Guest: Esben Friis-Jenson – Maximizing Product-Led Growth
In this episode, we sit down with Esben Friis-Jenson, Cofounder and CRO at User Flow to discuss product-led growth.
Esben shares his insights and experiences helping organizations move from sales-led to product-led growth models. He discusses some of the benefits, challenges, and action steps you can take to become a product-led growth organization.
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Meet Our Guest
Chief Growth Officer - Userflow
Esben Friis-Jensen is the co-founder and Chief Growth Officer at Userflow, a no-code builder for in-app onboarding and surveys, allowing SaaS businesses to be more product-led.
Prior to Userflow, Esben co-founded Cobalt, which today is a 200+ employee company. At Cobalt, Esben was a part of a product-led growth initiative and this piqued his interest to go all in and start a company in the space.
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Jason Noble: [00:00:00] Good morning. Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to the latest episodes and the Jason’s take on podcast series of myself, Jason Noble here in the sunny United Kingdom in London and my partner in crime.
Jason Whitehead say hello, Jay. Hi everyone. Great
Jason Whitehead: [00:00:14] to be here and
Jason Noble: [00:00:15] thanks for joining us. Super excited to have another phenomenal guest on with us. We have Esben Friis-Jenson Jensen, who is the co-founder and chief growth officer at user flow. Who are a product company focusing on in-app onboarding and surveys, I’m really go through that product growth and product success, the transgeneration.
So we’ve Esben is going to talk to us today about product led growth. It’s something that we’ve talked previously on the podcast before we had Dave Jackson on must be about a year ago now, Jason, and it is an area that’s growing in traction and it’s growing in demand. So we’re really excited to have you here with us as well.
Esben Friis-Jenson: [00:00:54] Thank you very much a pleasure to be here.
Jason Noble: [00:00:57] Could you, before we get into the podcast itself, could you give a quick intro to our listeners, into you, your background, why you do what you do and what you’re currently working on.
Esben Friis-Jenson: [00:01:05] Yeah. As some might notice, I have a weird accent, which is from Denmark.
So that’s where I’m originally from . But I live in in San Francisco, in California. I’ve been living here for the last eight years. I did a company called cobalt which I co-founded with three other babies back in 2013. And today it’s a 200 people company raised as series B and so on. We’re just successful.
It’s in the security space doing what’s called pen test as a service. But recently I decided to leave cobalt. They are doing great, so they didn’t need me as much anymore. I decided to go back to the real estate startup game, which I really like And decided to do use a flow with one of my friends.
He had been working on it for a couple of years of building the product and now he really wanted it to grow as a joint team, as a coach. And one of the reasons I thought that was in cobalt, we had a project to become more product led. And I really found that exciting. I always. I always seen products as being the, one of the key things for success and the product should lead more.
And so you’re less people dependent. And so I found that super, super interesting. And then when I got so interested in it that I got excited about joining him and be a vendor in that space. So yeah it’s it’s a really exciting journey and we’re just getting started.
Jason Noble: [00:02:29] It’s so cool. Cause it is like you say not only as the new startup space for you. Exciting, there’s lots of changes and challenges there. Not only we the current work situation with COVID, but coming into, coming from a project where you’ve seen this product lens stop, you want to do to actually then building out.
This is I can imagine you say this with a big smile on your face, but really exciting time for you there.
Esben Friis-Jenson: [00:02:51] Yeah, that’s for sure. I think we’ve seen a lot of great companies succeed in product line growth. And that’s what driving is big trend right now. Yeah.
Jason Noble: [00:02:58] Let’s jump
Jason Whitehead: [00:02:59] in and talk about it a bit more.
This idea of product led growth. It’s so relatively new and a lot of people don’t fully understand it. You just create a bit of context and tell us a little bit more about what you’re seeing and why it’s so important and really what it is. Absolutely.
Esben Friis-Jenson: [00:03:13] Yeah, no very happy to do that. So first of all, I don’t think it’s new.
