In 2012, Pramod Sokke joined BitTorrent as the new senior director of product management, the once-red-hot start-up was at a crossroads.
Growth of their popular desktop software, which lets users find and download files from all around the Web, had stalled.
More worrisome was the fact that the company had no mobile version of the product—a huge disadvantage at a time where people were rapidly migrating away from their desktops to their smartphones.
Making matters worse, YouTube, Netflix, and other streaming services were gobbling up users’ time and attention both on their phones and across other devices, leaving BitTorrent behind.
Pramod was brought in to build the mobile product and reignite growth.
The 50-person company was organized around the traditional silos of marketing, product management, engineering, and data science.
The product team and engineers were divided up into subgroups dedicated to different products, such as the desktop versions for Mac and Windows, and now the newly minted mobile team.
Both the data team and the marketing group served all of these product groups, and as is typical at all kinds of businesses, the process of product development was completely separated from marketing.
The product managers would inform the marketers about upcoming launches or releases and all marketing efforts were then conducted by the marketing group— with no collaboration from those actually making the product.
The Customer Funnel & Typical Department Ownership –
As is also typical for many companies, the BitTorrent marketing team was focused on efforts exclusively at the “top of the funnel” (depicted above), meaning raising customer awareness and bringing users to the products through branding, advertising, and digital marketing with the goal of acquiring new customers.
At most software or Web-based companies, the work of increasing the activation and retention of those who’ve visited a website or app is done not by marketers but by the product and engineering teams, who focus on building features to make users fall in love with the products.
The two groups rarely collaborate with each other, with each focused on their own priorities and often having little or no interaction.
Sometimes they’re not even located in the same building—or even the same country.
Per this standard organizational playbook, once the BitTorrent mobile app was ready for launch, the marketing group crafted a launch plan, which, as usual, included a range of traditional marketing activities, with an emphasis on social media, public relations, and paid customer acquisition campaigns.
The app was solid, the plan was strong, and yet, adoption was still sluggish. Pramod decided to ask the marketing group to hire a dedicated product marketing manager (PMM) to help stoke acquisitions.
These marketing specialists are often described as being the “voice of the customer” inside the company, working to gain insights into customers’ needs and desires, often conducting interviews, surveys, or focus groups, and helping to craft the messaging in order to make the marketing efforts more alluring and ensure they are conveying the value of the product most effectively.
At some companies, these specialists might also be tasked with contributing to the product development, for example, by conducting competitive research to identify new features to consider, or assisting with product testing.
An experienced PMM – Annabell Satterfield, joined the BitTorrent marketing team to assist in boosting adoption of the newly minted mobile product.
In addition to focusing on the awareness and acquisition efforts she was charged with, she requested that she be allowed to work with the product team on driving growth throughout the rest of the funnel, including user retention and monetization strategies, rather than being restricted to just efforts at the very top of the funnel.
The head of marketing granted her permission to do so, but only after she first focused on user acquisition programs and only once they’d achieved their marketing team objectives.
Yet upon conducting some customer research—which included both customer surveys and analysis of the company’s data on user behavior—in order to generate ideas for new marketing campaigns, she discovered something that seemed directly at odds with her boss’s instructions: many of the best growth opportunities appeared to lie farther down the funnel.
For example, she knew that many users of the mobile app, which was a free product, had not chosen to upgrade to a paid Pro version, so she conducted a survey to ask those who had not upgraded why that was.
If the team could get more users to do so, she knew that would be a big revenue generator, which could be as important—if not more so—as getting more people to download the app.
As the results rolled in, it became clear to her that the most promising strategy for growth wasn’t to focus exclusively on building the company’s customer base, but also on making the most of the customers they already had.
She took the insights she’d uncovered to the product team, thinking they could work together to find ways to improve the app.
In doing so, she caught the product team a bit off guard; this was the first time a marketing person at the company had ever come to them with such input.
But Pramod, who believed in a data-driven approach to product development, was impressed, and he quickly gave her free rein to continue mining the user research for product insights, and to keep communicating those insights across the divisional sand lines of the then-siloed company.
One of the discoveries from Annabell’s surveying stunned the product team, and led to a rapid increase in revenue.
The team had lots of theories about why many users hadn’t upgraded to the paid, Pro version of the app, but the most frequent response to the question of why a customer hadn’t purchased the paid version took them completely by surprise.
The number one answer?
The users had no idea there was a paid version.
The team couldn’t believe it. They thought they had been aggressively promoting the Pro version to those using the free app, but apparently they were missing the mark.
Even their most active users hadn’t noticed the attempts to get them to upgrade.
So the team prioritized adding a highly visual button to the app’s home screen encouraging users to upgrade, and, almost incredibly, that one simple change resulted in an instant 92 percent increase in revenue per day from upgrades.
It cost virtually nothing, took virtually no time to execute (the time from the discussion of the survey data to deployment of the button was just days), and resulted in immediate, significant gains.
And all from an idea they likely would never have come up with if not for the input and feedback from their customers.
Another success came from what Annabell and Pramod called their “love hack.”
Looking into user data to try to identify the drivers of increases and decreases in the number of downloads of the app day to day, Annabell noticed a clear pattern.
