An Interview With Barron Ernst, ‎Senior Director Mobile and Growth at Naspers

On our fourth and final episode of "Let's Talk Growth" we have Barron Ernst, a Senior Director Mobile and Growth at Naspers to talk about e-commerce.

This is the 4th addition to the “Let’s Talk Growth” series!

This time, our guest is Barron Ernst who’s a Senior Director Mobile & Growth at Naspers, one of the companies that companies hold leading positions in traditional media, video entertainment, and the Internet, specializing in e-commerce (classifieds, marketplaces, retail, travel, payments and online services).

Barron has a, more than 10 years of experience in agile methodologies, mobile product management, consumer finance, e-commerce, marketplaces, mobile, and social entertainment/gaming.

But what drove us to invite Barron for this interview, is his vast knowledge and arsenal of insights around growth. I swear this man knows his thing to an extent that left me jaw-dropped.

Here’s What Barron Had To Share With Us:

The Transcript:


Hello everyone, ‘’Let’s talk growth’’ episode no 4. I’m Evie and today we are going to talk about growth and mobile technology with industry expert Barron Ernst. Barron will share tips with us about how to increase conversion in email capture along with the case study as well as tactics on how to grow mobile Apps. Hi, Barron welcome to the show!


Hi, how are you?


I’m very good, thank you. Can you tell us a bit more who Barron is? We know that you served in several roles; For example, you were a product manager, advisor, principal etc. but which role you is the one that you feel fits your personality?

Barron :

So for me, I think what I really enjoy is I really enjoy being in businesses where we are moving fast and we are building something interesting and exciting. If you look at my background across different companies it’s been really quite broad working anything from personal finance to three virtual worlds.

Its two side marketplaces e-commerce and now at Naspers broadly across a lot of different companies. The thing that I find is the common thread through a lot of it is that a lot of different companies they were all sort of interesting, companies at phases where there is a lot to build, there is a lot to grow, there are interesting customers problems to solve and so I think that to me is what probably unites them all it’s just having interesting problems to solve where you’re actually serving a need of the customer and you actually having a very exciting problem or challenge to solve and something fun to build.


Right, and that’s how you kind of embraced yourself in mobile technology as well?


Yes! So I had another really common theme across all of the different roles it is really strong mobile components from back right into it when we launched ClickingOnline.

It was one of the first applications I did to go deep and have iPhone App. You know, I started early there I did a lot of mobile work launched 3-4 Game Apps for the business and since then as the world has kind of transitioned into a very mobile-centric, mobile first world I have had increasingly more roles as a very large, large mobile component.

Then in my current role at Naspers we focus on going across our very large portfolio of international companies and then helping with their mobile product, mobile growth strategy to really think about how can mobile best practices be applied on a wide market basis, how can you really think about how to design the best apps but  then also, have best user experience for those apps within specific markets.


With that in mind, what do you think is the future in mobile? Do you have any insight on prior experience, building and growing mobile apps. Could you share with the audience some of your own insights?


Sure, I mean a big thing to me that is pretty exciting to watch is you know, where the next kind of phase of growth is going to come from in terms of which platforms are going to really drive it and I think historically we’ve seen that a lot of growth has been on top of a variety of social platforms like Facebook.

Then obviously it sort of has transitioned to the app stores. Over the last few years, a lot of growth is being driven by, you know, Android and Apple but what I think is really interesting to watch over the next few years is how does the trans that we’ve seen in China with things like WeChat start to apply themselves in other markets throughout the world.

I think you can definitely see right now with companies like Facebook, Snapchat and others there is definitely a lot of focus on how do we take these messaging platforms which are one of the most commonly and highly used products on a person’s mobile device.

If you look at what usage is always at the top at frequency per use and then like retention over time and then how do you start to layer into those applications more and more services and over time, potentially may become the kind of world where apps live versus on the device itself.

They live inside the device they live within that messaging contact they live between people and I think what is really interesting is if look at what has happened to China with WeChat this already partially exists.

