The Journey From Growth To Product with Reddit’s Andreas Gross

Sep 11, 2017

Andreas Gross, Product Manager, explains his evolution in growth marketing, and how his passion expanded to Reddit’s 300-million user product.

MOBILE GROWTH: I want to introduce Andreas Gross, who runs product over at Reddit. He’s been in the space a long time and is one of the founders of one of the most successful apps, Life360. With that, we’re going to introduce Andreas. Andreas, what are you doing now, and where are you at?

ANDREAS: Thanks, Dave. I’m running the core product team at Reddit. Here we’re focusing on making Reddit a friendlier place for everyone. We want to build communities for everyone. That starts with redesigning the website. That’s my big project which I’m focusing on currently. It’s a lot more of a product role as opposed to what I was previously doing, which was focusing purely on growth.

MOBILE GROWTH: Reddit has a lot of users. What do you do with them, and what do you feel are the biggest challenges currently?

ANDREAS: Today, we have over 300 million users that come to us monthly. One of the biggest challenges is not to get more users. The challenge is to engage users, to take them deeper into the web experience, and to make it more welcoming. A lot of people who arrive on Reddit don’t use it that much. So, we need to expose what Reddit is good for and what the everyday user loves about it.

Introducing you to a community and getting you to engage with that community is one of the biggest challenges. The other challenge that we have is that our tech stack is old. The company is very small, so we’re trying to update most of the stuff we are working on. That sums up the redesign: to make it friendlier and make it easier for us. And we know we need to do it right, so it’s going to take a while. But with 300 million users, you can’t just mess around like a small startup that doesn’t have to worry about their brand.

MOBILE GROWTH: I wanted to jump back, because you’re one of the cofounders of Life360. You’re probably coming in from a different perspective. Reddit has a lot of users, but Life360 started at 0 and went to 100 million. Since we’re looking at two different stages of a company right now, how did you do that?

ANDREAS: That highlights my transition from growth to product. When we started Life360 there was nothing. We had no idea what the value prop was going to be. We had no idea what people would like about our product, so we had to start with the question, ‘how do we get eyeballs?’ The way we approached that was, we wanted to build a company that focuses on family safety and security. It’s a big need to know your kid is safe and no one has really solved that problem. So we actually started building 20 fake products, so to speak, that focused on different pain points. We built fake websites where we had people give us an email address when asked, ‘we’re launching this, are you interested in this?’ We ran a bunch of Google AdWords campaigns to get indicators of what people like doing. Then, over time, we started figuring out and learning from our users what we should be building for that approach. Then the question became, ‘what are we already building that people are looking for?’ It’s still an eyeball challenge, but over time, 3-4 years, we figured out how to attract new users. It became more of a product challenge, because we needed to get your family on board for Life360 to be a useful product. So, the question became, ‘how do I get you to invite your family members?’ My role shifted more from marketing to product, and that’s what I extended to here at Reddit.

MOBILE GROWTH: I think that’s an interesting background. Most people don’t have the product background when they’re doing growth, or vice versa, so they’re not able to enable viral aspects of the app to get cheap user acquisition.

ANDREAS: Right, how to build on your users more, not just to start at the very top. That’s one thing I always noticed in growth. People focus a lot on, ‘hey how do we convert paid user position’, but not, ‘how do we open up the organic flow’, or ‘how do we get you to refer more users?’

MOBILE GROWTH: When you’re looking at what you’ve done in the past, what are some of the things that app markers miss when they’re trying to develop organic channels within the app? How are they leveraging the product side to enable that?

ANDREAS: One of the big areas is, your product probably serves different user needs. For Life360, we knew a mom is looking for safety and security with her kids. So what bracket does that fall under? It could be, you want to track your kid’s phone. That could be answered with My Lost Phone. You could also be worrying about if there is crime in the neighborhood or what bad things are happening around you. I think a lot of times marketers think in a box. They focus more on, what is our current value prop and how to get people into that funnel. But you need to expand it – focus on what related stuff are people looking at to get attention. That is one of the 20 ideas we had, because we realized there’s multiple things our product really touches. How can we build this as a more inclusive product to attract these different users with different needs?

