20Product The Secret to Successful Onboarding from Notion and Airtable, The Biggest Mistakes Startups Make in PLG Today& Why 90% of Onboarding Today is Done Poorly with Lauryn Isford, Head of Product Growth @ Notion

Summary Notes


In a dynamic discussion on "20 Product," Lauren Isford, Head of Product Growth at Notion, delves into the nuances of product-led growth (PLG) strategies alongside host Harry Stebings. Lauren emphasizes the importance of tailoring onboarding experiences to user needs and the critical nature of time to value in retaining customers. She contrasts the granular optimization tactics typical in consumer growth with the bolder, intent-driven changes required in SaaS growth. Lauren also shares insights from her transitions between consumer and SaaS growth, her experience with horizontal tools like Notion and Airtable, and the significance of aligning growth initiatives with a product's core experience. Additionally, she touches on the challenges of integrating sales-assisted motions with PLG and the value of learning from diverse growth strategies through angel investing.

Summary Notes

Distinction Between Missing Goals

  • Lauren Isford emphasizes the importance of understanding why goals are missed.
  • There is a meaningful difference between failing due to hypothesis refutation versus poor execution.
  • A bias towards experimentation without execution can be a red flag.
  • Time to value is crucial for user retention in product-led growth.

"There's a difference between missing a goal because your hypothesis was disproven and missing a goal because you didn't execute well."

This quote underlines that not all failures are equal and that the reason behind missing goals is significant for future strategy and understanding business performance.

Bias Towards Experimentation

  • Heavy bias towards experimentation can be detrimental if not balanced with execution.
  • The majority of users who sign up for a product-led motion are unlikely to return if they don't quickly see value.

"The biggest red flag to me is when I hear a heavy bias towards experimentation."

Lauren Isford suggests that while experimentation is important, overemphasis without proper execution can lead to missed opportunities and poor user retention.

Introduction to 20 Product and Lauren Isford

  • Harry introduces 20 Product and the guest, Lauren Isford.
  • Lauren's background includes roles at Notion, Airtable, Meta, Dropbox, and Blue Bottle Coffee.
  • She is also an angel investor and advisor.

"This is 20 product with me, Harry."

Harry Stebbings sets the stage for the podcast, introducing the theme and his role as the host.

"Stebbings, and 20 product is the monthly where we sit down with the best product leaders to discuss starting, scaling and managing product teams."

Harry Stebbings provides the podcast's purpose, which is to explore product management with industry leaders.

"I'm thrilled to be joined today by Lauren Isford, head of product growth at Notion, managing notion's product like growth engine and self serve business."

Harry introduces Lauren and her current role, highlighting her experience in product growth.

Miro and EPO as Essential Tools

  • Miro is described as a game-changing visual collaboration tool.
  • EPO is presented as the next-generation A/B testing and feature management platform.
  • Both tools are positioned as critical for planning, executing, and analyzing product development and growth.

"Miro is a tool I consider to be truly game changing."

Harry advocates for Miro, emphasizing its importance in product development and collaboration.

"You have to try EPO, the next generation A/B testing and feature management platform."

Harry introduces EPO as an essential platform for running experiments and managing product features.

Defining Growth

  • Lauren defines growth as kickstarting, fueling, and scaling business outcomes post-market fit.
  • Growth involves bringing more customers, enhancing their value, and ultimately increasing users and revenue.
  • Lauren's entry into growth was through Dropbox's rotation program.

"I would define growth as the practice of kickstarting, fueling and scaling business outcomes."

Lauren Isford provides her definition of growth, emphasizing its role in expanding a business's impact.

Lessons from Dropbox

  • Dropbox taught Lauren that growing a business is incremental and detail-oriented.
  • Trial conversion and customer segmentation are key to understanding and optimizing growth.
  • Precise data analysis can yield significant returns in customer value and business growth.

"My biggest lesson from Dropbox was probably that growing a business is a game of inches."

Lauren reflects on the importance of attention to detail and incremental improvements in business growth from her experience at Dropbox.

Lessons from Airtable

  • At Airtable, Lauren learned to integrate product-led growth (PLG) with sales-led motions.
  • She challenges the notion that a business must be exclusively product-led or sales-led.
  • Airtable's approach involved thinking through the full customer journey and when to transition them to more sophisticated plans.

"Airtable is an area where I started to really focus on product led growth for SaaS."

Lauren discusses her focus on PLG at Airtable and how it informed her approach to growth.

Combining PLG and Sales-Led Motions

  • Early-stage businesses should focus on one go-to-market motion to find their footing.
  • Experiment with product-led and sales-led strategies to determine the best approach.
  • A product-led motion allows users to experience and see value in the product firsthand.
  • Sales teams can then build on this foundation, focusing on upselling to existing customers.

