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Scaling to 500,000 downloads with ZERO tech experience and Zero ad spend

Video Summary

Here how Christy Laurence has grown her instagram planning app to over 500,000 members with no marketing dollars and a remote team. Get some insights into how she did, what methods she used and how you can learn from her experience. If you are looking to launch or have recently launched a mobile app, then this talk is a must for you. Strap yuorself in for 20 minutes and learn the same tricks that Christy used.


Australasian Startup Founder of the Year 2016 - StartCon

- Multi-award winning product designer + Keynote Speaker + Mentor -

With a unique blend of technology, innovation, strategy and design thinking I have a unique skill set to do things differently. I pride myself on having the ability to think with an ‘inventor/artist’ mindset and am widely respected for executing big ideas.

Professionally, I have 8+ years of experience in end-to-end marketing campaigns (agency and client side), with a uniquely flexible approach to move across advertising, digital, social media, website development and design - both branding and in principal. As well as managing projects, presenting ideas and influencing teams, I offer hands on strategic ideation and direction with extensive knowledge across each discipline.

Christy Laurence:
I’m Christy Laurence and I am the Founder/CEO and all the other hats that are found are hats to wear at Plann. And I have bootstrapped a high-scaling startup to over 500,000 downloads with absolute donuts. So it’s quite unheard of to be a tech founder that has completely bootstrapped with literally credit cards and mortgages. And so I wanted to share with you my story of how I got here with hope to inspire you that you can have some takeaways of how to get quite creative when you literally have donuts.

So what Plann is, it’s a mobile app that helps people get discovered, build influence, and make sales using Instagram and it came from a necessity of this, from a marketing background, it just, there’s so many people that just didn’t understand that trying to sell something wasn’t about putting your portfolio into the world and saying, “Buy my stuff!”. It was about telling a story, making them fall in love with you as a human, and then asking them to buy. And so it won’t be lost on most of you that this is the exact technique that I use to sell my own business.

So in the last 18 months, in the last one year of SaaS B2B business, we have quite a list of milestones. My personal favorites is obviously ranking the top 1,200 apps in the world, which has been quite crazy considering there are two million apps in the App Store. Second to that, we’ve grown the team from zero with me in my yoga pants in my spare room to over 20 in nine countries. And I now mentor three startup accelerator groups between here and San Francisco.

So right at the beginning like, how do you, how do you even get started doing that? Right? It comes right back down to product market fit. You doing your research about your product. You’re asking people, will you buy what I’m selling? And that’s the entire research phase. So anyone that said yes, they’re an immediate, well for me, they were prospective, prospects right from day one. So my email list grew while I was in research phase and these people became my biggest cheerleaders. They became my beater users. They became the people that gave me the best honest feedback about my product right at the buggy beginning.

The first decision that you have to make though, as I found out, is, are you going to go for user base or are you going to go for revenue? Now if I was in Silicon Valley where it’s unicorn or bust I would have gone straight out hard with, I’m going to get as many users as possible. I’m gonna scale this thing to massive for over a year and then make them pay. But I’m a female founder with an outsourced tech team. I have no experience in tech and I’m definitely not an investor’s dream. Well, I wasn’t then. And then the other option, which is where most Australian businesses go because that’s what most of our investors look for, is how much revenue are you going to make. But for me personally, as a bootstrap founder, I had no other option then. I need to make money otherwise, I can’t support my server costs. There’s no other way.

