Does Our Product Suck?
Explosive Growth is about the wildest startup story you’ve never heard of (until now). My startup was running out of money when we bet the company’s fortunes on a then-unknown platform called Facebook. The app quickly achieved explosive growth, and soon after our stock price skyrocketed 2,000 percent, setting off an extraordinary chain of events filled with sudden success and painful lessons. This compelling and inspiring narrative gives your startup a step-by-step playbook to achieve explosive growth, combining lively and often hilarious storytelling, proven tactics, and numerous case-studies.
This is taken from Chapter 3 (Continued from Chapter 2) of “Explosive Growth — A Few Things I Learned Growing To 100 Million Users & Losing $78 Million” by Cliff Lerner available on Amazon.
Chapter 3: Does Our Product Suck?
“You can market your ass off, but if your product sucks, you’re dead.” Hall-Of-Fame Entrepreneur and Author Gary Vaynerchuk
In the spring of 2007, our new dating site, IamFreeTonight.com (IMFT), was acquiring a few thousand new users every month organically. This was decent, but even if they were all the right users, it still wasn’t enough. We needed a much bigger influx of users, because the initial financial runway we built — even after I doubled my estimate of how much startup capital I needed — was running out.
Something was wrong somewhere, but I wasn’t sure what it was yet. We needed to figure out how to get 1 million users, and get them fast.
Suddenly, a much more frightening possibility crept into my mind. I began to wonder if maybe our product just sucked. It was more likely an evil form of paranoia from my subconscious mind than a legitimate fear, because I always believed we had a unique idea and a great product. It’s only natural for some self-doubt to creep in, however, when the clock is ticking on your business.
Could This Be Magic?
These days, there are a lot of early indicators to tell if a product sucks, or at least whether it’s remarkable or not:
-Are people tweeting about it?
-Are people sharing it on Facebook?
-What is the social media buzz?
But ten years ago, when SNAP Interactive (the parent company of our dating apps) was starting to grow, the landscape was much different.
Twitter only began in 2006, so tweeting was still reserved mostly for bird calls.
Facebook had barely begun to expand beyond the college walls, so that wasn’t a factor either.
Analytics platforms hadn’t developed to the levels we find today, so it wasn’t as easy to track and analyze every piece of user activity and engagement metric in real time.
Therefore, it was a little harder for me to determine if our product sucked, despite having a decent number of users. Ultimately, what I learned was that if something isn’t jumping out as extraordinary right away, there might be a problem. Something magical should be very clear from the outset, as I’d learn in a few months when we suddenly got 100,000 users in one-day through rapid A/B testing of our friend referral system.
While still wondering if our product sucked or not, I asked some family and friends their opinions. They told me all sorts of wonderful things to offer their encouragement, support, and probably feed my ego at the same time, but they didn’t shed any light on why our product wasn’t flourishing.
“Your product’s great, Cliff!”
“I love IMFT — it’s way better than Match!”
“Everybody should be using your online dating app.”
All these glowing responses only fueled my concern even more because, if all these people really thought my site was so amazing, why hadn’t they told their friends about it, and why weren’t they using it more often?
#ExplosiveGrowthTip: Having a remarkable product is not subjective. Either people remark and it grows organically or they don’t. Are people remarking about your product? (Tweet your #ExplosiveGrowthTip to @clifflerner)
Unfortunately, I hadn’t yet become familiar with the Net Promoter Score (NPS) metric. The NPS is an underutilized yet incredibly effective way to measure customer satisfaction by asking users the question, “how likely are you to recommend our product to a friend or colleague’, and what the Harvard Business Review calls the ‘One Number You Need To Grow.’
#ExplosiveGrowthTip: Marketing a product with a low Net Promoter Score (NPS) and Retention is essentially saying to potential customers, “Hey, my product sucks, come check it out.”
A bunch of uncomfortable thoughts crept into my head at that point. We had a unique product, but just because something is unique, doesn’t mean it’s a Purple Cow. The timing might not have been right, like our situation with the wingman concept being 10 years too early. The user experience might have been too clunky. Or, the product might have just sucked. This epiphany followed by brutally honest conversations with the team about our product would save the company and become the catalyst for our ‘pivot’ and explosive growth.
Legendary Investor, Entrepreneur, and Best Selling Author Tim Ferriss nails it when he says that, “A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.”
