Senior Director, Developer Experience at Snyk
Fracesca Krihely discusses what a company needs to ask themselves before pursuing product-led growth, setting realistic timeframe expectations for adopting PLG internally, how to use customer insights to build a great sidecar product, and the power behind communities.
Francesca Krihely is the Senior Director, Developer Experience at Snyk. Her team supports the product-led growth initiative at Snyk, overlooks developer acquisition activation, and sales-led monetization.
She’s a PLG expert currently advising with OpenView and worked on the marketing side at Mongo DB for over seven years. She’s used her expertise to help sales leaders understand the value of product-led growth, and the value of using developer interest to power adoption of a product within an enterprise.
What’s missing when starting Product Led Growth?
I talk to companies often going through this more and more recently. Executives and product leaders have been telling me they want to invest in PLG. The question I always ask is, “Okay, why do you need a self-serve product? What is the real benefit?” A lot of companies know that the benefit is really reducing CAC and getting after a larger market of customers who don't wanna go through the sales process, or who are isolated by a sales process. In a lot of organizations there's a floor to the deal size that you can close where you can retire quota. That means that a lot of companies who want to buy products are completely axed out of buying your product. They have to go with free solutions or different solutions that might not be fit for their needs. In those cases it's a really good decision to go after that solution.
If you truly want to do product-led growth, you need an end goal in mind of what you want to achieve from it. A lot of companies don't think about their existing customers and adoption. Snyk is one of the tools that you bring in as a change agent. For those that don't know, Snyk is a cybersecurity product focused on helping developers integrate security into their workflows. When developers are building, they're constantly deploying code at faster rates. There's pressure to release it quickly. When security isn't set up in those pipelines for delivery, you can end up with pretty disastrous consequences, and open vulnerabilities in your code base. There have been a number of high profile incidents where hostile actors, nation state actors, et cetera, have taken advantage of vulnerabilities. It's simply because there are not enough security professionals to handle the massive developers.Integrating Snyk into the development process is part of fixing the problem and ushering towards a safer world.
Adoption of our product is critical to making sure that it works. We are constantly thinking about, in product-led growth, how do we make it easier for new developers to onboard to the platform, understand the value and want to use this tool because it helps with enterprise retention. It also helps create a safer world and protect the customers of all of our customers, from protecting their data.
That’s another element of product-led growth that a lot of companies aren't necessarily thinking about is really understanding your user experience and understanding what motivates folks to want to complete core actions. What are the habit-building parts of your product?
I often think that companies should really be starting with those questions before they think about opening up a whole new space that they might not know a lot about, and trying to learn from your initial customer base first.
What timeframe should you expect to adopt PLG internally?
It’s really about what we are looking to achieve. There are so many different ways you can position this. If you want to build the channel for user acquisition so that you can build a lead funnel, I think that’s complex. Because when you break it down, you have to not just make the product available tinall the regions that you want to be able to service those customers. So it can’t just be a single tenant. There’s some architectural decisions you have to consider.
You also need to think about how you’re going to go to market that way, the funding that you’re dedicating to acquiring those users, and making sure there’s enough support staff to support the influx of new free users. Once you figure out all of these elements, you need to build it. Then you also have to figure out how to score the users for follow ups for whatever their next step should be. How do you segment them? At Snyk we use MadKudu to help us identify sales-ready leads versus non-sales ready leads.
There are also a number of other things we have running in the background to constantly give us insight into what our users are doing. It's helping us evolve our frameworks for understanding their success. Building that system took a year and a half. When I got to Snyk, we had a free product, which was great and actually had a really strong time-to-value. But we had to diversify our acquisition funnel. We had to create new frameworks around how we define customers achieving their value goal, which is what many people call activation. We had to redefine our PQL model by introducing MadKudu, and then we had to continue to refine from there and figure out what channels brought in the right types of users, things like that. All of that took about a year and a half to usher in, and we already had a free product out there. It was all about optimizing the processes and getting everyone on the same page.
If you're thinking about something more ambitious like building a free product, launching it, making it possible to buy online and making it be a strong force in building a dual monetization channel. With a really strong team that knows what they are doing and without having any roadblocks, and you have the entire organization behind you, you can expect like a year and half, two years is exciting and definitely possible, but it’s more like a three year runway for most people.
How do you feel about using sidecar products as an alternative to building a free version of your existing product?
I love sidecar products. From just a user perspective and a student of this discipline, they can provide value, even more so than Hubspot’s website scanner. That was a great example of a way to get your ideal end user, someone who's concerned about SEO for their website, into your email marketing system. Then you can market to them with content, which is what HubSpot was really good at. That’s a great example of that one.
For other products, you would want to think about products that are maybe a little bit more tightly aligned to the end goal of your tool. HubSpot does some of that but more of what they're known for is a marketing automation system. That's their core product. Content marketing using email is a law of diminishing returns at this point. It's really hard to do it well. People have overloaded inboxes. They like and subscribe to sub stacks every other day and unsubscribe from vendor emails more rapidly. That's something to consider if that's an approach you want to take.