The app was only available from the Google Play store, and she noticed that whenever the first several reviews of the app in the store were negative, the daily installs of the app would dip.
She experimented with pushing up positive reviews into those top positions, and found that it instantly improved
the number of installs.
So she and Pramod decided to encourage users to write reviews, right after they had downloaded their first torrent, when they had seen how easy the app was to use.
They expected that this would be a moment when users would be most happy with the app and most inclined to write a favorable review, if asked.
They ran an experiment to test the hypothesis, having the engineers program a request that would pop onto the user’s screen right after the first torrent was downloaded.
Sure enough, positive reviews came flooding in. They went ahead and deployed the prompt to all new users based on the initial strong results, and that led to a 900 percent increase in four-and five-star reviews, followed by a huge boost of installs.
Her credibility officially established, it wasn’t long before one engineer came to her and said, “Do you have any more ideas? What else can we do?”
This kind of collaboration between marketing and product teams is woefully uncommon.
Generally, the product team is in charge of the process of building the product, as well as of making updates, such as improving the sign-up experience or adding a new feature, and the team establishes a schedule, commonly referred to as a roadmap, for making those improvements.
Often, ideas for changes that aren’t part of the pre-established roadmap are met with resistance.
Sometimes it’s because timing is already tight for making the planned enhancements, and sometimes because the changes being asked for are poorly conceived, much more difficult, time-consuming, and therefore costly, to enact than the person making the requests is aware of.
Yet other times the product team might also determine that a request isn’t aligned with the strategic vision for the product (or some combination of all these factors and others).
Even if you don’t work for a tech company, you may be familiar with this kind of tension between departments, maybe with marketing teams pushing back on suggestions from sales, or the R&D team resisting a request to build a
prototype for a new product that marketing has recommended.
This is one of the chief problems with the practice of siloing responsibilities by departments, and it’s primarily why, as you’ll learn more, growth teams must necessarily include members across a range of specialties and departments.
As the BitTorrent team soon realized, often the best ideas come from this type of cross-functional collaboration, which, again, is why it’s a fundamental feature of the growth hacking process.
SILOS BREACHED AT LAST –
Buoyed by the successes they were seeing, everyone on the BitTorrent mobile team eagerly began brainstorming about more hacks to try. One hack they tested could only have been thought up by a bona fide techie: stopping the app automatically to save the phone’s battery life.
The team discovered this opportunity through another survey targeted specifically at the power users of the free app—ones who were using it all the time but who had yet to upgrade to the paid Pro version.
The survey revealed that these users had a major pain point around the drain of the phone’s battery power from their heavy use of the app.
So the engineers quickly proposed they build a feature for just the Pro version, one that would turn off battery-draining background file transfers when the app detected that the user’s battery had less than 35 percent charge remaining.
They cleverly promoted the feature in the app to free users when their phone battery started to dwindle, enticing them to upgrade on the spot.
The feature proved so popular that it resulted in a 47 percent increase in revenue. This string of hits didn’t go unnoticed around the rest of the company.
For one thing, Annabell was officially moved from marketing to the mobile team, reporting to Pramod, and eventually her title was changed to Senior Product Manager for Growth.
At the same time, other engineers working on other projects were fascinated by how the team continued to churn out big wins, leading two of the more senior engineers on other product teams to leave their posts just for the chance of working on a high-performing, growth-oriented team.
Annabell explains that from speaking to our engineers this was because, besides the fact that we seemed to be having fun and enjoying each other so much, they saw us as ‘doing things right,’ being ‘data-driven.’
As the team continued to hack their way to growth, they leaned more and more heavily on data analysis (provided by a member of the data group), to both set up and evaluate the results of their experiments.
The data analyst worked with the engineers to ensure that they were tracking the right data about customers’ response to their experiments—and providing the most useful reports on that information as it rolled in.
The analyst had the expertise to know when they had enough data to call the experiments either winners or losers, and worked with the team to review results and to help plot their next steps for follow-up experiments.
The team relied so heavily on the analysis that eventually the analyst was also moved over full-time to the team, just as Annabell had been.
The success of this data-driven approach to growth and product development prompted the BitTorrent executives to invest more heavily in data science and staff up its analytics team.
At the same time, word of how the mobile team was growing prompted other product teams to start tapping the data analysts more frequently, and collaborate with them more closely to develop experiments and insights of their own.
The mobile team went on to discover dozens of other high-impact improvements that rocketed the product to 100 million installs through its two and a half years of rapid-fire growth hacking.
With that mission accomplished, the team was reorganized and put to work on other company product priorities.
It’s hard to understate the impact that this small team had on the previously growth-challenged company.
It wasn’t just that their efforts boosted their teams’ revenue by 300 percent in a single year, but also, and perhaps more important, that the team fundamentally altered the culture at BitTorrent from one constricted by traditional marketing and product silos to an open and collaborative one in which everyone, from marketers, to data analysts, to
engineers and executives, was aligned around the fast-paced, collaborative growth hacking process.
Annabell fondly recalls how faith in the growth process rippled out across the organization, describing how “two of my favorite moments were seeing our old tech lead present a growth experiment at Palooza [which is BitTorrent’s term for regular hackathons it holds], and meeting with an old engineering colleague who wanted to dive into the process with me. He’s an ambassador for the approach now.”