Mathilde is the CEO of FrontApp. In this episode you’ll learn how to use extreme transparency as a growth hack. She also shares the biggest single mistakes startups commonly make when it comes to growth (and the strategy she uses instead)
→ She is the CEO of FrontApp
→ How to use extreme transparency as a growth hack
→ Her insights about the biggest single mistakes startups commonly make when it comes to growth
→ How does she get from zero to over 1000 users
→ Her example of some of the growth hacks that she did to get from zero to where you are now
→ Her insights about how important the hack has been for them
→ What advice does she have on PR
→ What advice does she have on content
→ And a whole lot more
Bronson: Welcome to another episode of Growth Hacker TV. I’m Brandon Taylor and today I have Matilda column with us. Matilda. Thanks for coming on the program.
Mathilde: Thanks for having me.
Bronson: Yeah, I think we’re going to have a fun conversation today because you are the CEO of Front, which is the easiest way to manage team inboxes and you all were actually a part of Y Combinator. So I think you’ve probably learned some tricks from them, learn some tricks from your own experiments. But you guys are definitely a great company to watch, so I’m personally excited about the questions and answers that are going to be taking place here. So let’s start kind of with where you’re at right now. Give us a snapshot. Where are you in terms of growth, maybe users or companies that use you something along those lines? So people watching know kind of where you’re at in your journey?
Mathilde: Yeah. Sure. So we started the company two years ago. Exactly. Actually, we launched a year end three months ago. And right now we are it’s over a thousand paying companies and we are in the team, 12 people. So four salespeople, eight engineers, no marketing. And that’s where we are.
Bronson: That’s awesome. So you said a year and how many months has the product been launched?
Mathilde: Three months.
Bronson: Okay. So in 15 months you’re at over a thousand paying users. So that’s great. I mean, there’s a long way to go, but that is an incredible start. And so let’s dig into kind of how you got from zero to over 1000 users. So, you know, we love talking about different growth hacks on this show. What are some examples of some of the growth hacks that you did to get from zero to where you are now?
Mathilde: Yeah, sure. So first of all, it’s not 1000 users, but companies. And so then one company can have between.
Bronson: So it’s even better.
Mathilde: Yeah, it’s even better.
Bronson: Sorry, I didn’t mean to. Yeah. To make it sound there is. Yeah. A thousand companies is the keyword. You’re absolutely right.
Mathilde: Exactly. So and so think of trade terms, of things to do to acquire new customers. And with trade, especially a few prospects and probably two of them works really well. So I’ll just trade one. I think one thing that’s super specific to our business is that we manage Tim Inboxes. So Tim Inboxes is email address like support, jobs, press, etc.. And one thing specific to this team inboxes, either they were public. So if you go on a company website, which is it, then you’ll see contact us x team at Company Dotcom. And so one thing that we’ve built is we’ve built an email scraper where we can say, for example, I want to see all the contact at address on the website Kickstarter or I want you to get all the buildings at address available on the first hundred pages of Google. And then we’ve just built a really small urban email and we’ve sent thousands of emails to those team inboxes every day. It’s extremely easy. It didn’t take 10 minutes to have seasons of e-mail addresses and to send them, and that works really well. So that’s one thing that we’ve done and that has driven a lot of users and signups. Something else is a Tim inbox most of the time is redirected to several people within the company. So emails support us and then maybe 30 people in the company will get this. So one thing that we’ve done is instead of sending our welcome email to the user, we’ve sent it to the team inbox. That way, everyone in the team is happy to learn that someone is struggling front up.
Mathilde: Two things that we’ve done and that I think worked well for us.
Bronson: Yeah, I really like those. I want to dig into those a little more and so, you know, use screen scraping, find an email addresses. And then the second piece of it is sending email to those addresses, the welcome email or whatever. So that model people are actually learning about fronts. Okay. So on the sending of the email you mentioned, it was a simple email. And I think that’s an important distinction because I see people do email wrong all the time, especially when it’s cold email. They want to write a novel, they want to explain all the benefits and features and please get in touch with me. Here’s 13 other reasons you should use us. The you said it’s a simple email. How simple?
