April 4, 2023

Video: When did you first hear about product-led growth?

In this interview, five product-led growth (PLG) experts weight in on how they became familiar with the concept, and how it has transformed their approach to marketing and sales.

While they've all got wildly different PLG origin stories, all five experts agree that product-led growth has been around for longer than most people think—it just wasn't called that. They also believe that combining perceived value and experience value is the key to driving product-led growth success. And since B2B companies often lag behind B2C companies in adopting product-led strategies, they see a heck ton of potential for B2B companies to embrace this approach.

Want words, not moving pictures? We got you! You can view the full transcript from this interview below:

David Apple:
The first time I came across product-led growth was when I was interviewing with Typeform. I had just moved to Barcelona. I had been intro-ed to the CEOs, and they were telling me about their business. They didn't have anybody in sales or customer success or even marketing. Yet they had 30,000 euros of recurring revenue. I was just amazed.

In that case, it's instant belief. There's nothing to not believe. It's just there. There's people who love this product. They're not only using it, but they're telling all their friends about it, and they're taking their credit card out and paying for it without ever speaking to anybody.

Tanya Littlefield:
I don't remember when I first heard about product-led growth. I think it's one of those things where when somebody explained it, you go, "Oh, okay. Yeah. That's been around for a while, maybe in a few different names, but makes sense." I've pretty much always believed in it.

I would say a few companies ago, a few lifetimes ago, I worked on a product that did virtual college fairs. I ran acquisition marketing. Up to that point, I had really focused on how do you bring somebody into the funnel, and then let it go from there.

We really stopped doing that, and focused on what's the value in the product and how do we get people to that aha moment, and then from there, coming back repeatedly. We were actually able to double our budget by showing that we could drive really smart traffic and scale as a company that way.

If we had kept going through the standard marketing practices of just bring the traffic in, let the product team take it from there, the company would not have grown the way it had.

Wes Bush:
It wasn't until I launched a freemium product at Vidyard, which got to over 100,000 users very quickly, that I started to realize, you know what, the old way of this approach of paying a fortune for some of these leads, to really basically bombard them and annoy them with our marketing messages sometimes, was totally different.

Whenever we approached it through the product lens, we gave people our product, we helped them become successful, and by doing so, we were able to get a lot of customers. So from that point on, I started to look at the product as, well, that's not just the product, that is the marketing, that is the customer acquisition model and our growth engine for the business. After that point, I was really hooked about how I could use the product to really further get more demands for people.

When you think about it from a demand gen perspective, there's the perceived value. This is what we promise people on our copy. Then there's the experience value. That is what we actually deliver. The companies that really can combine those, and really deliver on that experience the fastest, are going to be the most successful.

I've helped tons of companies try and get closer to that magic point where they can deliver on their value very quickly. I've just seen, again and again and again, companies that do this well have really fast growth. That's really what got me into product-led growth before it was called product-led growth.

Amanda Kleha:
I think I heard about product-led growth recently, although I've been thinking about it for a long time. I started at Zendesk in 2009, and it was all about product-led growth, but we just didn't call it that. Zendesk was really good at having the first experience of just being able to try the product with ease, sign up for it, try it and buy it without talking to a human. That was definitely part of the strategy. My brain was totally wired from that experience. It's been product-led growth all along.

Jonathan Kim:
Product-led growth has been around for a really long time, whether or not we've called it product-led growth. At HubSpot, we had this thing called Marketing Greater, which was a magical lead generation source for them.

Looking at it now, 10 years in the future, if you look back on it and what it really was was it was a freemium product. They had an engineering team. They had a go-to-market team. They made a huge splash around it. It was driving leads for their business, and it was creating value for customers. It was really a free, easy to use product that then helped people graduate into their bigger product strategy. We didn't call it that at the time. We just called it ... We called it Marketing Greater.

Nowadays, we have terms for these things. We have whole companies that are going to market with these different types of strategies. We have business models all around it. But product-led growth has been around for as long as we've been offering value to customers in a way that is self service.

At HubSpot, we had this intentional decision to try to make the product more self service. At the same time, we were starting to see other products, like Uber or Lyft, these real product-led companies come out, and really start to take a lot of market share and be incredibly loved by their customers.

We knew that something was happening. We just didn't know how we can apply it to a B2B sense, which I think is what happens in the market. B2B companies are often lagging behind the tactics that B2C companies put into play. When we look at games, when we look at some of these other B2C types of products, even direct-to-consumer brands nowadays, these are all product-led strategies. Seeing them come out is what really made me believe in it.

Darius Contractor:
Everyone wants to name the hot thing. Product-led growth, I think, is maybe one of the newer names. Previously, people would talk about viral growth. That's just one part of product-led growth, but maybe one of the most exciting parts, where one person invites another.

I ended up starting my career in viral growth without it even having a name, back at tickle.com, originally Emode, way back in 2002. We ran a, "What kind of dog are you?" quiz, which was actually viral just based on the fun-ness of it, before there was even what I call structured virality since then. People just take it, have a laugh and send it to someone else. That's where I cut my teeth in this PLG world.

Since then, we've seen that model become more structured, have known best practices, and then be applied to the social world especially, and then more and more to the B2B SaaS world.

I think it's most recently been applied to B2B businesses, maybe because it's the de facto way that you grow a non-B2B business. It's just seen as fish and water. But it is true that any product you're looking to get to massive scale, at the end of the day, has to grow without a person holding your hand, because there's just not enough people. So social, like Snapchat, Facebook, all those, of course, have grown that way. They've grown somehow independently with just the product leading the growth.

That has been new in enterprise software. Historically, enterprise software has been a more person-to-person sales motion, partly because of the reasons I brought up earlier. When enterprise software first came out, people didn't even know what to do with it. "What am I supposed to do with a mainframe? Why should I have a closet that's cold?" It's something that we had to really explain something. It was also very complicated and expensive, both in terms of the overall install itself, but also in terms of just ramping up on it, and actually getting value from this new piece of machinery and then software.

Since then, it's become easier and easier, in the cloud, to get value out of something, and easier and easier to integrate with it. People know how these things work, and onboard more quickly. So more and more, the product's been able to grow itself and explain itself in such a way that people can onboard and ramp up without having handholding, or without it being really an expensive, tough process.

I think the other thing is that the tools have gotten more mature and more consumer-y. They've gotten to the point where you actually enjoy using them, and they have easy onboarding. The customers have gotten used to using these tools, often from using consumer tools. So people say, "Hey, I already have email to send messages. Why don't I have some tool to message all my customers? Why can't I have the same thing in my business world?" All that stuff has led to people, I think, seeking product-led growth companies more than they have in the past.

Margaret is a marketing advisor for B2B SaaS companies. Prior to founding her consulting practice, Margaret led marketing at OpenView and content at Appcues. Before that, she spent almost 4 years building and scaling content programs for InVision’s design community. She appreciates out-of-the-box creative ideas, practical executions, and Oxford commas.

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