I think it’s a new term that has been rebranded, something that has actually existed for awhile. It’s basically like the essence of software as a service, right? Is that you build a great product to do a free trial and you really have the product. Sell itself. But I think one, one reason why it hadn’t, hasn’t gained as much traction earlier is maybe that in the beginning, like software as a service was replacing the service industry.
And the service industry has always been high touch. So it was like sometimes a bit easier. To maybe go up at the high touch route in software, as a service as well, at least in the beginning, because you could then like still sell it at a high price. But I think now the market has matured so much that people don’t want to necessarily talk to people anymore.
They really just want to try the product. They want to learn about it themselves and then ask questions if needed. And that is why the trend is then really. Calming to, to, into visibility those in. All right. And then on top of that, you’ve had some companies like shoom, Slack et cetera, that has really shown that you can build a strong business and grow fast with this model.
So I think it’s always been there, but it’s basically this idea of selling, letting the product, do the selling for you. And retention.
Jason Noble: [00:04:43] I think it is, it’s such an exciting, and I love the way, but it’s like customer success, it’s something that we’ve been doing all along, but called it something different.
So right with product led growth, what are you? It is because it is such a newish area in this terminology. And a lot of companies are not yet embracing it. What do you see as some of the big challenges for leaders and companies to shift their way to be more product led and move away from perhaps sales led or technology sled?
Or even customer led growth. How do you see them going about making that transition?
Esben Friis-Jenson: [00:05:15] Yeah it’s a tough one. So if you’re a brand new startup, and building product led from day one many startups will always do that because it’s they don’t have the capacity to do anything else.
But for them it’s easy, right? They, you build a free trial, you build self sign up all this stuff, but if your company let’s say cobalt 200 people or any other company that size. Where you have been used through a sales lit high touch kinda model. There’s a lot of change management that needs to happen.
Basically you have a bit of a silo. It’s not fair to say that it’s completely siloed because there’s always been an interaction between product and customer success and sales and so on. But I think in product line growth, it really needs to come really close to each other. People needs to be really aligned and product needs to understand a lot more about the business than they used to do.
They basically need to, and also challenge the business, right? Because when you’re building a new model, you have to sometimes cut some things off that, why are they there? In a high touch model, you do many things. That are technically, maybe not needed. And that’s a tough decision to cut those things off.
And it’s, it can seem really scary for a lot of people. You
Jason Whitehead: [00:06:25] know, I like what you’re saying about the change management aspects, and especially when I think of moving from more of a sales lead to a product lead what are some of the new things that a sales department needs to change to really.
Support product led growth. Is there something that the sales team needs to stop doing or do they need to hire a different types of salespeople or incentivized their compensation differently for
Esben Friis-Jenson: [00:06:43] product? I think segmentation is key. All right. What are your strategy? What is your strategy really around product led growth?
Are you going to do it follow segments? Are you gonna do it for all sizes of businesses? Are you going to do it only for maybe the smallest businesses? And I think whatever you decide there that becomes important, right? Because if it’s for all segments, then you need to take, teach your entire kinda like Salesforce or customer success team to.
To be part of that process. But if you’re segmented a bit, for instance, and only focus on the smaller businesses, then you can, maybe you can build a dedicated sales team just for that segment and a dedicated customer success function just for that second month, which no, who knows that they need to do more low charge.
I think a big challenge for sales is. That as long as you keep them in a bowl and you don’t force them to get rid of the touch, right? You need, they have a tendency to, to drive the high touch themselves. They have because they want to sell, they want to give the best support possible.
So the logical thing for them is to maybe sometimes ask for a meeting, ask for a call, ask for these things, and really what you want to do is have the customer ask for those things in a low touch model, right? It shouldn’t be you going and incentivizing that behavior because as soon as you do that, you create a kind of model where the customer expect calls to happen.
And that’s a natural part of the flow.
Jason Noble: [00:08:12] That’s a really difficult transition to make isn’t it as well. I’ve worked in very high touch environments, a lot of my career and kind have a model that you enjoy doing and enjoy delivering like that. Yeah. It’s a lot about relationships, but actually that shift away from that around more automation and product can be very difficult to do.
