Product-Led Growth is all the rage, but it wasn’t working
Today, things are looking good for Chameleon and its CEO, Pulkit Agrawal. Since we recorded this week’s episode of The Breakout Growth Podcast with him, Chameleon announced a successful Series A. But in 2015 the company was heading towards the startup scrap heap.
That’s where co-hosts Sean Ellis and Ethan Garr pick up this conversation.
Pulkit and his co-founders had built a product that offered simple tools to personalize customer experiences with product tours and tooltips. They were following the Product-Led playbook that was driving success for other startups in similar categories all around them.
The problem was they were running out of money. The business was not taking off even with an easy-to-use self-serve interface and low prices.
Pivoting to a Sales-Led Go-to-Market Strategy
If you listened to our previous conversation with the CEO of Fireflies, Krish Ramanelli, you will hear a story where PLG was exactly the right strategy. So why wasn’t it right for Pulkit and his team? And how did he figure it out?
Jump in and hear how focusing on the must-have experience helped Pulkit and his team regroup and reframe the business, why he doesn’t see the world as either Sales-Led or Product-Led and how the tough early journey informed his team’s growth approach.
* Building a business to solve a personal pain point (03:59)
* Realizing the team had over-indexed on a self-serve model (06:08)
* Learning that intuition isn’t fact (12:48)
* Sales-Led & Product-Led; different learnings, different value (18:30)
* Thinking through customer motivations to drive growth (24:55)
* Building the culture to support Sales-Led growth (43:29)
And much, much, more . . .
Announcer 00:00:08 Welcome to the Breakout Growth Podcast, where Sean Ellis and Ethan Gar interview leaders from the world’s fastest-growing companies to get to the heart of what’s really driving their growth. And now here are your hosts, Sean Ellis and Ethan Gar.
Sean Ellis 00:00:27 All right. In this week’s episode of the Breakout Growth Podcast, Ethan Gar and I chat with Pulkit Agrawal co-founder and CEO of Chameleon. So Chameleon helps businesses personalize customer experiences with product tours, tooltips, and other services. When Pulkit and his co-founders started the business in 2015, they were naturally really, uh, excited to adopt a Product-Led growth approach. So they built the product that they thought they were gonna use, and then they, they set really low prices. They created an easy self-serve loop and big surprise, it wasn’t working.
Ethan Garr 00:01:02 Yeah. They were actually gonna run outta money and end up on the dust bin of startup failures if they didn’t figure out something quickly. And I guess it’s a little bit of a spoiler alert for our audience, but they figured it out. They pivoted to a more Sales-Led approach, and it’s through that lens that we approach a lot of this conversation. But I think what our listeners will learn today goes really well beyond choosing just the right go to market approach. It’s about putting user experience and value into the frame to give whatever strategy you choose, really its best chance for success.
Sean Ellis 00:01:31 Yeah. Um, Chameleon’s story definitely helps you to understand why PLG isn’t the magic potion for every business, but you’ll probably get that in just the first few minutes. I think the deeper cut is about the must have experience. So if you listen to our conversation with the CEO of fireflies, Chris Elli, so that was a while back, but if you listen to that one, you’re gonna hear a story where PLG was exactly the right strategy. And in both cases, you know, making the strategy work was about developing process to really understand customer needs and, and building a go to market that maps to those needs.
Ethan Garr 00:02:08 Yeah, we talk with Pulkit Agrawal about things like jobs to be done, the process of experimenting and learning to tune the product. Lots of really other important things that I think every startup can benefit from, and that’s what got me excited about our chat. And I also like that we were able to have this discussion thinking about his product and how it helps their customers too.
Sean Ellis 00:02:25 Yeah. Product tours and other tools, like the ones Chameleon offers can be valuable, but when they’re used in place of a great experience, you know, they’re, they’re always gonna fall short. So if you’re building a product tour because your product has, you know, a million features that no one can really understand or even find the features, it’s probably not gonna solve your, your underlying business issue.
Ethan Garr 00:02:49 Yeah. It’s not, you know, these tools are not a, you know, they’re not the solution to a product market fit problem, but they are really, I, you know, they can be really useful and just as Pull Kit had to step back and rethink his business as a whole, I think his company is really dedicated to helping their customers step back and think about how to use tools like this in their business for the right reasons and to get the good results that they’re looking for. So it’s interesting stuff.
Sean Ellis 00:03:13 Absolutely. Well, let’s jump into it so we can actually hear what he has to say.
Ethan Garr 00:03:17 <laugh>. Yeah. Thanks everyone for tuning in. Enjoy it.
Sean Ellis 00:03:28 Hi Pulkit, welcome to the Breakout Growth Podcast.
Pulkit Agrawal 00:03:31 Really excited to be here. Hi, Sean.
Sean Ellis 00:03:33 Yeah, we’re excited to have you on. And I’m joined by my co-host, Ethan Gar. Hey, Ethan.
Ethan Garr 00:03:38 Hey Sean. Hey, Pulkit. Nice to see you.
Pulkit Agrawal 00:03:40 Hey.
Sean Ellis 00:03:42 Yeah. So, um, we’re excited to talk about Chameleon. It’s, uh, it’s a fast-growing company and that’s what we love to, to dig into. Um, I’m sure we’ve got some listeners that are familiar with it, but for those who aren’t, can you, uh, fill in some gaps and help ’em understand what, what it’s all about?
Pulkit Agrawal 00:03:59 Absolutely. Chameleon is this layer that sits over SAS applications and helps make them personal. So it’s, that’s kind of how we came up with the name. It kind of blends into your product, but also stands out, but it’s really about helping product teams build flows, like user onboarding, feature adoption, uh, and others to help new users learn how to use their products or help them discover new functionality, that kinda thing. Or without writing any code or needing engineering.
Sean Ellis 00:04:27 Awesome. And how, how did you come up with the idea and really, uh, what, uh, what led you to take the leap
Pulkit Agrawal 00:04:34 <laugh>? Yeah, so as many, I guess stories start with it was a personal pain point. So my co-founder, I saw the both the benefit of really good user onboarding. We were working on this mobile app before and we were trying all these different things and then we realized like when we ran some user onboarding projects that had such a lot good impact in downstream retention, and so we’re like, Wait a minute, we should be doing more of this. Um, and then as we were looking for projects to work on together, we found that a lot of other people had a same, same experience. They were like, Well, we know we need to improve user onboarding, but it’s always a big effort. And it’s like we, we do it once a year, we come back to it. And what we saw was that we needed to make it a lot more iterative, a bit like website conversion happens or you’re always experimenting and trying different things to help get people across the line. Well, user onboarding was a bit like that. There’s a new journey that people have to go on and we wanna continue to experiment. So that’s how we came up with the idea of, uh, of building something that lets product teams really own user onboarding and similar flows throughout the product to help drive that conversion.
