When we started Akkio, the first things we made sure we got right were our team, our mission (democratizing AI), and being very specific about the problems we could help solve. The next question was go-to-market strategy - could we create one that would align our mission with how we wanted to deliver our platform?
We started by asking ourselves, “How do we like to buy software and services?” Pretty quickly, we landed on these three answers:
We drew inspiration from companies that lead with their product, like Airtable, Notion, Calendly, Figma, Zoom, and Slack. All of which embrace the “proof is in the pudding” approach - use our product and if it proves to be valuable, you’ll become a paying customer.
It felt obvious and natural for us to go this direction. But I’ll be totally candid here - only after we workshopped our product-centric go-to-market strategy did we come across the “product led growth” (PLG) idea. Like most good ideas, there’s a momentum behind it, with communities of people building on, iterating, and advancing it at the same time.
Product led growth companies drive users to their product as their primary means of user growth. The idea is to get the user to a valuable experience quickly and only prompt them to pay once they’ve experienced the value. In short, it’s putting customer success ahead of sales in the funnel.
This isn’t just offering a free trial. This is a strategy where the product itself becomes central. The majority of interaction a PLG company has with prospects, users, and enterprises occurs through the product. Even the user growth engine is typically part of the product offering through a viral loop of some kind. Companies that pioneered this, like Atlassian and Slack, found a better match between the way they sold with how users wanted to adopt and buy.
It’s an attractive model for a SaaS company because it allows for faster scale and lower customer acquisition costs than account based marketing (ABM) or sales-led models. Many new companies are starting with this model, and some established ones, like Hubspot, that initially grew with a sales-led model are now transitioning to a product led growth model.
The reason we love using products and platforms from PLG companies and the reason we think it’s the right choice for our company is simple: product led growth tightly aligns our users’ success to our success. It sets up an incentive structure where we:
Put our users’ experience first. Absent a top-down sales motion, our best shot at adoption is to make the platform experience great. Our baseline is enabling a user to get the job done fast. But our goal is to provoke joy -- or maybe just make a user want to scream if someone tries to take it away.
Only capture value if we deliver value. If we’re not delivering value, we shouldn’t get paid. And the amount we make should scale with the value a user gets.
On the face of it, this aligned incentive structure seems obvious. So why wouldn’t everyone follow this path? Well, because it’s harder. We have to invest to build our platform to where it delivers substantial value - and then give it away free to anyone who shows up before collecting a dollar of revenue. If we do it right, the upside is we’ll be able to scale faster and enjoy lower customer acquisition cost. But even more importantly, by aligning our incentives with our users, we make it a lot more likely that we’re going to bring something of lasting value into the world.
Adoption of software and services in the enterprise will only get faster, and yes, more chaotic. Instead of top management pushing down tools it’s been sold to a suspect audience of employees with no say in the matter, product led growth will lead to more people having license to innovate. It will empower people to find and align with products that will best solve their problems. It will democratize the way that companies adopt software and services.
Choices of what products to check out will be heard through the grapevine - often, a grapevine of online communities of like-minded professionals. Choices of which products to adopt will depend on how fast those products can show value and the emotional impact a product makes (does it make my job more fun? Do I like what this company stands for?). Tribes of products that work particularly well together will form. And the enterprise-wide sale will come much, much later than it does today, after a product is already in widespread use in a company.
At Akkio, we’re democratizing AI. It just makes sense that our go-to-market strategy lines up with a larger product led growth movement democratizing the software and services that will drive businesses in the next decade. And while those who live it every day probably feel like the product led growth model has been around for a long time, we believe we’re only at the end of the beginning.