3 steps to determine the key activation event

Most people by now have heard of the “Product key activation event”. More generally, Facebook’s 7 friends in the first 10 days, Twitter’s 30 followers… get lots of mentions in the Product and Growth communities. Theses examples have helped cement the idea of statistically determining goals for the onboarding of new users. A few weeks ago, somebody from the Reforge network asked how to actually define this goal and I felt compelled to dive deeper into the matter.

I love this topic and while there’s already been some solid answers on Quora by the likes of Uber’s Andrew Chen, AppCues’ Ty Magnin and while I have already written about how this overarching concept a couple weeks ago (here) I wanted to address a few additional/tactical details.

Below are the three steps to identify your product’s “key activation event”.

Step 1: Map your events against the Activation/Engagement/Delight framework

This is done by plotting the impact on conversion of performing and not performing an event in the first 30 days. This is the core of the content we addressed in our previous post.

To simplify, I will call “conversion” the ultimate event you are trying to optimize for. Agreeing on this metric in the first place can be a challenge of itself…

Step 2: Find the “optimal” number of occurrences for each event

For each event, you’ll want to understand what is the required occurrence threshold (aka how many occurrences maximize my chances of success without hitting diminishing returns). This is NOT done with a typical logistic regression even though many people try and believe so. I’ll share a concrete example to show why.

Let’s look at the typical impact on conversion of performing an event Y times (or not) within the first X days:

There are 2 learnings we can extract from this analysis:
– the more the event is performed, the more likely to convert the users are (Eureka right?!)
– the higher the threshold of number of occurrences to perform, the closer the conversion rate of people who didn’t reach it is to the average conversion rate (this is the important part)

We therefore need a better way to correlate occurrences and conversion. This is where the Phi coefficient comes into play to shine!

Below is a quick set of Venn diagrams to illustrate what the Phi coefficient represents:

Using the Phi coefficient, we can find the number of occurrences that maximizes the difference in outcome thus maximizing the correlation strength:

Step 3: Find the event for which “optimal” number of occurrences has the highest correlation strength

Now that we have our ideal number of occurrences within a time frame for each event, we can rank events by their highest correlation strength. This will give us for each time frame considered, the “key activation event”.

Closing Notes:

Because Data Science and Machine Learning are so sexy today, everyone wants to run regression modeling. Regression analyses are simple, interesting and fun. However they lead to suboptimal results as they maximize for likelihood of the outcome rather than correlation strength.

Unfortunately, this is not necessarily a native capability with most analytics solutions but you can easily dump all of your data in redshift and run an analysis to mimic this approach. Alternatively, you can create funnels in Amplitude and feed the data into a spreadsheet to run the required cross-funnel calculations. Finally you can always reach out to us.

Don’t be dogmatic! The results of these analyses are guidelines and it is more important to pick one metric to move otherwise you might spiral down into an analysis-paralysis state.

Analysis << Action
Remember, an analysis only exists to drive action. Ensure that the events you push through the analysis are actionable (don’t run this with “email opened”-type of events). You should always spend at least 10x more time on setting up the execution part of this “key activation event” than on the analysis itself. As a reminder, here are a couple “campaigns” you can derive from your analysis:

  • Create a behavioral onboarding drip (case study)
  • Close more delighted users by promoting your premium features
  • Close more delighted users by sending them winback campaigns after their trial (50% of SaaS conversions happen after the end of the trial)
  • Adapt your sales messaging to properly align with the user’s stage in the lifecycle and truly be helpful

– MadKudu Grader (2015)
– MadKudu “Happy Path” Analysis Demo Sample

The “Lean Startup” is killing growth experiments

Over the past few years, I’ve seen the “Lean Startup” grow to biblical proportions in Silicon Valley. It has introduced a lot of clever concepts that challenged the old way of doing business. Even Enterprises such as GE, Intuit and Samsung are adopting the “minimum viable product” and “pivoting” methodologies to operate like high-growth startups. However just like any dogma, the “lean startup” when followed with blind faith leads to a form of obscurantism that can wreck havoc.

Understanding “activation energy”

A few weeks ago, I was discussing implementing a growth experiment with Guillaume Cabane, Segment’s VP of Growth. He wanted to be able to pro-actively start a chat with Segment’s website visitors. We were discussing what the MVP for the scope of the experiment should be.

I like to think of growth experiments as chemical reactions, in particular when it comes to the activation energy. The activation energy is commonly used to describe the minimum energy required to start a chemical reaction.

The height of the “potential barrier”, is the minimum amount to get the reaction to its next stable state.

In Growth, the MVP should always be defined to ensure the reactants can hit their next state. This requires some planning which at this stage sounds like the exact opposite of the Lean Startup’s preaching: “ship it, fix it”.

The ol’ and the new way of doing

Before Eric Ries’s best seller, the decades-old formula was to write a business plan, pitch it to investors/stakeholders, allocate resources, build a product, and try as hard as humanly possible to have it work. His new methodology prioritized experimentation over elaborate planning, customer exposure/feedback over intuition, and iterations over traditional “big design up front” development. The benefits of the framework are obvious:
– products are not built in a vacuum but rather exposed to customer feedback early in the development cycle
– time to shipping is low and the business model canvas provides a quick way to summarize hypotheses to be tested

However the fallacy that runs rampant nowadays is that under the pretense of swiftly shipping MVPs, we reduce the scope of experiments to the point where they can no longer reach the “potential barrier”. Experiments fail and growth teams get slowly stripped of resources (this will be the subject for another post).

Segment’s pro-active chat experiment

Guillaume is blessed with working alongside partners who are willing to be the resources ensuring his growth experiments can surpass their potential barrier.

The setup for the pro-active chat is a perfect example of the amount of planning and thinking required before jumping into implementation. At the highest level, the idea was to:
1- enrich the visitor’s IP with firmographic data through Clearbit
2- score the visitor with MadKudu
3- based on the score decide if a pro-active sales chat should be prompted

Seems pretty straightforward, right? As the adage goes “the devil is in the details” and below are a few aspects of the setup that were required to ensure the experiment could be a success:

  • Identify existing customers: the user experience would be terrible is Sales was pro-actively engaging with customers on the website as if they were leads
  • Identify active opportunities: similarly, companies that are actively in touch with Sales should not be candidates for the chat
  • Personalize the chat and make the message relevant enough that responding is truly appealing. This requires some dynamic elements to be passed to the chat

Because of my scientific background I like being convinced rather than persuaded of the value of each piece of the stack. In that spirit, Guillaume and I decided to run a test for a day of shutting down the MadKudu scoring. During that time, any visitor that Clearbit could find information for would be contacted through Drift’s chat.

The result was an utter disaster. The Sales team ran away from the chat as quickly as possible. And for a good cause. About 90% of Segment’s traffic is not qualified for Sales, which means the team was submerged with unqualified chat messages…

This was particularly satisfying since it proved both assumptions that:
1- our scoring was a core component of the activation energy and that an MVP couldn’t fly without it
2- shipping too early – without all the components – would have killed the experiment

This experiment is now one of the top sources of qualified sales opportunities for Segment.

So what’s the alternative?

Moderation is the answer! Leverage the frameworks from the “Lean Startup” model with parsimony. Focus on predicting the activation energy required for your customers to get value from the experiment. Define your MVP based on that activation energy.

Going further, you can work on identifying “catalysts” that reduce the potential barrier for your experiment.

If you have any growth experiment you are thinking of running, please let us know. We’d love to help and share ideas!

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