Daniel is the Director of Product for all learning efforts at Duolingo where he helps direct the efforts of 14 product teams. Daniel has spent his entire career working in product for early stage startups.
Dan takes beta signup virality to the next level with his ingenious email hack. If you are getting ready to launch a product you need to hear this.
→ He takes beta signup virality to the next level with his ingenious email hack
→ How does he get 130,000 signups in three weeks
→ How does he help direct the efforts of 14 products teams
→ He spent his entire career working on a product for early-stage startups
→ His insights about why the offer is always the most important things
→ What percentage gets the incentive
→ The difference between emergent strategy versus deliberate strategy
→ And a whole lot more
Bronson: Welcome to another episode of Growth Hacker TV. I’m Bronson Taylor and today I have Daniel Fall Abella with us. Daniel, thanks for coming on the program.
Daniel: Now. Thank you for inviting us.
Bronson: Yeah, absolutely. Now, Daniel, you are the co-founder of Spring Salad, which you consider the world’s simplest project management tool. That’s what the tagline says. And you’ll actually got a 130,000 beta sign ups in three weeks. Am I reading that right?
Daniel: Yeah, that’s correct. All right. I was pretty I was pretty surprised, too, but that’s that’s correct.
Bronson: I would be, too. That’s a lot of happening in a three year period there. So when we started this interview, at first I had a list of questions I wanted to ask you just kind of the normal interview you would do. You had an idea that I liked, you said. Why don’t I just tell them step by step how we did it, and then the viewers can actually get more value out of it, probably. And I love that idea. So I actually don’t know where we’re going with this interview. I’m not sure what’s around the corner. I’m probably going to learn a bunch of stuff, which is cool, but we’re going to actually get into the process of how you all got 130,000 signups in three weeks. So let’s start at the top. What was step one? What was the initial kind of. It began here when we had zero sign ups.
Daniel: Yeah. So the first thing I think for any startup really is to create a website in my mind. And so the website that we have on spring said dot com is is very simple. Minimalist. Mm hmm. Part of the reason why is because we were not the greatest designers. Right. So we everything. All of that graphic design you see on the website, actually, we create on PowerPoint. So that’s super simple. We actually spend just maybe, like 3 hours, just put in a website up. Mm hmm. We did think the content through, but it is very, very simple website. What we did decided to do on the website is to keep it very, very. Just have a super high contrast on the call to action. And so there’s almost no color in the website except for get early access to action. So that’s a super high contrast. So the website is really what we started. Very, very simple. So let me share some of some of the stats I’m having you here on the website that reflects on some of the things. So we have 42.5% conversion rate on that website. We have two force. So there’s a top form in the bottom to the top four. We have 76% of the signups go to the top form and 24% to the bottom as well. But it’s it’s pretty it’s pretty good conversion rate there on the site. Okay.
Bronson: So let me ask you this. You know, you said that you you on purpose, you had a high contrast and on purpose, use PowerPoint instead of getting a designer in. Is this one of those stories where the landing page it looks simple, but there’s actually a lot of thought on why you did what you did. I mean, you look at it and you’re like, Oh, they just picked a plain theme. But then you tell me you wanted high contrast on purpose, and now I’m like, Oh, wait, there was a little more thought put into it than I realized.
Daniel: Yeah. So we did put some thought into it, obviously, but it’s not as much as people think. So you just use your instincts and say, Hey, you know, this looks like something I would enjoy looking at, and I know exactly what I need to do next. Mm hmm. And I probably get it done. Yeah, we’ve been. We’ve been thinking about product management for quite a bit now for a couple of months. And so it’s not like we just came up with the idea overnight and just put it up. But it’s, you know, we’ve been thinking about the messaging for a while, but it’s definitely something we just put up right now.
Bronson: So you get the page up there, you have to opt in forms, one at the top, one at the bottom. You have a high contrast site. You have cheap, ugly graphics. Sorry about a fence. You know, you got hurt. 30,000 sign up. You can’t be offended. And so talk me through kind of the copywriting a little bit. You know, the visuals or PowerPoint the copywriting. You don’t have a lot of copywriting either. Was that on purpose?
