Matt Widdoes
Welcome to Growth at Scale. I’m your host, Matt Widdoes. This is a podcast for leaders who want to bring sustainable, predictable, scalable growth to their businesses. Every episode, I sit down with world-class growth experts across product, marketing, finance, operations, you name it. The hope is that these conversations will give you real, actionable advice for building and sustaining company growth. Our guest today is Dan Held, the founder of Zeroblock. Dan is a Bitcoin educator and the market advisor at Trust Machines. Dan brings his marketing and crypto expertise to our discussion about long -term growth marketing, the importance of understanding your customers’ journeys, and owning your spot on the App Store. Enjoy! Welcome to the Maven podcast. I’m Matt Widows, CEO of Maven .com and your host. And today we’ve got Dan Held with us, who’s got a very interesting background across many things, largely in crypto and ASO. And welcome to the show, Dan. Could you tell us who are you? What do you do?

Dan Held
Yeah, so Matt, thanks for having me. Really appreciate you bringing me on. So my background, you know, there’s a couple of different ways to think about it. One, if we talk about just my background in tech, which is the last 10 years of my career, I started in crypto back in 2012, built some of the most popular early mobile products there. One was called ZeroBlock, which got bought by blockchain .com. ZeroBlock was the number one app in the app store, because I figured out app store optimization. So that led to my career in growth marketing, which that was kind of the origin story. So crypto was the main industry or like, you know, sector of tech I worked in. I also had a stint at Uber in 2016 through 2017, where I worked on Rider growth led by Andrew Chen, one of his direct reports. Andrew wrote the Cold Start problem, he’s a well -known growth guy in the Bay Area. So Rider growth and growth marketing at Uber, and then came back to crypto at Kraken. Kraken was a 12 billion, and Kraken’s valuation fluctuates, of course. It’s like any crypto or tech company, but at peak of the crypto bull run, it was worth $12 billion. It’s still a very profitable, very successful company, worth to think about $4 billion right now. So a multi -billion dollar company, I built out their marketing org. So it took their marketing team from two to 30, and then longer term, the org grew from 30 to 100, and I had growth marketing. So background is my breers in growth marketing, and then of course, I’ve got a loud voice in Bitcoin, talking about how much I like Bitcoin, and why I think it solves some of the problems that we have with money in the financial system. So that’s kind of like a career or a job in and of itself. The kind of, it’s weird to say the word, but influencer, the influencer path intersects with my career a bit, and also compliments it quite a bit with some other skillsets, and just other sort of value that I bring, for example, like creating content that is not tied to any single company, is just tied to promoting Bitcoin. So yeah, that’s me, growth marketer and Bitcoin advocate.

Matt Widdoes
Yeah, I was gonna say, you were early in the Bitcoin stuff, and I remember personally, when I found out that you were the founder of ZeroBlock, I was like, I have ZeroBlock, I have it on my phone, look. Which I didn’t know the, it makes total sense, but I didn’t know how much ASO had played a role into that, but it makes absolute sense as you headed into Uber. And yeah, you’ve exited two companies, which is impressive in and of itself. You know, I’m curious, at Uber, when you were doing ASO, how many employees were they roughly when you joined?

Dan Held
I think there was around like two to 4 ,000. Something around that.

Matt Widdoes
Got it, so it was already kind of moving along, and had they been doing stuff in ASO meaningfully, or just agency stuff, or how’d they approach that before you got?

Dan Held
Yeah, so, you know, Uber did a lot of things in-house. The individual who advocated for the role was Tom Burke. Tom Burke was the first hire on the growth marketing team, and so Tom Burke kind of quickly realized, hey, I’m deploying all this spend, and the spend is sending folks to the app store, and we haven’t even thought about these screenshots on the app store page.

Matt Widdoes
Got it.

Dan Held
So Tom, I want to give a hat tip to Tom. Tom, by the way, is director of growth marketing over at OpenSea now. So he’s in the crypto world. So I saw him about six months ago in New York at a conference, so it’s good to catch up with him. But so, you know, with ASO, so Tom identified that, and Uber was very, very forward thinking on everything being data -driven and experimental. So whenever A/B tests were run, it was running a really clinical standpoint. The rigor they had behind running experiments and their thought process behind data was phenomenal. So, you know, obviously auditing that user journey from an ad all the way through to the activation moment, the first trip moment in the product, they found this weak point around ASO and brought me on board. So before I came on board, nothing had been done, literally zero, and I had ASO for Rider, Driver, and Uber Eats for every localization in the world. So that’s a pretty tall order when you consider that Uber’s the top 10 app in the app store.

Matt Widdoes
Well, and the size of the company. I mean, it’s crazy to think, and hats off to them for thinking about the funnel, kind of holistically. We see that a lot, you know, my background in user acquisition, we get called in a lot to do user acquisition. And the truth is, is that so much of your CAC and LTV can actually be improved pretty much everywhere else, but paid, and paid has a certain place for sure in a certain order, but it’s kind of dead last. And I think so many people want to start with it, and it’s really like the teeth whitening when everything else is healthy. We’re gonna fill cavities first, and cavities are like ASO, lifecycle, creative, you know, product and stuff.