MOBILE GROWTH: How did you come up with that list of 20 websites, or the concepts to go after based upon what your existing value proposition was at Life360?

ANDREAS: Back then we didn’t have a value proposition. It was an exercise of figuring out a value proposition. We were way ahead. People didn’t have cell phones, kids didn’t have cell phones back then, and people called us crazy. ‘No kid is ever going to have a smart phone’. So we really tried to think more around, ‘what is beneficial to parents’? We used the keyword, generating tool, from Google back then, to identify how many people cared about a child ID, how many people cared about medical IDs, how many people cared about lost and found. And one of the interesting parts we came across was sex offenders. Parents that are worried about their kids want to know what dangerous people, in their mind, live in the neighborhood. There’s a lot of search out there. We tried to figure out how we can capitalize on one of these areas.

MOBILE GROWTH: I absolutely know that. I have two sex offender apps on my phone so I can protect my kids. I have Life360 as well.

ANDREAS: That’s from one of the bigger pieces from when we started, but it’s also a little problematic, right? Because we don’t want to be a fear mongering perception. If you pitch yourself as, ‘hey, we see sex offenders’, it becomes very fear mongering.

MOBILE GROWTH: Life360 did a platform play for all concerns of parents, a one-stop shop.

ANDREAS: And that really helped us with the user acquisition piece.

MOBILE GROWTH: When you’re looking at what was going on, on the growth side, how are you looking at optimizing versus big swings? Are you making micro corrections all the time, or are you just making a correction when you see a big change? What’s your philosophy on that?

ANDREAS: I think we vary where we are. In the very early stages I think you can only do big swings, there’s no optimization you can do. I think the trap that growth sometimes falls into is over-optimizing. It’s like the famous story from Google about their 40 different colors of blue buttons. We always had to have a very nice mix between trying to get step functions and trying to optimize what works. Step functions are obviously higher risk, versus what works, but that’s where you’re going to see big gains — that’s how you’re going to keep on leveling up. Investors never look for flat growth. They look for viral growth, bigger increases over time. That helped me on the product side of things. Because on the product side of things you think about, ‘hey, what bigger features can I build?’ But coming from an optimization subset, it actually helps you to think through the problem of, ‘How do we get users to adopt a feature, and how do we do these little things up front that sometimes get forgotten?’

MOBILE GROWTH: When you’re testing out these features and testing out these strategies, are you AB testing all the time. How do you set up your AB testing?

ANDREAS: There’s two different approaches you must take for AB testing. First off, any product you build needs to have a very strong hypothesis. You need to have a good idea what your users are doing and how you can change them in a positive way. For AB testing we always start with a hypothesis. The second step is, we’re going to figure out what the best test is to run, because you don’t want to over-enlist. You don’t want to build something for two months and realize it flops. It’s all about learning. Then the third step is analyzing what you can learn out of it. The fourth step is to build a more cohesive product around it, then implement that one. You keep on repeating that.

That’s the example of a smaller feature. But if you think about the Reddit redesign, for example, we know we need to make the site more welcoming. We can’t stop for a small AB test. We must start at a very big vision and try to execute on that vision. Then we invite users to be part of that journey. For us, it’s important to get users involved. There’s 300 million on Reddit. A lot of people are very vocal. So how can we hear from them? What they like? What don’t they like? There’s a lot of different user personas we need to worry about. For that, instead of AB testing, we do a lot of qualitative research. We talk to 10 new and old users every single week, with updates and new things we have. We get everyone in the company to use our product. We have about 250 people working here. You get a little bit of every user. We do a lot of qualitative testing right now, but it’s going to move into AB testing when it’s ready.

MOBILE GROWTH: How many AB tests do you run concurrently so you have multiple AB tests going at the same time? Or do you try and isolate on a specific AB test?

