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HomeVenture CapitalThe 5 Phases of Figma’s Group-Led Progress: From Stealth to Enterprise

The 5 Phases of Figma’s Group-Led Progress: From Stealth to Enterprise

Within the earliest levels of company-building, of us typically worship on the altar of pace — launch an MVP rapidly, collect hoards of buyer suggestions and begin pivoting your means into product/market match. The earlier you may get your product on the market, the higher.

However the path to constructing Figma was an train in endurance. Based in 2012, Figma didn’t really begin delivery software program to beta customers till 2015. After launch, it took one other two years so as to add paid pricing tiers — and a pair extra to convey on a gross sales workforce.

However taking an extended, winding path to launch a product doesn’t imply that you just preserve clients at arm’s size alongside the way in which. As Claire Butler will inform you, group was core to the corporate’s GTM technique early on — even whereas nonetheless in stealth. As Senior Director of Advertising, Butler joined Figma as one of many first ten staff and the corporate’s first enterprise rent. She started shaping the corporate’s bottoms-up development technique and laying the observe for a vibrant group earlier than the product was even publicly obtainable.  

Relating to constructing group, of us are likely to deal with it as an afterthought, akin to an internet consumer group or a number of in-person occasions to tack on later, after they’ve discovered product/market match and constructed up a powerful consumer base. However as Butler tells it, group is what enabled Figma to enter a crowded class and begin making waves immediately. “Group is such a fuzzy phrase and there’s no commonplace definition. How I outline group is that it’s not a set of particular packages or a Slack group. It’s an method to constructing and your go-to-market technique that orients round fostering a passionate consumer base who’s going to energy up your product adoption,” says Butler. 

On this unique interview, Butler imparts tons of classes about how you can construct and domesticate a group alongside every section of the startup journey — from the earliest innings of the corporate, all the way in which to bringing on a gross sales workforce and focusing on extra enterprise offers. She shares the precise inventive techniques Figma used to energise the design group and construct natural momentum when the product was simply starting to take form. Butler flags a number of the key choices that paid off alongside Figma’s journey — together with making the decision to lastly emerge from stealth, introducing pricing with the precise gating technique and eventually bringing in a gross sales movement. Let’s dive in.

Butler joined Figma about six months previous to the corporate rising from stealth — on the heels of the corporate quietly constructing for over two years. Whereas the product wasn’t but out available in the market, the Figma workforce began planting seeds for the group that might sprout later. “In stealth, you don’t have your individual group since you don’t exist in the true world but. It’s about constructing particular person relationships with individuals in communities which have already taken form,” says Butler. 

For Figma, that meant tapping into the sturdy design group. Butler spent her first months on the job tagging together with the corporate’s CEO and co-founder Dylan Area in early buyer discovery chats. However the tempo of those conversations didn’t comply with the standard gross sales script. “We largely passed over the normal ‘drawback discovery’ portion of the dialog, and simply jumped straight into the product demo. Designers wish to reduce to the chase and get their palms on the instrument,” says Butler. 

The Figma workforce was enjoying the lengthy sport right here. “In the event you’re a designer utilizing a specific design instrument, you’re going to be in that instrument eight hours a day, each day. You’ve gotten an extremely excessive bar to modify to utilizing a instrument full-time. We knew that Figma was not but prepared for complete team-level adoption,” says Butler. 

So somewhat than setting a aim to shut offers, these casual chats have been all about gathering suggestions and sparking some inspiration. “We needed to construct credibility with the design group by actually taking their suggestions to coronary heart within the early days. Once we demoed we have been on the lookout for how excited the individual was to be taught extra about Figma. At that time, a design instrument had by no means been constructed on the web — it was all the time an offline desktop app. We have been actually rethinking a number of the primitives of how a design instrument may work,” says Butler. 

When’s the precise time to step out of the stealth shadows? 

Butler admits that one of many greatest challenges of being in stealth for thus lengthy is preserving the momentum and workforce morale excessive. Figma management deployed a number of techniques within the early days to maintain power ranges up, even when it felt as if they have been constructing in a basement

Deliver within the buyer’s voice. “Dylan and I have been usually the parents who have been speaking to potential customers, so it was actually necessary to amplify that voice to the remainder of the Figma workforce. We’d all have lunch collectively each day and Dylan and I’d make some extent to speak about what we have been listening to from our buyer discovery calls throughout these workforce meals.” 

