Jesus Requena (Figma): PLG Data & Analytics
Jesus Requena: We want to go and talk to them about value. Now we know that they're a big studio. They have multiple users. Before they have a project, we want to go to them and talk to them things relevant that we can do better for them.
Blake Bartlett: Welcome to Build, the podcast from OpenView. I'm your host Blake Bartlett, and the show features conversations with software founders, leaders, and investors. Each episode unpacks a new key insight on how to build your company and navigate the fast changing world of software startups. I'm super excited about today's conversation, because I'm chatting with Jesus Requena, who is a true PLG and growth marketing legend. Jesus Requena is currently the VP of Growth Marketing at Figma, and has held similar PLG leadership roles at many other companies, including Algolia and Unity. During his four years at Unity, Jesus was tasked with achieving some very hefty growth targets, by converting a large percentage of the one million plus monthly active users on Unity's platform. Only one small problem. Unity had very little visibility into who these one million users were and what they were doing on the platform. And without that intel, it's pretty hard to develop a strategy to drive more conversion to paid. As the Growth Leader at Unity, Jesus built the PLG data and analytics stack, that gave the company the needed visibility into this user base, which allowed it to achieve its conversion goals and drive over 40 million dollars in annual recurring revenue from this initiative alone. Jesus tells us his firsthand account of this journey and shares his product analytics pro tips with us today on Build. So let's dive right in with Jesus Requena. Well, Jesus, thank you so much for joining us here on the Build podcast. It's great to have you on the show.
Jesus Requena: Thank you for having me Blake, really excited to be here with you today.
Blake Bartlett: So today we're talking about PLG data and analytics, and specifically talking about your experience and your journey, implementing exactly that, when you were at Unity. And before we get into some of the specifics and details of the ins and outs of PLG data and analytics, maybe let's start with just a little bit of the context of Unity, the time that you were there, some of the dynamics facing the company back then.
Jesus Requena: Yeah, that was a really interesting story. So I joined Unity 2016. For those who don't know Unity much, is the game engine started in the 2D, 3D game space and has expanded dramatically into some other industrial verticals, like automotive and manufacturing and engineering and now with VR and AR. And when I joined Unity, which is primarily when we were doing, gaming, one of the key things that we wanted to do is launch a subscription business. So I joined in 2016, as I mentioned, and the goal was, Hey, how do we get all these perpetual license holders that are working with old Unity version in perpetuity, to get them into a new subscription business that we have, like new features, ongoing product refreshes and all that good stuff. And when I joined, we had a bit of a really interesting situation. So I came, and we had already close to a million active users a month. And those active users were, at least that we knew, were logging in a couple of times a week. We knew a bit about them. But one of the biggest things that I, when I started, is well, this is our biggest opportunity, how do we get to know more about these people? Right? Who are they? What are they doing? And that, to me, was the path to maybe becoming smarter, and do this in a smart way, we're leveraging resources, and in the short period of time that we wanted to do that. Right?
Blake Bartlett: So it sounds like it's kind of... The first thing you realized, was one, we have a huge opportunity here of sort of a base of users, a base of customers, getting value out of it, many of them paying, but paying on a perpetual license basis. And again, we have a million plus users, there's got to be opportunities for subscription and for adding value to all these folks, and capturing some of the value that we're creating for them. However, where do we begin? A million users is a lot of people. So there was... It sounds like there was kind of... You were lacking visibility in some ways.
Jesus Requena: That's right. And we were lack visibility on two sides. Who are these people? So even back then we knew that a portion of them, probably they weren't even game studios. And then the second one is what kind of things were they doing with the product? So we had some sort of signals on logins and whatnot, but very basics. So we had a name, a domain and they were logging in, but that was it. So one of the first things that I did immediately, when I started having connection with these great tools, is Hey, well, let's just start in reaching who we might have a domain for, or a inferred domain from a reverse IP or whatnot. And I'm trying to understand, for more graphically who these people were. Right? That was an interesting exercise. We used tools like Clear Bit, Some Info, but then because of the gaming space, there was a lot of incognito Gmails and classic PLG issue, where a lot of the people are protyping or hidden somewhere behind a Gmail or whatnot. Right? Especially developers that I've been working with them for a while. They don't want to tell you who they are whatsoever. So we started reaching a bit further the data. And the first thing that we realized was, Hey, well, there is a good portion of this users, that they actually belong to really large, either studios, or studio with funding, or even non gaming studios. We realized that there was around 30% of them were actually non gaming. They were either media agencies tapping into VR/ AR early days, industrial applications. We had a lot of stuff in there. So that was really fun. So whoa, now we know that there's a portion that they're applicable to... Well, at that moment in time, we had a free version and we discovered there is... I think there was around 60 to 80,000 studios that they were violating our ULA and terms of service. So they were using incorrectly the free product. So that was the first probably remark. Now we know who they are. Right?
