AMA: John Egan

AMA: Brock Weatherup
April 16, 2018
AMA: Shelagh Stoneham
May 24, 2018
The John Egan AMA is happening on 14th June 2018 at 10:30AM PST (1:30PM EST)

I’ve been working in growth for over 7 years. I’m currently working on the growth team at Pinterest where I’m the Engineering Manager for the Growth Traffic org which consists of the Notifications Team, SEO Team, Paid Acquisition Team, and Growth Platform team. At Pinterest I’ve spearheaded several projects that cumulatively have helped add millions of WAUs. Previously, I led the growth engineering team at Shopkick, a cross-retailer mobile loyalty app funded by Kleiner-Perkins & Greylock Partners which was acquired by SK Planet for $200MM. At Shopkick I helped grow the userbase 8x from 1M users to 8M users primarily through invites, geofencing, & push notifications.

 

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John Egan – Head of Growth Traffic Engineering at Pinterest – Transcript

 

John Egan is the Head of Growth Traffic Engineering at Pinterest, where he manages engineers across Pinterest’s Notifications, SEO, Paid Acquisition, and Growth Platform teams.

The AMA with John was held on June 14th, 2018. This transcript has been edited for punctuation, grammar, etc.

 

 

Hey everyone, excited to be here. I’ve worked on growth at Shopkick and Pinterest, have extensive experience on push notifications, email, on-boarding, etc. and more, recently doing some work on SEO andpaid.

How big is the growth engineering team, and how is it organized?

It is 60 engineers organized into eight teams: emails/notifications, SEO, Paid Acquisition, Growth Platform, Signups/Login conversion, Sharing/social, In-app Engagement and Activation.

What do you tell people who think growth is pure digital marketing?

I would say they are missing out on a huge part of Growth. I think there are two main arms of Growth: marketing driven growth, and product driven growth. Product driven growth is making product changes like onboarding, sharing, invites, etc. to drive growth. Pinterest historically has grown to 200M MAU entirely through product driven growth and only recently has started initiatives around more marketing driven growth.

How does your ideal user engage with the site? Or put another way, what type of usage is considered success for you?

There are a lot of different types of users. We have “browsers,” “project doers,” “collectors,” etc. Because of that,it has been hard to define a crisp activation metric of “7 friends in 3 days.” We rely more on looking on time spent and session length to judge engagement rather than a specific action for that reason (although we do look at a number of key actions in every experiment).

How do you deal with the consequences of duplicate user-submitted content meddling with serps (if you have any insight on that)?

We work on detecting duplicate content. Truly identical duplicates are trivial to detect, it is the near duplicates that are harder to detect. Hoping to roll out some changes soon to better detect near duplicates through improved image recognition algorithms.

For a company looking to use Pinterest in their growth strategy, from where should they start?

Most social media, you make a post, and it gets a spike and dies off. On Pinterest, if you create a pin, it can still be driving traffic a year later. Best place to get started is Pinning great content and making sure others repin it. We also have an Ads product, “Promoted Pins” that you can use to drive traffic.

What type of brands do you see having the most success using Pinterest Ads? Where do you see that platform going in terms of features/reach?

This isn’t my core area of expertise, but Pinterest is big in verticals like DIY, Home Decor, Food/Recipes

, Travel, Fashion & Beauty, Tattoos, Exercise, etc. Brands that tie into those verticals are generally what perform the best.

Thanks for describing your team. You mention 60 engineers (!!!), does that mean you’re mostly looking to build internal tools to drive growth? Or do you guys also “buy” tools? I’m referring to stuff like Segment, marketing automation. Looking at your stackshare profile:

https://stackshare.io/pinterest/pinterest I don’t see any marketing tools being listed at all!

We have about 6-8 engineers working on tooling. Most of the engineers in Growth are working on things like changing the layout of our signup page, building out new emails, etc. Pinterest is heavily biased towards building internal tools rather than buying due to the scale of our data (not a lot of companies can handle our scale),and also for data privacy.

What are some organic growth initiatives that you’d recommend, based on the testing that you and your team have done?

Some of our big growth channels are SEO, emails and notifications, and signup/login optimization. I think one example is a lot of companies do emails/notifs, but I don’t think a lot of companies do it well. We’ve found that generic marketing emails tend not to work well, so we think of our emails and notifications as an extension of Pinterest’s core value into your inbox, which is why we rely heavily on content recommendations, since that is why people use Pinterest. Another big organic strategy is simplification – removing unnecessary buttons, reducing steps in a flow, etc.

If a company is not in the “DIY, Home Decor, Food/Recipes, etc.” sector, is there still value in the branding aspect of impressions to your company, product, service, etc.?

Yes, there is still value, but I think they need to find a way to tie it into those verticals. For instance, I know some financial services companies have been targeting Home Decor and Travel and tying their ads into those specific verticals.

To monitor your systems, any specific tools you leverage (such as, if systems went down, how do you guys respond)?

We use Graphite, OpenTSDB and PagerDuty to do monitoring and have built out some of our own internal monitoring tools as well.

Any recommendations for growing followers and becoming a Pinterest influencer?

Pinterest is working on allowing people to build up more owned distribution within Pinterest. Historically, everything was controlled by algorithms and you didn’t have a lot of control other than cross-promoting your Pinterest account on other social channels. We recently introduced hashtags as a first step to allow content creators to get more visibility through a mechanism they can control. There are a lot more initiatives in the works as well to help content creators.

