Jessica Box, Head of Growth at social tech platform Linktree, shared the secret to astronomical growth, including how Linktree achieved 9 million users in four years.
She also touched on why user-based product development should lie at the center of every business, and how to not only create but scale a product-led growth team that can drive new levels of customer acquisition and conversion.
So, first of all, could you tell us about your journey from a Social Media Manager all the way to the head of growth at Linktree?
Yeah, it's very interesting reflecting back to the start. I think when I started in social media, it was very much in the infancy when social was becoming a tool for businesses to be able to use it and it hadn't really been adopted in that way before.
And I began working at a PR agency that worked with some awesome brands like Canon and a whole range of others and very much saw kind of the momentum that was building there around the opportunity for companies to be able to engage on social media and really find kind of like the beating heart of where consumers were starting to live and breathe and communicate.
When I was there I liked PR, but I found kind of a big passion for digital through that journey. So following that, I spent many years in digital consulting, actually leading marketing and sales teams at a local company in Australia that worked with big brands like Lexus and Toyota and spent many years really understanding how those businesses operated and all the different tools in their product stack, which was very interesting.
And while I was there, I've always been quite entrepreneurial, I built out some side businesses as part of the agency, with the founder, and through doing that, really found my passion for startups and then being able to build products and working on how they scale and grow.
So I moved on from there and went to Finch which is an Australian FinTech startup that's VC funded and went through a really interesting journey there from product market fit through into how to commercialize and scale and then landed at Linktree. Growing rapidly, lots of fun things to work on. We're at 9 million customers now. So, my journey to where we are today, all the way from early social media and has kind of come full circle to Linktree.
And that's going to be our main discussion: how Linktree has gone from zero to 9 million, which are insane numbers. But just briefly, you said you ended up at Linktree and that's been fairly recent. You changed roles in April, how was the remote onboarding experience?
Oh, it's so interesting. I was really apprehensive to begin with because I've been so connected to physical offices and meeting people and being able to connect in person for so long. But funnily enough, it was almost better remotely, you really get the time to have one on one Zoom catch ups with people, but then reflect and think and take the notes and get to understand how the business operates at your own pace.
And Linktree very much made me feel welcomed by you know, sending cute little welcome packs. I had my full laptop and kit, sent to my house and ready to roll on day one. It was a really great experience. I think what's been interesting now is we've grown to nearly 50 people, and we were at 20 before lockdown. So most of the company haven't met each other. We don't know how tall everyone is, it'll be very interesting when we meet face to face.
Yeah it's crazy. You spend so much time speaking to these people but it is a bizarre thing when you've never actually seen them. So much more to look forward to then as well. Moving on to Linktree itself. The original value proposition clearly solved a pain point of only one single link being allowed in things like Instagram bios, but could you explain how that has grown into a 9 million user value proposition?
Yeah, it's so interesting. Alex and Anthony Zaccaria and Nick, the founders of Linktree, they created the tree out of necessity at the time. Bolster, the agency that they created was trying to solve this problem for music clients. And they just kind of looked at each other and said, why don't we just build it? And you know, little did they know that this platform was really product-led and I think the relentless focus on the product has been what's created this virality because you know, it's from the product out to the consumer that's built this momentum.
And we're now the trusted tech platform that connects your entire online ecosystem, not just one feed. And like you said over the past year, we've scaled up to 9 million users. But we now have over 25,000 sign-ups a day and half a billion visits to Linktrees per month, which is crazy. Crazy, crazy numbers.
So I think where we've kind of tried to keep on going, as we've mentioned that the very early days were about solving customer needs and customer problems, that's really what's built this momentum, is the simplicity of the product. Being able to translate across all different vertical types as well. We have over 250 different types of customers, everyone from big businesses through into smaller scale influences that haven't done digital marketing before, and really very much varying into the digital literacy scale. Because the platform is so simple, it can be used by anyone.
And you've mentioned a massive number of sign-ups per day. So how does the onboarding process work?