"Developing a sales team later on takes on a very different flavor."

Lauren explains how a sales team's approach evolves when built on a product-led foundation, focusing on upselling rather than initial customer acquisition.

User Onboarding

  • Onboarding is about orienting users to maximize the likelihood of long-term retention.
  • Activation rate is a key metric, defined by engagement/retention and early habit building.
  • Many onboarding tools exist, but effective learning and value demonstration are challenging.
  • Onboarding should be patient and tailored to the immediate needs of the user for maximum impact.

"Onboarding is a term that's used very broadly and there are many tools that you can buy to help you or that claim they can help you with onboarding."

Lauren discusses the broad application of the term "onboarding" and the challenges in effectively implementing it to ensure user retention and engagement.

Horizontal User Onboarding

  • Addressing diverse needs in horizontal tools like Notion and Airtable is complex.
  • Asking users their purpose can guide the onboarding process and tailor the experience.
  • Reflecting back the user's needs in the product experience is key to demonstrating value.

"Very good question and hard to do, right?"

Lauren acknowledges the difficulty of creating a horizontal onboarding process that caters to the varied needs of different users.

Importance of Time to Value in Onboarding

  • Time to value is critical in the onboarding phase for consumer products or SaaS tools.
  • The majority of users will not return if the first impression is not compelling.
  • Onboarding should include smart questions and a realistic cross-section of useful, relevant, and magical features.
  • The right features should inspire users and demonstrate a product's differentiation.

"Onboarding phase, time to value is critical. The large majority of users who sign up in a product led motion for a consumer product or a SaaS tool will not come back."

This quote emphasizes the importance of making a strong first impression during the onboarding phase, as it can significantly affect user retention rates.

Simplicity in User Onboarding

  • Lauren Isford advocates for simplicity in user onboarding.
  • Simplicity helps in demonstrating the product's capabilities without overwhelming the user.

"In user onboarding, I think simple is always better."

Lauren Isford confirms her preference for simplicity in user onboarding, suggesting that it leads to a better user experience.

Complexity and Power Demonstration

  • A loading screen or complex setups can demonstrate a product's power.
  • For enterprise deployments, the complexity can be managed by human assistance to streamline onboarding.
  • Complex setups should still aim to simplify the end-user experience.

"Demonstrating power or demonstrating the high ceiling that a product can offer, inspiring and creating that feeling that something magical is happening under the hood."

Lauren Isford discusses the balance between showing product power and keeping the user experience simple, suggesting that complexity should be handled internally to maintain a simple user interface.

Activation Metrics in Onboarding

  • Activation metrics should correlate with long-term retention.
  • They should indicate both retention and sophistication of use.
  • Lauren Isford suggests that around 20% of customers should reach the activation metric, though this is a controversial view.
  • Activation metrics should not be overly narrow and should reflect the user finding value.
  • It's important to understand the correlation between early user actions and retention but not to over-focus on finding the perfect metric due to evolving customer bases and features.

"An activation metric should correlate with long term retention. So if you activate this week, you should be more likely to be active in six months."

Lauren Isford explains that a good activation metric is indicative of future user activity and retention, highlighting the importance of a metric that predicts long-term engagement.

Real-Life Example of Onboarding Correlation to Retention

  • Airtable's onboarding process involves creators building a base and collaborating, which correlates with higher retention rates.
  • The act of creating and collaborating within Airtable is a strong indicator of user engagement and future product use.

"A great example to call on airtable would be if a creator of a new base were to build something of substance...That, to me would be a signal...that they are much more likely to keep using airtable six months from now."

Lauren Isford uses Airtable as an example of how specific onboarding actions can predict long-term retention, supporting the idea that meaningful early engagement leads to sustained use.

Retention Benchmarks for B2B PLG

  • Early return rates and collaboration percentages are indicators of good retention.
  • Over time, retention rates may increase as users discover new use cases and value in the product.

"Roughly 15% to 20% of teams using your product continue to collaborate after a month, and over the long term, somewhere in the order of ten to 20% of teams continue to find value."

Lauren Isford provides benchmarks for retention in B2B product-led growth, suggesting what percentages of teams should continue using and finding value in a product.

Common Mistakes in User Onboarding

  • Overuse of tooltips and checklists can be ineffective.
  • Onboarding should be assertive and engage the majority of customers.
  • Educational material should be relevant and compelling to ensure broad engagement.

"There are a couple that come to mind. I mentioned briefly that I generally don't like tooltips...The other pattern that I don't love is a checklist or a more passive opt in."

Lauren Isford critiques common onboarding mistakes, such as relying on tooltips and checklists, which often fail to engage users effectively.

