Product-Led Growth Companies that Crushed it in 2022

Product-led growth is the go-to-market motion responsible for the meteoric rise of some of the most successful tech companies like Slack, Canva, and Airtable.‍
Sandy Mangat
November 29, 2022
Product-Led Growth Companies that Crushed it in 2022

Product-led growth is the path to revenue responsible for the meteoric growth of some of the most successful tech companies like Slack, Canva, and Airtable.

There are several large public companies operating with a PLG strategy. According to data gathered by OpenView, all of 2019’s top IPO companies were PLG organizations. 👀

The model has a proven track record — and it makes sense. PLG focuses on building an amazing product by understanding how users interact with it through key usage data. By offering free access, PLG companies build a loyal (and warm) pipeline of users that offers a wealth of information go-to-market teams can then use to turn up their revenue engine and inform their product roadmap. 

PLG is not about making the sale but rather about making a product people can’t live without. Sales is a byproduct — although that doesn’t mean you don’t need a strategic sales motion. It does mean your product guides your messaging and prospecting so your sales team can focus on helping users get to value faster.  

When a PLG strategy is done right, companies experience incredible benefits:

  • Fast User Growth: PLG companies offer high-value products that can self-generate buzz, draw people in faster, and help retain users. Offering prospects a free trial can generate higher quality leads that are more likely to convert and become paying users.
  • Faster Revenue Growth: PLG companies grow faster. Compared to traditional organizations, PLG companies tend to expand and scale faster after reaching $10 million in annual recurring revenue (ARR).
  • Reduced Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC): PLG companies get a better return on investment by adding a viral loop that drives acquired customers to refer others to their product, leading to continuous growth. The reduction in costs extends beyond acquisition into adoption and retention, with self-serve onboarding PLG companies can lower to cost to support through scaled channels. 
  • Valuable User Data: During the free trial, PLG companies can gather high-value user data that provide insights into how users like their products. The insights can help a company identify features to add or modify to add more value to the product and increase the chances of converting trial users into paying customers.
  • Accelerated Sales Cycle: A well-executed PLG strategy delivers shorter sales cycles by automating and speeding up customer acquisition, activation, and onboarding. A short sales cycle means a company can reach more customers and make more sales in less time, leading to higher revenues within shorter periods.

To show the power of PLG in action, let’s take a closer look at 10 companies using this strategy to their (massive) benefit across different categories - Design, Developer Tools, Productivity, GTM Tech, PLG enablers, and Web3 (Yes! Even Web3 uses PLG).

Design

1. Canva

Canva is on a mission to democratize design for individuals and businesses. A free cloud-based platform that makes designing social media posts, presentations, and everything in between easier for non-designers. 

Quick facts

  • Founded by Melanie Perkins, Cliff Obrecht, and Cameron Adams in 2013
  • Raised $572.6M in total funding over the last 9 years and most recently valued at $40 billion after their last round of $200M 
  • Generates between $500M - $1B in revenue 

Secret growth weapon

A template gallery that makes the tool easier to get started with and less intimidating than traditional design software.

Why PLG works for Canva?

Canva is among the top most successful product-led growth companies for a few reasons:

  1. End user-focused product. The first time you use Canva you can really feel it’s built with your needs in mind. The product makes it easy for the armchair designer to be dangerous. 
  2. End users as buyers. Canva’s focus on end users translates to their pricing model. Their transparent pricing makes it easy for end users to buy the product without consulting an IT team and eventually upgrade and invite their team. 
  3. Frictionless onboarding. Before the days of Canva, creating a simple social media graphic may have meant reaching out the designer on your team, or worse trying to download and figure out the Adobe creative suite for yourself. With Canva, getting onboarded is easy - with thousands of templates curated for every possible use case. 

Unlocking revenue with Product-Led Sales

Canva’s low-touch human support complements its successful self-serve engine by offering customers assistance if they run into issues during the buying journey.

As Wes Bush, Founder of ProductLed and best-selling author of product-led growth: How to Build a Product That Sells Itself, explained in Vol. 1 of our Product Led Sales Playbook “at Canva, the goal of onboarding users isn’t to teach them how to use the GIF feature, it's to create beautiful graphics seamlessly.” That value-first philosophy translates into customer education at any level, allowing them to unlock Canva’s solution to suit their needs.

