Office Hours: I'm the co-founder of Latitud and helped grow Duolingo from 3 to 200 million users. AMA!Featured

Hi everyone! I’m Gina Gotthilf, co-founder at Latitud. We support early stage entrepreneurs in Latin America by giving them access to community, top-tier mentorship and funds to maximize their chances of succeeding.I previously led growth at Duolingo from 3 to 200M users, spearheaded Latin America growth for Tumblr, ran marketing experiences for the Mike Bloomberg presidential campaign, led Community at Quartz and digital media for LVMH brands. Ask me anything about product-led growth, organic marketing, the founder journey, building communities, living a nomadic life and more!
Thanks so much for joining us @GinaG!Elphas – please ask @GinaG your questions before Friday, June 18th. @GinaG may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites 🔥👍🏾➕
Hi @GinaG! Thanks for your help! This is funny timing as a old colleague of mine from El Salvador and I are building the digital nomad community for Mexico and Central America online. I’ve only recently noticed that many people are selling the tiniest, most basic bit of information as courses. This upsets me as an instructional designer. 😅Instead, I would like to give away amazing information for free. Educate people as much as possible about being a digital nomad in these countries, and hope that 1% of them become my clients. What are the downsides of this option? Am I overcomplicating a simple idea? Should I just make a digital nomad checklist and call it a day?
If you think this is what digital nomads NEED the most and that you're the right person to do it, then by no means make a checklist and call it a day :) Just make sure that you're prioritizing where you're spending time and energy based on ROI: what are people reading, and are those people "converting?" If not, try new things. Perhaps longer isn't always better, people are lazy and busy.I don't think you're overcomplicating a simple idea but don't have lots of context. I know you wrote me by email and will reply as soon as I have a moment!Gina
Hi Gina! Thank you for sharing your time and insights with us! I'd love to learn more about your process building Duolingo's community from scratch. What was your process for figuring out what initiatives to invest in/angle to take?
Hi Erin, I can't take credit at all for building Duolingo's community! But I can say it was a multi-part, step by step process (i.e. there was no clear plan early on). The Duolingo Language Incubator was a platform that enabled people all over the world to collaborate and create language courses. Those people became our first "community" as they were really passionate about Duolingo and our mission. A community strategy really came into place when Laura Nestler took the reigns and set out to empower Duolingo users all over the world to create meetups and connect with each other in a regular, scalable way.
Thank you Gina for answering questions. I'm working on a social network for giving to nonprofits and while we have 11k users, we're struggling with retention, averaging around 500 monthly active donors.1. How did you tackle retention in relation to product-led growth?2. With regards to marketing, there are so many different outlets. How did you figure out where to put and keep your focus on?
Hi Tina! This is something I had to think about while collaborating with GiveDirectly, where we were also working on donor retention.With Duolingo, we really focused on making it a daily habit with lots of gamification elements. Duolingo itself was built like a game from the start, so it didn't feel forced to incorporate tried and true game mechanics to increase retention. Some of our most successful experiments in the team were around notifications, fine-tuning onboarding by letting people use Duolingo before making them sign up and adding badges to the app.In your case, I don't think this applies. However, you're so right in thinking that retention is the most important lever for you to pull right now so that new donors don't fall through, making all your acquisition efforts go to waste. What would make them give again? I think Charity Water does a pretty good job at marketing so I'd look at them for inspiration. If they're high net worth, then maybe a more hands-on networking approach will work.From a product standpoint though, you can make giving again or setting up a recurring donation both easy and rewarding, and then also really test your engagement messages and emails. On the gamification side, perhaps you could try milestones and having some sort of 'progress bar' that donors could look at. It's tough because with non-profits you really don't want to risk making it gimmicky, right?Regarding prioritization in marketing and growth, I always try to rank ideas by ROI when I can. How long will an idea take to implement or how much will it cost? How much do I think it will benefit the organization in terms of numbers (users, dollars)? I'd literally make an ROI spreadsheet, list ideas, and 'grade' them from 1-5 on on R and I.
Hi Gina! Thanks for sharing your time with us. I have two questions:1) Where do you go to find awesome growth hires? Resources, job boards, etc2) If you could hire anyone to lead growth in a B2B SaaS startup, who would you hire?I am the cofounder of said startup and I'm responsible for building out my startup's growth team. I do not come from a background in marketing/growth, so I would love to talk with whoever your answer to #2 is, to see if they are either interested in joining our team, or, whether *they* also have an answer to #2 that I could chat with...and so on. :)
Brie, I'd consider reading everything Elena Verna has published, or anything on Reforge. She's probably not available herself, but it might lead you in the direct direction. Or to put it another way: think of top B2B SaaS orgs and look at who led marketing / growth. I don't have a great resource for awesome growth hires and am begging Reforge to do that because they meet some of the top growth professionals around the world. Lenny Ratchinsky has a Slack and a newsletter which attracts great people too. I think he has a job board.