Dan Held
It’s crazy to see it. I see it all the time in crypto. They want to press the easy button of let’s just go throw a spend at the problem. And I’m like, do you even know your LTV? Like, and you know, they haven’t really thought about that. And then also, you know, on the content marketing side, like just building a content marketing engine where you’ve got organic, social, email, you know, like lifecycle, you know, SEO, just very like tried and true strategies. Those work, those work, and you have to think about where your users, their journey, like where their journey starts from to end up at your product. And so I think like when you look at the crypto space, most journeys begin on social or search because it’s either like a social, like Twitter-esque sort of conversation, or it’s on search because these concepts are really technical and complicated. So you just really need to audit like where your users, you know, where your audience and potential customers live, what their journeys will look like when they go discover products like yours and figure out how to put content in front of them. That’s relevant contextual. And that’s where with paid, you know, on the paid side, you gotta have a really sophisticated attribution engine and everything else really tightened up to where I feel like a lot of companies just kind of go about it haphazardly and they don’t realize that they’re jumping into waters that are infested with really, really competitive bidding strategies and competitive analytics and everything else. And so I think a lot of capital is misallocated on paid acquisition.

Matt Widdoes
100%. And I think, you know, a great product will carry it so far. And then when you look at it and you say, you’re not doing anything in these other areas. One, it’s kind of amazing that you’ve had the success in spite of that. But that for me is always an exciting period when people are, you know, it’s a missed opportunity, but it’s also like something that can be captured. And I think things like ASO, things like SEO, these kind of longer tail that don’t give you that immediate like shot in the arm and that pay off long -term, they pay off short -term too, but like the benefits of that are so long lasting, but because they’re not as glamorous or as instantly visible, people sometimes ignore those. Lifecycle is another great example, you know, I remember you had given us a talk, I want to say maybe it was in, I can’t remember the conference, but it was a very large conference and you were doing essentially a case study on how you guys went about that early days at Uber. And it really served as this kind of this like shining example of what ASO looks like, what great ASO looks like at scale in a highly competitive market. I’m curious, could you talk through kind of some of the fundamental bits of that? Obviously there’s a lot that went into that, so we’re not going to be able to distill that, you know, entirely, but what are kind of some of the key beats? And for founders or early stage people who have under -invested or not invested at all in ASO, what are kind of some of those considerations? So maybe I guess it’s two part, what are some of the considerations and what were some of the things that you found successful?

Dan Held
Yeah, so I call it full stack ASO. Most people think of App Store Optimization, ASO is just search discoverability optimization. So basically like App Store SEO. That is just, I would say like a big component, but not, I wouldn’t even say 50% of what ASO represents.

Matt Widdoes
Like 20% maybe or something.

Dan Held
Yeah, maybe 25%. It’s big and it matters. So when it comes to search optimization, so search discoverability, basically you’re trying to elevate your app in the SERP, the search engine results page of a query. So someone types in Bitcoin and you try to rank highly for that. You know, I think there’s even, the way that we approached ASO at Uber was the most analytical data driven at scale App Store Optimization team ever created. I’m sort of patting myself on the back here, but I work closely with Sensor Tower and AppAnnie. And some of the features that you see in those products are due to my product feedback. Some of the features you see in the Google Play Store and Apple App Store are also because of my feedback. Because we met once a month with the Google Play and Apple App Store teams. So I have gone all the way to the metal on analytics and all of the ASO vendor tools, the app stores themselves, and ran over 120 experiments. So it’s, you know, there’s not a lot of companies that approach it at our scale. Also I had a three person team underneath me, where I first initially did ASO for an IC function and then moved up to a manager and had three direct reports. So search discoverability is what most people think of ASO as. Most people approach it really poorly. So first and foremost, you need to go and rank the keywords that you try to, you know, you try to go, you need to build a list and this keyword you try to rank for. Yeah, it’s got to be first and foremost, it’s got to be both relevant and the difficulty needs to be low. I don’t give a shit if you rank number 55 for the word Bitcoin because no one’s scrolling that far, right? Yeah. And I’ve seen this data too in the Google Play Analytics dashboard because you can look at installs from keywords. So we saw this at Uber and we also saw this at Kraken as well, where we can look at our installs from ranking number two for the keyword crypto, which is really cool. The Apple App Store doesn’t provide that information with the Google Play Store does. We can assume it’s an ASO, this is like an exponentially declining curve of click -through rate, right, just like we see in SEO, where the first result gets most the clicks and the second gets… Top three, yeah. Yeah. And in App Stores, you know, you really only, you know, once you get the search ad and then you’ve got the organic result, you really only see one organic result. And most queries in the App Store are branded, I think like 65% are branded. So most people are searching for Uber or Lyft. They’re not searching for like Taxi App. Most people have very high intent to go install a branded, like they’re performing a branded query to go install a product they already made up their mind to go install. So when it comes to search, your competition is really on a non -brand and competitor branded, where you’re hoping that you’re considered as an alternative. And of course, search ads comes into play here a lot. Back in the 2016 era, 2017 is when they rolled out search ads. Do they really shitty? However, the money you paid on search ads actually influenced organic rankings, which was absolutely insane. And I think a breach of ethical, I think any ethical…

Matt Widdoes
Misalignment of incentive there, yeah.