Mathilde: So super simple. Most of the time it’s one or two sentences. So first of all, because it’s so called, well, describe exactly what it does. So basically front lets multiple people manage one inbox. That’s all we want to do. And sometimes we’ll just give a few examples of companies that use this like Dropbox and Slack in General Assembly, Way, Communicator, etc. just to make sure that those people know that it’s a real product. But I don’t. Adam Say more. I think when you’re targeting such broad audiences, I think you you should just write one sentence describing exactly what your product does. Otherwise people will not treat it.
Bronson: And what’s the call to action in that email? Is it? Reply if you have questions, is it? Here’s our league. We’d love to have you sign up. Is it? Get on the phone with one of our sales reps you mentioned that was a part of your core team. What’s the call to action?
Mathilde: So the call to action is booked 10 minutes with me here. And so there is a link to 10 minutes and that’s even with our sales reps.
Bronson: Oh, so you actually take the calls from the people that book The 10 Minutes. Yeah. Are you using something like calendar to kind of set up times.
Bronson: Yeah. I’ve done something very similar to the hack you’re describing and it does work.
Mathilde: Yeah, it worked really well. I think for them it’s they know that they will not have to go through the hassle of scheduling an event, just clicking like shoot clicks. So it works really well.
Bronson: So I’m interested. Why are you taking the call instead of the salespeople when I think you said you had like what, three salespeople?
Bronson: So what’s what’s the reasoning there?
Mathilde: So first of all, I think that it’s more efficient when the CEO of the company writes an email, and then I feel better if I read the email. I said, look, a meeting with me and then they give it to someone else. So Michael will probably be more like a qualification call in 10 minutes. Not that that long. Yeah. And also I think in the company I really like me and my customer to be very hands on so that then people have no excuse to, to be like serious creepy. So I do it. I always learn a lot from people that just discovered our product. And so as soon as I have media at a point, I won’t have to anymore. But right now I can send like maybe four times 10 minutes everyday.
Bronson: Gotcha. It makes sense, you know? So here’s an idea I had for another hack, just based on what you’re saying. So, you know, you said you send to the team at or support AD and that way it goes to multiple people in the company. One hack that any company could do is when somebody signs up for your product, you know, Bronson, Outgrowth, Hacker, not TV. When you send a welcome email back to them, send it to Bronson at but then carbon copy team at support add and then if it bounces, it bounces. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. But if it gets through, multiple people in the company now see an exchange in email which will just increase, you know, the relevancy to the company and all those things. Just an idea.
Mathilde: Yeah, I think it works as soon as you see see the right email address, meaning that if you’re a product that should be used within the whole company, you should promise to see team ad. If it’s a sales tool, you should see see sales at the support tool. Support ADD if it’s a yeah, a tool for community managers, maybe press editors. Right. So I think as soon as you do that to be too overwhelming or to send me, I think that’s a good hack.
Bronson: Yeah. No, that’s great. So let me ask you this. You know, with all these growth hacks, one of the questions I always have is, you know, it’s clever, it’s cool. Does it actually make up a large portion of those thousand plus companies? So, you know, not you got to give us detailed numbers and your metrics here or anything. But in general, is this responsible for 10%, 50%, 100%? Give us an idea of how important this hack has been for you guys.
Mathilde: Yeah. So I think it’s it’s around 15% for us. Also, something very important that’s I think on growth hacking is I think you will read a lot of things on growth hacks that some companies have done, and it’s very tempting to try to maybe reproduce them or just tweak them a little bit for your company. What they thought is this for growth hacks? You should really think about what’s very specific to your business and then capitalize on this. And I felt like most of the growth hacks that other companies have done didn’t work for us. And so I think you have a lot of acquisition strategies that have worked for people and this will work for your business. But in terms of growth hacks, really think about what’s unique to your business and how you can capitalize on it.
Bronson: Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. I mean, we actually just finished up going through Techstars and there were some growth hacks we were doing to grow our company while we were there. And there’s ten other companies in the room that were interested in learning what we were doing, how we were growing, and I was willing to show them exactly what we were doing. I was willing to help them as much as I could actually implemented themselves. And the fact is, it didn’t make sense for any single other company in the room. They couldn’t do it now because they didn’t have the skill or the desire or whatever or the resources. It just literally didn’t work for their company at that point. Yeah, and that’s true with so many hacks.