So the first tip that I really share is the more you know about your people, the more money that you are going to make. And I really strongly believe that this this is the crux of how we got our growth. So our customer personas are so detailed and so in depth that if a 20 or an 18- to 55-year old woman selling their business on Instagram, I’m going to bet 99% of them have social anxiety. They don’t, they’re a little bit worried about what they’re sharing online. They’re worried about their aesthetic. Is it our own brand? Does it have the right filter? And I knew that so I went against all UI and UX feedback that says do not put your logo in the workspace of your app and I was like no, no, no, I’m going to do it. And they’re like, you’re insane. I’m like, trust me.
So what happened was exactly what I thought. People would start scheduling and planning their feed. So the beauty of Plann is that you can actually drag and drop your workspace so you can create a brand aesthetic. So people know within two seconds if they’re going to follow you. So what these people will do is they’d Plann their feed, take a screenshot, and chuck it in Instagram, sorry, Facebook groups, where they had between 50 and 100,000 people looking at what they were doing. And here’s an example from right when I started out. Carly Brown from Une Piece, which is a swimwear label, posting her business. So technically this is a sales pitch for Une Piece. She’s saying here’s what I do, but I’m going to sneak it in with some social help by telling you about this app. But what she’s actually doing is advertising my product as well. And this is where I got my first set of users.
One thing that they really teach in accelerated companies is that you, in order to actually scale, you have to do the things that just don’t scale. So as an example when I was in cafes, I’d watch these girls taking terrible photos of their brunch, like absolute dog’s breakfast. So I would get up, there’s a gap there, I get up and I would literally stand on the tables and be like guys you need to tell a story here. The cup goes here, the thing goes here. And by the end of brunch, I probably had 20 downloads. And I literally did that everywhere much to the horror of my friends and my husband. But it worked.
The second thing that I did was when I started growing my website, I understood that people were not on Instagram to learn how to do Instagram, but they were on Google. So my SEO began right from day one. And with SEO, you don’t write about what you want to write about you write about what they are searching for. So you need to understand and find tools to help you find what they’re actually searching for.
So one of the things that I learned was that people always want content and they really really want people to visit their own website. So one of my first things of like, the don’t scale things, was creating a pack and sending it out to people that had blogs that said here’s a trending SEO topic right now. And I would switch then I would either be something like how to plan your Instagram or Instagram planning apps or something like that. I’ll give them all the key word semantics and meta tag all the images for them. I would create the content and send it to them. So in my first six months I had 1500 backlinks to my website and we now get over a million page views a month.
I also have like a huge list of things that I also did. I’m definitely not a poster child for work-life balance. I’ve worked myself into an ambulance twice in the last 12 months and don’t recommend it, but I do recommend knowing what your limit is. So there are definitely things here.
Building an engaged community on social media. Obviously, I am a social media platform. So that’s what we have to do. So when we actually launched, I figured out who my personas were and that I learnt who the, what’s now known as influencer marketing was and contacted them. So I would turn on the post notifications of the influencers and every time they posted, I would be there like writing something quirky. It was not nice with a bicep emoji. I’d be like, that’s a great shirt. Where’d did you get it from? How can I get one? Like legit conversational. So within, people forget that being on social media means making friends. And so that’s really what I did.
What that led to was that I then had influencera that became beta testers and then on launch day, I had a hundred influencers talk about my product for free, which gave me 1000 paying customers in my first week and 10,000 dollars to rebuild my MVP with a new team.

So you’re, feel free to steal any of those.

So what the heck is growth marketing and growth hacking? It’s actually something a mindset that you can adopt into your own team. So just to let you know, it’s not new. It’s just a real way of packaging up what already exists. So growth hacking, right? There are 27 different types of marketing in the world and growth hacking really means, how quickly can you learn which of those 27 make you money? That’s literally it. 400 bucks test on all of these different channels, which one is going to make you the most money? This is literally growth hacking.

Growth marketing however, is a different mindset so that it’s a team concept and a team growth thought. So what we do at Plann is that we have big posters on the walls for the different funnels that we have. So growth marketing means, how do I optimize every single piece of the funnel? So right from the social media and the top of funnel, right through the product funnel, and right through the nurturing and churn funnel. These three funnels are there and each of them are broken down into steps. We have about 30 different metrics that every month must move forward. And if they don’t move forward, then that’s not a failure if you know why. And that is what we teach. Well, that’s how I’ve taught myself how to run my business with my team. So it’s not siloed out. Everyone has the same goal and every month, everyone is accountable for a metric. They don’t come on just to tick the yes on ‘wrote a blog post today’.

So, how do I heck do I get my users for free? We get over 15,000 new users every single week and I have to admit I actually stole from my competitors because where there’s smoke, there’s fire. You sign up to their onboarding email list. You sign up to their churn list. You get out of their onboarding process and steal what you want and turn it into your own brand. You go through their shopping cart list and no doubt, they’ll send you an email to say, hey, you didn’t purchase. Steal it. All of it. So we have a few competitors that changed their call to actions and it’s so much cheaper than hiring an entire growth team for like 300k a month. One of my competitors change their call to action buttons all the time. But now I know that green. Now, mine are green.
Okay. So here’s where I get most of mine. So on Facebook groups, we’ve touched on SEO and blogs. We’ve definitely touched on the ISO, which is App Store optimization. We get over 200,000 impressions in the App Store and that’s down to doing 50 different tests over the last year. It’s creative tests, it’s messaging tests, it’s benefit-led, it’s feature-led, the entirety of app tests, and again, I steal from competitors like what are Tinder doing? Who’s the top grossing app in the world? But you would probably think it’s a free app. What is everybody else doing?

So obviously organic Instagram and a huge piece of our business and our brand is with super quickie some kind of like pulled bottles in my personality and poured it through the brand. So if you’re trying to leave us or if you’re trying to troubleshoot, you don’t get, “Hi, thanks for your email’. You get, ‘Oh shit, that sucks’. Like you literally get a person on the other end that emails you back. My brand is incredibly human and that goes through all of the customer touch points, like even down to the App Store updates. We don’t just go, ‘this is a performance update’. It will say something like, ‘We’ve done work under the hood. This is a V8 in a Mini, vroom vroom!’ Like something incredibly random that people actually take photos of and share on Instagram. So that’s something for us. These are our top five customer acquisitions that are all free.