Sean Ellis 00:05:37 Very cool. And, uh, I assume it’s SAS in terms of the business model?
Pulkit Agrawal 00:05:42 Yep, very much sas. So we sell multiple plans that are all subscription based. Our typical customer is a product team, sometimes product marketing, sometimes scaled customer success, anyone that thinks about improving user experience in their products. Uh, and typically we sell to businesses that, you know, hundreds of thousand employees that are familiar with, you know, using a stack of tooling, uh, to help un understand analytics and drive action in the product. Great.
Ethan Garr 00:06:08 You get on in here, <laugh>. Yeah. So, uh, I, I had a, a nice conversation with Pulkit Agrawal, uh, I guess a, a few weeks ago and, uh, got to a little bit of a, a background on, on the company. And one of the things that stood out to me when we chatted is you said in the beginning you over-indexed on, uh, a Self-Serve model and you said that was a mistake and I’m, I’m curious if you could tell us a little bit about that, that journey and figuring out that that was a mistake and how did you know that it was a mistake?
Pulkit Agrawal 00:06:38 Yeah, so we as founders were the kinds of people that bought software on a credit card, paying a couple hundred bucks a month. We had not been people that had purchased annual contracts of tens of thousands of dollars. So in a way, we made a common startup mistake, which we kind of built the product in a way that we thought it would be used not necessarily looking at the actual customer base and how they might find value in it. So we built this product, we were builders, we were like, Okay, let’s build it and let’s start with a low price point. And so I think at one point we had as low as a $25 a month price point for this, which is like a consumer product, you know, it’s something that we individuals would buy. And so we oriented it around that. It’s like, Oh, anyone could get started, just go on the website.
Pulkit Agrawal 00:07:22 It’s really simple. Um, and then I think over time we realized that actually this is a much more sophisticated project than some hobbyist or first time founder with a team of four people might actually want to leverage. And that a lot of the value comes from the bigger teams where somebody is responsible for activation or owns that as a metric and it’s their full-time job to think about this. And those people are at companies that are larger and those people are at companies that make buying decisions that evolve an evaluation process and that, you know, need to have a POC with implementation support. So that was a part of a learning, you know, over time, as we ourselves focus more on go to market, which is like, oh, we have to build, go to market as a thing, just like we build product as a thing rather than we only build product and then go to market takes care of itself.
Ethan Garr 00:08:12 So it was a bit of a, I guess a, a process of kind of learning what, what the customers were saying. And I guess I, I’m guessing that what was happening is that you’re finding that your customers, you were trying the self-serve model and it turns out that they needed a lot more handhold and you were figuring that out the hard way, Or is that
Pulkit Agrawal 00:08:29 Yeah, I think it was part of it. It was, it’s a new product and I think whenever you’re innovating in the market and building something new and sophisticated, you need to have the relevant guide guidelines or guidance or, or education. And so initially when we first launched this, people didn’t build the best experiences and we’re all familiar with product tools that you dismiss as soon as you go into them. And that represents like V1 of people getting familiar with using this technology. If you think about the V1 of marketing, emails are probably pretty bad cuz they weren’t very optimized. And so the V1 of in product guidance isn’t very optimized today. And so you get people building these, um, really ugly long experiences. And so part of it was that we needed to coach people and when we were able to coach them, they were way more successful.
Pulkit Agrawal 00:09:11 But if you’re, but if you have to coach somebody, that’s a different model of engagement than just like, here’s the website, go read about it, go buy it. And what we wanted to orient around was long term success. Like people that found real value in this, they could show the numbers and then they would stick with us for long term. So I think if we were to summarize it, I think we, we narrowed in on our icp our ideal customer profile, more and better defined personas and better understood the buying journey of those prospects. And that helped us adjust our model away from purely just self-service. Hey, there’s no sales people, no, no support, no just like all on the credit card to like, actually this is a model that meets your needs more effectively. It’s not, hey, as a company we’re pushing sales. It’s like actually from a customer perspective or a buying journey perspective, this model is better fit for you and is more helpful to you and therefore we all succeed when we go through that.
Ethan Garr 00:10:02 Yeah. It’s funny, I, uh, Sean and I just, uh, had a conversation with Chris Ramin of, um, fireflies.ai and their company that, uh, definitely overin overindexed on the self-serve model successfully. It was right for them. Um, one of the things that stood out from that conversation is he said, You know, it’s really important for us to let our customers buy the way they wanna buy. And it sounds like even though that’s worked for him with this PLG approach for you, uh, it turns out it’s the same thing, but you have to figure it out in a different way. So I, it seems, it seems really interesting. I, I I’m curious, you know, a lot of <laugh>, I am myself guilty of this running a company, things were not going correctly. And I was so in the moment I wasn’t seeing it at, how did you know that this was, how did it become clear to you that you were making a mistake and you had to co course correct?
Pulkit Agrawal 00:10:55 Well, we were running outta money <laugh>, so, so it’s like something’s not going great <laugh>. So, um, but I think in the end, yeah, we, we, you know, we raised some, you know, some seed capital. We didn’t really, it didn’t just click, you know, we, we read about what it feels like to have product market fit and it’s like, oh, things are on fire. People want more of your product, everything’s going well up to the right. And we’re like, ah, that, that’s not how it seems to be for us <laugh>. So there’s clearly something going wrong. And then we, you know, we asked around, and some people who’d been in this game longer than us were just like, Oh, just completely pivot to sales assisted, put a request demo button on your website and remove self serve sign up. And we were like, Oh my God, that sounds crazy.
