Resilience, PH launches and my 3 biggest mistakes while building Cycle

I recently had the pleasure of joining Anna Nadeina on her "SaaS Unbound" podcast. We had a fantastic conversation where I opened up about our Product Hunt launches, why PLG didn’t work for us, and other mistakes I made while building Cycle. I thought it would be great to share some of these insights in a written format. So, here’s a blog post summarizing the highlights and pieces of advice I shared during our discussion.

If you haven’t yet, you’ll find the full episode on Youtube and Spotify.

The power of warm Intros

My journey into product management began with a simple frustration: the lack of effective tools for collaborating with customer-facing teams.

As a product manager, I realized the power of a feedback system in creating trust within the organization. I became obsessed with this concept because it was key to ensuring that everyone trusted you and your decisions. The idea for Cycle came from there.

After partnering up with the startup studio Hexa, my journey to validate Cycle’s concept took me to San Francisco. I wanted to understand whether other product managers faced similar challenges. The approach was simple: ask for coffee chats and use warm intros.

I did a quick LinkedIn search of my network to find who I knew in San Francisco and, more importantly, who they knew. This approach helped me secure my first ten meetings. I filled my initial week with back-to-back meetings, leaving the second week open for follow-ups. After each meeting, I’d ask for two or three people I should meet and follow up by email with a forwardable blurb to make it easy for them to introduce me.

I've always believed in leaving people with more energy than they had when they entered the conversation.

This philosophy isn't just a personal mantra but a crucial tactic in contexts like fundraising, recruiting, and sales. It's about energizing others and making them want to help you.

Product Hunt: great for rhythm

Our Product Hunt launches played a huge role in shaping our brand's perception and market presence. We launched twice, each time achieving "Product of the Day". It was a significant boost for us at a time when we really needed it to prove our product's existence and quality. Even though these launches generated thousands of sign-ups, not all sign-ups were of high quality, many being more experimental users with no buying intention. Despite this, the launches were invaluable in generating the necessary volume of feedback for product iteration and go-to-market refinement.

I think PH launches force you to align product and go-to-market. You don't just launch a product. You need to launch a messaging, a brand. They are a good way to create rhythm and discipline for the entire company.

Market-Product Fit & some takes on PLG

It took me some time to learn and accept that PLG was not the right go-to-market motion for Cycle. We were generating a lot of signups but struggled with activation. Looking back, it makes no sense for Cycle as it is today to have a free plan or to try getting users activated through self-serve access. There are three reasons behind this:

First, it's a product that has a long time to value. We haven't nailed a use case yet where the aha moment happens in the first 5 minutes.

Second, it's a very horizontal product that requires an organizational-level setup. The default workspace setup needs to be tweaked to fit the way a company wants to operate.

Third, we rely on external integrations as feedback sources. Feedback is always gathered through company channels, and folks who sign up don't always have the required permissions to connect new tools to their feedback sources like Slack.

I've been critical of the PLG (Product-Led Growth) hype, cause I think it misleads founders. The focus on product over sales can deter startups from essential customer interactions and outbound efforts. PLG pushed some of us to focus too much on product development and not enough on market engagement.

To fix this at Cycle, we now require every new signup to hop on a quick onboarding call with us. This helps us understand the user's problem, help them through the initial setup moment, and see which aspects of the onboarding are causing friction. It also gives new users a much better experience since they know how to get around in Cycle. We see this approach as a way to maximize learnings before eventually re-introducing a self-serve motion access.

Some advice for founders

At the end of the podcast, Anna asked me about a hack I had discovered recently. I'm convinced there are no shortcuts or "hacks", but something important I learned from Scott Belsky is that "the key for success is a team thats ticks together long enough to figure it out". With that in mind, I'd give founders these two pieces of advice:

1/ As a founder, you have control over who you work with. Over-index on people who give you energy.

2/ Learn what impacts your energy levels. What gives you energy and what drags it down. Then organize your week in such way that you end the week with more energy than you started it.

I believe these two "hacks" can help founders stay resilient throughout their journey.

My biggest failures

I made many mistakes while building Cycle, and I want to embrace the more American mindset of speaking openly about them. So here's my top 3:

1/ It took me way too long to figure out culture. We have three times more ex-Cycle employees than we have current Cycle employees, and I'm not proud of that. There's no such thing as "hire fast, fire fast".

2/ It took us too long to reach product-market fit. We only started monetizing four years in and stayed way to long in beta. The reason behind this is that we tried to move too horizontally towards the vision. The grand vision helps with raising money, hooking early customers in the long term, and recruiting great talent, but it doesn't help with strategy. We shipped too many table stakes features first. But, as Des Traynor from Intercom said, "Always ship the differentiators before the table stakes". You need to be intentional about the first battles that you want to win.

3/ I was too stubborn on the PLG stuff. We used PLG as an excuse not to sell, and we hid behind the product instead. I waited way too long before starting to sell and doing outbound.

That wraps it up! Huge thanks again to Anna for hosting me on her podcast. I hope some of you found value in this summary. 🙏

Keep shipping great stuff, and if you have any questions about my journey with Cycle, reach out to me on LinkedIn.