Speaker 0 00:00:08 Welcome 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 1 00:00:24 In this episode of the breakout growth podcast, Ethan Gar and I interviewed Brian stoner, vice president of product at duck duck go, duck, duck go is best known as a search engine that is focused on protecting your privacy, but they go beyond internet search to more broadly focusing on internet privacy with mobile apps and desktop extensions for Chrome Safari, and Firefox to keep you safe. As you surf the internet. In this episode, we look to understand how it company that itself is ad supported has found success without relying on deep user level tracking and how Brian and his team drive growth while holding true to their mission of putting consumer privacy. First, before we get started with the interview, I want to recommend that you check out my recent interview on the NFX podcast with James currier. James is one of the most successful growth practitioners out there. So it's not surprising that we had a deep, insightful conversation about growth. You can find it by Googling or ducking NFX podcasts. Now join Ethan, Gar and me as we interview Brian stoner, vice president of product at duck duck.
Speaker 0 00:01:40 Hi, Brian. Welcome to the breakout growth podcast.
Speaker 2 00:01:42 Hey Sean. Good to be here. Yeah, we,
Speaker 1 00:01:45 We're excited to have you on. So I'm also joined by my frequent co-host Ethan, Gar. Welcome Ethan.
Speaker 2 00:01:50 Hey, thanks, Sean and Brian. It's great to have you on the podcast.
Speaker 1 00:01:54 Yeah. So before we dig into how you're approaching growth, that duck, duck go, can you explain a bit about what duck duck go is and what problem you guys are solving?
Speaker 2 00:02:04 Sure. So data goes an internet privacy company in the past couple of years, it's become more clear that most people in the world want privacy, but they feel powerless to do anything about it. And the internet has become overrun by companies like Google and Facebook, and many more that people don't know about that have made it their business model to track you. Um, and everyone for anyone who wants to opt out of this, we provide an all in one solution helps you stay private online, um, on mobile, it's a private browser with our search engine and a tracker blocker built in on desktop is a browser extension that does the same thing. Um, and we ultimately think that there needs to be regulation long-term so these large tech companies, but we want to prove that it's possible now to have simple privacy without any real trade-offs.
Speaker 1 00:02:50 And so you said, yeah, anybody should be thinking about their privacy. Uh, I'm assuming not everyone does. Is there a certain type of user that, um, cares more about privacy or, or is attracted to your offerings? Uh, maybe, maybe even beyond privacy. Is there, is there a certain type of user that, that, um, you guys are attracting?
Speaker 2 00:03:10 Yeah, I think that's a good question. It's not something we've been able to drill in and like pick out any demographic trends we've struggled with this. I think the one thing everyone has in common is they care about privacy and users often like describe duct echo as like giving them a feeling of freedom and kind of like, they don't want to be followed around as much. And they feel like they ads are tracking them less and following them around less and they're not living in a filter bubble as much. Um, and that's really like the, the user like that. That's what people are looking for when they come to duct TECO and, and really like that, that user base has grown to become mainstream. I think we, we cite a study that KPMG did that this summer, that nine out of 10 Americans agree that privacy is a human, right. And there's a Pew study recently published that found that 50% of us adults said they recently chose not to use a product or service because of a privacy concern. So we think it's more and more mainstream and that it's really just everyone.
Speaker 1 00:04:09 Yeah. And probably like with, with, uh, the social dilemma and some of the, some, some of just the more coverage around privacy and, and overly using your data to hook you on products. And some of the things that often get associated with growth hacking sad enough for me. But, um, obviously it's, it's brought a lot more awareness to, to, you know, if you don't know you're being tracked, then, then it's not a problem for you, but the more you learn that you're being tracked, the more likely you're going to be sensitive about it, I assume.
Speaker 2 00:04:39 Yeah, totally. Yeah. And
Speaker 1 00:04:41 Then, so speaking of which, I mean, a lot of the tracking is obviously, um, for better advertising for better engagement. Um, we'll dig into the engagement side in a little bit, but you know, I, I do see some ads on, on duck duck go. So, so I assume that the primary business model is advertising. Um, what, uh, but, but I do like if you compare it to Google, I see usually like one ad on a search result is that, um, is that your primary business model and, and why is it only one ad? Is there, is that sort of deliberate?
Speaker 2 00:05:13 Yeah. So our business model is advertising. We don't think advertising has to mean tracking and privacy. It's just kind of ended up that way that a lot of advertising has been bundled together with tracking. And so our business model is very simple. It's Google's business model from like 2000 when you would type in a search for a car and you'd get shown an ad for a car. And that business model is very profitable because you have a really strong intent signal. Um, and so there's like no reason Google really needs to track people, um, to support their business model they've they did it. And over the years, because they kept getting bigger and building more products and wanting to build up an ad network and they had to collect all this data to build all these profiles. Um, and it's kind of gotten way out of control at this point.
