Should you go ungated?
Your guide to delivering value with no strings attached
👋 Hi, I’m Kyle from OpenView and welcome to my newsletter, Growth Unhinged. Every other week I take a closer look at what drives a SaaS company’s growth. Expect deep dive takes on product-led growth, pricing, benchmarks, and much more.1
Personal note 🥾🍁🌲
You might have wondered why I’ve been quiet lately (if you even noticed!). Well, I’ve taken the last couple of weeks to 🔌, 🔋, and ✔️an item off my bucket list .
My husband and I explored the Canadian Rockies including Banff, Jasper, and Lake Louise. Despite a rough start with two flight cancellations, the destination was worth the pain of getting there. A personal favorite: Moraine Lake (🖼️), which is jaw-droppingly stunning. Shoutout to Whitebark Cafe, which not only makes the strongest cold brew in the region, but also serves it over ice 🧊, aka the proper (American) way.
Now on with the regularly scheduled programming.
In a product-led growth model, you’re challenged to deliver value first and monetize second. PLG companies almost always allow users to try-before-you-buy with a freemium edition, free trial, or a reverse trial (🤩).
Here’s the thing: PLG companies aren’t exactly offering something for nothing. They require users to enter an email address — perhaps even a work email AND phone number 🙄 — in order to gain access. An email address has real value; it’s a SaaS company’s ticket to knowing who their users are, being able to market to them, and even being able to contact them to initiate a sales process.
I guess there’s no such thing as a free lunch, huh?
Actually maybe there is a free lunch after all 🥪…
Lately I’ve been noticing a shift towards delivering real value, no strings attached. SaaS companies like PhotoRoom and Excalidraw (how I make my ✏️) are launching ungated free product experiences. These companies let prospective users immediately try out the product — no sign up required — and then ask for an email address only if users want to save their progress. (Spoiler alert: they usually do!)
Great case in point: Eraser, the virtual whiteboard for engineering teams. When you click “Try” on Eraser’s homepage, Eraser creates a new workspace so you can start creating within a matter of seconds. You’ll either select from one of their pre-built templates or make a custom one. New users can even share their workspace with a teammate all without either person having to create an account.
Founder Shin Kim told me Eraser’s radical openness creates trust with users who feel confident to not only test out the product for themselves, but also to start collaborating right away.
"Eraser is ungated because we want to remove every possible friction for users to try or share the product. There is much less hesitation to share a link during a live conversation if you know other parties can hop right in with zero hoops to jump through. The downside is that we collect less email addresses up front but the goodwill generated by front-loading value outweighs the downside in the long-run." - Shin Kim, Eraser
Andrew Capland (Lnkd | Twtr), Founder of Delivering Value, brought my attention to this 🔥 PLG trend. He built these types of ungated experiences as the head of growth at Postscript (from 2019 to 2021) and Wistia (from 2015 to 2019). Now Andrew offers coaching and advising for the next generation of PLG teams. He even has a self-guided course about how to introduce and optimize ungated products.
Read on for Andrew’s insights into different types of ungated product experiences, real-life examples, and advice on how to accelerate your efforts.
We need your help!
2022 marks OpenView’s sixth annual SaaS Benchmarks Survey. Backed by data from 600+ SaaS companies, this survey is designed to summarize the performance, unit economics, and overall outlook of private software companies. Please consider participating - it’ll take 10-15 minutes and provides invaluable data for the Growth Unhinged crew.
KP: What is an ungated product experience?
PLG creates more opportunities for people to try your product, experience the value, and fall in love with it.
The challenge? Only a small percentage of your website visitors ever sign up. That means the vast majority of visitors receive very little value — if any.
We’re seeing innovative SaaS companies adopt a new playbook. They're not gating product value behind a sign-up form anymore. Instead, they're leading with value and embedding an interactive version of their product directly on their site.
The ungated product experience approach attempts to remove anything standing in the way or slowing users down.
