Acorns VP Growth, Hila Qu, shares how the mobile app leveraged brand building and growth experimentation to attract 5 million investors.

Episode 1 October 15, 2019 00:51:59
Acorns VP Growth, Hila Qu, shares how the mobile app leveraged brand building and growth experimentation to attract 5 million investors.
The Breakout Growth Podcast
Acorns VP Growth, Hila Qu, shares how the mobile app leveraged brand building and growth experimentation to attract 5 million investors.

Oct 15 2019 | 00:51:59


Show Notes

In this episode of The Breakout Growth Podcast, Sean Ellis interviews Hila Qu, the VP of Growth at Acorns. His goal is to deconstruct what is truly driving breakout growth success for Acorns.

Acorns’ growth starts with strong product/market fit and the worthy mission of overcoming the challenges that millennials face with investing. Their solution makes it easy to get started with your first small investment in only five minutes. This includes the time it takes to download the app, create an account, connect your bank and credit card accounts and make your first investment. Once you’ve completed your first investment, Acorns also automates continuous micro-investments via an approach they call roundups. This low friction approach to investing has attracted over 5 million passionate investors to the platform. Growth is primarily driven by brand advocates which can be seen with their strong app store reviews. On iOS alone, Acorns has attracted nearly 500,000 reviews with an average rating of 4.7.  

Hila previously led growth lead at When she joined Acorns it was in a retention leadership role. She soon made the case that the activation lever was a critical driver of retention so she was tasked with managing this lever as well. From there she was promoted to VP of Growth and now has a dedicated growth team of 15 people.   

The growth team did not replace the marketing team. There is still a marketing team that manages brand and PR. Hila credits the strong brand as another important growth driver, so she strives to balance the needs of rapid experimentation and staying within the brand guidelines. Hila’s growth team scope of responsibilities includes customer acquisition, activation, engagement, and referral.  

Because Acorns is primarily a mobile app experience, Hila’s growth team must comply with a fairly rigid release schedule for their experiments. Every two weeks the product development team makes a new release into the app store and Hila and her team must bundle their experiments into these releases. Still, the smooth onboarding, impressive engagement, and referral loops are evidence of a very effective growth testing program.

Learn more about Hila here:

And give Acorns a try here:

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Episode Transcript

Speaker 0 00:00 <inaudible> Speaker 1 00:03 <inaudible> Speaker 2 00:08 come to the breakout growth podcast where Sean Ellis interviews leaders from the world's fastest growing companies to get to the heart of what's really driving their growth. And now here's your host, Sean Ellis. Speaker 3 00:23 All right. In this episode we're going to be looking at acorns, which is a mobile app that helps millennials save and invest. They're one of the most exciting growth stories in Southern California. They have over 5 million people that have signed up for the service. And these, these are people that actually have to set up their bank accounts to connect into the service. So a lot of friction and a Heela Chu is the person who runs growth there and that's who I'm going to be speaking with. He'll and I actually worked together previously at growth hackers where she ran growth. She left to run growth at acorns. So good, good choice for Heela. They're there. There are really exciting success story and a butt butt heel. And I've remained good friends since we actually went to China together where we both did, uh, some, some touring and, and speaking with audiences there. She has a book in Chinese on growth. My, my book hacking growth is also translated into Chinese. And so, uh, we, we share a passion for really understanding and driving growth. So I'm excited to have her on the podcast. So let's get started. Speaker 5 01:29 Welcome to the breakout growth podcast. Sila. Thank you for having me. Shall I'm super excited. Speaker 3 01:34 Yeah, it's a, it's great to get back together and talk about growth with you. We've, we've definitely spent a lot of time talking about growth in the past, so I'm excited to do that. Speaker 5 01:43 Yeah, and you, you were my mentor to start this career like from the very beginning. So this is a really thing circling back to you. Very nice way. Speaker 3 01:54 Awesome. Well, given all of the success that you've had at acorns, I, uh, I expect to be the mentor he here, so, uh, excited to, to pick your brain and really take my learning to the next level. So before we kind of get into the, uh, how you guys are growing, it would be great if maybe you could give us just a brief introduction to what, uh, to what acorns is all about. Speaker 5 02:17 Yeah, so acorns is a financial app. Um, we started as a pretty simple investment app was the idea of helping everyday American, um, saving spare changes. So basically the idea is called Roundup, uh, where you buy a cup of coffee, it's $3 50 cents, and then acorns will record the 50 cents as the spare change and automatically pull that from whatever your account you sign up for to acorns investment account. And then money will get invested into a portfolio and grow from there. So it's perfect for beginner investors to start investing and also saving because this is almost like easy and you don't even feel it. A lot of people will get money accumulated in their accounts. So acorn starts there as this, uh, financial investment app. Um, but over time we added more features and cool stuff. Now we actually have financial wellness system. We have the investment account. Um, we also have IRA account, which you can utilize is called later. Um, we also have a recently added a debit card product, which is called spend, but all the products are there to help you save and invest, um, and basically grow your Wells from the most smaller point to, uh, Oak eventually. Speaker 3 03:43 Uh huh. And so I've, I've heard that you guys are, are primarily targeting millennials. Uh, I mean maybe, maybe it goes broader than that, but was it something that the original founders kind of saw that millennials