You already basically can order, google from there you can transact with other people, you can send money, you can buy things and I think it will be very interesting to see who wins that battle in the rest of the world because I think it will be very determining on what source of apps are , what apps are, how you get apps and then also how you discover them.


That’s a very interesting insight! Also to know that mobile increasingly has become popular in ads; That’s a new trend as well as messaging apps but also that is a good platform to incorporate advertising of any kind of product.

I know that sizes for specific ads are increasing year by year through google on platforms, but it is also another way for advertisers at brand agencies to facilitate mobile to reach out to the customers because customers are nowadays using mobile more than desktop, or not exactly but you know around the same level.


Yeah, I didn’t mention advertising but definitely, there is a very dominant shift that you can see within the marketplace from sort of desktop as the dominant advertising platform.

More and more I think of the advertising are going to mobile especially as Facebook and Google continue to invest more and more  of their resources in how do they drive advertising through those platforms. Facebook’s mobile growth has been pretty exposed over the last couple of years and a lot of people are really driving a lot of installs from those channels.

I think overtime applying that to a similar area, these other channels you know Facebook obviously is due the big ones  Facebook messenger and WhatsApp will probably provide potentially if they can create the distribution areas really large opportunities for them to monetize and have very, very big potential advertising networks as well.


I agree with you. In terms of modeling growth, what do you consider as a prerequisite before doing so are there any specific models or systems that you use regularly?


So in terms of modeling growth, everything starts from a perspective of “does you product have product market fit?”  and it’s pretty common to say that, but I think that what defines the product market fit is that there are a couple of ways to look at it;

One way I really like this you know a lot of people say this but mostly I reference Brian Balfour. If your cohort at some point flattens out with your users and so at some point you’re starting to see a percentage of users that retain over a lengthy period of 6-12 months and you see a flat cohort you know that means or at least some percentage of your users they have enough product  market fit.

That they will come back on a very recurring basis, and I mean that you can actually have stacks of users on top one another to create a stackable revenue of other cohorts, users and growth etc.

And so to me, getting to a place where you can have a product market fit is kind of step 1 right before you really start to push the pedal down on further growth.

In terms of modeling, how I like to think about it I still fall back to Dave McClure’s model which is A.A.R.R.R.  acquisition, activation, retention , revenue, referral.

What I think that model really  provides is a good framework to think through what a funnel of your product actually looks like and then it also means that on each step of the funnel you can evaluate how we’re doing in terms of  acquiring users -“are we converting enough of them?” and then “how are we doing in activating?” “are we making them take a really important first step?”, “are we driving revenue from them leading them to refer other users?” and you can apply this model to a variety of different business types.

You can apply it to e-commerce relatively easily, by looking at your onboarding, your collection of email addresses and then, how many users are you actually converting to buy and then if you have a referral process in place that brings enough of those users back and incentivize those users to bring their friends in as well.

You can apply it in a two settled marketplace in a bit of a similar way but, also thinking through how you can interact with someone. How many things do you have to ask on one side to then drive enough people to have interest into booking and listing and then how many email requests can you give to a particular host in order for them to feel like they got enough to actually complete a listing and then having other revenue and the good experience from that hopefully drive them to go back to the top and also drive some referral all the time.


That is very interesting; Are there any specific best steps or best practices for each type of model for e-commerce, for messaging apps, for game apps? I’m sure each industry is very different but is there some sort of standard ‘’bible book’’ let’s put it like that for empowering that kind of growth?


There are definitely some types of birth models that work; So, within gaming you often see things at a very viral approach which is that you start off at the top of your funnel, you really focusing on how do I get a user to engage with the game at an out of normal regular basis.

How do I incent them to come back with something like visual currency or with other triggers that are bringing them back into the game and then as you are getting to engage deeply into the game.

How do you also add some triggers that are getting them to refer or engage with their friends to draw their friends back into the game or do how you make them monetize at the same time so you see that a lot with the classic video games but even more so now with Clash Of Clans and other  games or with others that are leading the marketplace.