Pulkit Agrawal 00:11:37 Like what, how can we ever imagine doing that? We’re all from the self-serve Product-Led world. And so we didn’t quite go down that route, but we did at least offer that and say, Okay, hey, if you do wanna book a demo or if you do wanna talk to somebody, we can do it. And then we tried to think about what is that process itself look like, you know, engineered it in a way, like, what’s gonna be convenient? Well, people wanna get started really quickly themselves, but then they get stuck and then they want help. Um, and then what do they want help on? Well, they have these key questions and what, let’s make sure that their data’s flowing correctly and let’s make sure they’ve integrated correctly. So then we built that process. But yeah, I think essentially, you know, after, there’s no necessarily single point where you’re like, Oh my God, like it’s not working. But I think over time the realization was pretty obvious. Like, actually this isn’t quite, we aren’t quite working. So, so what’s wrong?
Sean Ellis 00:12:23 When, when you started honing in on the solution, was it, um, was it more like intuitively you, you like, run outta money, this isn’t working, we gotta try this, or, or was it something that by talking with prospective customers, you, you gained a different understanding of what their needs were and, and then started to, to kind of come up with, uh, an approach that might be more mapped to those needs?
Pulkit Agrawal 00:12:48 Yeah, I think this is a good point because I don’t think it was intuitive. And you know, a lot of people talk about like, well focus on what’s intuitive, Like the design even for onboarding just needs to be intuitive, make everything intuitive. Well, this wasn’t intuitive for us. What was intuitive was selling that $25 a month price point, you know, on a credit card because that’s what we were used to. But if we had to go and learn a new thing that’s naturally not intuitive for us. So then what we had to go is go talk to people. I got a sales coach, he’s like, okay. And, and I remember him telling me, he’s like, Okay, well this is a, this is a profile or this is a deal, We did a role play. And he’s like, What would you do? And I said, all the things I would do.
Pulkit Agrawal 00:13:21 He’s like, Nope, all of that’s wrong, <laugh>. And so it was, I had to go through another learning process of like, okay, well what does it mean to have this, um, dynamic and have this, you know, make a sale and not provide sticker shock to somebody and make sure that we don’t get, uh, caught up right at the end of the deal because we haven’t figured out what the procurement process is like at the beginning, or make sure we multi-thread and loop in other people, even though this person’s super enthusiastic, we have to make sure, hey, the other people that this is gonna touch are also bought in. So it, it actually wasn’t very intuitive and think that was one of the harder things of like, moving from someone like me who is like engineering product background into sales is like, I have to learn this new thing, which isn’t comfortable and it feels like it’s going against the things that I’m used to and the things that I’m comfortable with. Um, but in the end, it, it was the right thing because it then started working <laugh>, we had more money. So, um, so yeah, so it was interesting about the, yeah,
Sean Ellis 00:14:11 I, uh, I, I have a really similar experience with, uh, Qru many years ago, that kind similar space. I think you guys even have some, some inflow surveys and some other things I saw on the, on the website, but I, I actually acquired that technology with the thought that, yeah, this, this just needs to be a lot more consumer friendly in the way that it’s adopted. And, and uh, when it went down to the exact same path that you originally started on, where it was like, don’t just make it cheap, even have a free version that is, is super accessible and use the free version and some branding on the free version to build that flywheel. And, you know, we, we, we literally, uh, made an acquisition based on, on the, the false hypothesis that improving the free version was gonna really help the business.
Sean Ellis 00:14:59 And uh, and, and it turned out that it, it had very little positive impact and, and some negative impact on driving that, the, um, less upgrades. And so, but we got learning from that and we went the other direction and it became much more premium, much more, uh, you know, sales assisted in, in driving, uh, driving purchases. And, um, and ultimately I think our, our overall customer base barely changed in terms of number of people, but our average revenue per customer ended up increasing about a thousand percent in the, in the few years we worked on it. And, uh, which which then led to great revenue growth and, and it was acquired by a private equity firm. Um, but it was, uh, it was an interesting and an interesting, uh, experience going down there. And, um, I’m kind of taking, uh, the, the story as you told it when, when did you know you had it right? Like what, what were the signals that, okay, we’re on the right track now. Did did you, I’m gonna, I’m gonna pick on one thing that you said before about the, uh, the product market fit being this like, oh my gosh, we just, the demand is so strong, everything’s flying off the shelf. Um, I personally have never experienced product market fit quite in the way that what, when I’ve heard it described that way and haven’t quite experienced it that way, but was that what you saw?
Pulkit Agrawal 00:16:18 I think what we are seeing now is that our win rate is high. So when we get into deals and there’s a buyer that’s evaluating our software versus the others in the market, we’re winning more times than we’re not. And to me that’s like, okay, there is a confluence of things that are working. Part of that is the product itself. Part of that is the process as well. And we do get people who are going through that process and buying at this much higher price point. Now we sell at tens of thousands of dollars per year paid up front, and people are buying that. So the fact that people are buying that they’re upgrading, they’re paying more of a time suggests that one piece is working, it’s, I think it’s always with product market fit, it’s never binary. It’s always like gradations of it. So I think there’s more to come. Um, but yeah, it feels like it’s working now. Um, and we have different problems, which is like, how do we scale faster and how do we get more people trained to be able to do this and how can we be predictable? And it’s less about like, are we gonna close anything or is it, is anything gonna happen more? Like, okay, well how many is it gonna not gonna happen?
Sean Ellis 00:17:15 Right. And so that’s, that’s the area that you’re focused on right now is driving that expansion now that it feels like the model’s, right?
Pulkit Agrawal 00:17:22 Yeah, exactly. So we’ve kind of gone from zero to one now it’s like one to 10. Um, and actually, you know, I’m not against, uh, no, I don’t wanna come across against PLG. Our product helps other companies, right?
Sean Ellis 00:17:33 <laugh>, last thing you wanna do is send a message to PLG doesn’t work. <laugh>
Pulkit Agrawal 00:17:38 Does work and it does, and it’s all, and that itself is also degradation. Like, you know, some companies are like, Well, we’re a sales lead, we wanna move to Product-Led. And even the framing of it being that polar difference is dangerous because it’s about little like how can you become Product-Led in a small incremental weight from where you are today? And maybe that’s just in the evaluation phase or it’s in the sandbox environment, or it’s an upsell flow, but where can you take away people and individual handholding to make it more self-service? Um, and so I think, you know, in the case, you know, you described in others, like, we actually saw a report from Stripe, I think, which said that PLG really kicks in hard after 10 million ARR for SaaS, I think. And so that was interesting as a proof point. But um, yeah, there, I think there’s definitely aspects of PLG and happy to talk, talk, talk about those. But for us, yeah, I think having a sales assisted motion was really, really impactful.
