Mobile Product & Growth Hacking RoundTable #playbookRT by @amitsomani & @VishalAnand

Having a completed a half century of RoundTables, the iSPIRT team was back with the 51st RoundTable on what’s currently the hot topic of discussion and debate in the startup community – mobile! A lot of startups are also trying to figure out their mobile strategy and this was evidenced in the great interest shown by startups in participating in this RoundTable. And why not? It’s not too often that you get a chance to deeply interact and learn from senior industry practitioners like Amit Somani, who was the facilitator and Vishal Anand, co-facilitator for the RoundTable.

The participating startups were from different domains (healthcare, HR, payments, consumer services etc.) and across stages (already have something up and running on mobile, tried something on mobile, but didn’t work, yet to figure out mobile strategy and so on). There was a round of introductions with each startup giving a context about their company and industry, the key challenges and their expected takeaways from the RoundTable. The iSPIRT RoundTables are highly collaborative in nature with a lot of peer learning and feedback as part of the discussions. As the introductions were happening, the facilitators were mapping the areas that startups were looking for help to the mobile journey. With the introductions complete, the group had a fair sense of the key areas that would be taken up for discussion during the RoundTable.

One of the first topics that came up for discussion was ‘Activation’ – how do you get the user to make the first action on your app. Many points came up for discussion – coupons, notifications, social/referral and so on. But two stood out, which Amit stressed upon – one was how do you get the users to have their aha moment and secondly, how do you ensure that you’re scaling this in a sustainable way? While the current sentiment seems to be around growth at any cost, Amit mentioned that it’s important to start looking at the unit economics sooner rather than later. Some of the key points mentioned around Activation where:

Mobile Playbook

  • Coupons:
    • This is perhaps the simplest and easiest way, but could you be smarter in doing this? Could you create different segments of users and offer targeted coupons instead of a blanket coupon? E.g. Say, an iPhone user is more valuable than other users. Could you then possibly offer her a higher value coupon?
    • You’d also need to be careful about the positioning and perception of your brand? If the focus is on coupons, will you come to be known as brand offering coupons rather than be known for your service? Also, with coupons, are you sure that you’re attracting the right kind of users or you’ll end up acquiring only ‘deal-hunters’?
    • While coupons are an effective channel, it’ll be helpful to create segments to as minute levels as possible and offer them to users appropriately.
  • Supply Side Users
    • Some of the companies participating in the RoundTable were marketplaces that had users on the ‘supply side’ as well. Key points mentioned were – a) show demand to the supply side user. b) Some kind of revenue calculator/estimator. These would help the supply side user get a sense of the demand and then take the necessary action (create listings, upload products etc.)

There were some companies that were still in the early stages of their mobile play or were evaluating how to go about their mobile strategies. Some of the points discussed were around:

  • Building in-house v/s Outsourcing
    • There is limited availability of high quality mobile developers and designers these days and startups have to compete with some heavily-funded companies for the same talent pool. Given this scenario, does it make sense to outsource mobile development and design? Participating companies had interesting experiences to share. For some of them, outsourcing hadn’t worked well. Some of them were able to find high quality freelancers and engaged them effectively.
    • However, one insight that Amit shared found resonance among the audience – one way to perhaps go about outsourced mobile development could be to breaking down the deliverables into design, frontend, backend etc. Perhaps engage a good designer for design and do the rest in-house? Also, in most cases, the backend is core to the company and that’s perhaps something that needs to be done in-house.
    • Similarly,
  • Does mobile lend itself to a one-time use use case?
    • For example, if there’s an app for employees in a company to check and update their records etc, does it really lend itself to a strong use case for mobile? Can one create enough hooks to engage the user to come back frequently to the app?

The next key discussion was around metrics and tools to use to measure the metrics.

  • Amit gave a simple, yet powerful formula to look at metrics – Record everything, Track 12 and focus on 3. This will help in identifying the really important metrics and drive the company’s energy to focus and improve on those.
  • An ideal comparison for Lifetime Value (LTV) to Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) is LTV > 3*CAC. In a lighter vein, Amit mentioned that given the amount of marketing spends companies have these days, he’d be very eager to meet and invest in a company that even has LTC = CAC! That said, the importance of thinking through the right economics and working towards it with reasonable visibility is something Amit stressed throughout the session.
  • Rather than averages, Amit mentioned it might be useful to look at percentages, have cohorts to measure movement and perhaps look at percentiles as well depending on the metrics.
  • (Daily Active)/(Monthly Active) >= 15% is a good number for any app. Also, (Monthly Active Users)/(Install Base) >= 25% is good as well.
  • Some of the tools mentioned during the discussion were:
    • Google Analytics for simple and basic analytics
    • Flurry – gives comparative data and is free.
    • AppAnnie – for comparative data
    • Appfigures for Ranking / Review and Ratings – Daily reports
    • App bot (sentimental analysis on Reviews)
    • Crashmetrics –  Crash reports
    • – for tracking uninstalls
    • – post install deeplinking
    • – integrates different tools used


The participants left with a lot of food for thought and actionable takeaways that they hope to put into practice at their startups. There were also some very interesting books recommended by Amit to deeply understand user engagement and get some insights:

  • Hooked
  • Made to Stick
  • Influence

Product positioning is all about connecting emotionally to your prospective customers – Insights from the Positioning and Messaging PlaybookRT

The 50th PlaybookRT session was held at Helion Ventures in Bengaluru to brainstorm and understand best practices for positioning and messaging of startup products. This roundtable was led by Shankar Maruwada, who by virtue of his illustrious past experiences as the brand builder for Aadhar and P&G, and being a successful entrepreneur at Marketics ably anchored the deliberations. Twelve product entrepreneurs spread across IoT, mobile, social, analytics and B2B sectors benefited from the insightful interactions.