Present and inform. “When our engineering lead joined, he began this new custom the place each Friday engineers would have a possibility to indicate off what they constructed or designed that week. It was necessary to showcase their work and get suggestions from the remainder of the workforce, particularly once we didn’t have a powerful cohort of customers sharing their suggestions with us but.” 

Plant the cultural seeds. “One other ritual that grew to become actually necessary to Figma’s firm DNA was known as ‘Three Issues.’ Every week, one individual would share the three issues that made them who they’re at present. It was an extremely highly effective option to get to know the individuals you have been within the trenches with, constructing this product and firm collectively.” 

And whereas these strategies helped ease a number of the bumps of constructing at the hours of darkness, there was a rising push to get the product out into the world — warts and all. 

A part of the explanation why we selected to exit of stealth was workforce motivation. In the event you’re simply tinkering and constructing all day each day with out a lot consumer suggestions, it’s onerous to remain motivated.

The Figma workforce centered on two barometers to evaluate their launch readiness. 

Producing buzz. “We actually didn’t wish to launch and simply hear crickets from our viewers. In order we continued internet hosting demos, I used to be on the lookout for robust constructive reactions — even when they weren’t fairly prepared to make use of Figma full-time of their day jobs. There began to be a collection of conferences the place designers would actually push Dylan out of the way in which through the demo so they may check Figma out themselves. That was a sign to me that designers have been excited to attempt it, even when we hadn’t completed each single function on our want listing.” 

High quality, not amount. “Our board pushed us to concentrate on getting one workforce to make use of Figma full-time — which meant a whole lot of 1:1 buyer engagement and doing the issues that don’t scale. We lastly hit this milestone when Coda agreed to make use of Figma full-time. I keep in mind driving again with the Figma workforce as much as San Francisco after spending the morning with Coda in Palo Alto. We have been buzzing off of the power from signing our first huge buyer deal. Then we bought a name from the Coda of us, they usually stated Figma wasn’t working. Our CTO instantly rotated and drove all the way in which again right down to the Coda workplace to attempt to repair it himself. It seems that the Coda workforce was having a community drawback, and it had nothing to do with Figma in any respect. However our CTO spent hours debugging the Coda engineer’s pc simply to indicate his dedication to the client.” 

Go away good on the door. 

However the choice to lastly launch from stealth meant kicking the can down the street on one vital function. “It was apparent to the workforce that crucial function for Figma can be multiplayer — the flexibility to co-edit a file on the similar time. We knew it was going to take us a very long time to examine off each single field {that a} buyer might give you when evaluating us with different design instruments. However we believed that if the client might expertise the advantages of multiplayer (and never juggling a number of variations of the identical file) then that might be sufficient for them to modify to Figma,” says Butler.

However three years into stealth, and nonetheless far off from multiplayer being prepared for buyer adoption, the workforce determined there was sufficient momentum to launch anyhow. They put a plan in place to maintain the group engaged whereas they continued constructing out the multiplayer performance.

It grew to become extra necessary to get Figma out to the general public. It wasn’t good but, however we’re going to launch anyway after which preserve constructing alongside our group. 

Slightly than attempt to generate their very own buzz for launch day, the Figma workforce tapped into the colourful design group — notably #DesignTwitter, a digital watering gap. However this was decidedly not a haphazard social technique the place Butler hoped to submit a number of tweets that magically go viral. 

“We bought fairly analytical about it — Dylan even constructed out a customized script to assist us break down the totally different nodes inside the design Twittersphere — the typographers, the iconographers, the illustrators, the product designers and the way a lot affect they wield,” says Butler. 

And on launch day, it was an all-hands-on-deck social blitz. “One designer had attended the Rhode Island Faculty of Design and reached out to the dean on the time, John Maeda, to see if he’d study Figma and discuss us that day. Our Head of Engineering beforehand labored at Medium and reached out to Ev Williams. We simply took each angle we might to succeed in design of us with a big viewers,” she says. 

After all, that doesn’t imply the Twitter chatter was all reward (it by no means is). “I keep in mind once we first launched one of many feedback was, ‘If that is the way forward for design, I’m altering careers.’ It wasn’t all constructive, however individuals have been speaking about us,” says Butler. 

Whenever you’re getting into a crowded market, it’s an enormous benefit if yow will discover a option to collect of us collectively and rise above all of the noise.

