Building for depth, not breadth

Hey there :) This edition I'm going to try something different: Each edition will wrap around a specific Product theme. I can promise it will be highly opinionated and *fresh*.

This edition's concept will touch on how to build your first product version for maximum impact. I call it Building for depth, not breadth.

As you read through the post, I’d love to discuss this post with you on Twitter/LinkedIn — disagreements, other ideas this prompts for, etc.


As entrepreneurs and Product Managers our ultimate litmus test is making something that fixes a real problem. As simple as it sounds there are a variety of distractions, false positives and metrics we need to pay close attention to if we're to successfully iterate towards Product Market Fit (PMF).

No one pays for a "meh" product, which is why it's important to start working on making a maximum impact on your user's life:

Let's build for depth, not breadth 😉

Building for depth means...

  • you're forced to deeply understand WHO needs WHAT done.

  • you'll be able to optimize your user onboarding for the right type of user

  • impact means an organically high engagement so your retention will improve naturally

  • Monetization becomes natural

  • Pricing becomes easier to experiment

  • Acquisition becomes cheaper since you'll have word of mouth, smaller list of keywords to target.

Building for breadth means:

  • Making something for everyone

  • hard time prioritizing features

  • trying to grow without strong retention

  • bad user acquisition habits

By the end of this post you'll learn how we set up Ânimo's quantitative and qualitative loops so that we're always building for maximum impact.

Ânimo is a Brazilian audio wellness app, think Aaptiv(or Peloton without the bike)+Headspace.

The Quantitative loop: Setting up metrics so well that you can't lie to yourself

Part of making new things is having the utmost conviction that what you're building is going to make an enormous impact on people's lives. Unfortunately it's very easy to fall victim to our own enthusiasm.

In general we set up the metrics the following way:

  • Metrics should reflect value being extracted from your product. This should be your North Star. Revenue is too lagging of an indicator

  • Should be proportions. Avoid using absolute numbers since they are easy to manipulate and are generally non actionable.

  • Activation should reflect your "AHA!" moment, the instant your user derived actual value from your product.

    • Uber it's getting from point A to Point B

    • Ânimo it's completing a workout

    • AirBnb would be a successful booking.

  • Graph out your metrics in relation to your expected usage interval

    • You can get an Uber daily, but it would be really weird if you booked a room on AirBnB everyday, right? Tax software would have a usage interval time of almost a year!

Look at your proportions and answer: How many % of my users go through an AHA! moment within my usage interval?

There's a difference between understanding your product and not being delighted versus not understanding at all. Make sure you understand where your v1 is at.

For those who understood the app, do they use it repeatedly to solve their problem?How many of them come back on the next usage interval?

For example, at Ânimo our initial usage interval was 7 days. We were pretty happy when we saw that over 60% of our users came back to finish another workout the next week. Further iterations allowed us to lower our expected usage interval by half.

Top proportions to monitor (ranked by personal preference):

  1. Activation rate (we just did that one)

  2. Retention (using your "aha!" moment as the anchor) over your usage interval time. This will tell you if there is repeated value extraction from your product.

  3. Proportion to engagement and monetization. Depends from product to product and business model.

Most of the initial opportunity for maximum impact happens at the activation rate. Why?

  • Delivery of your product's value proposition is still 20 iterations away from ideal.

  • Most companies make the false assumption that your user is coming in cold. That's not true, something motivated your user all the way here. Figure out what it is!

  • First experience means that you're essentially qualifying your user for the rest of the journey. Great user onboarding = Excellent retention

  • You probably won't have another chance to show your product's worth. Show value right from the get go! Duolingo shows you exactly what the experience will be like within the first 40 seconds. We did something similar at Ânimo and had a 50% increase in activation rate.

  • Finally, don't be afraid to make big swings. Small iterations are ok, but major experiments will push you in the right direction faster. The effort is generally the same :)

Keeping it humble: Setting up the qualitative loop

This is arguably the most important part of the process we use to keep ourselves growing in the right direction. Talking to customers should be part of your company's routine.

We send out automated emails to users who fit the three following categories:

  • Activated - Successfully extracted value within the usage time interval

  • Non Activated - Did not activate within the usage time interval. Something happened, either the app was too complicated or they expected something else.

  • Power Users - Engagement levels were higher than average within the usage interval. Worth understanding how they are different from the "Activated" users.

For each type of user we want to understand what their life is like, their needs and what could be done to improve the experience. Over time we want to start looking for commonalities (and differences) between each group. Interestingly these insights come a lot sooner than expected depending on how questions are structured. At Ânimo we like to run interviews in batches and share interview notes with the whole company.

Closing thoughts (Putting it all together):

There you have it, you've successfully set up a quantitative and qualitative feedback loop. Use the data collected to improve your messaging and first experience for maximum engagement.

Early on it's probably easiest (and most impactful) to use the insights you collected to turn activated users into power users. Bangaly Kaba's Adjacent User theory follows a similar logic

After a few iterations, give your funnel a look and see if the numbers make sense. Think about what you learned from the interviews. Can I make a business from this?

Best resources on improving user onboarding:

UserOnboarding Teardowns. Sam Hulick wrote a guide+checklist a few years back. Hasn't aged at all!

Intercom on Onboarding. Guys at Intercom have been consistently writing excellent guides on everything product related. 100% worth a read.

Growth Design's Case Studies These were pretty popular not too long ago. Great for benchmarking

Cool links from around the web

Automatically transcribe all of your meetings on Google Meet

Cool Chrome extension which uses GoogleDoc's transcribing functionality.

How GPT3 Works - Visualizations and Animations
A little technical, but it does a great job in explaining how massive and efficient GPT3 is

TikTok and the Sorting Hat

You've probably read at least almost a dozen times about the current TikTok (China) <> USA debacle, but you definitely haven't read such a complete piece on what makes TikTok different from any other social network. Spoiler: It's an algorithm company disguised as a “interest-graph” social network. It's also why I don't think Instagram's Reels will even get close at holding them back. Definitely read this one.

YCombinator's Library
They've completely revamped it! In my opinion this is one of the best resources in the internet for early stage founders/PMs. Think depth and breadth. 😉

Scientists rename human genes to stop Microsoft Excel from misreading them as dates
The story is practically in the title :) Humorous at first but shows how messy software development can be. Must be really hard to be an Excel PM:

  • Knowing that no two users are alike (If I get 100 Excel users together I'll find out each one uses it a little differently)

  • At any given point a large chunk of all human produced content ends up on a spreadsheet. How do you make it work for everyone?

Favorite video of the week

Joe Rogan interviewed David Blaine.
- Omg Jonathan, that's a 2hr video!
- It flies by super quickly. David Blaine is my favorite magician, and I've been following him for years. He does these amazing stunts every few years, and this interview gives you a rar glimpse into how serious and passionate he is about his craft. It's also really fun to see him so enthusiastic, unlike the usual “mysterious magician” vibe he likes to put on.

That's it for this edition 😉 What did you think of the new format? What would you like to see more? less? Hit `Reply` with a specific question on product, growth or anything startup related and i'll be happy to offer my thoughts. 🚀

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