weren't really saving very well, or what did they kind of set out to solve? Speaker 5 03:58 Yeah, I think, I think our founders, actually a father and son kind of pair, um, they actually, especially the father have a lot of experience in financial management, but more in traditional type of financial firms. Uh, I think the, the opportunity they see here is more like the song, see this problem as you mentioned, among the younger generation. And also they are not so interested in the old way of investing as well. So combining the father's expertise in investment and financial and the, the sound's kind of passion and expertise in the new generation of technology to help younger people to do this digitally. They came up with this idea and he'd just take off very successfully. Speaker 3 04:45 That's awesome. And then I, I, uh, I read somewhere that some kind of crazy number, like 5 million people are using the app now. It's that, yeah, I think I read it on the site. So it's public information. That's, that's amazing. And so over what period of time has the company, did it take for the company to reach that 5 million? Speaker 5 05:03 Yeah, I think it took, um, around four or five years, I would say from the very beginning, basic feed, nothing in beta. And over the years we keep kind of getting customers who really love acorns and we, we just grow from there. Speaker 3 05:21 Yeah. So to me, one of the things that's most amazing about getting to that kind of a number is that it's not just the challenge of getting someone to install some software, but they're actually connecting in their bank account information. So you need to have that trust and it's a that, that's what really puts that into perspective. If it was an online game that's like low consideration, that's one thing. But you're, you're getting a lot of trust to get people to do that. Speaker 5 05:44 Exactly. We actually, um, when I worked with at girls' headquarters, we did a lot of experiments in helping people sign up. Right. We did a lot of that here as well. We can talk them about more later, but it's completely different. Like the signup funnel is maybe 10 times longer. What was added girls? Hackers. Speaker 3 06:04 Yeah, I went through it yesterday. So I, it was two things. One, I got an appreciation for how difficult it is to get someone to the point of really getting the app. But I also had an appreciation of how much work you guys clearly have done to make it as easy a process as possible. And we'll, we'll go into some more details a bit later on some of that. But um, I, I wanted to go from, Oh yes. One more question on just the business overall. How do you guys actually make money? Speaker 5 06:33 Yeah, we are a service based business. So, um, as I mentioned that we have three kind of basic accounts. The first is, uh, is the basic investment account and it was charged at $1 per month. Um, if you upgrade to the second tier, that will include our IRA account, which is called later as well as this investment account that's charged at a $2 tier. And if you upgrade to the next year, the street dollar tier, that will include um, both the investment and also later as well as over debit card product spent. So, um, that's our pricing strategies. Also something where we are, we have been seen that a lot of the financial companies, the incumbents are having super complicated pricing and they are charging all sorts of fees and we are, we want to really simplify that. And one, two, three is just as simple as that. Speaker 3 07:31 Yeah, it's definitely simple looking at it. So all right. So we've got a pretty good frame on for like what the business is all about, what the problem is that's being solved. It's a, it's really helping millennials get to a point where they can more effectively save. And even like you said, that kind of not even think about it, it's just, it's just happening. So with the impressive growth that you've had, what kind of, not not going into all of the details, but sort of the high level takeaway, what do you think has been key to driving that type of growth? Speaker 5 08:01 Yeah, I think when I joined acorns in 2006, I was just came there, came here from, from gross hackers Speaker 3 08:09 2016. Right. I was a little upset that you were moonlighting when we worked together. Speaker 5 08:18 Um, yeah, so, so, um, I, I kind of asked myself the same question because I from gross hackers, that experience, I'd become this forever research of growth as well in addition to a gross practitioner. Um, so I thought about why acorn was so successful in growing our customers and I seen it come to three things. The first thing is really, um, that very initial strong product market fit. Like when this idea of rounding up your spare change and make it so easy that you can invest without even having to put like a hundred dollars thousand dollars initial investment and digitally, like you don't have to go to an office to filling 10 page your forms and do that in the app in your Palm while you're watching TV. Um, I think that that idea like that level of eagerness, um, really resonate with the younger customers and I think that's actually the strongest reason it took off initially. Speaker 5 09:24 Primarily. Um, that's the first thing. The second thing I want to add is I think from my observation, the company really have pasted well to add additional levers of growth. So the organic growth was super strong today. It is still kind of a strong driver for growth, but we quickly to good vantage of all the digital channels like where the Facebook marketing, the, the Google marketing, um, the search engine marketing, all of those things. We took those opportunities and really skilled like the paid side really, really well as well as referral. Like we kind of begin to diversify the traffic dramatically from initially only organic to maybe five channels to a lot more channels as of today. So, so when you say organic, you're, you're primarily mean just word of mouth, word of mouth. People tell their friends about acorns. Even as of today, that's a pretty big kind of driver for our overall gross. Speaker 3 10:26 That makes sense. I mean, just even from looking at, uh, some of the public data or out about where you're getting people from, uh, most of the search engine like search engines seem pretty high and it was mostly branded searches. So it wasn't like they were kind of searching for something like this. They're actually searching for