In terms of their sales motion, Canva realized that SMB marketing teams were their sweet spot, turning their main Product-Led Sales playbook into an expansion play, converting incoming individual users into teams. Canva uses well-placed paywalls on features like premium templates, a brand guide, and advanced collaboration to incentivize individual users within larger marketing organizations to upgrade their plans to not only improve their own service but better collaborate with their coworkers.

Meteoric rise of Figma fueled by product-led prior to the acquisition by Adobe (Source: David Sacks)

2. Figma

If Canva was built to democratize design for everyone, Figma was built to give designers superpowers. Two companies, different target markets, a similar secret to success - product-led growth. It’s no surprise they were recently acquired by incumbent design giant Adobe recently for $20 Billion! 

Quick facts

  • Founded in 2012 by Dylan Field, Evan Wallace
  • Raised $333.4M before their recent $20B acquisition by Adobe

Secret growth weapon

Putting their data to work through a Product-Led Sales motion. Using data to drive their revenue growth beyond individual users to teams and entire enterprises. 

Why PLG works for Figma?

  1. Self-serve onboarding. Figma’s primary user is a designer, this type of user is familiar with even more complex design tooling. By making their product cloud-based and self-serve, Figma made it even easier for early adopter designers to try and buy. 
  2. Collaboration breeds virality. One of Figma’s primary value propositions is to make it easier to do a real-time collaboration on designs, which means inviting more people into your Figma workspace. They’ve gone further recently with the creation of tools like FigJam, a digital whiteboard, where you can invite teams from any department to “jam” on ideas together in real time. 
  3. End users are the heroes of the story. Figma empowers both designers and non-designers alike to have more control over how they ideate, design, and build products. Figma actively promotes the idea that design is becoming a core competency for most professionals. This manifests in their community-led growth approach that adds fuel to their PLG flywheel. 

Unlocking revenue with Product-Led Sales

Now Figma’s recently minted sales team is focused on using the PLG flywheel to fuel the next chapter of their revenue growth. The Figma sales team uses valuable product data to inform what organizations are growing fastest with Figma, where potentially high value customers are requiring a sales-assist, and more. 

Developer

3. MongoDB

MongoDB started in 2007 and quickly grew to be the preferred provider of NoSQL online database software. Its open-source database platform currently helps hundreds of developers better understand data and achieve more when building applications.

Quick facts

  • Started in 2007 and has now grown to 4162 employees
  • MongoDB wasn’t always the PLG darling it is today. Not too long ago, the company’s primary go-to-market motion was selling an on-premises product which limited the ability to understand product usage. 
  • Over the last 5+ years, the company is now over 50% SaaS with plans to continue increasing cloud subscription revenue share. 

Secret growth weapon

Switching from on-prem to a SaaS model that offers free plans. Also, customer relationship building via online community and video and podcast content.

Why PLG works for MongoDB?

  1. Focus on driving value. The goal for MongoDB was always to lead with user value. Developers are not fooled by marketing language and prefer to try tools and form their own opinions. MongoDB leaned into that by focusing on making MongoDB the most popular database among engineers first before focusing aggressively on monetization.  
  2. Open source community. When MongoDB’s open source project was launched, it became clear pretty quickly that developers loved using the NoSQL database to build their applications. By creating these advocates through open source first, MongoDB was able to later use this community to inspire and educate their SaaS product’s user base. 

Unlocking revenue with Product-Led Sales

MongoDB made the shift to product-led through a new cloud product that was truly SaaS. The switch helped the company scale its open-source product and adopt a bottom-up sales motion that fast-tracked customer base growth. The product-led strategy prioritized self-service to deliver fast value to the end-users (the customers), leading to faster adoption of MongoDB.

Thanks to its Product-Led Sales approach, MongoDB achieved a 49% year-over-year subscription revenue increase in 2022.

Learn more about MongoDB’s Product-Led Sales approach in this AMA recap with James Underhill, Sales Strategy & Operations Leader, MongoDB

4. ngrok

If you’re a developer, you’ve most definitely heard of or used ngrok. It has become one of the most widely used platforms for developing web hook integrations, building bots, running secure demos, testing on mobile devices, and more. 