Daniel: Yeah, that was on purpose. Right. So we’re trying to portray as we’re a simple product management tool, so we just want to keep our page simple. It’s going to show that we can deliver. But at the same time, if we just if you just put a lot of content on the website, people would just get lost. Mm hmm. And so if you just go to the website and there’s you, you understand exactly what you’re trying to accomplish there. The are the what for the website’s accomplished, then that’s more enough. There’s no need to just just put more buzz on the site.
Bronson: So, yeah.
Daniel: That’s that’s basically, you know, and that’s.
Bronson: Crazy because, you know, I always have the fear of like, but they don’t know what it does and they don’t know enough of the features. And I’m not selling it hard enough when I go to Spring said. I honestly have no idea what this product is look like. I don’t know how it’s going to function. I don’t know who it’s built for as opposed to some other group. Like I actually have way more questions than answers, and yet you got that many sign ups. So you think that actually worked in your favor, that you just reduce the complexity instead of giving out information overload, right?
Daniel: Absolutely. Absolutely. So. So if you if you have a like a web application, you have a lot of steps that people need to go through in order for you to actually transact with those customers. So the first step really is to just get signups, how people actually give you their email address and, you know, get started. Then after that, you can probably activate them and then they’ll use it and then there’s a couple of steps and then they’ll pay for it. So if you look at every single one of those steps on every additional step, you lose out quite, quite a bit of people. Yeah, but in the first step of signups is actually really, really, really high. And so what we try to do is kind of leave it a little bit ambiguous. So people would just understand the vision of what we’re trying to accomplish here. And we don’t know exactly if it’s going to be like a great product idea fit, but people see the vision that we’re trying to accomplish. They understand it, and we’re trying to do growth hacking on the very, very, very first step. So Dropbox is awesome, right? But you do growth hacking once you’re into product and obviously it’s work great for them. But what we try to do is we try to grab the people that sign up. We get the most people, which is the very, very first step and don’t even show in the product and in growth hack hacking them. Mm hmm. Right. And then they will be sharing, and then we can invite them over and gather companies rates. But so right now we have one email that we bring organically has brought 480 additional emails. That’s our little coefficient there. So if you don’t do growth like in the first four step, you’re producing dozens of thousands of signups, right? Because if you lose 300, you’re going to lose 144,000. I got.
Bronson: It. Tell me if you think about the normal funnel of a website, whatever your funnel is, if you don’t growth hack at the very beginning stage, then you’re losing out on a large potential, you know, number of signups because every time you move down the funnel, you have less people you’re working with. So if you can growth hack on the initial stage, that’s when your audience is the widest by nature.
Daniel: Absolutely. Absolutely. And that’s something we can touch base later on, but is also a brilliant idea to do that early on, to kind of identify who’s the right people to to bring on board early on. Yeah, it’s not. But yeah, that’s the structure.
Bronson: Okay. So you had the landing page up. It does all the things we talked about already. What did you do after that? Because you put up a landing page. Who cares? You know. Yeah. Join the crowd. So what do you do to get some people on there? And then what happened from there?
Daniel: Yeah. So if you sign up, he’s going to send you to another web, another page on a site that basically says, hey, you’re on a waiting list. You know, there’s so many people that have signed up as well. If you want to cut in line and get the tool free for 12 months, then have five of your friends sign up with a unique URL that we created for them.
Daniel: So that’s that’s the first thing people see, right? And then there’s two sometimes there’s a show on Facebook, there’s a share Twitter button, and that is it.
Bronson: Okay. So we got to dig into that because there’s a lot happening. I got follow up questions with. Yeah. So first of all, just make sure I heard you right. Not only do they get a cut line, you’re giving them 12 months free to hear that.
Daniel: Yeah. Yeah.
