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How Pipedrive went from 0 to 10,000 paying customers in SaaS (purde.net)
212 points by standrews on Dec 18, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 62 comments

I thought it was well written and inspirational. Sorry you're getting so much negativity on here. I wanted to tell you congratulations and good luck going forward. Good work with this blog post and growing your business.

Obviously, this isn't the secret sauce that can get anyone's idea up to 10k paying customers, and there may be other factors that contributed to your success, but this is your perspective on successful marketing strategies from the point of view of a marketing guy and it looks pretty good to me.


Lovely comment. Thank you :)

I think "How we did it" case studies are interesting and useful, but the moment you turn it into "Here's how you can do it too!", you're on snake-oil territory.

Edit: My beef is with the prescriptive tone of the post, as if getting 10,000 paying users is as simple as 1, 2, 3...

Very valid point and I agree. Tried to tame the inner professor on this one but guess I wasn't 100% successful.

>but the moment you turn it into "Here's how you can do it too!", you're on snake-oil territory.

You seem to be interpreting the post very literally. The author's tone is clearly different from snake oil salesman who have a flashing $299 course on SAAS scaling at the bottom of the page.

A helpful habit when reading an article is to ask yourself how the author would reply if you asked them a question. If you ask a snake oil salesman if they're certain, they'll say yes.

Whereas the impression I got from this article was that the author was constantly learning, testing assumptions. If you asked them "are you sure this worked? Would this work for anyone, in any circumstances?" I got the impression they would say "perhaps not" and discuss where they had uncertainties.

You can't include all uncertainties when writing. Such an article would be unreadable. Any writing requires reading between the lines.

What? He's saying worked for them. It's all good advice and he gives many caveats about how it may not work for everyone.

I think the key sentence in this post is where they mention launching the MVP with 20 companies. If these are all paying, large businesses that seems like the founders had deep relationships already established in business. For most startups, launching with 20 businesses out of the gates would be a huge win.

In fact, one could argue that the real value of accelerators isn't their mentors but the fact that they provide an immediate source of other businesses willing to try (and pay) for the product. So for a company in an accelerator, it seems much easier to get to 10,000 paying customers than for a company that is building a product in a garage (without an accelerator).

In my opinion, going from 0 to 20 paying businesses seems to be relatively harder than going from 20 paying businesses to 10,000 total customers. Meaning that if you get traction with 20 businesses that probably means you're touching 2000 people indirectly (assuming 100 people companies) already.

>Pipedrive could have grown to 10,000 paying customers without any marketing...The main thing that got Pipedrive to first 100, 1000 and 10000 customers was having a great product.

I'm sure that it's a great product. That's usually a prerequisite for success, but hardly guarantees it. For every extremely successful product, there are hundreds of equally great products that falter - primarily for lack of luck. This kind of statement shows an extreme lack of perspective.

Remove selection bias or straight up marketing spam from authors and the willingness of many users to believe anything someone who claims they're making money says and HN would be a lot emptier. One can dream..

Out of interest why do you think they have managed to reach 10,000 customers?

The short answer: luck. Yes, they have created a great product and yes they did some marketing - the same things that their competitors did. Once the prerequisite hard work has been expended, there are innumerable factors that are completely beyond anyone's control that determine which products succeed or fail.

If I could pick just one of the three - great product, luck and marketing - I'd say great product trumps luck. Because without a product all that luck can get you is a winning lottery ticket. And hustling and marketing increases the probability of "luck".

>I'd say great product trumps luck. Because without a product all that luck can get you is a winning lottery ticket.

Of course you would say that, because that's your experience. In your case, the entry fee to the lottery was creating a great product, doing marketing, and generally hustling - just like your competitors. Once you paid the entry fee though, the controlling factor was luck. You won, and your competitors lost. I am not trying to take anything away from your success, because you paid your entry fee through hard work, but as I said it shows a lack of perspective to just say "we are successful because we made a great product". Great products fail every day.

I've been on the failing side as well, both with Pipedrive marketing activities (at least 1 mentioned in the post too) and my own startup. With the latter I had "luck" in getting decent press and some influential users, but it failed because the product wasn't there. So I guess we both have a point.

So you mean Everpix must have hit really rotten luck?

I don't know the Everpix story well, so I'd rather not comment.

Having a per-user pricing model also helps :)

Sorry not trying to detract from the stat, but it's worth adding that bit of context. Per-user priced startups who create an awesome product are in a sweet spot when it comes to ramping up their paying customer metric. I admit I'm quite envious of SaaS startups like this, or like Slack that have nailed it on execution and can linearly scale their price according to the size of an organization.

