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Recently, Lucidpress hit the one-million user mark, just a little more than a year after launching our online design tool. To celebrate our growth, I'd like to share 8 lessons we learned on the way to 1 million users.

Related: From 1M to 2M users: 4 steps to scale your growth

1. Talk to your customers

After we acquired a solid base of paying customers, I sent out emails offering $15 Amazon gift cards to anyone willing to have a 30-minute phone interview. More than 50 customers accepted the offer, and I spent the next couple weeks on back-to-back phone calls asking them what their title was, where they worked, how they found Lucidpress, how they used Lucidpress, and so on. This process gave us the information we needed to create customer personas and kick off our customer development.

It's easy to feel like there isn't enough time or money for a large user research campaign, but I'd encourage you to make room in your budget. This entire kickoff only cost around $500 (plus my time), and it's already paid for itself many times over.

2. Ask new questions

Most business people are quick to ask demographic questions: age, gender, annual household income, etc. But if you want to build effective growth strategies, you have to understand your customers' values and opinions, too. Try asking these offbeat psychographic questions:

  • What concerns keep you up at night?
  • Where do you shop, play and dine?
  • When did you realize you needed our product?
  • Why would you pay for a product like ours?
  • How do you spend your free time?
  • Who inspires you?

To help us determine how to advertise to our customers, we also asked targeting questions:

  • What are users searching for online when they land on our website?
  • What magazines do they buy and what conferences do they attend?
  • How do they feel when they use our design tool?
  • What traits do our users have in common?

3. Use your customer's own words

One of my top pieces of advice for startups is to invest in compelling brand messaging. That doesn't mean you have to hire a professional copywriter or expensive ad agency. You can just as easily spend a few hours chatting with your customers. Write down everything they say, then go panning for gold. You're looking for words and phrases that jump out at you. They might mirror what you've been saying all along but in a way that better captures your intent. Or, rather, captures your customers' intent—which is exactly the point of good messaging. With a little polishing, these phrases can become the centerpiece of your promotional content, including web pages, brochures, slideshows, even elevator pitches.

What if we took Lucidpress away?

4. Value your customers above yourself

Good marketing techniques aren't about what works for you—it's about what works for your customer. [Click to tweet Tweet this] For example, we interrupted our feature development to completely overhaul our brand's homepage. Why? Our users made it clear that the current site didn't speak to their needs. Even though we were ranking for the relevant keywords, our homepage conversion rate wasn't as high as we wanted. So, we uncovered the three most important value propositions for our users and placed them prominently on the page. By considering what our customers were looking for and not just SEO, we increased registration rates by nearly 8%.

Lessons from 1 million users
The old homepage


Lessons from 1 million users
The new homepage

5. Keep your ear to the ground

Lucidpress users are encouraged to send in feature requests if they have an idea that would improve the product. We've noticed that, when someone makes a request, the thread quickly fills with other customers who want the same thing. For most businesses, a single customer comment represents at least a dozen others who haven't spoken up yet. This makes each piece of feedback critical to your success.

We've also found that customers write to us in one of two circumstances: when they're really happy or when they're really upset. In both cases, you want to know why they're feeling that way. I find it effective to stay in touch with customers on a daily basis by looking through our feature requests, support tickets, and Twitter mentions. This informs us when we need to make course corrections; it also lets us know what's most exciting to our users.

6. Measure twice, cut once

One of our biggest missteps was devoting resources to a feature that we didn't fully understand. We noticed a few people talking about analytics, so we spent months developing a feature that tracks analytics on published Lucidpress documents. It's been nine months since the release, and guess what? Very few people use it. We didn't fully understand the use case for analytics, so the result wasn't all that helpful. Moving forward, we'll take the time to learn what customers are really asking for.

And remember—it's good to recognize customer pain points, but don't spread yourself too thin. This sounds intuitive, but it's easy to overextend yourself, especially when you're enthusiastic about growth. However, tackling too many issues at one will leave you with a frustrated team that's being pulled in every direction. Plus, your product may end up being difficult to market, since it doesn't solve the core problems customers are experiencing.

For example, we learned that our target audience didn't really care about the fancy interactive features we developed for digital platforms. Small business owners were more concerned about working with local print shops and importing existing files. So, we decided to hit pause on the flashy features and zone in on our customers' immediate needs.

7. Prioritize user testing

User testing may sound daunting to a startup, but it doesn't have to be. We found that Lucidpress users need to be hooked on our product within five to ten minutes of first using it—and if they're not, they're unlikely to return. So we followed a cheap, simple formula inspired by usability expert Steve Krug, who recommends testing as early and often as you can. Here's our recipe for user testing success:

  1. We introduce customers to proposed features and ask them to explain what they're seeing.
  2. We prompt them with questions like "What's happening on this screen?" and "What would you expect to happen if you clicked this button?"
  3. We record their responses and use the feedback to quickly iterate on planned features.

These short tests help us create intuitive user experiences throughout our products. And I can't stress enough: it's easy and affordable to do yourself.

8. Look for natural promotion opportunities

When we hit the one-million user mark, we decided to run a promotion to offer 30% off annual accounts. We've found that customer lifetime value is higher with people who pay us annually, rather than monthly. Reaching 1 million users was a great opportunity to encourage our customers to sign up for annual accounts. You should think about which holidays, current events, and seasonal times will be good opportunities to promote different features. If you're there when someone needs you, then your product sells itself.

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Author Bio

Vicky Thomas is the Head of Product Strategy at Lucid Software, makers of top-ranked productivity apps Lucidchart and Lucidpress. Prior to joining Lucid, Vicky was a Product Manager at Adobe, where she was responsible for simplifying the Marketing Cloud implementation process. She is passionate about bringing new ideas to life with teams of exceptional people.