This roundtable was special for iSPIRT family, since it marks a milestone of a journey that began with the same person – Shankar Maruwada in April 2013, at the same venue as well! To mark this special occasion, Sharad Sharma, co-founder of iSPIRT was present at the start of the session. He traced back the evolution of PlaybookRTs and explained that these roundtables came to action to fill the need for honest and open peer to peer knowledge sharing and gaining among product entrepreneurs. Shankar recollected his experiences of running the roundtable on the same topic at various locations across India and narrated the differences and common patterns he observed amongst the participants across these sessions. Rajan wrapped up the pre-event activities by describing the metrics iSPIRT uses to measure the effectiveness of such programs, and the way forward.

The roundtable began with Shankar asking all the participants to jot down three things about their prospective customer Bob:

  • The problem that the customer faced/is facing
  • Solution provided by the participants to alleviate the above problem
  • The value/benefit that Bob, as a customer derives by using the above provided solution

Once completed, a review of the pitches that participants had written was done in the group. There was a lot of variety in the pitches. While one such pitch was crisp, succinct and focused on numbers/metrics to drive the value proposition of the solution for Bob, a customer in the B2B space, the other was a story that tried to explain the value provided by the participant’s IoT solution invoking a connect to the customer’s parents. This variety in the pitches generated a lot of discussion among the participants about the best/optimal way to pitch/position their corresponding products.

At this point, Shankar introduced the concepts of curse of knowledge*, and the Golden Circle* that helped the participants to understand the need to emotionally connect with their prospective customers, as well as, the need to keep in mind, the knowledge of the customer (not the know-how presenter of the pitch), while describing the key tenets of their products.

These concepts paved way for further brainstorming on the applicability of the inside – out or outside – in approach of the WHY – HOW – WHAT trilogy of the Golden Circle across different segments. For example, there were discussions on whether it is appropriate in the B2B context to start with an outside – in approach, and vice versa for a B2C context and so on. There was also an opinion that Marketing team in a startup would usually use the Why – How – What route, whereas the Sales team would go vice versa. A video of Steve Jobs addressing his internal marketing team about how they should reach out to their intended customers helped internalize these aspects.

One of the participants resonated with the ill effects of the curse of knowledge when he shared how he had assumed that all of his customer base would be aware of the familiar ‘Settings’ icon. Upon getting a support request from an aged customer, who cited inability to locate the ‘Settings’ option, he realized that he had not provided a text alongside the icon based on the assumption that what he knew would be also known to his customers.

As the group digested these concepts, Shankar nudged the participants to revisit the pitches that they had initially created, and explore if they could make any changes based on the learning they had on account of the above two concepts. This brought about a few revisions to the pitch each of the participants had made. At this juncture, the group listened to pitches from a few more participants and ideated on what aspects of the pitch resonated with them.

The group then moved on to understand in more detail, the art of explaining the core value of their products. This was done by reviewing the Dropbox advertisement* created by Lee Lefever and discussing about how the ad starts by establishing a common connect/chord with the audience (SETUP), and then, in common language (without jargons) explains the key benefits a user would get (SOLUTION) using analogies, and finally, reinforces it with factual details of its features (SUPPORT).

Some time was spent in explaining the importance of using analogies as a bridge to transition the customer attention from the initial few minutes to introducing the product/solution to the customer, while keeping his attention intact. The Dropbox video and another video from the archives*, where a doctor explains the vulnerabilities of children who face daily abuse from drunken parents helped the participants to understand the power of using analogies to convey the right message.

These videos and a couple more on the book ‘Made to Stick’* by Heath brothers helped the participants to craft/revise their positioning and messaging pitches, which started with building a context to establish emotional connect, used analogies to describe the solution and finally strengthened the pitch with factual/logical and data driven narration to make a lasting impression on the prospective customer.

Towards the end of this roundtable, as a last aid, Shankar introduced the 6 tips of persuasion* which entrepreneurs could use to help build up customer connect. As the participants completed these deliberations, they had imbibed the knowledge that being able to connect both emotionally and functionally to the customer is key while positioning and messaging for their products to prospective customers. The participants spent more than four and half hours and not one of them moved till Shankar actually ended this session at about 9 PM.

The evening was very well spent, and the participants had an accelerated learning by virtue of this roundtable. Dinner, arranged by Rajan, courtesy iSPIRT and the friendly staff at Helion provided the perfect way to end a very eventful learning experience to all the participants as they ruminated about the things that they learnt and shared their thoughts about time well spent during the session.

* The following URLs provide additional information about the concepts and views expressed by fellow participants of the previous sessions on this topic. Skimming through these write-ups and watching the videos will provide additional context for those who want more insights:

  1. Simon Sinek’s ‘The Golden Circle’:
  2. Dropbox Intro Video:
  3. Lee LeFever on the Art of Explanation:
  4. Made to Stick–Review of the book (Part 1):
  5. Made to Stick – Review of the book (Part 2):

  1. Science of Persuasion:
  2. Steve Jobs – Think Different Speech:

  1. Summary of the PlaybookRT session on positioning and messaging products, held at Bengaluru:
  2. Summary of the PlaybookRT on this topic, held at Bengaluru:
  3. Summary of the PlaybookRT on this topic, held at Mumbai:
  4. Summary of the PlaybookRT on this topic, held at Mumbai:

12. Summary of the PlaybookRT on this topic, held at Delhi: