FollowUp was the solution to an entrepreneur’s emailing grievances. In Chris’ daily operations running a business, he often found himself emailing people and then posting a reminder on his calendar to email that person again if they didn’t respond in due time.
TOPIC CHRIS COVERS
- What is FollowUp.CC about
- How do people use FollowUp.CC
- How much is a product
- The growth of FollowUp.CC
- What is the side project of FollowUp.CC
- His thoughts on Lifehacker
- His strategy and how it evolved
- How he learned about reducing churn
- And a whole lot more
LINKS & RESOURCES
WATCH THE INTERVIEW
READ THE TRANSCRIPTION
Bronson: Welcome to another episode of Growth Hacker TV. I’m Bronson Taylor and today I have Chris Keller with us. Chris, thank you so much for coming on the program.
Chris: Thanks for having.
Bronson: Me. Absolutely. Now, Chris, back in 2007, you founded follow up dot CC. Tell us first what is follow up dot cc.
Chris: So it is the easiest way to embed a reminder in an email. Basically, it’s kind of the missing feature from all email these days and I just. It’s a great way to just manage your inbox.
Bronson: Yeah. Now tell us how it actually works with with the subject line, the blind carbon copy, all that stuff because it has a really clever kind of mechanism that makes everything run.
Chris: Yeah. So it’s pretty simple. It was like, how do I how do I say it when I want to be reminded to follow up on an email I sent? And so really the only way to do that privately is to put an email address in the book field that indicates when you want to be reminded. So that’s exactly what you do. You can say like say three days and follow up dot cc. You can put one month, you can put January 30th, you can put, you know, Friday and follow up that. CC It’s like a very easy syntax to figure out. And so you just put down the field and you hit send and then it comes back. And then the really nice thing about is when the reminder comes in, there’s these what I kind of trademarked is snooze links in the reminder email. And so you can literally just one click and you can snooze the email for another couple of days. So basically that’s the combination there of like, you know, get a reminder, snooze it. So that’s kind of boxy and the CC field, it’s public, right? So like the recipient can see that you set a follow up reminder. So what that does is actually send a reminder to everyone on the email.
Bronson: Yeah, no, that’s great. Tell us some of the use cases. How do people use follow up? CC Especially people like entrepreneurs and founders since that’s who’s watching this.
Chris: So it’s actually really popular with startup people and you know, both CEOs because I mean, everyone these days, you know, in startups is doing too much in email. So yeah, you know, I think the main use case is again that I send an email and I don’t want to have to remember to follow up on this by a certain time. It’s like, how do you how do you basically keep your email on track? How do you keep your conversations moving and not lose them and not let them get behind? So that’s like the first use cases. I’m plowing through emails, I’m sending stuff to people on BCC, seeing follow up, making sure that, you know, people are replying to me in time and everything’s staying the way I want. The other obvious, the other really big use case is that people get emails in their inbox and they’re like, I can’t deal with this for three days or I don’t want to deal with this right now. So they’ll actually forward the email to say one day at follow up dot cc. And the main benefit is that a it’s out of your inbox, so you can just hit archive. Once you send it, you’re done. But the main benefit is that whether you’re an Inbox zero person or not, that threat is coming back to the top of your inbox, you know, in a day. And so for those people who don’t clear out their inboxes, like, I never even knew that most people when they lose emails, it’s because literally they just keep moving down the inbox as more come in and then they go to page two and it’s like they never get to it. And so that kind of solves that problem. It’s really just the like, it’s really the making sure I don’t lose an email or like that. I always remember a conversation and it keeps going. And then there’s the I’m not going to forget to reply to a conversation that I really need to make sure I do at some point.
Bronson: Yeah. So if you’re the kind of person that finds herself in email and then taking notes or putting things in some other place because of what’s happening in your email, you’re probably a good candidate for follow up. CC Would that be right?
Chris: Yeah, I would say there’s there’s a lot of reasons why you’re a good candidate.
Bronson: There you go. So just to make sure I’m clear on this, you’re a one man show, is that right? So this is by yourself and still running by yourself?