Quick facts

  • Founded in 2015 by Alan Shreve.
  • Five million developers on Ngrok and 30,000+ paying customers
  • ngrok is used by millions of developers worldwide to create secure tunnels for testing connected applications quickly and securely.

Secret growth weapon

A rabid fan base of software engineers who have come to rely on ngrok’s unparalleled reliability in providing critical services for applications developers.

Why PLG works for ngrok?

  1. Software engineers as buyers. ngrok’s primary persona is a software engineer that needs reliable tooling for critical infrastructure like tunneling. ngrok has been able to compress their sales cycle because developers can easily sign up and try their product without talking to a sales person. 
  2. Clear and transparent pricing. If ngrok had prohibitively expensive or complicated pricing, perhaps PLG would not scale for them. A quick look at their pricing page will very clearly tell a user which package they fall into and how that package delivers the value needed. 

Unlocking revenue with Product-Led Sales

The ngrok team has been very successful with their self-serve PLG motion, with 5 million developers on ngrok they have a massive amount of data about how these users are getting value from the product.

Recently, the ngrok team added Ben Sabrin as CRO, no stranger to PLG and Product-Led Sales motions, he’s excited to use all of that rich product usage data to create a very focused sales motion targeting high potential customers. 

Product data is critical to focusing his sales team on driving large, strategic transactions — not getting lost in what should be self-service transactions. 

For more insights on how to stand up Product-Led Sales and Self-Serve motions in niche and technical industries, check out this AMA recap with Ben Sabrin, CRO at ngrok.

5. Retool

Retool is saving your engineering team from spending their precious hours on internal tooling. Retool helps companies like DoorDash, Amazon, and AllBirds save countless hours building internal tooling through their no-code application development platform. 

Quick facts

  • Founded in 2017 by David Hsu
  • Raised $141M to date, most recently a $45M Series C 
  • The company is valued at $3.2B

Secret growth weapon

Definitely a theme for PLG companies - Retool also employs the template tactic to make it easy for new users to get started.

Why PLG works for Retool?

  • Approachable pricing for developers. Retool makes it easy for developers to try out their product for free. The ability to test drive the value proposition “build internal tools, remarkably fast” gets put to the test right away. 
  • Documentation done right. Developers love documentation and Retool does an incredible job of making it very clear how to build full-stack apps through extensive documentation. 
  • Approachable pricing. With a goal of making it less costly to build and maintain internal tools, Retool prices its product to dramatically lower that cost. 

Unlocking revenue with Product-Led Sales

From day 1, Retool has had a sales motion in addition to a healthy inbound self-serve user acquisition. This is in part due to their target market, Retool knew that in order to get entrenched with engineers at larger companies they would need to do some outbound and deploy sales engineers.

As Eleanor Dorfman shared, DoorDash came in to solve a very specific problem and at first signed a small contract with Retool. After the sales team engaged them further they were able to uncover even more use cases and today DoorDash has over 60 apps powered by Retool. 

Learn more about how Retool built their self-serve and sales engines from Eleanor in this AMA recap. 

Productivity

6. Notion 

Notion is the place where companies share notes, manage projects, build wikis, and databases for themselves, their team, and their entire organization. Notion is on a mission to build an all in one workspace app that helps keep your work and personal life organized. 

Quick facts

  • Started in 2012 by Ivan Zhao and Simon Last.
  • Has since grown to 493 employees, four million customers, and $43.5 million in revenue in 2022.

Secret growth weapon

Templates + Community = Growth Machine 🚀

Why PLG works for Notion?

  1. Community of rabid fans. When Notion first came out it quickly won over a loyal following of users for its fresh take on note taking and its emphasis/obsession over design. 
  2. Built with end users. In the early days, Notion noticed that communities of fans were beginning to crop up to share their tips for using Notion, some even started building templates (before Notion had a template gallery of their own). Notion took feedback from these early users very seriously (and still does today). 
  3. Natural network effects. Content built in Notion is designed to share with your team and your entire company. 

Unlocking revenue with Product-Led Sales

The market is flush with productivity tools, but Notion has managed to stand out from the crowd, quickly becoming a startup favorite.You can customize the platform to fit your unique needs and manage your team's workflow.

