Being Obsessively Hands-on with Early Adopters to Accelerate Growth

Or, Why Product Managers Need to Swim in the Deep End of the Pool

Team GoNoodle, circa 2015, on what will forever be remembered as “Overall Friday”

We Had a North Star Metric

We knew exactly what success looked like, and there was ONE metric that mattered. Our goal was to get to 100K Monthly Active Users by the end of the school year. We had a clear definition of an active user. We had a live dashboard in our office (and online, that we looked at obsessively) displaying the current MAU count, and the trend over 30 days. That metric was the tool by which we made every product decision; if we couldn’t connect a decision to the goal, we didn’t do it.

We Combined Product Management + User Support

By necessity in those first few months, I was both product manager AND user support. It was, admittedly, my least favorite part of the job (“Hey, here’s a second inbox! Every message starts with a problem or someone who’s annoyed, and there’s a timer on your response. Have fun…”) But it helped me hear our users’ needs directly, and it gave me real people to talk to. This was invaluable for a product manager with an MVP in market.

We Made User Support Proactive, Not Just Reactive

We saw positive improvements in engagement with users after a support interaction — and with that as inspiration, set up efforts to support them better before they’d write to us.

  • Hey, looks like you haven’t used GoNoodle in a while. How can I help?
  • I see you created an account but never got started. Anything I can clear up for you?
  • I noticed you really liked this piece of content. We just released another new video I think you’ll really like….
  • You’re a real tastemaker in GoNoodle — one of our most active users! Have you seen our newest video? I’d love to know what you think.
  • You’re one of the 10 most active users <geographic area>! Question: how can we make GoNoodle better?
  • Hi! We’re testing a new feature and you were one of a small number of users who saw it. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

We Built Advocates with a Targeted Lo-Fi Referral System

After launch, we began to realize that a key value of GoNoodle was helping a teacher feel like a hero to students. It made the classroom fun, and there’s deep emotional value for a teacher to see a roomful of happy, enthusiastic kids.

We Used Data to Drive Hands-On Research Interactions

Our product analytics data was the origin for all our main questions and hypotheses about GoNoodle. Using Mixpanel, we could break user data into multiple cohorts, like:

  • Date of signup
  • First content played
  • Geography
  • Profile data
  • Penetration of other teachers in the building also active

Hindsight

Our team culture of hands-on interaction with users helped us accelerate our drive to product/market fit. By the end of our first school year in market we were well over our goal of 100K Monthly Active Users. Most of the ways we assumed our product would improve post-launch never happened; instead, we went where user feedback lead us.

  • Staff up User Support as early as you know there’s enough work to keep sometime part-time employed. I almost burned out after a few months, because the support queue never stops — not for your weekends, your sick days, or your vacations. But once you hand it off, make sure you still schedule time to be an agent so you understand what’s happening.
  • Find a way to share out the anecdotes you’re gathering from your user interactions. We did a great job of collecting those anecdotes as at team, but we did a poor job of sharing those learnings outside the product team to executives, marketing, sales, etc. It’s just as important to build alignment internally, and product teams have a responsibility to share what they’re learning.
  • Remember your early adopter is part-unicorn. If you want to grow beyond this cohort, you have to make the effort to talk to the people who don’t love you. It’s easiest to talk to the super-fans, but your input can get skewed. We had to work extra hard to reach the users who didn’t get it, but when we did, we learned the most about how to make sure GoNoodle had growth beyond early adopters.
  • Invest deeply in analytics, and keep a clean house. While we were using data non-stop in that first year, we were also doing a poor job of upkeep on our implementation. A few months later, we realized a lot of our data was flawed. As a result, we had to stop and re-instrument our analytics in the middle of our biggest growth phase at great expense and a temporary loss of trust in data.

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Aaron Briggs

Product leader, dad, cyclist, climber with a shoulder injury, musician with dwindling practice, vinyl collector, Oxford Comma defender.