acorn. Speaker 5 10:43 Yeah. I think even though some people finally go to download apps through ass, but they may heard of acorns before from the friend or family, that is something they already know they already trust. So that just the, the, the brand and reputation really helped like the word of mouth. It really helped overall gross. Um, so I think that is the second thing, kind of on top of those strong organic added other layers of, uh, of gross drivers. And I think the third thing is our mission is really authentic. Like a course mission is really helping, um, the, the up and coming the millennials to, um, to basically empowering them financially with the first step of my co-investing, which is Roundup. Uh, and it's not something we just say our website. We actually really believe I'd believe it. Um, and we really asked actually are driven by it. Speaker 5 11:43 I think the entire acorns team is actually pretty young. A lot of people, people are pretty young in their career, but they have so much passion for this product. This program helped themselves as they see it, help their friends. So they just really want to see this successful. And when the entire team filled out a way, like there's a lot of good things happening, like they just work so hard and work collab collaboratively to, to um, uh, achieve our goals because achieving our goals is actually helping everyday, everyday American. Um, we, we actually have a company all hands every Tuesday and uh, uh, our CEOs from time to time, we'll share letters from customers. Um, not real letters but emails because our new customer Serie series, um, we actually have, uh, one of the emails sent to customers in there I think first 30 days, 30 days when they reach, when, when most Mark asking about their money story, if there's anything they want to share, a lot of people do reply and share and we hear, hear the most like heartwarming stories, uh, from our customers. Speaker 5 12:56 Basically how acorns is changing their life. Like people, exactly. People have difficulties, situations. People don't know where to start. They felt like lost using acorns. They're able to gain that confidence little by little. They feel like they are in control again. Um, it's just so powerful. So, so like everyone here really believes in admission and that really drives people. So I think strong product market fit, adding on the other layers of paid referral to really accelerate that. And then a very kind of a centric mission. People rally around in my eye are the three critical factors. Speaker 3 13:38 Right. And then I, I just, one that I kind of picked up myself in the, in the last day was I just happened to mention to my wife and clearly I'm, I'm not a millennial and my wife's not a millennial. And so we're outside of the target market. But what interestingly, I just said, Oh, I'm going to talk to Heela and she's working at this, this company called acorns. And when I explained the product to her, she's like, man, that sounds cool. I want to try that. And even I found myself normally if I go through the onboarding for a product, I'm like, okay, that's kinda cool. And, but, but I'm not really thinking I'm going to use it. But I actually went through and, and hooked up a second bank account and you know, I'm like, Oh my credit cards are on this one. I want you to do. Speaker 3 14:16 Yeah, exactly. So yeah, to me it's something that, and then so, so I think that really reflects that. It's, it's discussion worthy. And then the other piece is people, people want to look like they're smart to their friends. People want to look like they're smart, responsible. And so when they say, Oh, I'm using this app called acorns that helps me be responsible and invest for my future. It's not only is it kind of clever and discussion where the, but it actually reflects well on them. So I think that's probably part of what powers some of that, that word mouth conversation. Yeah. And again, sample size of one based on my own conversation with my, so, um, but I, uh, but it's that that sample size does a lot of times carry over to what, what leads other, I was surprised at how quickly she got it and was attracted to that value proposition. Speaker 5 15:03 Yes. Yes. Speaker 3 15:04 Cool. So let's, let's talk a bit about really how, how you guys are organized for growth. So I mean in particularly, you started as a director of retention coming into the business and then you've, you've evolved into this VP of growth role. Yeah. I assume that there's been some evolution of the overall organization and how, how acorns approaches growth as well, but maybe you can shed a little light on that of how you guys are organized today. Yeah, Speaker 5 15:29 definitely. I, I think, um, as you mentioned, I was hired as the director of user retention. The initial scope or kind of the initial expectation on me is more more like a retention marketer type of role. So basically sending customer emails, push notifications to get them come back to the app. Um, but when I came onboard, when I looked through basically the broader scope of opportunity, especially using my experience from growth hackers as a PM for gross, uh, I quickly see that a lot of opportunity actually exists in a product. And as you know, and you kind of taught me that activation user onboarding has a lot of great opportunity, um, to, to be worked on, which will drive engagement, which will drive retention. It's actually much more powerful than just sending emails to them that once. Right. Um, so with that, I basically took the data, uh, and I kind of, um, uh, I don't have a team back then all myself with my idea and they tell us why my best friend to prove it. Speaker 5 16:41 So I basically, um, advocate to launching experiments in a product to, to, to show some early results and I was able to show some great early results. And from there I was given more responsibility and resources to, to doing gross experiments in the product as well as managing those like marketing, emails, communications. Um, it was, um, the, the, the, there is still not a dedicated engineer team to support that for a very long time. Um, but eventually I was able to get that grow as well over over time. So just show me more experimental results, showing more positive impact. Um, so currently and I from that I also picked up the acquisition team because user acquisition is just a natural part under gross. Um, currently I manage user acquisition and user acquisition