Definitely something I tell new entrants to SaaS to bear in mind.

(I run a SaaS based on the more traditional "3 plan" model)

Good point. That said, in the first 3 years of Pipedrive it too had the good old "3 plan" model. There was no dramatic change in traction after flicking the switch.

Successful people always attribute luck because they usually underestimate their own special qualities or don't acknowledge it. This is the reverse Dunning-Kruger. While non-so-successful people will attribute other's success as luck because they think they also possess such qualities but didn't have the "luck". Creating a great product has less to do with luck than product/market fit. That is extremely difficult.

The probability of "luck" increases with marked investment in preparation. Preparation includes understanding the market and the problem, and building a product to solve the problems identified for that market. A great product does not beget product/market fit. Rather, a product that delivers a solution, communicated well to a market that needs that solution, may result in product/market fit (growth). Hence, understanding the needs of a market are critical. Therefore, research (preparation), a marketing discipline, is a crucial precursor for the elusive luck we all seek.

AFAIK the reverse Dunning-Kruger effect is the same as the regular one, since it also include skilled people who underestimate themself.

Great work and congrats! I'm a user and love the product, surprise, surprise :)

Great advice on getting focused and measuring the hell out of everything.

Glad to hear that you're a user, love the product and liked the post :)

A decent product is just entry to the game. It sounds like what made pipedrive successful is AppSumo.

AppSumo promotion definitely played a role, but if I had to pick just 1 thing behind getting to 10k customers, this wouldn't be AppSumo. Furthermore, this wouldn't be any one thing.

...but if you had to pick one thing, what would it be? Curiosity abounds.

Context; I've been a paying PipeDrive customer for a couple years. Not sure how I originally was exposed to the product, (not appsumo), but I've stayed because the of the product.

One thing in addition to the product? The hustle in the beginning to get the product in the hands of the right people. Appsumo was part of it, but not a very big part of it compared to hundreds of hours that founders spent in pitching and "doing things that don't scale".

>Pipedrive could have grown to 10,000 paying customers without any marketing

and the next paragraph

>The main thing that got Pipedrive to first 100, 1000 and 10000 customers was having a great product.

Building a great product IS marketing. It's the most important part of marketing. It's at the beginning of any marketing plan.

Marketing is the science of bringing a product to market, and later on, navigating the markets the company operates in. Advertising, sales, PR are only communication tools which fall in only 1P (promotion) out of the 5Ps.

The article continues to list marketing activities. In fact, it only lists marketing activities, while insisting they don't do any marketing.

Finding your LTCV is marketing (Price). Localizing is marketing (Place). Content, SEO, email are also marketing (Promotion). Finding platforms before others is also makreting.

All in all, I would advise the author of this article to read the wikipedia page (lol) about marketing before making attempts to speak on the subject.

>Marketing is the science of bringing a product to market, and later on, navigating the markets the company operates in.

No. See Wikipedia: Marketing is the methodology of communicating the value of a product or service to customers, for the purpose of selling that product or service.

Marketing is about communicating the value of the product. Regardless of the actual quality of the product. Building a great product is not marketing.

Not according to the American Marketing Association. Their definition - which is used as the textbook definition of marketing - goes like this:

"Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large."

Marketing is _not_ simply about communicating the value of products. Advertising something that doesn't help a customer create or experience value is not marketing.

I think you'd find this article and the comments interesting:


Oh my god! It's the same article and the same comments, just different words are used. Being Seth Goddin surely helps in getting the point across though...

Marketing and lying about a crappy product does the company no good. People will either pick up on it right away, or leave soon after using/buying it.

Good marketing teams will evaluate your product VS the competition and use the good parts for communicating the message. Amazing teams will also take the bad parts and bring them up to the product teams so they can confirm weak parts and put them in the queue to get looked at.

Marketing a bad product will only last so long.

Well, I spoke too quickly about the wikipedia article then. It must have changed, or I've read another page. The page which says that is wrong. Communicating product value is only part of the marketing mix.

Building a great product is most definitely part of marketing. For example there are methods and techniques which faciiliate it and are subject of marketing journals and marketing academia. One of these methods is the "segmentation-targeting-positioning" framework.

I can get you many more citations if you wish, or you can spare me the time, and search for them yourself. Perhaps you will learn something of value in the process.

'Segmentation-targeting-positioning' doesn't support your assertion and you're conflating marketing and product development.

This thinking can occur because often entrants to a competitive marketplace will assess their competition, identify a weakness and deploy a product to meet the need. The development of the product in this scenario is not 'marketing' as you assert.