With the advantage of hindsight, Butler pulls out one piece of the launch technique she would have modified. “We launched Figma as a closed beta. It was good and made us really feel good to have of us signing up on the waitlist for the product. But when I might do it once more, I’d have made it an open beta so we might get as many of us into the instrument and improve our velocity of buyer suggestions,” she says.

Claire Butler, Senior Director of Advertising, Figma

Tailor your early content material to your early adopters.

The subsequent step was constructing upon that launch momentum and staying in contact with the design group — even those that weren’t fairly able to make the full-time swap. For this, the Figma of us turned their consideration to their content material technique

“Authenticity is necessary with any viewers, however I’ve discovered that particularly designers are likely to hate conventional SaaS advertising and marketing. They don’t need fluff,” says Butler. “We had to consider how we would communicate to this viewers otherwise, in order that they understood that we’re not simply making an attempt to promote them BS. We’re constructing one thing that’s going to be helpful to them.” 

For Figma’s early content material technique, they dove extremely deep into technical content material — even going again to certainly one of their very first weblog posts. “Certainly one of Figma’s designers was extraordinarily captivated with grids, and he authored a submit known as ‘Grid Techniques for Display screen Design.’ He wrote in regards to the father of grids, Joseph Müller-Brockmann, who had influenced how Figma approached its grid design. Personally, as a marketer by commerce, I had by no means heard of Joseph. I’m definitely not going to have the ability to write a manifesto on grids and the way they need to work in a design instrument. However the Figma designers cared deeply about this, and it was my job to open up house for them to share their viewpoint, and that in-depth content material actually resonated with our viewers,” says Butler.

This was a non-consensus method to content material on the time, when corporations like HubSpot had constructed up credibility by placing out “how-to” content material. “It’s about tailoring your technique to your viewers, not simply copy-pasting one other firm’s profitable content material technique,” says Butler.

Loads of technical audiences don’t want how-to content material. Whenever you’re making an attempt to draw early adopters, form your content material technique for technical of us and provides them an inside have a look at why you constructed the product the way in which you probably did.

With the phrase out about Figma’s launch, the following step for its community-driven method was getting extra palms on the product. For this, they introduced of their first designer advocate. To seek out the precise evangelists, says Butler, don’t simply submit a job in your careers web page — create alternatives for these of us to return into the fold organically. “We needed to get along with customers who had been in our closed beta and favored the product. At some point, we tweeted one thing like ‘Does anybody wish to come over to the Figma workplace and seize pizza with the workforce?’ We had about 10 individuals present as much as geek out about Figma.”

One explicit attendee caught out. “Brent actually beloved the product and believed in the way forward for design by Figma’s lens — a lot in order that he agreed to return work for us as our first design advocate,” says Butler. Ultimately, the designer advocate position grew inside Figma’s org and is now a bigger workforce inside the advertising and marketing group. However within the early days, this primary designer advocate grew to become the face of Figma to the broader design group. 

Certainly one of his first missions was to get designers to check out the instrument with just a little pleasant competitors. “Each Friday, Brent would usher in a number of of his designer influencer buddies to compete with one another dwell in Figma in what we known as Pixel Pong. It was a very enjoyable, light-weight option to showcase the instrument. We’d Livestream the totally different showdowns so that folk might watch alongside, and other people voted for the winner on Twitter,” says Butler. 

Figma additionally continued to bang the launch drum — somewhat than choosing a one-and-done announcement technique. “Usually the brand new options that we have been launching can be thought of small updates in a conventional advertising and marketing sense. You may suppose that nobody goes to care about this little function replace — however designers care. Whenever you’re in a instrument eight hours a day, if it takes one further click on to do one thing, you’re multiplying that by tons of of duties,” says Butler. 

“In crafting and refining the instrument, we thought deeply about these small updates that might actually influence a designer’s high quality of life. After which we’d share these updates broadly. For different corporations, a few of these function launches wouldn’t be value mentioning. However we handled them like a giant launch to proceed to construct that credibility with the design group and preserve nudging of us to attempt the product,” she says. 

Again when Figma was storming onto the scene, corporations like Atlassian and Slack had constructed large companies with bottoms-up development. Figma took a web page from these similar playbooks — the product was fully free within the early days, they usually didn’t add a paid tier till two years after launching out of stealth. “If of us weren’t prepared to make use of Figma full-time of their day job, they may use Figma at no cost for a aspect mission. You might use the instrument in a lower-stakes means and are available again to Figma repeatedly over time,” says Butler. 

