Early stage growth hacks with Hsu Ken Ooi (Iterative)

In this episode, Hsu Ken Ooi (Iterative) talks about:

  • Why he is building a YC-style accelerator in Asia
  • The early days of his two startups Decide.com and Weave
  • Leveraging social proof to grow Weave and Decide.com
  • Relying on human psychology rather than just logic to come up with early growth hacks
  • Learning to love the problem instead of the solution in early stage companies
  • Why it is important for founders to invest in themselves

Podcast information:

About the guests

Hsu Ken Ooi is the founder of Iterative, a YC-style accelerator that focuses on startups in Asia. He is also a serial entrepreneur who built companies such as Weave and Decide.com (acquired by Ebay), and have advised startups like Workato, Simple Habit and Moovaz.

Find him here:

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/hsukenooi


Books, tools, people, frameworks mentioned in this episode:

Hsu Ken Ooi 0:00
We started doing a bunch of like funny growth things. In the beginning, I was the first person everybody saw when you signed up, and I swiped right on everybody. I want them to have a match their first session. So there was this kind of like magical moment where people would try this thing. But the other thing we found was if they met one of the people who worked on the product, the chance of them talking to somebody else about it was really high. So the word of mouth referrals were like really high in the beginning, because we were just like bootstrapping it by like, going and like beating people.

Ricky Willianto 0:30
That was Hsu Ken. Talking about the early attempts at growing, Weave, a social networking app that helps professionals meet each other with just a swipe. To ensure all his early users had a great experience, Hsu Ken deliberately set himself up to match with every single new user, he literally had to meet up with up to eight people each day in the first two months. And that was how they got their first 10,000 users in six months. While they are not very scalable, manual growth hacks, such as these are extremely important to help validate early stage ideas. Listen to this episode to hear more growth stories and hacks from Hsu Ken.

My name is Ricky Willianto, co founder of Ravenry, and the host of the growth multiplier podcast. Through this podcast, I hope to uncover the pathways, startups and companies have taken in their journey of growth, share some stories from the trenches, and hopefully identify patterns and hacks that can be replicated by businesses in Asia and the rest of the world. I hope you enjoy the show.

Hi, again, thank you so much for joining us today. Before we begin, I think it’d be great to get you to share a little bit about yourself and what you’re working on now.

Hsu Ken Ooi 1:40
Sure. Thanks for having me. So let’s see, I’m originally from Malaysia. But I grew up in the US. I started two companies in the US. The first one was an early Machine Learning Company in 2009, we ran the company for about six, seven years, we raised about 16 and a half million and then eBay bought our company, I moved to San Francisco shortly after that. And we started another company called Weave, it was a professional networking company went through YC raised me a couple million bucks, similar kind of story. And then I moved to Singapore, about three years ago have been doing a fair bit of angel investing over the last couple of years, I think between Brian and I, who’s my partner iterative, we’ve kind of been doing maybe kind of like 40 deals over the last three years. And then last year, we we both went full time on working on Iterative, which is a YC-style accelerator focused on Southeast Asia.

Ricky Willianto 2:24
So tell us a little bit about Iterative and also the 30-40 deals that you mentioned, was it like, you know, inclusive of what it has done so far.

Hsu Ken Ooi 2:32
It is not inclusive of what Iterative is. That also that was so that was kind of like a separate part I can I can talk about how that kind of got started iterative, the accelerated part that we’re working on now, I think this was just our thesis that Southeast Asia I think was a really exciting place. And that we think founders here aren’t developed in the way that we would like them to be in the way that maybe we were used to in San Francisco in the US. And we think yc played a big part in how that how the founders developed in that ecosystem. And we just felt like there was a gap in the market for an accelerator that was like that, primarily an accelerator that was run by people with started companies before.

Ricky Willianto 3:07
What do you think like, are the key differences that you’ve observed so far? Between these, like between types of accelerators?

Hsu Ken Ooi 3:15
I mean, I haven’t gone to the other ones. So like, you know, I should just caveat that like, I don’t know, I think the biggest difference though, to me is that I think it’s not obvious if you haven’t been a founder, how emotionally kind of challenging it is to be a founder. You know, there’s a lot of doubt everybody has imposter syndrome. You constantly feel like you’re going over your head. You know, you’re you’re pitching people a dream that you don’t know you don’t believe half the time and I think that unless you have been one, it’s hard, it’s hard to be Emperor. It’s hard to empathise with a lot of those things. And if it’s hard to empathise with the people you’re trying to help, I think it’s quite challenging to actually help them. And so I think we come from like that standpoint, having kind of been in people’s shoes and then being able to empathise and no stops for us. And just like it is for you. It’s not an intellectual exercise, right. Like, I don’t read reports about startups, and then kind of like, you know, tell you kind of like how they work and stuff, right? You you like, live it, you breathe it. And so I think we come from that standpoint.

Ricky Willianto 4:09
Yeah. So tell us a little bit about your startup journey, then you’ve been a founder, you’ve been you’ve kind of worked in a bunch of different startups you’ve invested as well. So maybe like, you know, give us a little bit of a snapshot, you know, of, of your journey so far.

Hsu Ken Ooi 4:21
Sure. So when we first got started, there was four of us, and we were all the same. Right? Like, we were always gonna be involved at the same. Okay. Yeah, we had we had the same skill set. Yeah. I mean, we were all technical. And we thought he was the most important thing. And you could solve all things through engineering. Turns out that’s not true. And so we had to kind of learn how to specialise a bit between the four of us to be successful. So Brian, basically, Brian and I were the two worst engineers. And so they were like, Okay, you guys gotta go. You guys got to make some more useful. So Brian ended up becoming the CEO for all of our companies. So he got really good at fundraising and kind of networking and that kind of stuff. And then I went really deep into product and design. So for the subject, I basically started the companies with the same people. And so I think we just kept going down those paths. So I think, yeah, I spent a bunch of time kind of like, just learning about how design works and how to build product and growth. Maybe the best way to kind of summarise where we’re at now is, or at least when we were running companies was Brian was always out of the office, fundraising deals, that kind of stuff. And I was always in the office. In fact, it’s out of the country now, right? He’s living in Singapore, he’s I have to say, when are you doing in any store, you don’t doing a lot of LP fundraising for our, for our funded, I tend to run more of the batch programming. So it’s kind of similar ish roles again, so yeah, I was always kind of like in the products, looking at the metrics, trying to figure out how to grow that kind of stuff.