is responsible for bring customers into the doors, paid referral, accelerating organic, all those levers. Speaker 5 17:45 Uh, then I also manage gross product where we're some critical flows like registration, user onboarding. So I'm glad you like it. Um, and then a referral experience in a product, um, the entire funnel. Um, like some engagement, the features we are working on, um, as well as we are yeah. Thinking about some other levers as well across basically the ARR framework. Um, so, and, and kind of the, the team is now between user position and product manager and all the engineers like maybe 15 people now. So like it's really a cross functional team, especially on the gross product side. We have engineers, uh, we have uh, analysts, we have designers, we have product managers work together, they um, to sync of ideas, build them, test them, analyze them and jump to the next one. Speaker 3 18:46 Awesome. And then how do you, how do you guys fit in with the marketing team? Cause I know that the brand is really strong for acorns and especially if that's follow the word of mouth and the engine of growth. There's a lot of that, that brand. So that's a really important function as well. And then also the core product team. So where does growth kind of sit in that? Speaker 5 19:06 Yeah, yeah. I think that's interesting. Like it's definitely interesting you asked that question. I know a gross team can, can be in different ways in different company at acorns. I think w we do have a core product team where they are responsible for um, building, managing, improving a lot of the core features. Like, like I mentioned all the three tiers or products. Those are the responsibility of those teams. Um, so we share similar work process because we engross product team and we also touch product. We need to change any experiment there. So we use similar process but our best friend is like Optimizely and AB testing. So we don't do as much like big feature development. But we do a lot of iterations. The experiments we are adding more bigger feature development because like when you do do bigger bets, like bigger, bigger levers. But in general those are not build a brand new product. It's more like, um, enable more people to discover the value of current products. Yeah. Um, but we follow a similar process. Like the agile development and sprint and all of that. Um, Speaker 3 20:23 and especially cause most of the product experiences through mobile. So I'm, I'm assuming that, uh, particularly on the iOS side, that it's not, you're not going to have different releases on the growth side and the product side. So how do you guys decide what goes into a release? Speaker 5 20:36 So wait, wait, I hear, we almost like have an analogy of there is a train that's going out every two weeks and every team is working on their own features or experiments and we need to make sure the features are experiments we work on, get onto that train before they do the <inaudible> Speaker 3 20:58 translate. Speaker 5 21:01 So, so we do that. And then, because we actually try to do a pretty, our core like engineer client team is trying to do a pretty good job of making sure that goes out on time every two weeks. So all the rest of the organization, whether it's core product or or gross product team, we can rely on that. So we just basically plan our roadmap ahead of time and to be, to make sure everything gets on that train. Okay. Speaker 3 21:28 And then you mentioned that, uh, you use Optimizly, is that right? Okay. And then what about on the data side? Is it, do you use a off the shelf product or is that primarily in internal tracking systems? Speaker 5 21:39 Um, we, we use segment as our, uh, as our kind of, uh, like the data hub. Um, we do our tracking and stuff and uh, um, we'll use Tablo as our dashboarding system. We also have amplitude, which I actually had brought in here, um, as over more kind of quick user behavior analytics tool. Yeah. Speaker 3 22:04 Okay. And then I assume like database sort of queries in the mix as well. Speaker 5 22:08 Yeah, yeah, yeah. Cool. Speaker 3 22:10 Oh, another question I wanted to, to dig into is, Speaker 5 22:14 is it the brand marketing grows? Speaker 3 22:16 Oh yeah, it started, so let's, yeah, let's, let's finish that. If I can jump in the second one. Speaker 5 22:20 Yeah. I think, um, we do have a separate marketing and brand team here and uh, they are more responsible for a few areas, like a customer communication, like email in-app, like that part, that aspect. Um, so that's, yeah, that's separate. But we work very closely because in a way the gross product team is working on the user experience in the product while the marketing team is working on the channel, like the CRM experience. So we do work closely to make sure those two are aligned and not like just separate. Right. Um, we also have kind of brand and PR leader. Um, uh, I think they are, they are not part of the roast team but they are working on kind of the PR release, the brand like uh, updates, brand gang guidelines, things like that. So I think, um, we have basically more performance fit focused parts. Under my team we have the marketing brand PR more like a brand focused owner, like a separate team. We both report to our CEO. Speaker 3 23:32 Okay. And then when you are running experiments, how, how much need is there to stay on brand as you're running those experiments? Because obviously a lot of experiments don't end up working. And so do you sort of sync it with brand after you know, if it's going to work or do you need to sync it upfront before you run the experiment? Speaker 5 23:51 Yeah, that's a great question. Um, so I, I think, uh, over time we developed a pretty good framework. Um, the, the, the four product experiments for example, our gross designer on the team is actually, um, pretty good of making sure things are on standard. Like they are, they are, they are basically within the, the, the, the, the realm of acceptance. Um, um, so like we don't have to do those check prior but, but on the other hand, like, um, I do, I do see that like sometimes there is this tension or conflict happening between gross team wanting to move fast and want to without having sings like 100%. Perfect. Well, the brand or design team wants things to be perfect. So like is it like a console and balance and talking? I think each team begin to understand more of each other. Like from a growth team perspective, we understand there isn't