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Adam O’Donnell: What was one unconventional growth tactic that you ran that did support surprisingly well?
Amy Sun: So when I first joined Uber, I joined the growth marketing team and we were tasked with the nebulous sort of job of how do we scalably grow Uber drivers without manually onboarding them in person. Cause at the time that I joined, it was the end of 2013, early 2014, Uber was just launching peer-to-peer rideshare. So before that it was all licensed drivers, part of limo companies. It was kind of a sales process where folks that do call up limo companies and onboard drivers that way.
And now with peer to peer ride sharing, anyone can be a driver, right? And it could be driving their personal cars around. I know it sounds like everyone knows this at this point, but it was a very novel concept at the time. And driving strangers around your car was a new behavior for most people. So we were kind of tasked with, how do we scale this across all cities, all over the world. And it was also the first time that Uber was doing any sort of scalable growth marketing practice. A story that I wanted to share is how we leveraged Craigslist and job boards, like a performance channel in order to scale the driver growth globally without necessarily needing to do all the onboarding in every single city.
Adam O’Donnell: That sounds amazing! Before we get to the tactical part of what you actually did, can you just give us some like highlight metrics of the performance, like the results of it?
Amy Sun: Yeah. In the first week that we started testing, we actually 10x the volume of drivers that were coming through the paid marketing channels across all channels. And we had like a crazy aggressive goal for growth that quarter. And we blew through the quarterly goals in a few weeks, which was pretty amazing.
Adam O’Donnell: That is amazing.
JS: Yeah. What were you doing tactically? How’d you come up with this idea? What was the brainstorming process? Like that’s what we’re going to do. How’d you decide on that?
Amy Sun: Yeah. So the story is the growth marketing team was really new. So I was one of the first members of this small team that had just been formed a couple of months ago. And at the time we had been experimenting with adwords and Facebook for the first time in order to onboard drivers, and those were performing okay. But it was still quite expensive to get folks on the platform because people didn’t really know exactly what they were signing up for.
It was kind of hard to optimize at the time with a pretty complex funnel. And growth marketing was still a new channel. It was still an experiment and we weren’t sure if it was something that Uber wanted to invest in the long term, but at the same time, the growth of the company was constrained by the ability to onboard more drivers on the platform. It was what we called supply constraint in a marketplace. And so that’s the context and the team success was like, sort of goaled on how many additional drivers, how many additional drivers can we get onto the platform?
And we had heard that local teams, the folks that are on the ground, actually like in every single city, that they were seeing some success with posting on local classified sites, like Craigslist. But it was really hard to manage locally cause they were doing it on their own credit cards and trying to expense it. And then all the accounts were getting flagged, and it didn’t make sense that a local operations team would be spending hours every single day manually posting to Craigslist.
So at one of our weekly growth meetings with the CEO of Uber at the time, Travis, he was like this is not something that the local team should be spending time on. This is something the growth team should be doing. Why aren’t you already doing it? This is why this team exists. And we were like, great we’ll take it on. We’ll figure this out. And we started talking to local teams, talking to drivers, to understand what their mindset was, how they came across the opportunity to drive? What were the mental barriers?
Okay we’ll just take over this entire workflow from the local teams and optimize it, like a growth channel. And I think in that meeting with Travis, I was like, okay, yeah, we’ll do it next week with no plan whatsoever on how we would do this.We sent an email out to the whole company being like, Hey, like if you’re posting to Craigslist, just stop. Like, we’ll do it for you. And we’ll take this time off of your hands and we’ll make sure that the flow is optimized for your city.
We had no plans at the time. So I literally came Monday morning. I set my alarm for five o’clock in the morning because I was on the West coast and we need to start in the morning on the East coast, you know, lock myself into a conference room and got a whole bunch of credit cards and accounts and just started manually doing it, just to see what would happen. We did it with tracking links so we could understand how many signups are coming in through the platform. And I did that for a whole day. Like straight probably 10 or 12 hours of posting to Craigslist calling Craigslist, trying to figure it out and just to see what the results would be.
Then the next day, signups were through the roof, more than we had ever had. And in terms of attribution, we didn’t have an attribution model or anything like that. We just knew that there were a lot more signups today than there were last Monday because of what we were doing. And then slowly over time we got it to be, I didn’t do it manually for the rest of time, but we did it manually for a while. And then we figured out from there, how we can optimize and make the process better.
JS: Gotcha. Did you have any sort of roadblocks or anything like that regarding operating on Craigslist? A lot of times platforms will, you know, particularly if you were having the scale that you would need to make an impact with Uber, did you have any of those and what were some of the roadblocks there?
Amy Sun: Yes. So immediately, yes. Even the first day, all of our posts got flagged. All our accounts
got flagged. Because of the volume that we were doing it in every city and at the time we’re in 62 cities. And so in every single city we were posting we tried to get a paid posting account. I didn’t have to be through credit cards and things like that. So I got my posts flagged, and got them removed. I had to figure out how to call Craigslist, which is actually possible. You can set up a page of the same account through Craigslist.
It’s possible to talk to them to speak to another human there. And also my credit cards got declined because like, what are all these charges I actually had to get my boss’s credit card. And he was like, yeah, you can just use mine. It’s my personal card in case like your credit card gets declined, you need to make a new account. So all sorts of different roadblocks, but you kind of just figure it out as you, as you go along.
Adam O’Donnell: That is amazing. I just feel the energy right now. Like anyone is just listening, like just seeing your excitement. I can just imagine that experience just being in there, just going forward and making this massive difference. Can you talk to anymore in terms of just the impact or the company, cause it sounds like the beginning of it supply constraint relief that happened. If you could talk any more about that?
