Josh Elman's Approach to Growth

The following is not a verbatim of Josh's talk, but rather notes recompiled from memory and pictures, by Khailee Ng.


Josh joined Greylock as a principal in 2011. 

Prior to Greylock, Josh was a product lead for growth and relevance at Twitter, and helped Twitter grow it's active user base by nearly 10x. Before Twitter, Josh worked on the platform at Facebook and led the launch of Facebook Connect. Earlier in his career, Josh led product management for Zazzle, was part of the early team at LinkedIn focused on growth and jobs, and led product and engineering for RealJukebox and RealPlayer at RealNetworks.

Josh holds a BS in Symbolic Systems with a focus on Human Computer Interaction from Stanford University.

You cannot build a business without "figuring out" growth.

You don't win with a better idea, a better design, or better engineering. its the ones who figure out growth. Those who don't figure out growth will eventually die out.
Growth is also not just growing 'signups'. It's growing active usage of your product. Twitter was at one point, getting a ton of people signing up for it. But not as many people stuck around to use it!
So if you have an idea, not figuring out growth means it cannot ever become a big business

Josh Elman's approach to growth

1. PROBLEM - What do people care about?

Keep refining and iterating till you get to the problem definition that resonates with the most people, most easily, and most emotionally powerful. Twitter sucked at it for many years till we got to "Find out what's happening right now in your world".

One easy way to test:

"People want to find out what's happening instantly in their world. Twitter does that."
"People want to stay connected to friends and family. Facebook does that"

2. INCEPTION: How can we make them aware?

Viral Invites :

You can try and force a lot of viral invites everywhere, but if the message that is being spread is not a message that incepts your product problem correctly, it's not going to work. Don't make the wrong message go viral.For Viral invites. Iteration = most important. We had a whole team at LinkedIN on this, working years on this. We measured viral co-effecient of each invite flow, whether people invited through an invite flow used the app more over time etc... we eventually nailed a sentiment of play to "people's fear of missing out." Eg. Who knows what'll happen when you're connected to the right network, if you're not connected, you're missing out...

You must figure out the value on both sides! Dropbox giving the inviter free gigs and the invitee free gigs is great - but the fact that they're incepting that everyone wants free gigs to store music, photos, etc and keep them safe forever... that's incepting the right idea.

SEO Strategy:

You may get a lot of inbound traffic from SEO. But if that inbound traffic doesn't turn into a habit of direct traffic over time, you're not really growing. SEO comes and goes but if you've steady stream of direct traffic, you're set. Best example is YELP. The user experience is "Hmm I'll Google search for xyz cafe. Oh. I'll click on this Yelp! result. Wow why didn't I just come directly to Yelp in the first place? Next time, I'll just go there directly coz its so much better!" . Hence, for inbound search traffic vs their keyworks, optimize their landing page to convert!

PR Strategy: Repeatable PR stories

If press writes about you once, it's great. But if they keep writing about how your users use your product, even better. And sometimes, we need to skew the press in the user's way. Real example from Twitter: Press picks up. "Conan sells out his concert in one tweet" this is good. But it basically tells people "Celebrities use Twitter!" Goof, but not good enough! What if it focused more on "Conan's concert sold out to his Twitter followers", it basically tells people "If you were on twitter, u could gotten a ticket!" . THis also ties back to incepting the right thing. You don't want Twitter to be seen as predominantly a celebrity vehicle. We have to reinforce what the problem we're trying to incept. The problem which creates the most growth value for users.

3. ADOPTION: How can we get them using it?

Josh brought active users of Twitter form less than 1 in 4 to more than 1 in 2 in 12 months. Lessons:
  • Don't give 'tour' to onboard, give actions for them to start using!
  • "Find your friends"? -- Do this last, only at the end of the onboarding when they are convinced they actually want to invite friends
  • Pinterest on-boarding has similar dynamics to Twitter, had the challenge of introducing "a board" and "following boards" in the same way Twitter had to introduce a "Tweet" then "following tweets". He think Pinterest onboarding is quite good.
  • He's tested that sometime longer onboarding can have less people completing but dont' be afraid of it if it is measured to produce better adoption and retention.

4. HABITS: How can we keep them using it?

How do you know if you have visitors or regulars? if you don't have regulars, you don't have a business.

How do you measure all this? Metrics can get complicated. Keep it simple.
This is how money is managed. Simple accounting, money in money out. Use this accounting format to measure your users! Users in users out!

If all you have is visitors, and not enough regulars, you're a leaky bucket. Leaky buckets don't win. 

To fix leaky buckets, one power move is to look for the AH-HA moment…. our AH-HA moment in Twitter was "Once a user follows 30 people, they're more or less active forever." Once you have AH-HA moment, focus your UX to encourage as many people to reach the AH-HA moment as possible! So you got to figure out the ah-ha moment. How to find it? Look for the regulars active users, then find their patterns. The answers are closeby.

Closing thoughts

Your growth strategy is not static.

Growth strategy evolves over time, what to focus and measure) first? Eg. Twitter in the early days focused on getting people to tweet. bloggers etc. spent a lot more time to getting people to key in their first tweet. The "What are you doing now?" box was huge, and ever-present. Only once got critical mass of content, then there was a shift to consumption, so now the "What are you doing now?" box isn't even there. Now focus on growing followers... so depending on where your business is at, shift your strategy to what helps you win.
Don't be afraid to push.

You gotta find ways to push out your communication in ways that builds your relationship with them. Make sure the email notifications, the tweets, the newsletters, the content, don't just slap it in your blog etc... if you're creating some content, you need to create EXPECTATIONS that people will want the content and will receive the PUSH. Content without push is useless, no one will ever read it.