If you build it, they will come, right?
Not exactly. Growth is actually a lot more complicated than that. Getting users to discover your product, and then stick to it, is more of a rigorous science that uses lots of multivariate testing and traffic funnels.
A pair of longtime investors and entrepreneurs, Stan Chudnovsky and James Currier, are getting together again to build tools that will help startups optimize how they attract and keep users. After leading and selling a web 1.0 company Tickle, Chudnovsky has advised companies like Goodreads, Path, Wanelo, Poshmark, Lyft and Highlight on how to grow. Before “growth hacker” became the term du jour, Chudnovsky was doing it back in the early 2000s with some of the first e-mail and address book importers.
Now after all of these one-off consulting projects for startups around the Valley, he’s out to do something more systematic.
At his new startup IronPearl, Chudnovsky is quietly building a set of optimization tools that will track a user through a site or app and test which combinations work best to keep them coming back after a week or a month (although the goal can be whatever you want it to be).
Think about it like an Optimizely for longer-term retention and growth. The product he’s building can run dozens of tests simultaneously to check which user flow keeps people engaged with a site best.
He showed me a dashboard filled with percentages showing which combinations of copy and art produced the highest number of people returning to a site.
“Growth is generally misunderstood,” he said. “It’s like interest in the bank. If you get 2 percent every week and it’s compounded, that’s where the power comes from. If you run 10 tests during a single week, and one of them gives you a 10 percent boost, you can get to a 10 percent overall improvement the following week.”
He expects to launch IronPearl in a few months after some beta testing with GoodReads and other startups.
Chudnovsky has a long, long history in the Valley. An immigrant who arrived in the Bay Area in 1994, he was a vice president of engineering at Tickle, which was later acquired by job-hunting site Monster.com for its wealth of career-oriented quizzes. It was a personality test site that grew to 100 million users and $40 million in annual revenue. He later dabbled in social gaming, and sold Wonderhill to Kabam.
Then he got into advising and investing in startups, helping social reading site GoodReads grow to more than 14 million members.
His philosophies on growth have changed as well. Indeed, quizzes and personality tests can go viral very easily, but they may not be kind of product that keeps a user engaged over the very long-term. Quick quizzes were one of the first types of apps to blow up on the Facebook platform, when it launched back in 2007. But they gave way to casual, social games, and then now more sophisticated, midcore titles.
Now it’s more about not just getting users in the door, but getting the ones that find a product useful and keep coming back. He has certain rules of thumb: “Seventy-percent of new users should come in as a result of invitations or word of mouth from people who are not first-time users.”
But he disdains the term “growth hacker.”
“No one has any idea what it actually means,” he said. “Last year, it was all about data scientists and this year it’s the growth hacker.”
Maybe that’s because he was one of the originals.