Dan Held
Absolutely. Also, I think search ads were pretty poorly configured overall. But because, like, for example, bidding on your own branded terms, even though you’re the most relevant result and it’s your own branded keyword, you still have to pay and bid the same as everyone else. Versus like paid search on Google due to the strength of your own domain, you don’t have to bid as high. So to defend your own branded serve costs a lot less. Anyways, so non -brands, like for Bitcoin, Taxi, etc., are those the ones you can try to rank for? It is extremely lucrative if you rank number one. Basically, it’s the title, subtitle. The description doesn’t matter. They keep every single year people go back to the description and claim it matters, it doesn’t matter. It’s always the title, subtitle, and the keyword string on the keyword string, which is in the Apple App Store developer tool. And then on the Google Play Store, it’s the title. So supposedly there are other considerations where people think they mine reviews and stuff like that. I haven’t seen that really play out. So that’s search discoverability. Then you’ve got conversion rate optimization. This is probably the most overlooked part of ASO that most people don’t consider and has the biggest lever for immediate impact, as in next week. This is where we ran most of our experiments was doing conversion rate optimization. What does that mean? That means changing out both your title, icon, screenshots to improve your product page view to an install rate. And so, you know, when you look at the different types of browsing behavior in the App Store, you’ve got high intent branded queries. And so you just need to reinforce that they found the right page. So it’s like, oh, if the product is Kraken, it’s like, great, I see the Kraken brand in the icon. I see the name Kraken. I see Kraken in the screenshot and there’s a Bitcoin thing and it says crypto. OK, I found the right app. So basically reinforcing that. And we actually found that a statistically significant improvement in conversion in a Google Play Store experiment that we ran for Uber, where instead of having imagery that conveyed what the product did, like having a car and people in the background, we instead replaced it with a giant fucking Uber logo. And that actually improved conversion by like one and a half percent. Can you imagine what that is at scale, though?

Matt Widdoes
Yeah, that’s the whole point. Yeah.

Dan Held
But we’re talking about every single, you know, to use Uber, you have to download the app and we got one point five percent more people to download the app. I mean, this is like the amount of incrementality here is massive because Uber is a top 10 app. I mean, you’re talking we’re getting hundreds of thousands of installs a day.

Matt Widdoes
Right. And the millions of lifetime revenue and all these other things that add up, which is funny because you think about, you know, you talk about those the experiments that you can run to get those types of bombs when you think about the volume of people that are going to the app store organically to do something anyways, compared against the volume that you can drive with, say, $100 ,000 a month and paid for a small company, right? Companies like Uber may be spending 20 million a month or something like that. But for these smaller guys, the leverage is so much higher there. And so it’s just it’s always wild to see that somebody say, well, 10K one for this seems like a lot. It’s not at all.

Dan Held
Yeah. And it depends on your, you know, your amount of installs that you’re getting as well, because like Uber was tapped in at the app store so we could reach that six statistical significance in two weeks. Yeah. Under under a week sometimes depends on the localization because you’re going to want to run localized creative for different localized versions of your app store page. Now, the conversion rate optimization, it says the most immediate. So if there’s a takeaway from this podcast and you’re watching this, try out some new screenshots. You know, it’s pretty easy to do. It has immediate lift. The Apple app store now even has A/B testing you can do in there, which is awesome. You didn’t have that for the entirety of the app store until a year ago, which is nuts. Google plays got it as well. Both are great. They both have like a nice stat six sort of confidence interval tool where you can be confident that your result is statistically significant. Try one of those tomorrow. That’s probably your easiest lift to do it in the screenshots. I know the icon is coveted brand territory. They’re not going to let you touch that. Same with the title. You don’t really want to mess with that too much, but try the screenshots. That would be my number one piece of advice now. You know, going down the rabbit hole, though, like I went all the way to the metal to where I don’t think anyone else has ever asked the questions that I asked. And what I saw was was pretty bizarre. I’m like very certain no one has ever asked these questions ever.

Matt Widdoes
So what are these questions?

Dan Held
When is an app? So the previously the previous nomenclature for a first time unique user install on the Apple app store is called an app unit. Basically the first time the app has been installed based on that Apple ID. When do you think that event is fired?

Matt Widdoes
Well, you would think it was probably fired on on actually installed on like the proper.

Dan Held
Yeah, the app is installed. Yeah, right. The app that metric app unit install is only fired when the user taps the button get, but it is not when the app is fully installed on the device. Right. And then we asked them, what is the app install abandonment rate? Like how many people attempted install than abandon it? Because the file size is larger or smaller, right? They never they don’t have that data. They’ve never even ever never even thought about it. So we’ve got the entire world’s economy running on mobile and no one’s even looked at what an app install abandonment rate is for apps where, you know, maybe developers might shrink their app by five megabytes if they knew that that would improve their conversion rate 3%. Absolutely bananas to realize that the other one was localization. Localization is still fundamentally broken in the app and play store. So the way that you should configure an app and play store from a first principle’s thinking is you have a country language hierarchy where the app store page that has rendered for you when you session in the app store should be based on both your country and then your language settings on your phone. That would be intuitive because most products are offered not based on a language basis, but based on a geography basis. Yeah. Right. So that would be highly intuitive. Neither of them do this. And so app store pages are localized by language, not by country. And when you look at the localized pages, you’ll see, for example, they’ll be like Portuguese Brazil where you have like English UK English UK is actually a fantastic one to use. We’ve, we ran an experiment and found this by accident and then reached out to the Google Play and Apple App Store team to tell them about this error. And they both were like, this is five years ago. So in the Google Play Store, you can run a video and the video experiment can be run when you copy paste a YouTube link because that’s what the, that’s the video that they pull into the product page to show as a video for promo for the app. Now, when you run a YouTube, you know, when you get that YouTube link, YouTube has fantastic analytics, analytics that the Apple and Apple App Store and the Google Play Store do not provide you. So it’s really cool, right? Um, and I never like developed like a YouTube, like, you know, publisher account before this when I was working at Uber in 2017. So we ran this experiment where we ran, it was for Uber Eats and we were running. I asked the Uber Eats team for the number one ordered items per region. And I thought, I hypothesized that if we put the imagery of that item in the feature graphic at the Google Play Store, that that would improve conversion. And these are like really delicious looking photos of burgers. Like we went through over 50 images of burgers because burgers are the number one ordered item in every country in the world. Too bizarre. So we had like juicy burgers, cheesy burgers, all sorts of crazy shit with burgers, right? Burgers is a milkshake. I mean, we literally tried everything. We squeezed out like 3% incrementality, which is insane.

