Planning and orchestrating growth strategy for my Shopify app
Defining goals, benchmarking KPIs, drafting experiments and creating a growth roadmap for Reconcilely & Postcode Shipping
As we kick off the Growth phase for Fund I, I’ve taken the opportunity to tear myself away from coding and start building much-needed infrastructure to support the growth of Reconcilely and Postcode Shipping.
Naturally, I’d love to optimize my mid- and bottom of the funnels right off the bat. As mentioned in the January 2022 monthly report, the app store listings really needs help.
Further than that, the first growth marketing experiment I almost always start with is at the last step of the funnel.
Start optimizing closest to the money.
So shouldn’t I start with that? Make more of what I have?
That question led me to zoom out so I could get a lay of the land as it relates to all the things I could do to help accelerate the products run rates.
Should I work to earn more installs or should I optimize the process of turning installs into customers?
It’s evident I need to do both.
This is a common pitfall.
As a boostrapper, there’s a limited energy budget that you can allocate across different projects.
The more complex the project, the more energy and time it requires to execute.
If you have a pedigree of creating high quality products, you may even run into quality assurance obsession as your perfectionist approach feeds your creativity and motivation but inevitably slows you down.
What makes you unique also eventually makes you slow.
Your speed and ability to stay nimble are crucial, so pooling all of your chips into a single initiative is only really worth doing if you don’t have a choice or if you already have observed some evidence that it has a higher potential to succeed.
In other words, you should double down on what works, but you can only do that if you have something that works — bearing in mind that 80% of the growth of a startup at any given moment comes from one channel.
A channel producing a small trickle of installs can easily disqualified as not the main channel because when things take off, then tend to do so quickly and dramatically.
The channel response for 80% of your growth won’t feel like a trickle of rain. It will feel like the thunderous and continuous roar of a waterfall as leads pour in.
In our case, both products have only ever grown through the App Stores, and while they have an inherent affinity to grow from specific types of channels - be it due to the market they serve or as a result of the ARPUs we collect - building those channels requires a serious amount of time and energy.
What we do know is that the App Store currently provides a trickle. So while it does represent the lion’s share of installs, it’s clear there’s potential hidden away in another channel.
Additionally, some channels are dependencies for other channels to be possible to execute. That’s on top of the energy spend.
For example, you can’t offer guest posting quid pro quo’s with other apps if you don’t have a blog, and you might not be willing to have a standalone blog until you ship a new website.
This is oversimplified, but the general order of initiatives can produce return multiplication relative to energy expenditure.
If you can hit many birds with a single stone, do it.
But beware of the difficulty implied in trying to do many things at once, and the subsequent impossibility of delivering the level of quality you might produce were you to focus on a single thing.
Importantly, perfection is too expensive at this stage.
Perfection is the absence of fault, and fault is a natural byproduct of speed.
Done is better than perfect. Especially if you’re searching for market/product fit. Done lets you see if you get a trickle or a waterfall.
Forcing yourself to allocate less time for each activity allows you enter a state of flow that can get you pretty close to a finished product, albeit still imperfect.
If anything, you should beware of the pitfall of perfection and all it entails, both financially and time-wise as you struggle to complete the roadmap you’ve set for yourself.
A good rule of thumb is to only start working on something if you intend to finish it.
And it’s only possible to finish something in a small sprint if the allocated time for that task is short.
That forces you into a creative zone in which you focus on only delivering the most possible value in the leanest way.
That won’t create a perfect result.
But it’ll get you 70% of the way there.
At that point, you can go ahead and improve/polish it so you can get to a point where you’re 90% happy with it.
Then stay happy with 90% and move on.
The last 10% improvement represents a diminishing return as compared to the improvement you could produce elsewhere (from 0 to 70 or 70 to 90) from the point where you stand.
Turn to Occam’s Razor to remind yourself that the best solution is often the simplest, too.
Embrace the fact it’s impossible to do everything at once and be perfect, and produce a workflow to create the highest possible quality with the least amount of time and effort.
And with that culture in mind, I started by taking stock of the ammunition at the disposal of each product to better understand what systems need to be created.