Speaker 1 00:06:01 Do they sell that intent signal too? Or, or, or make it like a V like, I think they own double-click right. Or former DoubleClick, do they, do they for retargeting? Do they make that intent signal available in their other ad products?
Speaker 2 00:06:14 Yeah, I'm, I'm less familiar with like the intricacies of all their ad products. Cause I don't really use them, but, um, but yeah, they do. They combine all of that data. They have profiles on everyone and, and that, that data is used by advertisers to target across all their properties. And, and Google has trackers on something like 70 or 80% of the web at this point, if you consider Google analytics that tracker, which, which we do. Um, yeah. Yeah.
Speaker 1 00:06:37 But I agree with you that the, that the most valuable part of a search engine is the intent and being able to being able to serve an advertisement that's related to the intent that you've shown you don't need to know anything else about the user, besides that they were looking for a lawyer. And then, then yeah, maybe, I mean, is it within your sort of scope of what you want to do to be able to know location wise, at least like that, that they're looking for a lawyer in Southern California? Or is it just, just the intent of this search?
Speaker 2 00:07:07 Yeah, I think, I think location is, is definitely something you need to know, but you don't need to know their exact address or their exact full IP address and their street address. You need to know, Hey, they're in the New York Metro area or they're in California on the coast and, um, or like a rough zip code and you can provide really relevant results that way without knowing exactly who the person is. Yeah.
Speaker 1 00:07:31 And then the fact that I was typically only seeing one advertisement on a search, is that, do you guys always limit it to one advertisement? And if so, what, what causes that? Why do you decide to do that?
Speaker 2 00:07:41 I mean, it's not, it's not intentional. Um, I think it varies a lot from search to search. Some will have one, some will have a lot more, um, it's not, it's not intentional on our part to, to necessarily limit it. I think, I think we were always running experiments and testing more or less in different page layouts on the syrup. And so that's a moving target. I do think Google has gone a little far and as a company we're optimizing for growth over revenue. So, um, it probably is, we are tilting more towards, towards less ads than Google. Probably
Speaker 1 00:08:12 Not necessarily like a huge principle within the business to be, to be almost no advertising. It's really that the privacy is the, is the big principle that drives the business.
Speaker 2 00:08:21 Yeah, totally. I think we, like I said, initially, we think privacy and advertising, like you should be able to have both. And like that advertising is a great business model for the internet. It's just kind of got messed up with all this data collection.
Speaker 1 00:08:34 Right. And so I know you've been with the company, um, I think since 2013, is that, am I remembering that right? Yep. So, but, but the business itself, uh, it looks like it launched in 2008 and by 2008, Google was a pretty mature product. Um, have you, do, do you feel like you have parody on, on, um, the, the functionality so that the, the someone's not trading functionality for, for privacy or, and did you have that from the beginning or is that kind of been a moving target over time in terms of, uh, in terms of like the full functionality, like Google is a pretty rich product at this point?
Speaker 2 00:09:14 Yeah, totally. I mean, we've, we've, we've obviously worked a lot to improve the product over the years, but we actually think it's kind of a false dichotomy that you need to like give up anything to have privacy. And we think at this point, our search results are pretty competitive with Google's. Um, I think where, where you might see some differences is Google is doing a lot more, um, surfacing like web deep web content, like directly on the SERP. And we're probably leaning a little bit against that, just because we think that, you know, you should be able to still see the list of results and get to them without being overwhelmed with all kinds of garbage on the server. So I think, I think at this point, our, our search results are pretty good. We, we actually have to fight like a common narrative where people, um, you can present people the same exact search results, one with a duck deco logo and one with a Google logo, and they will always assume the DuckDuckGo go, ones are worse. And so there's, it's kind of an uphill battle there.
Speaker 1 00:10:11 Yeah. So, so just like a little bit more clarity on my question. It was less about that, um, uh, privacy preventing you from, from getting a good search experience, but more about that, you know, Google's one of the most valuable companies in the world. It's a big company they've built a yeah. Everything from, from Google maps to Gmail, to all these things that are integrated together to being able to see. Yeah, I did see like, you know, but when I, when I typed in to duck, duck go current time in Moscow, Russia, it's gonna, it's going to show it as a, as kind of a structured result, which is great. Um, but like, um, I'm curious if, if, you know, as you leading product, if you, if you felt like that there's sort of a overall maturity to that product with the, you know, eight plus year head start that they had that has that, um, put you in a position where, um, you know, if, if, if everything else is the same and you can have privacy, great, you're going to choose the privacy, but because they've got such a big team on it that all of the other services together, um, is there a certain point at which, okay, I'm giving up some functionality in order to have this privacy, um, or at this point you guys have matured to the level where it's, it really is just a great quality, uh, searches and, and all the other kind of bells and whistles that Google has baked in over time.
Speaker 1 00:11:38 You've you've, uh, you at least match those.