Matt Widdoes
Again, at scale these are massive numbers.

Dan Held
Right. Now I was running in, but there was only one localization where it under performed and I was blown away. So, you know, with the Google, with this experiment, we ran a video. It was a, you know, it was a little short video clip of Uber Eats and had burgers in it. And then we also tried burger imagery and both of those in English UK did poorly. And we were like, well, what’s going on? I parsed through the Google Play or through the YouTube. And I’m like, what the fuck? English UK, the geo, it wasn’t even 20% of people from the English UK. Geo only like 5% of English UK folks were from the UK. It was India, Pakistan and former colonies were users to selected English UK’s, their device, localization setting. So my, you know, and by the way, the Apple apps from Google Play store do not say that at all. They tell you that it’s based on language, but they’re like, it’s called English UK. So for every developer in the world, they’re crafting creative with the idea that this is going to be rendered for UK citizens. Because burger and so the number one region, the geographer, the number one geo that was being served this content was India. And cows are sacred. So obviously it was offensive. And yeah, you know, the sort of level of how we call it gross negligence. Yeah. You know, it was just astounding. Like I couldn’t believe it. And they’re like, yeah, that’s just just how it is. And yep. So I’m like, wait, how am I supposed to craft creative for my different product pages for the localizations if I don’t even know who’s going to be seeing this? And so the entire world runs off of this premise where we create creative for these different stores and we’re not exactly sure who sees it. Now we ran the video experiments in other regions and it’s not as bad as English UK, like English US is predominantly US people. But the English UK one was particularly problematic due to the former colonies.

Matt Widdoes
Well, and to your point earlier, you know, for anybody that you I mean, even now, but it’s much better now, but for anybody that was part of that early, you know, the app store ads and the and the platform by which you would purchase those. I remember sitting in a meeting, I was at Zynga at the time, but I was sitting in a meeting with Apple product people that had come in and wanted to kind of pick my brain on what I thought about the buying experience of ads on Apple search. And I was like, well, it’s awful. I was like, you know, I mean, it’s fine, but like it’s it’s awful. And they’re like, well, OK, that’s we’ve gotten that feedback. And what would you recommend we do? Like, how could we make it better? And again, not being a jerk, I was just like, honestly, just do what Facebook and Google did. Like you would think that while you were building this, somebody would have, and I’m sure they did, but you would look at that and say, hey, you know, maybe we should do it like that. I think what they did instead is they took more of a Apple product mindset and said, let’s make it as simple as possible with as few buttons as possible, with as few features as possible, not features necessarily, but but to your point, it’s like having even moderately. It was almost like comparing it in and out menu to a cheesecake factory or something. It’s like, well, I have all the options and I have like basically zero options. So that’s a huge learning and it sounds like still applies today, which can have massive implications. And you’re really what you’re saying is that if you’re optimizing for UK English, you’re actually optimizing for India.

Dan Held
Yeah, you’re optimizing for India, Pakistan and a bunch of other countries.

Matt Widdoes
Yeah, yep. Makes sense.

Dan Held
You know, I think, by the way, the people I’ve worked with at the Apple App Store and Google Play Store are fantastic. I know that they have a gigantic bureaucracy where, you know, the Apple App Store, people don’t know this, but that was forked from like the iTunes client. They forked it and that’s that was the early version. The App Store is basically old iTunes architecture. So like that’s why the title, if you remember for ASO, your title, your app could be 255 characters because it was like some remnant legacy metadata field that they just like kind of forked into an app, an app store. So the app store came out, I think was that 2008 or nine? Forget. Yeah. And then, you know, I started doing ASO in early 2013. So yeah, it is pretty wild to see it like that. But yeah, anyways, the people are working over there. And that’s, you know, we talked about search, discoverability, conversion, rate optimization. This is the last component. There’s other one, one of the small component, but this is business development. So this is more of like App Store relations at Uber. We had it tranched based on different functions. So there was actually different stakeholders at Uber who own different parts of our relationship with the Apple App Store and Google Play Store team. So mine was marketing and we had an individual on Eng. You know, if we need to get a build out, because you remember the old review cycles back in the day on the Apple App Store and then business development. So there’s another individual who handled that. On the marketing front, we were the ones who worked on getting featured. Now, getting featured is this sort of holy grail that a lot of app devs look for. And then folks listening in an hour probably leaning forward going, you know, how do I get featured in the app store?

Matt Widdoes
Not as all it’s cracked up to be, but yeah.

Dan Held
Yeah. We, I mean, we looked at that. We crunched the data for Uber where we looked at, you know, was there a court? Like when we got featured, did that lead to a, because you can’t run an A/B test with it. So it’s more of like a pre -post analysis. We didn’t see much incrementality. Now, we hypothesized though that the Uber brand was already so well known that getting featured didn’t mean too much because everyone had already heard the name Uber before. But for a young startup, it is meaningful, but you have to be contextually relevant as well. So they need to feature you in a section to where, you know, your product is relevant in front of that audience who might be browsing. Now, not a lot of folks browse the app store, even though we saw tons of impressions from getting, getting featured, Uber at any given time is featured in 240 countries. You know, I mean, think about it yourself. Like, do you browse the app store? I’m not, I don’t really browse and I’m pretty technical and I used to run app store optimization. So, you know, I think browsing isn’t super common, but you know what the relationships that you develop there, first and foremost, they’re on the eng side. That’s like pretty critical if you ever have like back in the day when they took two weeks to review the app for a company like Uber, that could mean tens of billions in revenue if we missed a deadline. So getting out of that app store review cycle where we could like get a review done more quickly on the marketing fronts, getting featured. It’s also some, you know, there’s a really cool thing that we not, not cool, but one of the most interesting problems I’ve ever worked on that myself, and I forget the individuals now because it’s been almost six years, we flagged it and it caused like a kind of like a red alert issue at Uber where back in 2016, if the app size was over 100 megabytes, you had to download it only over Wi-Fi. Yeah. So you could imagine the impact on conversion if someone hears about the Uber app and can only install it over Wi -Fi.