Amy Sun: Yeah. Craigslist actually became the top channel for new drivers and I think the impact is actually great. And that was directly attributable. Like they signed up through that link. I think that the impact was actually greater than that. If you think about it like just people who see the ad, think about it, and then they signed up later. So it was a pretty big relief. And then there were actually some cities that went from being supply constrained, I think when we started all cities were supply constrained, and a lot of cities got balanced out after that.
And it allowed us to focus on marketing towards riders for the first time ever, because all of a sudden we had enough supply. And I think that the interesting thing too was because the post had a lot of opportunity for a lot of text. You can explain much better, why it’s safe? How does insurance work? What is this thing? What is this company? What is this thing? How do I even make money I’m driving?
And a story around that, just overcoming that barrier of understanding in one batch of posts, I accidentally auto-filled my cell phone number into the Craigslist post for all the cities. Cause you know, sometimes you have form fills. And at the time it was just me and the one other person. And we were just like text expanders, typing all the posts manually. And I accidentally had an autofill turned on in one of my browsers and then the drivers would call me, they’d be like, Hey, I’m trying to sign up. There’s this field social security is this safe? Is this a scam? And I would have to explain the whole process. And as a result, you learn so much about what people’s concerns are and how they’re feeling throughout the process. And then you can design the content in a way that helps overcome those mental barriers. And it led us to creating the whole landing page experience as well. Because at the time we only had this really simple form with no information, we ended up adjusting that and the whole onboarding flow in order to address people’s concerns.
Adam O’Donnell: That is amazing. I can only imagine the frustration of like, I just put my number in there. I’m getting blown up. The blessing of the silver lining is that now you’re getting to talk with the people that you’re actually trying to get to be drivers. It’s so funny how sometimes our biggest mistakes can be the best things that help us move forward.
Amy Sun: People called me for like a year, I would say, like drivers that became active drivers. They would be like, Hey, I’m having this issue with my insurance. And I’m like, I don’t know, but here’s someone you can email.
Adam O’Donnell: Oh, that is a great story. Amy,This has been incredible. That’s all I got in terms of questions. Jorge, you got anything else?
JS: No, I think I’m good. It’s such a real and raw and in the trenches experience. We very much appreciate your time.
Amy Sun: Of course, happy to share it. And I guess the takeaway here for me about the whole experience and what I learned from it was that a lot of growth is about being creative and being scrappy and just figuring things out on the fly. If you look at now, every single gig economy company is doing the sort of Craigslist playbook sort of pioneered by Uber and it is not polished right away. Right. It starts from a place of let’s listen to what our customers are telling us.
Let’s try to meet their demand. However we can, even if it means like doing something extremely manually and unskillfully in the early days just to learn and then you slowly can make optimizations, you do something over and over and over again. And you’re like, if I make this not just the block of text, but if I make it a picture and if I make this a button and if I add some keywords or some certain languages in certain areas, if I post at this time in the morning, if I use this text for this group of people use this, all the texts with this other group of people, it becomes like a better experience overall and more efficient and you do it over and over again.
And eventually, you know, you can give access to the API and you can do it automatically, you get paid posting accounts, you’re posting at five all the time. And it becomes this nice process. But I think almost everything that looks polished, started off with this sort of scrappy experimentation, creativity sort of place. So those are the things that I learned and, and just never be afraid to get your hands dirty and to just try something out, listen to your customers.
JS: Totally. You know, obviously Uber ended up becoming a hugely successful business. So kudos to you. I ran a startup that was a marketplace model as well. And we used to call it Uber for video production. And we used Craigslist also to recruit videographers. And we just went at it. We would go city by city posting ads. It was costing us five bucks, not at first, ant then they implemented it at some point.
I think they started to figure out people were for the gig stuff. Right. Because the gig stuff was always free. So yeah, I get it at a much smaller scale. Awesome stuff. Thank you so much for your time, Amy. I really appreciate it by the way, how is venture life now coming from a deep operator and now you’re at like Sequoia.
Amy Sun: It’s great. I think having that perspective of what it’s like to be in the trenches is really helpful. And helping companies grow, which is what we want to work with them. Not everything is perfect. Yes, we look at the numbers of your business. But I know intimately that for every percentage point of gross margin is a battle that happened, right? And it’s like a war that trenches to create the wonderful growth curves. They don’t just happen.
Product market fit isn’t something that you can wake up and you have it right. It’s something that you kind of have to fight for. So that’s definitely helped me a lot there and, but there’s a lot to learn too. In terms of getting to interact with and meet and learn about so many different industries that as an operator, I probably would have never been able to learn about everything from robotics, self-driving cars, space, to enterprise, data infrastructure.
So it’s, it’s been a wonderful experience to be on the investing side, but I’m really thankful that I have that certain baseline of having worked in growth at various different companies and in product at various different companies, just to remember how hard it was in order to achieve that kind of growth.
JS: Awesome. Well thank you so much. And speaking of space, maybe you can share some insights. I do think that’s the next frontier.
Adam O’Donnell: You’re already there, Jorge. You’re ahead of all of us. Oh my gosh. Amy, thank you so much. This is incredible.
Amy Sun: Thank you.
Adam O’Donnell: That’s it. Another great episode of The One Growth Show , the official podcast of growth marketing conference to learn more about upcoming events, visit www.growthmarketingconf.com and subscribe to the newsletter. If you enjoy this episode, let us know. We’d really appreciate it if you’d give us a five star rating, super easy, just click the last star on iTunes, and also share this episode on social media. After all you want your network to know you’re the person they can always turn to for the best growth and marketing content, don’t you?