Bronson: Okay, so walk me through that. Like you’re sitting there and your team’s thinking, how do we growth at this thing? Somebody puts out the ridiculous idea, Hey, let’s give them 12 months free if they get five friends to sign up. Like, I know that wasn’t an easy decision to make. Why don’t we do that a little bit?
Daniel: Yeah. So actually I got some of the numbers right here that I think you’re going to find interesting. So we got. We got 50% of everyone that signs up actually invite at least one friend. Wow. So there’s actually not a I mean, it is a huge number, but it’s in regards to percentage is not that big and only get five. So we got 7.7% of our total sign ups actually get the reward of five friends. Okay. So what we’re losing there is 7.7, but we still got the rest, which is the vast majority, over 90% of the emails that we can monetize. Right. So if we don’t put a strong enough incentive, maybe we’ve got to write in like 2% of people actually get their stuff.
Daniel: We’ve lost the consumer amount of emails. Right. So destroying the incentive that you can give the strategy. No. The more signups you’re going to get, obviously. Right.
Bronson: So here’s a thing like we got to I have to make sure that everyone listening to this interview realizes how important what you just said is. Right? If you study Internet marketing, what they all tell you is the offer is always the most important thing. You know, testimonials matter, the ease of signup matters. All this stuff matters, right? What really, really, really matters is what is the offer? What do I get for how much money? What do I get for what I give you? Whatever that is. And what you’re saying is you just made them an offer that they couldn’t refuse. I mean, I have the potential to get a year of this thing free. And I love one of the quotes, one of the tweets. Or is there Facebook or Twitter? Somebody said, I don’t even know what spring sled does, but if you sign up, I could have a year free. So, yeah. Can people please go sign up? That’s what you’re saying. You incentivize people to a point where they didn’t even know what they were sharing and they wanted to get their friends involved, right?
Daniel: Yeah. I mean, they see the vision, right? It’s a simple project management tool. You have no idea exactly how it’s going to work, but that’s what you want, right? People want just simplicity in their lives. And so, yeah, we give them a very strong incentive that it’s hard, it’s hard to say no to.
Bronson: But then you look at the math behind that incentive. And at first I have to admit, I thought, man, they’re going to give up a year of real revenue for a growth hack. And I was like, I don’t, you know, I was like, I was trying to think through it, but what you just said made it click. What percentage really gets the incentive? 100% is not getting the free year. Some small percentage just bringing in a bunch of friends that are getting the free year. And so it’s well worth it when you look at the overall numbers. And so I think that’s another piece of it, to have an offer they can’t refuse and have math, it makes sense even though it seems ridiculous.
Daniel: Yeah. Now for us, I mean, we lose on foregone revenue, but we don’t have a lot of costs associated with you know, we have server costs and we send a couple of emails here and there for the next year. But in reality, I mean, with with the industry that we’re in, there’s a lot of drop off. There’s a lot of people that go in and just test stuff and if they don’t like it, they get out. Yeah. And so there’s a really good chance that a lot of people at some point, 10% of the people that we invited weren’t even going to use it for a whole year. Right? Maybe just a very few percentage would actually use it. And so now we might lose, you know, a couple thousand dollars in foregone revenue, but we have no costs associated, you know?
Bronson: Yeah, it’s hard to bring in because of that. It’s well worth a few grand, you know?
Daniel: Yeah, for sure.
Bronson: For sure. Yeah, that’s awesome. Okay. And then also on the share buttons, you just have Twitter and Facebook. So you don’t have LinkedIn, you don’t have Pinterest, you don’t have, you know, fill in the blank. Is that on purpose? You just want to hit the ones that actually would do the most good for you.
Daniel: You know, we have this big thing in our company is the debate between emergent strategy versus deliberate strategy. Lose strategy when you’re like a brilliant guy and you just do everything because you’re just brilliant. But our strategy is pure emergent, right? So it’s just, here’s what we are. What can we do to just put this out fast?
