Double Your User Growth with Network Effects

Startups are all about user growth - how do you do it without breaking the bank? Pangea's Lamia Pardo says the secret is network effects.

Lamia Pardo runs growth and operations for Pangea, a mobile app for international money transfers. Below is a transcript of her presentation from the November 11, 2016 Here’s How Startup Marketing Conference, where she shared her advice for hacking network effects to grow your startup.

My name is Lamia Pardo. I run growth and operations for Pangea money transfer. Pangea, I don't know if you're familiar with, but I'll give you an overview. It's a mobile app for international money transfers. So our users mainly, right now, stand in line at a Western Union or a MoneyGram. And instead of that, and wasting a lot of time, they can use Pangea for a much, much lower cost. So we help all these users save a lot of time and money. Every single week after they get paid, instead of just going out and waiting in line for so long, they just do it on the go with our mobile app.

Pangea started two yeas ago, a very niche market. And as part of my role, I had to be in charge of developing the marketing program and then also all the operational side of our business. So when we started the company, we had very good traction with our users right away.

Imagine if you have to pay $10 to send money back home, and suddenly you can just pay half of that. So it was a really great proposition. And when we did focus groups, people were really excited about.

Now, it is a financial product, so people don't trust it right away. And these are very, very hard-earned dollars. So for them to trust a new brand, it was really hard. So what was ideal world in a focus group, when we went live, the traction was a little slow. We had very limited marketing dollars. So we deployed them as efficiently as we could. And actually, we were very proud of our early results. At our first board meeting, the question that I get was "Okay, this is amazing. This is so efficient, how can we go viral?"

It was like sure, this is a financial product. Our costs were a very low per user, well below the industry benchmarks that we'd seen at that point. But we still wanted to go viral. So that was a little hard of course. But we just decided to do something to encourage and both grow through word of mouth and before else.

1.  I leverage trusted experts and agencies

So the first steps that we took, and this is going back a little bit of what I was just saying, was testing multiple combinations, digital channels, going through the traditional ways of developing a marketing program when you are starting and you want new leads. But then we went back and realized that trust was a main challenge. People didn't trust our brand. They would see our ads, it was a great recall, and there was also a positive perception of the creative around them. It was just that we were unknown to them.

So they were like, "Why would I trust you?" So then we decided, "Okay, then. You trust someone. You trust people in your committee, you trust people that you've seen on TV and you follow. You trust people you admire." So we decided to switch all of our marketing efforts, initially, to a combination of sources that would drive word-of-mouth on referrals. It was really risky, but we didn't do it all at once. We started testing them in smaller portions. So it was risky, but not as risky as you would imagine. Now, it got to a point where the combination of that worked really well, and we ended up doing only referral and word of mouth, sort of boosting channels for a while. And it was really interesting because, also, not everything that we tried for that actually worked.

2.  I focused on users in specific demographics

We found people that were already our users, and we tried to understand, "How can we make you recommend more people?" We realized a lot of them were women that didn't have a job because they had to take care of their kids. They had a lot of kids, most of them, but they had time while the kids were at school and they would welcome an extra income.

So we started developing a little program with them and paying them by incentives so that they would actually recommend our platform to their friends and families. We also started networking at different events with the media. But instead of going to reporters, we were networking with small celebrities. So not the ones that would have managers that you had to go through, like multiple layers, in between, that would charge a lot of money.

3.  I targeted demographic celebrities

But instead we went to local news anchors, authors that were well known in these communities but not nationwide. And then we just explained what our product was, and convinced them that this was actually an opportunity to make a difference. We developed a good relationship with a TV host, and this guy has a program in Univision. And he teaches people how to use technology to solve some of their current problems.

4.  I built channel partnerships and referral programs with local businesses and community groups

We just found influencers that would actually have something in common with our platform, whether it's a connection with the fact that they send money back home or a connection with what we're trying to solve for, and the fact that we're using technology for that. So that work out really well, we started seeing tremendous growth, initially. We also created a referral program.

5.  I started a referral program

And probably most of you are familiar with referral programs. You share 20, you get 20 and that's simple. But our users were not, so we had to find creative ways of making them understand and promote it. So instead of just being available in the app, we started using offline efforts to compliment that. We send them stickers and we say, "Send the stickers with your promo code and your name to your friends." And they would take pride of that. And after that, we saw that our growth really spiked.

Three months later, our growth doubled, and with the same amount of dollars, and that really became part of our marketing formula. So right now... That was when we started in Illinois. A year later, we are live in 14 states, and what we've done is, every time we go into a new market, we only spend money in digital channels and awareness, during the first three months.

And after that, we found a combination of this referral, and influencers are really start driving the growth for us. I mean, it's not replicable in the way that is always the same, because the influencers are different in the different markets that we are targeting, but it is a strategy that we've developed a way of how to get there. And it just makes our dollars go further, because when you're a startup, of course, dollars is what you don't have enough to spend.