I like to say, you’ve still got to part of your segmentation also understanding what experience level do your customers want, what level of touch they want. You can’t make an assumption that. These guys can be low touch. We can just give them the automation that you’ve got to really understand your customers better.
Do you from the companies and customers that you guys have worked with, what are some of the ways that they’ve gone about operationalizing the employee implementation of product line growth that you can share this with? We’ve got the strategy, the vision that yes, we want to do product led growth.
How do they go about operationalizing that? And as you’ve mentioned earlier on about change management behavior changes, how do they. How do they start internally to do that then also, how do they take their customers on that journey?
Esben Friis-Jenson: [00:09:12] Yeah, no that’s a really good question. So I think, again, it comes back to who or what is the company?
Is this company, a company that’s already product led and like already very product driven and maybe never had. Like sales team was, you have that type of company where a sales team and a customer success team was like an afterthought, there was something, okay, now we need to have that in.
And for those they’ve built out a lot of this stuff natively, it just was part of how they grew their business and building. So the doubt, and then you have the other type of company where they may be relied more on the demo request model, the high touch support from the early days.
And now they want to do a transition maybe for the smaller customers or something like that. So it depends a bit on where you are in that. But what we are seeing is I think a lot of these product led companies, what comes down through is of course, Eh, the first kind of decision I’ve I think is important.
Especially from the ones moving from sales lead is to introduce that option of a free trial or as self sign up. And that’s already a big step, right? That’s the first step you probably didn’t have to take is to understand, okay, how do we get to that step? And maybe you do some iterations to do that, right?
You could maybe start with light. A request, a quote or something like that. Something that’s a bit more self-service than a demo request, but it’s not a free trial. And another thing we’re seeing in the market right now, for some of these companies, they can also do. Something that’s a bit similar to what we do.
So user flow, we do in-app guides, right? So you have to sign in and then you get an onboarding, but there are also tools now where you can do like recordings, interactive demos, that we don’t allow people to sign up through the application. And then you can do like a free trial with like dummy data. But if you then move it or assembly to that free trial experience and you get to that point, Where you start signing along users to sign up themselves and try your product. And that’s where we come in as a solution. So we are one of the solutions you use that, right? So you can build onboarding and DePaul.
What are they doing? Like you can do, there are tons of product tools today where you can somehow track the users and see what they’re doing and how they’re interacting. And what does that mean for their purchase behavior? So I would say that’s another big piece. And then the third piece is communication, right?
Even though it’s a self service free trial, you need a communication channel, many sides today have to. The chats, right? Like the chat on their website. And that becomes even more important in a free trial, whether you need to have that open channel where they can reach out when they’re sitting there with some kind of problem that you can do.
And I think the second piece of that can of course be an email cadence that you kinda. Send out on a, in a series of messages. So you want to attract the user. So it almost becomes like this Margaret said we always have the full right. Is now inside the product. So you’re building all these things, all this communication.
On the public facing website, you now have to do inside your application.
Jason Noble: [00:12:47] What’s the reception feedback you’ve had from customers. When you’ve done this now, how do they take that kind of in-app experience? What channels do they prefer? What’s the market said to you?
Esben Friis-Jenson: [00:12:58] Yeah, no.
So of course in app guides, you can argue, why do we need them? Should we just build, Perfect websites and stuff like that. But reality is even like the most perfect good looking websites out there. They have a lot of like kind of challenges and actually showing value. And one of the key things we focus on in user flow is that you should drive the user through their, what you call aha moments. Right? You want to drive them to see the value of quick, and understand what it can do. I can, for instance, in our own product, it’s a strong UX of how you built the stuff.
And so we want to drive to use it through. Play with that as quick as possible. So one of our first step in, in our checklist onboarding checklist is to basically go try off low builder. So they get a feeling with it and what it can do. So that’s an example, and that’s also what our customers they’re not doing.
They’re building an onboarding checklist and the first couple of tasks, is it basically the key kind of things you want to use it to do? So this is not. Often you fall in that trap where you start showcasing your answers, higher product. That’s not what you should do. You should really nail down.