This approach involves embedding an ungated interactive version of the product directly on the site so visitors can play with it and get a feel for how valuable it might be for them. No form fields required.
Then, after some meaningful interaction — maybe the visitor is using it for a few minutes or for a specific number of interactions — you suggest they create an account to save and continue.
This approach essentially starts the onboarding process before asking a user to fill out a form. It’s a ‘value first, forms later’ approach.
Thanks for reading Kyle Poyar’s Growth Unhinged! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
KP: Why should a company consider putting this on their roadmap?
SaaS brands are constantly thinking about how to make their products more usable and accessible. Because that's what today’s buyers want. They want to be able to explore, use, and understand the value of a product — before they're asked to pay.
Essentially, to try before they buy.
That's why product-led growth has become such a popular go-to-market model over the last few years — and why we’re seeing so many companies offering free trials or freemium plans. Users want to have control over the experience — not be sold to.
But what if you could go further? Remove more friction. Make your product more accessible. Start the onboarding process even sooner. And get it in front of an even larger audience?
That’s what an ungated product experience unlocks.
Here are the specific benefits:
1. The ungated experience engages a much larger percentage of your website visitors. Users can't experience the value of your product — not without signing up. And that's a problem, because most SaaS websites only convert 2-4% of their visitors into new accounts (disclaimer: OpenView’s Product Benchmarks data shows that PLG startups see rates of 3-6%).
That means 96-98% of SaaS website visitors don't sign up — and don’t get to experience the value of your product. And even for the 2-4% of users that do sign up, it doesn’t mean they’ll automatically have a successful experience and activate.
Instead of 2-4% creating an account, your product gets shown to everyone, typically with double-digit interaction rates. You deliver value sooner, and to more people.
2. This approach typically leads to fewer total signups, but a higher number of activated accounts. This is because when visitors do sign up, they’ve already received a ton of value from the product, and built up momentum. They’re way more likely to become active users and paying customers.
3. You also get more actionable usage and retention data by weeding out the “pokers.” 25-35% of new accounts sign up, poke around for a few mins and then leave — and never come back. After removing the noise in your numbers, you’ll be able to make much better decisions about which use-cases, features, and behaviors lead to conversions and retention. Sharing this feedback loop with marketing enables them to run campaigns to find more of your best users.
These experiences are good for visitors. They’re good for your brand — and good for your conversion rates.
One example is Colossyan, a fast way to create custom videos using AI actors. The Colossyan team recently made the decision to let users try out the product to create a video without signing up. The impact has been huge: Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer Dominik Mate Kovacs shared that activation rates have nearly quadrupled since making the change. Conversion rates have improved as well.
KP: What are the different steps for introducing an ungated product experience?
This new playbook looks like this:
Make a frictionless version of the product users can try (typically free plan or free trial).
Embed a (ungated) interactive version directly on the site, so visitors can play with it, and get a feel for how valuable it might be for them - no form fields required.
After some meaningful interaction (maybe using it for a few mins - or a specific number of interactions) you suggest they try out the real version.
And there are two ways to implement it.
1. The most effective way to implement these kinds of experiences is to create a lightweight version of your product, then embed it on your website. If you have the engineering resources to make it happen, it’s worth doing.
One example is from Bubbles, the video and screenshot collaboration tool, which encourages new users simply start recording their first video without creating an account.
But for many SaaS brands, engineering resources and product constraints make that hard. Or you might just want to validate this concept provides value for your brand before investing too many resources into it.
2. If that's the case, there are some great no-code tool options—like Navattic—to help you get started. Going the no-code route gives you the ability to build interactive product demos and embed them directly on your site without dev help.
One interactive demo example is from Trevor.io (screenshot below), the self-service business intelligence product.
The new playbook can engage a much larger percentage of your website visitors. When visitors do sign up, they’ve already received a ton of value from the product. They’re way more likely to become active users and paying customers.
What’s not to like about that?