Expert Series: How I grew an app to 15 million users

Adeline Lee has held the positions of Director of Growth at Framer and Director of Product, Growth and Monetization at Clue. She's been in tech for over 10 years, growing companies to heights most people can only dream of. Recently, she turned her attention to sharing her experience with new companies and is now an advisor at Antler. As one of the most successful product marketers in Europe, Hayden from our team in Amsterdam sat down with her to get all the product marketing insight possible.

When I joined Clue, our mobile app only had a few thousand users. When I left we were at 15 million in 190 countries.

Adeline Lee, Advisor at Antler

Tell us a bit about your career in tech

I've been in tech quite a while but I think the most critical parts have been my work at Clue (a menstrual tracking and health app) and Framer (an interactive design software).

I got involved with Clue very early on. We were pre-series-A then, so there was lots of work to be done to grow the product. When I joined we had less than a million users, when I left we were at 15 million users in 190 countries.

Clue was in an interesting stage because we realized that we had two things to focus on to get more users on the app:

1) Identify the channels that will work best to find customers.

2) Retain the users. Making sure they continue to use the product again and again.

In the early days, the primary focus was on user growth while monetization was somewhat secondary. It was critical for us to get user traction and retain them. After 3 years with Clue, I decided I wanted a different challenge. I wanted to know if my skill set was translatable to different products. 

That's when I found Framer.

Framer was building a product that was niche and was monetizing from the very beginning. In a way, it was kind of the opposite of Clue, they started with monetization and then considered exponential growing after. When I joined they just raised their series-A and were ready to scale.

What would you say are the biggest things you learned from your experience from Clue and Framer when it comes to product marketing?

A few things come to mind:

Understand your customer

It's quite mind boggling to me how few companies and employees really know their customer. 

In the different companies I have worked with, I remember running user interviews in which teams would watch how users interact with new features or simply with the product. Many times, users simply couldn't comprehend how to use a new feature or even use the product as intended.

I heard this multiple times: "how can the users possibly not get that? It's so easy!"

To have a successful product, companies need to consistently talk to their customers, create new personas and re-evaluate them regularly. There are so many ways to connect to customers now that you don't have an excuse not to.

Always experiment

If there’s one mantra in growth, it would be “EXPERIMENT, EXPERIMENT, EXPERIMENT!”  

Be open to trying new methods, new strategies, new channels and experiment with them. Be smart about it and track your results to inform your decisions later. Here it is of course important to use data but the starting point should always be asking yourself why are you running this experiment, and not just hoping that something will emerge because of data. 

Data can tell you alot but it can only tell you a part of the complete story. 

It doesn't always have to be drastic experiments either. While it can be as simple as a button colour change, it can also be something like changing the wording on a page or referring to your product in a different way. 

These are things you just can't ask your users. You have to test them.

Also, don’t despair when some experiments yield no results, it just means what you’ve tested is not the factor that impacts users.

That by itself is a learning. 

As with a lot of advisors, I enjoy sharing my knowledge and experience with others. I hope that my experiences can help someone avoid potential pitfalls and push teams to reach new heights in their ventures.

Adeline Lee, Advisor at Antler

What was your biggest challenge at Clue?

This is a hard one! 

I would say it was to only focus on growth and keep monetization at the back of the team’s mind. We knew that topic will eventually emerge and I always got the question:

“But you will need to make money too right?”

That single focus on growth was probably what got the app to where it is today, but fanning off the money question while growing was a challenge. 

It was a risky strategy but it did pay off.

Growing also has it fair share of challenges.

Finding the right acquisition channel and keeping the users for one. Those are really difficult topics, and answers to that will constantly evolve as the type of users also evolve with the product. 

For example at Clue, YouTube influencers became a good acquisition channel for us. It is a direct way to find new users and let them know why and how they should use our product. We identified several channels on YouTube that made sense for our target audience and pursued partnerships with them. 

Even just a few quick mentions resulted in 1,000s of new users, that’s how effective that channel was. Then of course the next challenge became, how do we make sure we retain those users for the long term?

My advice to early stage startups is to think deeply about their business model. Whatever strategy they choose to employ it will be important to stick to it. 

When the team goes back and forth, that is when things go sideways. From my experience it is not possible to build a product for growth and monetization at the same time, it’s a choice and growth product features look very different from monetization features.

(Disclaimer here is that, if you have multiple teams building these products then of course everything is possible). 

On advising, what do you like most about being an advisor at Antler?

I just enjoy sharing knowledge and experience with others. I hope that my experiences can help someone avoid potential pitfalls and push teams to reach new heights in their ventures.

I am pretty hands-on, I want to work together with the teams and not just talk strategy with no actions. I aspire to be an entrepreneur one day, and I hope to learn from the founders as much as they can learn from my experience. Being an advisor is a huge source of inspiration for me.

You're currently an advisor to Amsterdam portfolio company Clear. How are you assisting them at the moment?

I've been supporting Clear mostly on straightening out the content of their pitch deck and helping with their product messaging. It's a lot of story-telling elements at this stage. They are really beginning to ramp up their program and securing first customers, so it's getting exciting. We are moving into the product heavy phase of their development and I can't wait to put my skills and experience into place for them.

I know I'm in it for the long haul.

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Adeline Lee has been in tech for more than 10 years. She began her career in telecom before moving to Berlin 5 years ago to join Clue which now has more than 15 million active users in over 190 countries, and is one of the most popular apps in the “Health & Fitness” category in the United States, Germany, the UK, Brazil, France, Mexico and many others. She holds an MBA from The European School of Management and Technology and currently resides in Berlin with her husband. She is currently an advisor to Antler startups. View the rest of our advisor network here.

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