Quick question: do you remember MySpace?
Before Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok, MySpace ruled the social media industry.
Side note: I just checked and, yep, I see my own account is still there to this day—though nothing seems to be working anymore.
Just as quickly as it created a seismic shift in the market, it vanished in devastating fashion.
In 2009, MySpace got crushed when Facebook arrived and quickly overtook the scene. Why? MySpace failed to innovate. They neglected to pay attention to the trends of connecting with friends and family and sharing content. Instead, MySpace was betting on profile customizations as the differentiator in the battle for market share.
The MySpace example is just one out of many who would have stood a fighting chance if they had adopted a product-led growth strategy. If they had, they might have not ended up as a sentimental millennial memory.
In this article, I will give you a summary of what product-led growth is, and provide 6 compelling examples of successful product-led companies, along with the secrets to their success.
What Is Product-Led Growth?
You know that old saying, “if you don’t believe in yourself, then how do you expect others to believe in you?” The same applies to Product-Led Growth.
PLG is a business strategy that is taking the SaaS world by storm. It focuses on using your product as the primary driver of growth. It emphasizes the value and functionality of your product as the primary means of acquiring and retaining customers.
The main idea is that if your product is valuable and easy to use, new users will naturally get interested, flock around it, try and use it, and champion it. This then creates a virtuous cycle of organic growth. As a result, your product is the main driver of customer acquisition and retention. It significantly reduces your sales and marketing efforts and thereby your customer acquisition costs (CAC).
PLG is increasingly popular in the SaaS universe, where many companies rely on a freemium pricing model. Using this model, basic features are offered for free. Premium features are offered for a fee. Potential end users can try and experience the product before committing to a paid subscription.
This model puts less emphasis on sales-led efforts and more on product-centric ones. For instance, demos and educational content are getting the spotlight as a means to attract new customers.
True product-led growth companies excel at making data-informed decisions and iterating on their offering to improve user experience, drive engagement, and increase retention.
Metrics about the PLG funnel, tracked with PLG optimization tools, form the foundation. The two popular PLG metrics models are:
- Dave McClure’s Pirate metrics models
The Pirate metrics model is called that way as it spells AARRR, which stands for Acquisition, Activation, Revenue, Retention, and Referral.
- Product Leds’ Flywheel model
The Flywheel model revolves around Acquisition, Expansion, Conversion, and Retention.
Now that we have established a high-level understanding, let’s take a closer look at the product-led greats dominating the game.
6 Compelling Examples Of Product-Led Companies
There’s nothing better than looking at some outstanding examples to make a topic come to life.
If you Google “successful product-led companies,” you will find two things:
- The Varian PLG Index. It is a list of B2B companies that are trendsetters in PLG.
- Success stories of a few well-known companies, like Slack, Zoom, Dropbox, Mailchimp, Asana, HubSpot, Shopify, Miro, Canva, and Calendly.
I will not reiterate them. Instead, I’ll take you on a trip around the globe and look at the hidden gems that you wouldn’t expect to see coming.
I’ll set out their PLG Strategy, using the MOAT framework, and show you three eye-opening approaches they applied to their advantage.
Now, let’s discover six killer companies that have embraced PLG and nailed it.
1. Klarna (Europe)
Klarna is a unicorn fintech on a mission to make payments and shopping as smoooth as possible. That’s not a typo. It’s smoooth with a triple O.
The company provides online financial services, transforming how customers shop and pay for products online. Its products include payments for online storefronts, direct payments, and installment payment services.
Klarna managed to become one of Europe's largest fintech companies. They serve over 150,000,000 consumers, and over 450,000 merchants, processing over 2,000,000 transactions per day.
Market Strategy: Klarna’s market strategy is one of the dominant growth. They drive growth by making online shopping for consumers secure and transparent through a simple, convenient, and user-friendly experience, whilst charging less than their competitors.
Ocean Conditions: Klarna is a Red Ocean company. It entered a saturated market, where it looked to outperform its many competitors.
Acquisition: Its acquisition approach is a combination of top-down and bottom-up. It works with companies to be available in stores, and reach out to individual customers directly.
Time-to-Value: The time-to-value is short and outcomes can be achieved quickly and easily.
Why It’s Successful
The ability to learn and pivot
Initially, Klarna intended to become the Swedish PayPal, reducing the complexity of online payments.
Though successful, it gained traction after a Zoom-in pivot, launching its Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) feature back in 2016. It allowed users to purchase items and pay for them at a later date, without having to enter credit card information. It reduced friction for customers and made it easier to buy items online. The launch led to international recognition and usage, which is visible through its year-over-year revenue growth since 2016.