Sean Ellis 00:18:30 So I’m gonna slip one more question and hear you about this. Do you think it’s easier to go from a Sales-Led motion to a PLG motion or vice versa?
Pulkit Agrawal 00:18:39 Oh, that’s a good question. Um, so I think it’s harder to build the product than to build a, uh, or a trainer go-to market motion around it. But that might be my background. Um, but I think it’s, I think it’s, it’s possible to, to train the GTM motion around it. But I think if you go from a very enterprisey product and then try to make that a PLG motion, it’s very hard because the culture is built around people supporting it and people have those silos, and it’s really hard to go from that into this kind of smooth, slick user experience that’s thought about from growth. So I think it, it is probably better to go PLG to adding on a sales self motion, but maybe not because we struggle with that because we went to PLG, we only did PLG, and it’s like, okay, well we also need to have, So I don’t know that I don’t have a good answer for you, but, um,
Sean Ellis 00:19:27 There is a lot of learning in in, in a sales assisted approach. You get a lot more kind of direct feedback. And if you can process that learning, I think you, you get a lot, a lot there. But as you were saying, I think sales teams often, often take over a culture. And, um, not that you were saying that, but that’s, that’s like my impression and kind of building on what you were saying is that sales teams take over a culture and it’s, and it’s really hard to kind of back off from that once, once that’s happened. So that that does make it a little harder to move from a, from a primarily kind of sales assistant model to, to one that’s, that’s PLG. But uh, but I don’t think either path is particularly easy. Yeah.
Pulkit Agrawal 00:20:07 I wonder if it’s more like some kind of s curve, because I think in the early days when you’re like pre-product market fit or a handful of customers, I think it should be very like concierge, like indi you individually handholding people getting to know your customers. There’s a great article about superhuman doing kind of that for their onboarding. And I think that’s the right way. When a company comes to Chameleon and they’re like, We wanna use Chameleon for in product messaging tools, prompts, notifications, and they’re like, We have 20 users. I’m like, Whoa, whoa, whoa, time out. You shouldn’t be needing that. You should be, you know, talking to every single person like this, we’re too early, you know, you’re too early for us. And so I think in the early days you should have that. I think then at some point, once you’ve maybe achieved basic product market fit, maybe you add a beat or something, then maybe making sure that you’re thinking about layering on that Product-Led growth. But, um, I think all, all products now are very kind of consumer grade, you know, or the newest products need to be consumer grade where the decisions are being made at an individual buying level, not necessarily at an organizational buying level. So I think it, it does need to be a smooth product, even if your final process of purchasing involves the sales process.
Sean Ellis 00:21:10 Yeah. And maybe maybe customer success kind of replacing that sales function early on help helps to bridge that a bit.
Pulkit Agrawal 00:21:17 Yeah, we see that a lot, which is like scaled customer success teams, which are operating a tech touch motion, which is like, okay, well we wanna make sure people are successful, but we don’t have the one to one capability, so how do we do it through tech touches or, you know, in product experiences, et cetera. Yeah.
Ethan Garr 00:21:31 You
Sean Ellis 00:21:31 Know, go ahead Ethan. I’ve, I’ve cut you off too many times now.
Ethan Garr 00:21:34 No, no, it’s no problem. It’s good stuff. Uh, you know, it’s, it’s interesting pull it from the perspective of product or you, you just sort of mentioned it, this, you know, some companies come to you, it’s too early. And I’ve always thought, I come from the world of apps and it seems like apps love to, when things are complicated, they think product tour is always the solution and they over index on it a lot of times. And what it is is then it just, it’s like product tour before the users even experienced the product and they’re going into features that some people are never gonna, I see you, you’re for, for those who listen to the, to this, uh, you’re giving the thumbs down. So I’m, I I, I’d love to dig into, into that with you because it seems like that is, that’s a, a common mistake. You have a product that facilitates product tours, but what do you think makes these product tours and other tools that you offer, when are they valuable and who wins with them?
Pulkit Agrawal 00:22:27 Yeah, great. I’m so glad you asked that question. It’s almost as if I prompted you to ask that question cause I love answering this. Um,
Ethan Garr 00:22:33 Well I’ve been waiting, I’ve been waiting 10 minutes to get one in because Sean won’t let me ask any questions. So I have to come up with a good one,
Pulkit Agrawal 00:22:39 <laugh>. Um, I’m always on the road telling people about avoiding doing those horrible, like show you everything in the product product tour. Um, we, in fact, we did a, we did a webinar and we asked folks who said, How many people dismiss those on the first step and mind boggling, 91% of people said they did that. So if that not, if not that, what else is gonna tell our product teams or beloved product teams don’t build those kinds of product tools. So the, the reason why that those are built, let’s like unwrap it a little bit. So the reason why it’s built is because users are not finding value in the product and product. Like, okay, we need to show them value in the product. Here are all the valuable things our product does, Let’s serve them to our user on a pla. And so you kind of get, you go to a restaurant and you get a, you get a plate of everything on the menu all at once.
Pulkit Agrawal 00:23:25 You’re like, Well, I hope you enjoy the meal. And so it’s kind of overwhelming and it’s not the thing that I came to this restaurant for. It’s not the thing that I care about the most. And so what we need to do, instead of like kind of guessing and be like, Okay, well I’m gonna show you everything because I think the thing I don’t know, what you care about is to try and think about what is the goal or the job that the user has come for, What is their motivation behind that and what is their friction that’s preventing them getting to that? And so when you can address that, then wait, or when you can identify the friction, then you can address that with an in product nudge or prompt. Um, there’s a professor at Stanford called BJ Fogg, who’s a professor of persuasive technology and he talks about how people take actions, why they take actions.
Pulkit Agrawal 00:24:10 And it’s a combination of motivation. You have to have the motivation, uh, it’s uh, ability. You have to have the ability. And then when you are in that zone of having enough motivation and ability, then a trigger sets you off to take an action. So we should think about that in a similar way with product usage. So does someone feel compelled by the value proposition? Do they get the value proposition? What is, what is it that they’re gonna achieve? Is the interface easy enough that they will figure out what to do? And when you get to that in that zone, an in product experience can be that nudge or that trigger to help them take a key action. So it’s not all about just showing someone how to do it, it’s about understanding can we improve either their motivation of like, oh, well they’re already motivated, but maybe their motivation is slipping.
