The best growth advice of 2022
🔥 advice from Airtable, Hotjar, Webflow, Zapier, and more
It’s been a big year for Growth Unhinged — thanks to the support of readers like you. A look at some of the stats:
📧 30 newsletters published in 2022, including two issues of The Gist!
🚀 Growth Unhinged subscribers grew by >350% year-on-year, from 3,500 to 16,500! THANK YOU for your support!
As we wrap up the year, I wanted to reflect on the 22 best growth nuggets we learned in 2022. Let’s dive in 👇
📣 Marketing and acquisition
Templates. Templates help you attract a wide variety of potential users by showing how you help them achieve their specific goal in their own language. (For inspiration, look at Zapier.)
Product-related hubs. Instead of static white papers, SaaS companies are creating curated hubs around key product pillars. These product hubs get infused with product images, broad descriptive content aimed at search intent, and then much more granular content to drive engagement. (For inspiration, look at Hotjar.)
Competitive comparisons. In competitive product categories, users search for terms like “best X platforms” or “best free Y products.” Instead of relying on third parties to chime in, why not control the narrative yourself? That way you (a) get the traffic on your website, (b) define the product category on your terms, and (c) position yourself as the leader. (For inspiration, look at BigCommerce.)
Free ungated tools. Lately I’ve noticed a shift towards delivering real value, no strings attached. PLG companies like Eraser and Photoroom are launching ungated free product experiences. These companies let prospective users immediately try out the product — no sign up required — and then ask for an email only if users want to save their progress. (Spoiler alert: they usually do!)
Media acquisitions. Software companies are increasingly acquiring media assets. Why? Media companies have cracked the code on attracting a large and engaged audience for very little cost. (For inspiration, look at Pendo and Mind the Product.)
Product virality. The fastest-growing companies generate 2x as many new sign-ups from product referrals compared to everyone else. There are three steps to increasing virality according to the former chief product officer at Calendly.
Community. Community is an incredible multiplier on a PLG strategy. In my opinion, a community strategy can be applied to nearly every PLG business; the question is finding the right community strategy. These are some of my favorite PLG + community examples.
Interactive demos. Introduce an on-demand interactive product demo to turn high-value website visitors into customers. (For inspiration, look at Oyster.)
📈 Activation and conversion
Self-serve onboarding. Drop-off rates after the first day can be surprisingly high. At the average SaaS company 40-60%+ of new users never return to the product. Here are the top self-serve onboarding mistakes.
Blank slate problem. If everything’s empty in your product, it’s hard to visualize the promised land of what’s possible. The best SaaS companies know exactly what they want new users to accomplish on their first day and get them excited to do it. (For inspiration, look at Miro.)
Personalization. Segment and personalize the user journey as you scale. A large company won’t adopt your product exactly the same way as a small one. Your user might not be in a position to self-serve without help from another team. (For inspiration, look at Hotjar.)
Usage paywalls. Usage paywalls create a compelling event for users to graduate to the next tier after they’ve experienced value from your product. Users get to experience a taste of your premium features – which drives engagement, stickiness, and habit formation – yet still have a clear reason to pay more over time. (For inspiration, look at SurveyMonkey.)
🤑 Pricing and monetization
Reverse trials. Is this the buzzword of 2022? Perhaps — and for good reason. (For inspiration, look at Airtable.)
Give away (more) features. The name of the game is to deliver value before the paywall. When in doubt, err on the side of ungating access to your product. (Instead monetize based on value delivered and look at Algolia for inspiration.)
Price testing. Get more comfortable with pricing experiments. Why? Pricing is your most powerful and most immediate growth lever. (For inspiration, look at DigitalOcean, which generated $13 million+ in extra revenue from price increases.)
🤝 Sales and expansion
Sales-assist. The best PLG companies do hire sales! The hottest role in PLG: sales-assist. (For inspiration, look at Zapier.)
