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AO: What is one unconventional growth strategy that you have run that has worked surprisingly well?
Carlos Gonzalez: I became the top product management writer on Quora.
AO: Mic drop. Wow, how did you do that? You gotta break it down.
Carlos Gonzalez: Absolutely. It’s a lot of hustle, first of all. It wasn’t easy. So it was the summer of 2014. I had this idea of starting a school to teach product management, and I’m fully bootstrapped. So, I couldn’t take the VC route. I was trying to do something different than everyone else. I think at that time everyone was trying to set up a medium blog, Twitter account or whatever, but that’s too generic. I decided to focus on one channel and try to be the best at it. So in that case it was Quora. And this is because there was a lot of content around marketing startups, VC, and not so much about product.
So, even though it would look like niche content, it was also not for me. Because my focus at that time was to run a class with 10 students. So, I literally focused on getting those first 10 students. And my strategy was to literally spend two to three hours per day answering questions related to product management, such as how do I get a job in product? Why do engineers make good product managers? Hey, I’m a designer, can I become a product manager? And try to give high quality answers. So, instead of just putting a link to a forum or anything like that, it was really breaking down the process based on my own experience and other people who I know who worked in product.
And it’s interesting because you think about blogs or Twitter, which is basically about putting content out there and hoping that someone will read it. On Quora, you know who’s asking that question. So when you answer, you know for sure that there’s at least one person who cares and you also have the ability to follow up with this person via direct message. So, that’s exactly what I did at the beginning.
AO: This is amazing. So take us to that moment. So, say it was fall of 2014 and you just said, I’m going to do this. Help us with the very first step, did you block off your calendar to make sure that you were committed to that two hour per day of responding?
Carlos Gonzalez: Two hour per day minimum, sometimes more. Yes, and I blocked my calendar. My job at that time was to get 10 students for my class, 10 clients. My channel here is Quora. So, I dedicated a lot of time to it. And still to this day, I write a lot and I’m still at the top writer in product management. I have over 800 answers and almost 2 million views, because obviously we use many other channels to this day, but I think it is also very important to continue building brand and also adding value for free to people who are thinking about something along those lines.
So, I started very focused and I also decided to only answer questions related to product management. There are a lot of other influencers who also like to share stories about their babies, or funny photos of cats. I was like, no, I’m only going to talk about product, I’m going to be remembered for this. And that’s how it started.
AO: It’s so simple and yet I see why it would work. So, help us with how you filtered for the questions. How did you make sure you hit the right question?
Carlos Gonzalez: Well, there is a whole science behind this, because at the very beginning I would just go there and search product management. But then you realize this is a whole universe. It’s almost like SEO within Quora. I call it a Quora SEO, because my goal wasn’t to rank high on Google. It was to rank higher within the Quora. So, first I would identify what are the questions that have the most traction, like most viewers in terms of upvotes. And another key here was the time to answer those questions, because if you are able to answer a new question within, let’s say10 hours, the chances of getting that top answer, most upvotes, is 10x greater than if you take two days to answer.
So, I figured that out. I was literally living on quarter trying to answer every single new question to get that type of positioning, but also answering some of the most popular questions to get some traction that way. And then there’s more tricks such as link building within answers. So, a lot of those questions can be repetitive and they kind of penalize you if you copy paste your answers. So, I would just use links to previous answers to also position my answers in other questions better. And I also have a user kind of navigating through the spiral of the different questions.
And be like, Oh my God, this person is not only answering my question. He also has a list of relevant questions that are good for me. And then I would make sure that I would follow up with every single person who asked a question, via direct message on Quora. I would connect with them on LinkedIn. And I would be there to say, Hey, let me know this was helpful or if there is anything else I can do for you?
AO: Wow, this is so cool, to help us with the kinds of ways that you structured your answers. Because you just mentioned that you can’t copy and paste. So, you’re not going to write crap up there, you’re throwing high quality answers and you’re taking the time to do that. How did you think through that?
Carlos Gonzalez: I think it’s similar to a blog article with a difference that instead of reading this article for thousands of people, I’m going to read this for the person who just asked this question. So, I’m really going to go deep. It’s not just a link to another page. I’m going to give you my reasoning. I’m going to make sure that this is valuable to you. And then, if it’s something that I wrote in another question that might supplement what I just said. I’m going to do internal link building because Quora likes that. Because you are not taking the user outside of Quora and you are taking the user to another Quora question. And the thing that worked really well for me was to tag other influencers.
