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How to scale multiple apps from zero to million MAU (Monthy active users)

This a special AMA recap as we had the pleasure to host Akshay Pruthi for our weekly AMA. He is hands down one of the best Product Growth Folks there is. A serial entrepreneur and Product Growth Consultant for multiple companies. So let's begin this masterclass and gather the amazing insights!

“What are the important metrics to improve the MAU for a. B2B apps (an extension for the SaaS the company is providing) b. D2C apps mostly looking at what metrics could be strengthened that helps the MAU rise to millions”

Mostly my experience has been scaling social consumer apps. But I think this will help. The key metrics to focus on to increase the MAUs:

  1. Referral rate: One customer brings how many more customers? Now there could be an easy way to go about giving a referral in your app. To excel in it, you need to take care of three things: a. Have a meaningful incentive for the referrer be it cash or credits or some product feature incentive which is of high demand. b. Incentivize the right behaviour which means the referral reward should only payout when the new user has hit the goal asked to c. Make sure the program is at the heart of the product. It should be easily discoverable and should be prompted at various aha moments in the core product loops.

  2. Lead to conversion rate: avg no of leads that end up becoming customers. This will help you with the lead qualities. If they are bad, it will help you raise the right questions to improve it.

  3. 10x Value: This being really hard and very obvious, but I always prefer this over anything. Compare the existing solutions out there which solve the same problem as yours and see if yours is providing 10X value. Just for e.g, GitPrime used to directly pick the progress of the engineers by scanning their git commits. Then, using that info, they used to provide beautiful insights to PMs on the health of the sprint. Compared to existing solutions where engineers have to go to tools and update their progress.

D2C apps:

In general for D2C, important metrics to consider:

  • Repeats: How many times a customer is coming back to your platform to purchase the product. To crack this, go deep into the lifecycle of the customer and observe where all you can send a reminder to purchase. For eg, you buy shampoo every month or two. So, your monthly mailers around special offers could run around that time period which creates repeat behaviours.

  • No of SKUs: Continuing from the above metric, I have seen with more SKUs around a category, the brand recall gets better. Good to keep the customers excited and launch more SKUs with time.

Other important metrics to track:

CAC: Customer acquisition cost

LTV/CAC: Lifetime value / CAC. It’s a signal of customer profitability


I wanted to ask, what are the 3–4 most important metrics I should focus on to get my first 1000 customers once I have 100 users

Read this (https://www.lennyrachitsky.com/p/how-the-biggest-consumer-apps-got) and this (https://www.akshaypruthi.com/post/10m-installs-in-8-months-revealing-randomly-club-s-secret-sauce)

Brief:

  1. When moving from 100 to 1000, you still are early and discovering whether people love the product for its current value or not. This means you need to talk to your 100 customers and gather as many insights as you can to understand why these 100 customers love your product.

  2. You need to create a strong referral program for them to be able to get more customers to your platform. One of the questions asked earlier: “Referral rate: One customer brings how many more customers? (Can read about this in the earlier asked question).

  3. Create something for people to talk about. Human beings live on gossip. This is an insight. Use this insight and plant use cases or ideas in users’ heads for them to talk about with their friends. Eg, “Dude, you can order condoms from dunzo”.


I have a couple of questions for you which are as follows: What are the most valuable lessons that you have learned while scaling a product?

Answer:

  1. Growth is a mindset. It’s very little to do with the skills but more to do what the mind. If each and every individual in your company thinks growth, it becomes a cakewalk to get to millions of users. Use slangs in the company that is growth driven. This shall help :)

  2. Data is gold. I have run startups not looking at data and just building on intuition. Doesn’t work. Your intuition gets better when you get better at data analysis. You are able to predict things much faster for your future releases when you have been very much data-driven from the beginning.

  3. Crave for insights. You can keep growing if you can keep building on insights. It’s the most powerful tool IMO. What do we as human beings crave? Launch features fulfilling those cravings. Insights often relate to humans’ intrinsic motivation. “The constant urge to learn”, Duolingo, superhuman is built on these. Be on a constant lookout for such things.

  4. Have fun while scaling it 😊


What are some mindset/habits for a highly effective PM for growth, how are those different from a classic PM or a classic marketing manager?

A PM Growth is someone who does a product-led growth strategy. This often means a low- or no-touch sales channel as part of their go-to-market strategy as against a marketing manager who just relies on standard marketing channels like performance marketing. They work with PMs, engineers, and designers to deploy multiple growth tactics. It’s important to understand that PM’s KPI is to focus on customers while Growth PM’s KPI is to focus on business.

In my view, an effective PM growth manager should:

  1. Be on top of data

  2. Be optimizing the growth funnel on a regular basis. More on this: https://www.julian.com/guide/growth/intro

  3. Not put boundaries or limits to growth. This really tells how big the person is thinking.

Imp reads:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07DRPGGQ7/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

[A growth team] is a hybrid of marketer and coders, who looks at the traditional question of “How do I get customers for my product?” and answers with A/B tests, landing pages, viral factor, email deliverability, etc. On top of this, they layer the discipline of direct marketing, with its emphasis on quantitative measurement, scenario modelling via spreadsheets, and a lot of database queries. If a startup is a pre-product/market fit, [a growth team] can make sure virality is embedded at the core of a product. After product/market fit, they can help run up the score on what’s already working.