this need of great user experience because acorns is known for that. Speaker 3 25:01 And the and the brand is such an important part of the growth story that like they, they deserve an important say in how things are done. Speaker 5 25:09 Definitely don't want to hurt that. Like on the other hand, I think our design team and brand team are learning like through those conversations and discussions that sometimes it doesn't have to be perfect because as you said, half of the experiments don't even work. Right. So why spend time like arguing exactly or getting to 100% before we release. We can limit the experiment into a smaller cohort and they are actually okay having young kid. So, so I think it'll be a constant balance because I learned that sometimes conflict is healthy. Debate is good. Speaker 3 25:48 I actually think, yeah, I think, I think there should be that, that conflict. If brand rules, everything, you're not going to move very quickly, but it can get a really messy customer experience if you don't have some level of somebody looking at the big picture to make sure that you're not kind of screwing up brand experience as you're, as you're trying to drive improvements. Cause I mean ultimately that's what you're trying to do is drive improvements to these experiments so you don't want to go too slow in driving those experiments. Speaker 5 26:15 So that's a learning actually for me as well. Speaker 3 26:17 Yeah. And I don't think there's a perfect answer there. That's why I like to ask the question to see how, how you, if, if you've experienced that, especially I think what you tend to see is companies are really good on the growth experimentation side or really good on the brand side. And I think one year, one of the unique companies that I think is really good on both sides. And so that's why it's important to ask the question. How did you get there? Um, so the question I was also gonna ask, you know, you had mentioned that it's so missing driven, so much of a team is excited about the mission. Do you have a North star metric that, that kind of rallies people around kind of quantified mission? Speaker 5 26:57 Yeah. Um, I, I think actually our, uh, our mission is, um, in a way are qualitative. Um, like a North star metric. If you, I don't think we use the, like the quantitative <inaudible>, uh, North star metric as much as we kind of talk about our mission. Um, but I think high level, we all know the number of like paying customers is our like North star metric. Um, and how we work towards it is we actually are using the OKR process internally and we have goals around what are the number we need to achieve. And we lay out basically the roadmap for both Lycos cause acquisition team and gross product team. So for both of my two teams, we have like a goals and plans laid out, uh, laid out to support the, the, the kind of company OKR. Um, and we just work against it in smaller experiments and tests Speaker 3 28:01 and those all those all map up to the broader goal of obviously revenue targets, which is going to be a function of how many customers and is it possible to pay for the product and not benefit from the product? I mean, if you're paying for the product, are you definitely getting your Roundup happening? Is it, can you turn off roundups Speaker 5 28:19 you can, but, but kind of how we think about like the paying customer is, um, basically if you are, if you are getting value of a course, you should be paying. Right? It's not about like our mission is not about, um, helping people to do this for free. It's more, yeah, it's more about we want to help you to be successful, but in order for us to be successful, we helping you. We need to be, uh, kind of generating revenue. Speaker 3 28:49 Yeah. I was actually looking at it from the other direction. Is it possible to be paying you but not really using the service, which, which would kind of point to maybe paid users is not a function of how much value you're delivering. Speaker 5 29:02 Oh, uh, I, I, I think as long as you have a balance there, you will be paying perfect. But as long as you have balance, you are basically invested in the market. So even, yeah, Speaker 3 29:15 so you're on mission then if they're invested, right, Speaker 5 29:17 there is a chance there. You are not activity investing. So like that's why when I, the first thing I started at at acorns is actually looking at different metrics, evaluating them against each other. For example, if that's our North star metric, what is a good retention metric? And it may not be the same thing. It may be something more earlier than just people pay. Um, so, so like I think for each of our individual teams, we have our more actionable metric that's early indicator that will level up to the final North star metric. Speaker 3 29:55 Yeah. And I actually listened to a review, kind of a podcast review on acorns yesterday where the guy being interviewed said that he, he sort of signed up for the service for God, that he signed up for the service. And then at the end of the year he looked and he'd saved $350 and that he's like, Oh, that's kinda cool. I didn't even realize I'd say $350 but one of the really aha moments for him was when it said, if you continue on this path, cause he, I guess he had entered in what he's saving for and I maybe it was like age 68 or something. If you continue on this path, by the age of 68 you will have saved $350,000 through acorns. And that was kind of like a big aha. So that's one of the things that I think is kind of neat about acorns, but also it makes it sort of different from an engagement metric side is that you're, you're kind of getting, it's so low friction and low effort to, to save and get the benefit of, of saving and investing that it might sometimes be hard to recognize that you're getting that benefit. So anyway, I'm not, I'm not sure if there's, if there's anything beyond just simply an observation there. It's interesting. Speaker 5 31:04 It is, it's definitely interesting. I think a lot of customers, um, have basically high NPS scores for acorns. The number one thing they loved about acorns is how easy it is. They often use the word I saved money without even noticing it, without realizing that kind of perfect example you have given there. Um, and I think it's a, it's good and bad, like from, from, from, from the user kind of, uh, engagement perspective. It's, it can be bad because it would all have to be actively using the app to get