Pivoting From a Utility to Entertainment App

Patrick Chen

Product at Facebook, Inc



I was working at a startup whose app was preloaded on hundreds of thousands of devices. When customers would buy a new phone, they would find it preloaded and could easily activate the app. Needless to say, it was an effortless way to get customers. However, there came a time when we couldn’t preload it anymore. One of the ways we would activate customers -- being a remote control for a TV app -- would be to send people a message instructing them to point their phone at a TV.

As a PM focused on onboarding and engagement, I had noticed that our engagement of the activation piece was rather unsatisfactory. I was also responsible for a longer, life-time engagement and I saw that the push notifications about the content I was sending out had a surprisingly high engagement. I took this as an opportunity -- what if we could change the post-purchase engagement and made it pre-purchase.

Actions taken

I pitched my idea and it initially fell flat. I kept thinking about how I could better articulate my proposal and influence stakeholders. I gathered all the available data, including the historical data on the activation as well as push notifications. Then I sat down with people I considered influential within the company -- Head of Engineering and a lead engineer who was a fairly opinionated person. I drove into the metrics with them and compared the activation engagement that was not exceeding 20 percent with the content engagement that soared up to 70+ percent. I explained to them how I would like to translate the engagement through push notifications to activation.

They generally liked the idea but were keen to see some more concrete metrics. At that time I kept track of push notifications and was certain that even if there would be a drop-off in terms of setup, in terms of people clicking through it, there would be an increase. The data helped me corroborate my proposal and was able to come up with more concrete insights.

However, the influential lead engineer was a bit skeptical and thought that we would have to put more ads if we would decide to go with the push notification engagement. They believed that that approach would destroy the user experience. I, on the contrary, argued that we had to put a lot of ads because we didn’t have that many customers, but with the model of activation I was proposing, we would have more customers and less need for ads. I did my math homework and showcased to them that we would be able to reduce ads by 30 to 40 percent.

Then, I brought the entire team together to both brainstorm and evangelize how we could improve this model. I didn’t want to force them into a certain direction, but I set it up as a brainstorm and I laid the groundwork for them explaining how we need to continue to grow. I wanted us to think together about how we could increase activation, i.e. the number of users who would be effectively using our add.

The first person to speak up during the brainstorm was a Head of Engineering who enthusiastically supported my proposal. Luckily, I updated and refined all the data I previously showed to him and it proved to be an interesting and useful case that got other engineers excited as well. That jump-started us and we focused with great fervor on bringing it to reality. Eventually, we were able to increase the activation from 20 to 60 percent which in itself was a huge success.

Lessons learned

  • Finding the right channels to get things done and understanding what motivates and/or and influences people is critically important to pursuing your idea.
  • Influencing consists of influencing the influencer(s) and influencing the masses. You need to know who you want to influence and why. In this particular case, I wanted to influence the influencers -- a Head of Engineering and a lead engineer. When influencing an influencer, understanding what motivates them is key and that is not always easy to grasp. Besides asking them directly I would also suggest stress testing them. I would ask them to support something that I know they don’t approve of just to get a sense of how strong their “no” is as well as something they approve of to better understand how easy they would say “yes”.
  • When you are to propose a new strategy, bear these two things in mind:
    a. Look at the data. Try to analyze it and decipher what is hidden behind its objective façade.
    b. Be open-minded. Explore the uncharted areas and translate challenges into opportunities.

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Patrick Chen

Product at Facebook, Inc

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