Ricky Willianto 5:42
So let’s talk a little bit about that personal growth there, because you did quite a bit of like a career pivot, if you will, right. You started as like someone who’s technical and then somehow someone or you decided that, you know, like, we need to figure out a different ways for you to contribute. So how, like, when do you feel like, you know, there was a need for you to change and pick up new skills.

Hsu Ken Ooi 6:02
Actually, it’s actually a funny story, we the firt, when we started working on our first product, somebody was like, Hey, I think we need a designer and I was a source product. We It was a career map. So again, remember, this is like 2008. And we were just fresh out of college. And the idea was, we knew where we wanted to be in like 10 years, right? We’re like, Oh, I want to like be a successful like, founder. And so being who we were, we were like, what do most successful founders Do you immediately after school? Like there’s some kind of like decision tree, right. And it’s like, if you do if you work this kind of job at this kind of company, like the chances of being becoming a successful finder go up by like, 20%. We were like, just breaking down the problem. And we thought, well, we can we can build this map or this tree, if we have everybody’s resumes, like resumes tend to be a rich repository of information. It’s where they worked, it’s how they did it, how long they were there. And so we wanted to do that we had a big cut the cut the 18 months into into, like, 30 seconds, it turns out that there’s a huge chicken and egg problem, like your product isn’t useful unless you get a lot of people’s resumes, but nobody wants to give you resumes because it’s not useful. And yeah, it took us apparently 18 months to figure that out, because we were up. And so we needed to design that. And honestly, they were like, okay, who’s going to be the designer? And after about five minutes of silence, I said, I downloaded Photoshop last night, and they said you’re the designer. So like, okay, literally, the most pivotal moment of your life, basically, basically, yeah, it was I just had to go download a Photoshop. And there we go.

Ricky Willianto 7:35
Okay. And like, what how, like, do you kind of like pivot Weave, that was it Weave that was the first product. So it was decide, decide.com, decide, okay, so how do you arrive at a point where like, Okay, this is an idea that makes sense. And this is an idea that can actually scale and grow and, you know, get an exit from,

Hsu Ken Ooi 7:50
we learned something really valuable. The general framework that we think about is I like, first things versus don’t write code. I think this is the whole programme, do things that don’t scale, right. But like the writing code is just the like, tool that allows you to scale into the beginning, you don’t have any scale. So like, you want to optimise for iteration speed. And if you do things manually, you just you can iterate faster. But I think, you know, we try to identify like an initial target segment that we think has a problem that we can solve. And I think that things that you want to you want to figure out a problem, and you want to be very focused on that. And I think sometimes people are a little bit too focused on solutions. And so we, we kind of go one of two ways. One, we pick a group of people, and then kind of try to figure out what problems they have and try to solve some of those problems. And then the other part is which we we look at a problem, we say, okay, who has this problem that we tackled that and then you know, I think this is the kind of normal stuff, right? We try to we, we try to do two things, we try to get qualitative information, which is like talking to as many people as we can, and we try to get quantitative information, which oftentimes is like, making some fake landing page or selling some thing we don’t have. And you know, there’s the whole fake door method, right? It’s like, you need to construct a door and see if people will walk through the door. And so we end up doing a bunch of that stuff, but you never quite know how big it’s going to be in the beginning. If I’m being honest. Right? Like, you don’t know. Okay?

Ricky Willianto 9:08
And like, at which point in time, you can, like, feel like that one idea is the one that’s worth pursuing. Because you’ve got like, you’ve gone through a lot of MVP prototypes, and you talk to a lot of people, I’m sure there’s a bunch of different things, whether it’s aligned, whether people are just saying contradictory things that you know, go through you guys as a team, like how do you decide this? This one thing that you want to build?

Hsu Ken Ooi 9:30
Yeah, you know, I think it’s, it’s really interesting. This is this is as much an art as it is a science, right? So you know, if for everybody out there if they think there’s just like, some algorithm that you run, and you find these things, maybe there’s nothing there’s no formula at the end of this conversation who’s again, there’s not so you know, if you want to if you want to turn this off right now, like there’s not right I mean, and I think it comes down to two things, though. One is is that how much do you believe in this problem or this space? And what is the information you’re getting telling you. And so sometimes we’ve worked on problems where the information, the data that we’re getting is not very promising, but we care a lot about it, right? We’re just like, it just you just feel like there’s something here. And then we’ve worked on some problems and stuff where we don’t believe in it that much. But the data just is like, tells us that there’s something here, right. And I think if you’re in the place where the data is telling you that this is not interesting, and you don’t think it’s interesting, then it’s like, you should actually quit, right? And so I think it’s always this like balance between these like two things. But the thing that we try to do is like, we try to get some amount of kind of like, growth, right? I think for us, that’s what it is. It’s like, okay, the best way to kind of check if people want this is like, can you get a lot of people to like, sign up for something, or, like, give you money for something or something like that. We used to run a lot of surveys. And I think surveys are quite popular with like, first time entrepreneurs, we don’t do that anymore. Really. Like they don’t they, in our experience, they don’t tend to be indicative of whether somebody is actually going to do the thing. It’s like, it’s kind of like asking somebody if they’re going to pay for something as and, and, you know, actually haven’t been paid for something, lots of people will say yes, then you ask him for their credit card, and they don’t give it to you. Right. And so yeah, but there’s lots of strategies around this.

Ricky Willianto 11:13
So how do you like do that? Like, you know, get that initial growth spurt with your idea? I guess it depends on what was that idea? What was the idea that stuck as well, maybe, like, give us a bit of a download of what it was?