What are those key actions, the user, eh, want to see and do, and focus on that instead of focusing on like giving them a. Complete overview of your, this page does this page. Nobody wants that. They want to see what value they can get from the product run, right?
Jason Whitehead: [00:14:26] Yeah. I think that’s so important and it does sound like a different mindset and a lot of organizations already struggled with their low touch approach that this sounds like one more complexity for a lot of customer success folks and sales folks.
Can you share a little. A little insight around what are some of the biggest mistakes that you’ve seen people make when trying to implement a product then, and were what are the pitfalls that people might not think come up and bite them, but they should really pay attention to.
Esben Friis-Jenson: [00:14:51] Yeah, no, I think you often, I think the biggest challenge, especially for sales led companies, is they overthink it, right?
They, or they think too much about what they need to do, instead of just doing it more. And that is so important. I do just need to work. You need to go back and think a bit more like a. Early state startup, where you’re working in small iterations and work fast. Because if you think everything.
You’re never gonna see how to use us actually react. And I think that’s key is you want to see how do users react to what to do? What if they got access to your product? What, what would happen? And then learn from that. The worst thing that can happen is. Nothing has, and you just reach out to them like you would have in a demo.
So that’s something you really have to think about is it’s not that risky because now you have their email, they signed up. Yes. They looked at your product and maybe didn’t get value from it. But, you can still reach out to them. So first of all, I wouldn’t be scared about doing stuff.
But then when you start diving into it, then I think a key thing is also of course from user flows personally. That’s why I joined this comedy is that you need, you cannot just let, having said that yes, you can let them in, but the result is you, then you have to reach out.
But then what you lack is some kind of productions product. How do you go and do this? How do I get to this value? And I think. I think that is something that many, maybe more native product led comedies forget about. Because they just trust so much in their product that they, they let people in and then they hope for the best.
But I know many like product led companies where I have no clue what I have to do the first time I log into their application. I’m just sitting there clicking around a bit and then I’m okay. Maybe it’s not for me. I and then there are the tools where you get that. Okay. I know exactly what I need to do, and this is awesome.
That those are the tools you buy. So yeah, I think that’s something that, that kind of many, maybe forget. Yeah, so I think it’s that mix again, right? The native companies they might do too little sometimes. And the sales led companies might try to a finger too much and do too much.
Instead of , I bought some
Jason Noble: [00:17:06] things. How do you see, we’ve talked about kind of customers and how they need to move this change, but what about your own companies? How do you take this kind of strategic idea that yes, we’re doing product led growth. How do you take it as a top-down idea and make sure it filters down to the rest of the teams in organization so that everyone there gets it, what you’re trying to do and why you’re trying to do it.
And that must be equally challenging.
Esben Friis-Jenson: [00:17:28] Yeah, that is the big change management exercise. And in cobalt we had buy-in from the sort of, all of us founders were bought into the idea of product led prototype. And that, yeah, that helps because then you and then you discuss it on a management level and they also get bought into it.
It’s especially key to have the VP of sales, VP of customer success. These kind of roles should understand that this. Is there and why we want to do it because, and they should buy into it as well. Because otherwise it’s going to be hard to get their alignment. And then it needs to go from there.
I think it is important to have that top-down buy-in and then you go from there, but it is a challenge all the way down through to implementation. It’s really like an alignment. Challenge between sales, customer success and product that they need to be much more closely aligned in in this process.
And that is a communication challenge. So I think what I would say is this is almost at least in big organizations, you require some kind of. Program manager as somebody who’s leading this initiative. And aligning people because otherwise it just ends up with too many opinions and then you never get anywhere.
And then I think
that is the challenge.
Jason Noble: [00:18:44] You need someone. So when you sign to a customer, you still need somebody there. That’s going to help enable that change. And that, that you need that internal champion and that’s really difficult to do. Sometimes it isn’t just a case of plug and go, you need to make sure someone’s there.