Speaker 2 00:11:41 Yeah. I mean, I, I'm not going to claim we have every single feature parody with Google, right. I think we definitely don't, but, um, and it's, it's been a lot of work over the years, I think w w where we've tried to, uh, like close the gap there, competitively is leaning on other API APIs to help us. And so we've worked closely with Wikipedia. We worked closely with Apple maps, TripAdvisor stack exchange, uh, Microsoft and being, um, and, and really kind of lean on them to help us put together a syrup that has a lot of the same features with Google, without us needing to do as much deep investment in the technology. And we can focus more on the, the, the top layer and the privacy layer on top.
Speaker 3 00:12:23 It's really interesting. I was wondering, you know, this kind of follows up on that question a little bit, but more goes towards your role in growth. How does your commitment to data privacy affect your ability to use data, to actually drive improvements in the product and the customer acquisition initiatives? I would assume there must be some trade-offs in what you can collect that actually limit how you can grow the business as well. Is that fair?
Speaker 2 00:12:46 I think there's, there's, trade-offs in that we're not doing it, how most companies are doing it. I think we definitely, we don't know things like how many users are there of our search engine, because we don't track sessions or, uh, anything from search to search. Um, we've invested a lot in building our own tools here. So we have, um, a lot of the same mechanisms for running product improvement, experiments that most companies do. We're constantly running AB tests on the SERP, and we're using anonymous usage metrics in aggregate to make decisions. So none of the data we're collecting is specific to individuals. We're only looking at serving two different experiences and measuring engagement, uh, across the two and aggregate to, to make decisions. Um, and in our mobile apps and desktop extensions, we're able to do a little more there because we can actually have, we have the, the lifetime of the user in the app. And so we can do cohorts and run retention experiments. Um, but the same rules apply. We're not doing sessions, we're not looking at individual users. We're looking at things in aggregate, and we're only putting people into buckets that are large enough to know one can be personally identified. Um, so overall we've been, I feel like I felt like we would hit a wall there, but we actually haven't, we've been able to kind of work around it and do things in a, in a private way. We've had to build a lot ourselves though.
Speaker 3 00:14:06 Yeah. It sounds like, uh, that would be a challenge. Uh, does that, does that slow down your, your growth efforts when you, like, if you need to change to those systems that you've created, like that takes resources away from, from other things, or has that not been too bad a problem?
Speaker 2 00:14:20 Um, I think, I think we've managed it well, I don't think it's been a major problem. I think as a company, we're, we're pretty religious on like getting to the smallest thing we can do with the highest impact and the lowest complexity and kind of like really making sure that the things we're doing are going to be really good vets. And so we don't, we're focused more on quality than, than quantity a lot of times in our experiments.
Speaker 3 00:14:44 Right. Yeah. It seems like a, I mean, one thing that's nice about if you're, if, if you're sort of by mission forced
Speaker 2 00:14:52 To create some of your own tools, it makes the builder buy decisions a lot easier. It's like, well, we have to build it. So, um, yeah. You mentioned, uh, the Chrome extension. I think I saw that you also have a Firefox extension and Safari extension. Um, can you tell us a little bit more and share with our audience, how that impacts your whole growth strategy, your product, you know, how it, how it shapes the product and growth? Yeah, so we, yeah, we have extensions for Chrome Firefox and Safari, and it's really our goal with those is to provide an all-in-one solution for privacy on the web. So we set your default search engine to, to duct deco. Um, we blocked trackers across the web as you browse and we're upgrading, uh, requests to HTTPS where we can. Um, and, but back when we started, we were just a search engine and the browser extensions were primarily just a secondary distribution channel in those stores.
Speaker 2 00:16:25 Um, the next, the next issue we faced after that was the extension was kind of dumb because all they did was change your search engine. And so people would be like, why are you making me a solve this thing to change my search engine? Um, and also a lot of common feedback we would get was, Hey, I switched to your search engine and it's supposed to not track me, but I'm still seeing these ads follow me around the internet. Um, why is that? And it turns out the reason that is, is because yes, your searches are private, but as soon as you click a link and go off to another website, you know, all bets are off you're being tracked across the internet. And so that was kind of hard to explain to people. And so with the extension, you know, adding a tracker blocker, lets us kind of solve the whole problem holistically and, and kind of make that, that value promise that you're not going to be tracked if you switched to duct tape.
Speaker 1 00:17:12 Okay. Can someone use that tracker blocker, um, and keep using Google or, or would they be required to use duck, duck go if they, if they put the browser extension in?