Pulkit Agrawal 00:24:55 So, you know, when someone signs up for the product, they have this like, well of motivation and as they’re asked to do work, which could be reading something or making a decision or scrolling or clicking, that well of motivation slightly goes down and down as they’re taking these actions. And so what we need to do is get them to an aha moment, which fills their well of motivation back up again and gives them enough energy to keep exploring the product to get to that aha moment we have to get there before they lose steam. And so you can do that by giving them encouragement, like, keep going or you’re almost there, this is how long this will take. Or most people make this decision and makes it easy. Or you can remove the friction. So if they are confused how to do something, what something means, you can put some in product experiences in there, like tool tips to reduce the friction. So I could keep talking about this, I’m happy to double click on any piece of it, but really in summary, you have to know what the problem you’re solving is and have some very specific in product experience. It could be a single step to, to help solve that.
Ethan Garr 00:25:51 So for your customers to succeed, they have to, you have to coach them to some degree on that, right? I would assume a lot because I, I don’t think that is intuitive for, for every company, especially companies that are sort of flailing a little bit to, to find what those motivations are, what is the must have experience for users. So tell, tell us a little bit about how your team works to help individual customers find that success with your product.
Pulkit Agrawal 00:26:18 And this is kind of where it comes back a little bit full cycle to the sales assisted motion because this is the kind of stuff we teach and coach in that process. So even during sales, our, our sales people are consultants and they’re collaborative because it’s not a sale where you’re like, Oh, this is gonna be cheaper than your existing product, buy it now and save money. It’s more about, hey, this is all the stuff you can achieve with this. And in that sometimes they’re like, Oh, well we wanna reduce churn. And we dig into that. It’s like, okay, well why is churn happening? Which group is churn happening for the most? What are key actions that lead to people like staying and sticking around? And can we get more people to those key actions? And so then in that sales process, and then in the customer success motion afterwards, we try to coach around some of these key principles and make sure that the first set of experience that they build are effective.
Pulkit Agrawal 00:27:02 Because when that happens, then everything rolls because people like get the winnings, they’re successful, they share it, and then it all works. Versus if they go too thinly and they spread themselves across all these different use cases and nothing works, and then they’re like, Oh, it’s not effective. So, um, yeah, we have to take some responsibility for the channel in a way as a product say, Okay, well we’re gonna help you co coach you on this channel of in product. Um, but that’s working well and our customers love that kinda customer success angle that we, that we provide and how collaborative we are.
Sean Ellis 00:27:31 Uh, yeah, so, so one of the things that I really liked when I, when I dug into the business is just even this name Chameleon. I, I think the, uh, I think so often the, the trade off is, well, I mean the trade off of saying, okay, I, I understand that that onboarding and activation are important. Um, that’s kind of the first part is do do you even recognize that it’s important? But then it’s like, do I, do I use tools to do it or do I, do I put resources toward it? And, um, in my experience, a lot of times the, the tools argument is that product teams are roadmap oriented. All they, all they are thinking about is like that one feature features are sexy. Features are like, Oh, this, this product’s gonna be so awesome that that like, everything’s gonna just take off.
Sean Ellis 00:28:16 We’re gonna get that, that product market fit kind of definition that we’ve talked about, like that one little additional feature where when you look at the money left on the table, most of the time it’s people who just never got their head around the product in the first place and then they gave up on it. And so if you buy into that idea that that onboarding’s important, then the question is do you, do you carve out some of those product development resources or, or do you use a a third party tool or, or do you kind of have a combination of both? And, and in my experience, I found it pretty annoying when, when people have talked about a tool because, and it’s kind of getting toward what what Ethan was, was touching on as well. But I think a lot of times it’s that, that bandaid, okay, yeah, we, there’s a problem there.
Sean Ellis 00:29:01 Let’s throw a, a bandaid on it and uh, let the product team focus on the fun stuff. And, um, but again, I think even just this, this Chameleon name makes it sound like it’s, it’s just so much more integrated into the experience. It’s not something that just kind of sits on top of the experience. But can you, can you maybe like help me understand that piece and, and why is, how, how do you, how do you reconcile some of that, that that piece too of like, should the product team, is this something like an activation person only can focus on, or can, should you be able to bring the product team into this? And, and how, how does your solution then fit if so?
Pulkit Agrawal 00:29:39 Yeah, good, good question. And we’ve talked to a bunch of folks at larger companies like Atlassian and Pinterest and others that have built this or Facebook that have built this in house. And those are really good places to get the signal of like, what’s working when you have a bunch of resources. And that’s not the problem. And in those cases, what is effective is having a single owner. And that, I think that’s where it begins. Like you need to have somebody on your team that is gonna be accountable for activation as a metric. Now if you have multiple product managers and one, one product manager to own that, that can happen. Sometimes it’s a platform team, but it could be a single product growth person and they don’t have a full product team. And that’s a really great place for us to come in because, well, they’ve got some engineering, some design, but they’re not a fully fledged product part or team.
Pulkit Agrawal 00:30:26 And so then tools like Chameleon can be a way for them to experiment and try staff and move really, really quickly. But I absolutely agree, like, it, it’s not great if it’s used as a bandaid or a crutch. It needs to be part of a holistic way of approaching how to solve activation. And this is just one channel along with your email channel along with your CS and sales channel. But you need to have this as a channel. It can’t be that we have to go to engineering and wait two weeks to deploy a banner and then the copy isn’t great, and then we have to wait another two weeks for the copy to change. Like that isn’t fast enough anymore. And so, but I think if you don’t have an owner where it’s either the founder or some part of someone’s job, or if you have completely decentralized and distributed ownership where each product manager is responsible for a full adoption of their functionality or their feature set, we find that that’s where it gets really difficult. Cause no one really has time to do it. And no, it doesn’t get de it gets deprioritized. So I think for anyone that’s thinking about this, assign an owner and then have them take on the responsibility, figuring out what is the set of tools, their instrumentation and process to help make activation successful.
Sean Ellis 00:31:32 That, that makes a ton of sense. So kind of zooming back out kind of on, on the business as a whole for you, um, you know, as you’ve, as you’ve dialed in that, that that sales motion and, and go to market motion, you’ve got the product, uh, going well now, what, how do you start to, how do, how do you start to build in kind of a predictable growth engine around that so that it’s not just a bunch of one off, one off like PR hits there or, you know, at some, some featured article, but, but something that starts to bring in kind of consistent leads and and a consistent funnel on converting those leads?