value. Um, but for customer is actually good because if you think about all the investment, um, like teachings or lessons is all about really make it as easy as possible for you to save money. And now to think about it Speaker 3 31:55 and a little little bit every day is something that it's really hard to think of a little bit every day in a really low effort way. And so that's part of the beauty of this product. Um, cool. So let's, let's kind of talk about you. You talked about running tests and that you run lots of tests. Um, let's, let's, uh, take a look at the, at the overall growth engine of where you're running those tests and probably a good starting point there is kind of the high level view of what's that, what's that journey like from first thinking about, you know, obviously it's gonna be different for some people, but if you take the typical path from first discovering acorns to saying, Oh my God, I love this, and telling their friends about it, what would that path look like for a lot of people? Speaker 5 32:37 Yeah, I think that will be like a lot of people will either hear about acorns first or, or like maybe see the in in the, like the, some them, some PR articles, um, like CNBC article. Um, so they have an impression in their mind and then when they, maybe they are scrolling through Facebook and they say, ah, acorns ads there and they are intrigued and they click to download the app. Once they download the app, they will go through a registration and onboarding process and where we talk about basically what's the benefit and what are the things we need from you to, to finish this setup process. Um, and then they will, um, make their first investment quite small. Like it's like as low as $5. So maybe some of them were just, you know, the mindset of, okay, I will give it a try. Speaker 5 33:32 It's like such a low. Exactly. So they will just try that out and they begin to see that money like change, which is like magical for people who don't have any investing experience before. Right. Um, hopefully it's in the right direction. Um, and then they begin to understand a little bit more, Oh, this is us team, this is what means like we, I'm now invested and now investor. And they begin to try the other features maybe to add more money to, to, to their acorns account and a particular experience you mentioned about a Roundup. Once people link their cars to the account, um, a lot of the people just magically see money, um, begin to accumulate it. And a lot of people struggle about saving money before in the first place because they don't think they have the money to invest, to invest and now they actually can save and invest that money now without feeling the pain of I have to, I have to like cut it. Speaker 3 34:35 Yeah. I have to change my standard of living to be able to save something. Yeah, Speaker 5 34:39 please. So like some of them are just so happy they begin to tell their friends. So hopefully that circle, Speaker 3 34:46 that's the, that's the journey of getting to that point when they've discovered that they are actually saving. Know it was very low effort. Yeah. Yeah. Cool. And, and so, um, you know, you, you touched on, and we've talked about this quite a bit already, that, uh, a lot of people are going to first hear about it through word of mouth or maybe like you said, a CB CNBC article or like today's show or whatever it might be that somebody touches on this and then it's that kind of reminder of an ad, maybe a Facebook ad that somebody would, would click through. Do you, I did notice that you're in the, in the app store that you, uh, show up in the finance category. Um, pretty, pretty high. I think you were like a, like a 10th rated in the or 10th listed in the app store, duh, duh, duh. Many people kind of discover it by just generally looking for the category. Speaker 5 35:34 Uh, uh, yeah, I, some people would definitely do that. I think we have presence in all the major digital pay channels as well as referral programs and all those efforts all help to kind of bring more customer into the door. Yeah. Speaker 3 35:52 So one of the things that I, that I was really impressed about on the kind of the discovery side, which maybe comes back to that referral loop is, uh, I think on the iOS you had almost 500,000 reviews. I think it was 470,000. Like basically it looked like five stars. I'm sure it's not exactly Pfizer, maybe like a four, nine, four, eight but, but just, I mean, essentially it looks like super passionate customers. They're taking the time to review the app. That's, that's just a reflection of probably how much of that word of mouth, which again is a reflection of a need and a product that fulfills that needs. So going all the way back to the product market fit. So yeah, I mean the top of funnel I think is super exciting for this business. Uh, so, and then as I, as when we were talking, even before we got started here, I was just so impressed with the, with the onboarding and activation side of things that, um, you know, a couple of things that really jumped out at me. One was when I started to enter in my address and I think I put the number and, and like the first few letters of my street name and then it filled in my full address. Like was able to guess that I thought that was super impressive Speaker 5 37:00 hearing iOS. Right. Yeah. So we have a, that's actually an experiment and we recently launched it kind of testing out the owl to fail functionality that iOS recently made available. So obviously in your case that seems to be a good idea. Speaker 3 37:15 Yeah, it was awesome. It was, you know, to me, I just hadn't seen anything like that before. So I mean like that's, that's one thing you said that it's just recently available. How do you even discover that that is recently? Like who's he's running the research that says that you stay on top of these new opportunities to improve that onboarding? Speaker 5 37:34 So for that idea is actually brought by a designer, which I love. So, so I, I think, um, I love when team members from different functionalities came up with ideas. I think the acorns growth team, um, was our team members, actually people are pretty body into this process of generating January team ideas and airways. Um, I think they are passionate about having their things tested as well. So in this case, this designer, uh, our, our team like Saudis update from Apple and he immediately realized this could be an opportunity for acorns to improve