The Power of Intuitive Tech, “Juicing It” as a Usage (and Joy) Driver, and Other Notes on Shaping a Disciplined-Yet-Freeing Product Path with Arcade’s Co-Founder, Caroline Clark


In the following exchange, Arcade’s co-founder and CEO, Caroline Clark, traces the personal roots of her long-standing belief in what (user-first) technology can enable and outlines how the tenets of gamification help them build absorbing enterprise software.

Origins of Caroline’s inspiring zeal for tech
Setting goals for all (long, medium, and short) horizons
“Juicing it”
Three core elements of gamification
Arcade’s organic flywheel
Understanding the real competition
Taking a product strategy page from the Atlassian playbook
A spreadsheet of existential risks


Origins of Caroline’s inspiring zeal for tech

I’m a passionate believer in technology. That belief has been a big part of how we’ve built Arcade and is ingrained in our core ethos.

Where does it come from?

I used hearing aids my entire childhood. Then, I got cochlear implants, which help with adaptive hearing capabilities. I was pretty young when I got my initial pair. Since they were in beta back then, I started with one ear first.

I will never forget the day my implant was turned on.

You immediately go from complete silence to a world of noise and sound. A whole world of interactions existed outside, and I had no idea. I remember that I kept making clicking sounds. It was an amazing experience but also very challenging.

Just like learning a new language, you have to absorb and interpret these new sounds. As transformative as those implants were, I couldn’t at first figure out how to use them. If they broke down on me in a playground, that would be incredibly disruptive to my life.

That experience instilled a fundamental belief in the power of well-designed products. The importance of making them intuitive and easy to understand.

As a company, we do certain things not as well, but this is something that we do really, really well: We pay attention to small details throughout the user journey.

Recently, a customer of ours at RedHat, the open-source vendor, said that their kids had tested out Arcade, and they figured out how to use it. That just made my day!

You would think that the child would be the worst possible user, but, to me, they’re the best possible ones. They aren’t merely fast learners; they also have a high bar for what inherently makes sense and what’s intuitive.

Setting goals for all (long, medium, and short) horizons

I’m a deeply disciplined person. Almost to an extreme.

Which is again something that goes back to my childhood. Growing up deaf meant that every single week I had new homework assignments to learn new words and sounds. If I didn’t do that, I wouldn’t have been able to keep up with my peers.

This has directly informed how we set goals at Arcade.

To begin with, we have this extremely broad, 10-year vision of where we want to be by then, what that state looks like in terms of impact, the number of users, and, more importantly, how they feel.

Emotions are very much a metric of success for us. We’re focused on making users experience joy, feel inspired, and not wonder about their life choices when they pick our product.

Then, we also have this more mid-term plan of how we want to progress a year out. What does that next milestone look like? Then, every quarter, we draft a very concrete plan of what we want to ship over the next three months.

We arrive at those based on talking to customers, reviewing support questions, and user feedback from other sources. For example, we look at the sales pipeline every week and discuss what’s blocking deals.

All that culminates into a few core features we want to deliver over a quarter. But there’s still a lot of room for creativity.

Zooming in further, we ship in a bi-weekly cycle (using Linear). In every cycle, we assess where we are on the three-month goals. As with any startup, there’s a hard balance between staying focused on committed goals and being open to new inputs.

Recently, we had a prospect call that had the potential to turn into an enormous deal. The one thing they were asking for is something that we’re definitely not doing this quarter. Such scenarios where someone walks up to you and is willing to spend a lot of cash are undoubtedly tricky to think about.

In this case, we decided to see how far we could go to build this thing, as this one deal could have a really impactful impact on the business. It’s a great example of us going against the plan—which can and should happen sometimes.

Further, there’s a weekly plan of action and then daily stand-ups. In a beautiful world, they all line up. Of course, that doesn’t happen every time. But having these timely checkpoints to calibrate our approach based on inputs/lessons is good.

“Juicing it”

I know I just spoke about discipline and process.

This concept goes completely against that.

When we think of product development, 50% of our efforts are directed towards the core user experience of Arcade. Then there’s the next 30%, focused on differentiators. This includes features where we’re making reasonable bets on what people might want based on market signals.

The final 20% falls under the innovation bucket. Anything that we deem interesting, can we build it? The idea of “juicing it” came from just that 20%.

