Demystifying PLG at bold.camp, our developer first 0–1 boot camp
At boldstart, we ❤️ to collaborate with technical founders well before writing their first line of code or making their first hires, lead pre-product rounds at company formation, and 🏎 help accelerate their path to product market fit. We believe in the power of a focused community of founders creating new categories in developer tooling, crypto infra, and SaaS, and to that end, we recently held bold.camp west coast for our developer founders early in their journey.
While the focus of the camp was on practical, actionable advice for founders on how to close their first 10 customers from creating their initial customer profile (ICP) to understanding and implementing a PLG motion (product led growth), the real power revolved around the hyper focused community of developer founders learning from one another. We are 🙏🏼 to have a special group of mission driven founders who not only like to geek out on code but who are also humble and willing to share with others. If you’re a founder iterating on a new developer or infra co, we’d love to have you DM us at boldstart so you can join our community of builders.
Day 1 kicked off with a great dinner where we discussed what was top of mind for each founder. A huge thanks to Rob Bailey who not only helped us plan this camp but also captured the Q&A from dinner (more from Rob later).
We kicked off the next day with demystifying PLG as many founders were quite confused with what it actually meant for their business as there is lots of noise out there. So we brought in some of the best and brightest in product led growth for developer startups who have built these motions at companies like Snyk, Auth0, Mesosphere, Buoyant, and ZeroTurnaround to share their 0 to 1 strategies. Here’s a summary of key points that were delivered repeatedly…
- PLG is a continuum and too many folks think PLG is a pure play model that’s just about swiping credit cards when in reality very few companies build big businesses like that, especially in developer tools.
- Reframing PLG as lead generation with product will change your success criteria. If it’s easy for a single user to onboard then imagine how easy it will be to onboard large customers when you move to enterprise sales.
- Don’t be afraid of the sandwich model. Not every PLG co is built the same, some may have an amazing community and get their 50 customers via bottoms up and others may sprinkle in a few design partners early sourced through the community.
- Every PLG company eventually wants to sell to enterprises and many SLG (sales led growth) cos want to have a more frictionless PLG motion.
- Building an insane product for the user does not mean that you will be a commercial success as your product also has to appeal to the buyer with budget and money — user and buyer are different.
- PLG does require a sales motion.
- Always start with the ICP (Ideal Customer Profile) — who is your user, what problem are you solving for them that is 10x better than what they are using today, how and where do you find them — need to have a deep and continuous understanding as you release product and iterate
- In the early days, especially if you have a downloadable Open Source project, you will need to reach out to users to talk to them and interview them on why and how they are using the product, what they hate about it, and how it can be improved.
- For PLG products, knowing when to reach out and how is key. Getting users to your SaaS platform from OSS downloads is tricky and need to ensure there are compelling reasons for a user to try your SaaS. Once using your SaaS service, scoring personas is key from a score of 0–100 based on who they are (developer, VP Eng vs. HR) and behavioral (spent x minutes looking at a specific doc vs. on your press release section). Armed with this data, you can then start wiring in specific triggers or outreach.
- When you outreach, developers like to talk to developers or technical folks — don’t have a SDR hound a developer down. Have a developer reach out and say, I see you’re stuck, how can I help you get going faster.
- Do not sell anything until a developer or user is getting value out of your product.
- Founders should close the first 10–15 sales to know what it’s like to do so and to know what kind of hire they may need. Either a technical founder or an engineer who can talk to customers can serve as the initial sales engineer to help customers successfully implement and start getting value.
- Having a sales person ride shotgun to help with the terms and conditions and close the deal can be helpful if you’ve never closed a deal before.
- All of the speakers talked about the importance of experimentation and learning rapidly as no startup is the same.
- Enjoy the journey!
And here are a few slides from our esteemed workshop leaders:
Kiersten Gaffney, CMO - Content Strategy for Growth
Currently CMO Codefresh and prior VP Marketing Mesosphere, Buoyant and fractional CMO to cos like Solo.io, Fermyon, and AtomicJar. You can find Kiersten here on Linkedin and Twitter.
Many technical founders think content marketing is just throwing up a few blog posts but Kiersten shares her framework, dives into each strategic narrative, and shared real world examples of success. Patience and focus is required and influencing key decision makers
Understand the job to be done and desired outcomes to create brand messaging.
Martin Gontovnikas aka “Gonto” — Successful PLG Experiments w/HyperGrowth Customers
Employee #6 at Auth0 and built developer first GTM motion to $200M ARR leaving as SVP Marketing & Growth before exit to Okta for $6.5B, advisor to cos like Vercel, Airbyte, Smallstep. Gonto can be found here on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Gonto’s workshop focused on developer marketing, outbound, growth marketing, and activation and retention for product. He shared so many practical 💎 which many founders were ready to implement once our workshop finished. Of course before you do any of that, you have to do your research and understand your user.