Speaker 2 00:17:23 Yeah, I think it varies from browser to browser. Um, and like we would have no problem with people using our extension with Google, I think in Chrome, uh, they specifically prevent you from disabling it. So if the extension changes the search engine, like you have to uninstall the extension to change it to something else. So it's like a limitation of their API, which is unfortunate. Interesting. You know, um, just with that, uh, you, you had mentioned, you know, kind of have to walk people through some of these things. And I was just telling Sean earlier, I was amazed by how good your product walkthroughs are, especially on mobile. And I just was curious, how does mobile fit into the ecosystem? Is it like how, how much of your mobile app or mobile web, uh, is total usage? Yeah. Um, we're doing about, I think like over 80 million searches a day now, and it's 60, 40 desktop to mobile. Um, that mobile percentage has been growing faster than the past couple of years. Our mobile apps are probably the primary way. People are adopting DuckDuckGo now doing close to 150,000 downloads a day on mobile, across iOS and Android. And that's, that's like a hundred percent year on year growth.
Speaker 1 00:18:30 Wow. That's amazing. Really
Speaker 2 00:18:31 Amazing. Yeah. And is it,
Speaker 1 00:18:34 So it's primarily a mobile app then if they're on, on the mobile it's, they're not using it for mobile web.
Speaker 2 00:18:40 We, we do have a lot of mobile web. I don't know what the exact uh, breakdown is, but, uh, we're, we've changed our funnel around to really try to everyone into the mobile apps. And we've got things, like you said, we've invested a lot in that onboarding and we think that's really working well. So we think that's the best experience for people. That's great.
Speaker 1 00:18:57 And so, um, I mentioned earlier that you, you joined the company in 2013, it's probably come a long way in the seven years since then, but what, what was it that originally attracted you to the opportunity?
Speaker 2 00:19:09 Yeah, my, uh, my roots and Dakota was a little unusual. I, I think I had met Gabriel not long after he started duct deco, Gabriel Weinberg, the founder, and he's still a CEO. Um, and we were both in Philadelphia suburbs kind of, uh, in the startup hacker community at the time he was running hacker meetups out of his basement. And, uh, I think he was still running duct to go off of servers in his basement at the time. Um, and I eventually co-founded a startup that he advised and invested in. And so we had kept in touch while he was starting DuckDuckGo. I was kind of doing my own thing somewhere around 2013, my startup was running out of money and we were struggling to find a path forward. And at the same time the Snowden leaks had happened. And that was kind of a bit of an inflection point for duck taco, where they started to grow and I needed some money. And so I started doing some contract work for duck deco and just the more I learned about kind of the space and how well positioned the company company was and like the opportunity, um, it just kinda seemed too good to pass up. I think also at the time they had just, uh, closed distribution deals with Safari and Firefox to be a built-in option. And I, I remember thinking that was going to be a pretty impactful inflection point too.
Speaker 1 00:20:22 Interesting. So how, how was the Snowden leaks and inflection point? What do you think w how did that affect it?
Speaker 2 00:20:29 I think it really kind of opened the door to a lot too, like to mainstream really seeing what's going on, tracking wise, how all this data was flowing around and all these companies were tracking you. Um, I think it was real kind of watershed moment where people realized what was going on and they kind of hadn't before.
Speaker 1 00:20:49 Okay. So it was just, it was just literally making, making privacy more front and center in people's minds. Yeah, totally interesting. And then you mentioned Gabriel Weinberg being the CEO and founder. He wrote a great book in 2015 called traction. Um, I, I recommend that book all the time. I think it's a, it's a great way to, to kinda get started with channels for, for a new business since he wrote the book, he clearly, uh, clearly understands that while he co-authored the book. What, um, what do you think was kind of the key to getting traction in the business? You've talked about a few things that happen, you know, later around the time when you were there, the Snowden and then the, uh, the Safari and Firefox partnerships, but what, um, what, uh, what about in those early first few years? Uh, how did, how did the business get traction? Yeah.
Speaker 2 00:21:38 Yeah, I think like, that's a good question. I, I wasn't as close to it then, but I think Gabriel's initial focus when you started, it was actually not on privacy. It was focused on spam. Um, it's hard to remember, but like 2007, 2008, like Google was really bad at spam. And there was like large content farms, like demand media that were out of control. Um, and so Gabriel saw the opportunity as I'm going to take kind of like human curated data sets like Wikipedia and stack exchange and others, and use them to boost authority, authoritative results, like to the top and push the spam down. And, um, it kind of happened like around the same time he started Google bought DoubleClick and there started to be more concerned about, uh, how much data they were collecting and how powerful they could become. And he was plugged into the hacker news and Reddit communities and kind of saw that there was an opportunity there and found some early adopters and really started to double down on privacy at that point.
Speaker 2 00:22:37 Um, I know he did one of the big things he likes to talk about is how he, he took a billboard out in San Francisco pretty early on that just said, Google tracks you up. And we don't, um, and got a lot of coverage and attention for that. Um, I know he was an early advertiser on Reddit too. Um, but really it was the macro trends as Google kept moving farther away from privacy, getting bigger, the group of people that was concerned about it kept growing larger and he was kind of in the right market, in the right place with the right product at the right.