One of our employees on the product team, Tamar Lindenbaum, came up with it. She’s someone who constantly talks to customers, thinks about making the product better, and scopes out what we can do next.

She once shared this video with a 45-minute conversation between game developers talking about how to make games more “juicy” with small details. Ex: rewarding you for reaching a certain part of the game, introducing unexpected interactions that get people excited.

This is all really important for gaming, but even for software, we wondered, if we’ve not built something playful/unexpected, are we really doing our job?

Initially, I was a little skeptical. This concept was vague and I wondered how it would materialize for us. So we spent some time situating it into the context of our product and our promise.

To explain how it has helped us, I should share that we compete with a handful of different alternatives. One of them is video. When you think of our core job to be done, people can (and often do) choose video over an interactive demo tool.

With Arcade, we have more than 50,000 published demos. In our recent benchmark report, we found that the median click-through rate (CTR) is 8%. That’s across millions of unique views every month. For comparison, the average CTR for video is 3.21%, according to Vidyard.

I’m mentioning these stats because we’ve always thought about how to build a format that’s more engaging than video, a format that helps them understand each step and really makes plain what they’re potentially getting in the end.

Thus the idea of ‘juicing it’ was definitely worth experimenting with.

Looking at an Arcade, you should notice these small design flourishes. When you hover over a call-out, it slightly changes in size. There’s a specific way that transitions happen between steps.

These additions seem simple but are complicated. For example, there are many mathematical calculations about what point they end a demo and on what kind of screen.

They’ve all been worth it, though, as we’ve observed that people love them. Even big, serious (replete with office shirts and blazers) companies that are all about revenue and core metrics.

For one such conversation, I even ventured to ask, “Why are you thinking about us compared to other alternatives and competition?” This guy who had been quite intense up until that point said, “I’ve been using Arcade, and I really like the squiggle when I click something.”

And I went, “Wow, this minor-seeming UX win could take us to a potentially 6-figure deal as a differentiator!” That was something. Later I understood what this was all about.

If you used Stripe in the early days, when you entered credit card details, the form would flip to take you to the next step. That small interaction made it a very distinctive checkout experience, and it got you excited about embedding it into your own payment flows.

With “juicing it,” we’re hoping to preserve a similar distinctive brand and continue to keep the small details alive.

Three core elements of gamification

The theory of gamification is very much an inspiration at Arcade. It’s in the name! The goal is to make fun, playful software that evokes feelings of positivity and excitement among users.

When it comes to gamification, there are a few elements that we’re constantly looking at.

One is surprise. As a user, you’re not sure what’s happening next. There are different steps, and you’re always progressing toward something new. There’s something unique about designing each of those transitions.

Then there are levels. There are basic Arcades and more advanced versions. At the end of some Arcades, we might reroute you to a more advanced version of the product. Users feel a sense of accomplishment when they climb levels.

The third bit is branching. Like games, users can choose their own adventure between options. Each choice carries a different experience. The sense of control that this gives to our customers’ audience, who are evaluating their software with our product is amazing.

The challenge, of course, is that we’re still building B2B software and selling to enterprise brands. We need to ensure that we aren’t too playful and aren’t leaning too much into juice it/lose it. We want to be seen as a serious vendor.

We’ve figured it out, but it has been a tough tightrope to walk on.

We want to keep this product-first ethos for driving better engagement and, at the same time, convey to customers that we care as much about their end goal, which is driving revenue.

Arcade’s organic flywheel

We’re an interactive demo tool. So you should see value as soon as you publish a demo. The value proposition just clicks for you once you experience that interaction. The good thing for us is that it doesn’t take that long for us to show you that value.

The medium time to publish an Arcade is 6 minutes. Time to value is a big challenge for many companies and products, as most users don’t get to that “aha” moment until there has been a considerable investment in setting things up.

The other thing about this product is that we’ve grown entirely organically to date. People discover Arcade primarily through hosted properties or they receive an Arcade. End users find it interesting enough to try it out.

The more we encourage people to publish, the more we encourage them to share, and the more this flywheel grows. So, having established that from the get-go, we didn’t want to punish people who wanted to get started with the tool.

That’s why we went with the freemium business model. The more usage we get, the more views our published demos will have, which will ensure we’ll build a product that grows on its own over the long run.