Chris: Yeah. It’s been an interesting evolution. It’s a little bit of that. It is still one man shop. I you know, the main thing is that it actually started as me solving my own problem and like and it was a side project for a long time because I was running another VC backed startup, so I couldn’t go and just do this and I was just doing it on my own email problems. And then eventually over time, it got to a point where the inbox got hot and people are using the service and telling me how great it is. And I was like, Man, I really got to give this a full time shot and turn it into a business.
Bronson: Yeah. And the reason I ask that is because that is a very different story than some of the other people that come on the show. A lot of the people that come on here, they’re already at, you know, VC backed companies, you know, and so it’s just a different story, a different kind of thing. So I think people will get a lot out of that. Seeing it as a solo founder there. How much is a product? Cost. There’s a free version, right? But then there’s also some paid plans.
Chris: Yeah. So I certainly want people to be able to use it every month in low volumes. So there’s a persistent free plan. 20 reminders a month. And then basically, once you start getting close to that, it’s five bucks a month for like 100 reminders and integrated calendar integration. Uh, $10 a month gets you response detection, which is actually what people really like. Of course, with all the features of the previous plan, and that goes up to like 250 reminders. And so most people are on the five and $10 plans. Yeah. And then there’s a $15 plan, which is really more for like either super high volume users or people who want a Salesforce integration in which we actually do things that Salesforce doesn’t even do in terms of like recording the emails, creating contacts and leads and stuff like that.
Bronson: Yeah, that’s great. So let’s talk about the growth of follow up CC. You launched it in 2007, which seems like forever ago now.
Bronson: And so let’s talk about that first year a little bit because like you said, there was a moment when you’re like, Wow, I need to give this a full time kind of push. So my guess is that in 2007, it was very much a side project. What kind of growth did you get in that first year? Tell me about the side project follow up CC.
Chris: So, so yeah, I might have to shift that statement a little bit. So I launched it in mid 2007 before like anyone else had even thought of this concept. And the thing is, I just used it for myself, but when I built it for myself, I built it as a service so that I knew like other people could sign up and use it, which is usually what I do with anything I’m building, of course. So anyway, so I had friends start using it and they really liked it. And then and so really it was, it was just the so called like friends and family, like using it the first year and then in like later, 28, early 29, I started like really starting to iterate on the product more because again, like I was still working at my other company, but I started like just I started seeing more potential and what I wanted to do with it and I started making more time. So basically it was about around the summer of 2009 that I actually left my B.S. startup and, and was like working on this for a while and really iterating. And it was around then too that it started to get written about because now it was like a full fledged service. Anyone could sign up. There wasn’t a pay plan or anything. It was just come use this clever type of product, you know. And so that’s when it really started was just like in 2009, I started getting a press set here, friends talking about it, tweeting about it, and like slowly but surely it started to, like, gain more momentum.
Bronson: Yeah. So after the friends and family, where would you say your primary traffic kind of came from? For that next segment, you know, not where it is now, but rather friends and family. You said there was tweets. There was a few press mentions. Was that it or was there any other kind of growth mechanisms there?
Chris: You know, I have to say, I mean, I honestly think it was a couple catalyst type press mentions that I didn’t even try for. Like basically I got written up on Lifehacker and that just initiated like a cascade of sign ups. And I think from there it it just the inbox was getting hotter. So it was definitely kind of one of these classic it was like the right app for the right market at the right time type of thing. And so, you know, it just people were talking about it, people were sharing it. And like, no one had seen anything like this before. So every time someone saw it, they were like, it’s so simple, so clever, like works and all email. It was, you know, so that, you know, I have to say, like it’s I think there’s always a lot of time. There’s some bit of luck on these initial growth stories. Sometimes it’s very calculated and more power to those people. But like for my case, it’s like since I was still kind of working on something else and I’m just getting these press hits, it was like, That’s great. It’s, you know, this is more an example of build a good product like people want to talk about and share. And that happened to be the case here.
Bronson: Yeah. And it seems like you hit upon a very early product market fit where Lifehacker picks you up. I mean, follow ups, you see in Lifehacker, that’s that’s a match made in heaven. I mean, why do hackers love that kind of stuff? You know, I’m a big fan of Lifehacker in Reddit, you know, and Gina was still there and doing it day to day and stuff. And so is that one of the takeaways is find your market fit as soon as possible. Has that been a good market for you since then? Or have you really just grown way beyond the Lifehacker kind of crowd?