Outstanding data-informed decision making
Klarna is hugely successful in its product analytics approach. They understand consumer payment behavior by using machine learning. It uses insights to figure out the end user’s favorite way to pay in different contexts, and where and why they abandon the process. This helps Klarna to continuously improve the personalized one-click payment experience.
Just have a look at a standard checkout compared to the Klarna experience. A shining example of Keep it Simple Stupid (KISS) and a great product, all in one!
Sense of community and exponential growth through a network of champions
Another key aspect is expansion through word of mouth and virality.
Klarna’s virality approach covers several channels. It reaches customers through partnerships with an ever-growing wide range of online retailers, including the likes of Nike and H&M.
In November 2022, Klarna added the Creator Platform to their suite. The portal seamlessly connects creators and retailers to scale and optimize campaigns. The objective? Increase customer engagement and referrals through a community of Klarna champions!
2. Hopper (North America)
Gone are the days of the brick and mortar travel agencies. Hopper is on a mission to help customers spend less and travel better. It aspires to be the world’s best and most fun place to book travel.
Hopper is an online travel agency (OTA), founded in 2007 in Montreal, Canada. It tracks airline tickets, hotel rooms, and car rental prices to aid customers in their booking decision-making, helping them save significantly.
In 2022 Hopper helped customers book over 300,000,000 trips, saving them over $670,000,000.
Market strategy: Just like Klarna, Hopper’s strategy is one of dominant growth. As its tenets say, it innovates so it can charge less.
Ocean Conditions: Hopper is competing with the likes of Expedia, and needs to outperform competitors to grab a bigger market share. They qualify as a Red Ocean company.
Acquisition: Bottom-up all the way.
Time-to-Value: Hopper drives growth by making the flight booking process as simple and convenient as possible for customers through its user-friendly mobile app. The self-serve app is available on a wide range of mobile devices and provides an outstanding product experience. The time to value is quick.
Why It’s Successful
Obsessed with its customers and the support they need
Hopper’s mission statement reads,
“At Hopper, we’re on a mission to build the most customer-centric travel company on Earth.”
To be customer-centric, providing an excellent customer support experience is kind of a big deal.
You have to be available to meet customers where they are, right when they need you.
One example of how Hopper nailed it is how they dealt with the customer experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hopper experienced a large increase in requests about travel plans. The customer support experience provided in the app took significant hits. The Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) and support experience decreased, while the First Response Time (FRT) increased.
With the support of Kustomer, Hopper was able to very quickly cater to customer needs and managed to increase CSAT by 10%, and positive support experience by 20%, whilst reducing FRT by 50%.
This a clear case of customer obsession for the win!
Data-driven learning to continuously improve the product
Hopper is passionate about understanding the in-app customer journey and improving the experience.
A stellar use case of Hopper’s data-driven learning is their realization that ads with custom offers highly outperform generic install ones. Understanding this challenge enabled them to improve campaign performances and, at the same time, free up the capacity to take on monetization and retention challenges.
A more personalized customer experience and better operational efficiency? Achievement unlocked.
The power of social commerce
Hopper is competing with the likes of Booking.com and Expedia. The usage of social commerce is critical to their existence.
Frederic Lalonde, CEO, and Founder addressed it at the Phocus Wright 2022 conference.
Hopper is taking a page out of Pinduoduo’s playbook. Pinduoduo’s platform is connecting farmers in China directly to consumers. They managed to go viral without spending any money on marketing.
In 2021, Hopper spent over $200m on marketing, and it has since reduced it to almost $0, giving the money back to its customers.
To make such an aggressive change, you have to be confident about the stickiness and virality of your solution.
So how do they do it? They do it by building deep gamification experiences—providing games and incentives in addition to bookings. It keeps customers coming back for more.
3. Linktree (Australia)
If you’re a creator, you have experienced the tedious task of managing all your accounts in every profile. Linktree is on a mission to empower creators, help them monetize their content and work, and at the same time strengthen their digital presence.
It provides a SaaS product that helps you share “everything you are” in one simple link.
Linktree’s first release was a true MVP in multiple ways. It was both a Minimum Viable, as well as a Minimal Viral Product. The release was built in less than a day. The founders, having roots in the music industry, gained traction quickly by distributing it amongst their networks.
In 2022, Linktree served over 30,0000,000 users worldwide, averaging 19,7000,000 clicks to monetization links monthly. A few users it welcomed in 2022 include Robert Downey Jr, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, and Demi Lovato.
Market Strategy: Originally, Linktree was definitely differentiating. Over time, the market has become a more competitive one. Its strategy might shift to a dominant strategy.
Ocean Conditions: A Blue Ocean company hands down. Linktree created an uncontested market category and managed to create and capture demand.
