go to build up this content on our site including scraping and seeding from other complementary platforms, so that work continues.
But what I really want to talk about is how that seeding strategy influenced our product decisions. What we found was we ended up developing a product which was from the volunteer manager and administrator perspective, rightfully so since they were engaged and paying organizations; however, we let that transcend over to feature development for the volunteer side of things. Essentially, we built b2b features for organizations as we should have; BUT, we let b2b input drive consumer feature development. In the end, our consumer growth has not been driven organically and we’ve been tip-toeing around the true value that we offer to consumers.
As they say, it’s always easier to build exactly the product that customers tell you they want… but where we fell short was to fully embrace the two very different personas for building the product.
Getting Consumer Focused
So about 6 months ago, we realized we built all these great features on our site, but that none were truly hitting the value prop for volunteers at the level we needed them to. We had feature bloat and realized we needed to shift our approach for product development to hone in on the volunteer perspective.
So how does a company change it’s product development culture? Well, it’s not easy, but we realized we needed to do it and we realized we wanted “user growth” on the consumer side, so we started reading up on “user growth” around the interwebs, landed on the cool new term “growth hacking” and started reading tons and tons of content at places like growthhacker.com, growhack.com, founderweekly.com, platformed.info and even took some online courses at General Assembly. These are all great places to learn up on this stuff and there is so much, that it can be daunting.
So we read all this great content but needed to figure out where to start. Do we just start going after all things? Do we focus on specific things? Was there a framework to think about all this stuff in? Well, as most others who live in this world have found, we settled on really structuring our thought processes around using the “Lean Marketing/Growth Funnel” (http://www.growhack.com/2012/10/25/introducing-the-lean-marketing-funnel/) also known as Pirate Metrics (Dave McClure - http://500hats.typepad.com/500blogs/2007/09/startup-metrics.html).
We also knew that we didn’t necessarily just want to have one or two people focus on this but that we needed to change our product culture. It needed to be at the forefront of everyone’s mind so we took the approach that Conrad Wadkowski suggests - “Don’t just hire a growth hacker - make it part of your DNA” (http://growthhackers.com/stop-trying-to-just-hire-a-growth-hacker/).
With that, we created a company-wide exercise where we built cross-functional teams of BizDev, Marketing, Product, Engineering, UX/UI. Each team was responsible for one of the states of Pirate Metrics. We had two sessions. Session 1 had everyone in the company do some homework and read up on several key articles/videos explaining growth hacking, pirate metrics, content marketing, etc. During session 1, we had a game show style presentation, where people were quizzed on some of that content and won prizes for getting the right answers. We also had a few different key leaders in the company present on the different states that were relevant to their jobs as well as how analytics came into the picture for tracking these.
At the end of session 1 we broke out into our cross-functional teams and each team was responsible for coming up with a fun team name based on their state of the growth funnel.
Team names were:
- "Axis of Acquisition"
- "Retain in the Membrane - Crazy insane, got to retain"
- "Whatchu’ Talkin ‘Bout GiveGab?"
- "Pirates Booty"
Each team also had a week to put together presentations for their state of the funnel as it applied to GiveGab and talk about what we currently do but also what we should do.
Overall, it was a fun exercise that was helpful in getting people’s heads wrapped around the basics of this discipline.
Credit to my colleagues on some fun and hilarious presentations!
Beyond the Exercise
So we did this exercise to get everyone talking the same lingo, understanding the same concepts, but beyond that, we needed to actually start executing on the framework and baking into our ongoing operations. So we rolled out “GAUGE” (aka GiveGab Awesome User Growth Engine) which created new cross-functional teams comprised of folks that had their daily job responsibilities fall under the different categories. When we mapped this out, we realized just how much the various states of the funnel require buy-in and input from roles across the organization. We also hit hard on making sure that as we moved forward, we were taking an analytical approach… making sure to create hypotheses about features, ensure we were testing them through analytics tools, and following up to learn about their effectiveness.
We ended up with the following teams:
- User Growth Features (Retention / Referral)
- Customer Engagement
Because the teams didn’t include everyone in the company and were mainly comprised of the various organizational leads, we still wanted everyone in the company to have input and be able to submit ideas, so we created a Trello board for each of these categories where anyone in the company could submit ideas. We called this our Idea Nursery, where we could cultivate ideas into actionable work items (credit to Andrew Daines from PrePlay, Inc. for this name). Each idea had to provide a business case, ballpark of complexity and cost, how it was addressing one of the states of the funnels, and how it could be tested with analytics.
As far as analytics went, we toiled over going with MixPanel, KISSmetrics, and abstraction layer through Segment.io - but in the ended decided to keep is simple and just leverage Google Analytics across our platform for event, goal, and funnel tracking. We combined this with retention data that we maintain and store in our own database and report out using a simple BI tool called DBInsights.
How it Went
So we operated with these teams for about 4 months… there were lots of meetings which ate up people’s time, but the teams formed and started to tackle some low hanging fruit. We tackled A/B testing of the landing page and improved our conversion. We revamped our emails and decided to stop annoying people with so many and really focused on a few simple ones that drove up retention, we started to get a bit more coordinated on the various channels of acquisition and who was responsible for what, and we stepped back from our UI and the responsive design effort known as R2D2 (http://blog.givegab.com/post/79548324366/introducing-r2d2-the-givegab-approach-for-better) was born really focusing on the volunteer.
We did take a “whack-a-mole” approach to all of the basics and we saw some decent returns. Since Jan 1 this year, we’ve seen 64% user growth - certainly not viral, but a decent clip. Our DAU/MAU as been consistently around 8% as well, which is a good start.
At the same time we do recognize that something is still not quite there from a value prop perspective to get us that referral-based growth needed but we are heading in the right direction. The scatter-shot team based approach worked well for baking growth concepts into our culture and getting people to work cross-functionally on these challenges, but we realize that we need to start focusing more on a few key metrics and features that hit hard on retention and engagement while continuing to build up content to deal with our two-sided marketplace issue.
We’ve now collapsed all but the acquisition team into their respective operational teams where now it’s simply their jobs to execute on the growth funnel from the perspective of the personas that fall under their product domains.
In the end, is “Gro-WHack-a-Mole” a bad thing? Early on, I say not, particularly if it helps engrain growth concepts into the DNA of your organization or as long as it fits the context and the lifecycle you are at with your product. But recognize, going scatter-shot is not sustainable. Recognize when the pendulum might have to swing back toward a more focused approach.
CTO & Co-Founder, GiveGab.com