So now how do I get them from free to actually pay? I steal. I’m not gonna lie. Again, I touched on I don’t have the money again, as a bootstrapped startup, I don’t have the money to fund a great team. But what I do have, is snares a lot of stealing ability. And if you have a look at other companies, it doesn’t, this one I recommend not doing competitors as other people in your industry and I’m going to give the best example that I’ve come across from a conference I went to in Vegas, when Duolingo, who’s the top downloaded, what’s it called. Yeah, language thingy. It teaches you how to make businesses. But what I learned from them is instead of doing a vertical subscription page, do it horizontal and you’ll grow by 15%. So I’ve stolen them and that is our current test.

My next test for next month is actually adding in our own cartoons, and in a carousel style, and we have little cactuses. So that’s what we’ve got coming up next. So yeah, it’s stealing is awesome.

So if you take anything from today, it’s really about, test, optimize, rinse, repeat. Like my poor team, that’s always what I say to them. They come into work and the one thing I make them all say when they start work is, what are you going to do today that’s going to make money? They have to push everything else aside as legitimately what they all have to say to me and my husband who has just joined the team four months ago cleans up all their.

Cool. So one of the biggest things is listening to your users as well. So what do they want? Our users are now growing into teams. They want to work not on mobile anymore. They’re wanting to work as mobile. And you know how I said to scale? You have to do things that don’t scale? Well now that I have your attention, we’re launching web soon, and I’ll be great if you all signed up.

I’m so yeah, I am super open to questions and super conversational, so if anyone has any questions about any of their, I’m an open book and happy to help.
(Audience clapping)

So if anyone has a burning question, I know everyone is on Instagram and looking at their other story. We’ve got a quick question at the end of the room, and then we’ll all take a break and Christy will stick around for more one on one.

Man from audience:
Cheers. You said you’re pretty forthcoming with like what you think particularly worked and what didn’t. What’s the biggest fuck-up you made while you’re trying to grow?

Oh, so many. So many. I did a talk that on that like a couple of months ago. But the biggest thing for me from a non-technical background and I was thinking that a developer did all the developing things. Right? But that’s really it. So when my up went down, Amazon servers crashed and my developers had hard-coded our IP address. So when they reset it, my app went down for a week and the nerds in the room will know a black screen for a few days. And then having to get it rebuilt and back through Apple was when I put myself in an ambulance, had 7,000 emails over a weekend and onslaught of reputational damage. Yeah, biggest fuck up. Yeah.
Oh, V!

Man from audience:
This is something that we’re working at ourselves within our own team is, and I might have asked you this before so sorry. Medium versus your own blog under your own domain.

It depends on the purpose. For me personally, my users don’t give a shit about me as a founder. They don’t care. Right? So Medium, Entrepreneur Inc. and the big Huffpost, they actually troll Medium looking for founder posts. So Medium for founder life and plannthat.com for Instagram help.

Man from audience:
So you, you go to, I think hrefs and all the SEO fancy places, get the keywords, and chuck it up on your website. But you’re saying more founder journey story, and…

Correct. There is a lot of work in there. Like for example, my blog. So we have over a million pages now like I mentioned, and how did we get there right? So I started blogging once a week, it’s hard to grow. I started two blogs a week, then I got two three, and I was like, wow, this is awesome. Double down, five posts a week. We actually, because we had so much content, people weren’t sharing it that much and it actually reduced our domain authority. So we went back to three and then we change our strategy. So in SEO, you can, when you’re looking for the keywords, you can actually choose, am I looking for people to share or am I looking for people to read? And there’s actually two different strategies in there. So at Plann, we do a 50/50 split.

Man from audience:
Sorry, last question. And this has to do with the, I don’t know whether you read or if anyone knows of TBH, the company that got bought a hundred million dollars by Facebook. After nine weeks, they had a huge PR release a year ago and they talked a lot about how you need to build your product so that it markets itself internally. So, you know, you’re engineering for growth versus having product as a vertical and then marketing as a vertical with one fighting against the other. And you showed a glimpse of that with you know, putting your logo inside the app and stuff but is that something you consciously take into consideration as a product owner or how exactly do you approach that?

That’s exactly it. It’s a whole team focus. But as the CEO, I’m also the director of product and I come from a marketing background. So it is second nature to me. And then my team, if the engineers go, but I don’t like how that looks! I’m like, I decide. That’s a little bit of that.

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