From the vantage point of an investment, this has mostly paid off. Every single week/month, more and more organic usage brings us in front of new users and sign-ups. The hard bit there has been monetization.

Even though we’re a relatively early-stage business, there’s a lot of learning to be had. We know we’re not a real business unless we get enough free users to upgrade. Organically, too.

We’ve approached that so far via a mix of feature-based and persona-level distinctions in our pricing. By addressing who you are and why you’d want to upgrade?

We’ve segmented Arcade’s offerings by folks just exploring, solopreneurs, small business owners, and larger organizations with more security concerns and want visibility into what people publish.

That’s been critical for making monetization work. We’re at a 10% free-to-paid conversion rate at the moment. Which, I know, is relatively strong for a freemium business, but there’s a lot we need to learn to improve it further.

Another big learning on driving upgrades has been that any nudge towards a higher plan has to surface when you’re in the flow of making something and will have an adjacent need soon. If we know you’re trying to build a video, we may suggest video editing.

Understanding the real competition

There are many ways to think about competition.

If we look at the interactive demo category, a few different approaches are at play here. From a product differentiation perspective, we’re pretty intuitive. With layers of gamification, branching, and “juice,” we’ve really got something going.

We’ve also had people who have blatantly copied Arcade down to the last design details. As much as that frustrates me, I guess it’s a good thing we’re creating something worthy of being copied.

Then, in most of these cases, the “juice” just isn’t there. They’re not thinking as deeply about the interactions that we obsess over.

Zooming out of this category, our biggest competitors on any given day are really screenshots and videos. When we run analyses on sales calls, 80% of the time, given this is such a new category, customers don’t even know what to name this internally.

As tempting as it is to focus on new entrants and conduct a feature war, that is actually just a race to the bottom because anyone can build new features. Right now, it’s more about setting a bigger picture of what’s possible beyond videos.

Taking a product strategy page from the Atlassian playbook

The way we’re evolving the business is to go into a multi-product direction.

Drawing on the Atlassian—I was there for a while and saw a playbook that works really well. They did this (very unconventional then) thing where they built different products for the core and adjacent customer base, and they brilliantly integrated those products.

So by the time you were in the Atlassian ecosystem, it was tough to rip and replace. You integrated with Jira, Confluence, BitBucket, and other core products.

As we learn more about the personas we serve and the workflows they have that really need to be public, how can we build a compelling suite of products that can work well from an economies-of-scale standpoint?

A spreadsheet of existential risks

I have this Google sheet with a list of existential crises across months and years. It’s important to know what could kill us, right? Four items are on that list this month, staring at me.

When we name them, we can actively start focusing on solving for them. And what’s really rewarding as a founder is to go back in time and say, “We’ve definitely solved that, and it’s no longer a problem.”

That illustrates the central challenge of being a founder. A huge part of this job is having the mental discipline to focus specifically on what you can control and change.


Related reading from the Relay archives:

Sendspark’s co-founder, Bethany Stachenfeld, on freemium’s core trade-off
Released’s co-founder, Jens Schumacher, on how Atlassian began in a niche
Wistia’s co-founder, Brendan Schwartz, on how they set org goals
Nira’s co-founder, Hiten Shah, on sequencing the free plan at the right time


Thanks for doing this @cdclark!

So glad that we could document your journey on Relay. You’re absolutely right. Products can be so much more! You’ve also written about Arcade being paranoid about shipping speed. I’d love to learn how the product-dev partnership is set up in a way that’s customer-driven and agile enough to constantly run with new things from the innovation bucket.


Lots of thoughts there. Some off the cuff:

  1. We aim to ship at least once a day. That simple metric can accelerate speed and ensure projects are scoped tightly.
  2. We segment and budget time for innovation. That’s in the form of hackathons.
  3. We don’t hire product managers. We’re small enough that it’s not an urgent need and maybe we’ll revisit that, but I do think the role can significantly slow things down if it’s the wrong profile.
  4. Engs have great customer support exposure. That empowers them to ship things fast.
  5. I constantly infuse things with urgency and annoy people most likely when I am not happy about the speed of things. I’d rather be a little extreme on the urgency piece as opposed to the opposite side of the spectrum though, as I see that as my role as CEO.

This is also our culture deck which covers a lot of these principles: Arcade Culture | Arcade.