Ken Rudin on Myths of Product Led Growth

Gainsight kicked off their November 2021 Pulse for Product event with a great keynote on Product Led Growth (PLG).  It was presented by Ken Rudin, SVP of User Growth @ ThoughtSpot.  He transformed the company from traditional enterprise B2B to PLG.  

For an existing company, when it comes to PLG, there are a lot of misconceptions that can derail the transformation effort. To be successful, the change agent has to be a mythbuster.  He shares four big myths; and accompanying changes  across mindsetproduct, and process, to be successful.

Here are the notes that I took from the keynote.  

What is PLG?

  • A company strategy that makes your product the main driver to acquire, activate, and retain customers

What are the benefits of PLG:

  • Lowers customer acquisition costs
  • Accelerate sales cycle
  • Improves customer experience
  • Drives stronger long-term growth

MYTH #1 – My company can’t be a PLG company 

  • Mindset change: PLG can be applied to any product.  You can always make your product easier to use, self-service, or remove friction in the buying process >> Example: TESLA changed the traditional car buying experience by putting experience online, options are online, pricing is transparent, and delivers to home. 
  • Product change: When Launching features, also think about the Landing.  Do users get value out of the feature?  Focus on landing the value and iterating from there: minimizing time-to-value, maximizing engagement, increasing ease-of-use. >> Example: Consider an MVP pocket knife.  Did the user wants a swiss army knife; or just a pocket knife that is easier to open, comfortable to hold, or safer to use?
  • Process change: Think of releases as catching a subway train instead.  When a feature is ready, just add it to the next release train coming along. Don’t know exactly which features are going to be in which release. But since you don’t need to worry about that coordination, you can do many more releases.  >> Example: ThoughtSpot went from 3 or 4 releases per year, onto a release per week, such that they can now iterate on feedback much faster.

MYTH #2 – Sales and Customer Success become fully automated 

  • Mindset change: PLG helps sellers find more new & highly qualified prospects.  The product is used to scale the impact of Sales. A self-serve free trial will broaden the top-of-the-funnel and more deals are closed because the leads already experienced the value.  Warmer leads will be closed faster. 
    • Customer success can scale best practices & help every user. >> Example: A ski guide can take their knowledge and put it into an app where everyone can use it, see what ski conditions are, and which trails are best for their ski ability.  But there will always be users who want that 5 star concierge service. 
  • Product change: Need to look at the analytics: [1] what is the user doing that leads to successful outcomes, [2] where is the user getting stuck, and [3] what usage patterns are common across different users.  Then provide in-app guides and templates.  Templates help users think about use cases they haven’t thought themselves.  
  • Process change: Instead of Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL), focus on the Product Qualified Leads (PQL).  An MQL journey will show that the customer is interested in your industry; but the PQL journey will show interest in your product.  A PQL is much more valuable to a sales rep.  

MYTH #3 – Our free trial must show everything 

  • Mindset change: Get your users through as many aha moments as quickly and friction-free as possible. >> Example: As a restaurant, instead of immediately showing a full menu with its breadth of choices, you will be more successful to present one or two signature dishes to give a better sense of quality and why it is great. 
  • Product change: Minimize time-to-value and get to the aha moment quickly.  Temporarily hide other functionality so the user is not distracted. >> Example: ThoughtSpot built a simple three step process that will provide their user a sense that the product is interesting, different, and valuable.  
  • Process change: Map the user journey, step-by-step, then simplify processes >> ThoughtSpot had a 6 step registration that lost 30% of users along the way. Moving to “Sign in with Google” changed it to 1 step and with 0% loss. 

MYTH #4 – PLG is all about acquiring new customers 

  • Mindset change: Engagement and retention are much more important than Acquisition.  If you acquire users but cannot keep them, all that you are doing is backfilling users that you lost. >> Example: Continuing to pour more water into a leaky bucket instead of fixing the leak
  • Product change: Use the product to drive awareness into sticky features in the product.  Identify the features that are highly correlated with retention, but have low usage; then introduce the feature at a time when the user is most likely to use the feature. >> Example: Google Maps “Add a pit stop” feature is promoted in app when user plans long trip (>2 hrs)
    • Build engagement loops >> Example: Tagging people, ability for people to follow changes in the app
    • Drive value-received awareness >> Example: Anti-virus software showing scan and protection stats, Grammerly app showing productivity stats
  • Process change: Figure out that one metric that captures improvement for Acquisition, Engagement, and Retention >> Example: ThoughtSpot uses “weekly sessions” that measure how often does a user uses the product in a week.  “Weekly sessions” will increase if they acquire more customers, if users do more @ mentions, or if they keep more users. 


  1. Any company can be a PLG company
  2. PLG is a powerful tool for sales and customer success teams
  3. Free trials should focus on key aha moments
  4. PLG is about acquisition + engagement & retention

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