ANDREAS: You can run multiple at the same time if they don’t intermingle. Because the problem that you run into if you make changes, you don’t really know what caused the change. We always make sure we test with different groups. But if you only run one at a time, it’s going to take too long to do. You also must keep in mind that people on weekends behave differently. For example, with the mobile app, users are similar across the board. But when you use desktop, your weekly life affects you. So, on weekends you use your desktop less. You really must understand all aspects of it.

MOBILE GROWTH: There is one of the questions I know a lot of people are curious about. Life360 is very successful. It’s a great company. It’s been around for a long time. Why did you come to Reddit?

ANDREAS: I was at Life360 for 7.5 years, and I’m still an advisor so I’m still involved in the company. But I was looking for more of a product that I would use that I would be passionate about, something that still has a lot of potential and can grow a lot. Reddit, kind of, fits all the bills. I remember when I was interviewing here, the one thing that really stuck out is how passionate people are about working here and about the product. People like working on it in their free time. To give you an example, when we started this redesign, we had one draft from the designer that was pretty scrappy. One of the engineers loved it, so he built it over the weekend. After the weekend, he came back and said, ‘This, this and this is actually not good about it.” That wouldn’t happen in most companies, people being so passionate that they’d spend their weekend time building stuff.

MOBILE GROWTH: Reddit just came to 300 million users. How did you go from 0 to 300? Were there any growth hacks involved with that?

ANDREAS: It’s a fascinating story, because Reddit is about 12 years old and it was its own company. After a while it was sold to Conde Nast and was running as a company within a company. Eventually Reddit became its own company again. And that’s where we are today. So about 2 years ago, there was less than 100 people working here. There’s a lot of opportunities now. Because of that, we couldn’t build a lot of things. Then we got really lucky, because our users drove the growth for us. If you start a community, you would tell your friends about it. You want to make people a part of it. Our big growth was essentially caused by our users having a great idea in the beginning that scales by itself. So now we just need to add some gas on top of it, make it more welcoming, and build communities that don’t exist yet today on Reddit so there’s really a place for everyone on Reddit.

MOBILE GROWTH: You’re now on the product side after being on the growth side. What skills do you feel are most essential that you took from the growth side into product that’s enabled you to be successful in this position?

ANDREAS: I think there’s a couple things that are important. First one I would say, this is more from starting a company, is scrappiness. Same in growth. A lot of times, a lot of growth hacks, you need to be scrappy, you need to figure out how to invest wisely. And that’s a big part of our product management. The product manager usually picks what you work on. That’s their number one job: picking the right things and evolving their thinking over time so you continuously learn and continuously evaluate what you’re working on. The second part that I learned a lot about is models and how you would apply models in different use cases. Two models, one I already mentioned previously, about the testing model. You need to develop a strong hypothesis, then you need to figure out how to test it, what kind of test is applicable, analyze it, and then keep iterating on it. The second model that I learned at Life360, is how you build your one-page revision slide. That ties into building the right thing. You want to start off with having a very clear goal. What do I want to be when I grow up? What does each team want to be when I grow up, two-three years from now? Then, how do I measure that? What metric do I want to measure and what proxies fall under it, to feed into achieving the goal? Then it breaks into three to four strategies, really big things you could be building on. And then, you begin trying to cross them and add more all the time, and cross off the list as you keep on learning.

MOBILE GROWTH: When you’re looking at tests, how long are your tests? How long do your tests usually last? Are you looking for specific events, a certain number of events, or is it a time period that you’re doing an AB test on?

ANDREAS: For tests, before thinking about the timing, it’s really important that you clearly define what you want to get out of it. You clearly want to understand how feature ‘x’ is going to increase this metric by this degree. That’s what success looks like. And when you have that, you can work back from that by asking ‘how many users do you need?’ If you want to look for a really big change, you don’t need as many users. But if you look for 1% gain, you obviously need a lot of users. We always go back and look at statistical calculators, trying to understand how many users do we need to bucket. For us, thankfully, we have 300 million users so it’s fairly easy to run tests in the fast time. For Life360 sometimes it took a little bit longer. One thing you want to make sure is that you run tests for a week, because the life cycle of a user throughout the week is different. They behave differently on weekends than weekdays. The other thing we do is, we do a lot of holdout tests, because you’re going to match on certain things in the short run, but there could also be long-term effects. For example, ads. If you add more ads, maybe in the short run you don’t see a decrease in retention, but in the long run you see a big decrease in retention. For a lot of tests, when you push them to production, you want to keep holdout groups.

