Product-led scaling isn’t about growth hacking, and it can be challenging no matter where you’re starting. How do you navigate the product-led maze and set your company up for success?

Rachel Wolan, Dropbox GM, shares wisdom from her years of experience in product-led scaling at Talkdesk, LiveRamp, and Dropbox to help you better scale your company. 

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What is Product-Led Scaling?

Before diving into the practical, hard-earned lessons, Rachel shared a story she uses to describe product-led scaling. During the pandemic, she spent time standup paddleboarding in the Suisun Slough. It consists of brackish water and is a unique ecological phenomenon where saltwater and freshwater meet. Virtually nothing survives in the water, but she noticed some small turtles swimming around as she was standup paddleboarding.

Climate scientists believe that the turtles hold the key to potentially understanding global warming since they’ve managed to thrive in an environment nothing else can survive in. That’s a bit like product-led scaling: evolving and finding ways to succeed, no matter the circumstances.

7 Lessons Learned

Here are the seven lessons Rachel learned through her experiences in product-led scaling across multiple companies.

1. Improve your customers’ customers’ CSAT

While working at Talkdesk, Rachel learned an invaluable lesson on who to build for. When The Weather Channel experienced a Talkdesk outage for two minutes and pilots could not ask questions while in flight, Rachel quickly realized who the real customer was. 

You aren’t building for your customer; you should be building for their customer. 

In their early days, Talkdesk made it easy for agents to self-serve onboard and advertised it as “Create a Call Center in 5 Minutes” to make it accessible. They also started doing SMS CSAT to collect data and laid the groundwork for being a data asset for customers. 

2. Land with product-led partnerships 

After Talkdesk survived going from $1M to $10M, they wanted to put their foot on the gas in an exponential way. After looking at various options and reviewing the integrations driving revenue, they realized Salesforce was their solution.

Every time Talkdesk customers hit a level in their growth trajectory, they would graduate from the ticketing system they were using and migrate onto Salesforce. So, the team spent time getting to know the Salesforce team and treated them like a customer. They learned about the customer journey across companies and built the first onboarding flow directly through Salesforce so that the engineers could create a call center in five minutes. Down the road, Talkdesk expanded into outbound sales. 

3. Retain with product-led platform apps

Over time, the Talkdesk team began winning more customers and losing some customers only to realize they couldn’t build fast enough. They wanted to be an AI-powered call center, so they made a product-led platform themselves.

Talkdesk required that every single partner that wanted to be in the Talkdesk ecosystem set up a trial themselves. Additionally, they launched a wall-to-wall workflow and ultimately acquired an analytics platform.

Product-led motions can get layered into sales-led motions, so retain with product-led platforms to your advantage.

4. Acquire your product-led motion

LiveRamp was a sales-led business that found itself in a pickle when Google announced that they were getting rid of cookies. As a business that depended on cookie-tracking, LiveRamp started looking outside their business and noticed a small partner in the TV business, Data Plus Math, succeeding.

Data Plus Math built their own data asset and could get customers up and running in a matter of days, so LiveRamp quickly acquired them and found themselves with a product-led motion driving sales.

When your back is against the wall, look at your business and consider acquisitions that may lead to product-led motion.

5. Expand product-led by targeting new persona

While at LiveRamp, a small customer in Minnesota asked Rachel and her team to meet with their data scientists. The data science team wanted direct access to LiveRamp data. They realized there was a huge opportunity in the analytics space being unmet, so they built a product-led motion for the data scientists.

The team at LiveRamp created a closed-loop environment to provide data to the data scientists so they could use datasets in their work within tools they were already familiar with. Data scientists created analytics and published them to other departments within their organization.

Use product-led techniques to expand within the organizations you are already a part of.

6. Evolve towards value from virality 

When Rachel joined Dropbox, she wanted to wrap her head around why customers use Dropbox and pay for other storage options within another software like Google Drive. They found that customers were paying for the service for the convenient file-sharing capabilities.

The original value proposition had shifted from storage to sharing over the years. So the Dropbox team decided to go back to the basics and focus on improving funnel health, pulling out some of the growth hacks, and focusing on the essential first user experience.

Put on your “beginner brain” and understand why customers are using your product so you can lean into that.

7. Focus on your most engaged segment at scale

Dropbox knows that solo creatives and design teams make up a large part of their most engaged users. They’ve simplified workstreams and strive to move from file to cloud organization.

You might build for nobody if you’re building for everybody, so make sure you understand who your best users are at scale. 

Key Takeaways

Product-led scaling can be summarized as follows:

  1. Make sure you understand how your product-led motion is evolving
  2. Don’t box product-led into anywhere
  3. Figure out how to marry your sales motion with your product-led motion to survive, thrive, and evolve — just like the turtles in the Suisun Slough.


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