Pulkit Agrawal 00:32:11 Yeah, good question. So we, we were recently undertaking a planning exercise, a revenue planning exercise. And we initially started off with like, okay, well we wanna hit this much revenue and that’s gonna be consists of this many sales assisted rev, this much sales assisted revenue, this much self-serve revenue, and the sales assisted revenue is, well, there’s a funnel from like, you know, this, the pipeline of M qls to et cetera, cetera. And then MQL is where are they coming from, whether this channels and so and so, and we kind of like did the app, but it didn’t really sit quite right cause it was like, well we’ve, we’ve kind of like done it this way, but does this really model our actual business and how does it work? So then we took a step back and we said, we’re gonna, we’re gonna map out our, all our flows in our business.
Pulkit Agrawal 00:32:52 So we used Fig Jam or Figma, and we said, Okay, well all of the ways that somebody can book a demo, what are all those ways? Well, there’s a line that comes from the website, there’s a link in email campaigns and there’s a, there’s manual emails that salespeople are sending, um, and there’s some like webinar CTAs that we have in a webinar. And we, we drew those lines and we said, Okay, well how do people sign up for webinars? Well, and when they go from webinar, they go to an email list. And then, so we drew out this, this whole cool map of like, where is everyone going and how do we people get into the product and get into a, a deal? And then we said, Okay, well what are all the metrics associated with this? Okay, number of signups from the marketing emails for the webinars every week or so and so on.
Pulkit Agrawal 00:33:32 So we, so we mapped out those metrics and then we tried to consolidate, okay, so what do we need tracking for and what do we need to understand well in our business? Because then we, once we have that, we can build a real bottoms up baseline of this is what’s happening today and where do we think the jumps are? And try to narrow into the top, top down model that we created. But I think, you know, a lot of folks build the top down model of like, this is a target, but it doesn’t really match with where they are today as a business and where do they need to focus. So I think that’s one exercise that we, we we undertook to try and help us get to that more predictable and, and, and, you know, consistent revenue, so still remains to be seen how well it will be will go, but it really did help us all as a company understand like, what is our business model? Like this is, it is the, all the lines of how people are getting places. Um, and so I think it could be a helpful exercise for all the founders. Yeah,
Sean Ellis 00:34:18 I love that, just the, the idea of you can’t, you can’t build predictability in the business without a really deep understanding of where the business is coming from today and just how you, how you laid that out of, you know, it’s, it, it’s super deep analysis in terms of not just where they’re coming from, but what the flow looks like when they come from and, and, and, and then you can start to also think about even choke points there. Like, uh, if if we do have this volume coming through, what’s the ideal ratio of of leads to sales reps and, and where, where do you build in the scale in certain areas and, and, um, do the current referring channels drive drive enough volume and have put enough potential for scale to hit some of our, our bigger targets down the line? And, and so, um, I really, I think that that makes a ton of sense that you, you start with that deep understanding of what’s working now.
Pulkit Agrawal 00:35:12 Yeah. One thing we learned from this exercise, which is an interesting tidbit, which is, well, we’ve got all this, all these flows, getting people to gated content or sign up for email, et cetera. But we realized we, we barely were doing anything from the email list to drive demo book demos booked. And we’re like, Wait, wait a minute, what <laugh> we’re doing? We’re doing all these emails and we’ve got this email list that’s growing and we’re sending emails, but what, what, why is there no link? Or why is there like, you know, nothing from here to like, so it just helps uncover some of the, the really obvious, Cause I think at this stage we’re still looking for really obvious wins. It’s not for us, you know, at an early stage company being like, let’s tweak the knobs to get like 1% growth. It’s like, how do we get 20% growth or like 10% growth on something? So, um, I think that’s, that was pretty, pretty,
Sean Ellis 00:35:56 Yeah, I, I do think that the, the initial instinct on everyone is just how do, how do we drive more top funnel leads? And uh, and it sounds like in that case you’re like, but if, if those emails don’t turn into demos, then more leads doesn’t necessarily solve something here <laugh>.
Pulkit Agrawal 00:36:14 Exactly. It
Sean Ellis 00:36:16 Might even exacerbate the problem.
Ethan Garr 00:36:17 Yeah. So I’m cur curious, since you’re, I mean, you’ve, you’re achieving really great growth, you’re really starting to break out, but you’re still, it sounds like you’re still learning every day and, and you are looking for those big wins still. If two years from now, let’s say two years or 18 months from now, you look back and you say, Boy, everything has gone to plan, we’ve really killed it. What, what, what, what happens in that time? What, what are you expecting to, to see out of Chameleon in the next year or two that, that for you means success?
Pulkit Agrawal 00:36:50 Yeah, we’ve been reflecting a little bit on like, what is, what does success mean? It’s hard. I mean, obviously there’s like the financial, you know, success of like how much revenue you’re making, et cetera. But I think in the end, we wanna build a product that we’re really, really proud of as a team and we can put in front of anyone and stand behind it and be like, Hey, we love this. We’re so glad that we spent x number of years of our life on this. Um, and so I think there’s a lot of innovation for us to continue with. Um, so we do this like, you know, some, you know, in product experiences, we’ve got a bunch of ideas on how do we further enable users to engage with software, make it easy for them to collaborate and do this in a way that each product team doesn’t need to build it themselves, but actually with this intelligent layer that sits on top of it and understands the pages, understand who the user is, showing more and more dynamic aspects.
Pulkit Agrawal 00:37:39 So I think that’s, as a product person, I’m super excited about the innovation and, and creating like truly new software that, um, no one else has. I think from a growth perspective, um, and from a business perspective, we’re in the space. You know, we’re, we’re 25 plus people now, and we want to go to 75 and a hundred people. And for that, there needs to be this whole layer of institutionalization of things, which isn’t just about us telling someone how to do something, but how do we build this culture of growth and experimentation? And that’s something we try really hard at, which is like, how do we get everyone comfortable with changes, like, oh, the way that we did it last time isn’t the way that we’re gonna do it next time. Uh, and build that, um, leadership into the company, um, and build that, uh, because that’s what’s gonna drive sustained success is if we can keep adapting to the circumstance and keep iterating on what we’re learning and, and have that kind of growth culture and mindset. So, um, I don’t know, maybe that’s too vague an answer.
