2018 felt like the year of podcasts. Almost four seasons of BUILD later, I find myself reflecting on the diverse selection of topics discussed along the way. I personally had the opportunity to host Season 3 of BUILD which centered around the increasingly popular GTM model of product led growth (PLG). Over the course of three months, I interviewed thirteen thought leaders about how they have leveraged product led growth to build some of the best software businesses. Innovators such as Fareed Mosavat of Slack, Kieran Flanagan of Hubspot and many others shared their strategies on how to thrive in the product led era.
I gathered my favorite quotes from Season 3 that capture the essence of product led growth. For a deeper dive into what PLG means and how it can play out, be sure to re-listen to your favorite episodes of Season 3 or check out our latest book, BUILD: The Product Led Growth Edition.
“By adopting a PLG strategy, companies have been able to use their own products to create a steady pipeline of satisfied users and hand raisers, which they can then convert into paying customers. In addition to being highly effective, PLG also reduces overhead costs by eliminating the need to spend so much on traditional marketing and sales activities. It really is the proverbial win-win.”
BigPlay Strategies, Sales & Customer Success Leader, Advocate and Coach
“Really understand from the customer’s perspective on why they signed up for your solution, not how you measure success or the features you want them using. You want to understand their company goals. Are they using the solution because they want to save money? Are they doing it because they think they want to make money? Are they trying to save time? What are the keys things they define as successful and check marks they need mark off while using your product?”
“Model out your early stage retention and think about it at levels of granularity that seem minute. You should model out your early stage engagement and retention in terms of days or even minutes. Look at retention from minute one to minute two and examine every single click that users are making or everything they’re typing in the very first stages of engaging with your software. Every single one of those steps is probably a massive source of friction in ways that would really surprise you.”
“Taking over the customer success team, I was eager to own a KPI. I wanted to own net retention…But after a while, I realized that actually did more harm than good because other departments saw retention and just said, ‘I don’t have to worry about retention because customer success is going to deal with that.’ And when I tried to bring up projects that require collaboration with product or with marketing, it would be hard to get them to prioritize it because retention was not one of their KPIs. Now the whole company owns retention and my role is more as a champion of retention. I still analyze it and report on it, but we all work together to try to drive retention.”
“There’s a lot of value in the production of valuable content; people are still knowledge-thirsty. That tends to convert into MQLs. But there’s also a cohort of people who want to use your software for free, who want you to demonstrate that you have valuable problems that you can solve through your software prior to them taking the decision to upgrade and pay money…There’s a place for leads and MQLs, and there’s a place for product qualified leads, and they can live in harmony together as well.”
“Successful freemium businesses are naturally viral and collaborative. Using the product naturally draws other people into it. You can’t block this kind of growth, so allowing people to use it for free drives adoption and broad appeal. Getting folks to even pay a single dollar or bring out a credit card is a big area of friction. So if your product relies on collaboration or network effects, it’s pretty important that you reduce the friction as much as possible to get people in there and understanding the basic value proposition.”
“Always be looking to hire people that are better than yourselves, and I can’t emphasize that enough. It can be intimidating to specifically look for somebody who can do my job better than I can do it. But if you continue to look for those types of people to the point where it can be uncomfortable, in the end your team will have the greatest business impact.”
“Think about your product as a series of reactions for the user. So, for instance, they come to the homepage, and they’re going to have some kind of reaction. They can say, ‘Hey, this product is for me or not for me,’ or what have you. And then having signed up for the product, they could say, ‘Hey, I should share this. I shouldn’t share this. I feel uncomfortable.’ Whatever it is at that point. Thinking about your viral loops in terms of reactions is really powerful.”
“There is a precursor to being product led which is to be customer led. Most PMs and most people who think about product do not go deep enough into customer problems. Ask your customer 10x more questions than you feel comfortable with.”
“Our driving principle in creating Zendesk was this product should be so simple, you can just sign up and use it. Keep it simple and reduce all the friction you can. We saw people sign up for Zendesk and 5 minutes later submit their first support ticket by email. The simplicity of the product drove lots of interest.”
“You’re not going to build a repeatable machine in one day or even one week. You need to keep at content marketing and SEO. People are impatient, which is why they want to put the dollars toward paid advertising. They just want to see returns really quickly. However, if you build a good content foundation you will experience sustainable long-term growth and it will drive down your advertising costs, because you’ve got your own audience now.”
“First and foremost, the most important thing we try to emphasize is being operationally excellent. Constantly on the lookout for removing waste in processes, how to make today, this week, this month, the best possible for the business.”
“As a new company, you just have to ask yourself, “What do we stand for? What do we stand against?” Because it’s easy to stand for things. It’s easy to say yes to things. It’s much harder to say no to certain things. Especially in the early days, that focus really creates differentiation.”