Hsu Ken Ooi 11:23
Yeah, yeah. So the original idea was, I mean, it was a bad idea. It was a really bad idea. And I mean, it was Brian’s girlfriend at the time, who is now his wife, we he noticed that she kept going to the same, like Nordstroms, which is this retailer in the United States, it was she kept looking at this dress, like everyday, she would wake up and like, go online and look at this dress. So one day said, what do you what are you doing? Like, why do you check that every day? And she goes on waiting for the price to go down? And he was like, oh, okay, well, I mean, we can just like make you a thing that checks the price of that dress every day, and it will email you if the price goes down. Which is just a pressure reminder, right? Like, this is like a very easy thing to do. And that week, we didn’t have any ideas. Okay, that was the only one. So we were like, Okay, I guess this last week is this idea, right? I mean, I think none of us thought it was gonna be very interesting. But at least we had one user. And so we built it. But you know, as you probably know, like building a generalised scraper is quite hard, right? So we wanted to make it so you could put in any webpage, we would be able to, like tell you the prices. And that’s actually quite a hard technical problem. So we made a crappy version, which tried to do this, but it required us manually checking the price every four hours. So we set up this like, schedule, like every four hours, somebody would like wake up and like check the price. And we would manually send emails from like a no reply email address. And so it looked like it was automated, but it was 100%. Just like, so you have to build a reminder tool for your own team to build emotion for for this price reminder tool. Got it? Okay. It was I mean, totally manual, right? We didn’t, even the emails were not automatic. And, you know, basically, she tried it, we posted it, we always posted it on Facebook to see if like people would buy it, we were building a lot of consumer products at the time. And so you know, Facebook was fine for us. And some people tried it. But you know, it wasn’t that big of a deal. People weren’t that interested. And then what became ultimately interesting is that we thought there was a bug in the system. And the system would tell us the price of this dress had gone from $100 to $80. And when we woke up and checked, it would be like $85. And we were like, I mean, we just thought the system was wrong. And at some point, we couldn’t figure it out. So we just started saving the HTML, like the actual raw HTML, to verify. And it turns out the system wasn’t wrong. At the time that the system checked, it was $80. And then at the time we checked, it was $85. And we were like, Oh, we just never thought that price has changed so much. And so we’re like, just curious. And we’re like, okay, let’s just like scrape these pages a lot. Let’s like save all this stuff. And we started graphing, we started making charts. And at that point, that was just like, interesting to us. It was like nobody asked us to do this. And we just found really interesting trends around like different products, different retailers have different price that changes, the prices changed drastically. Some didn’t. And I think at one point, somebody was like, Hey, you know, what? Isn’t it weird that like, you could buy the same product for cheaper if you just know when to buy? Or like, yeah, that is kind of weird, right? Like, if you bought it on a Tuesday, you get a better price, and you bought it on Thursday. That’s just weird. And then somebody was like, can we predict the price? And we were like, I don’t know, I remember taking some like machine learning classes in college. Like, let’s try. And you know, I think when we started going down that path, we talked to a professor of ours who had done a similar company, but for airline price. airline prices there. So I think, yeah, fares. So the company was actually called fair cast and the guy that started it was a professor at our university. He had sold it to Microsoft for like 200 million or something.

It became being travel. And he just happened to like, be our professor. And so we like came up and we’re like, Hey, we were thinking about doing this. And he was like, Oh, that’s kind of interesting. Like, I actually know how to do that. And anyway, that’s that’s kind of how the how the whole thing kind of like started. And how do you like get the so that was kind of the very initial days, right. So what was like, you know, the stories after that, like, how do you accumulate users? How do you collect grow the business from their own? So that one, okay, that one was really traditional, because we like, we raised like, a couple million bucks with zero users, because this guy was involved in whatever. So okay, like, this is like the old school way of like doing startups. So like, that’s not how I recommend it. Maybe what’s inch more interesting is is that the second company, we did it the more organic way. So we’ve was a professional networking company. It was basically like Tinder for professional networking, right? So you like sign up with LinkedIn, we pull everyone to permission. If I swipe right on you, Ricky and you swipe right on me, we like an introduction, right? Wait, wait a minute, wait a minute that this site.com product has all along for the first two years or so has been called the site.com. So you’ve actually changed it. Okay. So he’s changed his name and everything as well along the way. Yeah. Okay. I mean, those first two years weren’t actually decided that calm we were building all kinds of random stuff, right? And then I’ll be like, hit on that idea. And the original name was actually price Yeti. And the reason why was we kept asking ourselves, is it the right price yet, and I really wanted,

I really wanted to have a mascot. And so I just added an idea.

Ricky Willianto 16:26
You came up, you came up with a way you came up with the Yeti idea.

Hsu Ken Ooi 16:29
I maybe I feel like it’s kind of lost that

Ricky Willianto 16:32
it’s okay to admit it.

Hsu Ken Ooi 16:34
But I found some very cute kind of like, caricature of a Yeti that I stole from somebody’s website. I apologise to whoever that is. That became our mascot. Got it. Got it. Yeah. Okay. Sorry. So we’ve Yeah, we’ve.

Yeah, so that one was like, gosh, I’ve like this huge. There’s like too many stories around this. Try to keep it brief. But it was basically Brian’s bachelor party, we made, we was a joke. We made like the first version of it in like, 24 hours, we posted it on Facebook, and drove home. And I remember thinking that it’s like, you know, swiping right and swiping left. And I was like, I was curious what the swipe the percentage of people who swipe right was going to be and I had this debate with Brian. And I think it was like, I was like, if it’s less than 10%, I think this product just doesn’t work. And he’s like, no, it’s definitely gonna be more than 10%. Because no, if it’s only like single digit percents, the chances that people actually matching, they’re going to be really low. And if that’s really low, nobody’s gonna use this thing. So we drove home and didn’t have access to internet because this was like, before the iPhone. And when we got home, I think like 200 people that signed up in the last in the first like, four hours, and it turns out that 50% of the swipes were like, yes, which was like, way higher than we thought it was going to be. And what we eventually found out was that we,