Assertive Education in Onboarding

  • Assertive education involves visual, progressive, and experiential learning.
  • Onboarding should involve interactive elements and gradually introduce product features over time.

"In general, something more visual, more progressive and more experiential is generally better."

Lauren Isford describes her preference for an onboarding approach that is interactive and gradually introduces complexity, enhancing user learning and engagement.

Hiring for Growth

  • The right time to hire for growth depends on the company's go-to-market strategy.
  • Early focus on growth can be beneficial for companies with a product-led go-to-market approach.
  • Hiring for growth should follow product-market fit and be based on the return on investment.

"If a business decides that a product led go to market is the right approach, in the early days I would have somebody, usually an engineer, though it could be a technical pm, focused on growth earlier than in other businesses."

Lauren Isford discusses when to hire for growth, suggesting that companies with a product-led approach should consider focusing on growth early on, potentially with a technical person in charge.

Data Logging and Acquisition for Growth

  • Experimentation infrastructure is important for growth.
  • Data logging and analysis tools are necessary for understanding the impact of product changes.
  • The ability to experiment, analyze data, and act on insights is crucial for a growth leader or advisor.

"Some degree of data engineering is necessary. So actually having somebody in seat who can help set up the initial data pipelines and logging for you to be able to understand if changes made to the product are good for users and good for the business is necessary."

Lauren Isford outlines the need for data engineering to support growth efforts, emphasizing the importance of data infrastructure for analyzing and understanding product changes.

Hiring the Right Growth Team Member

  • Different stages of a company's growth require different types of growth team members.
  • For acquisition-focused stages, a growth marketing expert with data-driven marketing experience is ideal.
  • When the focus is on product development, someone comfortable with engineering is necessary to make substantial changes to the product.
  • Growth roles can be ambiguous, as LinkedIn profiles might not clearly distinguish between marketing and product engineering backgrounds.
  • It's challenging to find a single individual who excels in both marketing and engineering, particularly for small teams with limited hiring capacity.

"In the first camp where you're really focused on acquisition? The right archetype of a hire is growth marketing." "In the second case, you're looking for someone who is more comfortable interfacing with or is an engineer."

These quotes highlight the distinction between growth roles focused on acquisition versus product development and emphasize the importance of hiring individuals with specific skill sets tailored to the company's current growth stage.

Assessing Quality of Growth Candidates

  • Interviewing for growth positions can be interactive and creative by asking candidates to review the company's website and suggest improvements.
  • A good growth practitioner should offer new ideas and be knowledgeable about competitive practices in the market.
  • Red flags in candidates include an overreliance on experimentation and optimization instead of critical thinking about the product's value to the user.
  • Growth teams should ideally be integrated with product teams to maintain a high quality bar and facilitate collaboration.

"What I would do is give that candidate our website and have them sign up for the product." "The biggest red flag to me is when I hear a heavy bias towards experimentation."

The first quote suggests a practical approach to assessing candidates by involving them in a real-world task, while the second quote warns against candidates who may not be able to contribute strategically to the product's core value proposition.

Differences Between Consumer and SaaS Growth Strategies

  • Consumer growth tactics may not directly translate to SaaS environments due to different user motivations and contexts.
  • In SaaS, users often use tools out of necessity rather than choice, so small optimizations may not be as impactful as more significant changes that align with user intent.
  • It's advisable to hire growth practitioners with experience in the specific sector (consumer or SaaS) relevant to the company.

"In SaaS, often a tool is used at work." "In consumer growth there tends to be an over focus on very small, detailed changes."

These quotes explain the fundamental differences between consumer and SaaS growth strategies, emphasizing the need for more significant changes in SaaS to influence user behavior, as opposed to the more incremental optimizations often used in consumer growth.

Notion's Approach to Product Changes and Content Curation

  • Notion recently expanded its template gallery significantly as a strategic move to embrace the product's versatility.
  • The approach to product discovery involves allowing users to "shop" for templates, inspired by Canva's success.
  • The expectation is that the expanded template gallery will have a diverse appeal rather than a few templates dominating usage.

"Just last week, my growth team at Notion relaunched our template gallery." "The thesis that we have here, which is inspired by some of the work that we've seen Canva do, is that people love to shop."

These quotes describe a significant product update at Notion and the strategic thinking behind it, drawing from successful examples in the market like Canva.

Conducting Post Mortems and Learning from Outcomes

  • Notion practices regular retrospective meetings (retros) to evaluate the performance of new features and learn from both successes and failures.
  • A distinction is made between missing goals due to disproven hypotheses (which can provide valuable learnings) and poor execution (which requires addressing specific issues).
  • Growth teams typically have a 20% success rate in meeting metrics, and goals are set with a 70% hit rate in mind to balance ambition with pragmatism.