As Figma’s energy customers began to convey the instrument into their organizations, with none gross sales help, it was time to broaden past Figma’s free pricing. However the choice on what to gate on the paid degree took a little bit of trial and error. “The primary time round, when contemplating what to place within the paid tier, we needed to gate the options that you just want for a design workforce, versus what you want as a person designer. So within the first iteration of the pricing mannequin, the free tier restricted you to solely having two customers collaborating on a file collectively, however you bought limitless tasks. And within the paid tier, you could possibly have many extra of us collaborating on a file,” says Butler.

However this preliminary technique wasn’t fairly working — and it goes again to the workforce’s early instinct on what can be Figma’s secret sauce. “By limiting the variety of of us who might collaborate on a file within the free tier, we weren’t enabling individuals to expertise the magic second of multiplayer collaboration,” says Butler. So the Figma workforce flipped the script. “We reversed it in order that within the free starter tier, you could possibly solely have a few recordsdata, however you could possibly have a vast variety of individuals collaborating in that file.” 

When you consider gating your product, contemplate how one can funnel clients towards your magic second and get them to expertise that as rapidly as attainable. 

It wasn’t till one other two years after introducing pricing (and, at this level, 4 years after launching out of stealth) that the Figma workforce determined to introduce a gross sales workforce. The catalyst for doing so was that the bottoms-up movement had labored — maybe a bit too nicely. “We had empowered so many of us to convey Figma to their group. However ultimately, we bought to the purpose the place Microsoft and Google and all these huge corporations would have clusters of Figma customers throughout their group, however they weren’t linked to one another in any respect. Individuals have been simply placing Figma on their bank cards all throughout the enterprise,” says Butler. 

So Figma’s newly-added gross sales movement teamed up with the designer advocates to easy over roadblocks. “We by no means centered on pitching groups and promoting into the entrance doorways of a corporation — we centered on people and empowering them to convey Figma into their corporations,” says Butler.

Right here’s how the handoff would typically look: “Our designer advocate groups would speak to customers and construct one-to-one relationships with of us like Parker, who works for Uber and says he’s a Sketch consumer one hundred pc. However as we continued to launch new options, our designer advocates would preserve the dialog open with Parker,” says Butler. “Ultimately, Parker will get onboard and turns into a Figma advocate, bringing Figma to his workforce at Uber. Parker ultimately leaves Uber, and he desires to convey Figma to his subsequent firm. He reaches out to our gross sales workforce to assist him get his new firm on board.”

Your buyer is the one who is aware of how you can overcome boundaries of their group. They know how you can get folks on board. Concentrate on getting the tip consumer excited and serving to them take away roadblocks, somewhat than making an attempt to promote from the highest down.

The bedrock of self-service laid the groundwork for gross sales to be a mild help — not a steamroller. “Once we lastly put collectively a gross sales workforce, that they had entry to so many natural leads and have been capable of assist of us navigate their very own inner orgs. These particular person Figma champions wanted somebody to assist share the load with issues like safety or a fancy contract course of,” says Butler.  

Increasing to the enterprise additionally meant increasing the product past the designer buyer profile. “Figma spent a whole lot of time spinning up options like commenting and presentation mode on this section — instruments for designers working with all totally different stakeholders,” she says. 

Whereas founders have a tendency to think about group as a nice-to-have, particularly within the early days, the fact is that you just’re already in all probability performing some kind of community-building even from the primary buyer conversations. “Whenever you’re pitching your product to customers and gathering suggestions, that’s an train in group. You’re beginning to determine the sorts of of us who may very well be your early adopters. The subsequent step is simply connecting these of us to at least one one other,” says Butler. 

Earlier than you get overwhelmed by the necessity to spin up a complete occasions technique or Slack group, harken again to Figma’s low-lift concept of bringing of us collectively for a few slices of pizza within the workplace. “Constructing relationships with these evangelists will lay the groundwork for a vibrant group in a while, when you may then layer in a extra sturdy technique. At first, don’t be afraid of the issues that don’t scale,” she says. 

This text is a lightly-edited abstract of Claire Butler’s look on our new podcast, “In Depth.” If you have not listened to our present but, remember to test it out right here.



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