I knew something was inherently wrong with the product, and it had something to do with a metric key to the success of any business: retention. We were getting tons of free press, but it didn’t amount to enough new users. Perhaps most importantly, the new users that we were getting weren’t the right ones, because they weren’t using the site after their initial signup. It became obvious that the current path wasn’t going to get us where we needed to be. I needed to make some magic happen.
#ExplosiveGrowthTip: Don’t spend significant money on marketing until your one-day and thirty-day retention is well above average for your industry.
The 10X Effect
We needed a product that was doing something not just slightly better, but massively better — ten times better — than the other dating sites on the market. That’s called the 10X effect, and we clearly didn’t have that with IMFT.
The biggest reason we needed something that was 10x better was because of what’s referred to as switching costs for the user. On dating and social networking sites such as Facebook, users have already invested substantial time in creating their profiles — including uploading photos, posting content, adding their friends, etc. Therefore, even if a marginally better product comes along, it’s not worth a user’s time to start over. The new product needs to be ten times better than the competition for the user to justify investing their time in it.
My Tinder 10x Experiment
When Tinder launched in 2012, I ran an experiment with my friends to see how our dating app compared. The experiment was simple: which dating app could deliver on a quality in-person date the quickest.
Unfortunately, the experiment confirmed my worst fears. With zero exceptions, all of them came back with the same result: Tinder allowed them to meet someone more quickly than any other site. As a matter of fact, Tinder was literally 10x faster than the competition at delivering on the core value of a dating app — a date. Unfortunately I was part of the competition. Creating this ‘10x Effect’ was one of the 5 Genius Things Tinder Did To Achieve Explosive Growth. Game, set, match to Tinder.
#ExplosiveGrowthTip: “Create Your Own 10X Experiment” — Can you quantify how much superior your core product offering is than the competition? Is it 10X better?
All Paws: The 10X Effect in Pet Adoption
My brother, Darrell Lerner, was a cofounder of the company and an absolutely crucial factor in its success. However, by 2013 he was looking for a new challenge, and he started a pet adoption platform called AllPaws.
Darrell has always been a pet lover, so he recognized an unmet need for people looking to adopt pets. His idea was built upon the lessons he learned from his experience in the online dating world with the 10X effect, and how to apply some similar functionality to build a user experience that was ten times better in a different industry.
The 10X effect taught him that he didn’t need to recreate the wheel. He just needed to understand his users’ pain points, address them, and make the user experience ten times better than what the rest of the industry was offering.
When people start their search to adopt a pet, they usually have very specific search criteria. For instance, they may want a hypoallergenic breed with a gentle disposition, who is trainable and good with children. Or, for some reason, they might want a rabid Rottweiler who eats steroids like kibble and has a taste for human flesh. Either way, Darrell realized people didn’t currently have the ability to perform a detailed search for pets using variables like health, behavior, and compatibility. So, he created a website and app that allowed people to do that. All totaled, there were at least thirty search filters for users to select from
AllPaws isn’t all that different from a good online dating site. The shelters have the ability to create a very detailed profile for their adoptable pets, and prospective new pet parents can search for specific criteria to establish a match. Darrell simply used the lessons he learned as a cofounder of Snap Interactive to make the pet adoption experience ten times better. He sold the company a few years later to a multi-billion-dollar company, PetSmart, and the site still exists today. If you’re a pet lover and looking to adopt a new fur baby, I recommend checking it out.
#ExplosiveGrowthTip: A marginally better product is worthless. It needs to be at least ten times better. Have you quantified how much better your product’s core offering is than the competition?
#ExplosiveGrowthTip: Have you looked outside your industry for new solutions and approaches to solve the problem in order to create the 10X experience?
Startup Book Recommendations: Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days by Jessica Livingston; And The Upstarts: How Uber, Airbnb, and the Killer Companies of the New Silicon Valley Are Changing the World Brad Stone
The biggest pain point with IMFT was the amount of time it took to build a user profile, which included finding and uploading several profile photos. The whole process took several minutes, and in the modern fast-paced, on-demand world, that was far too long for most users.
What if there was a way for users to upload a complete profile with their best pictures and all the necessary information with just one click? That would have been an online dating site that was ten, no, make that at least a hundred times better than anything else out there. If only there was a way for us to do that.
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Cliff Lerner is the Founder of Snap Interactive & Author of Explosive Growth: A Few Things I Learned While Growing To 100 Million Users & Losing $78 Million, available on Amazon. Follow Cliff Lerner to get more Explosive Growth Startup Tips and Tweet your #ExplosiveGrowthTip to @clifflerner.