So, if I’m recommending a book on product management, like Cracking the PM Interview, I would make sure to tag the author of that book. And at some point, some of those influencers were like, Oh, who is this guy tagging me in a lot of questions, who seems to know what he is saying? And then I would also develop relationships with them. So, when I was ready to do something else beyond Quora, such as hosting events. I would also have them as my guest speakers.
AO: This is amazing. Is there anything else you can tell us about the uptick of the progress that you made? How many months did it take for you to start seeing the payoff?
Carlos Gonzalez: So, I started product school in July 2014. And my first class was on October 12th, 2014. So, I had literally three months maximum to do my thing. It worked out. So, my first cohort of students literally came from Quora. And I continued doing that. For at least for six months, it was two to three hours per day on Quora. And then I was able to start diversifying into other channels. So, I soon started hosting a lot of meetups, free in-person events when that was a thing before COVID and I was the speaker.
I also didn’t have the money to afford guest speakers nor the network. So, what I would do is take some of the most popular questions on Quora, that I knew that resonated with the audience and make them into in-person events.
AO: Man, that is incredible. So, in this COVID world, how has this strategy changed, if at all?
Carlos Gonzalez: Well, that was six years ago, we are much different now. We are a community with over 1 million members. We have so many different events, content and courses, that obviously, Quora is a very small part of the entire marketing puzzle. But to your point about events or in general about building community, it’s all about really adding value. And now we are able to add value at scale through multiple channels, but I am a big believer in building our community first before the business and really making sure that people find value and for free. It’s just about getting a relationship going.
And then, I assume that a percentage of that community will want to take the next step. And it’s totally okay to offer paid options that you can also use to reinvest in the community. But taking that approach of adding value first, before trying to figure out how to monetize in the short term, is what we keep doing and we’ll continue to do in the future.
AO: And that is probably the most valuable thing you said, it’s leading with that. You’re not expecting a result from that person. You’re not expecting money from them. You’re just sincerely adding value. And you know in the end, it will take care of itself.
Carlos Gonzalez: A lot of those tactics change. Because first of all, what I just shared about Quora, probably made a lot of sense when nobody knew about it. But six years forward, I’m sure there are many other people also trying to play the same game. So, it’s our responsibility to always try to find these types of little growth pockets and capitalize of them before they become mainstream.
AO: That’s great. I’m about to start doing this. What’s the biggest roadblock that I’m going to hit in month one with Quora using this strategy?
Carlos Gonzalez: Yeah, it gets to a point that there’s only so many top questions that really have traction and there’s only so many new questions that the audience is asking. And you’re getting diminishing returns. It’s a lot of long tail questions that not many people read. So, that’s when you start thinking about what else you can do. And for me it was about getting more upvotes in my previous questions, than really getting so many new questions. Because let’s say you’re looking at a question that has 15,000 followers.
If you’re able to position your answer at number one, two or three, that’s much better than a hundred answers on questions that only two or three people care about. So, the engagement piece of it was critical. That’s why I was trying to combine two. One is identifying what’s new to try to get that type of a first mover advantage. But you also don’t know the traction of that question. And then at the same time, I was just trying to hyper optimize really, really good answers in highly popular questions, even though I was in the first or second or third, by sharing it with high-quality, tagging the right people that could upvote me, in some cases I was able to make it to the top three.
AO: Got it. This has been incredible. Do you have anything else that we could be thinking about? Let us know, where we can follow you? What’s the best platform now?
Carlos Gonzalez: I mean, you have to follow me on Quora after what you just said. But beyond that, I am very active on LinkedIn. We’re doing a lot of stuff there. I would say LinkedIn has a very big opportunity these days. They just released LinkedIn live, similar to Facebook live or Twitter live. Every time there is a new feature created by a big platform. They are very interested in pushing it hard. So, you will see that they are sending more notifications than usual and making sure that people get it.
We were able to get an early enough to now live stream all of our events. We do around a thousand events per year and they’re actually free. We livestream them on LinkedIn. And that was really powerful because there are so many people that don’t know about us and by using certain hashtags. So yes, by offering these for free, having speakers re-share, and in general creating that type of word of mouth affect. We are able to attract a lot of people in a very, very light way. I would say, because they see our commitment here. And then, it’s true that the value that you are getting is good enough, then maybe you’ll consider consuming more content.
AO: This has been an incredible Carlos. Thank you so much for you.
Carlos Gonzalez: Thank you. I was very excited to share this because this is not my typical interview, but I appreciate it. And I hope this is helpful too. So many other founders and marketers out there who are thinking about how to grow.
AO: It definitely is! Thank you.
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