All best PLG cos either build their own community or leverage an existing one.
Predictive scoring, mentioned above, matters when users try your hosted version and you can get this data.
On who should be talking to developers — must be a similar persona type in early days…developers will talk to developers.
Anna Debenham — Founder Led Product Strategy
Employee #5 at Snyk, initial Director of Product having started as front-end engineer, built and implemented many of the systems to gather customer feedback and prioritize roadmap to allow Snyk to scale. Anna can be found here on LinkedIn and Twitter.
While we spent much of our time on how to work with design partners and prioritize your roadmap, one of the deeper discussion topics revolved around when to hire your first person in product and what that profile should be. This is a topic near and dear to many a boldstart founder as we only fund technical founders who are responsible for product so many don’t want to let their baby go. Anna has a great framework to decide what the varying levels of “let go” means.
Another key topic of discussion is the role product plays as a link to customers, sales, engineers and customer success. Anna built an AirTable which had thousands of feature requests and spent lots of time with sales prospects understanding if the feature that sales thought they needed was what they actually wanted. Sending product folks to these prospects is a win/win as it shows the prospect how serious you are about their request and can potentially avoid adding any unneccesary features to help close deals fast.
Ethan “Trade $ for Speed” Schecter — Closing Your First Deals/Enabling Your First Sales Leader
First VP Sales at Snyk after first few customers closed and built early sales engine and motion, recruited early team, prior to that helped build ZeroTurnaround in dev tools space to 8 digits ARR…You can find Ethan here on LinkedIn.
Rob “The Catalyst” Bailey — bold.camp GTM West Coast Kick Off + Overview
Founder/CEO of Backbone, former COO of Kustomer and helped scale to first 50 customers, CEO of Datasift. Rob can be found here on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Special thanks to Rob for helping us create the agenda and setting the tone bringing a holistic view from sales, marketing, finance and strategy to start the day before Kiersten, Gonto, Anna and Ethan dove deeper. Rob is the master of hacks and below in the bullets you’ll see some of his manual hacks to do everything possible to get your first 10 customers and build the right culture. On budgeting, hiring the CFO comes later so start with an outsourced bookkeeper but over time fractional CFO time is a huge help.
Following our working sessions, we had a fireside chat with Konstantin Richter (DM here), founder and CEO of Blockdaemon on how he survived many a crypto winter building an infrastructure startup and raised 7 seed rounds on his way to a $3.25B valuation as of earlier this year. We dove deep into that experience and specifically into the kind of culture he is building at the company having barely survived and then scaled to over 250 people. All I can say is that Konstanin is emblematic of many a boldstart founder, insanely passionate about his vision, which has not changed since day one, a survivor, and a constant learner.
Konstantin’s talk kicked off many a conversation the following day on building efficient businesses, how the first 10–15 hires set the tone for the rest of the company as you grow to 250 people. and the challenges of moving as fast as possible as you grow bigger. In the beginning there are so many wins from ideation to shipping product rapidly and the velocity and momentum are incredible. As time flies and the bigger you get, gravity sets in and you slow down. The best companies find a way to maintain that day 1 energy on day 365, 3650 and beyond. By prioritizing speed, you also prioritize runway.
Finally Dharmesh Thakker, prolific infrastructure Partner with Battery Ventures and investor in market leaders like Databricks, Postman, Gong… shared his thoughts on the current markets and what he looks for in Series A and B rounds for open source and infrastructure startups. One point he emphasized was that it’s more important to have those 10–15 highly referenceable organizations who can’t live without your product, some of whom may be paying and some not, versus a 🐳 or two who are paying premium dollars but don’t set the company up for repeatability. Ideally these initial 10–15 orgs should be representative of the use case you are solving and the ideal customer profile you are targeting so when the Series A money comes in, you can start building that initial sales motion and generate momentum. In other words, there is no magic $1M ARR number or any such thing to get VCs interested to lead your A round and its subjective to each company.
What a few days! One of our founders summed it up well when he said,
“I’m not alone.”
Being a founder is F#%*ing hard and sharing that journey with others who are in or have been in similar stages with similar startups is so powerful. Lots of breakthroughs were made at our camp.
Want more learnings? Join the boldstart founder community — we’d love to hear about your idea, help you iterate, and get from no product to product market fit faster and more efficiently!
You can also DM any boldstart partner: