Wes Bush is the founder and president of the Product-Led Institute. He spends his days there teaching SaaS companies how to flip the traditional sales playbook and use the Product-Led growth method to turn on their growth engine.
He is the bestselling author of Product-Led Growth and a Product-Led Growth pioneer, and he has challenged an entire industry to come up with a better way to approach SaaS growth.
We had the pleasure of speaking with him and having him answer questions about the success of the world’s largest Product Led community, which he founded. You can find more information or join it here https://productled.com/community.
Why did you choose to build an online community? Is it connected to your company’s purpose?
Initially, this community just started off with me posting on Twitter, saying, “Hey, I’m really into product-led growth and would love to learn more about this with others.” I just posted it, a friend shared it, and then all of a sudden there were 50 people interested, and I was like, “Wow, there is a community here!”
Previously, it was just me discussing growth online. It was odd that there weren’t many people talking about it. So it was just a place where people could discuss it and where we could learn more about it. It just grew organically to over 15 thousand people.
Is it connected to your company’s purpose?
Yes, it totally is. We believe that people should be able to get answers to their questions about our company, “Productled”. I also believe that the community played a big part in building a successful business. It is really at the core of it.
What was the goal of creating your community, monetization, sales, or something else?
What distinguishes our company is what we actually did. We didn’t start with the intention of monetizing these people someday. That was not the business model. We are working on the antifragile business model, so a percentage of our revenue is tied to sponsorships.
Whatever we make through sponsorship, we basically give away for free. It’s a no-brainer. I really believe that free value is the best way to grow anything, and this is how we’re moving ahead. So it’s all part of the mission.
What approaches did you use to attract community members?
The community has always been on our website. It’s gone from being the main call to action to now being a secondary one. Most people are unaware that the majority of people who join this community are invited by others. I consider that to be one of the best characteristics of a strong community.
It’s like, “Would your community die if it weren’t promoted?” I think there are a lot of communities out there that would turn into crickets without promotion. Of course, there will always be some churn in any community, just as there will be churn in any product. But will it maintain itself and actually grow without advertising? I would worry more about that.
How many resources do you dedicate to retention and engagement (time, money, people…)?
I will probably say “not enough.” To put it as simply as possible, the community is managing itself. The most difficult issue as the community grows is simply keeping up.
- Engagement. It might feel like a small community, but there are a lot of people there.
- We take care to completely remove all spammers. For example, if we catch someone posting a self-promotional link, we don’t even contact them most times; we just cut them off. It’s important to have a firm policy that is actually implemented.
The content itself is a primary resource. You are the one who generates and stimulates many of the questions at first, but over time, the community must do the majority of the heavy lifting on its own.
How did you choose a platform adequate for your needs?
We use Slack. It was simply the one I was already familiar with from previous use.
How do you keep your community members engaged?
This is actually more or less autopilot. If we don’t post for, say, a month, there will still be a lot of posts in the community.
But a post doesn’t necessarily mean engagement. For me, engagement means people actually commenting on stuff. I’ll be paying more attention to that as time goes on. I think a post has good engagement if it has more than three comments, and if it has five or eight comments, that’s even better.
If I notice that someone asks a good question but does not frame it correctly, I advise them to delete it and resubmit it if they want some good responses.
Initially, it was just me, but we soon had two community managers looking for and assisting them with some of those posts. We also place a high value on introductions, as they are a mandatory part of the onboarding process.
Given that the community currently has 15K members did your strategy change?
No. I think it’s just been the same. It’s the core of our business.
We welcome everyone to the Product-Led Free community, which is a free plan. Our goal here is to connect and help each other out, and it’s really more of a peer-led group.
We also have paid programs, and the main difference there is that the people you get your questions answered by are actually experienced, certified product-led coaches.
We basically offer the free version as a test, and if you like this community, we’re all here for each other, but if you want more, there’s also a paid version.
Do you recommend startup founders to build an online community?
Yes, I do, but make sure you understand what you’re getting into because it’s a lot of work. You’ll definitely need someone to manage it someday if you want to keep growing it.
Our community isn’t just for people who are genuinely interested in product-related topics; I also use it to get feedback on specific issues from there, like gathering opinions from members when considering new activities. Members know that I started the community, so they will talk to me or answer my questions. That is one obvious self-serving use of the community.
But, beyond that, I believe it simply becomes a place where people can discuss topics, get feedback on them, and have some really great interactions with one another.
So, yeah, I’d definitely recommend it, but with a warning: there’s a lot going on!
- This interview is part of our community building blog series meant to answer the most pressing questions about online communities for startups.
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