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Cem Kansu Analyzes the Implications of OpenAI's DevDay and Airbnb's Release Strategy

Hosts: Brian Balfour & Fareed Mosavat

Topics: Duolingo's Expansion, OpenAI's GPT Store, Airbnb's Bi-Annual Product Announcements

Release Date: Nov 14, 2023

This week on Unsolicited Feedback, our guest is Cem Kansu, the VP of Product at Duolingo. He's been with the company since its early days. Duolingo is now a public company that has helped millions of people learn new languages, and is branching out into areas like math and music.

Firstly, we aim to understand why branching into Math and Music makes sense for a language-learning company. (Starts immediately)

Next, our discussion focuses on OpenAI's DevDay, the talk of the town. We break down what makes sense and what confuses us about the tech company's latest moves. We also discuss the implications of some of these new features on companies like Duolingo. (Starts at 21:15)

Finally, we delve into Airbnb's latest bi-annual product announcement. (Starts at 1:03:05)

Duolingo's Expansion: Mastering Product Market Fit Expansion 🚀🎯

Curious why Duolingo, the language-learning company, decided to venture into math and music? 🤔 To understand this, we need to look into the company's DNA:

📱Mobile First

Duolingo was an early player in the app space and took mobile design seriously. This focus on mobile paid off, positioning Duolingo as a pioneer in prioritizing mobile design and user experience. In doing so, Duolingo not only captured the existing language learning market but also expanded it. The app transformed downtime into productive language learning, cultivating a new user base that hadn't been learning languages before Duolingo. Any new expansion had to be mobile-first.


Monetization was a turning point for Duolingo. The company experimented with ads, in-app purchases, and subscriptions before settling on a freemium model. This allowed Duolingo to fund its growth independently, without relying on venture capital. Any new expansions had to be something users would be interested in learning for free, but willing to pay for more in-depth knowledge.

🎵Music and Math

Duolingo's foray into music and math may seem like an odd pairing, but each subject holds its own rationale. Music, like language, is a skill people desire to learn. Math aligns with Duolingo's mission of providing accessible education to improve life outcomes.

🎯Product Market Fit Expansion

Duolingo's expansion strategy challenges traditional notions of product-market fit (PMF) expansion. The company harnessed its core competency in promoting good habits and applied it to other subjects. This approach ruled out areas like fitness, where physical devices beyond a phone would be required for success.

The key takeaway? Sometimes, successful expansion involves leveraging your strengths and applying them in new, inventive ways. 💡

OpenAI's GPT Store: A New Frontier or a Wild West? 🤠

OpenAI's recent announcement of their GPT store has sent ripples through the tech world. But what does this mean for product and growth professionals? Let's dive in.

🤖 Custom GPTs: A New Era of User Experience

OpenAI's GPT store allows users to create custom versions of ChatGPT through natural language prompting. This means creating AI models that can advise startup founders, act as math tutors, or even generate content for language learning apps. The possibilities are endless, but we’re skeptical that the first version is a complete success. Why? 1️⃣ Text-based chat functionalities seem limited in a world dominated by engaging graphics accross devices. 2️⃣ The process to get started is still somewhat cumbersome and time-consuming. Is it worth the effort?

🛍️ The GPT Store: A Double-Edged Sword?

The GPT store is designed to provide distribution and monetization for creators of GPTs. It's like the app store for AI models. But building a successful app store is no small feat. It requires a robust system for rankings, promotions, search, discovery, and more. Not to mention, handling the back office, fraud protection, and chargebacks. It's a massive undertaking, and one that could distract from OpenAI's core competencies. We also question if GPT has sufficient active users to justify an app store. Successful app stores like Apple and Android have constant active audiences thanks to their devices.

🎯 User Activation: The Key to Success

One of the biggest challenges with horizontal products like ChatGPT is user activation. Users often struggle to understand what they can do with the product. By creating a GPT store, OpenAI is essentially offloading this activation problem to user-generated solutions. This could potentially drive more traffic and engagement to the platform. But will it be enough to sustain the marketplace?

A Swing and a Miss, but with Many More At-Bats

Our hottest take: We're lukewarm on these releases in their current form, but we respect OpenAI for the attempt. We can't remember the last time a DevDay was this highly anticipated. By releasing and iterating, OpenAI shows they essentially have unlimited at-bats, so why not swing?

It's clear these new features will unlock new possibilities, but it's likely that the first wave won't have the biggest impact. We're deep in the wild wild west, so we're anticipating some truly crazy initial uses of the custom GPT feature. But, the second wave of movement here is the one we're excited to watch. Are you ready to play? 🎲

Airbnb's Bi-Annual Product Announcements: Genius or a Misstep? 🤔

Airbnb's usage of bi-annual product announcements has sparked quite the debate in the product world. Is this a brilliant move or a blunder? Let's dive in.

🍎 The Apple Way or the Highway? 🛣️

Airbnb's approach to product releases has been compared to Apple's model - a few major releases a year, each bundled with significant changes. This strategy is a stark contrast to the continuous, incremental improvements most consumer software companies favor. But does it work for Airbnb?

🎯 Solving Core Customer Problems 🎯

One of the key benefits of this approach is the ability to address significant customer pain points in a focused, impactful way. By bundling these changes into a major release, Airbnb can tell a compelling story about how they're improving the platform for both hosts and guests.

📣 Marketing Moments 📣

Another advantage of this approach is the creation of "marketing moments." These bi-annual releases generate buzz and anticipation, helping to drive adoption of new features. But is this enough to outweigh the potential downsides?

🧪 The A/B Testing Dilemma 🧪

One major concern with this approach is the potential lack of A/B testing. Without continuous releases, how does Airbnb validate new features before launch? Are they relying solely on internal taste and user feedback, or is there some A/B testing happening behind the scenes?

🕝 The Timing is Challenging 🕝

There's also the concern that teams could potentially complete improvements and features faster if rolling releases were allowed. It would be unfortunate if a brilliant feature was developed but had to wait for 4 months until the next announcement event.

🌳 Pruning the Ecosystem 🌳

This method also enables Airbnb to "prune" their ecosystem and tackle problems that have been ignored for too long. Major changes implemented all at once can steer the platform towards a healthier direction. We especially appreciate how they highlight the issues and their corresponding solutions in the announcements.

🎲 The Final Verdict 🎲

So, is Airbnb's bi-annual release strategy genius or a misstep? The jury's still out. It's a bold approach that bucks industry trends and it has clear benefits, but frankly, we were left underwhelmed by the latest announcement.

So, what's your take? Let's continue the conversation on LinkedIn.