Product development is dictated by marketing strategy.

How would you build your product if you don't know what the market conditions are? How do you find out what the market conditions are? By segmenting the market by behaviour/need/price sensitivity, then targeting a segment which is underserved (or you can serve better), and finally positioning your product to cater to that particular segment with specific product design, messages and distribution channels.

Marketing doesn't develop the product. It just designs it (writes the specs).

Marketing doesn't write the specs for the product. Product management does. It's okay, man. Marketing is a thing. It's just not all things.


>Product management does.

Maybe in start-ups or 1-product companies. Even then, this is not a good practice. Your customers will make a choice between you and competitors/substitutes. The product team does not know or understand this process. They don't do choice modeling, they write code.

The original post doesn't claim they didn't do marketing. In fact, the first sentence in the post is "Short answer: great product, some marketing and a bit of luck.".

The whole quote about "without any marketing is" is:

Pipedrive could have grown to 10,000 paying customers without any marketing: by describing it as "it's a piece of sales software" on an uncrawlable site without any design, without onboarding emails, without press mentions, without a single ad and blog post.

I took that as the author using hyperbole to critique how "enterprise" sales systems work by literally just existing.

Hey, thank you for chiming in. I'm not sure how you got the impression that I insisted we "don't do any marketing." - sorry if I wasn't clear. What I aimed to say was that product was the main reason for getting to 10k, and marketing tactics and strategies I described each contributed further.

I wanted to make a more general point to all the people who misunderstand marketing. Actually, the overwhelming majority of people associate marketing with advertising or design on flyers. The point I wanted to make is geared towards people in startups who misunderstand marketing and thus completely avoid the topic, which more often than not, reflects on their success.

It also leads to inventing terms like "content marketing", "inbound marketing", "growth hacking". Oh, the irony with the last one. A marketing term, to trick people who hate marketing, to do marketing...

I'm sure it pans out great for people like Rand Fishkin, Dharmesh Shah and Sean Ellis. The problem is, the people who fall for these neologisms get disconnected from the much, much larger marketing community. They get inside of an echo chamber. Instead of reading thorough articles, by authors which credentials are checked, claims are investigated and arguments - reviewed by peers, they get moz.com and quicksprout and kissmetrics, unbounce and optimizely. Well, I guess people get what they ask for - something easy, which does its "magic".

My last line in the previous post was a cheap shot and uncalled for. I'm sorry about that.

Marketer here.

What exactly is wrong with data and insights from a variety of sources that might include Moz, Optimizely, etc? These are marketing technology companies and have a unique bird's-eye perspective of raw data across numerous companies. Further, people like Rand Fishkin know their shit. You might disagree with it, but I guarantee if you had a conversation with him and voiced your arguments, he'd be able to cite plenty of data to back up his claims and have an honest debate about it.

Marketers who take what they read as gospel concern me, and I fully agree with that. People need to do their due diligence and figure out how things apply to their business. They should also read broader respected industry news sources (ie. searchengineland, searchenginejournal, etc.), and be active in communities of people tackling similar challenges with similar experience to trade notes.

I agree with the other comments though on the fact that building a great product isn't necessarily marketing. Informing great product design through solid market research could come from marketing, but that is very different than physically building a product. The "build it and they will come" fallacy is a dangerous one. Communicating that you have a product is the act of marketing. Even placing it on a website with content is marketing because you may get organic search traffic, or referral traffic if people link to you, etc.

I don't doubt Rand Fishkin as a marketer. I just don't like misleading people via inventing new terms for already known concepts, like "content marketing" for PR. It disconnects his followers from a lot of knowledge and they keep on reinventing the wheel.

Or optimizely's A/B testing, which depending on your definition is anywhere between wildly imprecise and outright fraud. And this is by design, because they know their customers just won't put the effort into learning experimental design, sampling, normalizing, distributions, hypothesis testing and validating. It's just much better to charge clueless people a monthly fee for what is essentially a redirect script with a WYSIWYG editor, while telling them what they are doing is scientifically sound. And off to the echo chamber they go. Changing a button's color improves CTR by 90%. You can read that on pretty much any blog. Moz, ConversionXL, unbounce, kissmetrics, SEJ, any blog/publication which passes for "industry authority". Sorry, I just don't have the time to sift through all of this self-serving bullshit.

Fully agree there is a lot of fluff out there, and some of that is people trying to generate ongoing news or indexable content where there isn't really anything worth putting out.