Unknown Speaker 17:55
we weren’t that smart, but we did a smart thing, and which was that it just was highly likely that if our mutual friends wanted to meet each other, and that’s what we were seeding it with, right. And so that engagement was really high. So that community looked really strong. And it kind of grew out from there. And you know, I think that first couple hours is like maybe like 201st, couple months was like several 1000, I think within like six or nine months was like 10,000, something like that. So it grew quickly. But we started doing some and maybe this is like, this is the stuff that this podcast is good for. We started doing a bunch of like, funny growth things in the beginning. So we started stacking the deck, I was the first person everybody saw when you signed up, and I swiped right on everybody. Okay. And I thought of that as user onboarding, right? It was like I, I was thinking that like, you know, activation is like, Okay, well, you know, what point are somebody that somebody’s going to understand how your product works, and you want to make sure that like, people have a match at least right? And I want them to have a match their first session, right? Like, I want it to be like, and so I was just like, Okay, well, how do I do this? Like, how do I shorten the time to you trying it to getting a match? And I said, Well, look, I can just, I literally we wrote code that was like shoo kindness first to can automatically says yes to everybody. Right? And so there was this kind of, like, magical moment where people would try this thing. They would like, meet with me. I mean, I killed myself, like meeting people. I think I met like eight people a day for like, two months or something like that. But the other thing we found was if they met me, and then Brian would help and then some other people would start meeting people. But if they met one of the people who worked on the product, the the chance of them talking to somebody else about it, or their friend was really high. It was like, Hey, I tried this weird thing and like I met the guy who started it and whatever and like, so the word of mouth referrals were like really high in the beginning because we were just like, bootstrapping it by like, going and like beating people. So I was like, an interesting like thing to do. We also put famous people on the front. Like, the actual accounts or Yeah, yeah, so it’s like, let’s face up a famous person. No, no, no, I was like, it was pretty funny.

Ricky Willianto 20:00
what do you mean is like Hsu Ken shows up

Hsu Ken Ooi 20:01
no i mean i mean then nobody really ever got to meet those people but like they thought it like gives legitimacy right you want to be on this thing that is like okay i mean if you take the dating analogy i’ll try not to be too crude but it’s like if you if you download tinder and like the and let’s say you’re you’re a guy heterosexual all that kind of stuff in the first like five women you see our likes are really attractive you’re like wow this app is like good so what we did is we put me first because i would automatic people and then we i mean we had just sold this company and so we had some friends who were like relatively well known and we like had some vc some of our investors like we set it to all of them were like hey sign up for this thing so we’re like sending it out to people and we didn’t care i mean we hopefully they would use it but like we didn’t care because if they signed up then they had a profile and we would stack the deck so that it looked like it was like all these like famous people that were on it right and i think this just built this idea of like oh my gosh there’s this like underground like professional networking thing and with like all these like really good people in it and it just to them it seems like they had a chance to meet them but the other person maybe just like didn’t swipe on them but like in reality it’s like they just didn’t like they weren’t on it yeah i think i feel like i got like marc andreessen to sign up once or something like that i just put him on the homepage i was like like homepage of like how this works like why did you say and i’m a big fan of marc andreessen as well so that was kind of like that’s pretty cool yeah marc andreessen is my startup hero he has he also follows me on twitter which is like the crowning achievement of my life subsequently so getting the startups i’ve built i don’t care at this moment and that’s all i care about now i got to cleanse this fan i got mark and jason following me and i brock obama and i just and i don’t tweet anymore because i’m just like i don’t want them to show up in their timeline i don’t want to show up in the timeline being like why do i follow this guy and then like follow me so i just don’t tweet anymore

Ricky Willianto 22:04
okay cool so so like let’s continue the story on Weave right so then what happened from there like you’ve got like all these people sign up you’ve got like stacked the deck so that all the famous people out front and himself as well and how do you get like you know more people engaged after that because there must be some sort of like a point where people like well like i’m not gonna match with like marc andreessen he’s not gonna meet me right like so what was kind of getting people hooked

Hsu Ken Ooi 22:26
yeah so i mean at some point you i can’t meet everybody right when we’re getting into like 10s of 1000s it’s just like doesn’t work so and this is something that we see often when you’re working on products there are tactics and stuff that you can employ that only work in like certain like certain like scale and don’t work in the other scales right and i think we’ve been very aggressive about like don’t worry about later scales like if it works now employ it now and get as much return as you can while you while you can and then figure out stuff for like the later stages so there’s a couple things that we did we found that it was growing quickly and started communities and we were living in seattle washington at a time and we were like well i mean what’s the most vibrant startup community in the united states san francisco yeah let’s move to san francisco so we literally moved to san francisco and launched it there and then ran the same playbook of like everybody meets me and then at some point you know we like raise some money and we were kind of getting to that stage and that metric just doesn’t work anymore and we did a couple things one was we made it invite only

so this was like a very pivotal thing i remember going to brian and i was like hey i think we should close it off and he was like what like he’s like your answer to your your answer to growth is to close it off and i was like i was like yeah hear me out right like if we close it off then we can like do all this other stuff so we can kind of make this exclusivity thing and like i actually think we’re going to grow faster well give you that idea that because it is very counterintuitive right i think this whole thing of like i was i mean we would i would meet with a lot of users and this whole idea that you could meet with like marc andreessen was really powerful right i mean even if like i mean nobody’s people that’s why people are so close now right so people aren’t clubhouse right and so i just remember thinking like

i just remember thinking about nightclubs right like if you think about how nightclubs work you know like how many times have i gotten that much anymore but i remember going to nightclubs and being like there’s a huge line outside you finally get into the nightclub and there’s like nobody inside yeah right and that’s totally deliberate right it’s like they want it to seem like there’s a lot of people and so they just like make this like show of it and so and you know they like they let some people cut so that you know it’s possible and so you want to be with the people can kind of like and it’s this whole like the mind game right it’s a mind game it’s a show right nightclubs are just shows right and like the private tables blah blah it’s all just a show and so i just was like there seems like we can harness some of this stuff if we like do it and i ran just i ran some experiments to kind of prove it out because like you know we were like a venture backed company and they weren’t just gonna like let me like turn it off like make an invite off of off of just a hunch right so okay so let me pause here as well i just want to understand quickly like what are you guys trying to optimise as well at this point because you guys had like a really good surge of users at the beginning people are swiping right now like what are you trying to like get people to do what you’re trying to prove yeah so i guess we think of the funnel as a couple things so there’s swipes and then there’s matches and then there’s messages right just like i mean just think tinder and we basically had at that point we probably had 100,000 users and maybe like 10 million swipes or something like that and but you know we’re like always trying to grow right we’re like trying to grow more and i was worried that the like user base was gonna dilute too quickly and this isn’t i mean you see this playing out with clubhouse right where it’s like you want to keep it real really selective initially to build that initial community before you like kind of hit this like other trajectory and so i was just very like cognizant of doing that but we were optimising for growth okay that was like