Bronson: I like.
Daniel: It. So that what sort was. I don’t know. I don’t know how to connect with LinkedIn or developers do, but I was putting it up there. I come from a business back and I have no idea how to code. Right, but I got to put a Facebook and LinkedIn somehow. So Facebook and Twitter, I was. Now, here’s what’s interesting for a reason. What we did as well is because if you are like LinkedIn, Google Plus and all the stuff, you start having just a ton of ins and your call to action is like, Oh, where do I share it? Right? And if you’re like me, if you are like a lot of stuff, I’ll probably posted on Google Plus because I don’t have a following there at all and I don’t want people to see, but I still want to share it somehow. And so people would just like default to the easiest crappy azlan I guess you can almost force Facebook or Twitter, then you’re going to have great results. So 90% of our total traffic on the site has come through Facebook.
Bronson: I’m not surprised at all.
Daniel: 5% has come through Twitter. An additional 5% has come through everything else combined. So some people do get out of the way the copy, paste the link to go to LinkedIn, poster of friends or send emails. But 90% has come through Facebook. And so we’re actually even debating just get rid of Twitter and just keep Facebook and just push everyone.
Bronson: That that was my next question is, you know how the percentage breaks down because that’s been my experience, too. You know, Twitter is a great place for really intelligent conversation, great connections. But then it hey, it’s not how you get traffic in a lot of circumstances. And I’ve just learned that through trial and error. Yeah, yeah, that’s great. Okay, so you had the landing page. You have this crazy incentive. They can’t refuse. You have these, you know, a few options to share. What’s the next piece of the story where we go from there?
Daniel: So here’s where actually I would say like 95% of our results have come from this thing that I’m going to tell you, which is we send once you sign up, we send you an email. And we say, we love you. Here’s our gift to you. Mm hmm. And so we, you know, we try to be kind of funny with our emails, but in essence, they hate this. We’re signing up. We love you. We appreciate you as a beta user. We want to give you a gift. And that gift is and we repeat the same thing that we put on our page, which is get five friends to sign up with this unique URL. You get the tool free for 12 months and you get cut cutting line. So it’s just a reminder and in their emails they can have that unique URL with them at all times. You can always go back to the website, but at least you got an email. And then the interesting thing is, once one person signs up through that unique URL, we send you an email again and we say, one out of five, you’re almost there. You need to get four more people. One sign up, get four more. Right. So at that point, you’re like, well, this is this is cool. I got one. I can probably do four more. So you share again and again, and then you’ve got to add a five, 3 to 5, four out of five, and then finally you get 5 to 5 and then you’re all happy, right? But in there we also say, hey, there’s some secret rewards coming soon, so keep sharing to get those secret rewards. So we don’t even know what those super rewards are. Do we offer.
Bronson: Something, though?
Daniel: But we’ll come up with something good, right? Right. We’re not going to let them down. We’re going to do something good. But but in reality. So it still gives it like, hey, if you want some other stuff, go. It’s kind of secret. Then keep sharing. And we get some people sharing that as well. Now, that’s.
Bronson: Awesome. The email thing is such a good idea because it’s like a personal coach now inspiring them to keep going down this route. Because honestly, last night I went to the flow for the first time when I was preparing for this and I signed up on the website, put in the email address, hit the landing page or the next page, and I missed it. Like I didn’t realize how big the offer was. I don’t know how, but I missed it. I was in a rush. I don’t know what I was doing. And then you send me the email and I was like, Wait, you’re giving away 12 months free? Like, that’s when it hit me, was in the email. And so then I’m like, Wow, what a good idea to have that email because for whatever reason, that’s the thing that registered to actually get how big this deal was. And I haven’t seen it yet, so I haven’t seen the follow up email of You already got one. You got to. But I can only imagine like how good that psychology is to get that real reminder email, you know, kind of moving you along further than I’ve never really seen anybody do it that clean yet, you know that well. And I think that is a real big part of the 130,000 sign ups. So that’s a great insight. Thank you.