Chris: No, I will say that, like, I think Lifehacker as a as a press channel, I still think they actually deliver very educated users a lot of time and and just volume. Just a lot of. You sign ups, right? But yeah, I will say that I think the type of user that I’ve seen become a good customer has not necessarily been like the Lifehacker reader because of anything being an educated user, most people and an Internet user, a lot of people still think like, Oh, there’s got to be a free version of this somewhere. There’s got to be like, you know, some other way to do this because. Right, we’re all little hackers. But, you know, so now I, you know, I started seeing over time, as more people knew about it, that there was definitely a focus more on like the business user or the sales guy and or just the CEO who’s not. Mr.. I’m going to hack my life with everything in tech. So that’s been you know, that’s been a good transition to see.
Bronson: Yeah. You know, you hear people talk about it as your product for people that have more time than money or more money than time. And it seems like early on is the people that had more time and money or now it’s kind of the opposite, which is what you have to eventually go toward to become like a real business. Yeah, I have more money than time. They don’t want to hack the system. They just want to pay you because that’s why they’re paying you. They don’t have time to do that kind of stuff. So that makes sense. So now, since, you know, 27, 28, 29, kind of the early days, you got some initial users, friends and family. You got the life hacker group kind of coming in, you know, using it. How big has follow ups gotten since then? I don’t know if you released exact numbers, but let me just in generalities. So we have an idea of the scope here.
Chris: So it’s I would say that most of the growth has actually been in the past year or two in a sense, like actually since I started charging for the product, there’s been more growth, you know, and we have many, many thousands of customers and like some multiple of that in active users, whether free or paid. And then obviously we’ve had the normal like sign ups and some churn or sign ups and people don’t become an active user or they turn over time. But, you know, we’ve we’ve easily cleared millions of reminder said. I mean it’s it’s a decent amount.
Bronson: Yeah. You said something really interesting that when you started charging, you actually had more users. Is there any insights you have on that? I mean, it seems very counterintuitive when you’re not around this kind of stuff a lot.
Chris: I think it’s more I think it was more the timing and the like. It becoming an official service that people can pay for to solve a problem and that it got talked about as a tool and an app versus just being like some kind of clever thing that someone built. I mean, people kind of said like, okay, this is a business and other people had started paying for it. And I’m not going to say that like charging led to growth. But I do think that businesses, you know, as one example, I mean, businesses feel better actually. If you are charging for the product, they know you’re going to be around. They know there’s going to be some support. And especially if you’re good at customer service, which I strive to be. And I think most people will say I’ve been very good about it. You know, they want they like that. They’ll be like, wow, I’m totally happy to pay for your service because I got such attention that I don’t even know like how you did it kind of thing. Yeah. So that’s, that’s certainly been a big win too, because then they tell me that they recommended it to like all their colleagues or all their friends. And I’m like, great. Like, more the merrier.
Bronson: Yeah, absolutely. So you said a lot of the growth has really come in the last year. Where do you see that growth coming from? Is it still pressure, you know, people in the press talking about you? Is there anything else you kind of done on purpose as a strategy? Where do you see those people coming from?