Yeah, this comes down to really picking your tool, and your tooling stack and your martech stack really well. We were a really small team, and it's still a small team, though scaling. We can't be there for all our users in every way that we want to be. So we have very strategic and considered onboarding flows we build out to show our users the key things they need to do to succeed in their first five days, that's adding their Linktree to the different profiles and showing them the different ways we can utilize it.
So many of them come in from Instagram, or TikTok now and many other channels, but we're seeing applications of use cases across business cards through into QR codes.
It can be used in physical spaces as well. So we educate them in that early stage, through all our different martech tools, which is super important, being a SaaS company, and leaning on where our users want to be able to consume that content and personalizing it to their experience.
Great, and there must have been some learnings throughout such rapid growth. And were any of them learned the hard way?
Yeah, I think that a fun one is just you don't anticipate how many emails you need to send to that many volumes of people. That would be my biggest one, where you have 9 million users.
And if you want to send three or four emails a month, that is a lot of emails that need to go out the door. And, yes, we learned definitely the hard way, how to make sure we have an email platform that scales that it's now fully, definitely in place.
But when we try and send out product releases and things like that, we need to make sure that we're considering going to the 9 million at large and yeah, many platforms don't support that volume of sending, unfortunately.
And time zones as well, like you want to be able to make sure that they go out at the right times to attract users all around the world as well.
Yep! As we are having this conversation, now you are sat in sunny Australia, and I'm in miserable London. So we all know about the time zones and difficulties attached to them. But you mentioned there about staying connected to customers, and how do you go about that research, it'd be great to hear about how often you chat to customers, and what the feedback loop entails.
Yeah, so I have someone in my team that looks after product growth, which is very much from a user-led perspective. He's our fountain of knowledge. He speaks to users day in and day out. He does demos and is very much responsible for bringing on our high profile users, the Selena Gomez types of the world, and speaks to all of their different agencies and management groups.
So when you speak to those people, you learn so much about what they're looking for across many different user sets. And he feeds that through back into the business and shares all of the insights he learns across that journey. That's from an external team out in.
We also make sure we gather really unbiased data from our customers on what would make them pay for pro, what features they're looking for, where they were referred from, what drew them to Linktree so we can have a real understanding ongoing of how those trends change over time.
So we have our benchmarks, and you know, if we see a shift in them, and we pay attention to particular features we may need to either beef up or are doing really well and share that with the rest of our users.
So you've mentioned there about your fountain of knowledge, is he part of a customer success team? Or is he in product and you have a separate customer success team?
So he's in growth, he's actually very much a product evangelist type person that does lots of different things.
But he's the voice of many of our big high profile users and feeds that through into product and customer support.
So he works across them. Being able to identify when there's bugs and feeds that through and making sure they're resolved as well.
As you've mentioned, you've got some high profile users, there's the Selena Gomez name drop! Do you have different positioning or messaging for your users with high levels of social media experience?
Yeah, so they definitely get the white-glove service, I would say. We have Jeremy from my team who reaches out to them and manages their onboarding and shows them all the different tools, we often support them in kind of how they design their Linktree and make sure it's accessible for everyone.
But we're very passionate about being for everyone. So the way the product is designed is really that so many of our users can create them themselves.
We actually had a really high profile NBA player create his account, I think we had Jessica Alba do the same, which is super interesting. So often it's that he's not reaching out to them, he's been finding they've signed up and then helps support in that onboarding. So because the platform is so simple, it can be used by anyone.
And with such a variety of unique individuals creating their very own use cases, does that spark new feature requests and integrations, and if so who's involved in that roadmapping process to deal with feature requests?
Yeah, so feature requests, we're very much led in terms of what our users are looking for. And we take every feature request really seriously.
But we use a really awesome tool called Productboard, which helps us to understand what users are requesting, and I guess the pain points and if they're consistent across the board.
So across the whole team, if anyone hears feedback, we have a Slack channel. And we have a Slack emoji that gets added to any of the ideas and then it feeds through into Productboard. So pretty much decentralizing all of our feature ideas and customer insights, which has been really great.
And those emojis do they signify a prioritization as well as something else or is your prioritization process different as well?