Mathilde: Yeah, yeah. No shit if you can’t find anything that’s like very unique and that’s I think that’s totally fine. You can use other ways to acquire new leads, but just listing growth hacks that other people have done is probably going to fail.
Bronson: Probably. So, you know, we’ve talked about a couple of things that have worked. You know, you talk about you have to experiment a lot. What are some of the things that haven’t worked for you guys? Maybe it’s because, like you just said, you were trying. To imitate others. Or maybe it’s just ideas that you had that you thought would work and didn’t talk about some of those.
Mathilde: Yeah, sure. So I think it’s interesting, we we’ve shared a lot of our learnings over time through to our Jordan. And one thing that we’re just starting right now in terms of content is a series about front fields. I think we always talk a bit about his words and never talk about it, but I still and I think companies can learn a lot about those. So maybe this series will be a fill, but we’ll try. So the first thing that we’ll talk about, first of all, we introduced a freemium plan of free plan. So freemium model. So we I think the basic reason why we did that is we used to have a very small free plan to users, one inbox and most of the people at a point agreed to a paid plan. And so we said, Oh, but then let’s just have a big free plan. And that will that will drive new signups and they will convert to other points. And that’s fields. I think the main reason is because people tried to cheat in the free plan and so they didn’t get the full value of the product because it was so big. Every company was close to the free plan and so they couldn’t see any of our premium features like automations, integrations and analytics, which are really key to our product. Also because of the structure of our team where we just have sales and marketing. I think we wasted a lot of resources because the sales people would spend time with people that in the end wouldn’t get paid. And so it’s very frustrating for them. And also from just a financial planner, he doesn’t doesn’t work for the company and therefore, the tech team. We had like far more support requests because we had far more users and we could not keep pace. We tried to release new features very often in each failed. And so I think that’s like the the learning of that is I think maybe six months from now and because it was obviously a good idea to generate more leads. But I think then the question is like, what happened next? So your leads in converting the grief support and some other companies have written about how they felt launching their freemium model. That’s one example. Another example is with so too big. So we have this idea of creating community better do it IO where we would partner with lots of companies in the communication space and we would send one a piece of advice every week given either by us, but most of the time by other companies. This one that was focused on cold emailing would give advice and called email or someone doing make it a a team chat platform.
Bronson: This seems like a great idea. So I didn’t work.
Mathilde: Yeah. So it was a good idea, but I think and so we launched stage, we started on TechCrunch on product terms and life hikers, and we had lots of saying, Oh, good, eternal. But then it’s so much work, like just having one listen to be since every week is a ton of work. Because if you want to have high quality content, you have to work hard with those companies to create this. We want you to have a good design, etc. And we didn’t have any marketing resource. So we felt just because it was like impossible to send when, you know, every week it was too much. And so we stopped it, which was obviously a waste of resources.
Bronson: Well, thank you for kind of diving into both those. I mean, I think there’s so much there to learn from, you know, in the first example, you know, I found out that in my own life where early on in a company like really early on when it’s barely passed the idea stage, you can make changes and nobody’s affected. But once you have ten plus employees, changes that are just in the product are never just in the product. They show up in support and in sales and then just the overall experience. And so you have to like find ways to make all these departments work together with these changes. And that becomes a new hurdle for companies of the size. You’re at such a great thing to keep in mind. And then I like the second example too. You know, there’s so much we can learn from the idea that to do marketing well, you have to really invest in it. It’s hard to get a bunch of results with very little effort. I know that’s like the Holy Grail. Look, I did this one little thing and now I, you know, got a bunch of new users. The fact is, to get a bunch of users, it takes a bunch of work. And so just managing all those resources to make some marketing thing actually work. It’s tough. Now, we’ve talked about, you know, some different growth things, but for you guys, it seems like content and PR is a good piece of the puzzle for you all. So walk me through that. I mean, what advice do you have on content? What advice do you have on PR? What some things you can share there that really worked for you guys. You just mentioned you’re on TechCrunch and Lifehacker and product times even for some of. That failed. I mean, that’s that’s hard to do.