Chris: So there’s a couple things. So. So one thing that I think people forget about is that press is a great it’s a great initial. Obviously everyone talks about the jaded like let’s launch on TechCrunch and let’s get. Britton I can say that I have gotten ten x more sign ups from Lifehacker than I did from TechCrunch. Wow. And I don’t even know the scope of their readership. Like, how if how much bigger one is than the other. But it’s, again, just goes to show the like type of user and like what they’re doing with their day and the other things they know about or want to find out. But but these press, it’s over time you get these like spikes and you get some initial traffic and then, of course, it dies down. But I think what a lot of people forget about is when you’re written up on these good like posts sites over time and the SEO value increases, right? So like when I look now at all the places I’ve been written up, it’s like some really big domains with great, you know, with great SEO juices. And so I think like now a lot of it is just people. I mean, Google has become a pretty good resource because people are searching for this type of thing in general. And so then all of a sudden, they’re landing on my site whether they found some review or some mention. And. And so I see that probably as the number one as the number one thing that drives new customers. Obviously, the service itself drives a lot of repeat visits in terms of just not in terms of growing users, but in terms of like engagement. But the other thing that in terms of growth, so this the product, you know, everyone, it’s kind of annoying when everyone says, oh, you’re an email that’s totally viral. I’m like, No, email is not inherently viral unless you have a message that’s like in every email that’s going out. And so follow up is this kind of service where then the first value is to is private to the user. It actually has the opposite problem of most other startups, which is that it doesn’t actually need a lot of people to be useful to the user, which is like, you know, the whole social network marketplace type app which, you know, meet millions of users for it to be valuable. Yeah. So then, but then you have the opposite problem now where it’s like, okay, someone’s going to sign up, use it, even pay for it. But then what incentive do they have to tell other people? And so the CC field is obviously a potentially great viral method and it’s proven to be somewhat so, but I think it could be maximized even more. And so again, like just going back to what I said earlier, when you see your reminder, the message goes to everyone. However, for the first time we see someone on an email we’ve never seen before. We actually send them an email explaining that Bronson just set a follow up reminder on this email. Here’s a follow up is and why? Because if they get a reminder like a week from then, they’re going to be like, what? What, what email is this that I just got? And even then, they still may not remember even a week later. Right. But but that’s so that’s kind of like a, you know, we’re using people’s willingness to set a public reminder. We’re using that willingness to educate other people on the email about what it is and why they should try it.
Bronson: No, that’s great. Are you seeing users come in from that new users where they’re on the receiving end of the carbon copy and then they get this email explaining it and then they become a user. Do you see that cycle happen?
Chris: Yeah, it’s not it’s not as high volume as we’d like it to be like I could I would like to further incentivize people to use the CC field. But there is but you really have to educate people on the use case, right? Because I don’t want someone just using this willy nilly because either they’re going to embarrass themselves potentially with like reminders their setting or they’re going to annoy someone. So there’s like very specific use cases that really adds value. But, you know, so I see it, you know, in our stats every week there’s like some new amount of users that came in through that. And it’s like that’s one of those nice metrics that we can just look at and be like, okay, is the growing, you know, how are we facilitating this?
Bronson: Yeah, you mentioned your stats there. What do you guys use? The tracker stats? Is it all in? How stuff are you using all the shelf apps to track things?
Chris: So ironically, we for the email stuff, we’re actually we use SendGrid as our email service provider and they actually provide literally a one line statistic that in a sense is all we need for that specific email. And obviously too, we track internally like if you sign up through one of those emails we associate with who you signed up via because obviously in the long term, as we build in more referral and incentive type programs, we can even do it retroactively and say like you referred all these people last year, like, here’s the benefits that you’re going to get.
Bronson: Yeah, now that’d be great. For a long time user that’s, you know, poured into the system to get a little bonus like that. Have you done anything with pay per click? Have you tried any other kind of marketing channels? Have you found those to be good or bad or you just don’t care about them yet?
Chris: Ah, so I haven’t. And I have not. Uh. I’ve done it. I did a teeny bit with Pepsi and I even tried like the LinkedIn ads and stuff when they first came out. And the LinkedIn ads were interesting. And I think we got we got some customer signups from that. I don’t know the churn rate on that and cohort specifically, but but overall, no, like we haven’t really done PPC. I think the main reason though is just it’s the user. The email is such a big world and I think people forget that you can try to target a certain type of user, whether it’s a sales guy, you know, it’s almost you have to do more tests, which we still have to do. I mean, we haven’t done enough of it, but. You have to do more tests with like landing pages to say, here’s follow up for the salesperson here. Follow up for the CEO. Here’s a follow up for the admin, you know, whatever it might be. And then maybe try to go after that user in a PPC or social way that way, because otherwise, like, you can make a campaign that’s just totally generic. Like what? Want to follow up on your email? Like, I mean, people actually do search for stuff like that, but it’s like where it’s going to be. It’s really hard to identify the type of user that it’s really just hard to identify that type of user through a PPC ad. So, so honestly, no, I mean, we can certainly spend more time and money on that, but we just haven’t to date. I’d rather just kind of keep iterating on the product. Go back to, in fact, the press places that have covered us before and have them talk about our new things that are going on. You know, and obviously we don’t want to like, you know, we don’t try to build we don’t try to excessively build on the product. We don’t want to make this a feature fest. But but, you know, it’s like it’s the classic, I think, you know, getting content out there, having people talk about use cases, giving, just giving more and more examples of the way people use it.