Blake Bartlett: So you got a lot of visibility. So a number of the questions, first one is all right, there's a million users here, who are they? You enrich some of the data, like you mentioned, and you figure out who are these individuals? Who are the people? But then also, like you mentioned, where do they work? Are they working as independent freelancers, just kind of hacking something together. Do they work at a studio? If they work at a studio, how big of a studio might this be? Or maybe they don't work at a gaming studio. You mentioned the sort of other use cases there. So you kind of get a picture of, all right, who are these folks? Where are they working? And then you start to get into, okay, well, what are they doing in the product? What does their usage look like? And it sounds like the first thing you realized was, that there was a huge untapped opportunity, or in terms of monetization, there was, you mentioned 60,000 plus that weren't paying or that were in violation in a sense of the initial terms. So that was probably where you initially focused on, let's go convert those folks. Let's see if there's a subscription opportunity in that sub segment of the base. Is that right?
Jesus Requena: Absolutely. So while we were doing the classic, everyone active, sending them emails, and doing all sort of growth marketing tactics to get them into a subscription. And we were moving the needle. I think we were, at that point, we were really like 15, 20% of those users were already converting to a subscription business. So that was growing fast. We saw that opportunity and we thought, whoa, we need to tap into this. And I'll tell you a funny story. I don't know Unity how much would like me to remember this, but we started playing a good cop, bad cop sort of campaign, which is, we will send them a letter and say, Hey, actually, our legal team has noted that you might using this incorrectly, and here's a path for you to convert. And at that point, to do that, and we were trying to convert them online. Most of this was assisted sales serve pretty much. Right? We built a team called the Hybrid Team, which was literally an inside sales team. I couldn't call it sales because I was not part of sales, so they wouldn't like me doing that. So to experiment and do the initial things, we got a person to do more email chat and trying to convert them. And that thing blew up on Twitter. And some developers didn't like that. It was, what do you mean? Why are you coming to me like this?
Blake Bartlett: So it blew up on Twitter in not a good way? There was some blowback?
Jesus Requena: In a bad way. Exactly. We had some good learnings there and that was the second aha moment. So the first aha moment was, well, there's a bunch of potential here in revenue, and we quantify that in the millions. And then the second aha moment was, we need to do this better. You can't just be telling people, Hey, you're in the wrong tier, go and convert. So that's when we started thinking, well, how can we do this better? And the path was, let's start getting some... There was two areas that we wanted to tap into. One is, let's understand how many users they have in our product, and how many users they have that they're not even here. So we started doing two things. One, we got a crawler and we started having to and reach how many the developers and artists that a studio might have in total.
Blake Bartlett: So that's kind of like the... That's almost like the next level of visibility of who these users are and what studios, or where they might work? Step one is, show me the basics, but then step two is... It almost sounds a little bit like, what is our penetration into the opportunity here? You know, if there are two developers from a particular studio, but through some of this crawling work and some of the things you're doing, if you realize that there's 20 developers at that studio, well, there's a lot more to go get. And so you can kind of start to identify, where is their untapped potential through some of that intelligence.
Jesus Requena: Exactly.
Blake Bartlett: Okay.
Jesus Requena: And we became smarter in understanding who truly was not just violating the terms of service, but we had an opportunity to expand. Right? And say, well, you're using it. And then when we started putting that data together, in the meantime I was hiring data scientists to putting this data together. Because we have to match users at an IP level, at a org level, at an app, at a project level. So I have data scientists doing that, and then I have some data engineers trying to put that stuff together. And so we started hiring people to do that job. And while we were doing that, then the next thing we realized, okay, well we want to know if we want to go and talk to them about value. Now we know that they're a big studio, they have multiple users, they probably have a project. We want to go to them and talk to them things relevant that we can do better for them. And at that point in time, Blake, this experiment that we were doing on the hybrid inside sales, sending people to the online thing, it was already jumping up because we did some hacking, we put intercom, we let them talk to us. So that was already in the millions of revenue driving. The next thing is that, how can we enable this hybrid inside sales team to talk more personalized to these people? So we started thinking, well, why don't we start putting product telemetry into a place where they can see... They can see probably the account information demographic. So yeah, a company with X revenue, this is the number of users. Maybe this is the user that we found in. And by the way, all of this at the beginning was a lot of spreadsheets. And then the spreadsheet became a dashboard that we put together for them. And so it was an evolution, by no means was this a beautiful dashboard from the get go. Right?