Thanks Gina! I will check out these resources. And I agree- a growth hiring resource would be so useful. I will definitely check out Lenny Ratchinsky's group.
@GinaG Thank you so much for taking questions. If there were two things you could do differently when introducing Duolingo to user number 4, what would they be?
Hi Erna! I don't understand what you mean by user number 4.
Apologies @GinaG. I meant user number 4M.
Thank you @GinaG for answering our questions. You've had quite the star-studded journey and I am already so inspired! My question: I practice an alternative healing form (Reiki) since many years and see the value in scaling it as a service. When it comes to services that hard to measure other than through individual perceived impact, how should a person approach scaling/growing the service?
Hi Swarali, really cool! I think you're asking the right question. However, I would try to find metrics that are as near or adjacent to impact as I can, even if it's not necessarily direct. What does individual perceived impact mean, is it perhaps an NPS survey that people fill out, and working to maximize that score? Do people come back for different sessions? What is your user retention curve and where are they falling off?
Hi Gina, what a brilliant venture—my warmest congratulations!My questions come from a regional angle:1.) Were there any social or political challenges you assessed to create Latitud and support entrepreneurs? 2.) How did you successfully create a broad market appeal (for Latitud and Tumblr) across a diverse group of Latin American countries with different cultural needs/interests? Thank you! ☺️🌟
Hi @GinaG thx for doing AMA. I'm a Startup just launching. I want to get feedback while building. What tips do you have for the initial launch strategy (text service to validate then eventually App) to get people to start texting? Also how did you gather feedback to fine tune your product in Duolingo? Tysm, Jo
Thanks for taking these questions Gina!What are some of the best metrics to use to measure your success when growing a community? Besides cost, what are some of the other significant benefits of organic marketing over paid? How do you best measure the ROI for your organic marketing channels? Are there rule-of-thumb targets that you'd aim for with those metrics?
Hi! I'd say NPS and frequency of meetups. At Latitud we measure: NPS, sessions attended, 1-1 calls scheduled (when possible), Slack interactions.I'm a big believer in organic marketing regardless of cost. I think it forces you to be scrappy and really figure out how to add real value to users such that they stick around and tell other people about it. It also forces you to go find your users where they are (like at a language teacher's conference, or even reading TIME magazine :) ). It also forces you to optimize the product or experience for retention because you can't just 'buy' a new user.
How did you approach setting growth goals in the earliest stages of Duolingo? How did you arrive at projected milestones (e.g. 1k users, 10k users, 100k users) and were there any programs (paid or organic) that were particularly key to fueling growth at that early stage? Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience with this community!
Hi Laurel! I wasn't there at 1k, 10k, 100k sadly. I cheated and started at 3M, but that was total and what we cared about was DAUs (it didn't matter if a gazillion people downloaded Duolingo if they didn't use it).But to answer your question, I'd say the approach generally was going for broad brush strokes. Yes it's important to have your beginning 10, 100 people, talk to them, iterate. But once you can, try to go for the highest ROI ideas, the things that will take you the least amount of money or time to execute and might get you the largest number of users. In the case of Duolingo, that was creating opportunities for PR: getting our co-founder and CEO to speak at impressive-sounding conferences and universities and then using that as bait to get journalists interested in interviewing him. Or in some cases, forging impressive-sounding partnerships to, again, use as bait and get journalists to want to cover it :) We didn't do paid until 3, 4 years in :)Thank you for your question!
I'm curious about building communities and ecosystems. If you're trying to build one from scratch, how long did it take? What assets and personal strengths did you leverage to build a solid community? What do you think your most impactful marketing activities were (like in person networking, a digital-first approach, or simply #allthethings)? What is actually valuable about "community" for your user -- is it something like relating to others or is it the content that you provide? Just a few small questions ;) Feel free to answer just a few, or provide general context on how you built your Latitud community.