Acquisitions: Ever since its early success, its strategy is one of growth through celebrity evangelism and virality. Its strategy is bottom-up, aimed at social media influencers and businesses who want to direct their followers to multiple channels such as websites, Instagram, TikTok, and Youtube.
Time-to-Value: I had my AHA! moment within a minute. The time-to-value is quick and definitely satisfying.
Why It’s Successful
A seamless onboarding experience
Linktree’s onboarding process is all about simplicity. It keeps things simple and allow you to focus on a single use case by asking guiding questions in the onboarding wizard.
A premium experience in a freemium product
Linktree’s freemium model version is likely to be sufficient for most. What is done cleverly is the way the premium features are linked into the freemium experience.
It’s a non-obtrusive upsell strategy that evidently becomes increasingly appealing to frequent users over time.
The power of customer conversations
In addition to data-informed decision-making, Linktree leverages chats with customers and feedback loops. In their case, Product-Led = User-led. The Linktree team has a dedicated capacity for talking with customers, day in and day out, to get more qualitative data which they use to drive the roadmap.
4. Toplyne (Asia)
To me, this one is a no-brainer to mention. It is the supreme product in the grand scheme of product-led growth organizations.
PLG companies continuously ask themselves how to get non-paying customers to subscribe, and how to get paying end-users to expand their business with them.
Toplyne recognized PLG was hot and that there was an ever-growing need for companies to convert product usage to a product-qualified pipeline. Toplyne took it upon itself to help product-led companies bring delight to their end users.
Its solution automates the data and processes, identifies promising leads, and figures out the best go-to-market strategy to increase conversion rates.
As the new kid on the block, Toplyne is causing a shockwave in the industry and raised $15 million in Series A funding in 2022. They are currently servicing companies such as Canva, Murf.ai, and InVideo, and have analyzed 150B+ user clicks and managed 25M+ user data.
Market strategy: Differentiated. It jumped into a niche that has huge potential and is already nailing it.
Ocean conditions: Toplyne is a Blue Ocean company. Its product is catering to a “new” need felt by Product-Led Growth companies. It comes with a steep learning curve and requires more effort in educating users.
Acquisition: Top-down but shifting to bottom-up. Toplyne targets companies and key decision-makers. They are looking to make the shift to bottom-up acquisition.
Time-to-Value: Toplyne is focused on providing a comprehensive, user-friendly software platform that helps product-led companies get the most out of their pipeline data. They aim to achieve it through an incomparable user interface, and a range of tutorials and support resources to help businesses get started. The time-to-value is longer, but once that sweet sweet AHA! moment happens, it is freaking good.
Why It Will Be Successful
A deep understanding and seizing the day
Just listening to Ruchin Kulkarni talking on the SaaS session podcast gets me excited. The genuine passion with which he speaks is mesmerizing. It’s amazing to hear about his experiences, the insights he gathered, and his deep knowledge of product-led growth. It is clear he saw the opportunity, understood the user and buyer personas, validated assumptions, jumped on the opportunity, and made it happen.
It’s all about the people who make it work
Toplyne shows that being a successful PLG company requires well-oiled inner workings.
It is about creating a culture and team that brings their best every day to drive results. Toplyne does an amazing job of getting the best people in the room and building a culture where they thrive and feel a sense of ownership. I’d encourage you to go to their website and read their stories to get an idea of how they approach things through hard work and a great sense of humor.
Experimentation and validation
Though you might argue that Toplyne is not a 100% product-led growth company at the moment, they are doing all the right things to become one soon.
Tons of experimentation, discovery, and validation with regular releases and new versions that delight their customers. They want to be an example to those they help. Not just talk the talk, but walk the walk. Over the next few years, their ambition is to expand their product suites.
I, for one, am curious to see where they go.
5. Flutterwave (Africa)
Flutterwave is on a mission to create a payment infrastructure that connects Africa to the global economy. The company simplifies the payment process, making it more accessible, secure, and efficient for individuals and businesses in Africa and beyond.
Its endgame is to drive financial inclusion and spur economic growth across Africa.
Today it has nearly $2 billion in payments and 25 million transactions in 33 African countries, and partners with over 450+ banks globally.
Market Strategy: Flutterwave gets the disruptive badge. It introduced a new product that caters to use cases of an overserved Total Available Market (TAM). Its founders recognized an opportunity, knowing that the available market isn’t served consistently and optimally.
Ocean Conditions: Flutterwave is a Blue Ocean company. It accessed an untapped use case, created demand, and is yearning to expand its reach and services across Africa.
Acquisition: It aims to be the go-to payment solution for businesses and individuals by providing a frictionless, secure, and efficient payment experience. Its acquisition model is a combination of top-down and bottom-up.
