Building and scaling UGC platform from 0–1 Million Users for Bharat

Learnings from building a UGC led shoppable fashion and beauty inspiration app

Discover. Curate. Shop. Earn.

As an entrepreneur, do you often feel stuck? 5000 DAU, with no clue how to grow? Stuck at 20% D1 retention with no idea how to go beyond? Stuck at 10 min engagement time with no idea how to improve?

Reading this article will help you get answers to these questions.

In the first week of May 2017, I was about to write my last paper for college. While everybody was getting excited about examinations to get over, I was drafting the idea of building a platform for fashion and beauty destination on the Internet. I pitched the idea to my decade-old friend and current co-founder, Ayush Shukla. After a couple of discussions in the next few months, we decided to start working on Marsplay. Fast forward, we launched a full-fledged app in July 2018.

In July 2019, We raised seed money from some of the smartest serial entrepreneurs from India & US, with a mission to build a community-led shoppable fashion & beauty inspiration app for the next 400 Million people coming on the Internet.

In this post, I am going to share my learnings, the mistakes we made and how to go about solving for different pillars while running your startup.

1. Founding team

Although, we have made a lot of mistakes while building our early team. But, we realized over time that finding a diamond in a coal mine takes time. Building a founding team that believes in your mission is the most important.

Find people who believe in execution rather than talking.

I observed the following things while building my core team:

1. Patience: Good things take time. The company is not going to be a billion-dollar company in a couple of years. Having patience while executing is a key skill our leadership team has. For example: We pursued our community lead relentlessly for 8 whole months

2. Data-Driven Decision making: We read this everywhere. It is critical and important to take a data-driven call while building your product. You can move any metric if you mix qualitative analysis with quantitative analysis and build a solid culture around it. How? Question everything with data and feedback from users. Do this AGAIN & AGAIN. You’ll see everyone in the company talking data.

3. Ownership: How does one take ownership? Ownership starts with trust. As founders, often we believe that we can do the tasks better than the hired person. This is not scalable. If you trust the other individual & show them that you trust them with the responsibilities given to them, you’ll see people owning their work.

Led by a team with relevant skills & entrepreneurial energy

2. Community Building

While building and scaling multiple social products in the past, I learnt the importance of manually seeding the first few hundred members. The best way to educate your early users is to give them their leaders on the platform. They set the right tone on your platform and the right expectations. Others just tend to follow. This also helped us in figuring out that we should focus on creators who are immigrants from smaller towns to bigger cities.

We talked to 1000+ creators 1:1 before writing even first line of code. We figured out who our target creators are and put them in our closed beta group. Our wireframes were a result of the qualitative discussions we had with our creators.

Remember all these people are human beings ultimately, they are looking for a place to express themselves freely and get feedback/appreciation from the right set of people. Don’t treat them as a machine. Treat them with words of care and love.

Some of our users love

Make sure that positivity is being shared inside the community. I remember to call people who share negative comments on somebody’s posts and explain to them why sharing positivity is more important for these first-time creators. This has helped us in setting the right tone to the community.

Community Meetup

3. Scale

Often as founders, we are solving a lot of problems at the same time. In this course, we forget the importance of scale. It’s crucial to understand that you always have to think about scale. How will you get your next 10,000 users? It’s not a game of strategy. It’s the mindset. Train your mind to think of scale and watch as the magic happens.

I have learnt this the hard way. In the early days, most of the people make decisions based on very few data points. Because of that, they leave the opportunity of figuring out even the target user base.

We had followed this methodology where we first went very slowly on the acquisition until the product was good enough to handle traffic and worked without glitches. Then, we scaled as much as we could with minimal acquisition costs.

It helped us a lot in understanding the demographics of our creators and consumers. We understood the behaviour of our target user base much better. This helped us to iterate super fast and set our product direction accordingly in a small time frame.

If we had not followed the framework of scale fast and learn fast, we wouldn’t have figured out our right target audience.

4. Acquisition Channels

Growth doesn’t stop at 2 or 3 channels. You need to open all channels. In the early days of building Marsplay, we made this mistake of relying on 1 or 2 channels for our all growth. We never experimented much with any other channels. For example: We thought that our current creator base can give us the flywheel effect to get all the growth we wanted. But, that was not happening.

One day, we decided to step back and observe where we are going wrong. We started questioning many things. What is that one thing that we observe on a daily basis? What is that one thing that we are chasing every day? Is that growth? Again, it’s not a strategy, it’s a mindset. Thanks to a few amazing people on the team, we started owning more growth channels such as Google search, WhatsApp Groups etc.

5. Change from Product driven to Product Growth driven

In the earlier days of Marsplay, we were pickier around product UI, features etc. Over time, we realised the value of product growth-driven culture.

The biggest learning I have had while working at Marsplay is around team management. As a leader, you have to show the path to your fellow team members. It took some time for me to realise that I had to change my mindset and communicate accordingly with my team so that they start thinking the same way. Over time, each member just talked about product decisions which can scale.

Earlier we used to build features as per different requests by users. Later we set up a framework around it. Matching this feedback with data was super important. We started validating everything that users requested by doing some correlation analysis and observing if they actually wanted it. The framework was to map every feature with a KPI and predict the impact. And aim to achieve it.

Result: 300% growth of sharing of content MoM. 50% growth MoM in our creators community.

6. Growth engineering

What is growth engineering? When you identify the workaround of using engineering to scale, that’s where all this gets killer!

Thanks to one of the best growth engineers, Rahul , who helped us to figure out a lot of automation for growth-related activities. I came to know Rahul after more than 6 years of my working career in my life while working with him on a project. Rahul became our growth advisor later on for Marsplay. 1 Rahul was equal to 100X marketing and growth people for us.

He helped us to figure out how to automate our content distribution in the closed groups of WhatsApp which helped us to acquire more than 50k users per day without spending a dollar. Through this, we ended up setting up our base in almost 150 colleges of India.

Growth engineering helped us grow 20x in the last 7 months and cross a million users. This was possibly one of the best learning I had in my life while scaling any social consumer product.

It’s been an incredible journey, seeing Marsplay grow from a crazy idea to a home for 1 million-plus community members who share a common bond over fashion and beauty. Thanks to our early users, team members, friends and investors for believing in us.

Marsplay Family

If you are an entrepreneur building something in the space of consumer social and you feel like having a conversation about product, growth, community, feel free to ping. I am happy to share some of my learnings of what not to do. Drop me a note at misbah@marsplay.co

Building something new 💻 | Previously Product Growth @pulseqa @movewithpursuit @Toymailco | Build @thecibola

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