Matt Widdoes
Especially in countries that don’t have, you know, right, great coverage on that. Yeah.

Dan Held
So due to the compiler issue with the binary, so basically due to a Swift compiler issue, it was causing app bloat. And so we started to monitor how the bloat was trending and we’re like, you know, in three or four months, we’re going to hit the 100 megabyte limit. And, you know, this is a both an Apple issue because there’s Swift, like the Swift compiler had issues, but then also we didn’t went into red alert mode where we, and this was super interesting. We thought about it a couple of different ways. One was, let’s go line by line in the code and cut code. And like, can we install the app? And then when they’re signing up or signing in, then download the rest of it. Yeah. So all, so there was that on the eng front. On my side, I quantified the impact on conversion. So what I did is I asked the Dev team to intentionally bloat the product over 100 megabytes for one week. And then we would look at conversion rates. And it was just a massive devastation of conversion. So we had data where we’re like, look, this cannot happen. This is what happened. We actually ran the experiment. And so because some people were questioning like, Hey, do we really need to like, you know, this is causing millions of dollars of like time lost by going and like taking teams and cutting out code and compressing images and compressing things and making things smaller. And so we did all that. And the problem was we’re still creeping, you know, the app is still creeping in one direction. And so about eight months later, before we hit that limit, Apple finally raised the limit of the 100 megabyte over the air limit. And I think what had happened in Apple never, we told them what the issue was, we told them over and over again, and they just were kind of like cool, great. I think they never confirmed this with us. I think what had happened is that all of the telcos had gone to Apple and they’re like, Hey, you know, your device that you have has so much the decisions you make in your settings can impact how congested our airwaves are. So can you set in like limits on app store download size? And I’m wondering if that was like an agreement with like telcos or wireless providers where they had like, yeah, and then I think they had renegotiated because they saw all these apps trending towards 100 megabytes and just raised that or removed it completely. I forget if there’s a limit now, that was a really interesting problem to work on. I mean, the TLDR with anything growth related is if you just remove friction and clarify value props, that’s like half the battle. Yeah, it’s just like you’ve got a lot of unnecessary copy and creative that just gets in the way of a user’s journey to go perform an action. And it’s about just like being ruthlessly diligent and disciplined on pushing back against stakeholders who might otherwise, you know, put a banner in front of someone or another button and set ruthless efficiency, a principled efficiency of like making sure that users continue their journey to do whatever they’re doing. So in the last part of ASO, so we had search discoverability, conversion optimization, app store relations. Oh, yeah, by the way, to get featured, basically, you have to have a compelling product for an audience that Apple would perceive as being worthwhile to put up there. You need to be done like a month in advance, you have to develop a relationship with an app store, you get assigned someone from the app store, and they’re based on different categories, and you have to develop a relationship with them for over like six months.

Matt Widdoes
Another bit there too is if you’re leveraging some, if you’re when you need a relationship to begin with to even get this type of information, but if you’re leveraging anything that’s new in the device, like say an accelerometer, and they want to showcase, you can leverage whatever you’re doing to showcase a feature that they’ve added to the hardware, that’s also a nice add.

Dan Held
Totally. If you’re doing something new and innovative, taking advantage of like a new, you know, a new OS kind of improvement or new hardware, then they’re definitely going to think about it more. So that’s the third big component of ASO, and the final one is how we consider kind of like technicals. That would be an example of like the 100 megabyte over the air limit, like working with stakeholders as the individual who understands conversion rates in the app store to successfully advocate for, I would say, extremely drastic product changes. This could also be like interpreting app store terms of service, where, you know, an app might be like, Hey, should we do this? And it’s like, well, let’s look at the terms of service. And it’s like, it’s a gray area. Okay, cool. Well, on that gray area, you know, if you could defend it, you know, if you are discovered, this is what will happen or probabilistically will happen. Are you okay with that? And sort of be sort of like a game theory, check and balance, where you’re like, okay, you’re going to add this function cost, yeah, cost benefit of that, you know, are you getting close to the grey, sort of close to the edge here. So that’s like the fourth, that’s like full stack ASO would be those four sections. Most people think of ASO. Please, you were saying most people think of ASO. It’s just search discoverability, but it’s really this bigger function of your, and I wanted to own this function in its entirety of you’re the advocate for this app in the app store and everything about that user experience of discovering the app, deciding to install it, and then making sure that the app is shown being, you know, shown in the correct way and also being, you know, being pushed out in production, and, you know, in a timely manner, where like, there’s a tight handoff between eng and ASO to where those two teams need to work in matter

Matt Widdoes
I think that the advocate to the subject matter expert of how, what limitations you have and what levers you have on the ASO side to come back in both directions. And what you mentioned in perfect example where it’s like first load time is way too heavy. And that’s we anticipate that that’s having a big, that’s a big disadvantage for us on conversion, because people are getting frustrated, they try and open it, they wait five seconds, they close it, our competitors are loading in two, we’re loading in 10. And perfect example again of something that growth lever that exists outside of paid that has massive implications across the organics, but of course that has implications across the paid.