"We do them all the time. We call them retros, and they're recursive." "There's a difference between missing a goal because your hypothesis was disproven and missing a goal because you didn't execute well."

The first quote explains the regular practice of retrospectives to review outcomes, while the second quote distinguishes between different reasons for not meeting goals, with the former being a valuable learning experience.

Growth Strategy: Incremental vs. Hail Mary Approaches

  • Growth strategies can be incremental or involve bold, disruptive moves, and the choice depends on the product's stage and company's status.
  • Incremental gains through optimization can compound over time and be significant.
  • Bold ideas may be necessary when incremental gains are insufficient to meet ambitious goals.
  • Understanding the product's performance and the company's stage is critical to determining the appropriate growth strategy.

"I think it depends on where the product is at and also the stage of company." "Incremental gains will not be enough to help us achieve what we want to achieve." "Sometimes you look at something like a churn rate, and even a very small percentage reduction in that churn rate compounding over many years will be really meaningful for the business."

These quotes emphasize the importance of context when choosing a growth strategy, suggesting that both incremental improvements and bold, transformative ideas have their place, depending on the situation.

Experimentation Timeframes

  • Determining the duration of an experiment depends on user volume and the search for statistical significance.
  • Key signals and guardrails should guide decisions rather than fixed timeframes.
  • Early results from experiments can provide enough information to make decisions, even without statistical significance.

"It does depend on how many users you put an experiment in front of, and also if you're looking for statistical significance." "You might see that more people are paying for your product, or fewer people are paying for your product, and without significance, it could give you enough signal to say, let's keep moving and let's get this out the door and ship it to everyone."

The quotes suggest that while statistical significance is important, the primary focus should be on whether the desired customer behavior is observed, which can inform decisions on the success of an experiment.

Impact of Investing on Growth Perspective

  • Investing provides a broader view of the startup ecosystem and different growth tactics.
  • Exposure to various startups and growth strategies can enhance one's growth skills.
  • Understanding different puzzles in the ecosystem can lead to better growth practices.

"You can't have tunnel vision just on your own product." "It's important to understand the ecosystem, to study different puzzles rather than just working on one."

Lauren Isford highlights how engaging with a variety of startups as an investor can broaden one's perspective and improve their ability to drive growth.

Customer Acquisition Strategy

  • Top-of-funnel strategies must align with the ideal customer profile (ICP).
  • Different acquisition channels may attract different types of customers.
  • It's important to be thoughtful about how the first interaction with a customer can influence the entire funnel.

"Being thoughtful about which strategies will yield the right customers that fit the profile of your ICP or your ideal customer profile." "Your go to market should match."

Lauren Isford stresses the importance of aligning customer acquisition strategies with the ideal customer profile to ensure that the right customers are attracted and served throughout the funnel.

Investing Strategy and Outlook

  • Lauren Isford invests as an angel, primarily through a strong referral network in PLG.
  • Despite pessimism in 2023, she sees many great companies and investment opportunities.
  • Operators can benefit from investing, but it's essential to understand one's niche and how it adds value.

"I invest as an angel." "I think some of the pessimism around investing in 2023 is not warranted."

These quotes reflect Lauren Isford's approach to investing and her optimistic view of the investment landscape in 2023, suggesting that there are still many opportunities despite a general sense of pessimism.

The Role of Growth Teams in Companies

  • Growth teams should focus on areas like top-of-funnel acquisition, onboarding, and conversion.
  • These core areas of investment in growth have remained consistent over time.
  • Understanding the business, customer base, and previous efforts is crucial for a growth leader starting a new role.

"I think the core investments of top of funnel acquisition, onboarding and conversion and monetization, those three areas have remained very consistent over time."

The quote underscores the enduring importance of fundamental growth areas, which have not changed significantly over the years, according to Lauren Isford.

Challenges in Growth and Sales Strategies

  • Integrating a sales-assisted motion with an existing PLG motion can create competition between the two.
  • It's important to manage the trade-offs between different revenue streams explicitly.
  • The question of compensation for growth teams versus sales teams is an ongoing discussion.

"At some point the two motions will compete." "It's very important to be explicit about those two motions working in concert and to make the right trade for the business overall."

Lauren Isford points out the challenges of balancing different growth and sales strategies within a company, emphasizing the need for clear management of the potential competition between them.

  • Collaboration by default and multiplayer use of tools have become more common.
  • The trend towards multiplayer tools is likely to continue.
  • Balancing private space with engagement in collaborative tools is becoming increasingly important.

"I feel like over the past five to seven years, this idea of collaboration by default or a more multiplayer use of a tool has become much more commonplace."

Lauren Isford observes a significant trend towards collaborative and multiplayer productivity tools, suggesting that this will shape the future of such tools.

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