How an Obsession with Product Experience Made Make a Great Integration Platform
An Make scenario
Growth-hacking was all the rage until it was displaced by product-led growth or PLG in recent times. At its core, PLG relies on eliminating the friction from experiencing a product and providing a superior customer experience, with a goal to reduce the time to value. The foundation of product-led growth is a product well made.
After all, most companies begin with the idea of making a product great; very few have the foresight to build a great product that experiences explosive growth.
While it sounds nuanced, the difference is huge: The Google Pixel is a great phone (a product well made) but the iPhone was a truly great product that experienced explosive growth.
That said, there are instances when a great product is born from one’s own itch. Chester Carlson was a patent attorney in New York and had to make a large number of copies of important documents as part of his job. He was arthritic and found the process tedious which led him to invent a process called electrophotography, a dry photocopying technique that begot Xerox. Little did Carlson know that his little experiment would be the genesis of a truly great product.
Make too has a similar story which resulted in a truly great workflow automation tool.
10x better than current and future competition
From the start, the goal was to build a product that would always be 10x better than anything that existed or was yet to be built. This meant that we could not follow the path taken by most software products — one that starts with building a prototype, gathering feedback, and then building a beta, recruiting users, gathering more feedback, iterating, and so on. Which begs the question, how did you know what to build?
Here’s how: Prior to starting the development of Make circa 2012, Make’s cofounders had been orchestrating complex integrations for large enterprises. Like any Systems Integrator at the time, the team dealt with complex systems and legacy tools. They were already very good at what they did but also pondered that there had to be a better and more efficient way to execute.
This gave birth to the idea of a cloud-based tool with all the possible ingredients to take the pain away from making complex tools work with each other. As you know, history repeats itself and once again was an idea born to scratch one’s own itch.
Make’s cofounders (let’s refer to them as the I-team) believed that this tool will set them on a path to becoming the number one Systems Integrator in the Czech Republic; thus, Make was born in the beautiful city of Prague.
Soon after they began developing this internal tool, the I-team came across a SaaS tool that was built on the same principle of removing friction from integrating various apps. While this tool was in its early stages of development and was running a closed beta, SaaS Megastars like Dropbox, Stripe, and several others were changing the rules of the B2B software industry, forever altering the way software is bought and sold. This was the Aha moment. But it was also the Uh-oh moment.
You see, being in the proximity of the Valley has a huge upside, everybody knows that. But being far away and not being native English speakers poses a slew of challenges for startup founders. Amongst those challenges, the biggest one is to make oneself heard.
Things are of course a lot better today than they were 6 or 7 years back but we are still far from a level playing field. The I-team knew that in the long-term, anything is possible. The stars couldn’t have been more aligned for the I-team as they didn’t have to look outside for the two most valuable resources a startup needs: talent and funding.
This is when they knew that all they had to do was build a product so good that even those who try to build something better just keep playing catch up. And this is how the 4-year long journey of building the most advanced workflow automation tool began.
Product experience first, business later
Every startup’s endeavor is to provide a superior product experience in the quest to disrupt an industry or displace incumbents. However, after hitting product-market fit, everything changes.
Steady growth is replaced with a game of numbers and more often than not, the ones pulling the strings are not the ones who built the product in the first place. Once the focus shifts from “Hey, we need to build a 10x better product” to “Hey, we need to find a way to 10x our revenue”, product experience is the first to take the hit.
Think pricing structure that you can’t wrap your head around, feature restrictions that take away the pleasure of exploration, and limits that are so hard that they actually hurt. The customers who go through the transition almost feel mugged.
The I-team has been very clear that they won’t let this happen for a very long time. And even when it’s time to merge product experience with business, it will be done mindfully and the ones calling the shots will only be those who have been around since day 1.
After 3+ years of steady growth and 5000+ paying customers, Make still has a free plan with the only feature restriction being inviting users to your account, which in all fairness, is not exactly a feature whose absence holds you back from fully exploring the capabilities of the product.
By enabling prospects to experience a 10x better product without feature restrictions, Make has been able to and continues to win over almost every user who comes looking for a better alternative.
Product capabilities before ease of use
“It’s not easy to use.” “The learning curve is rather steep.” “It’s very complicated.” Nobody likes hearing these about their product. “It is the bomb.” “I’m in love once again.” “The other tool is a toy compared to yours.”
Everybody dreams of hearing these about their product. But if there’s a choice between hearing all of the above vs hearing things like “It looks interesting”, or “It’s easy to use but I don’t see why I should switch”, most would pick the former. No matter how delightful the user experience is, a powerful product that enables one to build complex integrations or connect to any API without writing code is bound to come across as complicated to some.
This is particularly true for those who are new to APIs or no-code tools and are still learning the ropes. The I-team knew from the start that it is going to be close to impossible to do all of the following at the same time:
Build a superior product
Offer extreme flexibility
Make it super easy to use
So they chose to prioritize the above in that order. While this is contradictory to a PLG strategy, it resulted in a best-in-class product offering flexibility that one could only imagine, but with a slightly steep learning curve. Well, it’s no surprise that good things don’t come easy.
Take it as it comes
The I-team was never in a rush and has managed to build a diverse team that has mastered the art of going real slow, and taking it as it comes. The idea of hypergrowth is aspirational amongst the startup circuits around the world with books about scaling companies rapidly. Make, despite being at the bulwark separating steady growth and hypergrowth, and despite having the ropes thrown at multiple times to breach the walls, chose to look the other way.
In all fairness, Make is not the only company that has taken this path. Many wildly successful companies like Mailchimp and Basecamp have chosen calm over chaos and continue to be amongst the top players in their respective industries.
The following advantages of going slow to outweigh the threats posed by not going fast enough and getting crushed by the competition:
Better decisions; no knee-jerk reactions
A happy and healthy team
Enforced analytical thinking and frugality
Innovation is an ongoing activity
Companies that cease to innovate, cease to exist. But for startups to continue innovating is hard, especially when there’s a mandate to grow at any cost.
Have you ever wondered why the world’s greatest innovations and inventions take place in quiet labs away from the cities with jostling crowds? Ever wondered why labs are nothing like swanky startup offices? The answer is simple right? Innovation needs calm.
At Make, innovation is instilled throughout our organization. From the I-team to the Dev, DevOps, Growth, Ops, and Support, all teams are empowered to innovate. New ideas are always heard and driving change is encouraged.
One of the key drivers of innovation is a culture of contribution and ownership. Irrespective of one’s role, everyone in the company contributes to its growth in an individual capacity. This also ensures that everyone takes ownership and receives due credit and incentives for their contribution.
Make’s growth has always been product-led, with a lot of help from our customer champions. An important factor has been that until recently, we used to offer the same level of support to users on both free and paid plans.
Now that the growth has accelerated and the number of free users has soared, we offer preferential support to paying users. Even without a sales team, Make caters to some of the world’s largest and most innovative companies like Facebook, Uber, and Airbnb. Even the US Army Corps of Engineers use Make to provide real-time disaster response, thereby proving the reliability of our service.
This is the story of how Make became the most powerful workflow automation tool.