A Successful Growth Cycle Depends upon Inception

January 13, 2015

12:30 pm

Josh Elman, partner at Greylock (which has invested in AirBnB, DropBox, Pandora, and more) and past product master for Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook; knows how to engineer growth. In this video podcast from Launch Incubator’s This Week in Startups, Elman shares his secrets to a successful growth cycle. This podcast, by the way, is also available via iTunes Audio.

“Everybody signs up, but no one sticks around. Can you help with that?”

The sales funnel is something every startup tries to conquer, but this is both harder and easier than ever before. And really, it’s not just the sales funnel you should be concerned with. It’s the entire conversion process that makes your product the one that sticks, the one that becomes the habit, the go-to for that problem you’re solving for your customer. And this has always been hard, but in a mobile-first world, virality is available more now today than ever before; it’s actually easier than it’s ever been to get your word to spread. It’s the engineering of virality that is extremely difficult. Elman lays this out in four basic concepts: Identify the problem, create an inception point, guide the adoption, and ensure retention. Here are the major points to a successful growth cycle:

Problem to Product

It might seem like every product in heavy use today is obvious and easy to use, but it wasn’t always that way. Google provided education in its very process of identifying the problem for consumers. You have to educate people to make your product something they believe will solve their problem, and a fancy design isn’t necessarily what will cut it. A beautiful design doesn’t solve a problem.

Figure out your problem. Figure out how to describe it. Do that one thing really well, even if the delivery is a bit ugly. Sometimes, you will learn more about the problem you’re solving when you watch exactly what your users do with your product.

Curiosity to Inception

An idea. Resilient… highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate. – Inception

What is the language that produces additional shares and signups? When you test your conversion funnel, when you A/B test your user emails: which users become the most sticky, and are your biggest evangelists? The words you use to create inception will go a long way in actually engineering virality, rather than simply driving that single conversion. This is called downstream behavior.

What is the language people use when they search and find you? How often do you show up as the solution provider for the thing they seek? This is how you will become the first place consumers look: the places they are searching will turn up your name eventually, anyway. Take the case example of Instagram. People on Facebook and Twitter were seeing these beautiful pictures being shared through Instagram. They see Instagram enough times that they decide they might as well just go there to check out this product. Search on mobile is about to undergo a great evolution, so get ahead of this now by determining what it will take to make people realize that simply going to your app or your product first will provide a better experience.

Another case in point: People may not have thought they needed to be on Twitter in the early days, but when they saw they were missing out on exclusive opportunities to engage with celebrities or take advantage of other offers, FOMO quickly won out. The way you talk about your company is your pitch. Are you creating FOMO? What will consumers miss if they pass up your product? What fun aspect of your product will people be happy to share with each other in person?


Attraction to Adoption

Congratulations. You have convinced your audience that this product will solve their problem. They are here, in this grand moment, at your front door. This is the opportunity you must seize to make sure that they will use your product.

“When someone is about to download an app, they are ready to try it,” says Elman. They aren’t out on-the-go. They’re your captive audience for that moment. “Signup flows should be learn flows.” This process should not be about speed. Take your time, and break your product down, step-by-step for your customer. People who have been properly incepted are there to follow you through this learn flow.

Sure, it might be true that “nobody reads”. So break the steps out into an interactive process. Think about the learn flow process at Lumosity. This app asks the user very important questions about how they want to embody wonderful improvements in their lives. Offer these conscious decisions to your new user so that they can think about the process. Re-incept through the learn flow to believe that they need to come back to this product to make sure their life will be better. Keep them in the flow when they come back later, too.

Proper onboarding takes a user from the problem to the solution. Put the user in control.

Trial to Retention

How do you know if your inception and adoption techniques are working to create a habit in your customer? Depending on your industry, what is the expected repeat-use for your product? Is it daily, weekly, monthly, or even longer, as in the travel industry? If new signups use your product more in the second use cycle than in the first, then you know you have created a habit. Learn from these users. Reach out and get on the phone with them to ask: Why did you sign up? Why did you go away? What brought you back? What got you to stick?

Pay attention to the words your core customers use to explain why they are using your product. Use those words to incept others. Study their behavior to identify the data that you want to see in your user base. Use your data to learn which growth ideas work!

“Be creative! You’re creating the future. These processes will be unique to your product,” Elman adds. And then, you know the drill: “Ship… Test… Learn.”



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Previously the Managing Editor at Tech.Co, Ann Diab has a background of launching and nurturing of startups and tech companies. Empowering and educating entrepreneurs and startups to better productivity and culture is her passion. Growth Manager at WorkingOn to enable folks all over the world to enjoy work and improve communication. Follow me on Twitter.

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