our funnel. And he basically designed this experience and pitch to the team and we agree it is actually something we should try. And so we built it and we tested um, Speaker 3 38:28 sample size of one. Awesome. But that's not how you decided something where so now, so the something else that I was impressed about in the, in the activation was most companies when you enter in your email address, they're like entered in a second time. And so just to make sure that they match, I really liked how you guys actually only have them fill it in once and then on the next screen that's like verify. Yes, no, or edit or, or verify. Yeah, I just thought that was again <inaudible> I think because once they get to the bank side that there's some real friction there that you guys have been really clever about about removing friction to just the bare minimum in areas that a lot of companies just take for granted. Like, Oh, I'll just have them enter in their email address twice. Speaker 5 39:14 Yeah. I think that is also something we're trying to, so we need to have accurate email address from customers for different reasons for communication. In this case I put an investment app, we need to reach them. Yeah. So, so, uh, but, but on the other hand we want to minimize the, the free frictions you get. So actually wrong, a bunch of different methodology to see which one is in terms of helping minimize the error rate in terms of email but also with the lowest friction in user going to next step or finish registration. And the solution, although is not ideal to be honest, I don't like it 100%. Uh, it's like in the methodologies we tested is like one of the better. Speaker 3 40:01 I think that's the growth mindset there, that there is no perfect, there's always a better way. But I think when I look at it, I feel like that's so much more evolved than, than a lot. And I love that you're saying, gosh, there's gotta be an even better way. So that's, that's how you keep pushing the envelope on it. Um, the, yeah, and then I won't get into kind of the, the, the bank pieces, but I think that that's, that's obviously a huge challenge to make it 10 to one have the trust and to, to make it actually work. And, um, but I kind of going back to the beginning, when I looked in the app store, I thought it was interesting that it says five minutes setup cause it, which to me, like if you're going in and you, and you think, gosh, am I going into this black hole where I'm going to have to commit the next 45 minutes to this five minutes is like a pretty magic number for setting up something financial. Speaker 3 40:57 When I went through it, it was a little bit more than that. And I was trying to go through it pretty fast. But again, when I say a little bit more than that, it's like seven minutes. I'm sure. I'm sure somebody could get. And it's also like how long is the setup where, when does the setups stop and start? Because there's always, I mean you almost have like a progressive profiling in there where you could always be adding more stuff over time. So I'm sure that there's a point at which someone is pretty well set up at five minutes. But a thought that was interesting, that kind of a promise the Speaker 5 41:26 size of when didn't prove that claim. We, yeah, I think we actually test a lot of the app store as well. It has different in Colby app store, it has similar way we do kind of product experiments or, or creative testing in that side. So um, like just constantly trying to see which language works better. Um, yeah, in this case it does work better, but we may need to adjust the act like accuracy of it. Speaker 3 41:55 Yeah. But I mean, I think it's one of those, I think it's one of those things that if it said seven minutes, it's not nearly as effective as it says five minutes in. And it's sort of like there's no clear end point of when set up is done. So I don't feel like it was misleading. It just, uh, it was, it was interesting that you honed in on that five minute number because I, I it to me, it struck me as something that would be pretty appealing there so we could go a lot more into the overall engine. I just want one last question on the engine is when someone, when someone comes back to the app, what would they typically do sort of week three when they come back to the Speaker 5 42:36 mm. Yeah. So, uh, if you look at acorns to app, we have, um, different features like pretty clearly, uh, investing is more, it's a more like a hands free, like feature you, you make an investment, you basically check the performance. So we do have people definitely checking the performance of their investing and also checking the progress. So, not necessarily how much the market fluctuation is more, how much more I'm saving because like that's kind of a very important aspect of using acorns app. Um, but we also have other features like we have grow, which is like a financial, um, uh, financial education feature that we constantly are refreshing articles, talking about different aspects of finance. So you almost like you get started with this simple saying, but you are learning along the way. Speaker 3 43:35 Again, you're becoming more sophisticated. Speaker 5 43:37 Exactly. And also you watch how other people are doing like their finances, you get inspired. So like that's kind of a content piece within the app that's really working on the education piece because you need to know why. Like you get started, but you need to know why to really continue to build a good behavior. Um, we also have another feature called fund money where it's almost like a, uh, basically you can shop at a brand, for example, Nike. And then if you shop three corners app, actually a portion of the, the, the purchase price will be, um, coming back to our acorns app as an investment. Um, from like acorn, Nike's really basic planner. Yeah, that's included. So both grow and fund money and earn like for many is also called <inaudible> is on the basic plan. So a lot of our love it. Um, they really take advantage of that. That's another way for you to grow your overall like Wells, um, through some like some brands if you already use them, like it's just like why not use it? Yeah. Speaker 3 44:48 So I want to end just with one last question. Speaker 5 44:50 Uh huh. Speaker 3 44:51 What is something that you feel like you understand about growth now that you didn't understand when we work together or maybe even just in the last couple of years that you, that you kind