Jonathan Eppers, co-founder and CEO of the increasingly popular LA-based apartment rental app RadPad came by HanHai Studio Thursday (March 5th) for a casual fireside chat to share the story of his company.
As a co-founder of a mobile-first startup of my own, I was especially intrigued and excited to learn about Jonathan’s experience and was eager to come away with some practical insights into what it really takes to build and launch a great app that people will actually use.
More specifically, I was itching to learn how RadPad got so much traction so fast? How did they reach their first thousand users? How did they get initial user feedback? How did they market their product so effectively? What kind of innovative strategies did they implement to optimize user growth ,engagement, and stickiness? How did they do it??
I had a thousand questions for Jonathan…
Having worked on my own startup, mainly focusing on product design and positioning, for the better part of the last year. I’ve done my fair share of research on what it takes to design a decent initial prototype.
Transforming a good idea into a simple, valuable product is hard work. WithNomquest, we distilled the idea down to it’s very essence and took a long hard look into what problem we were really trying to solve, who we were solving it for, and was it really worth solving?
The answers behind those fundamental questions were the first building blocks for our product and would serve as our north star. We took what we learned from past mistakes and crafted around our intention. It took a lot of time, tons of trial-and-error and many sleepless nights before we got to a place where we felt our initial prototype was good enough to ship. It was a good start…
But then I started reading about traction. What it took to actually get people to use your ‘good enough to ship’ product. I started learning about growth-hacking, about engagement, stickiness, and virial coefficients… I had the sobering realization that this elusive traction that so many startups fail to capture is really a product strategy, not a marketing gimmick. Most, if not all of that work should be done well before you even launch.
I realized that building out the idea was the easy part. Now we gotta build for traction..
Which brings us back to my talk with Jonathan. Preparing for the fireside chat, I learned a lot about RadPad and the success they had from the very beginning.
To me RadPad seemed like one of those fairy-tale startups where everything goes according to plan. You launch your product and of course people love it. Weeks after launch your traction metrics go off the charts and suddenly you’re the new kid on the block, shaking things up in your industry. Before you know it you start getting calls from investors and people start offering you millions to sell, which of course, you refuse (tearing up that million dollar check, throwing the pieces up in the air and walking away from the explosion without looking back, everything in slow-motion). Dream come true from any startup.
I thought to myself, man.. the people behind RadPad must know something we don’t. They must have some magic formula for getting things so right so quickly, for getting so much traction and growth right off the bat.
I was particularly interested in hearing Jonathan’s side of the story, from a product manager’s standpoint, of how he built for traction? What kind of magic did he put into RadPad that allowed it to take off so quickly?
The fireside chat began with Jonathan telling us the story behind how RadPad got started and how he met his co-founders, Tyler Galpin and Tim Watson. Like most startups, in the early days they mostly worked out of their apartment. The team spent about three months building their initial product and launched it on the app store.
The app grew steadily the months following launch until one day the Huffington Post wrote about their app. It turned out that a writer there was using it and loved the experience. That’s when user-growth really started to take off and shortly after Jonathan, Tyler, and Tim were getting calls from people offering to buy their company.
Once word gets out that you've refused a few acquisition offers, that's when investors and accelerators start to show interest. For RadPad, this was the perfect opportunity to join Amplify, an LA based startup accelerator. It was there that Jonathan and his team got to meet their first investors and where RadPad developed into a real threat to the existing incumbents in the apartment rental industry. The rest is history.
RadPad was successful because they build for their users. They understood who their real users were and built a product that actually made their lives a little bit easier. They spent most of their energy on the one thing that matters for a startup and built a great product with a simple purpose. RadPad had its share of ups and downs but in the end it was the quality of their product and the perseverance of their team members that got them through the tough times.
The biggest takeaway for me after talking with Jonathan is learning that there really are no secrets to traction or growth or engagement. It’s actually very simple. Think about your users, think about their needs, sweat the details, and build the best eff-ing product you can. If you truly make the effort to invest in your product everyday and invest in the people behind it, the results will show in the form of traction and growth.
That’s the magic.