Intalayer Update - The 'Aha' Moment
Intalayer helps product teams in growing software companies to make fast, customer focused decisions. Their software instantly finds actionable insight to inform product decisions by analysing customer surveys, support tickets, product reviews, sales and customer success conversations. Intalayer cuts manual analysis which used to take product teams days, down to seconds.
Incorporating customer feedback and preferences into product development, result in a product which sells itself. This has been a key feature of some of the leading SaaS companies of the last 20 years, like Atlassian and Zoom. These companies are Product Led Growth companies, a new wave of SaaS businesses that empower the end-user (rather than just senior executives) with the purchase decision.
Intalayer was founded in early 2020 by Dain Welsman, Dr Ian Glass and Michael Wendland out of the Antler Sydney Program. They recently made a pivot and are relaunching a product that is easier to adopt and where clients can see the value of Intalayer within minutes.
The Product Led Growth model allows SaaS companies to grow faster and at lower cost. They consequently have a significantly higher valuation. However, incorporating customer feedback into product development is currently a manual and expensive process, preventing many companies from adopting this model. By automating this step, Intalayer makes the attractive Product Led Growth model more affordable and accessible. While pivots are always difficult, I am encouraged by the founders’ resilience and belief in their mission. I am excited for the next stage of their journey.
8 Months On…
I initially profiled Intalayer 8 months ago. Intalayer helps product teams in growing software companies to make fast, customer-centric decisions. Their software instantly derives actionable insight from customer feedback to make informed product decisions. This makes the attractive Product Led Growth model more affordable and accessible.
8 months on, the team have learnt from their customer interactions and are relaunching their product. I am grateful to them for sharing their journey with me.
This update will cover the Product Led Growth model, Intalayer’s unique approach, and recent relaunch.
The 3rd SaaS Wave- Product Led Growth
Have you ever experienced the pain of using clunky, dated software? Afraid to try something new due to the costs involved? What if you could try new software which could solve your problem quickly for free? The freemium model is a popular example of this, as characterised by the screen below:
Jira freemium pricing plans. Allows small teams to experience it for free before spreading it to other teams in the organisation.
Freemium models are a common feature of some of the leading companies in the past 10 years, like Atlassian and Zoom. These companies employ a new SaaS model called Product Led Growth.
The term Product Led Growth was coined by venture capital firm Open View Partners in 2016. They define it as a business model where the product itself is the primary driver of customer acquisition, conversion and expansion. Some well-known examples of these include Atlassian and Zoom.
Product Led Growth is the latest evolution of software go-to-market business models and reflects the rise in the importance of the end-user. Open View describes these 3 ‘eras’ as
The CIO Era (1980s-1990s): Software consisted of large, expensive on-premise systems. The complexity of these systems meant purchase decisions were made by Chief Information Officers (CIOs) whose focus was IT compatibility. Sales deals were done with expensive field sales representatives who engaged CIOs over dinner or golf.
The Exec Era- Marketing Led SaaS (2000s): Disruptive companies like Salesforce emerged, which drove software into the cloud. The lower level of complexity allowed the purchase decision to be made by non-technical executives who now evaluated the software by business metrics like Return on Investment. Deals now required a strong marketing component (website, sales development reps who move deals through the buying process etc.).
End-User Era- Product Led SaaS (2010s and beyond): End-users finally get to be the decision makers. Rather than wining and dining a few senior executives, software companies aim to reach and convert large numbers of individual users who had a great experience trialling the product.
Increased Competition: While innovations such as Amazon Web Services have driven down the cost of starting up a SaaS business, it has also increased competition for customers. In 2018, subscription intelligence company Profitwell found SaaS company customer acquisition costs have increased 55-65% over 5 years.
Preference for an E-Commerce Experience: In 2015, Forester found that 75% of B2B buyers preferred buying from a website rather than a sales rep. This is helped by a greater ability for buyers to self-educate themselves online.
The Netflix Experience: Smooth and intuitive experiences from products like Netflix has led to the consumerisation of software. End-users now expect their professional software to have a seamless consumer-like feel.
Engaging end-users at scale requires a scalable sales model, such as using the product itself to drive customer acquisition. As a result, most Product Led Growth SaaS companies often rely on freemium or free trial models. These models allow end-users to experience the product (and the value) before making a purchase decision.
The benefits of this model include shorter sales cycles (easier for the sales team when there is already a base of happy customers), lower customer acquisition costs and higher revenue per employee. In 2010, Open View Partners found that Product Led Growth companies had nearly double the revenue growth and 50% higher valuation than the median SaaS company.
However, being a Product Led company isn’t straightforward. It is an organisational culture requiring coordination across several functions, which I will explore below.
Becoming Product Led
Product Led companies require coordination across multiple functions. This contrasts with the organisational structure of typical Marketing Led SaaS companies, as shown below:
Building on the work of Elie Khoury (founder of Woopra), Wes Bush breaks the organisational structure in a Marketing Led company into Profit and Cost Centres. The issue with this structure is that product development can become captive to the needs of a few large clients as the organisation chases large ‘elephant’ deals. This can make the business inflexible and ignore the needs of many other customers.
This contrasts with the Product Led Model where the product team is involved in every function. As seen below, every function has a role to play in improving the product. The result is a consistent experience for customers across every part of her or his experience (e.g. onboarding, product features etc.).
