Your guide to Webflow’s $4B PLG engine
How Webflow pairs self-service and sales for rapid growth
👋 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
Webflow, the web design and hosting platform, recently hit milestones that most product-led growth (PLG) companies only dream of:
$100 million in annual recurring revenue (ARR)
$4 billion valuation
$120 million in fresh Series C funding
The company provides an all-in-one platform for designers and developers to build a professional, bespoke website without writing a single line of code. Webflow has many of the same features of the OG website builder WordPress, but without the overhead of security issues, making it easy for companies of all sizes to create an agile and modern website.
Reaching these eye-popping milestones didn’t happen overnight. Webflow was founded 10 years ago in 2012. Apart from a small $2.9 million seed round in 2014, the company bootstrapped itself to $10 million in ARR between 2012 and 2019. It was that year that Webflow raised a $72 million Series A and went into hyper-growth mode.
As Webflow attracted capital, they started to aggressively add sales to the initial product-led, self-service motion. I sat down with Co-Founder Bryant Chou to go behind the scenes into Webflow’s PLG engine. Read on to learn how Webflow pairs self-service and sales for rapid growth.
Webflow’s early growth strategy: Community and SEO
Bryant jokes that “we were default dead in the early years.”
Webflow had a very small team, had raised almost no outside money, and was completely self-serve. They had to get creative with how to grow on a bootstrapped budget.
Webflow didn’t spend a single dollar on marketing until three years in and until after they had attracted their first 1 million users, according to Bryant. Instead they decided to level up growth marketing and growth tactics across the founding team.
“Everything we did we had a growth mindset from what to put in our metatags to everything SEO-related to how to introduce a flywheel effect in our product with our template marketplace to how to leverage purely organic channels.” - Bryant Chou
Community was a critical pillar in the company’s early growth efforts, but it was actually a last-minute addition. Bryant and co-founder Sergie Magdalin spun up a Discourse account only hours before Webflow opened up its beta. Now Webflow’s community counts more than 75,000 members.
Webflow’s audience was freelance designers and developers who usually work by themselves; this audience was hungry for an online community. Webflow’s community turned into a place where early hero customers would hang out, provide support for each other, and show off how to do cool stuff in Webflow.
“The day before we allowed our beta users to sign up for the product, Sergie and I decided it would be great for our users to have a community for each other. Discourse had just come up so we spun up a Discourse account and made a completely open source forum. An hour after that, we sent out an email to sign up for Webflow and hang out in the forums. That was step one in fostering the community.” - Bryant Chou
The community became a boon for Webflow’s SEO. It ranked extremely well for long-tail SEO terms like “how do I build a modal?” Community members produced user-generated content that would feed back into awareness for Webflow, which led to organic sign-ups.
Bolstered by the early success, Webflow continued to build for its community with its Showcase product, which launched in 2014. Bryant and team realized that creators wanted to demonstrate credibility—and credibility ultimately led to clients. He, Sergie, and Vlad Magdalin (the CEO and other co-founder), decided to spend two weeks diverting all attention away from building the product and instead poured it into Showcase. Showcase made it possible for users to create a cloneable asset—a Webflow project that anyone can duplicate into their own account whether it’s a slideshow, gallery, animation, advanced form, or something else. Now Showcase counts more than 1 million designers and 100k+ assets, and it provides substantial long-tail SEO juice for Webflow.
Webflow’s decision to invest in sales-assist
Only around 2016 did Webflow focus on proactive marketing to fuel its already-vibrant community. Webflow started simple with content marketing and light experimentation with paid channels. They brought on functional owners to lead these initial efforts (ex: Head of Content) before looking for a true Head of Marketing.
One of Webflow’s marketing experiments was around lifecycle marketing (drip emails), which Webflow implemented through Mixpanel, Segment, and Clearbit data enrichment. Armed with enriched company data on Webflow’s users, Bryant could create a query for users at companies with over 500 people.
He was surprised to find there were 25 unique email domains of these large companies signing up per day with Webflow. These folks were probably willing to pay more than $20 per month (what Webflow charged at the time). But enterprises also probably needed more help from Webflow. It was an open question whether and how Webflow should serve these large accounts.
Bryant and team decided to see what would happen if they offered more proactive help to sign-ups at larger accounts. They ran a three-month experiment with a customer support rep where they’d reach out to a group of these sign-ups and ask:
Are you seeing success with the core product?
Are there things the core product isn’t delivering to you?