Time-to-value: It invests heavily in developing its technology and infrastructure to support a wider range of payment types and currencies and keeping usage simple. The time-to-value is relatively quick.
Why It’s Successful
Gains and retains the trust of its customers
What’s the biggest problem for product-led companies? Churn—no surprises there.
Flutterwave deals with payments. Compliance and security are essential to their customers. To grow, the core of the product has to be flawless.
Flutterwave continuously introduces new features to make sure customer needs are met in a seamless and easy-to-use way, as co-founder Iyinoluwa Aboyeyi explains in an interview with YCombinator.
But furthermore, gaining trust includes raising awareness and educating users on topics that impact the core product, as this video shows perfectly.
Harnesses the strengths of others
Flutterwave is riding the partnerships and acquisitions wave, big time.
It partners and integrates with various financial institutions, payment gateways, and other technology companies, and acquired a fast-growth platform for creators. Taking a PLG approach doesn’t mean you have to do it all by yourself.
Making smart build vs buy tradeoffs and finding the right partners to strengthen your product is crucial to success.
In this interview with Founder and CEO Olugbenga Agboola, he speaks about these partnership proudly.
Features that have a story to tell
Reaching almost 1,000,000 sign-ups for your product is impressive. In an interview with Fatu Ogwuche, Flutterwave makes it clear that it had nothing to do with luck.
The company’s marketing efforts excel in customer centricity. Marketing isn’t an afterthought. They use a customer-focused product development process that starts by defining the desired customer experience and works backward to determine the necessary steps to achieve it to create a compelling story. I wouldn’t be surprised if they took a page out of Amazon’s Working Backwards approach here.
6. Betterfly (South America)
Betterfly reminds me of a product feature that yours truly didn’t introduce. While launching a new commuting app for a former employer, our partnering company advised introducing gamification. When an employee would make a more healthy commuting choice, they’d be rewarded for it. We didn’t go for it that time, and it was a missed opportunity. This is where Betterfly comes in.
Betterfly provides a digital benefits solution where employers can incentivize healthy habits. Employees get perks, such as growing life insurance or the option to direct funds to charitable causes, when making healthy life choices. In return, the company sees fewer sick days and lower medical costs. Win-win-win!
Market Strategy: Disruptive strategy incoming! Betterfly is entering a highly competitive market without being a competitor. They are a facilitator between customers, employers, and the insurance branch. Hats off to you, Betterfly!
Ocean Conditions: Betterfly is a Blue Ocean company—they are in pursuit of differentiation and low costs. Through their solution, they manage to create and capture a new demand.
Acquisition: Top-down. Betterfly works with employers and insurance companies to cater to the needs of employees.
Time-to-Value: Though for some it might require a complete mindset shift, once you’re using the app, the time-to-value is relatively quick. The AHA! moment can be achieved almost effortlessly through a short walk or workout.
Why It’s Successful
Continuous expansion creates a new pipeline of opportunity
Betterfly started in Chile. Their team soon realized they needed to expand beyond borders to realize their ambition to build a unique ecosystem that harnesses the power of technology, empathy, and social with purpose with a dream of protecting the future of 100 million families by 2025.
In 2022, Betterfly has expanded to Colombia, Ecuador, Spain, Mexico, and Peru, tapping into a new pool of potential product users.
It doesn’t stop there. Betterfly is ambitious and wants to expand further, conquering the insurance-tech market in Argentina, Panama, Costa Rica, Portugal, and the United States.
An incentive system that keeps you going back for more
Betterfly rewards good habits using gamification and behavioral science principles. They increase the value of your life insurance when you score points. Points are generated by using telemedicine, mental health support, meditation, nutritionist, financial education, and wellness services offered by Betterfly.
And if that isn’t enough, they integrate with other health apps to transfer information, which is converted into points.
Does it stop there? No, users also receive Bettercoins. They are a virtual currency that can be used for donations to causes such as water crisis foundations.
Becoming your best self and, in return, treating yourself and helping others — who doesn’t want to that?
The ultimate combination of a customer-centric and socially-driven approach.
Betterfly exemplifies these principles in three main ways:
- Their sleek and intuitive app builds trust with customers. ✓
- Integrations with other apps to collect and reward health information attest to the company’s ability to listen to and put customers first. ✓
- The ability to donate your hard-earned Bettercoins showcases their social drive. ✓
That gives Betterfly a 100% score in my books.
Product-led growth is the name of the game
It is an extremely exciting time for Product-Led Growth. More and more software companies are adopting PLG—and it’s not just limited to SaaS companies.
I hope you gained something from these examples of true PLG companies from around the globe and what makes them successful. If you know of a Product-Led Growth company in the Antarctic, please let me know!
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