The product is clearly the centrepiece of this model, driving lead generation, activation and conversion. In other words, key steps in the Product Led Growth sales funnel.
The Product Led Growth Funnel
Product Led Growth companies have a very different sales process. This is best illustrated by discussing the different sales funnels.
Product Qualified Leads is the main difference between the 2 models. Here, the product itself is qualifying the lead and moving the customer towards conversion. An example would be a team on Slack on a free plan which has sent 2000 messages or a user who has requested sales/support assistance on her or his own. At this point, the sales team knows they have an interested potential customer.
Key Product Led Growth success indicators or metrics include the usual organic sales leads (as opposed to paid leads), user signups, net revenue retention etc. However, some of the metrics specific to the model include activation rates and the level of automation in customer conversion.
Customer Activation refers to customers who have trialled the software long enough to experience the value it brings i.e. the ‘aha’ moment. It isn’t always straightforward to identify what this ‘aha’ moment is in the user’s journey. Open View Senior Director Sam Crowell describes this as a business action (e.g. send 2000 messages on Slack) done by over 50% of users, leading to conversion 50% of the time.
The Entire Product Led Growth organisation is then focused on allowing the user to reach this point as quickly (i.e. reduce Time to Value) and with as little company intervention as possible. Operationally, coordinating customer feedback and product development to achieve this can be time consuming and expensive.
As Notion Head of Customer Experience, Kate Taylor explains, customer feedback typically comes in the form of conversation transcripts, emails and other forms of qualitative, unstructured data. In companies like Notion, a knowledge management application, this involves teams manually tagging this data/feedback into 700 categories. Other teams like product and engineering can then use the tagged data to inform prioritisation of feature development.
Wouldn’t it be great to automate this highly manual and time consuming process? It would make the benefits of Product Led Growth more affordable and accessible. This is where Intalayer comes in.
Intalayer was founded in early 2020 by Dain Welsman, Dr Ian Glass and Michael Wendland. The 3 co-founders met at an Antler Accelerator Program in Sydney, Australia.
Intalayer’s mission and unique approach is to make every software company truly customer centric by bridging the gaps between product and customer facing teams. This enables fast, informed decisions based on customer feedback.
Intalayer's first product focused on the interaction between customer-facing teams and product and engineering teams. Their software:
integrated with existing tools used by these teams (e.g. Zendesk, Salesforce, Jira etc.).
automatically collated customer feedback
combined feedback with business data such as a customer's annual revenue and
assigned 'impact scores' to customer feedback.
This could save hours of analysis that Product Managers need to do to prioritise their roadmap and development efforts. An example is shown below:
Intalayer’s dashboard showing a collated list of customer feedback with ‘Impact Score’, ‘sentiment’ and Annual Recurring Revenue added to inform prioritisation.
Intalayer would therefore be the ideal tool for Product Led Growth companies given the importance of categorising and prioritising customer feedback as discussed earlier.
However, the complexity of this problem and solution led to customer acquisition and onboarding challenges for Intalayer. A number of tools needed to be integrated, security reviews completed and teams had to be aligned on trialling the solution.
This led to longer sales cycles, more customer effort, process change and extended ‘time to value’. As is often the case with startups, the Intalayer team decided it was time to pivot.
The Pivot- Intalayer 2.0
Pivots are rarely easy. Such a change in direction must be considered carefully and communicated to users, team members and investors. Yet many well-known startups like Instagram and Slack are the product of pivots.
When the Intalayer founders realised they weren’t getting the traction expected, they conducted dozens of research interviews, ran design sprints and quickly tested proposed solutions. They then decided to redesign the product to make it easier to adopt and deliver value in minutes.
Their new solution solves a more focused problem. The real pain that product managers have is finding actionable insight from the large volume of customer feedback to make informed product decisions. Many product managers waste hours or days every month manually reading feedback. They feel overwhelmed and know they're missing opportunities. This is an important part in coordinating product development to reduce Time to Value described earlier.
To solve this, Intalayer have developed a Google Sheets app that helps Product Managers find actionable insight in customer feedback, in seconds.
Unlike the first version, this new product is very simple to adopt. Users can get started and see value in under 5 minutes and Intalayer doesn't process any sensitive data.
The user downloads the Intalayer Google Sheets app and then exports their customer feedback data from any tool where they store it (e.g. Slack, Aha). They can then choose questions they want to answer to help their business. For example, 'how can we reduce customer churn?' or more specifically 'what do our customers find the most annoying about our product?'. This is shown below:
Intalayer’s new solution. You can watch the demo video here.
Without them needing to spend hours reading and searching for insights, Intalayer then automatically analyses their feedback using a combination of natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning (ML) models.
Intalayer's use of these models is unique. Each model performs a specific function such as 'sentiment analysis'. Intalayer is connecting models together in unique combinations to automate the human analysis process.
The end result is that the user experiences the critical ‘aha’ moment within minutes of using Intalayer and is more likely to advocate its use among her or his team or organisation. Therefore, Intalayer is also adopting features of the Product Led Growth model such as:
an easy to adopt product with users experiencing value within minutes which results in ...
more customers trying the product which...
gives Intalayer valuable data to continue training their NLP and ML models thereby improving the user experience. The team is even using Intalayer to analyse their own customer feedback!
Pivots are hard, but it is encouraging to see the team’s resilience, creativity and belief in their mission to make Product Led Growth more affordable and accessible. I am excited for the next stage of their journey.