James Currier is one of those guys who flies under the radar, but accomplishes a lot. He began as a venture capitalist in the 1990’s, and later started a few of his own companies, all of which scaled to a significant amount of users.
In 1999, Currier founded a company called Tickle, which grew to 200 million users and was sold to Monster for $110 million. He then started a gaming company called WonderHill, which grew to 65 million people and was merged with Kabam. His next venture was a SaaS tool called Iron Pearl, which made it to 100 million users and sold to PayPal. Most recently, he launched a SaaS product called Jiff that has 1 million users.
Currier now runs an investment and advisory firm called Ooga Labs, which is now NFX Guild. The firm works with networks and marketplaces, as companies with network effects have better odds of getting a significant number of users.
He recently spoke at 500DISTRO, where he gave advice on growth and understanding the language of users.
Growth Is Not about Tactics
People ask Currier and his team what channels or tactics they can use to help grow their product to 10 million users. He says the truth is it doesn’t work that way. Growth is a philosophy and a mindset. Tactics dwell within that context. So, if you bring the philosophy and the mindset, the tactics will evolve from them.
The reason this is important is tactics change. What works right now won’t work three months from now. A growth tactic that exploits Facebook won’t exist in a year because Facebook will update and change their product and make that tactic obsolete. This means that your tactics need to be reinvented in the context of your mindset.
Don’t worry about not having enough tactics to grow. Currier and his team believe that 10x more growth opportunities have been missed in the last 25 years than have been exploited. There are plenty of opportunities to grow. It’s just a matter of designing properly for your product.
The Growth Mindset
Having a growth mindset is almost like being a fish in water. Here’s a metaphor to explain:
You walk up to two fish who are swimming in the water and you ask, “How’s the water?”
The fish look at each other, a little confused. They ask, “What’s water?”
The fish don’t see the water around them.
The mindset you bring to your product is like the water. You’re swimming in the mindset, and you don’t even notice it.
The Five Mindsets
When Currier is consulting with companies, he asks them to focus on these five mindsets to help them form their overall growth mindset.
1. The Psychology of the User
It’s not easy to think the way a user is thinking. Behind every big consumer internet company, there is an interesting insight about human psychology.
How You Make Users Feel
With Facebook, the insight is that people want to show themselves performing. And they’re performing because they want to get love. This goes back to our roots. If we’re loved by the pack (tribe), then we will be taken care of, so we feel safe.
Snapchat is the opposite. Sometimes people don’t want to feel as if they’re performing.
Many games tap into the desire people have to build and conquer. We’re wired to build and conquer, and the games that home in on that are the successful ones.
Etsy taps into people’s desire to feel unique.
Those are a few examples of successful companies and how they make their users feel. Now, ask yourself: how do you make your users feel?
The Language of Users
Your users have dozens of things going on in their lives. They have their homes, their kids, their jobs, and their smartphones. Within one of those, you exist, whether it’s in their jobs or a small icon on their phones. You are a tiny sliver in their lives. How do you stand out to them?
The answer is communicated in language. Ask your users what they tell their friends you do, and then listen very carefully. That language is how you know what you’re providing to users. You have to be looking at this and constantly evaluating it until you nail it.
Once you understand the language, how you think about the product changes, and how you approach the product changes.
Your product must have emotional hooks. It needs to talk to the user about their psychology. Consider the two different messages below. They both have the same goal, but one is the clear winner because it focuses on the user psychology:
Signing in with [our app] will make Facebook work better for you!
Feeling lazy? Sign in with Facebook.
The second one got more throughput because it focused on the user, not the app.
Bottom line: Get in the user’s mindset. Put the user first, not you.
2. The Language for the Product
Don’t build something and then figure out what language goes on top. Your product should follow the language.
A product’s name is incredibly important. People need to be able to remember it and spell it, and it needs to be evocative.
Infoseek was one of the first search engines, but it was crushed by Yahoo! years after launch. It wasn’t because Yahoo! had better search results, but in part because the name was better. People wanted to talk about Yahoo!, and the press wanted to write about it.
Before Tickle had its name, it was called Emode.com. Sounds pretty undescriptive and awfully boring, doesn’t it? Once they changed the name to Tickle, traffic initially went up 30% and doubled the value of the company overnight.
There are some false positives, like DailyBooth. It grew well because people knew what they did, but there was no business. Another false positive may be an ad that gets a high CTR but promises something it cannot deliver. For example, Amazon may get a high CTR for a banner ad that reads “Click here to win $5 million,” but it doesn’t lead anywhere for Amazon because it’s not related to their business. Don’t use language that leads people into a trap where you won’t get any business after the click.
Bottom line: Set the language first. Then build your product around that language.
3. Your Strategies for Growth
Don’t stop moving, even when things are going well. As Andy Grove once said, “Only the paranoid survive.” Whatever you have figured out isn’t going to last.
You need to have your B, C, D, and E growth strategies lined up and in the works, ready to replace strategy A, and then the others, as they stop working.
Bottom line: Most of your growth strategies won’t work. The ones that do will eventually stop. Growth is never done. Maintain a pipeline of growth strategies to keep fuel on the fire.
4. An Emphasis on Data
You must be committed to measuring everything. And once you have the data, you must communicate it well.
Use a cohort report to measure retention and monetize growth. Your daily stats email, if you have one, should be great. It needs to be a core part of your culture. It ought to go beyond email. Go buy TVs and use them to display the daily stats. Your stats can be things like conversion rates, active users, MRR, churn, etc.
Companies also need transparent and shared prioritization. There needs to be shared data about what the priorities are. People need to know what’s next and why a certain pet project hasn’t gotten done yet.
Bottom line: Love your data.
5. A Culture of Growth
Here are a few principles that growth cultures possess and that you should adopt:
- Love your data.
- Be able to sustain losses and failures. You’re going to fail daily; it’s the system/mindset that cannot fail. Iterate relentlessly.
- Keep looking for the 1,000% improvement.
You must commit to growth and organize for it. The CEO needs to be on the growth team. He/she must allow the growth team to change product and allocate human resources. People on the growth team must have the word “growth” in their job title. They need to report to the CEO, not a VP or manager. The team must enjoy data exploration. The people on the growth team should have a more aggressive personality than the CEO. The CEO should be pulling in the reigns a little bit. If the CEO is pushing the growth team, then something is wrong.
Bottom line: The growth team should love data and be absolutely relentless. The
After Mindset Is Realized, Turn to Tactics
Your mindset is the sea you’re swimming in. Once you realize and focus on these mindsets, you’ll have a good shot at developing solid tactics.
More from James Currier
If you like what you’ve read and want more from James Currier, here are a few resources:
Currier’s Full Presentation
About the Author: Zach Bulygo (Twitter) is a Content Writer for Kissmetrics.