Daily Active Users: Lessons from HBO’s Silicon Valley


If Pied Piper was our client around the time their daily active users plummeted, we would have posed the following five questions: 

What is the problem that Pied Piper solves?

It solves the user experience pain points related to slow file downloads, lack of hard drive space, and trouble with sharing huge files (among other things). As we’ve determined in previous lessons, the target audience for Pied Piper’s platform is an average computer/file user trying to improve their experience - make it faster, more efficient, and easier to save and share. None of that is expressed in the following advertisement the company spent a small fortune on:

This vapid piece of content is absolutely useless, apart from being able to poke fun at Facebook’s equally ridiculous - and sadly, very real - ad, “Chairs.” 

Customers want to know how your product will help them solve a specific problem. They want to understand why your product is relevant to their lives, and how it will fit within their lifestyle. They don’t give two fucks about chairs or tables in relation to the problem they have with file compression or social media. And because these ads don’t educate potential users on the product, problem, or benefits, these ads are a complete waste of time, money, and opportunity. 

How will Pied Piper fit into a user’s daily life?

Is usage contingent on trade, career, or file type? Are certain professionals more likely than others to need file compression? Why would someone use this platform on a daily basis? What does success look like in terms of daily active use? It’s not just the sales team that needs to understand these elements of the user experience. The CEO should be interacting with customers as they interact with the product to not only observe their reactions but also ask pointed questions, such as “Could you see yourself using this product once per day, week, or month? Why? How?” 

When users say that they “don’t get it,” what is it that they really mean?

It means that they don’t “get” how your product is relevant to their lives. Sure, they may see the tech capabilities or features as impressive, but that does not mean that they truly understand the benefits your product offers. It really means that they don’t see the value in your offer because it doesn’t seem to fit with either what they were expecting, or how they thought certain tools should work. More importantly, it means that Pied Piper needs to do a better job with educating their customers through UX and copywriting to make using their platform more intuitive. Remember, no one wants to feel stupid, so the onus is on Pied Piper to make sure their users “get it” right away. 

If people are still having a hard time wrapping their mind around the product, what should we do?

Our first (highly biased) suggestion would be: hire writers! But, let’s say, you can’t do that. Alright, the next step would be to find your Bernice. Out of everyone in the focus group, she seemed to really “get it.” That alone made her asset to Pied Piper. For instance, she described Pied Piper’s platform like this:

Bernice: So, when we put our files into a Pied Piper folder, they get split up into tiny bits and spread across a network of other user’s devices - but they can’t look at any of our files because they only have tiny scrambled pieces of them. But we can look at any of our files, any time, anywhere, even though they’re not actually on any of our devices?

Richard: Yes!

Bernice: It’s sort of on our phone, even though it sort of isn’t. 

Now, in this case, she’s more describing the technology as opposed to the many benefits of Pied Piper’s platform, but it’s a start. Bernice is able to translate Richard’s tech-speak into natural human language. If Richard would have asked specific questions or discussed the benefits with Bernice as to how his platform might fit into her lifestyle, he would have been able to collect extremely valuable language, which might have been able to help others “wrap their minds” around the offer.

But it’s probably a good time to note the following: Any time Richard gets negative feedback concerning his platform, he gets extremely defensive. That’s totally understandable. This product is his baby. However, by getting flustered by negative feedback, Richard also fails to ask pointed questions regarding his product to pinpoint where, how, and why it is failing. He’s not taking a step back to look at these problems objectively or understand just where things went wrong. We’d suggest reading Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen. 

What might have been an easy solution to Richard’s problem of low daily active users?

As we see in the show, the team jumps through crazy hoops in their attempts to stir up activity. However, the simplest answer may have been turning to the list of users who had already downloaded the app. If we were in their shoes, we would have launched an email marketing campaign to those users designed to entertain and educate them on the product.

At the time of this particular episode, they had around 500,000 downloads. All of those downloads could have been turned into daily active users had they instead focused on an educational campaign with the goal of increased engagement. Even if they hired professional writers, this course of action would have been far more cost effective than their failed “outreach” campaign and far more effective. Those 500,000 users had already opt-ed in, and may have been able to provide helpful feedback, if only they’d been asked.

And, finally, if they had launched an educational campaign, they could have seen, in real time, what was working and what wasn’t. That would have enabled them to fix the features that were killing engagement in the first place, or at least educate users as to why those features offered benefits they would love if only they knew how to use them. 

Even better, they could have promoted free video tutorials on YouTube, deployed a blog for actionable content marketing, engaged with people on Twitter about what they loved or hated about the platform, started an Instagram page promoting awkward photos representing “compression” analogies, or merely reached out to their few daily active users to see why they were using the platform and how it fit into their daily lives. There were so many free or cost-effective options they could have chosen, other than paying for fake user engagement, if only they’d turned to their actual customers instead. 

Wanna learn more from Silicon Valley? Check out Earnings Over-Ride