In this post of "My First 1000 Users", we will cover the story of Userflow and how it went from 0 to millions in ARR with just three employees by focusing on product-led growth and automation.
The content of this case study is taken from the podcast episode I recorded with Esben Friis-Jensen, the Co-founder & Chief Growth Officer at Userflow.
Let's dive right in.
How did Esben come up with the idea of starting Userflow?
Userflow was started by its second co-founder Sebastian Seilund, and Esben was not a part of the company when it began.
Sebastian had created a tool for video recording and a product for himself to better onboard users to his video recording tool.
But Sebastian realized that people were more interested in the onboarding tool he used rather than the video tool.
Seeing a massive interest in his onboarding tool, he decided to pursue it instead of his video recording tool.
Sebastian looked for similar solutions and realized he was entering a competitive market.
But all of Userflow's competitors were hard to use and lacked a good user experience.
Sebastian decided to work on this problem and made Userflow's UI easy to use.
Esben previously worked as a co-founder of a testing software company called Cobalt and was looking for new opportunities in the startup space.
He was drawn to Sebastian's mission and product journey and decided to join Userflow as a co-founder.
Diagnose the market to beat the market. When in a competitive environment, think about the things that can set your product apart from the others.
Think about improving your competitor's product. Sebastian created an onboarding tool that was way easier to use compared to all its competitors.
The journey from 0 to the 50 customers
The initial users of Userflow were from Sebastian's friends and close network. He also launched the tool on Product Hunt to acquire more users.
Later Userflow started using ads and SEM to acquire more users.
When Esben joined the company, he decided to scale the company further by doubling down on the SEM efforts.
Userflow follows a product-led growth model where the product does most of the heavy lifting of selling and retention.
Since Userflow is a firm believer in product-led growth, it became easier to sell to customers with ambitions about having a more robust product-led growth model.
All of Userflow's customers are looking for a more robust automated onboarding process like the one at Userflow.
Userflow's team always focuses on how the product can do most leg work. They constantly keep improving the website, trial experience and retention so they can sell better to their customers.
This has resulted in the company growing to 500 customers and millions in ARR with just a team of 3 people.
Real product-led growth happens when you dig deep down and try to understand what concerns your ideal customers. Since Userflow has solved all those issues for themselves at the company level, it becomes easier to go and get happy customers for their product.
The journey from 50 to the 100 customers
After the initial spike in customers through the Product Hunt launch, Userflow grew consistently through Google Ads.
Esben believes when running ads for any SaaS product, you need to align your message with what you are selling. If you don't do that, you will attract the wrong audience, and they will never go through the trials.
Easy user onboarding has been the primary messaging for all ads of Userflow.
Esben has continued to boost the SEM efforts of the company to scale its users further. He has also organized the word-of-mouth publicity around Userflow.
The team has also started focusing on SEO and has initiated thought leadership based on Product Led Growth and user onboarding for the company's long-term growth.
Although Userflow does many things as a product, the team decided to focus on the feature of easy user onboarding in all their messaging. Because that resonated with their ideal audience, find what resonates the most with your ideal customer.
What kind of SEM strategy does Esben follow for Userflow?
Search network ads have been doing well for Userflow. Esben focuses on solution-based keywords around user onboarding. He also bids on competitors' keywords.
The ads lead to different landing pages, from solution-based to comparison pages.
He also plans to start testing Youtube ads soon. The team did tried running display ads before, but they weren't profitable.
How does Esben do thought leadership?
Esben's experience of starting multiple successful companies like Cobalt and Userflow adds authority to his content about product-led growth.
He believes in writing and speaking with authenticity and believes thought leaders should not focus their efforts on SEO or keywords; instead, they should focus on the users consuming their content.
He participates as a guest speaker in podcasts relevant to his niche. The podcasts help distribute his message further to the right audience.
He also shares his message through his social media accounts.
Esben is also an active member of the various product-led communities and has also started his own community for product-led folks called Product Led Stack.
It is an open community and can be accessed at www.productledstack.com.
The community includes both Userflow's customers as well as potential prospects.
Not only do the customers act as Userflow's advocates within the community, but they also learn from others' posts and tech stacks.
The community also serves as a learning and feedback source for Esben to get new feature and app integration ideas.
Esben realized the potential of communities and social selling at Cobalt and figured that social selling and communities are slowly replacing outbound motion.
He noticed that most of his sales representatives were struggling with outbound success, but the ones with the most success were those posting with authenticity on LinkedIn.
Whenever you are posting anything online, think to yourself. Will this help my customers? If yes, then post away.
Try to build a community of users around your product. Not only will that help aid your feedback process, but it will also add a human touch to your company.
The journey ahead
SEO and content are long-term games. So Esben plans to continue leveling up the SEO and word-of-mouth game of Userflow to scale its users further.
He also plans to increase the ad spend to level up Useflow's SEM game.
How does Esben structure word-of-mouth marketing?
Word of mouth has played an essential role in the growth of users for Userflow, so Esben has actively managed to structure this channel.
With Userflow, you can build sophisticated surveys, so whenever any customer rates Userflow highly, they are promoted to leave a review on www.g2.com.
The goal is to gather all reviews in one place rather than having users distribute reviews on multiple sites.
The company also makes use of all reviews in its conversion model.
Now the company has also started running recurring campaigns through all product users, not just happy customers. This change comes from the team's belief in their product.
How does Esben run a multi million-dollar company with just three members?
Esben believes in practising what they preach. So he aims to automate and simplify every company process through product-led growth.
Whenever the team runs into a support issue, they think of how they can solve it in the product rather than hiring people.
While onboarding users to Userflow, the team uses Userflow and automated emails.
Userflow's team spends most of its time-solving UX challenges their customers face and building great new features into the product.
Esben feels user experience is more important than new features in any product, and this is the one thing which has helped them scale profitably with such a small team. The first hire in Userflow was a designer, contrary to most startups that start by hiring coders and salespeople.
Userflow is bootstrapped, so the founders have never had any outside pressure to grow at a specific rate, which has also helped them stay away from reckless hiring for rapid growth.
Despite no external pressure, Userflow has been growing at the same pace as any VC-backed businesses, which is the benchmark to which the team holds itself accountable.
Work on simplifying and automating your processes as much as possible and try to put users in charge of their onboarding and retention by improving your product's user experience and functionality.
What would Esben do differently if he were to start Userflow tomorrow?
Userflow recently introduced a resource centre feature, a self-helpful widget that is always on to help guide users through the product.
It has been a massive success with Userflow's users. So if Esben were to change anything about his journey, he would prefer to launch this feature earlier.
Rest, Esben is happy with how his company is growing and believes in focusing on iterating and learning every day.
What is the one book that has had a significant impact on Esben's life recently?
Esben recommends reading the book "Product-Led SEO" by Eli Schwartz. The book discusses the principles of great SEO for company and product growth.
The book emphasizes user-based content rather than keyword and algorithm-based content and urges its users to focus on consistency and integrity in their content.
The Bottom Line
You don't need funding and a huge team to become a multi million-dollar successful SaaS company.
A small effective team works as well as a big one. Userflow is a clear example of that.
Be true to your customers and put their needs before anybody else. Esben has seen tremendous growth because he has always believed in being authentic in his messaging and efforts.
Each week, we'll be sending you a new case study like this. No BS. No Fluff. Only actionable insights on how to grow a B2B SaaS from successful examples.