MOBILE GROWTH: I can see that. Having been at Life360, Reddit, and having gone from the growth and product side, what would you say are the big takeaways you can share that mobile marketers should be looking at?

ANDREAS: Looking at the early stages. It is about being scrappy and you don’t have to worry about scaling too much. I think Paul Rand is famous for saying, “Don’t worry about scale for now.” And if you think about big products today, like Facebook was for Harvard college students or Uber, which was just because we couldn’t get taxis in San Francisco, a lot of companies start very small. That also ties into, don’t worry about your brand, the early days. Because if you’re very conservative, you don’t take certain risks. So, you’re never going to get there. At Life360 we were cautious, but our brand didn’t matter that much. Even today, the app section called Life36, (because no one knows Life360 in the normal world, just in the tech world) is called Family Locator, because people can identify more with it. It’s all about user stories and trying to understand your user need. Now, at Reddit, it’s a little different, because we have a big brand. You couldn’t do a, ‘build 20 fake products’ like we did at Life360. We must understand the scale of a product and how many people it impacts. But for that, I think, you can bring the scrappy mentality, in terms of AB testing, that you don’t have to build a full feature to understand if it works. You do a lot of qualitative research.

What we do a lot of, if we have a product idea, is go to Union Square a couple of blocks away, talk to people, and try to get a feeling if this is something that people would be interested in or not. At Union Square, you get a lot of people from out of town, so you don’t get the San Francisco bias that you might get if you go to a coffee shop in the Mission.

MOBILE GROWTH: Although, that’s becoming touristy too! (laughs) When you built a growth engine, what are the key elements of that build?

ANDREAS: The growth engine is a 3-step process. First, you want to build a growth engine, then you want to optimize it. Lastly you want to do hacks along the way, to really keep on leveling up. For building a growth engine, it ties in to what I was saying a minute ago, it’s important that you don’t worry too much about scale. You just need to find something that people are passionate about. It really is about figuring out your value proposition. For us, building the growth engine came across as, “Hey, let’s build these 20 fake products, let’s see what resonates with people, let’s take the ones that work, and let’s start focusing a little more on that.” It’s about breaking it down, step by step, by the funnel.

To give an example of a product: at Life360 we did a tool called Emergency Messaging. We could have built the whole tool that ties in. You can invite someone, they can accept the invite, and they can map their family and so on. But instead we focused on the very beginning of the user flow and only focused on, will people actually add emergency contacts. We found out a lot of people do add emergency contacts. So, we pursued that idea faster, but at this stage you may have limited money, limited resources, very little engineering time. At this point, it’s about being smart about the bets you take.

MOBILE GROWTH: What I found interesting in what you were saying is, you take 10 users per week and interview them. I don’t think I’ve heard of anyone else that does that in this space. That’s a great idea to get some of your top users to give you feedback. It’s like Mobility, where I’ve played 15,000 hands of Solitaire on plane trips. I gave them many ideas on how to customize the cards, the backgrounds, stuff like that. And that’s a great idea.

ANDREAS: Yes, and for us, to give you a little more in depth on that topic, we do 5 new users and 5 existing users each week and we do one-on-one calls with them. The way we resource them is we look all over the country. We don’t just look at people in San Francisco or in the office. We talk to people in Cleveland, DC, and all over the country, because people behave differently. We also try to break them into multiple personas, because there are moderators on Reddit. We need to hear from them. There’s power users, there’s new users, there’s people that never heard of us at all. It’s a wide spectrum of people that we’re trying to build for.

