5 Lessons From LivingSocial CTO and Co-Founder Aaron Batalion

Yesterday, I attended at talk by CTO and Co-Founder of LivingSocial Aaron Batalion at Dev Bootcamp. Here are some amazing lessons I walked away with:

Know Thy APIs!

You might not know this, but back in the day, LivingSocial was called Hungry Machine and they built a lot of Facebook apps. Since they were building on top of Faceobok, they knew every single nuance of the Facebook API. They even went above and beyond just reading documentation, and tracked any changes to the API via ChangeDetection.com.

In one case, they noticed that Facebook allowed for 5 photos in the news feed, so they build a super viral Facebook app where people chose 5 favorite things in a category (e.g. 5 favorite movies, 5 favorite beers, 5 favorite places to visite, etc). As the app became a virus, they got brands to pay them money for 5 favorite branded things (e.g. 5 favorite Britney Spears songs, 5 favorite Heineken beers, etc).

So if your app is built on top of another service’s API, don’t just follow the tutorials, read the API and be the expert on it.

Know What You’re Optimizing For

The team at Hungry Academy / LivingSocial, has always had one main goal: ALWAY BE GROWING! So every Facebook app they built, they were always measuring and optimizing for growth. The same is true for when they founded LivingSocial as it is today – they’re always looking for ways to increase growth.

Always be growing might not be your motto, but figure out what is. Are you optimizing for being the best at customer service like Zappos, or for most engagement like Zynga or for maybe just having fun while you hack around and learn things? You won’t know if you’re succeeding or failing if you don’t know what success or failure is.

Try and Try Again

The Hungry Academy team must have built hundreds of Facebook Apps until they figured out what drives the most growth. Because of this try and try again mentality, eventually one of their apps actually became #1 on Facebook right before Farmville came out and overtook them. They took the lessons they learned from all these trials and errors and successes to scale LivingSocial as it is today.

So if you know what you’re optimizing for, don’t just stick to one idea. Try out many different solutions until you know which one is the biggest success.

Measure Everything

You won’t know if your app reached the point of success if you’re not measuring your success metric  (e.g. # of users if your goal is viral growth) . It’s like building in the dark. As you make changes to your product’s funnel and user experience, make sure you know how those changes are affecting your success metric. If you try a bunch of things and your success metric is low, you know it’s time to move on to something new.

Be Hungry

To be successful, you need to be hungry for something. Whether it’s money or fame or being the boss, know what that things is. As you build your product, stay hungry. That will keep you going no matter what obstacles stand in your way.

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