Speaker 1 00:23:06 Yeah. That's just so bold when you, when you think about how many, uh, search engines essentially disappeared in the wake of Google gaining traction the, to, to go back and enter that space. And clearly you guys have, um, you guys have not only survived, but I mean, just looking at the employee growth rates on, on LinkedIn, it just, yeah. It seems that you even through, even through the pandemic, that you've, you've continued to grow at a pretty good clip. So I'm curious now during the time that you've been there and all the, all the way until now, what do you, what do you think those key factors are that continue to drive growth of the business? Yeah, I think, um, you
Speaker 2 00:23:46 Know, like I said, like right product right market, right time, and like tech companies are getting bigger and collecting more data demand for privacy is growing it's mainstream and all that. But I think that's not to discount everything we've done as a company. I think we've made a, a lot of smart decisions along the way. I think from one of them, one of the things we do differently, um, from pretty early on, we were focused on being a remote company. And so we were hiring the kind of the best talent we could all around the world that kind of let us, let us compete a little better with, uh, with startups in San Francisco that had to overpay and had a limited talent pool. Um, we also focused on hiring generalists, entrepreneurial, autonomous people because we were remote. And those were the, the people you kind of needed to, to take vague problems and just go figure out how to solve them with limited help.
Speaker 2 00:24:35 And I think that helped us move fast and really contributed to a culture where, uh, everyone's really competent and, and really motivated to take hard problems and just go solve them. Um, and there's a lot, I think, as a, as a company too, we have a lot of different ways of working that are a little unusual. We use a sauna to, um, organize all our work and everything is in extremely transparent in there. Um, people can follow things all the way up from our vision and mission down to the individual tasks they're working on and understand how it all connects. Um, one of our core values is question assumptions. So we encourage people to, to really dig into things all the way up to the top level company strategy and debate things and question things that don't seem right. And I think that's really created like a level of discourse that I've never seen in any other company. And that with, with the, the really high quality, uh, people we've hired, I think has really been in a competitive advantage.
Speaker 1 00:25:33 I love that. I love that as a, as a key principle because, um, yeah, I just got done reading the, uh, or I guess it's already been a few months now, but the, um, Netflix, uh, kind of founder book, uh, I don't know if you've, if you've, uh, a camera that will never work, I think was the title of it. But, um, the, the, the, basically the mantra they had was nobody knows anything, but it's kind of the same thing. If you, if you go with this question assumptions and you assume that nothing is really known until you have really good proof around it, it's, it's kind of the right mindset for figuring things out.
Speaker 2 00:26:08 Yep, totally. Yeah. So,
Speaker 1 00:26:10 So speaking of, kind of the, the challenges of figuring things out, what, what are some of like the big growth challenges that you've faced while, while you've been there and how did you overcome them?
Speaker 2 00:26:22 Yeah, I think like maybe, maybe one that's, that's been common throughout the life of Def deco is just how hard it's been to switch to duct deco. So, um, Google and others just don't make it easy for you to change your search engine or now on mobile, where we're a browser to change your browser. Um, and so, you know, on desktop, I talked a little bit how we created extension to reduce the friction and work around some of that on mobile. It's harder because the operating systems are so locked down. Um, thanks. Thankfully iOS recently released the ability to change your default browser. And so we're already seeing pretty strong growth and, uh, adoption and retention from that. Um, on Android though, it's still kind of a mess. And I think that's, that's one unsolved Cref challenge for us. Uh, we published some research on our blog where it takes something like 16 steps to completely remove Google and switch to duct deco, your search engine and browser.
Speaker 2 00:27:14 Um, so we've been arguing, we've been arguing with, uh, with, with kind of with, um, policymakers in Europe and elsewhere that, um, there should be, there should be, uh, an easier way on Android devices. And we've argued for a, uh, preference menu, which at the beginning of the year, Google implemented in the EU. Um, but they did it in a very Google way where there was an auction and you have to bid for a spot. And we were able to afford a slot the first couple of times. And then we basically got bid out and we think, ultimately it's not really in the best interest of the users, if it's another auction and way for Google to make money, we think it should just be kind of a list of here's the most popular search engines pick the one you want. And we've done some, some studies that when we think upwards of 20% of people, if given the choice in an unbiased way would switch away from Google. Um, so in our car, current search market share in the U S is 2%. So we think there's a lot of headroom there and, um, a lot of opportunity to, to grow if, if Google, if we could get kind of some of this stuff done.
Speaker 1 00:28:20 Yeah. When it sounds like, um, I remember seeing in the news in the last couple of weeks that, uh, I think it was in Europe where Google is getting a lot more sort of antitrust pressure. So I'm, I'm hopefully that's causing them to behave a little more fairly on some of those things. And, and that that's clearly that that'll be good for you if they do that. I can imagine that it's not surprising that it's so hard on Android considering, you know, that the operating system, the, like the whole thing is it would be pretty hard to break into when they're controlling all those different pieces.