Do you want to hop on a call to talk about it?
At the same time Webflow combed through its customer support platform looking for anything around helping with security, procurement, etc. These were people who were literally banging on Webflow’s door asking for a more robust sales process and security reviews. In PLG lingo, these were hand-raisers looking for a sales-assist team to guide their buying journey.
“There was clear demand. Every conversation led to more conversations. It even got to the point where I was on the phone with a customer on Christmas Eve standing outside of a restaurant in Stockholm. The customer was trying to launch their website before the end of the year and needed our help to do it.” - Bryant Chou
Bryant started to do relatively simple things that customers were demanding, such as creating a master services agreement for enterprise accounts. All of a sudden Webflow had converted their first 15 enterprise customers. It was time to double down.
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Scaling sales-assist from 0 to 40+ people
As Webflow was going through the sales-assist experiment, they randomly got introduced to Kai Mak (now VP of Sales and Customer Success). He was the perfect leader for Webflow’s GTM efforts at the perfect time and joined in May 2020.
It was important for Bryant to hire a GTM leader who could build from 0 to 1; someone who was more strategic and innovative than a “traditional” enterprise sales leader.
“There was so much innovation that we needed in our product, business model, pricing, and packaging, etc. We needed a true thought partner to craft what the motion would look like.” - Bryant Chou
Kai already knew Webflow’s space and buyer personas, and he agreed that it was best to take their time to set up the right GTM motion for Webflow. He was very deliberate with GTM hiring in the first year, adding only eight folks that year. The team is now upwards of 40 people as of March 2022, suggesting Webflow has rapidly ramped up hiring in recent months.
Along the way they learned that the fences between self-service and sales-assist at Webflow were the three S’s: security, scale, and support. Each of these sales-assist requirements could be predicted based on firmographic data (company size).
Bryant and team found success adopting a heavy qualitative and persona-based approach to defining their enterprise pricing and packaging rather than traditional online surveys. They built a deep understanding of the different personas for Webflow and how to create the distinctions between personas that belong on self-service and those that belong on enterprise plans. Scale became an extremely important factor in Webflow’s pricing; Webflow’s self-service plans cap out at 250,000 monthly visits and 400 GB of bandwidth.
On the support side, Webflow realized that large companies struggled with training their entire team on how to use Webflow. That’s where Webflow’s community comes into play. They’re able to match the massive community of freelancers and agencies building on Webflow with the increasing demand for services from large enterprises. Webflow has made that match-making more programmatic by building a tiered agency partner program.
Takeaways: How to pair self-service and sales
Webflow’s efforts appear to be gaining steam quickly. The company’s enterprise revenue has grown from $1 million to $8 million in just the last year. Here’s what Bryant had to say for others who are contemplating how to pair sales with self-service.
1. Invest extra in RevOps to have visibility into both funnels. Webflow has made a major investment in RevOps to look at the full funnel in terms of how to support both self-service and sales. They’ve unified the data infrastructure and are able to push product and marketing information upstream into Salesforce.
2. Consider the complexities of introducing outbound at a PLG-first brand. Webflow is still heavily self-serve and generates thousands of sign-ups per day. They have to have a marketing website that caters to this top-of-funnel volume. This complicates the company’s outbound prospecting efforts into the enterprise. When an SDR is building a relationship with an enterprise prospect, it can get confusing for that prospect to see a brand that’s more conducive for self-service, to see pricing that’s conducive for self-service, and so on. Outbound is still a relatively small function at Webflow (fewer than 10 folks).
3. Make sure your R&D supports your sales efforts. As Webflow has built out its sales team, they’ve had to significantly invest in their R&D efforts accordingly. The product roadmap is now very focused on differentiation between self-service and enterprise SKUs.
“The moment you decide to do sales, you have to make sure that strategy is reflected in your product roadmap.” - Bryant Chou
4. Take a customer-centric approach to pricing and packaging. At Webflow, a qualitative and customer-centric approach to pricing and packaging was the way to go. They found it was far better to be rooted in buyer personas and in-depth conversations rather than rely on traditional quantitative surveys.
5. Turn early customers into partners. Webflow’s initial audience was freelancers and agencies. As the sales team was being built, one of the first hires Webflow made was a Head of Partners to build a Partners Program to create co-sell opportunities for the field. It created a win-win situation: Webflow’s enterprise customers were able to quickly match with a knowledgeable base of service providers, boosting their bottom line and reputation as well.