Superhuman’s path to PLG: Virality, delight, and humans at the helm

During his eight years at Superhuman, Gaurav Vohra has led everything from growth to product, marketing, and analytics — and made huge strides in every single role. Read on for his take on PMF, onboarding, aha moments, and more.

Gaurav Vohra
July 5, 2023
Superhuman’s path to PLG: Virality, delight, and humans at the helm

Alexa, CEO of Pocus, hosts Product-Led Sales (PLS) “Ask Me Anything” sessions with PLS experts to share best practices, frameworks, and insights on this emerging category. These AMAs are an opportunity to ask PLS leaders any question — ranging from hiring to sales compensation to tech stack — in a low-key, casual environment.

The PLS AMAs are for members of the Product-Led Sales community, the place to learn, discuss, and connect with go-to-market (GTM) leaders at product-led companies. The goal of the community is to bring together the most thoughtful and innovative GTM leaders to build the next generation of sales together.

Interested in joining? Request an invite here.

Now, keep reading for a recap of what we discussed with Superhuman Head of Product Growth, Gaurav Vohra, in our latest AMA chat.

Meet Gaurav, Head of Product Growth @ Superhuman 👋

During his eight years at Superhuman, Gaurav Vohra has led everything from growth to product, marketing, and analytics — and made huge strides in every single role. 

As Head of Growth, he led a team of 35 to grow revenue from $0 to over $10M. While leading Product and Marketing, he increased team revenue by more than 300% year over year. And as Head of Analytics, he built a data science team that supports the entire company.

In addition to his current role as Head of Product Growth, Gaurav also advises a variety of startups on all aspects of growth.

Suffice it to say Gaurav has a ton of experience and insight on the product-led growth (PLG) model. Read on for his take on:

  • How and why to find product-market fit as a startup
  • Identifying your product’s aha moment
  • Deploying, and scaling, human-led onboarding
  • Building a unicorn onboarding team
  • How to keep a robust GTM team in alignment
  • Growth initiative ideas to try and test

Or watch/ listen on your favorite podcast platform

How to find product-market fit as a startup

Gaurav pulls no punches when it comes to this statement: Product-market fit is the most important thing for young startups. 

He advises that finding product-market fit should be the only focus during the early stages — preceding any attempts to scale. After all, without that fit, any attempts at growth will be futile anyway.

Which leads to an important question: How do you know when you’ve reached product-market fit? 

In the early days of Superhuman, they needed a way to understand how close they were to providing the kind of product their customers expected, before officially going to market. The problem was that, traditionally, PMF is measured through lagging indicators. They wanted a more proactive approach. They ended up following what’s become known as the “Sean Ellis Test.” 

The test starts with asking activated customers — those who’ve gotten past the aha moment (which we’ll discuss soon) — one question: 

"How disappointed would you be if you suddenly could not use our product tomorrow?"

The options for answers being:

🙂 Not disappointed
😐 Somewhat disappointed
🙁 Very disappointed 

If the percentage of people who answer “very disappointed” clocks in at 40% or more, you’re at product-market fit — with that version of the product and within that market segment.

Gaurav mentions the importance of continually tracking this percentage, because product-market fit is something that can be lost if the market shifts or if your product no longer meets the needs of an evolving customer.

💡When can I apply the Sean Ellis Test?
Once your user base hits 100 people, you can start using the Sean Ellis Test to gauge fit. If you’re under 100 users, you can still get a feel for product-market fit by having one-on-one conversations with a selection of users. 

Being data-informed instead of data-driven

Something we didn’t necessarily think we’d hear from an analytics pro like Gaurav is his reasoning behind making data-informed decisions — not just purely data-driven ones.

Data shouldn’t be the only driver behind your GTM strategy and product roadmap. It’s a mix of intuition, belief, and logic.

At most, data should be 60-70% of a business decision. In addition to data, effective leadership requires logical thinking, strong principles, and the ability to lean on your intuition. 

“Maybe it’s counterintuitive that I'm an advocate for being data-informed as opposed to only data-driven. I think it's critical to use data as part of your decision-making  — but not the only part. Sometimes we need to get a little more scrappy and go with qualitative proof, or simply the belief that something is going to work.” 