Hi Kristen! So many big questions !! :) Let's see...If you're trying to build one from scratch, how long did it take?Annoyingly, the answer is it depends! If it's a small community, obviously it's much easier to build than a huge community or ecosystem. The hardest part is the seed -- the initial interest and traction. Here's how we've done it at Latitud:1. Attract AMAZING people first. We invited friends, friends of friends, people we already knew were impressive in their own right, and in exchange, offered to introduce them to each other and access to top-notch mentorship sessions, for free. They had nothing to lose.2. Make sure these amazing people really love what you're building and find ways for them to be externally vocal about it, either recording testimonials or posting on their social media. Attract top notch leaders / mentors (people that those 'amazing people' want to learn from) by telling them about the amazing people. Generally people want a curated way to meet people they might enjoy getting to know. In adulthood there aren't that many options.3. Open up the community for applications and have those amazing people (and mentors) refer other great people (I really believe in having people apply so you can select, and they can be clear about their intent and interest, also to make sure they'll actually participate!)4. Rinse, repeat. By then, we had tons of content from the sessions led, lots of great comments, NPS scores, and were able to generate enough demand to charge for participation so that we can pay the bills.Other things helped of course! We leveraged our own "reputation," my co-founder Brian published a book, etc.However, the obvious limitation of this is that people invite people like them. So we're also making a separate push on the diversity side to find founders who are impressive but not coming in through our direct network. Easier to do once you have something established, and also when you have some diversity represented from day 1 (I'm going to give us a C on that one).If you talk to the people building the Miami startup ecosystem, though, this has taken many years! So it depends.----------------------What assets and personal strengths did you leverage to build a solid community?I touched on some of those above, but I'd add people really care about building their reputation so things that make them look good, and then really encouraging kindness and 'paying it forward,' in part to build social capital. It's crucial that the community stands on its own and people start helping each other because otherwise it's unscalable.Impactful marketing?Getting your message down, and if you can make it about a mission or something larger than just a product or thing, do it! I've mainly focused on organic marketing so getting a great message out to as many people as possible. It depends on who you're trying to reach, but with Tumblr and Duolingo we went with trying to get featured in massive media, all at once, in different countries. With Latitud, our best marketing thus far is our own fellows / founders posting about how great Latitud is on LinkedIn, where others like them or who aspire to be like them are. Word of mouth is always the best way to grow but the question is: how do you scale that? How do you get the people who love you to go and tell other people who are likely to love you, about you?What's valuable about community?- The feeling of belonging! It's a great driver and motivator.- Meeting people they admire / respect who aren't aspirational to learn from In our case, having founders a few steps ahead of you in one area is really useful, vs. reading a book or learning from someone super successful- The potential of each relationship is undefined, so you might meet a new user of your product, a new partner for your business, a new founding member of your team, or a great thought partner. Or they might introduce you to people who weren't within your network before.- The content and cohort are the glue: the experience that draws Hope that scratched some itches :)
THANK YOU. I appreciate your thoughtful and thorough answers.
Hi Gina! What are 3 things you'd tell very very early stage startups to get right? (Think Duolingo's 3-users level of early stage)Also, when Duolingo was at 3 users, did you feel confident about the product-market fit?
Hi Melissa!Thanks for your questions. : )1. Make sure you're solving a real problem. Don't focus on a solution (or idea)2. Make sure you have the best team in place to solve whatever problem you're trying to solve. Even if it's just you or you and a co-founder, are you the right people to deeply understand that problem and empathize your future users? This is in part how investors will qualify you, and also what will make it easy / hard to make decisions in the future.3. Don't underestimate the importance of tech and product. It used to be the case that we could just make a thing and market it. Today, because we have so much data, we can iterate on a product over and over and often it's that iterative process and abilities which lead to success. If you outsource the 'thing' or the product, you won't be able to access or understand your data. It's OK to outsource as a first step just to try and get an MVP and answer / validate questions, but then being able to build whatever your bread and butter are in house is super important.I sadly wasn't at Duolingo when we had 3 users but I'd say that it's extremely unlikely that you know you have PMF at that point. You need more validation! What if those 3 people love the product because they're your family and they love you? It's certainly a good sign, but you need to get more data points in terms of # of people and as clear of a signal as you can in terms of an NPS score (would those people strongly recommend you to someone else or not?).
Hey Gina! Fellow marketer here. :) If you were to simmer marketing down to 2 important principles, what would they be, and why?
Hi Valerie! I'm not sure. Perhaps my principles for tackling marketing would be:1. Make sure you're solving the right problem by taking a step back and prioritizing2. Always assume your audience is lazy and busy. Seriously though, this question would require many hours of thinking for a real response. This one is half-baked.
Hi! What is your favorite organic growth strategy?
Unpopular opinion: building a great product!! It's really hard to make something that isn't amazing grow.After that, I've used PR a lot in my career so far, and then when you're not super early stage and have enough data to make statistically significant calls on experiments, a/b testing :)
Hi Gina - thank you so much for being here! I would love to hear about how you think about constructing repeatable processes when it comes to growing many different types of businesses over many phases/company stages.
Hi Gina! We met once at a Quilt event a couple years ago - so happy to see you here on Elpha! 😄 I'd love to hear about the early days of growth at Duolingo - how did you decide what to prioritize in your strategy and tactics? Is there anything you wish you had started doing earlier on in the company's growth or anything you regret spending marketing time & resources on?
Hi Lani, it's great to see you here! I remember you at Quilt in NYC.I described prioritization in another question on here but basically, ROI. R = how many new users do I think this will get us and I = how much time / money will go into testing / building this? Once you assign 'grades' to everything it's a lot easier to compare apples to apples.It's hard to say what I wish I had done earlier. I think in my first year at Duolingo I didn't really understand what it meant to be metrics-driven and didn't take the time to learn Mixpanel through and through to understand product led growth. I also would have liked to test paid channels a bit more but we made a conscious decision to stick to organic and keep marketing budget to a minimum.