Bronson: Yeah, no, that sounds great. You know, you mentioned earlier that, you know, you guys have churn like anybody else has churn. Every everyone who does software as a service, you know, that’s the the number of they don’t want to deal with, but they have to. What have you learned about reducing churn? Have you reduced it over the years and have you learned anything about it? Because, I mean, when I think about your product, I’m like, man, I don’t know what I would do to reduce churn. Like, I don’t know what I would I don’t know what the incentives are. I don’t know what I would change. It seems so straightforward. I don’t know what things you can play with, you know what I mean?
Chris: So yeah, you’re right. There’s not that many variables, but there is. There’s a couple of things, right? Number one is education on the product, because I would say 80% of time if someone churns and we ask them like for more detail or just or we read the reason they laugh. We’ll say, like, did you know about this or did you know you can do what you asked about in the we’re set in this thing. And, you know, it’s just like all of a sudden people are like, oh, yeah, no, I didn’t know that. And then they like sign up and we’re just like, you were, you know, like it didn’t. I mean, the pages, there’s not that much complication, but but it’s also a sign to us like, oh, we need to do a better job of like displaying this info and educating. But I would say the number one thing is just how quickly people get service into their workflow. If people get the service into their workflow, it’s very sticky. Number two thing really on reducing churn is just making sure people get into the workflow and remember to use it, making it as easy as possible to use follow up. And so we actually have some new product stuff coming down the line on that very notion of like, let’s make this easier to use and follow up is already very easy to use, right? Like in any email system, it’s just piece of cake. However, I was going to say that as interfaces change, it can actually be a little harder to get to say the BCC field or the CC field like that kind of thing. And if you can tweak those, then obviously you can make it even easier. And of course, there’s other like common retention things like sending a digest email or checking in with them if they haven’t set a reminder in a couple of days. Like all of these kind of like modern techniques these days to stay like in the there’s mind and and then obviously there’s classic things of like set writing blog posts and just sending them as an email like in a newsletter, you know, that we don’t do enough of that. And that’s like the number one thing we could probably do to keep our brand front and center with people.
Bronson: Yeah, you mentioned the the exit surveys and we had a I think his name was Joe from Sprint early on here and he talked about how, how so important that was to do exit surveys to learn. But you use that as kind of a way to turn them back around and get them back in the product. Do you do that on every user that leaves or is it just kind of a random sample? I mean, how important is that to you guys?
Chris: Well, thankfully, I can say that we don’t have so much churn that like it’s not it’s like we don’t have to do a random sampling. We can essentially like scan our dashboard for it. But when a user cancels, yeah, I mean, we just we just literally ask them the one question of like, tell us why you’re canceling and please be specific just because it helps us learn and you know, whatever we value the feedback and then and people have to type something in. And so like based on that, some people have written us like paragraphs which are great and then other people type, you know, like 1 seconds and then we’re like, why exactly did you do that? And we try not to be annoying about. Obviously if someone doesn’t respond the first time, we leave it alone. We don’t obviously follow up on a to. But you know but it’s just it’s just trying to really understand what the problem was. And if we see a way to help like we’ll obviously do it. And, you know, and sometimes we tell people, hey, you know, you know, you can do this or there’s this like other way and and they’ll be like, Oh, that’s great. And then they’ll be like, okay, well, I’m still not going to sign up, but great to know. And I’ll tell other people and it’s like, okay, fine. Like you can’t win them all. But yeah, but we’ve brought back a lot of people and it was mostly an education issue.
Bronson: Yeah, that’s good. That’s good to know. So you know where to kind of put your resources now. Yeah. So, you know, what do you know about girls now that you wish you had known years ago? Kind of looking back from, you know, 27 or 2013, what are the missteps you made that you wish you could kind of do over or do it differently in terms of growth?