Ricky Willianto 26:11
the number of number of users you want to get more users to join

Hsu Ken Ooi 26:14
we wanted to get number of was a bounced between number of users and retention and retention was going to be what i thought of retention as a function of matches right so if you got met if you got more matches and you got matches with good people you are more likely to retain yep right if you don’t get any matches you’re not going to retain if you you know whatever and so i think it was those two parts i was like okay if we make this invite only we can probably use that as a growth mechanic and then to if we make an invite only in the community is high quality then they’re more likely to retain that was the thesis okay yeah and like how did that work out this whole like you know closing it up and making it exclusive i mean works really well really well so okay it was this thing that it was a thing that was interesting so once we made it exclusive i just started a bunch of tactics around making an exclusive so like since i made it exclusive i made it so friends could invite other friends and they were like jump the line and i made a queue and when you signed up i told you what what in line queue you were making remember this is like 2015 or 16 right so like no earlier than that and you know all this kind of like waitlist stuff like it wasn’t as prevalent as it is now and the thing that we did was it was two things that i think were unintuitive that worked well for us one was we found out i remember when we first turned it on and i made referrals and so i made a referral system and i best guess just made it was like okay cool if you get in then you can invite three of your friends and they automatically get it right and i think i was calculating the virality and it was like i think

Unknown Speaker 27:54
it was like something like one in every 20 users would sorry for every 20 new users we would get we would get one new user so like one out of the 20 users would invite a friend right and you know for people who haven’t looked into virality a lot the whole idea is that you get generation so if you get one in 20 and if you get like you know so for every 20 people you get you get one extra person and then you know for it goes to the next generation right so if you add all those one people and kind of go with that and so i started playing around with it that for about two months that was my number i was like cool we’re like one in 20 maybe was like one in 30 when it first started how low can i get this can i get a new user every like 10 users can i get the gold standard was what like one one every one right which is what like dropbox and like these other companies are doing right i mean if you basically get like two users for every one you get is just like amazing it’s just insane yeah i mean just like hold on to your hold on to your your chair right because it’s like it’s gonna grow like crazy but in our experience when we talk to users who have people who have been able to do it you can only really sustain it for short periods of time and then you have to figure out so anyway and that’s a separation issue i’m assuming the saturation issue yeah got it and so one of the so it was one in 20 i got it down to like one in 15 i got it down to like one and 12 and i i mean long story short i got it down to one in three so i got one new user for every three and so that made a big difference yeah that was a there was i’m gonna ask what was it there was there was it was a lot of like incremental things like just i changed copy i changed like the number of invites i changed it from them inviting to you put in their email and we’ll invite them and we’ll do a drip campaign and so it’s like a lot of incremental stuff of just like funnel optimization the thing that made a big difference which was so counterintuitive to me was i didn’t ask people to invite their friends until after their first match okay and the idea being ricky gets it ricky is like a responsible friend and does not want to invite his friends until he like tries the product out in case it sucks yeah i thought

Hsu Ken Ooi 30:12
turns out that everybody wanted to invite the moment they got in because they got excited that they got in and you wanted to get them to invite their friends in that moment of excitement yep and when we switched that on i think it was like i mean the number of referrals we got like tripled overnight or something like that because it was like in that and then the thing that was interesting is also shorten our referral cycles so if you got in and then waited until a match actually happened that could be like a couple days or a week right yep if you refer people the moment that you got in that would be like 30 minutes and then the your friend that got in also did it in 30 minutes and then their friend that got in also got in 30 minutes at night down the path we went in right so the number of referrals went up but it also the like time between referrals like decreased drastically right which is it i guess that makes sense because like once you’re in and like you’re hearing like your friend your one friend invited the three other friends they the other friends will probably be like hey i want to invite as well and i guess that starts to kind of have that domino effect really quickly right it’s the nightclub thing all over again right it’s like if i get into the nightclub i’m like oh man i’m in like i gotta get ricky in right and then like i get you in and then you’re like i gotta get somebody you know and it’s like apple thing all over again so that was one that made a big that made a big difference so it was a lot of grinding but that one seemed to make a big difference and i think maybe the takeaway for me there was like building products is so psychological especially social products like you sometimes have to think less logic i mean that is logic but you need to think that like less kind of like think more psychology more than kind of like i don’t know i guess like logic in some sense a big part of it is also inspiration right like i mean this these things don’t like you don’t just kind of like conjure it out of logic or even like you know based on the books you’ve read or understanding human behaviour like where do you get that you know like that spark those ideas and just watching people i think it’s it’s hard to pinpoint right i think there’s a couple in a look i might totally just be like assigning explanations to this that are like not true so you know for whatever we’ll edit it out okay cool i’ll check it off the disk

i mean i think i think it comes down to a bunch of things i’ve always kind of been in the belief that like you want to be really observant just like in kind of everyday life about people right and i feel like i spend a lot of time when i meet people i’m like hey why do you do this or like why did you make this decision or why did you choose this and like you’re trying to figure that out and then the other thing too is is that you know i just tend to read as much as i can but like not necessarily about tech just like broadly right and i think i take this approach where i’m like i’m just trying to fill my brain with as much of this kind of like raw material to use and then i don’t know the subconscious kind of like picks it up i think the other thing too is that brian and i are huge startup nerds okay like we like i mean i can tell you all kinds of like weird stories of our early days at paypal and early days here and like what this company did here and like all of that stuff when you know i think there’s a benefit of being san francisco and you hear these things but for the people who aren’t there like there’s a lot of great books that tell these stories right so founders that work by jeff is jessica livingston who’s one of the yc co founders she chronicles a bunch of those early stories pay pal wars is like a lot of the early day paypal story so there’s like a lot of great books that talk about some of these stories and so i think some of that is just like stealing other people’s mental models on how to kind of like think about these things so i don’t know some some i think mix up all these things okay i mean like

