Ken Rudin - How to accelerate growth?
May 8, 2024

Ken Rudin - How to accelerate growth?

Below sharing a very pertinent interview by <code> growth community leader Ken Rudin who was interviewed by Lenny Rachitsky

Everyone gets excited about launching new features, but in my experience, most of a company’s growth comes from the less glamorous stuff: incremental and consistent optimization of the core product. Of course, you need to add new features and business lines over time, but there’s a lot of hate for micro-optimization product work, and I’m here to tell you that this work is important—maybe the most important.

Every major tech company, including Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Airbnb, LinkedIn, Uber, TikTok, and—as we’ve seen in recent newsletter issues—Duolingo, has long prioritized optimizing every square inch of their product. But surprisingly, I’ve never seen a great framework for how to think about this work. Until now.

Below, guest author Ken Rudin shares his home-grown ARIA framework. Ken’s background is bonkers: He was the first SVP of Products and Engineering at Salesforce, led the Growth and Analytics team at Zynga, was one of the earliest senior execs on the legendary growth team at Facebook, and went on to lead growth at Google (including leading growth for Google search, ads, cloud, and even their behavioral science work). Most recently, at ThoughtSpot (an AI-enabled analytics vendor) he helped transition their growth motion from a traditional sales-led B2B SaaS model to product-led growth. For more from Ken, make sure to follow him on LinkedIn.

Ask most product teams how they plan to drive more growth, and you’ll frequently hear the same answer: we need more features. More features will make the product more useful, which will lead to more engagement and retention, which will lead to more revenue. Or so the thinking goes.

But in my experience, you can drive significantly more growth by focusing on getting users to engage more with your existing key features and user flows. I realized just how effective it can be to focus on improving the engagement of existing key features when I joined Google in 2015 to lead their growth team. At that time, the average Google Search user in the U.S. did only 12 searches per month (which shocked me—I probably do 12 searches before getting out of bed every morning! 🤓). We wanted to encourage users to search more, because more searches = more opportunities to show ads = more revenue.

Our analysis showed that searches whose results changed frequently (e.g. sports scores, weather, or movie times) were the stickiest searches—users who did those searches would repeat them often. But only about 15% of users were aware of these types of searches. So rather than building new features, we focused on building ways to raise awareness and engagement with the searches we already had. We used several approaches (discussed in the sections below), which together nearly doubled the number of users who did these types of searches—and translated into millions of dollars of incremental ad revenue. 💰

Of course, you need new features to address changing user needs and compete in the market, but most product teams significantly over-index on building new features. Thus, my goal for this post is to provide a framework for (1) identifying key features to double down on and (2) increasing engagement with those features, which will drive overall product growth.

Why increasing engagement with existing key features is more impactful than launching new features

The most important features for a product are usually the ones that were built first. Once you get past a certain level of functionality, a lot of the new functionality on the roadmap often targets just a subset of users (e.g. power users) or supports use cases that are adjacent to the core use cases. So it’s a safer bet that you’ll drive more business impact by increasing engagement with a feature that has already been launched than one that’s still on the roadmap because it wasn’t critical enough to be prioritized.

Another reason to focus on existing features is that you probably have not squeezed the most utility for users, and therefore engagement, out of them yet. When you first release a feature, you’ll usually find that about 80% of the feature’s design works well but the other 20% doesn’t. Some users may get stuck on a step that they find confusing or takes significant effort, and don’t complete the flow, which means they actually get 0% of the feature’s value. For others, it means they use the feature less than they otherwise would, and therefore get less value. By focusing on improving that last 20%, you unlock the full 100% of the value for users.

I’ve applied the approach of focusing on increasing engagement with existing key features many, many times—with several Google products (including Search, YouTube, Google Cloud, and Google Ads), at ThoughtSpot (an analytics vendor I worked at, whose product allows you to analyze data using natural language and AI), and with several other venture-backed companies that I have the honor to advise. I can confidently say that product teams frequently, or even usually, drive more growth by optimizing engagement with existing key features than by launching new ones. And in an economic environment where engineering budgets and projects are being cut, getting more impact from work that’s already been done is even more critical.

If increasing engagement with existing key features frequently has more impact than adding new features, the next question is: How do we increase engagement in a structured, repeatable way?

To deep dive and learn more about the ARIA framework please click here for the complete interview with Ken on Lenny's SubStack Newsletter.