Blake Bartlett: There was no magic button of, just push this button, it'll tell you everything you need to know, is lots of different data sources. I have to imagine lots of messy data as well, lots of fuzzy matching, the data science team and a lot of manual effort to get this level of visibility. But ultimately sounds like it was going down the right direction.
Jesus Requena: Yeah. A lot of learning. So we will, to your point, we will put a set of data together. We'll do an experiment with the inside sales team, and then they will come back and say, that's not accurate. Someone get back to me, this is wrong, this is wrong. So that whole journey took like 18 months. But again, we were learning. And I think the next thing we wanted to do was, the point I was trying to make is, we wanted to put product telemetry on basic stuff, like what kind of game are you building? Is it a console game? Is it a mobile game? Is it a AR/ VR application? The second thing we wanted to know is, what sort of objects are you using with the product? Have you installed specific components in the project? Any component on, artists or some surface objects, whatever it is? And that information, we wanted to give it to the inside sales team, to start bucketing those things and create campaigns. So then we could go back to them with some value and say, well, based on what we see in the size of the studio and the type of game that you're building and whatnot, how can we go after you and give you a personalized message to say, we're helping the studios like yours to do X, Y, Z and D. And by the way, I think this is a better tier for you, for your studio than being on the free version. Right? So we were trying to do that combination of things.
Blake Bartlett: So it sounds like after getting this visibility and then also having tried some experiments in terms of driving conversion, driving subscription uptake, what you started to realize was, all right, the orientation here, and this is pretty common in PLG, is to orient towards help, helping the customer, helping the users get to the next level, get more value. And in order to do that, as we've been talking about, you have to have the visibility. Where are they now in their project? Where are they now in their usage of our product? Where are they in terms of usage across their organization. And all of that gives you a starting point and helps you understand where you can help them next. Where do they need to go? And so it helps develop that. Instead of you're breaking the rules, I'm going to force convert you. Or there's a huge opportunity here, let's go pound at that opportunity with a ton of aggressive salespeople. It's reframing, again, and very popular, very common in PLG, to think about it more from a customer success, and helping the customer get to the next step and get more value sort of orientation. So I guess with that, what does that look like in real life? What does that look like in practice? What were some of the actions that you took based off of these insights and this desire to help?
Jesus Requena: It was messy. We were saying before. Right? That didn't come. We didn't know, from the get go, this is exactly what we're going to do when... It came organically and it came messy. But at that time, when we started realizing that... There was two things happening, one, is our subscription business was growing, and we didn't have a dedicated success team for the subscribers. Right? So, and at the same time, we wanted to also see some of these free users. One of the things that we put in place was the success team. So we started having real human behind email and chat. We didn't do phone, email and chat. So we give them the chance... The onboarding emails will have a human behind. We actually hire engineers, developers to talk to developers. And they were in remote areas. We had some people in South America, North America, UK to cover the globe. And the first thing that we did was, started putting for the paces, private, the success team. But we also started doing that for some of the free users. Right? With potential. One of the things that we started doing is that can we use that pro telemetry to assist better the user? So two things came out of that. It came better personalized onboarding. So now we knew by the project that we're building and the persona and the studio, where do we put in and what onboarding track? Right? Both for free and from paying customer. And the second thing that came out of that was, well, now we can have better touches for the success advisor. So there was those three things happened in parallel. Marketing became smarter. The success team became more personalized, and the sales team became more ready to talk to the right ones at the right time. We saw the right personalized message. Right? Those three things happened pretty much in parallel. I think it was probably second, third quarter, then we started with three teams, pretty much in parallel. But that was an evolution. From there, well, I wrote trial and error, like you mentioned. It was messy, but we got into a place where we had our program set up, we had our right templates already set up with the pro telemetry. We improve our open rates and play rates. We put a NPS for every time they interact with us, and it was really positive. We use intercom everywhere. So we allowed them to chat because they like chat better than calls. We learned heaps from that.
Blake Bartlett: So it sounds like the experience that you had, going back to the beginning, when there was a little bit more of the kind of force conversion approach, and that led to some Twitter blow back. This new approach of orienting towards help and to get to the next step, based off the visibility of where you understand they are today, that had a different response. What was the response? It sounds like it was more positive.