Speaker 2 00:28:51 Yup, totally. Yeah. We think there's, there's a lot to do there. I think, I think we're, we're a little concerned that Google is kind of privacy washing things a little bit where they'll do, they'll do a little bit just to appease regulators and actually, you know, it just isn't really impactful stuff that they're doing in the long run, but it does seem like with GDPR and CCPA and just sort of the overall trend with privacy and security over the last few years that, uh, over time, uh, it seems like it will benefit you guys. I mean, it does seem like the world is moving more in that direction where the things that you're arguing for, uh, are things that are in line with what people want. And I think, yeah, so maybe a long slog, but it sounds like you'll, you'll make, you'll continue making headway there. Yeah, totally. And we're, we're spending a lot more and more time there on, on efforts there Gabriel's tested in front of con testified in front of the Senate a couple of times, and we were, we donate millions to pro privacy groups and we work with legislators and nonprofits and we're spending more and more time there we've hired a bunch of policy people in the past year
Speaker 3 00:29:52 Are too, but yeah, it's definitely worth it. I actually, uh, my background is from, uh, working at Deltek and on robo killer where, um, I actually testified in front of Congress on privacy and security issues. So, uh, if, if you're, if you're in those conversations, it's definitely to, uh, to your advantage over time. So it'll be exciting to watch how that changes for you guys over time. But I would think it's, like I said, I think we think it's to your benefit, um, with that though, let's talk a little bit about how you're organized for growth. You talked about, it sounds like your culture is really transparent. It's all about getting people involved, but can you tell us a little bit more about how product marketing and growth are organized within the organization and where your team fits in?
Speaker 2 00:30:30 Yeah, so I think this is another way we're probably a little unusual from other companies and that we don't have a centralized growth effort in one team. Uh, our top priority as a company right now is to make DuckDuckGo a household name for simple privacy protection. And so as a result, there's probably like half the company working on that problem. And so we like to think kind of everyone's working on growth in some way or another. Um, and that we have that top priority. And the way we're organized underneath that is we have 10 or so objectives things. And those objectives are cross-functional teams working on specific goals, like improve mobile app retention or improve cross-device adoption or scale and optimize our ad spends. Um, and those teams are pretty autonomous within those objectives to, uh, come up with ideas. And we use something very similar to Sean's ice methodology for scoping and prioritizing projects, uh, and being really ruthless about what's, what's going to be the smallest thing we can do with the highest impact towards these goals.
Speaker 3 00:31:34 Oh, cool. So, um, th that objective setting, is that based on like the OKR framework or is that your own homegrown sort of version of it, or?
Speaker 2 00:31:42 Um, it's actually, it's based off of a book called, um, the advantage, um, and it's, it's similar to the OKR framework. Um, we don't have strict KPIs that we're measuring and reporting on. Um, but, but it's, it's very similar to that.
Speaker 3 00:31:56 Cool. And I would assume that a company that prides and differentiate itself prides and differentiates itself on data, privacy must have like a really, I mean, I can already tell from our conversation, you guys have a really strong sense of mission. How do you guys measure progress against your mission beyond simply generating more money?
Speaker 2 00:32:13 Yeah. Um, so we're not, we're not totally, we're definitely not revenue driven at the moment. We're focused more on making an impact in the world and proving that privacy can be simple, and if you don't have to sacrifice for it, and we have a solution right now that we offer for that. Um, and so our North star metric right now is, is getting more users on those products. And we think we, a lot of people want privacy, but feel powerless to do anything about it. And so we really want to demonstrate that there is something you can do about it, and that large numbers of people will take action and do something about it. And that in the long run, like going back to the regulation. And, and I think that will make that he's here and in the long run will kind of bring more privacy to everyone, which is our ultimate end goal.
Speaker 2 00:33:02 That's great. And I think what, when Sean and I hear North star metric are yours always perk up, you know, it sounds like, uh, you know, I think it really helps companies align around the mission and keep everyone focused. So, um, it's no surprise that a company like yours that is so mission-driven, uh, uses, uh, the North star metric is the sort of the, the guidepost, um, from which to grow. Um, is it, uh, do you feel like that's really, your North star metric has really spread throughout the organization or is that still a challenge to get everyone sort of, to understand and use it as part of their everyday work? Um, I mean, we don't, we don't like, yeah, we don't, we don't really enforce, like everything you do must move this metric. It's kind of, um, I don't think that would, that would be ideal because there's a lot of things we need to do that still are outside of that metric.
Speaker 2 00:33:52 But, um, and so it's not, I think we're probably the less religious about the North star metric than other people. Um, but yeah, we do. I think we, we, we try, like I said, we have that top objective and the top priority as a company where we're trying to make tactical a household name and the objectives underneath that each have specific goals, like improving retention and, and w we've tried to decompose it in a way that everyone can kind of focus on their own individual thing. And the North star metric is, is more of a barometer of how we're doing, but it's not necessarily like guiding every single trade off decision at the lowest level. Yeah. And I don't think, I don't think, uh, Sean and I ness generally see it as something that guides, you know, every conversation specifically, but I think when, when a company embraces it at sort of a top level, um, and people feel it as, as the connection to their mission, um, it can have a pretty profound effect. So, but it sounds like, it sounds like it's already having that impact across the, across the organization. Yeah, definitely.
