What to look for when building your in-house user acquisition team (a fireside chat)

What to look for when building your in-house user acquisition team (a fireside chat)
June 29, 2018 Simon Whittick


User acquisition managers are tricky positions to hire for: the field is relatively young, and without paying through the roof, professionals with a solid UA skill set are not so easy to come by. The stakes are high after all, a skilled in-house UA manager can drive serious revenue for your app business by implementing user acquisition and retention campaigns.

In a field where demand exceeds supply, hiring an experienced, top-level UA professional can be costly. This begs the question: what are the most important traits a high-value UA manager should exhibit? And, once you’ve hired the right person for the job, how do you go about splitting ownership within the team to drive maximum performance, and ultimately ROI?

We caught up with the Heads of User Acquisition at Viber and Miniclip – two leading, top-grossing app businesses – to learn from their tried and tested methods for hiring these elusive professionals and structuring a powerful in-house team. We also chatted to CEO & Founder of Appsumer for his thoughts on the subject, having spent 6 years agency-side executing UA campaigns for a string of world-class mobile brands.


Three pillars: analytics, resilience, curiosity

Paid user acquisition is inherently a mathematical, data-driven discipline. Of course, your new UA manager should possess a sharp and analytical mind, while feeling at ease in a role that revolves around reading patterns in data and optimising towards certain metrics. However, there is no obvious academic background that renders a candidate perfect for the job. In fact, many experienced UA managers came into these positions from different backgrounds altogether. Paid UA is a multidisciplinary field, and maths is only one piece of the puzzle. Our UA experts point to some other crucial ingredients:

Jonathan says, “Resilience is key, especially when working with third parties. A UA manager must defend his or her plan to the agencies or networks they’re working with. Big networks or agencies are incentivised with their own agenda; therefore, you often find yourself in negotiation. Your UA manager needs to have a strong understanding of the cost versus benefit, with the ability to maintain a very strong stance when speaking to networks”

“A UA manager must defend his or her plan to the agencies or networks they’re working with.”

Moshi finds the most desirable trait in a UA manager is somebody who “continually learns from their mistakes, to unlock exponential self-improvement. If a UA manager lacks this skill, they will continue to be mediocre. Even if you have great potential, if you can’t identify your failures and learn from them, then, in the long run, you won’t be successful in your work. This is prominent in every job, but particularly in UA.”

“Find people who are curious, as there is so much data available they need to understand the right questions to drill through in order to uncover insights that can have real impact,” says Shumel Lais, CEO & Founder of Appsumer. “They also need a natural sense of urgency, due to the immediate nature of paid UA”, he says, “the ideal candidate should be itching to see how yesterday’s optimisations have impacted performance.”

The perfect in-house UA manager is an elusive mix of logical and creative, who can remain level-headed while juggling thousands of dollars of daily ad spend.

Defining excellence…

As head of UA at gaming giant, Miniclip, Jonathan Winters has acquired a sharp eye for spotting UA excellence. He defines this as “someone who can apply the scientific methods or the science of this numbers game with fairly pragmatic and logical daily tasks of a mobile game. It’s very easy to forget what kind of product we’re promoting here, and for me, an excellent UA manager understands the product and understands the science of UA and connects the dots between how the product design or user journey of this product is impacting his or her UA work and vice versa. Somebody who can develop a wider view of the landscape quickly without missing the details. That’s an excellent UA manager.”

“An excellent UA manager understands the product and understands the science of UA”

For Moshi,“UA should be inherent to the employee’s work life, becoming a source of knowledge internally in the company and externally to the wider community. They want to broaden their horizon with new trends, articles, methodologies. Another feat is to maintain steady and stable work while also trying to innovate and experiment”.


Lean machine

The next step to consider is how to structure your team to drive maximum performance. While this depends on the scale and complexity of your UA strategy, there are consistencies across the board. The bare minimum is to have a User Acquisition Head, Lead or Manager depending on the team size, ultimately someone who commits to reaching the targets. Following this, it’s easier to build out the team based on their capacity.

At Viber, Moshi divides his UA team by marketing sources (Adwords, Facebook, media buying, app store optimisation), to ensure every team member is pushed to being as professional as possible in their own domain. “When it comes to operating a channel successfully, it’s knowing the latest features and the small nuances that will drive better performance”, says Moshi. “Splitting your team by channel, as oppose to by geo, ensures UA managers can really get to grips with specific ad platforms.”

Jonathan from Miniclip also splits his team in this way because “each individual network requires a different amount of time investment for learning and keeping up with the changes. For instance, Universal App Campaigns (UAC) requires a different mindset completely compared to Facebook or media buying.”. It works so differently to other channels that it’s worth investing time or resource in having a dedicated person for”.

“To keep the UA team lean, organisations must ensure the supporting resources and tools are available and responsive, such as BI resource or in-house/outsourced creative. Couple this with workflow automation tools and you can build a lean team who can scale UA larger than you think”, says Shumel Lais, Appsumer. “For single product brands who have a large enough UA pipeline to warrant multiple UA managers, I would recommend channel splits and put the team on rotation for greater exposure and variety. For multi-app brands I would propose a product-based split with a different channel champion in each to get the best of both worlds”, says Shumel.

One final pearl of wisdom…

“When immigrating your UA activities from an agency to in-house, the first person you hire is most critical. Don’t settle for any less than a superhero who is hands on at work while being able to lead the activity with the right growth/ revenue strategy and vision. Don’t make any compromises when building the foundations. The importance of strategic UA overview and the skills to execute the exact business goals successfully are critical for organizational success. Moshi Blum, Head of User Acquisition at Viber

“Give your candidate some real data and ask them to articulate their recommendations. This will not only test their ability to analyse data but the ability to get all stakeholders behind them through the highs and lows of their campaigns.” – Shumel Lais, CEO & Founder at Appsumer

“Companies shouldn’t shy away from professionals with a strong financial background and people who are willing to learn about the UA space in a fairly short period of time. It’s often the soft skills and the willingness to apply knowledge to a new field that is more important than actually knowing the area.” Jonathan Winters, Head of User Acquisition at Miniclip