I don’t want to recreate the wheel.
In the past, I’ve resisted launching partnership programs as the workflows they required consumed too much energy for me to be able to fulfill other obligations at once.
Today, new tools are available to reduce that barrier to entry. Since my approach so far has been fractional services (support, design), utilizing SaaS products to bootstrap those systems is a probably an ideal example of good enough.
Worth considering is the status of future tasks so I can safely ignore them in the short-term while I focus on what I’m concerned with at a given point in time.
There’s a mountain front of me, but I don’t need to figure out how to climb it all at once.
Instead, I created some checkpoints that I know I need to walk through, and give myself just enough time and energy to get myself there, while staying happy with 90%.
Everything is organized on a little canvas divided by the moment in the lifecycle when a visitor becomes a user.
This canvas visualizes my progress constructing different systems that have a good fit with the market Reconcilely serves as well as the ARPUs enabled by our business model.
Green is done or good enough.
Yellow is work in progress.
Pale yellow means it’s a to-do. But not a focus right now.
Naturally, I’d love to optimize my funnel right off the bat. As mentioned, the app store listing really needs help.
But I need to zoom out.
Prioritizing growth efforts
Part of my criteria for acquiring products is that these products be very stable while doing one thing really simply and consistently.
This quality generally results in the products having very healthy install-to—paid conversion rates.
Since both Reconcilely and Postcode Shipping share this quality, I’m much more interested in accelerating the rate at which new customers enter the funnel since that funnel is already producing at a good clip.
The good news is that — like many Shopify apps — the products would benefit from implementing best practices from top-tier SaaS products and bringing those lessons over to the Shopify ecosystem.
There’s so much to do to further increase the conversion rates.
But it might not be the right first step.
Say the value we currently generate is x.
The problem is that the total potential locked behind better conversion rates, let’s call that x+y1, is smaller than the total potential that can be unlocked from creating a repeatable customer acquisition engine (x * budget).
While conversion optimization helps you make more with what you have, it’s still limited to a ceiling of what you have.
If I get 20 people with a 20% conversion rate and 100 people with 100% conversion rate, 100 people is the max I’ll be able to optimize up to.
Another reason why distribution matters more than product is because it represents x * budget.
As you discover a profitable means of acquiring customers from a repeatable process, multiplying the results from that process is as simple as increasing your inputs, which is something you can very much be in control of.
Despite there being a lot of potential hidden away behind optimization efforts, the energy it will take to find them is greater than the energy it will take to create new growth systems.
I have a vested interest to keep launching new systems so I can get myself closer to that repeatable acquisition process so I can use it to rapidly scale and make the most of the Growth phase.
With that preamble out of the way, there are two main levers I’m usually concerned with in this Growth phase:
Establishing 1+ repeatable processes to acquire new customers
Discovering our number 1 customer acquisition channel
Respecting our customer acquisition costs
Volume & longevity
Optimize how efficient we are with existing customers
Optimize post-install activation + decrease time-to-value
Optimize trial conversion
Increase customer retention + champions
These main objectives are completely different beasts.
It would take a team to attack them all at once.
Alas, such is the bootstrapper’s life. You’ve got to prioritize.
Now that we understand why acquisition (and not activation or conversion) is our first growth focus, let’s review some of the channels I’ve selected for each part of the funnel.
In no particular order, my goal is to create good enough results for each of these channels across different stages of the lifecycle so they can each have a chance to stand out as the channel we should then swing all of our weight into.
It would probably make sense to focus on Activation, Conversion and Retention tasks (making more of what we have) after I’ve taken the time to at least establish the following Acquisition systems:
Shopify App Store
Social & Community
App Store Listing
Post-Install Email Campaign
App Onboarding & In/Out-App Guides
Time to Product Value
Free/Trial to Paid Conversion
Optimizing App Pricing
Behavioural Analytics & Cohorts
Experiments to increase retention KPIs
On the execution front, we’re progressing well.
As of February 1st, several new acquisition systems have been created, some of which are already producing returns, with many more on the way in the coming weeks.
