The portfolio of a content and design strategist
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Ask Alexis

 

Stumbling into the hottest product trend of the year

 
 

It all started as an experiment.

Ask Alexis was an SMS-powered app that we created to fill a hole in the market to provide direct advice to men on restaurants, dating, gift ideas, and style. It was launched as an internal product prototype of Neo Innovation in early 2015, right as chat bots were beginning to take off. Within our first week we landed on the top page of Hacker News and Product Hunt, receiving over 1,000 signups in 24 hours. And just like that, we had ourselves a real product with real users, and absolutely no plan of what to do next.

 
 

PROJECT DETAILS
/client: Neo Innovation
/date: 2015
/role: Content strategist, Creative Director
/disciplines: content strategy, brand strategy, creative direction, customer development, community management, product strategy

 
We were hoping for 10 signups on our first day. Instead, we made the front page of Hacker News and had over 1,000 signups within 24 hours.

We were hoping for 10 signups on our first day. Instead, we made the front page of Hacker News and had over 1,000 signups within 24 hours.

 
 
 

The app offered personalized lifestyle content for men

In a recent client project, we uncovered a gap in the market for men’s lifestyle advice. We observed that very few brands serve men’s evolving and growing lifestyle needs around fashion, food, dating, and relationships. We wondered, what’s the fastest way we can experiment offering lifestyle advice to men? Texting seemed like the obvious choice.

 
 
 
The backend of the product that we used to communicate with users. 

The backend of the product that we used to communicate with users. 

 
 
 
Wow those are such helpful suggestions. I’m gonna tell my friends about you.
— Ryan M., AskAlexis user
 
 
 

I focused on giving the chatbot a personality and a voice

 

Alexis of Ask Alexis was a fictional character we made up. It was early 2015 when chat bots were still a bit of a novelty, and the thought of having a woman you could communicate directly with via text to ask for advice on dating and women clearly resonated with the some 1,000+ men that signed up for the service. The team knew from the beginning that voice and tone was crucial to the user experience. We knew she needed to have an approachable, yet savvy personality. She needed to be someone users wanted to return to and rely on. We wanted our users to genuinely enjoy texting with her. Consistency of voice was also important.

 
 
The original landing page that was done super fast when we received the Hacker News post.

The original landing page that was done super fast when we received the Hacker News post.

 
 
 

I used Ask Alexis to find more Alexis's

Because of our explosive launch, we had a big waiting list of potential users and needed some support answering questions. We also needed to make sure that we had good coverage on nights and weekends, when usage often spiked. As the Content Director on the project, I turned to Craigslist to find community managers who could fit Alexis’ persona. Because texting is such a specific way to communicate, I felt it was essential to find people who communicate and show personality clearly through texting only, rather than in person. We ended up hiring three part-time community managers to help us. I worked with them to develop a tone and personality, training them on how to respond in a both helpful and brand consistent way.

 
 
Snippet of our dashboard we updated weekly as we validated risks.

Snippet of our dashboard we updated weekly as we validated risks.

 
 

Measuring customer love is essential

One of the key metrics we watched on a weekly basis was First Week Retention (users who came back to ask a second question within their first week). This was our primary quality and engagement indicator, so we watched it carefully. It also became the metric we were constantly striving to improve. We came up with a list of other risks we needed to validate to measure progress on a weekly basis.

 
We updated the homepage look and feel and saw a 10% increase in conversions.

We updated the homepage look and feel and saw a 10% increase in conversions.

 

We took "minimum viable design" seriously

As the product continued to grow, we consistently saw more visits and higher conversions from press mentions, yet little conversion from other channels. One of our hypotheses was that our homepage was weak and only validated press mentions could help potential users overcome that. To test this we upgraded our homepage. I partnered with the visual designer and we came up with a new look and feel in an afternoon. We added more content to demonstrate the experience to users before they sent a text and also added an FAQ page.  We immediately saw an increase to our conversion rate as soon as we implemented the new homepage—from 5% to over 10%. 

 
 
 
An FAQ to help users orient themselves to what to expect when texting Alexis.

An FAQ to help users orient themselves to what to expect when texting Alexis.

 
 
 

SUMMARY: Just because you the users are there doesn't mean you should keep building.

After running Ask Alexis for 3 months, and seeing some great traction in repeat customers, we decided that there was no real viable business model for Neo Innovation to continue running the product. We learned a ton about how difficult it is to get a product off the ground, the challenges with scaling quickly, and how important customer love is for a product to scale.