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

Within the earliest levels of company-building, people 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 will get your product on the market, the higher.

However the path to constructing Figma was an train in persistence. Based in 2012, Figma didn’t truly begin transport 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 staff.

However taking an extended, winding path to launch a product doesn’t imply that you just maintain prospects at arm’s size alongside the best way. As Claire Butler will let you know, group was core to the corporate’s GTM technique early on — even whereas nonetheless in stealth. As Senior Director of Advertising and marketing, 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 progress technique and laying the monitor for a vibrant group earlier than the product was even publicly accessible.  

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

On this unique interview, Butler imparts tons of classes about find out how to construct and domesticate a group alongside every section of the startup journey — from the earliest innings of the corporate, all the best way to bringing on a gross sales staff and concentrating on extra enterprise offers. She shares the particular artistic ways Figma used to energise the design group and construct natural momentum when the product was simply starting to take form. Butler flags a few 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 correct 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 staff began planting seeds for the group that may sprout later. “In stealth, you don’t have your individual group since you don’t exist in the actual 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 Discipline in early buyer discovery chats. However the tempo of those conversations didn’t comply with the everyday gross sales script. “We principally left out the standard ‘drawback discovery’ portion of the dialog, and simply jumped straight into the product demo. Designers need to minimize to the chase and get their arms on the software,” says Butler. 

The Figma staff was taking part in the lengthy sport right here. “Should you’re a designer utilizing a specific design software, you’re going to be in that software eight hours a day, daily. You’ve an extremely excessive bar to change to utilizing a software full-time. We knew that Figma was not but prepared for whole team-level adoption,” says Butler. 

So slightly than setting a purpose to shut offers, these casual chats had 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. After we demoed we had been searching for how excited the individual was to be taught extra about Figma. At that time, a design software had by no means been constructed on the web — it was at all times an offline desktop app. We had been actually rethinking a few of the primitives of how a design software would possibly work,” says Butler. 

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

Butler admits that one of many greatest challenges of being in stealth for therefore lengthy is protecting the momentum and staff morale excessive. Figma management deployed a couple of ways within the early days to maintain vitality ranges up, even when it felt as if they had been constructing in a basement

Carry within the buyer’s voice. “Dylan and I had been sometimes the parents who had been speaking to potential customers, so it was actually essential to amplify that voice to the remainder of the Figma staff. We might all have lunch collectively daily and Dylan and I might make some extent to speak about what we had been listening to from our buyer discovery calls throughout these staff meals.” 

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

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

And whereas these methods helped ease a few of the bumps of constructing in the dead of night, there was a rising push to get the product out into the world — warts and all. 

A part of the rationale why we selected to exit of stealth was staff motivation. Should you’re simply tinkering and constructing all day daily with out a lot person suggestions, it’s arduous to remain motivated.

The Figma staff targeted on two barometers to evaluate their launch readiness. 

Producing buzz. “We actually didn’t need to launch and simply hear crickets from our viewers. In order we continued internet hosting demos, I used to be searching 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 sequence of conferences the place designers would actually push Dylan out of the best way throughout the demo so they might take a look at Figma out themselves. That was a sign to me that designers had been excited to strive it, even when we hadn’t completed each single function on our want record.” 

High quality, not amount. “Our board pushed us to give attention to getting one staff to make use of Figma full-time — which meant a variety 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 staff as much as San Francisco after spending the morning with Coda in Palo Alto. We had been buzzing off of the vitality from signing our first huge buyer deal. Then we received a name from the Coda people, and so they mentioned Figma wasn’t working. Our CTO instantly circled and drove all the best way again all the way down to the Coda workplace to attempt to repair it himself. It seems that the Coda staff 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 laptop simply to indicate his dedication to the shopper.” 

Depart excellent on the door. 

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

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

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

Somewhat than attempt to generate their very own buzz for launch day, the Figma staff 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 couple of tweets that magically go viral. 

“We received fairly analytical about it — Dylan even constructed out a customized script to assist us break down the completely 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 College of Design and reached out to the dean on the time, John Maeda, to see if he’d find out about Figma and speak about us that day. Our Head of Engineering beforehand labored at Medium and reached out to Ev Williams. We simply took each angle we may to succeed in design people 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 had been speaking about us,” says Butler. 

Once you’re getting into a crowded market, it’s an enormous benefit if you could find a approach to collect people collectively and rise above all of the noise.

With the good thing about 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 people signing up on the waitlist for the product. But when I may do it once more, I might have made it an open beta so we may get as many people into the software and enhance our velocity of buyer suggestions,” she says.