Ricky Willianto 33:45
cool so i think the other thing that i want to explore with you as well is like what are some of the things that either you’ve tried or you’ve seen that completely bomb in trying to collect 5x 10x you know

Hsu Ken Ooi 33:56
oh my god is this

Ricky Willianto 33:58
thing that you’ve seen yeah well the ones that is like you know totally dramatic

Hsu Ken Ooi 34:05
gosh that i don’t know

okay so here’s how i think about stuff for something to bomb i think you need to have put a lot of resources into it and then for it to kind of like totally bomb and i rarely put a lot of resources into something without trying it at some small ish scale first i think right okay and so i think you don’t have like huge a lot of stories of just stuff like bombing bombing i have a tonne of stories of things just like not working right like you like try some small thing it didn’t work you try something you didn’t work maybe let’s pick on those slight things that maybe like you’d thought would work really well right that intuitively logically should work but actually did not intuitively should have worked and did not work and there’s a lot of those stories as well there’s yeah there’s got to be so many right

Ricky Willianto 35:00
You think that this is how humans behave? But no, they they do the complete opposite, right?

Hsu Ken Ooi 35:04
This is not necessarily growth. But I think this is this, this told us a lot. So our first, and this was very core to our first company, it took us like years to kind of like figure this out. So our first company, which was the price prediction company, we which we did a bunch of fancy math, and but you know, normal consumers don’t want a bunch of fancy math. And so we tried to boil down or fancy mining what the machine learning the price predictions were like, We like build machine learning stuff, and like all these things, but like, nobody cares about your fancy math, right? And so we said, Hey, we want to boil this down into actionable insight. And so we said, okay, look, if you want to buy this television, you come to our website, we will tell you whether you should buy it now, which means that the price is not going to drop, or you should wait, which means that the price is going to drop. That’s it lots of fancy math, but we give you two, we give you one recommendation, which is one of these to buy or don’t buy by double. And when we when we thought about that, we’re like, Okay, that sounds great. That seems like a really useless simplification.

Unknown Speaker 36:04
How often do we make those predictions? Right? And we looked it up. And it was like, 90% of the time we told people to buy.

Unknown Speaker 36:14
And we were like, are we adding any value? Because you were going to buy it anyway. And then you came to a website, and we just told you to buy it, right? Like forced it for you. We just reinforced it and we didn’t save you any money.

Unknown Speaker 36:26
Right? So what you’re telling us, you’re telling me that we’re doing a bunch of work, and we only save people money 10% of the time, like, is this a terrible product? And so we were really nervous about that, right? And so we launched because, because frankly, like, we had no choice like that’s what the model said, right? Like, we don’t have any other choice here. So we launch. And we start digging into the analytics and talking to people. And we found out users had a better had a higher retention rate. And we’re happier what we said by now than wait. Okay, interesting. And again, we don’t save you any money. If you if you if

Ricky Willianto 37:09
they basically go to your website just to tell themselves that it’s okay to spend money.

Hsu Ken Ooi 37:13
That’s exactly what it was, right? It’s exactly what it is. And the psychology that we dug into was when people buy stuff, like money and buying stuff is so like human and kind of like psychological, right? It’s not the price they are as worried about it’s they don’t want to be a sucker. And they don’t want to feel like they like missed out on a good deal. Right? There’s nothing worse than buying it for $1,000. And then the next week you see it for 850. Right? And so they wanted this peace of mind like we are experts. Go ahead, you should buy this product. You’re good, right? Don’t feel guilty about it. And honestly, when we learned that, we changed the tagline for the company to no regrets. Okay? Because that’s what it was about, right? You was like, we want you to be able to buy stuff and have no regrets about this by this.

Ricky Willianto 38:02
It gives me like, there’s another parallel that comes to mind right away. I was a consultant, I was a management consultant. And in a lot of way, I feel like sometimes clients just hire management consultants, because they just want to feel good about their decisions, and they just want to have someone to blame if things don’t go well, right. And they’ll Oh, well, the experts told us that and well, if the expert is wrong, like we couldn’t have done anything better, right. So there is that, you know, like sense of security as well. Listen to other people,

Hsu Ken Ooi 38:27
which is so powerful, right? Yeah. And I think you know, I but it was one of those cases where I was like, the engineer math person in my head was like, it’s all about how much money we can save people that our company’s value and like to the world is going to be how much money we can save people. And it just turns out it wasn’t. It was a bad it was a bad proxy. Yeah. Cool. Cool.

Ricky Willianto 38:48
So we’re running out of time, but I want to really quickly talk about personal growth as well, right? Like, what are some of the things that you’ve done for yourself, that will multiply your ability to, you know, lead a company think more critically, be a better, better startup founder. In the past 14 years or so? We’ve been doing this.

Hsu Ken Ooi 39:06
There are stages, I think. So one of the things was, I think being the kind of initial product design person, I wanted to do everything myself. And I was, I mean, this is kind of a cliche, but like, at one point, we had like a 25 person company, and I think 17 of them were engineers, and I was the only product person I was the only design person, right? And I was just a big bottleneck for the company. And so it took some time to a learn how to kind of like, let go of some of that and have other people make decisions, and then how to kind of like delegate after that. And so that took some time, which is lots of books about people. So that one was one. I think more recently, one of the things that I’ve kind of been very kind of big into is building a personal infrastructure. And here’s kind of what I mean by that. And I was kind of inspired by kind of like athletes. So I grew up playing football or soccer in the US like quite competitively, right so you know, we would travel around the US. We’re sponsored by Nike, all this stuff. And so I remember here reading a story that LeBron James spends like a couple million bucks on his body every year. Right? And that totally makes sense. Like, that’s his job, right, LeBron James, that’s his asset. Right? And here’s my point.