Esben Friis-Jenson: [00:19:01] It’s not, it needs to be a strategic initiative. Yup. Yup. Definitely
Jason Whitehead: [00:19:05] for an organization that has said, we buy into the value of product led growth, but we’ve never done this before and we need to move in that direction. W how did they get started? Are there particular. Tools and technology that they can, that would allow them to quickly, like you say, iterate and go through and really ramp up.
These three things will really help you get there. Is there a particular skill set that they need to bring in bringing in an expert in X, Y, and Z, that’ll help them move forward. What’s how does someone quickly get started on that iteration journey?
Esben Friis-Jenson: [00:19:32] Yeah, no, that’s a great question. And luckily there’s a ton of great material out there for how you get started.
A great community is the product lead.com, which is like a super community for product growth. West push wrote a book on product led growth, which has, I think ignited a lot of this trend and this movement we’re seeing. Yes. And a further at night at it by writing that book. And that’s a good place to start.
I would say, read that book and and have that as a baseline. Regarding bringing somebody in, I would say maybe not very large organization, but otherwise I would say most of them. Most people have had to have an idea about software as a service utility would work in a software as a service model already.
So it’s not like rocket science. These are just like a, it’s changing the mindset a bit around. Okay. How do we move to a more low charge product led model instead of this fight such we’re doing today? So I think. A good place to start. Is there that, that is what I recommend
Jason Whitehead: [00:20:33] and we’ll have a link to the product lead.com and then, yeah,
Jason Noble: [00:20:36] that’s a pretty cool thing to do.
It has been, this has been really interesting. A massive thank you for this. What we always like to do at the end of the podcast is present a, what we call a bowl challenge, question to our listeners as part of the podcast, and really have a, have you provide the listeners with some actionable ideas from what they can do.
So the question we want to come back to you with is. What’s the single most important bolt actually, you’d like to see companies take, to develop and implement a product led growth strategy. So one action. It’s not easy,
Esben Friis-Jenson: [00:21:05] Allow users to do a free trial. I think this is for sales led companies allow them to do a free trial and your product.
I think that’s it sounds easy, but if you’ve been a sales lead for a long time, it’s not easy. Do
Jason Noble: [00:21:18] you, do you see lots of companies? You talked about earlier on, but do you see people moving in that direction? Is that something that’s happening more and more, or is there still a lot of resistance?
Esben Friis-Jenson: [00:21:29] Yeah, no, it’s definitely a big trend that people want to move through that. Especially for their smaller segment customers which they know are very self service or want to be self-service. And if you’re a software as a service company, You actually have a hard time. I think selling to and BS, if you don’t have like self-service kind of model because they don’t want to speak with, they don’t want to do demos.
So I think it’s a big trend we’re seeing, and we’re even seeing like freemium trend, right? That’s the idea of Slack and zoom. They’ve taken it also freemium. And really succeeded with that model. But not everybody, I don’t think everybody can do that. But I think the free trial, especially in B2B is works well done.
Jason Whitehead: [00:22:09] Excellent. Before before you go, we always like to invite our guests to do a shameless plug. So if you want to say a little bit about user flow or any other initiatives that you’re working on, please just take a couple minutes and let people know what you’re up to and how they can get in touch with you.
And given the topic today, I think. Why that’s value is to be able to do it, no code as, eh, really this product is an iterative process, and so you always have to improve, learn, improve, and that’s really hard to do if you always have to involve developers. So that’s one of the big policy of useful is that you don’t need to do that.
Jason Noble: [00:23:13] that’s been a huge, thank you. This has been really enjoyable. As you said, it’s something that we’ve. Jason, I’ve been seen a, kind of a growing interest in this area. And I think it is, we’re going to see that trend continue. There’s a lot of focus being done on this, a lot of new companies coming up.
So it’s really exciting to see the passion that you guys have for this. And we’re looking forward to seeing what you guys do. So a big, thank you from us.
Jason Whitehead: [00:23:34] Great. Thanks for joining
Esben Friis-Jenson: [00:23:35] us. Really appreciate you for having me. It was a pleasure.