Dan Held
So we’re app bot, for example, app bot, when we released the new version of the Uber app, I’m not sure if you remember this in 2017, it was like new shiny, really slick looking new app for Uber, it was a complete redesign, complete rebuild from the metal. And when it launched, I was in the war room with all the top senior product folks Travis at Baker head of growth. And so I was there to monitor app store metrics, right? So it’s basically like a command, like a NASA sort of command center, they’re running their monitors out, all monitoring, you know, crash rates, app store stuff. And what I did, and it was really cool to do this. And I get to give a hat tip to Altul, Altul, I forget his last name now, he’s a group PM, but he was really, really one of the like, I would say the best PMs I’ve ever met, type to roll the sleeves and get in the trenches with the foot soldiers. And so him and I jammed, he’s like, okay, here’s what we should do because the app store reviews hit semi, semi live. So I could one is we pull the reviews raw. And then we also looked at a sentiment algorithm that app bot had. So we’d identify bugs that were popping up, like on launch day. 

Dan Held
And these know PMS are very highly paid. They don’t normally do work like this. This is like Ops work. But to ensure quality control, Atul and all of his PMS and myself. We all rolled up the sleeves and went through every single review on opening day and tagged and categorized them if there was a bug. So I think that sort of level of leadership is really, really cool to see where even himself, he did more than anyone else, just to make sure that for asking for folks to do a pretty menial assignment, and for folks who don’t normally do something like that, he wanted to show that he would do it himself.

Matt Widdoes
How do you make sure that people aren’t reviewing the same one? Because it’s just this kind of like

Dan Held
We export it. It’s also timestamped. So after a certain time yeah, we. All have the same Google spreadsheet.

Speaker 1
We just would tag it’s like, Dan’s rows one through 300 sort of thing.

Matt Widdoes
Control find for bug.

Dan Held
Well, no, we went through every single one. We didn’t do control out. We went through every single one, line by line.

Matt Widdoes
Yeah, makes sense. Yeah, because you’re probably also getting some good feedback in there too, where you’re kind of doing very manual sentiment analysis and trying to understand bugs. So let’s shift into crypto. So you’ve spent a lot of time in crypto. I remember maybe two years ago, I had reached out to check in, see how things are going, and I saw that you had 600,000 something followers on Twitter. And I was like, Holy shit, Dan has 600,000 followers on Twitter? Because I just know you from tech. And I’m like, well, it didn’t surprise me, but I’m like, wow, okay. That’s like a whole thing. So you’ve been a huge proponent of Bitcoin for a long time. The most recent stuff from FTX and the fallout that’s come from there, funny enough, I traveled to the Bahamas and met with the CEO and COO of FTX to talk about potentially taking over their paid you know, there were signals there that were like, okay, something’s a little off here.

Dan Held
Yeah, what they’re seeing so far is pretty damning for a lot of them. Personal loans of $500 million, buying homes, huge breaches of corporate individuals for a crossover. They didn’t have an accurate up to date statement of how much cash they had. Massive negligence, fraud. They literally stole money and traded with it, basically.

Matt Widdoes
And when I was there, I met about a dozen people, many from the senior team, as I mentioned. And it was like my distinct feeling that there’s been articles that have said as much since, but that I’m like. It feels like a bunch of people who never worked anywhere else, who are now running this massive company. And just based on the questions and based on the things that they were interested, we were talking about some things, and the things that they found interesting about what I was talking about were the wrong things to find interesting. And from my perspective, I’m like, that’s not interesting. I was like, this whole other part is more important. And I was actually asked, maybe I shouldn’t say by who, but I was asked by a C-level person if there were any online training courses that they could take to learn all about user acquisition. And I’m like, well no, and what would you even do with it? So you talked about the kind of contagion element of this and of course crypto already had there’s many NFT projects and things that were out last year that is basically riddled with scams, right? By and large. But there’s so many very legitimate and great teams that have really cool products that can make meaningful impact on the world in a positive way. And so it just kind of creates this dynamic where they’re digging out of a hole before they’ve even began. And in some ways all of the stuff at FTX actually signals the need for crypto.

Dan Held
Yeah, it’s unfortunate to know a lot of regulators conflate the two. No, that’s a centralized exchange. That is fraud. That doesn’t really mean it. It’s like just because one stock is fraudulent doesn’t mean the stock market is broken. It’s kind of like an easy way to think about it. There are some really interesting things that as marketers, we all talk for the different companies. And there was something really interesting that we saw that I don’t think at the time we kind of brushed it aside. So have you ever seen the IQ? It’s a meme, got the classic IQ bell curve and it has dumb smart and smart smart and it’s the same smart. And then you call it Midwit IQ is middle IQ. And so we had looked at their stadium deals, like every marketing team was looking at their stadium deals. And we’re like, is there some sort of brilliance behind this? And we’re like and none of us could figure it out. We’re all like, we don’t see how this makes any sense financially. But then we’re like, shit, we all must be midwits we all must be middle IQ. Yeah, we’re like, we’re either missing something or they’re just dumb IQ and it’s just working out for them anyways, right?

Matt Widdoes
My assumption about some of these things that saw were that Sam is just funding it. It’s just Sam has a ton of money and he’s just like pumping it in and doesn’t care and he’s able know, promote, control the coins that are going in and all these other things, and he has some tangential benefit and so it’s actually worth the investment for him to have that type of control. But in actuality it was just customer funds.

Dan Held
From my understanding, based on someone I know internally, there was no due diligence done on any of these stadium deals. Sam said I wanted it and that’s how it happened.