A free version of Notion is available, giving users access to its core features. If you want more, like the option to share your work on Notion with a team, you can easily upgrade to a paid plan. They layer on an enterprise motion on top of self-serve by requiring those interested in the enterprise plan to contact a sales rep — but they can explore the product as a single user or small team beforehand. This is a perfect example of a Product-Led Sales expansion playbook in action, allowing Notion to surface PQLs (power users) that fit into their enterprise ICP and go after bigger deals through users that have already gotten value from the product.

This value-driven approach manifests everywhere in the company like Notion’s template gallery and community. According to Ben Lang, Head of Community at Notion, the communities they've built are not just a perk for Notion users, but also give them insights to inform their product roadmap, since they’re a  source of user feedback and feature requests. Notion uses the feedback to constantly improve its product and keep users excited about using the platform.

Learn more about how Ben Lang helped build one of the most engaged communities in Saas. 

GTM Tech

7. HubSpot

HubSpot is the Inbound Marketing pioneer that has built leading products for marketing, sales, and success teams. 

Quick facts

  • Started in 2006 and grew to 7000+ employees, 140,000+ customers, and $1 billion in annual recurring revenue in 2021.
  • Scaled to $100M in revenue with a sales-led model before transitioning over to a PLG and Product-Led Sales motion.  
  • Built the category of Inbound Marketing that helped build the $100M marketing hub business and then began to do the same with new product lines like the Sales Hub CRM, Service Hub, and more. 

Secret growth weapon

HubSpot runs a hybrid sales and product-led strategy that helps convert and retain more customers.

Why PLG works for Hubspot?

  • Intentionally built for self-serve. After the success of their entirely sales-led GTM effort for marketing automation, Hubspot realized that buyers wanted to try and buy tools in a different way - so they began incubating a sales product with a self-serve motion. 
  • Sales-assist at every step. Hubspot complemented their self-serve notion with an army of product specialists who were there to help customers at every step of the user journey. 

Unlocking revenue with Product-Led Sales

At first, HubSpot relied on traditional inbound marketing strategies to generate leads. It was expensive, and the results were less than satisfactory due to most leads not converting, “The marketing hub product was a highly transactional GTM motion with arguably too heavy of a sales motion.” explained  Kim Walsh, former Global VP, GTM Partnerships at Hubspot, current Sr. VP of Sales, Partnerships and CS at Apollo.io.  

The company turned things around by simplifying its buyer’s journey and improving the customer experience. HubSpot accomplished this by shifting to a PLG strategy that turned it into a customer experience-centric and nimble freemium company.

“We launched what would be the CRM and sales hub business today. But, we didn’t want to do GTM the way we did with marketing [hub], we wanted to reduce friction for the buying process and serve up value before we extracted value. This was essentially PLG: we created a free product. It was the free product that drove millions of free users, this was entirely self-serve. Then we launched sales-assist (inbound chat) and then we continued to aggressively build out the rep-driven (sales-led business) to go after the large TAM.” — Kim Walsh

While HubSpot offers self-service products, it also has a customer success team that provides freemium users with human assistance during onboarding. Unlike a sales team, the customer success team does not sell anything. Instead, they help customers get set up with HubSpot and realize value quickly and easily. Its unique PLG strategy helped HubSpot record $1billion annual recurring revenue by 2021

PLG Enablers

8. Appcues

Appcues began with a focus on solving one key problem for all SaaS tools - onboarding. Not since the days of Clippy had anyone paid much attention to the problem of self-serve onboarding and product adoption, until Jonathan and Jackson put their heads together to solve the problem. Today, Appcues is not just a tool to build onboarding guides but a platform for building all kinds of experiences that make PLG viable for SaaS businesses. Customer success teams can use it to survey customers, Growth teams can use it to run experiments, and more. 

Quick facts

  • Founded in 2013 by Hubspot alum Jonathan Kim and Testive alum Jackson Noel.
  • $52.8M raised thus far with its latest Series B round of $32M in January.

Secret growth weapon

No credit card free trial - makes it easy and low risk for anyone to get started trying out Appcues features. 

Why PLG works for Appcues?