Speaker 1 00:34:52 Yeah. So, so one of the things Brian that you had mentioned earlier was that you, um, that, that given your, your focus on privacy, that one of the things you, you don't, um, track as well as is the, um, it's kind of, uh, cross session tracking. That might be one of the things that's a little harder for you to see. So when you talked about, you're trying to grow users, I'm assuming actually being able to see who your active users are since they're like anonymous, or are you able to, to know cumulatively, how many users you have, or is it more of like total sessions or how, how do you reconcile that in terms of just trying to track progress?
Speaker 2 00:35:29 Yeah, I mean, historically we had always, our North star metric was like number of searches a day. And we publish when we publish that at duckduckgo.com/traffic. Um, if you want to check it out and that's, that was always our kind of main metric. And we wouldn't know how many people that we still don't know how many people that is, it's just searches. Um, but over the past few years, as we've moved to the, the mobile browsers and the desktop extension is the primary product that we're, that we're, uh, offering and trying to get people to adopt. It's, it's easier because you can, you can, with some degree of certainty measure the number of active users in those things without tracking.
Speaker 1 00:36:07 Yep. That makes sense. So let's talk about how you actually do that then. So in, in terms of growing that, so, um, obviously you've, you've touched on a lot of this already, but in terms of levers. So if you can, if you can, uh, you know, increase the frequency that people are using the product and, and better activation, um, yeah, that was one of the things that Ethan mentioned, like great onboarding with the mobile app, but can you kind of take us through that journey from how someone first discovers duck, duck go to where, where they become a, um, uh, a really, uh, raving fan of duck, duck go?
Speaker 2 00:36:44 Yeah, I think, um, when we talk to people, usually it's word of mouth in the end, the, uh, privacy news cycles are really like driving a lot of new users for us still. And when we talk to them, it's, it's usually some kind of desire to make a lifestyle change. And so they're like, I, I just want more privacy. I'm going to download this thing because my friend told me about it, or I read it in a news story and I think it's gonna, it's gonna make me feel better. Um, and the aha moment for people is usually when they install our extension or start using our mobile browser and they see how much tracking is actually happening on the internet and what we're able to block for them. Um, and I think like you guys saw and pointed out, we spent a lot of time in the mobile app onboarding, trying to get people to that a moment sooner when they install and privacy can be like super complicated and all this stuff is complicated and mainstream, there's a mainstream demand for it. So we're trying to talk to people in a real normal human language about what's going on, who's trying to track them and, and what we're doing to prevent it. And we're seeing good results from that. All of that kind of is helping drive understanding of the problem and what's going on better and the value of using our products. And that's kind of worked well for us.
Speaker 1 00:37:59 Yeah. So, so one of the things I also noticed that was interesting is yeah, obviously if you go to google.com, it's, it's essentially a blank page with a search that search box on it. And if you go to duck, duck, go.com, you're, you're getting a much more of an explanation of what, what sets you guys apart and what makes you different? How, how much kind of tension is there to, to have that really like clean experience versus really communicating what makes you different and how, how do you, how do you figure out what the, what the optimal balance between those things is? Yes, that's been challenging
Speaker 2 00:38:36 Over the years and it's evolved a lot. Um, yeah, I think ours, look, it looked very similar to Google up until about a year or two ago. Um, and we've realized that really the, the way for people to adopt Ateco is through the mobile browser or the desktop extension. And once we kind of realized that and started optimizing those, we, we shifted the messaging on the homepage more around that. Um, and it's really, we're realizing now that we're a privacy company, not a search company. And so people want privacy and the messaging needs to kind of help them speak to that more and speak to that, that need that people have and help them get to the solution we're offering, which is the, the all-in-one the browser extension and the mobile app, um, more so than the search engine. And I think over time, it'll probably go even further towards the direction of promoting the mobile app and the search engine and whatever other products we're working on. Um, and, and probably farther away from search.
Speaker 1 00:39:30 So you mentioned when we talked with customers, so D do you guys do a lot of qualitative kind of, uh, insight gathering with, with your customers and how, how do you go about that? Do you do surveys? Do you do conversations? Is it more anecdotal? Yep.
Speaker 2 00:39:45 All of the above, um, surveys, conversations, user testing interviews. Um, we do a lot and, uh, we have a team that's really great at it. Um, yeah, we're, we're like doing that all the time, just trying to understand. Okay. Like, how is, is, how is, how are people understanding the product? How are they getting here? How is their perception changing? And, and it's evolved over time as especially, you know, you fix one problem and then a new one emerges and you have to do more research there. So, um, yeah,
Speaker 1 00:40:15 Or earlier this week, I actually did an interview with the CEO of product board and, and that's, that's kind of their, um, their, their business is really about know helping people strategically plan product a lot better by tying in a lot of those, um, qualitative insights. So it's, uh, it's refreshing to hear that that's, that's a big part of how you guys are driving. And I guess one of the questions with that is how, how do you, how do you disseminate that information particularly since most of the team is, is, um, or all the team is remote, how is it something you guys push into a sauna, or how, how do you make all of that, um, information accessible to the team?