PQLs. Leverage product usage as a signal of buying intent. The goal of product qualified leads (PQLs) — or, as I increasingly prefer, product qualified accounts (PQAs) — is to engage with the right accounts at the right time with the right message based on what you know about them.
Your first GTM hire. It’s time to rethink the profile of your first GTM hire. (For inspiration, look at HubSpot.)
Outbound. Data from PeerSignal.org indicates that a whopping 54% of PLG companies on their B2B Tech Hiring Tracker are looking for SDRs or BDRs. But ‘outbound’ looks different in a PLG motion. (For inspiration, look at ClickUp.)
📊 Strategy and operations
PLG benchmarks. Let’s replace the classic B2B funnel with a new one, this time taking into account users rather than buyers and product activity rather than simply sales and marketing activity. (For benchmarks, look here.)
Product-driven revenue (PDR). One PLG KPI to add to your dashboard: PDR, aka revenue from customers where meaningful activity was observed and recorded in the product before any sales interaction. PDR treats the product as a growth driver, moves away from fights between self-serve vs. sales, and it’s intuitive. (For inspiration, look at Snyk.)
PLG series A. The early stage PLG fundraising market isn’t dead. But it requires a different fundraising checklist.
The top 5 Growth Unhinged newsletters of 2022
One final countdown to end the year: your top five favorite editions of Growth Unhinged as measured by total page views.
Drum roll please…
Freemium or free trial is a false trade-off. The reality is that you can have your cake and eat it, too. Enter the ‘reverse trial’ — which took off in popularity last year in large part because of Elena Verna’s thought leadership.
It’s no wonder that PLG giant Airtable, a workflow platform that lets your team build applications to run your most important business practices and is valued at $11 billion, has been an early pioneer of reverse trials.
But how does this work in practice and are reverse trials right for everyone? I sat down with Airtable’s Head of Growth, Lauryn Isford, to find out more.
Zapier, the popular automation startup valued at $5 billion, had raised only $1.3 million in funding to scale to a mind-boggling $140 million revenue run-rate as of March 2021. The company grew extremely quickly and profitably by focusing on PLG paired with self-service purchasing (I’m a big fan of their approach to product-led marketing).
Now Zapier is turning to sales-assist to help fuel its next phase of growth. I sat down with Steeve Vakeeswaran, Head of Sales and Expansion, to learn about how Zapier tested sales and what they’ve learned along the way.
Zapier’s disciplined process has clearly paid off. They’ve already scaled the sales-assist team from 1 to 10 people, and it’s one of the fastest growing teams within the company. The future of sales-assist at Zapier is bright.
I’m fascinated by the stories of companies who’ve managed to grow extremely quickly and without burning large sums of money.
One company in particular stands out: Hotjar, the product experience insights software. Hotjar bootstrapped to $50 million+ ARR and is now trusted by 1,000,000+ websites globally.
I had a wide-ranging fireside chat with Hotjar CEO Mohannad Ali at SaaStock in Dublin, and shared that conversation on Growth Unhinged.
You’d be forgiven for missing Similarweb’s IPO in May of 2021. While Similarweb IPO-ed at a $1.6 billion valuation—no small feat—the company did so amongst IPOs from SaaS giants UiPath (April 2021), Procore (May 2021), and monday.com (June 2021).
But this is a growth story you won’t want to miss.
I sat down to Maoz Lakovski, chief business officer at Similarweb, to unpack the company’s growth story and lessons learned along the way. Maoz shared crucial insights about how Similarweb built an “inbound machine” driven by ungated free tools at the top of the funnel, why they’ve adopted a reverse-trial pricing model, and how they pair sales and PLG for enterprise growth.
Before you can create a PLG flywheel, you have to get users for the product. Those users act as the foundation for all of your product growth efforts and it’s harder than ever to attract them in a noisy world.
But product-led marketing doesn’t look like traditional B2B marketing. You aren’t doing account-based marketing aimed at a highly curated pool of executive buyers in your ICP.
Along with organic growth expert Nigel Stevens, I unpacked seven product-led marketing approaches to kickstart your PLG flywheel.