Chris: So. I think so. It’s kind of interesting, right, because the whole Internet kind of Web 2.0, etc., in that time frame has like evolved so much because it used to just be about page views, impressions, advertising. And then like in 2009 that like kind of all started to look as attractive. And I think to me, you know, so here’s an example. Like people all the time say to me, Oh, just putting your put in the Dropbox referral model. And I’m like, Do you understand why the Dropbox referral model really works well for Dropbox? I was like, because it’s really, really tuned to their business. And like most people just say it generically because it makes so much sense, right? Gives someone an incentive and gives the friend an incentive so everyone wins. It’s like, I totally agree with that notion, but the way you structure the pricing and the plans and how it’s metered will affect any referral program. And I think that’s where then, you know, as I can simply say, that a Dropbox referral model does not work well when you reset reminders every month. Right? Because Dropbox, this whole thing is based on the fact that they know you’re going to use up that space eventually. And so, you know, so my takeaway was I kind of wish that back even in 2009, 2008, I had known more. I had known to more to think more about referrals, incentives and how to structure that. And granted, you’re not going to get it right the first time potentially, which is another point, which is, B, build the product in a way that you’re agile enough to try different incentives. Because I know as a programmer as well, it can be really annoying to like go and build this entire referral system and then it’s like this isn’t really working and you want to try something else and you’re like scrap it or like, you know, unplug it and plug something new in. I mean, obviously great programmers can just design these things to be as painless as possible. But, you know, when you build up that like code base over time, it can get frustrating. So I kind of wish that I had tested more on referrals and thought about that as it related to pricing and growth and just the type of business it was going to be. Because obviously two people thought, whoa, follow up. Does you see I mean, you have all these reminder emails being generated. You can like you can make money on advertising and it’s like, yeah, you can make some. The funny thing is that two years ago there wasn’t a single person who advertised an email unless it was just like a massive newsletter. That was one generic email. Like no one has done an ad network for transactional email, which is really what follow up is. So, you know, it’s again like I didn’t think about that as a business model or than that as the growth. I didn’t think about that as the growth factor really because I didn’t want to rely on ads. I wanted I was like, There’s enough value in this product. People are going to pay for it. So, you know, looking back, I think it’s really just I would tell people to think as much as possible about all the ways you can build in incentive and referrals into the product so that if you built a good product, then they’re probably going to work. And if you haven’t built a good product, I mean, then no one wants to share it anyways. So it’s like it’s kind of, it’s kind of a two pronged like first build a good product, but make sure you know how to get this thing incentivized and out there.
Bronson: Yeah. How do you incentivize people right now? Because you talked about, you know, Dropbox is they have their own world, their own you know, they have their own currency. They have, you know, this data, this space they can give you. What are you doing that, you know, it’s different to kind of incentivize your users. Are you still kind of in the middle of figuring all that out?
Chris: Yeah. So actually that’s a very good point we have. Thought a lot about different ways to do it. And we have not pulled the trigger on any of them because the growth has generally been good. But it’s also been. It’s a little more what I alluded to before, where we’ve gotten to this large enough code base now that it’s like it’s a quite an endeavor to to do that. And so anyways, my point is it’s something we are working on. Like we actively think about it and need to do more and we’ve tried a little things, but they weren’t even worth like, you know, talking about. Yeah.
Bronson: You mentioned something a couple times I don’t want to hit on just for a second kind of fatigue. The programing fatigue of you build it, it doesn’t work. Ah, now to do something different, you know, the trial and error, you know, from the outside looking in, if we’re just talking pure, you know, growth that you had has tried bunch of stuff and see what works, what doesn’t, and then tomorrow try something else. But the reality is like it’s very fatiguing. I mean, I know this personally, like when I’m working on projects, sometimes it just like to have it in me to try one more iteration to see if I can get the numbers up or don’t want to leave it and just be done. That’s a real thing that nobody’s ever really talked about on this show.