At some point of the model you’re either going to work together with your friends to build a clan of folks together or incented to go purchase currency and the idea is that you overtime one or the other or both combined makes you a stronger player within the game.

Within other models like e-commerce, e-commerce tends to from a growth perspective still have the strong component of paid acquisition, there’s definitely a paid acquisition loop that exists within e-commerce which is as you’re buying advertising and then driving it through conversion, you want to be tracking over time what is the value of each conversion are making money against the amount you know call for action basis are you making money?

Or are you driving a user into having to wait for the payback period and then the faster the payback period happens on the ad spend over time with each user is determined on how quickly you can push the growth.

With e-commerce if you can build a good referral project sometimes you can increase the payback period by bringing in more users per dollar you spend, you can improve that as well. And then within other businesses there is a number of other models you can look at like Quora does which is a very like SEO model a lot of these are outlined again by Brian Balfour, I am not trying to steal from them this is stuff that they outline quite well in a number of their articles. There’s a kind of building off of what they said like looking at the content model which is how do you get your users to generate content that you can seed in SEO which you then can use to draw your users back into the funnel.


Right, I get it. This is really really good insight. I also wanted to tap into the topic on email capture, I know you are the senior product of product and growth, so you managed to increase convention for one Kings Lean from what I can see the numbers are quite astonishing it increased but 50% in three months and it is a great accomplishment for just a mature a business.

Could you give us a high level of insights on steps, processes and tests you did in order to achieve those numbers as a growth marketer myself increases email capture is a big opportunity.


Yeah, so we did a lot of different things. One advantage we had that I think started out from a less optimized version of email capture and we were able to optimize it but you know the way that I view optimization , email capture or general conversion things in general there’s a couple of key sort of tactic and things to think through. One

One, is to always make sure that your email capture screens have the fewest steps possible so you know, cut down on numbers and screens so initially in Kings Lane we had both first and last name and email address and password.

Always just cutting out first and last name and give us a nice little bump we can collect that later from users and we didn’t see that having a tremendous effect on the emails we were sending later.

Another one that I like to use is called escalation of commitment. There is a common misconception, which is that the less steps the better which generally is accurate, but if the number of steps are still the same number for example, you have to fill out two boxes but you lay them out over multiple screens, sometimes that will actually increase your conversion rate so we saw that if we collected email first and then password second versus both on a single screen you did see a bump in total conversion rate.

The reason being that there is an escalation of commitment users had. Once I have entered an email address I’m more likely to also enter the password and finish the process.

We also tested a number of other things, we played around with everything from what is the right box size, what is the right button size, where else you should remove clickthroughs so when you have someone in a conversion, look at what amazon does they don’t let you escape it you know keep people in that funnel and give them one path through it don’t make any other multiple paths.

Another one that I like to look at is how do you give users just enough data to be interested but also hold something back so that there is something incentive for them to convert. What we did was we would hide certain prices behind the signup wall and it would say “sign up to see price” and it would give the users incentive to sign up to see the prices that we were offering on that day within flash-sale.

Very similar to what say Glasstore does is you get to page two on Glasstore they pretty exclusively say that you should sign up if you want to see more. Trip advisor is testing those and other similar types things as well.

And when you through a lot of these different tactics together it gives you a nice baseline of ways that you can improve sign-up conversions. And last but not certainly not least this is all A/B testing.

You are always measuring one over the other to see which one is giving you the biggest lift and I would say last is they are not all going to work they are all tactics you can try them all but fundamentally what matters is moving the rate up into the right over time and so, realizing that some are going to work and that sometimes you are going to fail Is the most important thing from a mindset perspective.


Keeping that in mind what advice would you give to all the growth marketers out there who are tackling this kind of issue for email capturing as well as mobile metallization challenges?


That would probably be what it is which is that the key to anyone of these things is less about having a perfect roadmap for it and it is much more about how do you build yourself a machine or a system that is going to enable you to run as many tasks or as many experiments as possible.

