How to Be Successful in Product Management and Marketing

AgnosticTalk is an online community which at its peak had 25,000 active users, 60% from North America and the remaining 40% international. It grew to that size in approximately two years, with an annual budget of $20. Read more to learn how it happened.


How It Started

I was 13 years old when I started AgnosticTalk, an online community to discuss religious philosophy. It started as a space for me to share some of my thoughts on religion, as I was discovering what I believed and how different religions were impacting the world. I founded AgnosticTalk as a Facebook page, and did not treat it as any sort of business venture at first. Once it had reached around 3,000 followers, I received the first message thanking me for creating the space. The message roughly read “Thank you for creating this space, I am able to explore my beliefs and faith in a welcoming and educational environment for the first time in my life; I have never had this chance before because in my country, I could be put in jail for questioning the national faith.”

“Thank you for creating this space, I am able to explore my beliefs and faith in a welcoming and educational environment for the first time in my life; I have never had this chance before because in my country, I could be put in jail for questioning the national faith.”

Now, as a young teenager this was a remarkable experience to me. I was starting to get interested in international affairs, in part due to my studies at Bellevue College (short explanation: I was a full time student there at a young age), and here I had someone thanking me for making a difference in their lives due to an extreme difference in culture and government between our countries. From there, I quickly decided to recruit a team of volunteers to help me manage and grow the community.


Marketing

At our peak, AgnosticTalk growing by 1,500 users a month. Sometimes, we would only grow by a handful. This meant our growth ranged from 0–30% a month. The biggest determinant was what content we promoted: we could focus on a Facebook post about one thing and see no user interaction or growth; other times, we would partner with another organization about a certain topic and have massive growth. One term we could use would be “going viral”, and I made it my goal to figure out what topics on what avenues would go viral.

I’ve done a fair bit of marketing; I grew the revenue for a small online retailer from New Zealand by $50,000 in a single year, while I was a full-time student. I attribute my success in marketing that retailer, and AgnosticTalk, to one simple concept: try something, see if it works, try something new, figure out what works best, do what works best. At a high level, this is the most important concept to follow to be successful in marketing.

try something, see if it works, try something new, figure out what works best, do what works best.

There are certain other details, however. How do we determine what is working? What new things do we try? I have seen companies, and consulted for start-ups, who believe that marketing is either: the easiest thing in the world, or something that is all creative. Neither of those beliefs are true. If they were, then far fewer successful companies would have such empty Facebook pages. Marketing is tough- your content needs to be seen, and it needs to be compelling enough to convince people to interact with it. If you are working in marketing or hiring someone for a marketing role, keep in mind that data analytics is crucial to determine what strategies are successful, and that you must have some level of market research and awareness to figure out what to try next.


Product Management

In 2011 we noticed that between Facebook’s changes to how pages operated, and the limitations of a Facebook page as a tool for discussion, AgnosticTalk needed a new platform. We did some market research which included surveys, discussions, and data analysis to determine that making an online forum was the best choice. I held meetings with my team to allocate responsibilities: one team member figured out hosting, one figured out conversion/migration to the new platform, one figured out how to organize the new site, and I created the new site. These responsibilities were not drawn in stone; I collaborated with most team members on their responsibilities and had a lot of help in my own. This system was successful because we identified our user need was, and what we needed to do to provide for that need. In the end, our website had 25,000 users, consisting of a high conversion rate from our Facebook page alongside independent growth facilitated by the new platform. Above all else, the product was a success because our entire team was dedicated, motivated, and organized.

In the end, our website had 25,000 users, consisting of a high conversion rate from our Facebook page alongside independent growth facilitated by the new platform. Above all else, the product was a success because our entire team was dedicated, motivated, and organized.

Product managers are well aware of what needs to be done to make a product successful, but many people without product management experience have started businesses and created products. It is important to believe in what you work on, but it is even more important to work towards the right goals, and know how to achieve those goals.


Conclusion

Last but not least, if you were wondering how this was all possible with $20, it was because our team consisted of dedicated volunteers, and we achieved natural growth through Facebook- something that is much more difficult now that Facebook charges to show posts to followers. Other social media websites do not have such restrictions, such as Reddit and Instagram.

I want to wrap up this post by stating how grateful I am for the experience of running AgnosticTalk. We shut down the website a few years ago after a server failure, but while it had an active community I gained countless skills. I learned so much by working with a diverse team and talking to people from all over the world about their cultures, backgrounds, and religions. The experience motivated me to learn new languages, study abroad for two and a half years (I managed to save money by doing this!), take political science classes and be involved in Model United Nations programs, and to actively volunteer.


About the Author

James Gan is currently a senior at Cornell University, pursuing a B.A. in Economics, with minors in Computer Science, Information Science, and Asian American Studies. He spends a lot of his free time volunteering as a Program Manager for StudentRND, helping students in Florida fall in love with Computer Science. Read more here.

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