Matt Widdoes
How it know nothing really got done without him in the room. Slack seemed to be like this insane thing where at any given time he could reach out and ask a question and you were expected to answer it and that everyone was just kind of bowing to him as this genius. And most of the people there had just drank too much of the Kool Aid. And then there were a few adults around that were like, I don’t know. And I think the adults that fit that bill that I knew there left well before they half three months ago or something like that. But there’s definitely something you could tell that. I came back to our team and said because I guess it’s fine to say that we were looking at taking over their paid acquisition and creative. And I told my team, I think, in an email, because everyone was very excited about the idea of this being a client. Obviously back then it was a good thing and big. And I told our team via email that I can think of two reASOns to do it and like 25 reasons not to do it, many of which were just that just kind of like completely seemingly lost.

Dan Held
What did you see there? I mean, how many marketing team members did they have?

Matt Widdoes
That’s the thing. They didn’t have a ton of marketers and actually the senior people that they did have were good, but the decisions were all made by they were hamstrung. Nobody could make a decision. Everything had to go up to. Essentially to Sam is what it seemed like. This is all my own perspective, and this is what I was saying, is I’m like, they essentially said from their perspective, that one or two people could manage $250,000,000 a year in digital in spend. And I’m like, that’s not true. And they’re like, well, it’s not all that difficult. And this and this and this, I’m like, that’s not true. And so my feedback was like, all right, well, best of luck. I can’t deliver like that, and so go do it again. You know something, I don’t know, maybe I’m a Midwit and I don’t know, go nuts, but I’m not doing it like that because I have to carry the ball with that. And then somebody says, Why didn’t it work out? I’m like, Well, I only had two people. And it’s like, well, at some point you have to have a backbone and say, that’s not how this is going to work. At least with us, for sure. So when we think about you’ve had a lot of experience from the beginning in crypto, now that people are starting to talk about it as Web3 more broadly, any nuances that you’ve seen from go to market or marketing in Web3 generally, any things that you touch on there?

Dan Held
Yeah, I would say it’s probably one of the most challenging industries to ever build a product and marketing strategy in, because your product and marketing that product are entirely determined based on market cycles that are out of your control. So you could call that seasonality, but the problem is, normally seasonality is predictable. Like Uber would have it on New Year’s Eve. Everyone knows Ubers are expensive because everyone’s been drinking and they want to get home. Well, we can predict that and plan on that. Uber didn’t have a fluctuation of demand by ten X overnight just because the wind shifted one way or the other. With crypto, that’s what happens. Dogecoin becomes popular or shiba or bitcoin surges, and so these bull bear markets, and then the really intense volatility totally changes user behavior. We saw that. And based on my conversations with others in the space, that conversion increases during high volatility, price going up moments, which is entirely intuitive. I don’t think that’s. I don’t think that’s sharing too much. It’s entirely intuitive that people get FOMO and when the price goes up, they get FOMO. And what they want to do is they want to complete the action of signing up for an exchange and buying the asset, which is the AHA moment in the product. They want to do that as fast as possible. So when they buy, that’s the activation moment in the product. And so it’s very intuitive that when volatility is high and price is going up, that there is a higher incentive and a higher desire to complete that action to go trade for the first time. So I think that was really interesting observation and very intuitive though. And I think that’s pretty like you probably could have guessed that. When we look at how do you scale a marketing and how do you think about marketing and product with these cycles, you just have to be super nimble. You come up with h two. H one. OKRs. KPIs and strategy. And you just have to have a playbook that resonates with the market. If it’s a bear market, you probably should cut all paid to zero. Just focus on classic organic content marketing stuff, organic social, SEO, et cetera. Yeah, large portion of Kraken sign ups are from SEO. So focus on brass tax. Like the basics during the bull run, depending on the LTV of your customers and your sophistication with paid really juicing that could help with fundraising rounds which could help capture market share. These are more strategic things that I think are like conversations that need to be had at a very high level, obviously CEO level of marketing team coming together with the finance folks on the kind of like the financial strategy folks strategy team and coming together and going, hey, we hypothesize. We can go take a market share if we launch this campaign, this campaign. This campaign which would increase our burn by this much. And that’s ultimately kind of like a CEO level conversation. And in a bull run, that’s when you have enough capital and you can get a little more risky with the bets that you make. With that being said, I think there’s some other things that are really interesting which are around like messaging. Messaging changes a lot. In the Bull versus Bear, we started to label all of our experiments with a note on the Implied and realized volatility when the experiment was run. That’s interesting. Maybe long in the future. What they do is they take seasonal volatility and look at experiment results. Like FOMO messaging. Like, Bitcoin is up 30% over the last month. Want to buy it? Now, that messaging, I’m assuming, doesn’t resonate in a bear because, one, it’s not going up, and two, just people’s intent has dropped a lot. So maybe more educational, like, what is Bitcoin? Or something like that. So I think it’d be really interesting over time, over like a four year time period of a full bull market cycle, after collecting those experiments to go look at the seasonality and performance of each experiment. That was the only way we thought about normalizing the results, was just, they’re seasonal.

Matt Widdoes
And you could probably create an internal tool to overlay the timestamp of the experiment with just the price of Bitcoin. Right? And be like, totally. This is where we were in the cycle. This is where in other news events and major things totally. Because we’ll for sure look back. I can say with absolute certainty we will for sure look back at this point in the price chart and be like, oh yeah, that was the FTX thing. That was right there. So when thinking about kind of the different stages of company’s lifecycle, and you mentioned for early stage founders listening, if you do nothing else, go change the kind of first screens, some of the screenshots in the app store for somebody that’s kind of been doing that, and maybe they even have an agency doing it or something. I don’t know. But they’ve been kind of playing around. I’ve heard different things. People say you change your keywords, like every day, once a week, I don’t know, super high frequency and following that. And the bigger guys, they have enough money, they’ll figure it out, and they don’t have to be perfectly efficient. But for somebody in that kind of middle ground, maybe they’ve got recently raised ten to 20 million, they’ve seen some product market fit, they’re starting to kind of get moving. What advice would you give somebody in that seat? Either a leader or head of marketing or CEO? As it relates.