That would be one piece. The other piece is, “do not run experiments that don’t have a clear hypothesis”. If you’re just running a test you guys are just like ‘’hey it is a test we might as well run it’’ but you can’t explain why from a user perspective or from a business perspective it, might improve the experience in general, it might be a waste of your time to run the test.

In general, you have an unlimited number of tests that you can run at any time given the amount of traffic you have coming in, the amount of resources it takes to analyze the test. So be choosy and have some sort of a filter on what the test are that you run and also force things to go through some sort of hypothesis of why this will move- whatever metric it is you’re trying to move.

And then I would say the last one is to be experimental. Don’t just fall back on the tactics you have always relied upon; There are always new things that are working and if you look at the most interesting big growth stories over time it wasn’t that someone had some single big idea that it was the silver bone it is a series of small experiments over time, build up on top of one another learning over time that eventually, as the things helped one another one thing just eventually worked , I have used them a couple of times as they continue to experiment and experiment to figure out how to get hosts and guests to actually transact.

What they started to find over time is that photos mattered and as they figured out that photos mattered there like how do we get better photos?, they had a professional photographer they started to see their conversions rate coming up and they said okay we need to do this across the world.

But it wasn’t a single test they happened as a series of learning’s and they started to layer up those learning’s overtime to eventually improve their conversion rate and really skyrocket their business.


As well as the tests and hypothesis that every company should run what do you think, what is your opinion on customer surveys do you think that there is also some kind of test or experiment that every company should run along with A/B testing?

Barron :

Yeah, absolutely! Talking to your customers is critically important especially to you know how can you have a hypothesis about something without having knowledge of what the customers are thinking about, why they are using your product,  what  are thinking etc.

So, I definitely think that from doing surveys to even going to see at a café to show customers your product and get their feedback on it. It’s all incredibly important and it something I’ve always strongly believed in which is if you’re not listening and talking to your customers and you’re just doing tactics to grow without having a sense over why those tactics may or may not work you’re missing a big potential component that might unlock a lot of important elements for you.

So definitely I think it matters quite a lot. And also asking your customers ‘’Hey, why did you do this thing”, may help you understand why!


And then you can derive their kind of insights to your own testing experiments to make through the product. Yeah, I completely agree with you!


Absolutely, one way to think about it is even at a simple level think about surveying people at different parts of the experience, survey people who are unsubscribing versus people who have a really good experience, survey people who are active users versus inactive users and figure out what are the defining characteristics among those people because, talking to those users will give you instead of a hypothesis and tests either from A/B testing or potentially through looking at your data you get a sense right ?

You may learn that “hey these users view way more content than these users; Therefore, there is something about these users” the way they’re viewing the content that they are viewing that they are more engaged.

That leads to get the difference between those users to get that insight and then can be applied to the product from the top.


That’s absolutely correct, I couldn’t agree with you more and thank you so much for giving us a little more insight for our own knowledge as growth marketers.

Regarding now the trend of mobile Apps that are growing year by year what is your strategic ways on acquisition to grow for example from 1000 subscribers to 10000 in less than six-month time space?

Do you have a specific recipe for that kind of upgrowth?

Barron :

I don’t have a specific recipe. I mean a lot of it depends on you know going back to what space you’re in, how you’re playing do you have an acquisition budget etc. and so, there is no specific recipe.

There is always been some appetizer experimenting to see what kind of CPI you can get but I wouldn’t just look at CPIs I would also look for Cost Per Action after the install that could grab the users to a specific point and see if you can do that and also doing that, can be a way if you have growth looping space to drive more users through it.

Alternatively, if you’re doing a content-based model where you try to produce a lot of content and get a lot of people to read it, acquisition spending may not make any sense and may only make sense to just drive the initial loop and  then really focusing on those users.