That said, I'm not sure I agree with your take on the new terms. Sure they are buzzwords to some degree, but I see content marketing as distinct from PR in that it largely focuses on content creation, has considerations for SEO, etc. One could argue that PR has those components as well, but I see the distinction as PR focusing more on outreach to key individuals in the media, handling issues management, etc. Again, some overlap for sure, but I don't see content marketing efforts doing everything PR does or vice versa.

Again, people need to read a variety of sources, and part of the problem is there is no great way to tell whether a source is credible. But I think it is better that people start going down the rabbit hole than wander around completely oblivious.

Since you seem have a high threshold for what you consider value sources of industry info, do you have any recommendations for how others might discover those on their own? I'd be curious what you consider reputable sources.

ISSN: 1573-059X; 0022-2437; 0022-2429; 0732-2399; 2164-3970; 1520-6793.

https://www.informs.org/ (a couple of the journals are published by them); their Analytics magazine is also good, as well as their site.


Any book published by Springer, Emeral Insight and Taylor & Francis Group.

for websites - the emarketer.com, meclabs family, econsultancy, conversion-rate-experts.com, distilled, butleranalytics.com, dmnews.com, kaushik.net, analyticsvidhya.com, ppchero.com, internetretailer.com, targetmarketingmag.com, SELand.

I don't like SELand much, but haven't found anything better when it comes to news about search. Do you have any suggestions?

Thanks for sharing your list. I have to say I find it a bit interesting that you knock on Optimizely, Rand Fishkin and co but then reference ppchero, conversion-rate-experts, etc. They all have a range of quality, but I've seen high-quality pieces from both the sources you discounted and the sources you like.

I LOVE the Meclabs properties. MarketingExperiments.com is absolutely fantastic in particular. Definitely a fan of the others you listed as well. Avinash Kaushik is my analytics hero and I often find myself linking to his pieces when trying to educate about attribution or how to look at data.

SearchEngineLand is pretty decent for getting raw industry news, but some of their pieces are definitely skewed based on the biases of the authors. Believe it or not, there is actually some decent discussion that happens on Reddit in /r/ppc and /r/adops as well as every now and then in Quora.

My biggest problem right now is finding time to digest all the info. I used to be able to carve out a decent chunk when that was a large part of my role in the agency world, but now that I'm client-side my days are filled with many other items, so I have to fit it in where I can.

I'm sensing a marketing academic. I agree with some points and the echo chamber is very real

However, while I wish there were more people reading peer reviewed journals and debating the full spectrum of marketing, the literature is unfortunately 5 years behind what's actually going on in businesses and online (we are talking about SaaS here).

Research and empirical work takes time but consumers move quickly, especially online, so by the time reports and data are published it's out of date. The only half decent way to keep up with developments is to buy into some of these "neologisms" or you will be left behind.

> the literature is unfortunately 5 years behind what's actually going on in businesses and online

Did you come down to this conclusion by yourself, or did you read/heard it somewhere? Also, I'm not an academic.

this is actually great advice. what would you recommend reading?

ISSN: 1573-059X; 0022-2437; 0022-2429; 0732-2399; 2164-3970; 1520-6793.

https://www.informs.org/ (a couple of the journals are published by them); their Analytics magazine is also good, as well as their site.


Any book published by Springer, Emeral Insight and Taylor & Francis Group.

>Marketing is the science of bringing a product to market... Marketing is not a science

How come?

Two things.

First, marketing is not a scientific discipline. Full stop. Calling it a science does real science a disservice, and reeks as we say down south of putting on airs.

Second, you're trying to make marketing encompass every piece of a business, from product idea to design to construction and beyond. It isn't everything. It isn't about designing or creating a product (other than marketing materials or services), even if marketing may help shed insight into the targets' needs. At some point you're going to realize that by attempting to fit everything into the marketing bucket that the term marketing ceases to have meaning.

Voice of reason, thank god. Are we working at P&G here? This is startupland, nothing is scientific in the academic sense, least of all marketing or customer behavior. "Peer reviewed?" Please....

> Are we working at P&G here?

No, teradata.

This article itself reads like a piece of marketing to me.

The aim was to share what has worked for Pipedrive. Of course, I hoped to show myself and Pipedrive in good light in the process - sorry if the balance wasn't right for you there.

Also, "... used by 20 or so companies" is marketing. Sometimes getting to 1 company can be challenging.

Wow, I applaud you for defending marketing on HN. Bravo, brave soul. I wholeheartedly agree as well.

Hate is love;

War is peace;

and everything is marketing.


Sorry that you had a crappy reading experience Brian! This is my personal blog where I don't write that often. As it's a labor of love kind of thing, I haven't updated the theme for too long. Will add to my to do list.

Apologies. Thought it was part of the company.

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