— Andrew Chen, Growth Hacker is the new VP Marketing


What are some of the things you do/ places you check out outside of work, to get inspiration for growth and work?

Answer:

  1. Love to play sports. It teaches the hunger for creating new records and also the chase of existing ones.

  2. Very recently developed an interest in reading history and evolution. It helps me think about how innovation happens.

  3. Daydream and list ideas. I have a calendar slot for this :)

How to grow MAU for an app selling the traditional service online for eg: A sweet shop

Tricky one. I am not sure if I would want to optimize on building a customer base on my website first or setting up my distribution channels. I think the best way in early days is to ride on existing channels who have millions of users. For eg, listing your shop on platforms like swiggy, zomato will help to generate some daily orders.

Then it’s a function of quality and user feedback. With this early base of customers, I would focus on providing a 5-star quality and asking users to give feedback around it.

I wouldn’t probably even work on my MAUs until I have exploited all distribution channels for growth.


How to innovate yourself early in a market with lots of competition selling the same solution for eg: Online photo print

Technology: I think Photo print has a massive opportunity to innovate and go digital. With the applications of AR in today’s world, one can recreate the entire experience.

Metrics are every changing with business how to model analytics accordingly to get the right info

Consider this as a course for that: https://help.amplitude.com/hc/en-us/articles/115000465251-Data-Taxonomy-Playbook


How to measure the loyalty of customer for eg: one customer placing multiple orders for a value of 1000 vs one customer placing a single order of value 1000

Loyalty comes with repeats. One customer placing an order with your shop multiple times means the customer is loyal to your brand.

Easy to measure repeats by observing the number of orders a customer has placed in X period.


One question that I have is: what all are the common challenges that you have faced when scaling the user base?

Ah! So many, but answers lie in basics. To walk through a few,

  1. How to scale from 100 to 1000?

  2. What to do on a daily basis so that users start coming to your app?

  3. What distribution channels to set to get the traffic coming?

  4. How to do all of the above at zero cost?

  5. What am I missing? How did others do it?

  6. How to improve the quality of users coming to your platform for higher retention?

  7. How to hack the system to scale?

Like I said in one of the answers above, for me — Growth is all about mindset.

So, step 1 is to develop that mindset for yourself and then for the company. And you got to be patient and keep experimenting with multiple growth channels.



How to gather behavioural insights from data and how to validate them in early-stage products which might not have much engineering resources?

Step 1: Learn the basics of data analysis. A lot of guides out there. Personal fav here.

Step 2: After you know the basics, set up all your events on to a data analytical tool like Google Firebase / Analytics (free) or Amplitude (personal fav but paid) / Clevertap (paid).

Step 3: Look for behavioural correlations and patterns around it. For eg, for one of the social consumer apps in the sleep space, from data we discovered more and more people stop sleep spend after 43 min (avg). For this, the users had to wake up to shut off their phone, pause the sound, and go back to sleep. We used this insight to launch a timer feature. This feature allowed users to set up a timer as to when they want the music to stop.

With this, we saw a jump of 23% in our retention numbers. A pure delight for users.

To answer the second part of your question, with limited engineering resources, best is talk to your users daily. Or put up feedback loops inside your product for users to send direct feedback to you.

When I did this for one of our products, we got roughly 2000 responses at an early stage. We looked for patterns or trends. Anything that was being said on a repeat basis was an insight.


Also, what metrics to optimize for to increase the stickiness of the Product?

Retention numbers, Day 1 retention, Day 7 retention, D30 retention, D90 retention.

You can also measure the stickiness of a feature in a product by looking at data and observing the retention of those particular features. Tools like amplitude help you gathering all such insights.

Where do I find users to interview, to ask about their experience using our product? (Consumer tech)

Answer:

Love this question.

  1. Firstly, start gathering information about your users. Anything, phone number, email.

  2. Do 10–15 calls daily and note all their answers in an excel sheet.

  3. Do this until you start observing some concrete patterns or trends around their feedback.

  4. Try drawing a persona of your potential customers. Now, start looking out on the internet as to where you can find such groups.

I have a document around how to do user research that shall help: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ighVrAFSUMQNpz4tG4QLOhFvtB9gOQ79BZFaymbDggg/edit?usp=sharing

Have multiple small SAAS side projects. How can I get started to grow them big?

Frankly, I am juggling through the same question

But here’s how I am approaching this:

  1. Before writing the first piece of code, I went out talking to my potential customers, asking them to play around with the prototype. If they love it, ask them if they would like to be my paid beta customer. And the business model right now is going to be simple, Pay what you like. This way, I am trying to gauge the value of my product.

  2. I ask all the potential beta customers if they can introduce me to the top 3 people who should use this product. And request them to make a connection.

Using this strategy until I absolutely figure the value of my product and the price people are comfortable paying for it.

Then the strategy is to go and pitch bigger clients. One by one. I am new to this field but I have heard, most of the money of SAAS companies comes from one big client.