of have a light bulb that's gone off Speaker 5 45:02 about how growth works. Yeah. So, uh, when I left growth hackers to join acorns, I really have a kind of go internal goal for myself because at growth hackers, like working with you was with the entire growth hypers team. Everyone is having this growth mindset by nature. So there's no friction at all for me as the head of growth to drive the process and getting everyone to think of idea to, to look at metric, um, to experiment. So my internal goal for joining acorns partially is to test out whether this can work another company where um, maybe people are not so familiar with the gross mindset or experiment process. Um, I think I took like, I took approach of proving that successful here, but I learned a lot through the way it is not as easy as I thought. I think the biggest learning is initially I thought was um, once I launch experiment and show successful successful results, it will prove itself. Speaker 5 46:15 No, no more like, um, like advocate no more sharing and coming communication. Educating is needed. That's not true. So that's kind of my biggest learning. I think. Um, working on growth almost helped me as a person because I'm a pretty analytical like as you know, I'm a very analytical, I'm a very focused on the results. The facts and numbers speak to me. I can just see like number and yelling at me. You need to be worked out. Um, but I think working on gross and like going through this journey at acorns really helped me understand to, um, to be successful in growth maybe in many other things you need to be focusing on people like the culture, the people, the more softer part as much, even if not more than the harder part results in data. Um, so I actually started something called the wind or learn newsletter, a date, Eddy course, and every couple of weeks while we have some results from the experiments, whether it's a win or it's a learn, learn, meaning it doesn't work better than win or, Speaker 5 47:30 so I kind of share that with the broader team. And I love that there are people reaching out and seeing how much they love that newsletter. Some people will, I don't even know, like work at a different function. Like we never had, like we never worked together. So I'm just really encouraged by that. And also the other part as you mentioned is um, am really beginning to learn brand and, and experiments or gross, um, design versus kind of more business driven mindset. Those kind of are I think inevitable or lay, there will be conflict or tension between the different mindsets, but at a Marco level, in order for a brand or a product to be really successful, all those pieces almost need to work together. It's a struggle when you are in it. But in broader level, this is a kind of key ingredient for success. Um, so like I'm still learning to get better on that and master that. Um, I think is, is really a journey. Like shall you set me up to start on this journey is just changed my, not only my career, but my kind of sinking about live and everything just is changed with this gross hacker journey and growth mindset. So I'm always learning, I'm always improving and I'm okay with failure because that's just a learning experience. Speaker 3 48:59 Right, right. And yeah, I mean I think the growth mindset is carries so much beyond growth and that's why there's books written on the growth mindset and the importance for teaching children the growth mindset and all of that. But I, uh, I love those learnings and I love that winter learn. That's cause I, cause I think it's not just the testing that builds the growth mindset, but you have to, you have to communicate those wins and, and the learning when it's not a win and you have to be patient, especially if it, maybe if you, if you start it when there's three people in the company, it doesn't take very long. But the further along a company is, the more that it takes time to get there. But I think to me when I look at acorns, it's that combination of, of all the things, like my key takeaways from, from our conversation is that starts with the product market fit. Speaker 3 49:46 The product market fit is clearly when people try this, they love it and they talk to people and that's, that's a magical loop that happens. But then having a team that is really passionate about that mission and it sounds like no of the CEO is constantly reinforcing that mission and not just giving it lip service, but actually sharing letters from, from users to reinforce that mission. It just, it just makes it feel real and it's, you know, as you touched on, the softer side is really important to this. The numbers, there's facts and numbers, but the soft side is where all of the energy and emotion and execution and all the things that move those numbers forward. And so mission is super critical there. And then, but I know from an execution perspective, once you have that passionate team that's on mission, your skills around execution and analytics tip to make sure that you really are driving improvement as you run experiments and not just not just experimenting for the sake of experiments or just looking at data and not experimenting, but combining those two to really execute well is something that I'm not surprised you're doing really well. Speaker 3 50:54 And then just patiently building that growth mindset across the company. And the more that everyone recognizes that there is a better way to do absolutely everything. I have to admit that I think you have gotten so good at different touch points in the business that it's a lot more effort to find that better way. But that's, that's powerful. And that's, that's probably part of the reason that you guys are one of the fastest growing companies in the world, is that you, you have that intersection of all those things. So congrats to you. I know you've brought a lot of value to the business, but it sounds like you've learned a ton here as well. So congratulations on everything. Oh, thank you so much, Sean. That's just so generous. Well, I'm, I'm excited to, uh, tip to pick your brain on some of those learnings. So to everybody listening, thanks for tuning in. Speaker 1 51:38 <inaudible> Speaker 2 51:43 thanks for listening to the breakout growth podcast. Please take a moment to leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform, and while you're at it, subscribe. So you never miss a show until next week.

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