Mathilde: Yeah, it’s true. So I think content and pure are two different things. So on content, I think you said it well, you have to invest a lot of marketing resources. I’ve found that it’s very tempting to be willing to write a lot of content. So for example, one piece every week or every other week, what is fun is I read one piece every month, so that’s not a lot, but I make sure it’s really high quality. And so I have several people that review it and I try to have the insights of experts, etc.. So, for example, I’ve been writing about the future of email or about our journey through. What I see is a trend in for each of the pieces that I work. Like in tens of hours. They’ve been read tens of thousands of times or more, and also that’s when you write something really good. You can suggest a few guesses and you can use it over time. So for example, to the mailbox shutdown and so I used to have a first called way. It’s so hard to innovate in the email space because it’s good because they’ve been working hard on it. It’s very easy today to suggest it as a guest post to a few either companies or medias. So one thing that I think we’ve done very well in content is we’ve worked hard on every piece and we’ve just released one piece every month. But because it was good, we got featured in Hacker News, which drives seasons of visits to your website. We’ve been featured on I Don’t Like on Metamask Daily. We’ve been featured in some newsletters from big messy firms or just big newsletters, and we’ve been able to use them again and again over time. So contemplating that, something that we did, that we did really well and the content doesn’t have an impact on user acquisition, I found that we’ve been able to hire really great people. And when I ask about why did you choose to join front if you were having trouble fronting the small company? We are French and you decided to leave and come to work. And part of it was they really like our culture and of course they don’t know anything about our culture because they’ve not joined the team, but they’ve seen that through the thing that we’ve written and I think both for take your brand to a career, make new employees and new signups, high quality content is key.
Bronson: And that’s a great insight. Let me ask you this. I mean, I agree. The quality just has to be there. And you as a CEO have probably the best chance of creating something that reaches that quality level. At the same time, it goes back to you taking the ten minute phone calls. How do you gauge when something is worth it? As the CEO, even though you’re getting results, could you get more results leveraging someone else? And it’s a hard question. I mean, how are you going to know when it’s time to hand the reins off of some of the hands on stuff?
Mathilde: Yeah, I think it’s all the best. So I think right now I’m the public figure of the company. And so this way I’m writing most of the articles. Of course I ask for some help, and so I have either a few employees or friends that are helping me in ratings. The contents, I think we don’t have a media or director of marketing yet. I’d be willing to have someone that’s as a public figure of the company. I don’t want to keep that for myself. So as soon as we’ll have someone else, I think this person will embody the company. So right now I agree with you. I think it’s time consuming, but I’ve tried to hire a few writers that can. I just read the outline, they read the content and then they say, That’s good, that’s good. And then have it reviewed by experts in the domain. And then that creates a piece of content.
Bronson: No, that’s good. Here’s a question I have is people aren’t necessarily as far as I know, they’re not looking for shared in-box solutions. I mean, I think about it like it’s hard for me to imagine going to Google. I mean, like, I need a shared inbox. So how do you market when it’s a real pain but people don’t know how to articulate the pain?