Daniel: Yeah. Again, we’re trying to go for simplicity. So even the email is this it right?
Bronson: To the point is there’s no that right.
Daniel: You know, and like, keep sharing. Here’s your link. That’s it. Right. So here’s the interesting thing we were actually looking for. We thought there was already some plug in that you can just use for that.
Bronson: Mm hmm.
Daniel: And I was amazed there was it. So the closest thing that we can come up with is something like Launch Roc, which, after you signed up, is just like a tweet a little bit and says, I’ll share. You know, like, yeah, Facebook does a lot of work on us, to be honest. And so we had to build this whole thing, but we got like tons of people requesting access to their full system. And so we’re actually kind of spinning it off and say, Hey, we’re all this startups out there that want to use this email referral system. Just plug in this kind of like an AI friend to your website and the whole referral system is built. So we’re like, we’re not going to call on Dortch Intercom. So that’s where we’re going to have the whole thing. But again, we couldn’t find anything like that. And that’s, that’s really the genius behind is sending those, those emails once every, every time someone sends up through the neutral.
Bronson: Yeah. I think that’s actually going to be a really big product. I, you know, I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if that product gets as big as the project management product when it’s all said and done because people. There is nothing like that. And I’ve had to do it before with Launch Rock and I got 10,000 sign ups on a launch page and it’s like, that was work though, because you didn’t have these extra things pushing them along. If I had those extra emails, I’m pretty certain I could have got a lot more than 10,000, you know?
Daniel: Absolutely. So let me share an example. Right. So we got actually not too long ago, you know, we sit around, we come up with an idea. We did the same thing. We put a landing page. This is before we did spring fly. We put up the landing page very simple, very similar to how spaceflight looks and feels, but we didn’t develop anything. And so we just send them to like a page saying, hey, share with your friends for this gift with this unique, unique URL. It was just kind of like hardcoded, unique URL people share. So we got 4000 sign in a week from it, which was awesome. But after that just tacked it was the end of that, right? Yeah. And then the difference between it is really we on spring said we send you email reminders and then the other one we did it.
Bronson: It’s not broke through the next level because I’ve done the same thing. I’ve had multiple things get 5000 sign ups, 10,000 sign ups, but I’ve never had a landing. Page breaks through to the next level and you had the same experience, or you could get five, but you couldn’t get 100,000, you know. And so I think you actually just kind of cracked the code on where we go to add a zero to this number, you know?
Daniel: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. What was it that was like? Incentives also for the page and the emails. And I think that’s that was the vast majority of the reason why we got such a big impact.
Bronson: Anything else that kind of plays into the story or is that really the lion’s share of what mattered?
Daniel: You know, I think that’s that’s that’s really it. Yeah. Now, here’s here’s something else that we’re doing that it’s actually super, super impactful for us is once you reach your five, the email that you get, they’re saying, hey, you got five friends to sign up. We’re going to give you access to our beta within the next business thing. Mm hmm. And so what happens is the next business day, you get an invite from us to actually get the tool and start using it, and it’s beta. So the reason why we love that is because if you think about the technology adoption cycle, you know, you get out like the innovators, early adopters and the whole thing.
Daniel: Majority, majority in all our stuff, right? I always thought that framework was awesome but absolutely worthless because how on earth would I just screen out the early adopters from the innovators, from the late, from the laggards? There’s no way. There’s no way to do that. Right. So there’s a great framework by the end of day, an application for me and my startup was absolutely worthless. Right on. Until we get growth hacking, right? Because now we’re getting people that just go into a very simple page that might not be like a whole lot of content there, but they see the vision of our vision of what we’re trying to accomplish, which is let’s just bring simplicity into product management. Right? And they love it. Right? And so the people who are actually going to share it are the people who, by definition, are the innovators. Mm hmm. So the people who are getting access to the tool are the innovators and the early adopters. Right. And they get in early where we still have some bugs in our system. We still have some features to build.