Chris: Yeah, you know, and this really I think this is particularly poignant where, you know, smaller startups where it’s just a couple of guys, couple of co-founders or a single co-founder, obviously, like if I had a full time dev guy, you know, who knew the whole code base really well and all that, I would it would be a lot easier to just say, like, here’s your assignment. Don’t don’t resurface until you know it’s somewhat there is trial and error does get really it gets tiring and gets frustrating but this is also when they talk about the passion for your product and for like really trying to make this work. I mean, you do kind of have to just try these things and you have to put things out there because I think the classic, you know, the classic notion of I can come up with a lot of stuff and if I don’t actually tested on the user base, like I don’t really know what the reaction might be because it’s the classic thing too of I, I’m trying to think as a customer, but I can’t really because I already know so much more than them about the product, the business that you know. And then when you put something in front of someone and all they just see is that one email and it’s or whatever and it’s like and they just think like, Oh, that could be cool and they should try it, right? And then all the saying can be successful and you’re thinking, Well, they’re going to think this, and they might think it’s like you can’t you really can’t predict it. So I do think you have to find a way to re-energize yourself to keep trying, especially when it comes to user growth. Right. Because ultimately that kind of matters the most in the aside from having a good product, it’s it’s high, it’s having the user growth. So yeah, you know, you’ve got to keep chugging. You just can’t stop.
Bronson: Absolutely. And like you said, you have to have passion for it because that’s what I’m going to let you try again. Different things. And I like what you said, like you know too much about the product. I mean, even me right now I’m writing copy on growth after TV, like what I want to see below the logo to get their attention. And I write it and I literally like I’m thinking I know so much. I don’t know if what it is written is awesome or horrible. Like I literally can’t tell you if these two or three sentences actually mean anything to anybody. So I have to like show it to random people, show it to the target audience, show it to other people, and just be like, all right, what? Like, what do you think when you read this? And then we try it and we test them like, well, it’s converting really? Well, I didn’t think it would, you know, or whatever. So you’re so right. You just got to try stuff because as much as you are the target audience, even if you are in the target audience, kind of the 37 signals scratch your own itch sort of thing, you’re already too close to it. So now you’re not the target audience that you once were because you’re too close.
Chris: Yeah. No, absolutely. The I think this is too, when they talk about great design and they talk about simplicity wins. But also that simplicity is really hard. It is really hard because you’ve essentially said you’re going to take your knowledge of everything and distill it down. And so that is a lot of thought and it’s a lot of like thinking about what really matters, mapping it out and just being like, this is the one thing I want them to think or see and think. And then hopefully this is the next action, thought or action. And it’s just it’s hard to distill that. I mean, it’s like programing, right? You have to think of all these edge cases and then handle them. And in some sense you’re doing the same thing in design where you’re saying, I thought of every edge case here about what you could do. This is the simplest thing to get you to do one thing.
Bronson: Gotcha. Do you find that hard? Do you find the design kind of being like programing in a sense where it gets bloated and you got to chop it down, it gets bloated and you got to chop it down. Do you go through that process with design as well?
Chris: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, certainly, I think as a you know, there’s kind of two aspects to design for me. There’s the one that’s just the actual look and feel and usability. And then there’s the information design, right? So even on like a follow up reminder, there’s a certain amount of information that’s really useful or just what you really need. And then there’s the extraneous info. And so for example, I mean, I remember when I was creating the follow up reminders, it occurred to me one day I got this reminder and I was like, Wait, when did I create this reminder? And I was like, I’ve got that data. So I ended up actually sticking that value into the snooze box and it said like created on. And over time I’ve actually used that like it was useful information, but there’s still like that much more info I could stick in that snooze box. And it’s always just that. I’m always like, Okay, I can’t let this thing get any taller. Like what? It’s essential, you know, etc.. And obviously with the email too, you can’t do anything dynamic. You sort of can nowadays, but it’s still kind of rare. But like in general, you have to think of emails as static. And so it’s like, what? What’s really the info that they want to see here? Yeah.
Bronson: No, that’s great. Well, let me ask you some high level questions about growth in general. You know, you mentioned earlier some of the things that startups get wrong, trying to imitate Dropbox without understanding Dropbox. We actually had Yvonne on the show, who was the growth hacker of Dropbox that gave him 12 X growth, and he really got into inside the psychology of what they did there. And you’re hearing, yeah, that’s not just, hey, let’s apply that over here. There’s a lot going on there that’s very germane to them. Are there any other things that you see startups do that, you know, just they consistently get wrong with growth.