Mathilde: Yeah, so it’s a good question. I think a few companies had these forums. So when you think about Slack, nobody was looking for a new team chat solution, which is is hard. And so I think when you have a product that no one is looking for, it will be harder because typical acquisition strategies won’t work. So we’re afraid to do something. Acquisition that doesn’t work at all. Nobody’s looking for it in boxes, shared in boxes, etc.. So there are two things that we do. First, we try to test and. A lot of different ideas. So this latest thing that we came up with, this idea of e-mail scraper or communicate better or make Christie’s work on email, etc.. So you have to be more creative. Also, you have to sell something else than what your product does. So, for example, you can. So what’s your mission is? So, for example, front end brings a lot of transparency within companies. So it’s easier to see other people’s email, to share user feedback, to be aware of the bugs happening in your team. Email transparency is something that’s trending right now. So a lot of companies like Reference Trade, they’ve implemented this transparency policy. Yeah. And so we try to not sell the product. No one will. But so makes the mission and the benefits. So more transparency. And also when you have like something you can compare it to. I think that’s like very compelling. So Slack now is used by millions of people. And what Slack has done for internal communication. We’re trying to do the same for external communication. So you need to interact with your teammates, use big in Slack, but you need to interact with your customers or your needs or your candidates or your friends. You speak up for us. And I think this craving for slack, for external communication is another way to talk about your product without describing exactly what you did. Yeah, but I think it’s hard. We didn’t talk much about PR, but PR has been huge for us. So everything we’ve been able to talk about something. So we went to waste and then we raised the money and then we launched this new version. And then we launched our eyes up and we launched Communicate Better. And we are a French company that moved to the US and also I’m a woman CEO in tech and all of these things we’ve tried to be to be featured on every TechCrunch, Lifehacker tech that’s you, Wall Street Journal, etc.. And my recommendation for people that are trying to do PR, you have this feeling when you’re doing PR that you should wait for the right moment to be featured. So why not tweet about this new feature that we’re going to release in just two weeks? The product will be much better, and I think that’s a big mistake. I think you should as soon as you have one opportunity to do PR, don’t wait and do it. You will find other opportunities to do other stuff. So for example, on product and we’ve been featured at least six times and most people think that you can be featured at once. It’s true that we had front and then we had front for iOS, and then we had this free tool that we had built to analyze your inbox and then we had from 2.0 and then. So I think what I mean is like, don’t wait to have that till it’s a good moment because it’s never a good moment. You always have bugs in your app, especially early stage. So as soon as you can try to try to do some PR.
Bronson: That that one hits home for me because I’m literally putting off PR right now on growth gigs because I feel like but we’re so close to it being so much better. So I’m going to take to heart what you just said. I think you’re right, but it’s hard for me for all the reasons. It’s hard for everyone else.
Mathilde: Yeah, I agree. It’s hard. And it was hard for me at the beginning, but now that I look back and I see how much PR we’ve had, whereas I don’t know a lot of journalists, I think it was good that we went way see, but I require you to network. And I think what I’ve done is every time I had the smallest thing that could be enormous, I jumped on the occasion or something. They said no, something. They said yes. But as a result, I think we had great VR coverage.
Bronson: Yeah, that’s great. You know, earlier we talked about the hack of screen scraping and you said, you know, 15% is probably, you know, what it makes up. Where does content and PR fit in? Is that the bulk of where the users have come from?
Mathilde: Yeah. So I think we ask every time we have someone on the phone, we ask how they heard about about us. So right now we’re analytics because we don’t have any marketing person is that’s super accurate. However, I would say half of the remaining 83%. Half of it is word of mouth. So we still have a lot of people that heard about us through another customer. Half of it is PR content. Gotcha. I read about you on a product then. Yeah. Asian, etc..
Bronson: Yeah. No, I love knowing kind of the breakdown like that because then I feel like I get a sense for what is actually happening, you know, in the company in terms of growth. Now, you know, you mentioned transparency in email a few times. Transparency, you know, you mentioned Strive, you mentioned Buffer. You guys are in that camp. The extreme transparency. People like you having a blog about your films. It doesn’t get much more transparent than that. Another thing you’ve been transparent with is the public roadmap. And as far as I know, that actually generated leads for you guys. So tell me, what is a public road map and how does that turn to lead? And just give me some insights there on what you’re doing.