Unknown Speaker 40:17
We, we, we have jobs, right? And we have to perform at these jobs. Right? And like, how do we and if we think about ourselves as kind of athletes in that sense, how do we kind of like take care of ourselves in such a way that we can like work at peak performance? And I think when I was a first time founder and going and like, kind of doing that, and I don’t know, maybe it was like, also being an immigrant kid kind of thing. It was just like, you don’t spend money on that. You just work harder. Right? Like, all all answers are you were? Yep. And I would just burn out, right? And I would just be like, Okay, cool. I’m burned out will myself through burnout, right. And it’s like, this isn’t going well, I just will myself through stuff. And I think as I’ve gotten older, I think the thing that I’ve been thinking a lot more about is like building like, if, if I took, I don’t have as much money as LeBron James. So you know, I don’t spend as much as the budget is, but if I take that idea and apply it to myself, what are the things that can help me? Right? Yeah. And so it goes from like, small things to like, I have like one person office right now, right. And I could actually have a separate room in my like place here in Singapore, but I need to get out of the house. Right? It’s normally I would have been like, I have an extra room, I should pay for another like office or whatever. Yeah. And I was like, Okay, cool. If this office makes me 10% more productive? Or really, am I saying that my time is not worth that? Right? And then, you know, I like hired an executive coach, I hired like, personal therapist, and like, I just kind of like went down this path of like, how do I get, like support so that I can kind of like, do the best stuff that I can kind of be. And so I think that’s something I’ve been kind of like, on recently, when trying to figure out,

Ricky Willianto 42:02
I really like that. So yesterday on clubhouse, I was looking at clubhouse, and we’re just talking about like, you know, growth and like mentorship and stuff like that, I think I had like this mentor that told me that you need to treat yourself as if your company. And I think that’s kind of one of the best pieces of advice. And I think there’s a lot of like, you know, parallel to what you’re saying, which is if you’re a company and you want to be productive, like what would you invest in yourself? What kind of environment would you put yourself in? What kind of market Do you want to market yourself to, to extract the best value of yourself and you know, be the best company like the company of me. That’s why I call it right, the company of me that you can possibly be. And I think what you said, resonates a lot with that as well.

Hsu Ken Ooi 42:39
I am also reminded of Jay Z lyric, which is Jay Z says I’m not a businessman. I’m a business, man. That’s it. Yeah, that’s it. Think about yourself that way. Yeah. Yeah. And you know, you can extend this to kind of like the people you work with too, right? It’s like, Okay, cool. I’m good at some things. And I’m not good at other things. How do I, how do I build some of that infrastructure and work with people who are good at those other things? And what things do I need to get better at and I can’t offload. And so I think just being more mindful of those things. I wish I had done that when I was, like, I think earlier on the journey, but yeah.

Ricky Willianto 43:12
Cool. So let’s wrap it up. So we do quickfire round, usually, before we enter this, this podcast, just very quick questions. So first is What is your favourite software that you’ve used to help you grow?

Hsu Ken Ooi 43:23
Like, grow, like, grow the startup now? Like, grow personally?

Ricky Willianto 43:26
Well, I mean, anything like the startup themselves? Yeah.

Hsu Ken Ooi 43:29
Okay. The, I mean, the main immediate things I kind of thought to mind is just like, I mean, there’s all the productivity tools, but I mean, it’s just analytics, right? I mean, the thing that I think people get, don’t and if you’re ever not, if you’re ever not sure what you should do next, and you’re ever sure you’re not, if you’re ever at the point where you’re not sure how to grow, my initial like, gut reaction is always like you don’t under it, you haven’t looked in your analytics hard enough. And for whatever reason, I think a lot of people here use Google Analytics and like, we never use that. So okay, we used a lot of mixpanel, and a lot of fullstory. And fullstory, lets you replay people, sessions and stuff. So to us, I was like, if I’d ever know what to do, and you spend a lot of time in analytics,

Ricky Willianto 44:08
you were about to collect suggests a software to help develop yourself, what would that be?

Hsu Ken Ooi 44:14
Yeah, I mean, I know I was going down that route. And I didn’t know if I had any good stuff. I mean, so there was a couple of things that I think,

Unknown Speaker 44:23
okay, there’s two things that I think are useful. One is, is that I started using torch a little bit ago, which this is like executive coaching platform, which kind of like puts you in touch with executive coaches. So I thought that was useful. The other thing that I’ve done recently, which is not really a technology, but have you ever read that the artists way?

Ricky Willianto 44:41
No, I haven’t.

Hsu Ken Ooi 44:43
Okay, so the art This is me reading stuff that is like has nothing to do with tech. So the artists way is this book that’s written by an author and her job used to be to help artists get unblocked. So writers who had writer’s block and pink painters who like couldn’t paint anymore and all this stuff, and she basically wrote a book to like about

Unknown Speaker 45:00
Other things she learned about helping people like unblock their creativity cuts. And so and I often think I think, you know, I think entrepreneurship is oftentimes, like quite creative. And most of that block is actually internal. It’s almost negative. It’s always not never external. The thing that I really liked from that book is that she has this notion of mourning pages, and mourning pages are her take is that every day you wake up, the first thing you do is you write three pages in a journal, about whatever comes to mind, you can’t stop writing, you just have to write three pages, three pages, Well, okay, just yeah. And the whole idea here is that and I think this applies to founders. When you’re a founder, you’re like, you’re worried about a million things you are like worried about new things, you’re trying to remember this. And you’re kind of anxious about this, and your hope about this. And there’s like, all this stuff in your head. Her point is, you just got to get all of that like out of your head. And by writing it down, there’s something that happens when your brain of just like, cool, I’m taking all of that stuff. Put it here, putting it somewhere safe. You don’t even necessarily have to read it again. It’s just like out of your head. Yeah. So you can move through the day, kind of like, with kind of like a free kind of like, empty, kind of like it. And so I think that and like kind of meditation stuff is like helped me quite a bit kind of just like stay balanced. You were totally asking for like software product tools, weren’t you?