Ethan Garr 00:38:34 <laugh> No, it’s, it makes sense. I guess with that though, um, I think Sean and I have been through the experience of being, you know, in the 25 30 person size company and then growing to, you know, 75, a hundred. And it’s definitely for a, for a growth leader, it’s definitely a change. Um, do you feel like you are personally like you, do you have the experience from other things you’ve done where you think you’re ready to, to lead a much larger, faster growing team? Or is that something, you know, are, there’s a lot of skills you have to build to be successful in that at this point?
Pulkit Agrawal 00:39:08 I think it’s a combination of, um, bringing an experience from people that have done it before, but also having trust in your own ability to figure out and, and unlock growth from the, you know, the analysis you can do in the first principal’s thinking. So I think we’re confident that we can diagnose problems, and I think that’s the key thing. Can, can you track what’s going on? Can you identify where it’s going, not so well, And then can you come up with creative ideas to solve that? And I think that’s something that, you know, we can feel confident that we inherently have, we’ve done it in other spheres and other ways and other channels, Um, but I think having some experience, um, that can shepherd us, and that’s partly comes from investors, partly comes from, you know, other leadership or, or other advisors. Um, so yeah, I think we feel confident, you know, talk to us in two years. <laugh>,
Ethan Garr 00:39:54 I hope, I hope we will. <laugh>.
Sean Ellis 00:39:57 So, so one of the things that, uh, kind of jumps out from what you were talking about before, I really like this idea of, for example, someone in a company owning, uh, activation. And, um, but I think, and, and I think that becomes more natural as the company grows. People own smaller and smaller pieces, but they’re, they’re, they’re really like experts in that that can go deeper than, than when the team’s, you know, a bunch of generalists maybe in the early days. Um, but if that’s, if that’s where things are headed, how do you, how do you create the glue that kind of gets everyone, everyone having a shared context and, and kind of big picture thinking beyond their little area of specialty, if you, have you come across that yet? And if so, what, what are some ways that you’ve, uh, maybe, uh, helped to deal with those challenges?
Pulkit Agrawal 00:40:46 Yeah, I think, I mean, I’ve seen it from other companies as well. I remember talking to one of the product leaders at XO Group, um, uh, and they’re, you know, they, they have the not as a product and a bunch of other products. And one of the cool things I learned from them was that the way they defined their product roadmap was a series of challenges and questions of how, you know, why is it, how can we solve this problem? Or this is the problem we’re gonna work on now. And it wasn’t as much defined as a feature or, or a product to build or, um, so I think the thing that from there to draw on is that we have to have a shared understanding of the problem and the goal of what are we trying to accomplish here? Um, and whether that’s a feature solving that goal or activation improvement, solving that goal, they’re in the end driving towards the same thing, which is users succeeding with your product.
Pulkit Agrawal 00:41:29 And so I think having that as a baseline understanding for the whole team, even if, if they’re working on different aspects, is important. And then I think that actually having someone across the board owning a metric like activation is in itself some glue as well, because what you don’t have is a bunch of disjointed folks who care about adoption of their own product and are trying to, for example, decide like, well, we need to notify people about feature A versus, well, we need to email ’em about future B because that’s important. But if you have a more holistic view of the analytics across your company and product of like, while we know that people who activate should be going to feature a, you know, because that’s when they’re successful, uh, and then once they’ve done, you know, they’ve, they’ve been set up with feature A or they’ve successfully adopted that, then when they, we should push feature B, et cetera.
Pulkit Agrawal 00:42:15 So I think having a a, a full picture on that user journey with analytics and then having someone who can be responsible or own the channels to engage users can be effective. So for example, with in product experiences, with, you know, product tools, nudges, banners, many teams can create lots of these, but we recommend that you do have, and we, communion has some permissions and, and roles around that, but we recommend that you have an owner that can help your team decide like what’s effective and what the right design practices are. So I think having someone focus across the life cycle is actually pretty effective in, in having that as be, be a glue.
Sean Ellis 00:42:50 And then how much do you, do you feel like I I, I’ve come across a lot of companies that, uh, that do get more and more sort of siloed as as time goes on. Um, and one article that I saw suggested that, uh, Mark Zuckerberg was really good at overcoming that by, by emphasizing mission and having, having a, a big shared metric that kind of reflected progress on mission. Um, how, how much do you, do you feel like you, you, um, uh, remind everyone of the big picture mission in the business? And then, and then also, uh, do you have like a north star metric or something that um, maybe goes beyond just the financials that that shows that you’re driving real impact in people’s businesses?
Pulkit Agrawal 00:43:29 Yeah, so I think we do try to actively encourage everyone to feel like this is their company. And this is like the mi the broader mission that we’re on. Um, some more tactical things that help enable that is we have a weekly, um, asynchronous show and tell. So we are a remote first team. We care a lot about being remote first. And we were remote first pre covid before it was cool, um, and <laugh>. And part of that is everyone records a short loom video at the end of their week showcasing the things that they worked on and submits it in, in a, into a channel in Slack that everyone can watch it. And so everyone gets the chance to, to dive in and depend and see like, Hey, what is this person working on? And they see it like, it’s a screen share where they actually show the tools they use or the content they created.
Pulkit Agrawal 00:44:12 And so that’s a way to help folks know what’s going on in the company broadly. And it’s not just siloed by department. Uh, we also have a monthly, what we call dissection. We have various biology and Chameleon themed names for meetings and <laugh> repos and all kinds of stuff. But, um, so we, we look at that on a company wide basis where everyone joins in, it’s like, Hey, this is what’s going on with the company performance. This is what happen in product and this is what happen in marketing. And then we try to wrap that into, uh, you know, clear goals that are coming down from the company. Now I, I’m sure we’ll go through iterations around, you know, implementing OKRs and, and doing different things as we grow in scale. Um, but I think it’s, it is important, especially from the early days. And actually one of the, the random benefits of, of taking a while to find your product market fit is that because you don’t hire super quickly in this phase, we now have a group of 20 odd people that have been with us for a year and a half that are really feel like they, they be belong and they, they get it.
Pulkit Agrawal 00:45:07 They’ve seen some systems evolve and they’re really advocates for Chameleon themselves cuz they’ve had that time to build, to nurture that community versus when you hire really quickly and you know, you don’t get to settle in as quickly. So it’s been an interesting side product, um, which I think we’re gonna benefit from as we grow further. But something to evolve. Um, yeah, I mean in terms of the north thought metrics, I think we’re still getting there. We’re, we’re, we’re, we’re experimenting with a few different things, you know, one for each function, uh, one for each person. So we’re trying to experiment I think is a little bit easier on the go to market side, you know, than it is on the product side or customer success side. Um, but yeah, that’s something we’re, we’re still kind of evolving on.