Mathilde: Yeah, sure. So many six months ago, we, we were managing a road map and Trino And then I saw that you could make a board public. And so you could limit the features. So you can see people can come in, but they can vote. And so what I did is just I made it public. And in the email that they sent to users and then seeing the new features, I just put a link with our public roadmap saying help us prioritize new features that are bridging the features that you want. So I just honestly didn’t do it for a pure purpose or whatever. I just do that for product management. It will be easier if I have insights from customers. Mm hmm. So I tweeted about it and I said, Here is our product roadmap, please. And as soon as he tweeted about that, I had so many people that retweeted and talked about it and were intrigued. So and I see what Butterfield retweeted it saying, I need to do that for Slack. And so, of course, then you have some courage. So I’m interested in what we’re doing. And so we are working on a blog post with them, and they featured us and their inspiration page and they tweeted about us. And so I think our product roadmap was like a really good idea, not only for the needs that we created, but also for the trust that we’ve built for our customers. Again, I have so many interviews where people tell me, Oh yeah, I love the transparent culture that you have. I can see that you’re you are tremendously and I think that was a thing and just clicked like make it public. It’s such a big deal. But I think the learning of that is do a little things. Try to see what has traction. I was not expecting that to have traction, but it did. And once you have it, capitalize on that. Yeah. And other things that you can do through guest listeners, through you can tweet about it every week, you can ask other people to do reviews and I guess boost, etc.. So yeah, that’s worked well for us.
Bronson: And yeah, and it seems like, you know, to you you’re like, Oh, it’s not a big deal. I just hate to go public with it. But that takes a lot of guts. I mean, yeah, it only took a few seconds, but it takes a lot of guts to try something, throw it out there, see what’s going to work. And so I think what people can learn from it is that, yeah, it wasn’t this really involved marketing plan. It didn’t have all these contingencies. It wasn’t a three month cycle thing, but you had the guts to do it and not overthink it. And that alone is a growth hack in itself, I think.
Mathilde: Yeah. I think transparency. Everything you do. So sharing your roadmap, sharing your inbox, etc. is scary. So I think people are scared of a during the remission. And so, for example, when I share my emotions make up on the first day, make sure my inbox in all future knows I was scared. And then now it’s been six months. And I think that there are almost no no nothing bad that’s happened. So me pretty much you could say, oh, your competitors could be you. And on your inbox you could say, oh, you might see an email that you didn’t want him to see, but all of the benefits that came out of it were of cells and same bigger sure to affect things small. But that could have happened.
Bronson: Yeah, it makes sense. All right. So last couple of questions here. These are kind of the fun ones that I always end with. So right now, as soon as this interview is over, what are you doing next? It could be super awesome or super boring. What’s next on the agenda?
Mathilde: Like just after.
Bronson: That, as soon as it’s over.
Mathilde: I need to launch our referral program. So I’ve been thinking about it. I think we’ve never incentivized our customers to share that they like front of me. So that’s what I’m going to do this morning.
Bronson: All right. Awesome. All right. Last question. What’s the best advice you have for any startup that’s trying to grow?
Mathilde: So I think what’s helped me so much is that when I was at Boise, you know, you had these quasi dinners every Tuesday with companies that seemed really successful, like the founders of Stripe, of Facebook, of optimize need to restaurants. What I’ve learned is it’s hard for everyone like there is no companies that has been growing organically without like figuring out at some point how am I going to have new users? And I think just knowing that it’s hard, it’s been hard for everyone, it’s still hard for everyone, makes a huge difference because then you take it for granted and you’re asking yourself, Oh, wait so hard for me, but you just have to. I’ve tried a ton of different things and then at a point some things will will work. And even when you reach a milestone, so you reach a millionaire and you see that, okay, no, we’re going to a million everything that we have something people want, then we need to figure out how to how to grow it to 10 million. And it’s so I think just being in that state of mind that it’s hard for everyone to help me with that.
Bronson: Yeah. You know what? I love that insight. I mean, I feel that all the time and I’m like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. One day I’m like, Oh, it’s easy for them and it’s not easy for me. What’s wrong with me? And then the next day I flip and I know it’s hard for like I go back and forth on it. So it’s encouraging just to hear you say it once again. It’s hard for everyone. So now I can take a deep breath.
Bronson: That’s awesome. Well, Mattel, this has been a great interview. You’ve been transparent, which was expected. You’ve told us exactly what’s worked and what hasn’t and what kind of, you know, what bulk of the business where it comes from. And like I said before, though, I think the big insight that people should walk away with is your attitude toward growth and your fearlessness toward experiments. Even if they can imitate a specific or not, your attitude should be imitated. So again, thank you so much for coming on growth out of TV and giving us a great episode.
Mathilde: Thank you for having me. It was a pleasure.
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