Bronson: But but they they’re okay with it.
Daniel: Yeah, they all came. They forgive us, right? Mm hmm. And the amount of feedback that we’re getting, like, quality feedback, is incredible. And even when we do something wrong, let’s say the whole system crashed is right. And the feedback we’re getting is, you guys are awesome. This is the best. By the way, your system crashed. Keep doing it. You know, you’re awesome, right? So even when they’re giving negative feedback, they’re still doing it in a very positive way. Right? Because they’re the innovators and the people who are the laggards or the late adopters. What they’re saying is they’re sending emails saying what the f, you know, how am I going to invite people over if I’ve never seen your tool? Right. And we’re like, well, there you go. You know, you’re not an innovator, so we’re not going to invite you until we have a product that is actually ready for you.
Bronson: That’s slightly more so than the product cycle matches the adoption curve really well. Instead of it just being haphazard and making a lot of people frustrated in the process.
Daniel: Yeah, absolutely. So we love that inviting people who actually earn the right to earn their reward is actually been extremely helpful for us as we continue to develop a better, better product for our users.
Bronson: Yeah, so that’s the supreme side stories so far. We’ll see where it goes from here because I mean, your numbers are just monster, you know, he said 70% conversion on the top form on the home page. You know, you’ve got so many people sharing it hard, 30,000 sign ups. So let me ask you this. I was looking at your LinkedIn page and you talk about some of your past projects. And beside one of them, you write the word failure. You just put it out there, we did this. It didn’t work right. How important is it to have those in the past that, yeah, you had a failure? How important is that to you? Is this success or is it just irrelevant?
Daniel: You know, I have mixed feelings about this. Obviously, if you do it right, you can always learn a lot from failures. But I’m from the point of view that the leads sort of actually just went through like it’s another, like, big bubble, you know? And a lot of people are now saying, you know, like all, you know, fail fast, still fast when reality is succeed fast. Like, do you have to succeed fast in sometimes failure or are you going to fail on the way but succeed fast and is never doing a startup is never about failing fast. Right. It’s all about just getting to revenue and succeeding to fast as you can. And so, yeah, there’s a lot you can learn from failure. So I put it there, some stuff that I’ve done that this album is all about succeeding, not about failing.
Bronson: Yeah, I like that a lot because it doesn’t actually change what’s going to happen in reality to succeed fast. You’re going to have to fail fast. But the emphasis has shifted so that failing is not glorified. It’s just something you had to do sometimes to get to success. But success is still what’s glorified now. So I like the way you put that twist on it. And it doesn’t change reality, but it changes the focus.
Daniel: Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. And then I get it. You know, all these start up, you had to fail fast in order to succeed fast. Well, all the focus is put on the failing, which.
Bronson: Is never the goal. Just the writing.
Daniel: We’re doing all my reading of what is doing me how to fail, you know? I want to borrow.
Bronson: Your ideas also. All right, well, this has been awesome. I got one last question for you. And it’s the question that always in every interview with our growth TV and it’s what’s the best advice you have for any startup that’s trying to grow?
Daniel: You know, you there’s a lot you can do with just bootstrapping without doing anything. So you got, for example, Robin Hood, right, that gotten funding from Google Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz. And sure, they got like 400,000 sign ups. But we did it for guys that were for dudes with no investment. And we’re just trying to make it happen. Right. So to just to give you a comparison of what we accomplished, right? If we would have done an Internet marketing metric, which is to say we use Google ads, it would have taken us 37 months and $2.2 million in cost to get the number of times that we got in three weeks with Pink’s. Mm hmm. Right. So there’s a lot you can do, bootstrap, if you just kind of just do it. Just start thinking about what to do and just get on it and just do it. So that would be my my suggestion for people.
Bronson: I can’t think of anything better to end on than just do it. Daniel, thank you so much for coming on Growth Agro TV. This has been an awesome interview.
Daniel: Jay Thank you. Thanks for having me.
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