Blog : Business Basics Series

<em>Product-led growth and the startup: What does it mean?</em>

Product-led growth and the startup: What does it mean?

“You’ve got a product, not a company!” rebuke the investors on Shark Tank.

It’s a common complaint, especially with SaaS. Really, is Salesforce a product or a company? It’s both.

You can be a product-company if you have a really good product. In fact, for startups it’s pretty much the defacto standard.

From AirBNB to Microsoft, software companies are closely entwined with their products. Even the Robinhood company is just the Robinhood app. And that’s what makes product-led growth so important.

What is product-led growth–and why does your startup need it?

Product-led growth (PLG) is a marketing and sales strategy that centers around the customer’s experience of your product. It focuses on creating an engaging product that users will come back to again and again rather than focusing heavily on traditional outbound marketing strategies.

In other words: If you build it, they will come.

A product-led strategy can include features like simple onboarding flows and automated trial experiences, as well as self-service solutions like help centers and FAQs. You’re basically automating everything positive about your customer’s experience of the product.

For startups, PLG is especially beneficial because it allows them to invest in product development instead of more expensive marketing campaigns.

By creating an accessible and engaging product, companies can capture more leads through organic growth that’s driven by the user experience. This can result in cheaper acquisition costs, a larger customer base, and a more reliable revenue stream.

At the same time, PLG is also an effective way to build relationships with customers by creating an engaging product that encourages them to come back for updates or new features.

OK–how does product-led growth differ from customer-led growth?

Here’s the elephant in the room, because you’re probably talking a lot about customer experience, user experience, etc these days.

While product-led growth focuses on creating a great product experience, customer-led growth (CLG) centers around the customer’s needs. This involves learning about their wants and needs, analyzing user data to identify trends, and using that information to create a personalized experience tailored to each individual.

But in simplest terms, let’s say the customer needs blue, and you provide green. Under customer-led growth, you’d produce a blue product offering. Under product-led growth, you’d more effectively target green-loving customers.

CLG is an effective way to build customer relationships and loyalty over time, as it provides a more personalized experience. And really, you should use them together. But the main difference between PLG and CLG is that PLG focuses on the product experience while CLG focuses on the customer experience.

But what’s your product? The potential weaknesses of product-led growth

Product-led growth does require that you have a really strong product. If you’ve got nothing, then nothing will ever materialize. You’re banking on the strength of your product to carry you through all your marketing.

I mean, you can get pretty far on nothing. Remember when Elon Musk sold us all an expensive lighter as a flamethrower? We thought he was cool back then. Tesla is still primarily a product-led business, focused on the production of slick electric cars–they don’t need to advertise. They’re Tesla.

So, remember: You’ve got a product, not a company. Without the product, you don’t have much. So make sure your product is amazing and engaging before launching into PLG.

That being said, there’s kind of a reason those millionaires on Shark Tank hate it when a company has only a product. A company supports its product: You need excellent support staff and a great company architecture to back it up.

The world’s changing–time to disrupt it

Whether you’re working on an enterprise SaaS mobile app or just trying to make the next Twitter (yo, we need it), the world is changing fast. A product you develop today might not even be necessary or relevant tomorrow.

Visionaries are able to shift paradigms and pivot fast. Continue to gauge the temperature of the startup world through everything from high-powered think-tanks to regular Reddit threads. When you hit upon the right product for you, you’ll know it.