What do you call your growth engineers? Looking at your job posts, it is not immediately obvious which roles belong to the growth engineering team. Do you mention growth in the job title at all? Is this intentional after some sort of testing?

Growth is big enough (8 teams) that we now generally have team specific postings rather than having the title “Growth Engineer.” For instance, you might see a posting for “Notifications Data Engineer” instead of “Growth Engineer.”

How many people do you have in your SEO team, and do you worry about linkbuilding or just great internal linking?

We have 10 engineers. We don’t think about link building, since Pinterest already has a lot of external links to it. We do think about how we can internally link to the best content.

How do you run your growth team, who’s it made up of, and what sort of project scoring do you use and why is it not ICE?

In a 6-month period, a single team on Growth might have anywhere from 120-150 projects. We really try and be a bottoms up organization and have every engineer act almost as a mini-PM for their projects. Engineers are expected to contribute project ideas and help shape the team strategy. We do use a system similar to ICE — we estimate impact in terms of absolute number of WAU we expect a project to add, we estimate number of weeks of work and confidence level and we use that to prioritize projects.

Whatpercent of your user growth (and re-engagement) can be attributed to offering publishers “pin it” buttons and other merchandising tools to drive users to Pinterest?

Hard to say. I don’t think we have an exact percentage, but I don’t think it is a large driver of our user growth. Probably a low single digit percentage. We do it more for building partnerships and helping grow the number of businesses on Pinterest, but I’m less familiar with our partnership growth team.

What would be your/your team’s most memorable “growth hack” in the recent past?

A recent memorable one is we changed the hover state over our Pins on web when you’re not logged in. If you hover a mouse over a pin while logged out, it will put a dark grey overlay with the word “View” centered on the pin. Really helped educate people that they could click on a Pin and led to a big increase in click-throughs.

How does Pinterest include the Product Design team in the growth process? What is the workflow between the Growth Engineers team and the Product Designers team?

Growth team has 60 engineers, but also has about 8 PMs, and 10 designers. PM/Eng/Design all work closely on projects. I think the main thing with Design is not all product designers are suited to the iterative, incremental process that Growth operates in. Also, if you can align designers’ incentives with the Growth team’s objectives (i.e. recognizing designers for the WAU impact of their designs), it helps a lot with reducing the friction between Design and Growth.

Going back to marketing-driven growth and product-driven growth being very important, what can I be doing to learn more about product-driven growth strategies to make myself more versatile as a marketer?

Airbnb, Lyft, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. all rely a lot on product driven growth as well. I would say,take a look at their products and pay attention to how they drive you down the funnel towards key actions (ex: booking an Airbnb) or inviting a friend. Studying what others are doing is the best course you can take.

 

When you say “onboarding,” do you mean data onboarding (offline to online activation) or something else? If data onboarding, would you say precision or scale is more important when reaching your audiences?

I’m referring to new user onboarding. When a user first signs up, they go through what we call our NUX flow (new user experience) to try and help that new user activate.

Is Growth inside or outside of the Product department?

Growth is within Product at Pinterest.

What percent of your users do you think are driven by automation or are pure bots? Does this impact your day to day?

Our spam team works hard to identify definite spammers and bots, and accounts we are suspicious of being a spammer/bot. Suspicious accounts don’t necessarily get shut down depending on the suspicion level, but they are not counted towards our active user numbers. For our published active user numbers, I don’t think bots make up an appreciable percentage of that.

How will Pinterest (if at all) make use of new technologies? How do you decide if a technology is worth adopting?

I would say it is based on gut feeling, although you have to be careful to not get too caught up in hype. For instance, when chatbots exploded in 2016, we were more skeptical and didn’t invest too much in chatbots, and I think that decision was the right one, since no company has really been able to turn chatbots into a major growth driver at scale.

How do you guys rank competitively in organic search like Google, yet have a content lock on every page that require login? Also, why the lock? I don’t believe any other social media platforms require login to view content.

We don’t require signup/login anymore — the signup/login prompt are all dismissible.

Oh wow, TIL! Follow-up… why the change?

We take user feedback seriously. If we were just basing the decision on growth metrics, we would have kept it, but made the decision to make it dismissible based on user feedback, and because it was the right thing to do

Where do you get your inspiration for new growth ideas from? Any great channels you can suggest?

A few sources. 1) looking at other products like FB, Airbnb, LinkedIn, new startups, etc. 2) Keeping on top of what is changing in the ecosystem (ex: AMP in email, iOS 12 notification changes) 3) brainstorming internally within the team 4) Talking to others working on Growth (i.e. we will chat with Growth teams at other non-competitive companies and share ideas/strategies).

I have a question more around planning, especially across such a large team. How do you all organize/prioritize projects, how often, etc.?It seems like with your scale/team, figuring out what to work on when seems like it could be a challenge.

We do bottoms up planning. Each team plans out their roadmap for the next six months. Kick it off with a brainstorm with the whole team to brainstorm project ideas. EM/PM then prioritize projects based on estimated impact, amount of work and confidence level. We also reserve about 20% time to pursue big bets. Then during the half, we constantly adjust and add in new projects or reprioritize projects as things change.

Ok, I’m out of time, but thanks everyone for asking questions! This was great

🙂