Jesus Requena: Yes. The first thing that we learned from the Twitter thing is, Hey, we want to start measuring the interaction success. So we put that sort of the score every time there was an interaction with them, the success team drove a lot of that. And then the other thing that we were trying to monitor really closely, was those conversion rates, those response rate on the chat, the response rate on the emails, those open and click rates on the emails, the response rate on the sales outreach cadences. We started monitoring week over week. How do we get into... And we got into really good numbers. Some of our onboarding, I haven't seen anything like that. We were in the 50, 60% open rate of emails. Some of the sales cadences have 70% open rate. Pretty strong numbers, because we went from call outreaching, where people blow up on Twitter, into, well, let's be valuable. And we got it at the end. Again, to, potentially those numbers came after 18 months to year working on this nonstop. So it wasn't like day one.
Blake Bartlett: But that's a pretty impressive statistic. If you're getting 70% open rates on sales cadences, it suggests that you're doing something right. A lot of times people try to avoid sales conversations like the plague. But if you're really creating something that is compelling and actually seems helpful to them, such that 70% of folks might want to open it, it suggests you're on the right track.
Jesus Requena: Exactly. And it was all personalized. We knew what type of game they were building, we put examples with it. The subject line would have an example of exactly the type of game that they were building. All that sort of stuff was gold. It literally worked. And at the same time the revenue was going up. So I think the first two years we did over 30 million in revenue. So ARR, so it was a good journey. It was painful, but we really, really, we learn a lot from it.
Blake Bartlett: Well, it sounds like to me, a lot of what we were talking about, obviously throughout this conversation, has been around visibility and needing to get visibility. And that's an important point. It's also hard to do all this telemetry. And the visibility is easier said than done. 18 to 24 months before you starting to see some of these results, based on what you mentioned. But the sort of the other side of the coin of, once you have visibility, what that enables, is you to then be personalized. Personalized in your outreach, personalized in sort of why you're reaching out, what folks could do next, and how they could get more value. And you're speaking to them, not as a generic sales call, you're speaking to them, I know you're working on this game, here are the steps that you could take next. And it really does feel like you are their success coach, and you're sort of, almost, on their team and on their side, as opposed to somebody who's just trying to milk them for conversion and for subscription dollars.
Jesus Requena: That exactly right. Fun fact, we play a lot with the titles of the humans, trying to reach out and help. And we end up calling the onboarding success... I think it was called onboarding success advisor. And the sales team, we also called them success advisor, because we were reaching out with success stories and ways we were helping other teams. And then we partner those hybrid sales team with sales engineers. So we had a slack channel for them. We have Wiki FAQs. We were trying to enable the sales to learn as much as they could about game development, so that they could go back to those people and tell them, how we do and how these people want to see... It was really user centric and success centric, the whole approach, we learn that the hard way.
Blake Bartlett: Yeah. A lot of times I see that sales in the PLG world, it obviously does take this kind of success oriented approach as we had talked about. But in many ways, the way that I visualize it is that, both sides, instead of being on opposite sides at the table where I'm negotiating against you, and I'm trying to convince you to buy my product and not my competitor's, we're actually sitting on the same side of the table now. And we have a shared goal. You want to, in this case, build a game, get it out there, make it awesome. I want to help you get to that destination. The way you get to that destination is through our product and is using it the right way. So let me help you figure out what that next step looks like. It's almost a little bit more like a concierge, and sort of helping you get to where you want to go.
Jesus Requena: It is. In fact, when you look at senior sales, a kind executive for leaders, their titles are not anything about sales, are about consultancy, advisory. The great sales people know this by heart. It's about listening and then trying, how do I help you here? And I'll bring my solution to help you, but... And I'll tell you the story, but it's about starting listening and then understanding what they're trying to achieve. And if you do that on a scale, like we did at Unity, with some product telemetry, so now you have some insight about it and then you open the conversation. That's the way. There's no other way these days, I believe.
Blake Bartlett: Well, as many people talk about in terms of what is the best characteristics to be able to embody, as a mature salesperson, everybody points to empathy. But empathy... You can just tell people, be empathetic, do it, please be empathetic. And it's easier said than done. But back to sort of what we've been talking about, empathy is... It's obviously understanding and what it's like to be in somebody else's shoes, and sort of envisioning the problem from their own perspective. But you can't do that if you don't have visibility, if you're flying blind. And so the data gives you the visibility to understand and be able to actually have empathy and understand where they're going. And so all of these things are connected. And so the way you are a great salesperson, the way you act as that concierge, is through personalization. The only way you can personalize and help is through visibility. The only way you can do that is through data and telemetry. So all these things are connected and unfortunately, or fortunately, however you look at it, there's no magic bullet. There's no easy button to do this. It requires doing the hard work.