Ethan Garr 00:45:45 So, uh, just kind of going back to where we started a little bit, the, you kind of started with a, a very heavy emphasis on self-serve. You moved away from that to the more sales, sales driven, uh, perspec, you know, uh, approach. Do you think over time you’ll probably, you’ll see the pendulum swing back a little bit, uh, where it’s more of a hybrid, more of a hybrid? I I think you said you still do have some of some self-serve, but do you think you’ll put more emphasis on that in the future?
Pulkit Agrawal 00:46:12 Absolutely. Yeah, we already are in a way. Um, the way that is happening is coming from a scaled customer success angle. So it’s like, okay, well we have a bunch of customers who are sales assisted and are paying this much, and we have customer success sessions, we have a bunch of customers who are like self-service. Well, how do we make sure that they are getting all the education and ideas and inspiration that they need? So we hire somebody who owns product education. Uh, and the goal there is to bring forward like, you know, not just like the help articles, but videos and use cases and other rich content to help our customers succeed. And that’s gonna be the same thing that will help prospects learn about what’s possible and what they can do. So yes, we are already investing in that kind of scaled motion.
Pulkit Agrawal 00:46:52 I think that is gonna be the future, is to have more of the scaled motion. But I think it’s, you have to have intelligent balance between that and, and, and people support where and when, uh, depending on your business model and your prospects. And also like the market changes right now, now we go to people and they know what we’re about somewhat, whereas three, four years ago, they had no idea. The question was like, why shouldn’t I build this in house? Or why do I need this at all? Now the question is different. It’s like, well, why you versus someone else? And so you know that as that evolves, then we need a different kind of, you know, engagement then, then some of that can be solved with content and kind of selfer resources.
Ethan Garr 00:47:26 Cool. Sean’s gonna wrap it up with our now world famous final question in a second. But I, um, just with that, knowing that, you know, you have, you have some big plans for the future and, uh, I’m curious, uh, for our audience, uh, what kind of roles are you looking to fill in the next, uh, you know, are you looking to fill any roles now that people might be interested in?
Pulkit Agrawal 00:47:46 Yes, lots. Please, if you are excited about user experience, user psychology, us working with lots of product teams across the globe in SaaS businesses. Um, come check out our jobs page, Chameleon io slash jobs. If you can spell chamilian, you’ve already passed the first test, um, <laugh>. But we are looking for, we’re looking for product people, design, customer success, sales, marketing specific marketing vertical. Like, there’s a lot we’re looking for. So, um, we’d love to meet you if you’re interested. And you can always directly email me if you’re unsure. Is this a good fit for me? Pull kit Chameleon.io. You feel free to email me to
Sean Ellis 00:48:25 Yeah, it’s good to, good to emphasize the IO there. I, I was searching for it. I did spell right, but I got apic a bunch of pictures of, uh, colorful lizards on my screen, and, uh, so
Pulkit Agrawal 00:48:36 Well, you can buy a Chameleon as a pet if you fail. So ions.
Sean Ellis 00:48:40 Yeah, but with the.io, I could, I could actually find where, what I was looking for <laugh>. Um, so yeah, so the, the famous question that we like to, to end each one, and it’s mostly famous just between Ethan and me, but, um, you know, during your time there, how, how long have you been working on this?
Pulkit Agrawal 00:48:56 It’s coming up to seven years.
Sean Ellis 00:48:58 Seven years, wow. So, um, let’s just look at the last couple of years in terms of, you know, focusing on, on growth in the business. As you, as you’ve gotten, uh, product market fit more dialed in, what, um, what do you feel like is your most important growth learning in in the last couple of years?
Pulkit Agrawal 00:49:16 I think it’s probably that the peaks are way, way, way better than a sequence of small hums <laugh>. So when something is working, then you gotta go really hard and deep into that thing that’s working, whether it’s a channel or a type of content or some whatever it is. Um, and so instead of trying to make everything pretty good, we’re like, Oh, we, we suck at that. Let’s make that good too. You have to accept you’re gonna suck at some stuff. And just if you, if you don’t, if you can’t verbalize what you suck at and are, you know, then you probably, you’re not focused enough. So I think, um, yeah, going after the peaks and, and going deep on some stuff that works is probably my biggest
Sean Ellis 00:49:57 Learning. Yeah, that’s, that’s one of our, uh, big lessons in the course that I teach. Go go practice.io as well. Um, it, uh, you know, when you can really see spikes in your numbers, there’s, there’s gold in them spikes. If you really like, dig in, dig into what the heck caused that, then, then often you can understand and, and harness a driver that can drive hopefully more than just a spike, but, but some, some long term success in the business. Ethan, any last, uh, comments before we wrap up here?
Ethan Garr 00:50:25 No, I just really appreciate, uh, the time pool kit. It was, uh, it’s, this has been a great conversation.
Pulkit Agrawal 00:50:30 Yeah. Fun for me too. Thanks both.
Sean Ellis 00:50:32 Absolutely. And, and do you have any last comments before we wrap up?
Pulkit Agrawal 00:50:36 No, I think, uh, excited about the future of user experience and dynamic personalization of software. I think there’s a lot to happen still. Software often still is like very indiv, you know, it’s very general for everyone, but we are excited about the future where it’s really personal for each person based on where they came from, who they are, what they wanna do. And, and we’re excited about that going
Sean Ellis 00:50:54 Forward. That’s awesome. Well, my, my number one advice always is if you’re gonna have one area to focus on that’s gonna really spike your results in the business. Onboarding and activation is usually the most underoptimized area for, for most businesses and can have great impact on retention and, uh, making campaigns pay for themselves a lot better. And word of mouth, every, everything is a, a function of getting someone to a great experience with your product. And it sounds like Chameleon is, uh, potentially really important part of the solution of being able to do that well. So, um, excited to give it a try myself and, uh, and, um, you know, with one of the companies I’m working on, not with, uh, not with the podcast, I probably wouldn’t really apply there, but, uh, it’s, uh, we, we appreciate you sharing with us and for everyone tuning in. Thanks for listening.
Pulkit Agrawal 00:51:43 Thanks, everyone.
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