Identifying your product’s aha moment 💥

The “aha moment,” defined by OpenView’s 2022 Product Benchmarks, as the moment when your product delivers on the value that it promised — is a one-time event that cannot be undone or completed multiple times.

Understanding what actions or events signal a user is fully activated is crucial for retention. While the aha moment is a single event, you can have several of them at various stages of the customer journey. For example, individual user activation, effective team collaboration, advanced feature use-case, etc.

Identifying your aha moment is a balance of using data and applying intuition.  

For Gaurav, it all starts with experimentation. At Superhuman, they determine and iterate on their aha, following a simple framework.

1. Use your intuition, logic, and product knowledge to come up with a list of activities correlated with retention.

2. Formulate a hypothesis, e.g “if a user hits Inbox Zero, they are highly likely to continue using Superhuman and invite other team members.”

3. Validate your hypothesis through data by running linear regression and correlation analyses of usage, conversions, and retention.

4. Based on your findings, tweak your hypothesis if needed. Start testing by deploying tactics to help users reach the aha moment faster and measuring the impact on retention and conversions.

5. Based on what you learn, iterate on your definition and strategy. 

6. Do this continuously, be prepared for your aha definition to shift as your product and customers evolve.

Real-life example: Superhuman’s 3 possible aha moments

  • Stop using other email providers
  • Hitting Inbox Zero
  • Clearing X emails

Superhuman first defined their “aha moment” as when users stopped using other email providers. As their user-base grew and their product evolved, both their intuition and usage data started to say something different. 

The current incarnation of Superhuman’s aha moment is when a user takes 50 clearing actions, such as archiving, snoozing, or moving a conversation to a folder. They know both factually (retention rate) and intuitively (it makes sense) that this is the point at which a user fully “gets” the product. If a user has cleared this threshold, they should be on their way to other more downstream aha moments, such as abandoning other email providers, andhitting Inbox Zero.   

Going against the grain: Human-led onboarding 

When you’re beginning to build your product (and long after), one of the most valuable things you can do is talk to your customers. 🗣️

According to Gaurav, onboarding is the best moment to do this, as it’s one of the richest points in the customer journey to learn what their pain points are and how your product can solve them. 

For Superhuman, 30-minute human-led onboarding sessions (both in person and via video) were pivotal in not only getting early users to value, but for capturing bugs, gathering feature requests, and, above all, building brand rapport.

One more thing human-led onboarding did for Superhuman? It gave them a chance to gather billing details. In a market where consumers aren’t used to paying for a product — such as email — it can be challenging  to build enough trust for them to hand over payment information. In this case, human-led onboarding was a strategic decision that served two purposes: 

  1. Ensured users got the full value of the product.
  2. Gave customers a human face they could trust, as the market got used to paying for a premium email product. 

Building the unicorn onboarding team 

Onboarding specialists with deep product expertise,  excellent teaching skills, and who can close a deal fast by asking for money upfront?

If it sounds like a unicorn team, that’s because it is. Gaurav’s multifaceted onboarding team came from a variety of sources.

🛍️ Retail professionals, especially those in the tech space, make for great onboarding specialists, thanks to their sales experience and product discovery expertise. Plus, they tend to thrive at the startup pace.

🧑🏫 Then there are teachers, who know exactly how to internalize material, keep their cool, and hold their audience’s attention. (We’ve also had great experiences hiring former teachers here at Pocus!) 

👥 Gaurav’s unicorn onboarding team also includes people with backgrounds in support, customer success, account management, and implementation.

Scaling without losing the onboarding magic 🪄

Human-led onboarding, although magical, can be challenging to scale if you’re attracting thousands (or millions) of new sign-ups. Not to mention, many users will want to hop on the product and explore on their own.

Gaurav advises leadership to consider two factors when deciding where to invest as you scale:

➡️ R&D resources: If you’re early stage and the product needs significant development, devote R&D to that core product.
➡️ If you have the core of your product built out and you have the resources to put towards onboarding, then absolutely do so.