So, it’s really depended on business models so I have to go back to the answer I gave back earlier and figure out what kind of business you are, figure out if you have product market fit and then if you do have product market fit and you do understand the business type that is going to be very determining on how you’re going to grow your app or your user base over time.


Okay, because I have spoken to a lot of people who have a mobile app and they want to increase their subscribers and they always ask me ‘’how can I grow them in such limited time space?’’

Is there a realistic number, can it be realistic to actually grow app subscribers  from 1000 to 10000 in such a small time space is it possible?


Six months? I think it’s absolutely possible! It just comes down to it really, I mean you know if it’s in six months from conception you know if you have done nothing and you’re in day one and have done nothing  and you have to have 10000 subscribers in six months is it possible ?

Yes it’s possible it’s going to take the right set of planning, the right set of you know having a product relatively early on that it’s product market fit and then figuring out the right growth channel.

A good kind of read on the topic you may have recommended before the “traction book” I think it’s quite good because what it kind of forces it forces thinking around that you know it’s not just about the product it’s about the product plus the marketing channels that you’re gonna combine it with but we definitely say it’s possible it’s just about setting your goals and being realistic.

But if you’re just setting out with the goal of getting 10000 subscribers in six months and you don’t have any idea what the product is, who is going to use it, why they are going to use it then I will really urge people to re-evaluate what they are doing and sit down instead have a purpose in mind for what they are trying to do and the purpose not be I’m going to have 10000 subscribers because 10000 isn’t a big thing what is a big thing is a business that delivers value to the users and the 10000 subscribers are an indication of that value.

So I would change the thinking a little bit there.


Okay, in terms of upgrowth for different companies and different international markets, what’s your take on that?


So, I was just interested in adding some color to this question cause this is something I see a lot going across markets. For those folks who are working in a not just in the US domestically or in western Europe what you often find when you’re in the market is that there is a very, very different mix of devices especially obviously on the mobile side.

Android is very prominent everywhere else in the world versus what you sometimes see in western Europe and the US which is the US has a lot of iPhones maybe western Europe a few less but still quite a number.

Also, if you’re looking at revenue in these businesses it’s really, really important to remember that payment methods differ a while throughout the world. So what may work well in established markets does not often work well in less established markets.

So, be very very confident on how you’re going to get your users to monetize and if you only allow credit market for example, you realize that in many markets that can only attract the top 5%-10% of people and you’re leaving huge swaths of the population.

One other thing I would throw out is as you’re building mobile apps for these markets, realize that data costs tend to be high, people’s phones tend to be less featured in many ways you know there are a number of android devices out there that have lower memory, that are cheaper devices and it means that folks have to be very, very cautious at what they keep on the phone right?

They are not going to have the room to have 800 different apps like we do with the 64GB iPhone and so therefore if your app has a large footprint on the phone and a lot amount of data and you’re in a merging market unless your app is the greatest app of all times there is a strong chance that people are not going to use it, it’s going to be sucking up their data, it’s going to be taking up space on the phone and they’re going to have an incentive to uninstall and get rid of it.

And so there is a lot of variables that you need to really keep in mind and as you go into these different markets and you think about growth .The nice thing is that there are interesting opportunities out there, there is companies that doing things like incentivisingapp installs by offering data to people; Jenna Emsent is one of those and so, there is a lot of new interesting emerging channels that in many cases data is the currency that can be kind of traded for installs and for growth over time and I think it would be interesting to see how that trend turns out in a lot of markets around the world.


Definitely, the mobile space is growing and it will be interesting to see how emerging companies are adapting to the change and then new trends are coming out every year, definitely I completely agree with you and thank you for that insight. You know we’re based in Greece and we have a company in London and other companies all over the world Singapore, China.

I think this is a very good insight to see the difference between the US as you said and the western world and a lot of people are growth marketers out there could easily relate to the difference in the market around the world.

So thank you very much for that and this is all really great insight on mobile technology and for all the growth marketers out there who are tackling mobile this is the way to grow and thank you so much, Barron for all of the insight.

Barron :

Thank you very much.



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