Chris: That they consistently get wrong? I think you know, I think one of the things is when they they make the hurdle to use the product to high in whatever promotional thing they’re a part of. So let’s say I’ve got and I’ve first of all, I’ve gotten emails before about new services, whether I was like on the beta list or I signed up because I was interested and like sometimes I read the email and I don’t really know what they do or I don’t have any clue how to use it for me, like what the context is. And, and so I think there’s that coming back to the psychology aspect is again thinking about like, does this really communicate why I should be using this product or what’s really interesting about it? I think some people, you know, like you asked me at the beginning of this, what is it that you see? Like, what does it do? And I said, it’s the easiest way to embed a reminder in an email. Now, that is functionally true. I probably should have said it’s the easiest way to never lose an email, right? I mean, in terms of like more kind of common language that people understand and that they might have felt the pain of that should be or I should say persistence pays right is kind of my tagline because I’ve had numerous people tell me that when they keep using follow up end up closing sales because they literally just persisted on following up. And that’s like the beauty of following up. We all know in sales that’s what you have to do. So. So I just I think the psychology thing is interesting. I, I think, I think the biggest mistake is that people can look at success examples as templates, but then you really have to think through, does that apply to your product or what’s different because you see this, right, is ignoring just the talk of growth for a sec. You see this all the time is in businesses, right? You see the social network comes out and then everyone tries to build a piece of the social network because they said, I’m going to do photos better, I’m going to do groups better, I’m going to do chat or messages better. And then and then what ends up happening is they end up turning into a social network nowhere near as big and like they totally lost focus. Same thing when people saw Pinterest and they were like, so like I thought about it for a follow up. I was like, Oh, I have a Pinterest page. And I was like, What am I going to pin like? I was like, I don’t know. Like I could make a board of pins that people want to follow up on, but it’s like, I already do that, actually. That’s a that’s a piece of the product. You can follow up on a URL actually. Anyways, so the thing is, is I just think people need to people need to look at templates and look at them as inspiration for ways to think about what would work in their business. And honestly, by the way, one of the most interesting things I’ve had is when you talk to voices and granted, I know like that’s not possible for everyone. But one thing I really like about VCs is they see so many startups and they see so many business models. They’re very good at distilling down like, what is this model? Or What is this way that they’re doing things differently? Because that’s their job, right? Their job is to evaluate that and figure it out. And so I almost want people to think like A, B, C when they’re looking at strategies for growth and product innovation and things like that. It’s like, okay, you’re going to see other stuff out there, but how does it really work in your product? If you just copy it, it probably won’t.
Bronson: Work. No, that’s great advice. Let me ask you one last question, Chris. This has been an awesome interview. What’s the best advice that you ever received from somebody about growing a product? Has there been any sage? You know, Yoda’s in your life, too, to guide you along.
Chris: Oh, that’s a good one.
Bronson: Or you just pull yourself up by your bootstraps. It’s all, you know.
Chris: I mean, certainly I’ve talked to a lot of people over time. I didn’t want to have to go back and just like say that Noah Kagan is probably one of the best people for advice because he distills it down to just what it really is. And and he just always said to me, he’s like, don’t don’t worry about what anyone thinks. He’s like, just do it. Just put it out there. Right. And it’s it’s both. It’s both. The notion of trying things and, uh, and that and just to say, put that energy into it and stop worrying about it. Because someone once told me that I over, I was over thinking like, what would happen if I put out this feature or this growth, you know, this growth test or whatever or this ad, you know? And he was like, stop talking yourself out of doing things that you don’t know how people are going to react. Right. He’s just like, just do it and just put it out there. Because I think this is true. And in general, now with the Internet world, it’s like if you don’t put yourself out there constantly, you’ll never go anywhere. You’ll never build a name, you’ll never build a brand. And I say this even to people who want to start a blog, I’m like, Go build your personal brand. Put yourself out there, start writing. Don’t be shy about promoting yourself within reason, you know, don’t go nuts. Even though, as you know, Path now is getting called out for spamming all their users again. But as they said, no one cares. Yeah, someone gets annoyed, but who cares about the headlines? So yeah, I just think, I just think that’s the main thing is just put yourself out there and don’t be shy to talk about yourself and what you’re doing because it applies both to your personal life, your business life, everything.
Bronson: That’s awesome. Again, Chris, thank you so much for taking time out your schedule and being on Growth Hacker TV.
Chris: Yeah, thanks for inviting me. This is great.