We actually have a few sidecar products that we've built at Snyk. We use them primarily as SEO tools to drive our target audience to our products and introduce them to us as a product so that when they have a problem, they remember us. I talk to users fairly often. I’ll ask why they signed up for Snyk. The answer I get is usually, “Oh, I heard about you guys once. I Googled something and was looking for something to fix this problem I had. When I saw your Doberman logo, I remembered what you guys do. I remembered that you have a good approach to this, so I decided to use it.” That awareness driver is really powerful for us. We also see a lot of direct and assisted conversions coming from those sites. It can be a really powerful tool to build.
One of the tools we built is called Code Checker. It's a way to check your proprietary code for vulnerabilities. It’s a take on the traditional static analysis tool that developers hate using because it's really awful. It takes forever, and it's not aligned to the development process. We used the technology behind that and built an SDK for it in a couple weeks. We had an engineering team that took some time off their core projects and built this for us. It's embedded into our site now and gives you a lot of value of the product without having to sign up. That's a great example of wanting to build a sidecar product and using elements of your application to expose it to the user earlier on.
The story of Code Checker is actually amazing because this is exactly what I think great growth teams do. We had this idea to do this Code Checker product like a year plus ago, and we pitched it to the team. The team was a little concerned because it's a browser based code editor, which exposes a lot of security risks. They were a little hesitant to make the investment. We decided, okay, we have the data that tells us that there's a huge search volume for a code checker in different language communities. So we said, let's just build one landing page, optimize it and launch it. We can use it as a gateway to sign up for the free product. It quickly became the highest converting landing page that we had by far. We said, okay, this is a signal that this is working and presented it to the engineering team. Within a couple of weeks it was out and ready to go. Now it's a huge driver of organic traffic and conversions.
Start with an idea. Do the simplest thing you can do to test it out, pitch it to the team, show them the data, and then launch and see the results.
What's so cool is that you can listen to your customers in so many ways, SEO or Google Search Insights, a great way to listen to your prospects. Product telemetry, great way to listen to your prospects. There's so many ways to listen. One of the biggest things introducing myself to product-led growth has taught me is that it's so important to listen to the end user in all the possible formats that you can.
How do you create and tap into communities of product users?
When I look at new products today and see products that are great potential investments, I always think, do they have a supercharged community? Do they have a community mindset? The power behind growth and revenue in the long term is to have a really solid engaged community.
Look at any consumer brand out there. Peloton is probably one of the best. As much as people might rag on their stock and their valuation right now, if you're a Peloton user like I am, you love it. It truly makes your day better. It is just like such an incredible product that they've built. The community is super engaged. That's the sort of inspiration that I I often would look at. Things like Strava and Lululemon, all of these athletics inspire a lot of excitement and camaraderie.
It's become more common these days to use your community to speak on behalf of your product. It adds to the authenticity and creates a deeper connection between you and your customers.
When I got to MongoDB, our core growth strategy was to run a lot of events. I think the second month I was there, we ran more events than there were days in the month. Some people would say, oh, events were your strategy. It was more like using people in the community who were using our product in production as the spokespeople was how we convinced people to try something really different from the database that they had used for forty plus years.Seeing the power of that strategy really cemented my perspective that community and advocacy should be central to any marketing strategy.
For companies today, there’s a couple of things for how to build that in and use it in a product-led growth approach.
Product-led growth to me is about building loops and viral loops. When you input one widget, it outputs more than one widget. You want big gains on any investment. With things like advocacy, it's a little harder to measure that in the way that you would measure SEO or something like that. But one of the powerful ways that you can connect the two is with invitations and referrals within company customer growth, making each product user an advocate of your product. Some of the ways to do that is by creating spaces where those product users can actually come together in community. That's why Slack channels, Discord channels, et cetera, are so popular today. I've joined many, but the ones I stay a member of are the ones where the channel is deeply relevant to me. Either the founder of the company or somebody at the company has a personal relationship with me, and it makes me really invested. That's something that can't scale, so that's why it's kind of hard to put it in the position of product-led growth because you really cannot scale that. But I think those are some of the ways to get started in terms of building that community.
In terms of creating content, I feel like the playbooks are out there and there are people that do it better than I do, but it comes down to really digging in deep and talking to your customers all the time, like asking them to write blog posts for you.
We now have this really exciting creator economy that has blown up. I think it really started with YouTube. YouTube was really the first to create the playbook for the creator economy. Now it's gotten so wild on all of these different platforms. I always wanted to figure out how to make a creator economy a part of our performance marketing strategy. I started doing this at MongoDB, but at Snyk we've really focused on this. We've built relationships with people in the ethical hacking community. These are people who exploit vulnerabilities for the benefit of society. They exploit the vulnerabilities and let people know about it. They use their YouTube channels as an education platform to introduce people to these vulnerabilities. We've built relationships with these ethical hackers and have contracts with them where we pay them to create either pre-roll ads, or do tutorials of how to use Snyk alongside their investigation on their channels. The best part about it is that everyone that we work with absolutely loves our product. Many of them have said they never thought of using Snyk before, but this has changed the whole way they work.
A few of these ethical hackers have introduced us to other influencers and have helped marketing opportunities in other places. One of them has gotten us involved in many different types of security tournaments, for instance. The opportunity created by these connections with the community of ethical hackers is amazing. The cost per lead and the cost per user acquired is so low compared to other channels. The best part about it is that these people actually love working with us. It's not just a contract relationship. They actually really enjoy working with us. I think that's a way to take it, take a more performance marketing angle to the traditional customer marketing playbook.