Speaker 2 00:40:54 Yeah, I've, we've gotten better at this over the years. I think it is interesting to have the forcing function of being remote and having everything go through a Sana. It forces everyone to be really good at written communication and writing things up. And so that's really how it's disseminated through summaries and, and, and writing things up and then linking out to, you know, if there's an interesting clip of a user study or an example or something, um, linking out to it. Um, but yeah, it's, it's primarily done through written, we've done some interesting stuff culture-wise to here. One of, one of the other, uh, women on the product team started doing a PR, uh, user testing movie night where they just kind of get people at the company together to watch user testing videos and kind of talk about some of the problems people are facing and what we could do about it. Um, so that's another kind of cool thing.
Speaker 1 00:41:43 That's awesome. And particularly like when you, when you can have your really passionate customers as part of that, and, and it makes the sense of mission that much more fulfilling when you see real people that you're affecting with it, rather than just, uh, yeah. That's, that's the benefit when you move to qualitative versus quantitative it's data can, can seem very impersonal. Um, but, but, you know, movie night of, of user testing and conversations as super personal and, and makes it real in terms of the types of people you're helping and who doesn't get it and why they don't get it and can, can be really inspiring on how to do things better.
Speaker 2 00:42:19 Yeah. It sounds kind of fun too. Yeah. So
Speaker 1 00:42:24 Ethan, did you, did you have any other questions you wanted to cover?
Speaker 2 00:42:26 Yeah, I have one sort of wrap-up question, but before that, I just had to, I just had to ask you, um, with such a contentious election season, Brian, it would ma I, you mentioned that privacy news cycles really have an impact on you. I was just curious if, just because of such a crazy time here in the U S if you guys saw that as a driver of growth in the last few months. Yeah. I mean, it has, and I think you can look at our public traffic data and you'll see that, um, it was the DF of the DOJ lawsuit against Google that happened. I think that was like a week or two before the election and then the election itself, um, and this post election kind of thing that we're in right now, it's driving a lot of, a lot of, uh, a lot of searching and a lot of usage and a lot of distrust of Google and big tech.
Speaker 2 00:43:15 And, um, and so, yeah, we're seeing a lot of, a lot of new users at Tyco as a result. Yeah, it was really interesting. So one question, Sean, and I always like to ask, um, just as sort of a wrap-up question is what do you feel like you understand about growth now that maybe you didn't understand as well, a couple of years ago? So like what from your duck, duck go experience has really changed your thinking on growth? Yeah, I think like when I was working on my own startup, and even before that, I kind of always like read the narratives about like people having these killer growth tactics and they find that one leverage or pull, and it's going to unlock like major growth and solve all the problems. And it's just become a lot clearer from working at tuck tech, go for a longer period of time. It's not one thing it's a whole lot of different things over time that collectively drive large growth, at least for duct TECO. And so I think that's been one of the most interesting things to observe firsthand is you solve one problem and it increases growth. And then you, you see two more and then you have to solve those. And then, you know, you had external events that help multiply things and it all kind of, you need all of it and it all adds up over time.
Speaker 1 00:44:22 Yeah. So this has been a great interview. Some of my key takeaways as you've, uh, as you've covered things, is that I can definitely tell the strong sense of mission you have. And it's, it's interesting how, how that mission has evolved a bit to the, where, where it started in kinda the spam problem moved to privacy, and, you know, but, but primarily the, the privacy use case are served through search. And, um, and now you, you really identify as a, as a privacy company. And, um, and then, you know, and, and the word of mouth and news cycles that kind of feed as, as more and more people become aware of the need for protecting their privacy. That that seems like it's really driven the product well, and then you guys are, are good at, uh, at, at getting them to that aha moment where they, where they start to appreciate how you are different and what you're doing differently so that you can retain them better and, and, and probably unlock even more word of mouth and really build a flywheel around those things. So, as you've gone through this, it's, uh, I definitely can see how a relatively small team can take on one of the most powerful companies in the world and actually actually survive and not only survive, but, but continue to, to grow in, in light of that, by just taking a very different approach. So congratulations on, on the success that you've had. And, uh, um, I'm excited to see where you guys take it from here. Yeah.
Speaker 0 00:45:46 Yeah. Thanks so much, Sean. Thanks, Ethan. This was great being here. Definitely a fan. Thank you.
Speaker 1 00:45:51 All right. Well for everyone tuning in. Okay.
Speaker 0 00:45:53 Thanks for listening. And we'll, uh, we'll connect again soon. 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.