Jesus Requena: That's right. And I'll add two thoughts into what we said so far. One is, I learned during the time at Unity... And we're doing pretty similar stuff at Algolia today. Pretty similar journey. I learned some hard lessons, that fast tracking some steps, because we learned the hard way. But the two final thoughts that I will put in to wrap up that thinking is, one, enablement is key. So you can have the product telemetry but if the... You call a success advisor or salesperson at the end is the... They know that it's the same. If they're not enabled to understand what the user goes through to implement something, from a technical point of view, from a journey point of view, it's hard to become good at it. So one of the things that we spent a lot of time at Unity was, training the success advisors and the salespeople with sales, engineers, product people on, what does it take? What is it? Even to the technical thing. We do that at Algolia today. We actually have a success advisor and a technical sales person, that we are training inside out. Right? On how this thing gets implemented. So that's number one. The second thing that I think is important to know, is that the data takes time to put together too. It's easier these days. These days we have tools out there. We are engaging Algolia with Endgame. I hope there was... I wish there were... Been tool like this, back in the days, where we did it all in house. Today, we have... Endgame has been an incredible partner. We literally done in three months what took us 18 months to do at Unity, but it takes time to get your data right on defining what that journey is from the product point of view. So those two, things I think are critical too. People need think about investing in those two areas. Yeah.
Blake Bartlett: That makes a lot of sense. And you're talking about it there. I wanted to, for the audience, for folks that are listening right now saying, Hey, that's exactly what I want to do. I'm either lacking the visibility, as I've been hearing you talk about, or I want to be able to do empathy or success based selling, but I need to have that sort of telemetry wired up. And then they might hear the description of it takes 18 to 24 months. And they're... It's a lot of manual effort, and data scientists and those kinds of things. It can also then be a bit overwhelming. But you just referenced Endgame, and that there are products that do this today. So if somebody is wanting to start this tomorrow, what would you recommend they do? And what are some of the resources that they can think about in order to tackle that?
Jesus Requena: Yeah. There's plenty of tools out there and tools have evolved a lot. Now we have... Segment is a great tool for your product... Think we use Segment at Algolia and Sensor, so we can push the data from the product into any marketing channels to product led campaigns. You have to like Endgame, there's plenty others out there like Correlate or Heads Up. And they do pretty similar. They aggregate your product data pretty easily. So I think, in there is more the investment on understanding your product data, understanding where your aha moments are, your milestones in the onboarding or expansion. So spend time and understand that, define it, write it down, write it down on a data level. What does it mean at a data level? And then the architecting or building the tools is easier today, because you have, again, those tools are your advantage. But I would say, to me, everything start with the product. Understand your product. What is the behavior? What is the journey of the user? What does it mean to be successful? So whole value perception, value adoption, aha moment, activation point, expansion points, write it down. Pressure test it internally, talk to sales, train yourselves, get the in front of sales and then go and experiment. Every company's going to be different. It's not going to be a copy paste solution. Not that you have to go through the pain journey that I went at Unity, because it was pretty early days, but these days there's a lot of documentation out there.
Blake Bartlett: That's perfect. Well, this has been incredibly insightful to me to understand the importance of rich telemetry and analytics in a PLG stack, and also what it enables, in terms of visibility, but then ultimately down the line, the fact that it enables empathy and it enables you really to have a success orientation. And it's a mutual success orientation. It helps your customer be successful and more and more successful over time, using your product. And then obviously it helps you, as the business, be successful as well. In Unity's case, to actually get at that subscription opportunity that we started with at the beginning of the conversation, to see tens of millions of dollars come out of that channel after the efforts. And it's also good to hear that folks, starting today, there are more tools, more analytic systems, more solutions available off the shelf versus needing to start from scratch. So thank you so much, Jesus, for walking us through your insights and your journey.
Jesus Requena: Thank you, Blake. That was awesome.
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PLG changes the customer journey. A customer advances by taking actions directly in the product, which means product analytics are paramount to PLG success. Jesus Requena tells the story of how he built the PLG analytics stack at Unity, and the unexpected insights it uncovered. He shows you how embracing product analytics can change your company’s go-to-market results.
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