Claire Butler, Senior Director of Advertising and marketing, 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 people turned their consideration to their content material technique

“Authenticity is essential with any viewers, however I’ve discovered that particularly designers are inclined to hate conventional SaaS advertising. They don’t need fluff,” says Butler. “We had to consider how we’d converse 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 considered one of their very first weblog posts. “One in all Figma’s designers was extraordinarily enthusiastic about grids, and he authored a submit referred to as ‘Grid Techniques for Display Design.’ He wrote concerning 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 actually not going to have the ability to write a manifesto on grids and the way they need to work in a design software. However the Figma designers cared deeply about this, and it was my job to open up house for them to share their standpoint, and that in-depth content material actually resonated with our viewers,” says Butler.

This was a non-consensus strategy 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.

Lots of technical audiences don’t need how-to content material. Once you’re making an attempt to draw early adopters, form your content material technique for technical people and provides them an inside have a look at why you constructed the product the best way you probably did.

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

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

One in all his first missions was to get designers to check out the software with a bit pleasant competitors. “Each Friday, Brent would usher in a couple of of his designer influencer buddies to compete with one another stay in Figma in what we referred to as Pixel Pong. It was a extremely enjoyable, light-weight approach to showcase the software. We might Livestream the completely different showdowns so that folk may watch alongside, and folks voted for the winner on Twitter,” says Butler. 

Figma additionally continued to bang the launch drum — slightly than choosing a one-and-done announcement technique. “Typically the brand new options that we had been launching could be thought-about small updates in a conventional advertising sense. You would possibly suppose that nobody goes to care about this little function replace — however designers care. Once you’re in a software eight hours a day, if it takes one additional click on to do one thing, you’re multiplying that by tons of of duties,” says Butler. 

“In crafting and refining the software, we thought deeply about these small updates that may actually impression a designer’s high quality of life. After which we’d share these updates extensively. For different corporations, a few of these function launches wouldn’t be value mentioning. However we handled them like an enormous launch to proceed to construct that credibility with the design group and maintain nudging people to strive the product,” she says. 

Again when Figma was storming onto the scene, corporations like Atlassian and Slack had constructed great companies with bottoms-up progress. Figma took a web page from these similar playbooks — the product was utterly free within the early days, and so they didn’t add a paid tier till two years after launching out of stealth. “If people weren’t prepared to make use of Figma full-time of their day job, they might use Figma totally free for a facet undertaking. You might use the software 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 software into their organizations, with none gross sales help, it was time to develop 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 staff, 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 may have many extra people collaborating on a file,” says Butler.

However this preliminary technique wasn’t fairly working — and it goes again to the staff’s early instinct on what could be Figma’s secret sauce. “By limiting the variety of people who may 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 staff flipped the script. “We reversed it in order that within the free starter tier, you may solely have a few recordsdata, however you may have a vast variety of individuals collaborating in that file.” 

When you concentrate on gating your product, contemplate how one can funnel prospects towards your magic second and get them to expertise that as rapidly as potential. 

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 staff determined to introduce a gross sales staff. The catalyst for doing so was that the bottoms-up movement had labored — maybe a bit too nicely. “We had empowered so many people to convey Figma to their group. However finally, we received 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. Folks had 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 targeted on pitching groups and promoting into the entrance doorways of a company — we targeted 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 people like Parker, who works for Uber and says he’s a Sketch person 100%. However as we continued to launch new options, our designer advocates would maintain the dialog open with Parker,” says Butler. “Finally, Parker will get onboard and turns into a Figma advocate, bringing Figma to his staff at Uber. Parker finally leaves Uber, and he desires to convey Figma to his subsequent firm. He reaches out to our gross sales staff to assist him get his new firm on board.”

Your buyer is the one who is aware of find out how to overcome boundaries of their group. They know find out how to get people on board. Concentrate on getting the tip person excited and serving to them take away roadblocks, slightly than making an attempt to promote from the highest down.

The bedrock of self-service laid the groundwork for gross sales to be a delicate help — not a steamroller. “After we lastly put collectively a gross sales staff, they’d entry to so many natural leads and had been in a position to assist people navigate their very own inside 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 variety of time spinning up options like commenting and presentation mode on this section — instruments for designers working with all completely different stakeholders,” she says. 

Whereas founders have a tendency to consider group as a nice-to-have, particularly within the early days, the fact is that you just’re already most likely performing some form of community-building even from the primary buyer conversations. “Once you’re pitching your product to customers and gathering suggestions, that’s an train in group. You’re beginning to establish the varieties of people who could possibly be your early adopters. The subsequent step is simply connecting these people to at least one one other,” says Butler. 

Earlier than you get overwhelmed by the necessity to spin up an entire occasions technique or Slack group, harken again to Figma’s low-lift thought of bringing people collectively for a few slices of pizza within the workplace. “Constructing relationships with these evangelists will lay the groundwork for a vibrant group afterward, when you possibly can then layer in a extra sturdy technique. To start with, 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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