  • Tight product/market fit ideal for self-serve. Appcues solves a very specific set of problems for a well defined ideal customer profile. This means they have built a product that is truly a pain killer and therefore easy to adopt without a ton of up front education or selling on the need. 
  • Champion personas. Appcues often sells to growth teams who intimately understand the challenge of getting in-app product experiences prioritized on the roadmap. This fit with an influential champion within an organization helps drive adoption for Appcues without a heavy sales motion. 

Unlocking revenue with Product-Led Sales

As Ramli explained, a free trial motion can very easily become a $100K contract with the right Product-Led Sales motion in place. 

“People think product-led is just for small and medium businesses. But recently, we closed a customer with a $100K annual contract value. For us, that’s an enterprise deal. And they started from a free trial. So I think that just proves that the free trial journey really can work for any type of deal — small, medium, or enterprise.”

For that deal in particular and those like it, Appcues layers a well-timed sales-assist motion to high potential accounts that sign up for a free trial. 

“Once the lead installed Appcues into their app, our sales team reached out and took a consultative approach. They connected the lead with our support engineering team. They helped make sure that all the pieces were plugging into each other and that the lead was seeing value, all before they closed that contract.” 

Learn more about Appcues and their sales motion in this featured vendor spotlight

9. PostHog 

You might be wondering why PostHog is under PLG enabler and not Developer Tools. Well it’s because PostHog really is in a category of its own. It’s a product analytics and experimentation platform all in one - making it easy for teams to track product usage. PostHog automatically captures every click and pageview in your app without you writing code to instrument every button in your app. The suite of tools includes their core offering of product analytics, but they also have heat maps, session recordings, and feature flagging. 

Quick facts

  • Founded in 2020 by James Hawkins, Tim Glaser.
  • $27.2M in total funding to date

Secret growth weapon

Focus on the developer persona to drive usage for both its SaaS and Open Source products. 

Why PLG works for PostHog?

  • Products for every type of team. PostHog has done a great job with their pricing and packaging that aligns their value to individuals, teams, and the entire enterprise. This makes landing and expanding within an account easier with a self-serve and sales-assisted motion. 
  • Developer relations focus. The team at PostHog is focused on nailing their self-serve sign up funnel, which means an emphasis on incredible documentation, events for their developer community, and transparent pricing that makes it easy for individual developers to upgrade their plans without talking to sales. 

Unlocking revenue with Product-Led Sales

PostHog pairs their self-serve funnel with a focused sales motion that strategically deploys higher touch engagement to nurture enterprise accounts. The Product-Led Sales motion is just getting started at PostHog - we’re excited to see how they marry their unique open source take on product analytics and growing community of developers to fuel revenue growth. 

Web3

10. Quicknode

QuickNode is a Web3 developer platform helping blockchain applications build and scale. 

Quick facts

  • Founded in 2017 by Alex Nabutovsky, Auston Bunsen, Dmitry Shklovsky and Manuel Kreutz
  • Has raised $41.9M to date most recently a $35M Series A led by Toger Global

Secret growth weapon

Land and expand. With usage based pricing, QuickNode makes it easier for developers to start using their Web3 protocols and scale up as their projects get up and running. 

Why PLG works for QuickNode?

  • Active Community. QuickNode has an active community of 20K + developers. 
  • Usage-based pricing. By pricing services based on usage QuickNode de-risks trying out their product.  Quicknode also offers a seven-day free trial that allows prospects to test the product, experience value, and decide if they want to pay to continue enjoying the value.

Unlocking revenue with Product-Led Sales

The Product-Led Sales playbook at QuickNode is all about land and expand. 65% of their enterprise customers currently spend above their base contracted rates due to QuickNode’s work with them to solve problems, launch on new chains, and otherwise incentivize more usage.

Aaron Geller, Vice President of Revenue at QuickNode, shared that they have a unique approach to defining PQLs that helps the sales team uncover high-potential opportunities. 

While typical PLG companies will look at firmographic information like company size, QuickNode looks at a unique filter like ‘Influence’. For example, a smaller 10-person development shop with as many as 80,000 Twitter followers — they have sway. 

Join our (rapidly!) growing product-led growth community

Want your company to become one of the names on this list? Join our free Product-Led Sales Slack community today to learn from go-to-market leaders at some of the most successful PLG companies (including folks mentioned in this article). We'll see you in the threads!

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