WeTransfer is best known for its file transfer service. Our business model is a mix of paid subscriptions for some advanced features and advertising like these full-screen sponsored wallpapers.
Around a year ago, the leadership decided to explicitly focus on driving faster revenue growth. There’re obviously many ways to achieve that, so three initiatives were kicked off:
One team focused on growth optimization.
Other one focused on core product improvements.
And the third experimental team, that I joined.
Our team didn’t have an explicit user problem to solve. Instead we were given a quarter to explore expansion opportunities for Transfer. Initially it was just me, a junior PM and a part time PMM, but it evolved over time.
Ideally for an experimental project like that, we'd start with deep data analysis and an in-depth research to guide our thinking. But back then our data setup wasn’t properly instrumented, so pulling out insights would take months. We also didn’t have dedicated research support, so recruitment and setup could also take a while.
Despite that, we had to make progress earlier. So I suggested we start with available inputs:
We looked into past research to pull out unsolved problems and ideas.
And gained context on similar exploration initiatives in the past.
Gathered inputs from stakeholders and brainstormed ideas in a wider group.
And myself and PMM poked into available data in Google Analytics.
Some of the ideas we pulled from those inputs have already been tested in the past but didn't resonate with users, some would likely only lead to marginal improvements and some were already a part of long-term roadmaps for other teams.
There was one thing that stood out though. When looking into GA, we noticed a subset of Transfer links getting a lot of traffic. A classic Transfer user would upload a file, get a link and share it with one or few people such as clients or colleagues, but those links were getting lots of views and downloads.
We were aware of this type of usage anecdotally. Musicians like Prince and Moby were sharing music through WT. But we haven't had the data to be able to dive into it and estimate how big this use case is.
After manually looking into some of those links, we figured they were shared by similar users, who were digital content creators: musicians, game content creators, artists and more. They’re creating content, they’ve got an audience on Patreon and socials, and they're uploading that content on WT and sharing Transfer link on Patreon for their paid subscribers to download.
Still, content creators were not an explicit target audience for WT at that point, and we didn't know much about them, so we decided to investigate a bit more before moving to other ideas.
Understanding the opportunity
We did desk research, market analysis, fleshed out high-level concepts and ran a number of qualitative user sessions ourselves to validate those concepts.
We found that creator economy market is huge, highly competitive and rapidly growing, but there are still gaps and unmet needs. Our concepts seemed interesting, but we needed more differentiation and focus to be compelling. This opportunity seemed to be worth investing further, so we were able to make a case for getting research and data support to inform our explorations and define our wedge into this market.
Informing the opportunity
So now I worked closely with a researcher and data analyst to get quantitative insights. As a result, we narrowed down the audience, identified the most severe and frequent problems for them and picked the ones we believe we could address.
We discovered that Patreon is one of our top referrers. And this presented churn risk. Patreon has a file size limit, that's why content creates host content on WT but distribute and monetize it through Patreon. So with no additional value from our product, we'll likely lose those creators at some point.
We estimated the size of the opportunity within the existing audience. Even though they are not a majority of our audience, they drive a disproportionally large amount of traffic and are more likely to become paid subscribers to WT.
Moreover, the size of this new market turned out to be much larger, than the one we are targeting today (162B vs 23M). This presented a solid expansion opportunity, but based on what we learnt in the previous phase about the need to differentiate in creator economy market, we decided to be laser focused on unmet needs. Specifically,
There was a clear need in merchandizing the product. Top platforms they use for selling only enable the transaction, but don't help creators to promote the content and convince people to buy it.
Another pain point is engaging and retaining fans. Patreon seems to be a primary tool for that job, but it requires commitment because of recurring subscription model, which often doesn't work for part-time creators.
The other top need is to get discovered and grow, but primary tools for that audience don't offer much here.
Shaping the vision
These findings became the foundational pillars of the vision we started shaping up through brainstorming sessions, concept design, and iterations based on feedback from stakeholders and another round of validation with users.
In our vision, WeTransfer would enhance its core product capabilities to help creators not only send and receive digital goods but also to merchandize and monetize them. Let’s see what that means.
