The Snippet is a Weekly Newsletter on Product Management for aspiring product leaders.
Every time I see this hockey stick graph on the internet, it just blows my mind. This is the story of Slack’s explosive user growth since 2013-14. For any business, that growth story is a dream.
As unbelievable as Slack’s growth story is, what’s even more unbelievable is that Slack achieved a large part of this growth curve WITHOUT a dedicated outbound sales team in their early years.
For the first several years Slack had no salespeople, instead, they (and many other companies since) took a product-first approach to grow. Letting word of mouth do most of the selling itself.
Here’s how I started using Slack. The year was 2016. Having tried several different “enterprise messaging” applications in the past, I absolutely despised enterprise messaging software as a category — I had accepted that it was just too hard to get right! Emails were still a much better way to communicate in my opinion.
And then one fine day somebody in my team asked me to try out this new thing called “Slack”.
#1: Make Onboarding really really easy
Because why wouldn’t you? After all, You’ve got somebody looking at your homepage, giving you their valuable time. Here’s Slack’s homepage in 2016.
Their homepage has changed since then, but back in 2016 Slack on-boarded you in 3 simple steps
1. Enter your Email Address
2. Enter the security code from that slack sends instantly to this email
3. Choose a password
….And you are in business.
No big signup forms, no unnecessary details, no credit cards.
Slack let people use the product right away and let them experience how great it was. That one thing worked really really well for Slack.
The lesson here is simple — if you are building a software product and your success depends on user signups and eventual adoption, you’ve got to spend time thinking through how you’re onboarding new users or first-timers.
Design an onboarding flow such that there is ZERO friction between a potential user looking at your homepage and them being able to test drive the product right away. Let them decide for themselves if they want to use your product.
If your product experience is great and one that delights the user, they will generally keep using it. And that’s when you can have them fill out any additional details such as First Name, Last Name Address, Credit Card info, Company information etc. to complete the onboarding.
Here’s how Slack did it —with the helpful slackbot — it completes the on-boarding for you in a conversational format. That’s a masterstroke right there, because who wants to fill out forms?
See? That is awesome.
To complete my story, I loved how Slack was super simple to use and setup. I loved that their free version also delivered immediate value. Today Slack is how I communicate with my team 90% of the time.
#2: Make sure your product is where the users are
No matter what your app/software might be, it’s probably designed to be used by people. Guess what? Most people already use scores of different apps, AND most of them also serve as “nodes” in multiple social networks. Why not use this to your advantage? Why not make your product visible on these platforms where your potential customers are already hanging out?
You probably know where I am going with this, but the idea is to make sure that your product or platform has integrations with other 3rd party apps—the ones that your target users are already using.
To the user, this makes your platform that much more inviting and sticky. This is a great way to get initial signups and drive app usage and to kickstart the flywheel. Integrations are especially important if you are new and want to reach and appeal to users.
Product integrations give your new product the much-needed visibility and ensure that the target users you are trying to get in front of
Know that you exist
Try your product out because they will not have to leave whatever app they are using
This is also sometimes known as Platform Hacking. Here are some companies you may know that reached their first users via platform hacking.
Spotify: Deal with Facebook to be their “default music service”
Then one day Mark Zuckerberg updated his status to say Spotify was really cool and this happened.
So you see what a powerful platform integration can do? Obviously Spotify pioneered the music streaming business and transformed the way music is shared, but that FB platform hack really gave their user base a big nitro boost. Today, they are well on their way to 100 million active users worldwide.
Airbnb’s famous Craigslist platform hack
Ok, so this is borderline illegal — but I am trying to make a point. (I strongly suggest you donot try this ) — but this is what Airbnb did to grow.
When Airbnb was not the big ‘Airbnb’ we know of today, they figured out something early. Airbnb wanted to get people who were looking for a place to stay but did not want to stay in hotels, to use their service. Where were these people at?
Everyone that was looking for a place to stay but did not want a hotel room was looking at Craigslist listings. Craigslist had a massive user base. If only Airbnb could somehow post user listings to Craigslist, that would expose their service to millions of people.
Except Craigslist did not have an API ! —and there were no official integration endpoints. Airbnb’s figured out another way.
With some clever URL manipulation, Airbnb found a way to post their listings on Craigslist so that on clicking the listing a Craigslist user would be redirected straight to airbnb’s website where they could complete the booking. Here’s how they executed it.
Given Craigslist had ZERO UX and Airbnb was a much better booking experience, most Craigslist users switched to Airbnb for their next booking.
This hack/integration was the single BIGGEST reason why airbnb’s target market was able to discover them. And once they did, they never went back to Craigslist for bookings.
Today, URL manipulation and such hacks can land you in legal soup —but thankfully most social platforms have official APIs to let 3rd party apps integrate with them.
In both cases, these two products made themselves visible on platforms where their target user was hanging out, provided them with a great first experience and eventually signed them up as returning users.
Bottom line: If you know about other platforms where your target users are flocking, create an integration to that platform, make them aware that you exist, and remove all friction so that people can try your product out immediately.
#3: Get users to the Aha! moment. ASAP
This is perhaps the most important of the three to get right. Onboarding and Platform hacking the product to get new users does NOT matter if new users do not understand why they should continue using your product. And if they don’t understand your value proposition right away, they will leave and never return.
In short, your product should minimize the time for the user to get to the aha! moment — when a new user starts experiencing the value that your product promised. These users will eventually become returning users. And it’s very very important to have returning users, not just new ones. User Retention is key.
Retaining 20 users that have already signed up is way more impactful to your bottom line than getting 20 new users — because your cost of acquisition on the former is ZERO. Therefore, your overall product strategy and design should be such that the time to aha! the moment is minimized.
Twitter’s “Aha!” moment was when a new user followed 30 other users. Once that milestone was crossed, Twitter learned that such users mostly continue using the service. Same with Facebook, where the “Aha!” moment for a new user was when they had at least 10 other friends on Facebook.
To fast track new users to the aha moment, you first need to know what that moment is for your product. If you don’t know or cannot articulate it — your first order of business is to go figure it out. Once you know what your aha! moment is, the next step is to build it into your product such that new users experience it as soon as possible.
Twitter and Facebook for instance present you with accounts you can follow or suggested friends during the onboarding process — a growth hack to ensure that new users see the value immediately via content that their connections create, feel like part of the network immediately and don’t leave.
Obviously, there are several ways to achieve high user growth and obviously there is no one hack that works for everything. But one thing is clear, each of these growth stories above was a result of a well thought out strategy that included clever onboarding, strategic platform integrations, and focus on providing the user value very quickly.
In sum, if you are building a product and are contemplating a user acquisition & growth strategy, don’t lose sight of these 3 product-side hacks. These, coupled with some clever marketing can get you pretty close to striking distance of a great growth story.
The Snippet is a Weekly Newsletter on Product Management for aspiring product leaders.
This post has been published on www.productschool.com communities.