Ricky Willianto 46:22
Well, I mean, like we I was going to ask you about resources as well can books and newsletters and stuff, but we can we can still go back to that again, if you have more. But that was helpful. Yeah, yeah. Okay, next thing? What is your favourite growth strategy? So I know, you mentioned analytics before, but let’s say we’ve talked about strategy, you know, like, what kind of growth strategy would you like, suggest people explore,

Hsu Ken Ooi 46:43
I get this is this is gonna be helpful, but maybe not helpful. The best go strategy, the best growth strategies are the ones that are special. They’re, like, unique to your industry in your business. So, you know, I think, like paid marketing, for example, is going to be a good growth strategy. But like, everybody can kind of do it. Right. And so I think the best ones are the ones that are just unique to what you do. Maybe let me give the growth strategy story that I like the most. Yeah. So in yc, there was this company that helps you fight parking tickets in San Francisco. Okay. Yep. So it’s a ridiculous premise.

Ricky Willianto 47:21
I’ve heard about this company. Are they were they were making the news?

Hsu Ken Ooi 47:23
Yeah, they are. Because Because it’s ridiculous, right? So if you got a parking ticket, you open their app, you take a picture of the parking ticket, they get a bunch of lawyers, and they basically litigate your parking ticket to hell. And you like get it out. I like using it. Yeah. So the founder, when he started out was like, how do I reach people who need who have parking tickets? That I mean, if you don’t have a parking ticket, you don’t use my product? So like, how do I find all the people who like get parking tickets?

Unknown Speaker 47:51
And he go, and then he goes, Oh, well, there’s these like,

Unknown Speaker 47:55
people like kind of like motorbikes that like just ride through the city and write tickets, right? Like, they literally are creating customers for me on a daily basis, right. They’re just like, customer, customer, customer, customer. So he got in his car. Every morning, he drove around San Francisco until he found a parking metre person. And he followed them the entire day. And every time they wrote and wrote a ticket, he would wait for them to go to the next person, he would staple his flyer to the parking ticket.

Unknown Speaker 48:25
And what I love about that, is that like, when do you really care about this product? All of a sudden, the moment you get a parking ticket? Exactly, yeah. And he has a solution for you, right? It’s like, Oh, my gosh, I got this parking ticket. Oh, there’s somebody that will fight it for me. Like, amazing, right? And, you know, look, that doesn’t work and like large scale, but I always just loved how creative it was. And like, how zoomed in they were about like, how to get their customers like at the point that the customers were like newly minted. I don’t know I’ve always thought like that’s

Ricky Willianto 48:56
that’s a cool idea. Yeah. And I love that business model as well. Well, I don’t know if they’re still around, but it was cool business model.

Hsu Ken Ooi 49:01
Yeah, they’re not around.

Ricky Willianto 49:05
Not surprised, but yeah. Cool. So the next thing is what’s your favourite go to resources for growth can be book newsletter website.

Hsu Ken Ooi 49:13
I think a couple of things. So I used to be a lot of like, I think Andrew Chen, who’s a friend of ours ended an investment in our fund. He I think he wrote a lot of good stuff around kind of morality like back in the day and stuff. So I think Andrew wrote a lot of good stuff if people more recently if people are in the substack crew. I don’t know how to say his last name Lenny Rachitsky Okay, if you guys if you’re like into product and you haven’t read his like substack like, go read a substack Subscribe to substack it’s like gold. So his is really good. We quite like Eli Gil’s book, high high growth handbook. Don’t read it from cover to cover. It’s more of I think like a reference. It’s like, okay, you have this problem, like read the section. So I think those three are like a pretty good.

Ricky Willianto 49:54
Okay, cool. And final question is, you’ve answered a lot of the questions I’ve lined up, but who are some of your growth role models in Asia preferably. But if not, you know, anyone really is

Hsu Ken Ooi 50:06
in Asia. This is the problem, right? Like, there aren’t people in Asia who have kind of like, are like, celebrated in the way that the value ones are celebrated, right? Like, I mean,

Ricky Willianto 50:21
every time I ask this question, the person I asked this to say the same thing. Yeah, yeah, we don’t talk about ourselves enough. There’s not enough people, you know, highlighting what they’ve achieved, or the chief around them. Yeah. That’s why I’m asking this question.

Hsu Ken Ooi 50:38
I don’t I don’t, I don’t have an answer. Right. Like, I don’t have an answer here. I mean, I’m just thinking about the people who have been really successful here, like the grab, and go Jacks of the world and that kind of stuff. Right. But like, specifically growth? I don’t know. So do you have one for Southeast Asia?

Ricky Willianto 50:55
Honestly, I’m hoping someone can tell me the answer to these things. I’ll give you some time to think about it. And maybe like you’ll encounter some potential role models in Asia that we can add to the show notes later on. But otherwise, I think thanks so much for joining me on today’s episode. And I think one more question is, what is the best way for people to reach you?

Hsu Ken Ooi 51:14
And where I mean, I think our website intuitive VC is great. You can you can find a lot of information there. I’m on Twitter at hsukenooi, and so people can reach out there.

Ricky Willianto 51:26
Well, thanks so much, Hsu Ken, again for joining us today. Yeah, really lovely to have you and I’m sure I’ll see you around.

Hsu Ken Ooi 51:32
Yeah, for sure. Thanks for having me.

Ricky Willianto 51:35
Thank you so much for listening to this podcast. Check out other episodes to hear more growth stories and hacks from experts who have been there and that you can find our show on iTunes, Spotify, or via our website www.theravenry.com/growthmultiplier. See you next time.


About Growth Multiplier

The pursuit of growth is never-ending for any business – from a small startup all the way to a large global corporation. The Growth Multiplier podcast examines pathways, strategies, and hacks companies have explored and tested in their efforts to scale up their businesses. 

In each episode, host Ricky Willianto – co-founder of Ravenry – speaks with CEO’s, growth hackers, product managers, and marketers all around Asia to find nuggets of wisdom and insights from their journey multiplying growth. 

Ricky and his guests discuss viral marketing, community building, pricing strategies, channel development, and also company culture and people. Growth Multiplier explores not only replicable successes, but also phenomenal failures that we all can learn from.

Growth Multiplier is produced by the team behind Ravenry.

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