Note: Investing in onboarding doesn’t necessarily mean adding more humans. It can also mean optimizing in-product guidance and spending time analyzing and refining automated onboarding flows. As Superhuman has shown, you can mix automation with optional human touch points for reps to add more value, and to fill gaps that your product can’t. 

Read more in the product-led guide to customer onboarding.

The best customer experience has product guidance paired with humans who sell the product, and who can offer help and support. Where to invest doesn’t have to be a binary decision.  Gaurav shares Apple as a great example of a company that builds both incredible products and human-led experiences. They invest at the right level along both axes of the customer experience. 

How to align a robust GTM team

From marketing and sales, to implementation/onboarding, support, and beyond — all GTM units must align to deliver a delightful customer experience. 

To maintain GTM alignment, Gaurav uses these questions: 

  1. What are the most critical moments along the customer journey? 
  2. Do we have the right people delivering the right experiences at each of these moments?
  3. Are any of the activities, or the goals that we have set at each moment, conflicting with anything else anywhere in the journey? 

As your business grows and evolves and you explore new go-to-market motions, you should be constantly re-evaluating your strategy by answering each of the questions above. That’s a level of flexibility that GTM leaders, as well as their teams, have to be comfortable with, to meet the demands of customer expectations and stay competitive.

💡How often should I re-examine GTM alignment?
At least once a quarter, and as needed after big business or industry shifts. 

Pre-revenue growth initiatives to try

There are a few growth plays Gaurav says businesses can dive into before having even a single dollar of revenue

🤝 First is showing up in person, or as personalized as you can get, for onboarding. Onboarding is part of your product — why not put your all into it in the early days, when almost anything goes as far as growth strategy?

📋 Another thing Superhuman did was put up their now well-known waitlist. This was a natural result of the fact that they weren’t ready to share the product with customers. However, this approach (alongside marketing, branding, and PR work) created intrigue and built momentum, which generated demand and enabled them to focus on onboarding and retention. 

🖋️ Readers may be familiar with the “Sent via Superhuman” email sign-off, which Gaurav calls “the best distribution channel” due to the inherently viral nature of email. He recommends every brand look for similar highly-visible, naturally-viral channels to grow awareness (but not necessarily conversions). 

💓 Of course, creating a high-value, shareable product and experience is better than any growth strategy or marketing channel for word-of-mouth marketing and customer loyalty. Once you have achieved this, build easy ways for users to refer and invite others in the product, to fully capitalize on that virality. 

Prioritizing growth channels and investment

Gaurav finds there’s too much importance placed on specific and singular growth channels. For example, founders may learn that a giant like HubSpot "grows primarily from word-of-mouth" — and will make the mistake of directing their teams to try and replicate word-of-mouth virality. 

That approach is misguided. It overlooks the foundational legwork that got HubSpot to their outcome — a vast amount of slick funnel engineering, monetization tactics that convert free users, a killer blog, and other growth programs that all work together to achieve results. 

Rather than just copying and pasting, Gaurav recommends focusing on creating a complementary system of growth channels. List 15 to 20 channels that you could operate within, and then narrow it down to a manageable mix of channels and investments that make up a single strategy aligned to your goals.  

Think about the “unfair” advantages you may have: What you’re especially good at, where you have an outsized amount of experience, industry connections no one else has, etc. What puts you ahead of your competitors before you’ve even started trying should be a huge factor when choosing which growth strategies to pursue. 

Where you choose to keep pouring resources and where you decide to redirect them will depend on the success metrics you’ve set and how each channel is performing against them. 

Join the Pocus community for more insights 🔮

Bet you didn’t think you’d see one of the most prominent data guys in the PLS space talk about using intuition right alongside data when it came to making business decisions, did you?

The thing is, PLS and PLG motions (or pretty much any buyer journey) don’t always play out in the real world the way they do on paper — and there’s no one better to expose you to these intricacies and how to roll with the punches than the pros in the Pocus PLS community

Got burning questions or just looking to soak up knowledge from leaders at places like OpenView, Slack, Notion, Asana, Atlassian, and more? 


Gaurav Vohra
Head of Product Growth at Superhuman
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