The goal is not to set-and-forget these but rather to build a toolkit that can be used to react to new opportunities as they arise, and to make it possible to collect result samples from those channels to better understand what to double down on.
Some of the most fundamental ways to grow on the App Store is by going where the cameras are; proverbially being featured in section of the App Store itself, or even better, within specific apps that your target market already uses.
As opportunities to interact with those apps come up, new connections can be made for merchants from both sides to discover new apps that can help simplify their store operations.
The first batch of channels can be started off without many resources and with zero code, so I started there.
Agency and app partnerships, affiliate program and app integrations will likely play a crucial role moving forward, so I’m very excited for the three of those systems to be going live.
As they continue to warm up, I’m refocusing my attention towards the new websites so we can launch the blogs, content production and search optimization to begin attracting customers by providing resources that accurately respond to their search queries.
Before I can do anything direct-response, I needed to start with Segment on the front-end, since I didn’t do that yet.
I had to do this so I could effectively quantify the number of users at each stage of the installation funnel as entered and exited through.
It’s important to know how many installs you get but it’s just as important to know what happens between the moment an ad is clicked and the moment the app is installed (or not) so you can optimize that process and remove any friction from it.
This is also true of the front-end interactions after the user has installed, so as to elucidate reasons behind day-1 uninstalls and/or where and why install-to-paid conversion might be failing.
Another benefit of the front-end Segment implementation is that I can now set up pixels for different ad networks so I can measure my acquisition funnel end-to-end regardless of ad network.
It also makes it possible to start retargeting customers intelligently depending on which stage of the lifecycle they’re in.
I set up Hotjar to start getting some qualitative data about the way customers are using the products so we can start asking different questions that our data stack is now in a good place to answer.
While making sure that our customer’s data stays private, we now have access to recorded interactions so we can relive our customer experiences from their perspective and derive hypotheses from there.
This will come in handy later when trying to optimize activation and conversion. But it also comes in handy now to explain user behaviour across the top of the funnel.
Between the qualitative data we get from HotJar and the quantitative data we get from Segment, we have end-to-end visibility and can extend our data platform for any new properties anytime without disruption.
We can now make data-driven decisions at the acquisition layer too, which until now had been a show-stopper for all of these systems we’ve been meaning to start building.
That unlocks a variety of new channels for us, like paid acquisition outside of the Shopify App Store.
These systems are now up and running and can be used:
tech integrations (with other shopify apps or product-led)
technology partners + co-marketing with other apps (blog, newsletter, partner directory, recommended apps section in the apps)
service partnerships (certified agency list, accountants)
In February, most of my focus is on building the infrastructure for
producing search-optimized content and pages that rank
cross-selling between reconcilely and postcode shipping
collecting case studies for reconcilely + postcode
engaging influencers on youtube, instagram and tiktok
kicking off audience building + retargeting campaigns
Once those systems are up and running, I’ll swing my weight back towards the product and what happens when customers install:
App Store optimization
Review pricing plan selection
Redesign onboarding from the ground up
Accelerating time to value + showing it
Trial email campaign
The purpose of these systems is to set them up in a way that they can operate mostly on an automated basis, so I can relegate to check into them once in awhile and adjust my strategy.
And the reason I’d be adjusting the strategy is so I can inch myself closer to profitable spend relative to my product lifetime value. If any of those channels produce that, I can increase my budget until the returns from that channel can justify a new hire.
It’s once something clearly works that I can refocus most of my energy into it in pursuit of expanding and hiring myself out of that process.
And by then I’ll have a clear picture of the metrics a future hire would work with.
And they’d be primed to succeed by doing more of what has worked, and taking advantage of building all of the optimizations left available via a good enough mentality.
My job at this stage is to discover the thing we should be doing pretty much with 100% of our time. But the search for channel/market fit can be methodical if you make it so.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed! But you’re gonna make it.
Keep showing up and lay bricks every day.
Until next time!
Where x+y represents the previous results plus the additional results attributable to conversion optimization
AKA conversion rate is doing more of what you have. In our case, it make more sense to multiply what we have rather than trying to improve it by a small margin.