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How to do user acquisition with a small team

by Meghan Laslocky on Apr 4, 2017

This is a guest post by Saikala Sultanova, Head of User Acquisition at Space Ape Games.

One of the frequent challenges for a mobile gaming company is how to do user acquisition with a small team. After all, the games’ growth and revenues depend on continually gaining quality new users. UA is a complex ecosystem unto itself, and there aren’t all that many people who are experts in it.

Saikala Sultanova

Saikala Sultanova

At Space Ape Games, where I work, we have a total of over 100 employees, a total of 35 million downloads for three games (Samurai Siege, Rival Kingdoms, and Transformers: Earth Wars), and just three UA team members (though we are currently hiring two more). Here are some of our tips for success with such a lean UA operation:

Combine the “aces in places” approach with rotation.

We split work based on our strengths, which I think of as the “aces in places” concept. All of us own our expertise within app marketing and focus on those areas (for example, video networks, social media channels, working with agencies or DSPs), but then about twice a year we rotate the responsibilities of buying channel ownership, leading creative, ASO approaches, and general testing. This strategy helps us to perfect our day-to-day work experiences and learn from each other. Our last rotation is a good example: by swapping responsibilities, I gained additional knowledge about video ad networks. Being flexible and learning on the job is core to the philosophy of continual growth that characterizes our team.

Figure out common patterns in workflow and apply them across the board.

Each of us manage different channels, but we all handle data reporting, analysis, and campaign management, so sharing knowledge on the fly is important to collective learning. We’ve found that one of the most important components to managing our work lies in figuring out patterns among various tasks and seeing how we can standardize them in a template across all or some of the channels. This approach helps us move more efficiently in an already fast-moving environment.

When you’re hiring, prioritize “must-haves.”

Hiring for mobile user acquisition is challenging, there’s no doubt about it — it’s not easy finding candidates who are truly specialized in mobile UA and have relevant experience. So when we’re hiring, we make a list of core “must haves,” such as a passion for working with data and its analysis and making data-driven decisions, a hunger for creative research and innovative ideas, and a natural tendency toward taking initiative when it comes to new products and testing. When we post a job, we also outline other industry expertise that is at least relevant to data-driven user acquisition; sometimes we hire data analysts. In the end getting good people is about relying on our network and our recruiters, plus of course taking part in events that get people excited about our company.

Make a point of fostering professional development.

With a small team, it’s easy to get so caught up in the day-to-day that one loses sight of the big picture, particularly of how growing careers advances the company and the individuals who work there. At Space Ape Games, we have a personal training budget that allows each employee to take a course or attend a training conference in something that advances their knowledge.

Personally, I also seek other opportunities to expand my knowledge base. Last year, for example, I co-founded the UA Society Summit, a not-for-profit, global organization that is dedicated to advancing knowledge-sharing and best practice discussion around mobile user acquisition (among other things). By working on the group’s first gathering last year, I’ve learnt how to organize an event, including PR, fundraising, and the speakers’ program — all very important skills and in keeping with my dedication to the idea that our industry depends on collaboration and the sharing of knowledge. For me, having the freedom to take some time out and approach my work and the industry from a different perspective fuels my passion for UA and the mobile gaming industry overall.

In our industry, UA is often done by small teams with very particular expertise. The trick is to figure out how to balance each person’s expertise and create an environment where we are constantly learning new things and advancing our UA skills. I recommend balancing each person’s expertise (the “aces in places” strategy) with a rotation schedule so everyone picks up something new regularly, prioritizing what you really need when you’re hiring, and making professional development a top priority for team members — and for everyone in the company.

Meghan Laslocky is AppLovin’s senior marketing manager.

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