Pillar I: Merchandizing digital goods
It will be a new product within WT ecosystem that is essentially a simple landing page builder focused specifically on showcasing and telling a story around digital content.
It's built on top of a modular system that gives users out of the box flexibility. A user starts with one block by default and can add more or rearrange them if needed. Each block is opinionated and optimized for selling so that users don’t need sophisticated marketing skills to create a well-performing page.
It also offers customization to create visually distinct designs. But it relies on presets to avoid overwhelming people with choice.
It’s optimized for both mobile and desktop by default, because majority of end-user traffic is coming from mobile first platforms like Instagram.
It also offers a built-in analytics to understand ROI and improve performance of the content.
Pillar II: Audience engagement
To help creators drive long-term engagement and retain their audience, we will use mechanics and best practices from social platforms, e-commerce and marketing. For example, ability to capture customer email and send simple automated follow up messages.
Scheduling and publishing of a pre-release version of the page to generate suspense.
Ability to add a product sample for risk free purchase. For intractable content types such as music, images and video, we'd generate samples automatically. For the rest, creators would be able to just upload a sample file.
And on top of that, we would offer social and e-commerce mechanics, like special offers, banners, custom thank you messages, as well as reactions, polls, and comments.
Pillar III: Discovery
We will help creators grow by utilizing WePresent, which is our editorial platfor, to help creators get introduced to the world. And on top of that, We will rethink our ad model to allow not only businesses but individual creators to promote their products.
And we will also help creators promote their content on existing platforms by offering templates for sharing on socials.
To sum it up, we'll enter creator economy market with a differentiated, but complimentary solution that focuses on the overlap of unmet needs between creator's current tools.
How do we get there?
We presented this vision to senior execs and CEO. It was also shown to the board and became a foundational part of the the new company strategy and positioning. With a company-wide buy-in, multiple streams of work were kicked off to build towards that vision:
Brand and marketing teams picked up brand and positioning refresh.
Infrastructure team started investigating and building payment system.
And ads team started exploring financial models that could enable creator discovery through advertising.
My team got working on a plan to bring the rest of the vision to life and disambiguating open questions along the way.
Specifically, I partnered with an engineer to create a proof of concept prototype to estimate complexity and effort…
…and I also partnered with a PM to explore what would be the right starting point to bridge the gap between the product we have today and the vision. And that was a bit of a challenge, because we had to balance between multiple things:
Within the worsening economic environment, as a business, we didn’t have the luxury of going behind closed doors and emerging in a year or two with a reimagined product offering. We had to start gradually delivering monetizable value.
We couldn’t start with payments or discovery through ads because both required time for infrastructural changes.
We had to be mindful of not introducing something completely new overnight but make changes in a way that’s accessible to many other types of people that are using WeTransfer.
We broke the vision down into individual features and hypotheses and evaluated them based on the impact, risk, complexity and personal vote from each team member, and I mapped combinations of those into multiple options.
We decided to start building within existing Transfer environment as our biggest traffic and revenue source but do it in a way that would be reusable later. And focus on merchandising, specifically, on customizing the appearance of individual transfers as it was already one of the top feature requests both for content creators and existing Transfer users.
Based on those decisions, we built the first iteration. It basically allows you to set a custom wallpaper for each individual transfer. I worked with a content designer, engineers, and multiple PMs as we had to navigate dependencies across teams.
Even though this iteration was rather small, we managed to move the needle on the goals that we set, and the feature is directly contributing to subscriptions. Currently, I’m working on the first version of our bigger vision and bridging the gap between the product we have today and will have in the future.
There was a lot to take in, so let me summarize. We started off with a broad and ambiguous goal, discovered an insight, which then shaped it into a product vision through iterations and validation with qualitative and quantitative research. Along the way:
We largely influenced the long-term vision and strategy of the company.
Contributed to roadmaps of multiple teams across the org.
Impacted the revenue growth with the first step of bringing the vision to life.
Evolved a small working group into a healthy team.
It's essential to loop in stakeholders early on and share continuous async progress updates with the rest of the org to make sure that by the time we land on the final vision, everyone is already bought into it. Also, constraints are stressful but sometimes helpful. If we had unlimited time or resources, we might still be in the middle of analysis or exploration paralysis.