What are those the major paid acquisition available right now for early-stage startups?

Performance marketing (fb/google/instagram/twitter/youtube/snap/hotstar ads)

  1. Building your PR engine by contacting various bloggers and publications asking them to either do guest blogging or paid write-ups.

  2. ASO paid services for keyword boosting

  3. Influencer marketing

Personally, not a big fan of paid acquisition channels.


Improving retention as a company scale is also important, can you share some frameworks on product-led retention examples you’ve seen in products?

Answer:

https://www.akshaypruthi.com/post/stuck-on-your-product-and-don-t-know-what-to-do-next-follow-this

Shall help :)

What according to you is the difference between growth hacking and digital marketing?

Not the best person to answer but here’s my view on it:

Growth hacking is basically a product manager, designer, and engineer getting together to run multiple experiments that lead to product-led growth.

Digital marketing doesn’t really have to do much with product-led growth. There are channels like performance marketing (ads), SEO hacks, content play to get more users to your platform.

What are your favorite go to blogs/websites to read about scaling and growth?

Blog: https://www.lennyrachitsky.com/

Books:

  1. Deep Work

  2. The Subtle art of not giving a fuck

  3. Good strategy, bad strategy

  4. Measure what matters

  5. Lean analytics

  6. Your goto guide to creating ridiculously good content

  7. Explain Data and inspire action through story

  8. Why Buddhism is true

  9. Waking Up

  10. The most underrated product management skill Influence without authority


According to you which channels are most effective for acquisition of customers for financial products if you have experience in it ?

I’m afraid I haven’t. But I have a read for you that shall help:

“First of all, let’s talk about a few ways you can build trust with users:

  1. Social proof: If people that you trust are using a product, you’ll certainly be more likely to trust it. Some examples of this in action. How might you leverage data and testimonials from people already using your service to create social proof — how many people are using it, what kind of people, from where, and for what purpose? Help your users immediately see that people just like them are already using and loving your product.

  2. Authority: If someone in authority has vetted a product, you’ll be much more likely to trust it. Some examples of this in action. How might you surface your certifications, approvals, badges, awards, seals, or endorsements from authority figures? How might you acquire more of these? Whatever you have — make sure your users see these early and often.

  3. Guarantees: If something goes wrong, who’s got my back? What’s the downside of giving this product a shot? How might you make your users feel like they’ll be safe and protected no matter what? The Airbnb Host Guarantee was an incredibly powerful tool for getting new hosts over the hump of opening their home up to strangers.

  4. Reputation: This is likely less relevant to your business, but reviews from other users (e.g. Yelp reviews, Uber reviews, Airbnb reviews) are one of the most powerful ways to communicate trust. If many other people have had a good experience, it’s likely you will too. Here’s a good read on this topic.

  5. Great UX: A badly designed site/app immediately introduces suspicion. Particularly when dealing with money. Pay attention to the details — the resolution of images, padding, grammar, performance, and general visual polish. Listen for these issues in user research. Little things can make a big psychological impact here. Watch Joe Gebbia’s TED talk about how Airbnb designs for trust.

  6. Deliver: With our increasing interconnectedness, word-of-mouth spreads quickly. Particularly if you do something wrong. Nothing destroys trust in your brand more quickly. At the same time, if you consistently provide a great experience, and deliver on your promise — that’s how you’ll build real long-term trust. The Amazon Flywheel is a good example of this in action.”

By Lenny


As someone with zero exp in PM but 5yrs in general management, how can I transition to become a ‘data-driven PM?’ what should my roadmap be?

I’d say two things need to go hand in hand.

  1. Read as much as possible to help you get more context of product management.

  2. Start hustling by doing a part-time product management internship at some company. You could also shadow some Product manager and handle all the product ops which shall give you a very good glimpse of how product management is done. I have done it with someone, proved to be very effective for him.


In terms of product design what are the things you read or refer to so that your products have best design/UI in the market ?


There are a lot of Instagram pages which can really help:

https://www.instagram.com/tranmautritam/

https://www.instagram.com/numicor/

https://www.instagram.com/ofspace.agency/

https://www.instagram.com/ui.colour/

https://www.instagram.com/ux.ale/

Other than that, I keep on taking inspiration from dribbble and Pinterest.

Some other resources that might help:

https://pttrns.com/

https://color.adobe.com/create/color-wheel/

https://coolors.co/f7f052-f28123-d34e24-563f1b-38726c

https://flatuicolors.com/

https://www.materialpalette.com/

Fonts

https://fonts.google.com/

http://fontpair.co/

If you wish to do a course: https://learnux.io/ (above resources are taken from here)

I am new to Growth and previously was a software dev for a couple of years. I am still in the phase of figuring out how to become good at Growth. Any tips/ suggestions?

If you are someone who likes to play around with things, experiment, you might be the right fit. Being a software engineer has its own added advantage as you can aim to become a full-stack growth guy. I would suggest, read + build small tools, very basic ones, and try to grow them on your own using technology. Read the story of Jon, owner of http://bannerbear.com/ Not a very famous guy but he built a saas tool, scaled to $6000 MRR single-handedly by just experimenting and building


FIN


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