Dan Held
Yeah. So they’ve raised, like, 20 million, sure.

Matt Widdoes
they feel safe again. Yeah, they’re lots of mobile and they’re saying, we’ve been kind of, like, putting along on ASO, doing kind of the bare minimum. But what is like a bigger investment? They say, we’re going to go to our first hire and we’re trying to, by the end of the next two years, have a three person team like you had at Uber. What might that look like in the early days?

Dan Held
Yeah, I think you only need need one person for ASO. I mean, Uber was a top ten app in the world. It was global. We’re truly a global product, though. South America, Asia, Africa, Middle East. I mean, we are literally on every continent other than Antarctica. So I think that an ASO team for three distinctly different products. And due to how global it was, that’s very critical to have. Most companies probably just need one ASO professional finding an ASO. So if you’re going to hire someone so most teams that have raised 20 million probably just have a jack or jill of all trades marketer. They can pretty kind of quickly, easily read up on some of the ASO basics. So just do the brass tax, like get your keywords in a good spot, do some keyword research, and just make sure the screenshots are compelling, clear, easy to see. Of course, always, always look at how the screenshots are rendered in the App Store. Do not let your intellectually lazy designer go. Create them and put them on a Thunderbolt display, which they constantly do. I find it incredibly dishonest as a designer, as a professional, to render a design on an completely inappropriate medium where it will not be displayed on a giant Thunderbolt display. It’ll be displayed on a small smartphone screen. And they didn’t even look to see what parts of the screenshot would be visible when opening up the product page. So always, always make them render it as being seen in the App Store, and make them render it if you’re in person, make them show it to you on their phone. So just create high quality screenshots that are compelling, and to make those, just look at your competitor ones. Make sure the value prop is clear. It’s not rocket science. So I think that for anyone listening to this, that’s like a good starting point. And so that’s like a great starting point. If you’re going to hire an ASO professional, like a specialist, it’s really tricky to find one. For some reason, App Store optimization is not a more widely hired for role. It’s absolutely mind boggling that it is not a standard role that is hired at companies. They’ll go spend $100 million and paid and they’re like, wait a second, we’ve never A/B tested screenshots, right? It’s mind boggling. It’s just mind boggling. But it is a weird bureaucratic, I would say blind spot that most companies don’t see.

Matt Widdoes
I think it’s just misunderstood and therefore undervalued.

Dan Held
It’s not misunderstood. All you have to do is just apply basic product and data thinking. Every product person always challenges their assumptions and looks at a user experience and solves product problems to create customer delight. And when auditing user journeys through the product, how could you possibly miss the App Store?

Matt Widdoes
Yeah, and like you said, it’s not inherently difficult and it yields to effort, but you have to put in the effort. And it’s like so many people I don’t know, I think I kind of put it in the same category. A lot of companies put organic social in the same bit, and they assign that to a junior, an intern or something like that, or they say even Lifecycle. They’re like, all right, well, I don’t know, I’ll send a CEO newsletter. But they’re not thinking holistically about the drip and the segmentation and about all of the things that we might do and the testing and the AB. They’re just like, yeah, whatever. Check the box. And it’s like you didn’t even check.

Dan Held
But at least they even consider it. Of course we would have that role. Of course we’re going to send emails with this. It’s like ASO don’t know. Should we do that?

Matt Widdoes
It’s not even a question. It’s kind of like in 2004, I remember at Homestead, we did kind of like what Wix has like a drag and drop software for building your own website. And I remember speaking to so many. Business owners that were like, I don’t know if I need a website. It’s like, what are you talking about? You don’t need a website? It’s 2004. 2005. You for sure are like, you definitely need a website. And this is going to be your first website of like eight. Right? Anyways. But I think ASO, for some reason is still there. And with a lot of the changes that we’ve seen in IDFA and some of the tracking and the ability of Paid to be as informed as it once does, this has only gotten more important.

Dan Held
Totally. If you’re going to hire an ASO professional, it’s going to be tricky to find one who’s good. Your best bet, too, is taking your Jack or Jill of all trades, teaching them on it, or hiring someone who has a passion for it. If they’re a conversion rate optimization specialist, they will actually be very good for the ASO, and they can learn the basic SEO stuff in about a week.

Matt Widdoes
Go from doing it on a website to doing in product to just doing it there. It’s the same thing, different site.

Dan Held
They’re a good stop gap and they can learn it and step into the role, or the conversion optimization person can own both CRO Plus ASO.

Matt Widdoes
And those are back to back in the funnel anyways, right?

Dan Held
Yeah, totally.

Matt Widdoes
Okay, awesome. Dan, thank you so much for the extra time today. Thank you for joining us. I think we could spend an entire other podcast on crypto alone and really appreciate the insights today and look forward to the next time.

Dan Held
Appreciate you having me. And I had a blast chatting about ASO. It’s not very often that they talk about it, so it’s a bit of a walk down memory lane. So thanks for having me.

Matt Widdoes
Cool, yeah, happy to do it. Look forward to next time. Thank you, Dan. What a great talk with Dan Held, the King of App Store optimization. See you next time. 

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