Productboard does that for you. So based on the volume of data, we kind of manually go through them by feature types, like say, there's a particular link request, like calendar link or equivalent, we then start grouping them.
And if they're requested enough times, it automatically bumps up the prioritization ranking for you. So I know quite a few things that are now sitting at 100 requests that’s very high in the roadmap.
So we look at that in line with obviously what's happening in the market, where we can adapt to different trends across social media.
And when those features or integrations they're on the roadmap, what does the go-to-market plan look like for you? Could you give us an example of a launch?
Yeah, we can talk about how we just launched PayPal as a payment method in Linktree, which is going to be a huge one for our credit card acceptance rates in different markets that have low penetration.
And so with that, essentially what happens is our product team feeds through into our go-to-market team, which is comprised of pretty much an entirely cross-functional group of people across the business, customer support, growth, brand, engineering, and we do a kickoff where we all align on the objectives, we get a full demo of the feature, see how it works, be able to pressure test to then have access to testing afterward so we can run through it ourselves.
Then align on the strategy of what we want to achieve. So in this case, we wanted it to be clear that PayPal was an option for our free users to be able to upgrade to Pro, where it hadn't been before.
And many people that don't like using credit cards haven't upgraded because of that reason, particularly in emerging markets like Brazil, which is our second-biggest market.
So we then designed all of the content from there, across our team, built out everything from emails to in-app messaging, across into the customer support articles and paid media as well. And then launched it out.
We've been analyzing the data to see how it's performing and iterating for a follow up to test and learn from there as well. And so we very much run in that cycle, where we'll take the insights from the previous release and feed it through into the next one. So we're learning all the time.
You've mentioned a few times about the product-led mindset of the organization, was that a founding North Star of 'we are going to be product-led' or is it something that naturally happened because the value proposition was so strong and the product proved so strong?
Yeah, it's very much from the founders. They very much designed the product with a production-led mindset. So it has been designed in that way to drive the acquisition through into retention, just by nature of the product.
And we use a flywheel model versus a funnel model, which means basically our users are referring more users. And it's this circle of referral that creates the speed of our flywheel. And the more users that are referred, the faster it goes.
Instagram was the kind of key channel for us. But we've now identified that the more placements that are out there, for Linktrees on different channels, the faster that flywheel works, and the more users that we bring on board, which has been really awesome to watch.
I think around 50% of our users are referred from existing Linktrees. So the importance of making sure we're product-led and 50% of our signups see the product as part of the reason why they sign up. There's huge strength in that.
Sure, and is that what led to you adopting the flywheel model is realizing you had the perfect platform to harness the virality aspect of a product-led approach?
Yeah, and we're now looking for kind of the next flywheel because businesses often have more than one and that cycle of 'see a Linktree, sign up to Linktree' continues on.
But looking at now, what are some other channels where we enable other businesses to create Linktrees from in their platforms, via an API, etc. That's something we're now exploring as kind of the next stage of being product-led, enabling other businesses to do what we're doing.
You've worked at Linktree now for almost a whole year, what's your experience of working in a product-first organization, with a product-led approach versus not a product-first organization? And how do they differ?
I find it a lot easier to make decisions in a product-led company, because it's very clear, you have a lot of data at your disposal to make the decisions on how to build products and what to build next.
Versus a service-based business where I have been where there's not a lot of data around. How do you design a sales process for every different type of company that exists? And how do you make it methodical and very clear that there's going to be a win there? Versus a product-led business where it's you've got all the data from existing customers to make the decisions you need to make.
You've mentioned that the company has to be aligned to, whether you want to call it a Northstar metric or, something like that, and how do your activities ladder up to those data-driven goals?
I'm a big fan of the Northstar metric. I think we've taken the approach of OKRs which is objectives and key results and they're Google's method of being able to measure success. We have company OKRs we align on as a functional group and they ladder across all of the different teams. So we're very much aligned on where we're heading.
And I think the key thing around OKRs is what they do is very much keep me focused. And enables really clear decision making, rather than necessarily going this is the exact metric that we need to hit.
That's the way we found to be really successful and align to both our product goals and our business goals at the same time.