MOBILE GROWTH: Great. What tools do you find are good for using on the growth side, as well as the product side, that some of the users could look at?

ANDREAS: One of my favorite tools is something called the Five Second Test, which is, you show someone a screen for 5 seconds, and they give you feedback. They tell you what this website is about. You can run that on your own product. You can run that on a competitor. You get a lot of interesting insights on what people think of different products when you use it. So that’s one growth tool, it’s very scrappy – I can design something, I’m not a good designer, but I can come up with something and get a reaction out of people. Another tool that I really like is Amplitude. There’s easy dashboarding tools on the quantitative side. A lot of tools we have at Reddit I build in-house, because of the stage we are at. But I love all tools where you can get information out of people in a cheap way. There’s also a good tool by Survey Monkey, which you can survey random people through them and ask them questions about how important are certain things are to them. You really understand the user better.

MOBILE GROWTH: We will have to use Survey Monkey for our own stuff!

ANDREAS: You can also send people to the site and bucket your users. You can bucket users into categories such as, ‘users that know nothing about you,’ and so on.

MOBILE GROWTH: I assume through the entire product strategy that you guys are executing, you’re asking where’s the turn, where are they going to leave, within the app, or what point, how much time are they spending on each discussion topic, and things of that nature?

ANDREAS: When I started here, the first thing I did was spend one month only looking at data. I think there’s a lot of value in really understanding your users before you do something. And a lot of times, people jump in too early. I spent an entire month with a couple of people with a lot of institutional knowledge, because you really should build up institutional knowledge so we invest in the right things. In the end, a PM makes million-dollar investments all of the time before filling it.

MOBILE GROWTH: Good for our industry. Absolutely. What do you feel are the most important growth hacks, because you’ve really helped to pioneer that strategy that people should be looking at this point?

ANDREAS: There’s a spectrum of growth hacks. There’s the stuff that is nice and there’s the stuff that gets icky. On the nicer front, there’s a cool story about Airbnb – I can give you an example of Airbnb on both fronts. Airbnb was launching at the Democratic Convention in Denver, I believe, and no one really knew their product. They heavily advertised at the Democratic Convention with the message, “There’s only ‘x’ number of bedrooms here, use Airbnb”. They handed out fliers and did many things like that. On the other hand, allegedly one other thing that Airbnb did was reach out to people on Craigslist. They posted, ‘Hey, here’s my vacation home, do you want to rent it?’ Airbnb could access the site, so they were able to draw in people.

A pretty famous example is the LinkedIn example. LinkedIn essentially ended up spamming your mailbox. There’s companies that also did that as a circle app. I don’t think they’re around anymore, they got in trouble for that. So, you always should be very careful what you do exactly. But for us, the big growth hack was the fake 20 products that we built and then trying to figure out that there’s different landing pages that we can build to attract users. How can we leverage that over time? How can we get you to invite your family and then build a circle around it to get your kids to invite your friends too?

MOBILE GROWTH: Great. I want to open the floor. Is there any advice or insights that you feel you can give to the audience that would be worthwhile?

ANDREAS: The biggest advice I really have is, first, talk to people in your field. That’s one thing that really helped me the most throughout my career. I worked at a company that has some kind of recognizable name. I just reached out to people in LinkedIn, try to get coffee, and try to get a lot of people that are willing to share. There’s a lot of people that are going to share advice, especially in San Francisco. Take advantage of it because a lot of cool ideas came out of those conversations. They were almost like little brainstorming sessions. Secondly, try to build up models you can apply in any circumstance. That’s one of the things I really learned at Life360. The models that I built up there I can use anywhere. They’re in my toolbox. If you solve problems, think about how you solve them. Break them into models so you can reapply them over time, see what works, and see what doesn’t work.

MOBILE GROWTH: Thank you so much. Andreas Gross will be speaking at Mobile Growth Summit 2018, this February in San Francisco.

ANDREAS: Excited to see you there.

MOBILE GROWTH: Thank you so much for your time, Andreas.