Why churn and retention have taken the backseat at Webflow.
Co-founder, CTO & Head of Growth
Today on the show we have Bryant Chou, Co-founder, CTO, and Head of Growth of Webflow.
In this episode, we talked about Webflow’s “no sugarcoating” product philosophy, the no-code movement, why churn & retention at Webflow have taken a backseat, and how they overcome their new users learning curve through total transparency.
We also discussed how Bryant and his team use customer segmentation to take their product to the next level, the rosetta stone of Webflow (databook), and how to eliminate bias when collecting and analyzing data.
As usual, I'm excited to hear what you think of this episode, and if you have any feedback, I would love to hear from you. You can email me directly on Andrew@churn.fm. Don't forget to follow us on Twitter.
RecommendsProduct Development For InnovationThe lesson to unlearn
Is ReadingEmpire of the Summer Moon
Andrew Michael 0:00
Hey, Bryant, welcome to the show.
Bryant Chou 0:02
Hey, Andrew, thanks for having me.
Andrew Michael 0:04
It's a pleasure. It's a really exciting episode to have you today, Bryant, for the listeners. Bryant is the founder, CTO and head of growth of web flow, and no code Website Builder. And in case you've been living under a rock, it's awesome. I actually decided to rebuild the podcast website using web flow recently, and I was just blown away by how far the no code visual website editing has come. It's live now. And I'd actually encourage everybody to check it out at turbo Dev and to see what's actually possible. But I barely scratched the surface, I think when it comes to the capabilities of web developers. But I digress. Let's go back to Brian. He's also a senior venture partner of Pioneer fund and previously served as the CTO of angle where he helped build up the business into multi million dollar company and led the design and development of angles SDKs that were installed on over 60 million plus devices. He also served time as a software engineer at Symantec call coming into it brainstorm. So my first question for you, Brian, is what exactly To most about the no code movement, and What part do you hope that we play with web flow play?
Bryant Chou 1:07
Great question. And before I go there, I mean, I'm looking at turn effluence website, and it looks fantastic. I have no idea You're such a talented designer at the same time. But that's, I mean, just looking at this website, I think is a great place to start. Because if you take a look at turn FM, you'll see that it is not just like, traditional, like podcasts landing page with, you know, very traditional layout, like you've, you've taken the hard work of really thinking about how you want a user to navigate this website. And it's got like this really nice left nav, really great photos or really good hover effects. And that's kind of what no code is about. And that's kind of what webflow is really looking to allow someone like you do, which is you've got an idea for what your business what your blog What your portfolio is going to look like. And you have the same tools that a developer has to be able to go out and visually create visually develop the end product. So the biggest, the biggest joy that I have, honestly every day is actually just looking at what people are creating. So you're, there's people creating websites for charities, there's people creating ecommerce stores for small businesses that have been impacted by COVID. And then, of course, you've got, you know, podcast, landing pages and marketing sites like yours. So workflow is really about just pushing the boundaries of what's possible to develop, you know, powerful, bespoke software completely visually. And we feel and we honestly believe that if we are to stick true to this mission and vision that we can multiply the potential of the internet by by giving non developers As well as developers a faster, easier way to produce the software that they have imagined in their heads just in the same way that you've essentially, you know, thought about this turned out FM website and you built it completely from scratch.
Andrew Michael 3:16
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, obviously Matt and myself as well, I have a little bit of a background and built websites before but like I had come across as well, sort of the the no code movement A long time ago, and I couldn't look at things and I was sort of a really immature market back then. And still, you weren't able to do but like what web flow and locked back some of the capabilities would have maybe taken me months to site. If I really wanted to get into the detail, then I went with this.
Bryant Chou 3:42
And that, and that has a lot to do with our product philosophy, which is we're not going to sugarcoat anything. We're not going to essentially say we have magic AI software for you to kind of build a layout and we are going to write the code for you. So what web flow actually is Is, is that it's actually a very sophisticated abstraction over the underlying concepts of web technology. And, you know, when we launched in 2013, you know, from what I understand it was the first and only tool that abstracted away certain things like CSS display, columns, Dom and box model in a way that is represented in a visual UI. So that when you are building with web flow, what you're doing is actually visually coding as opposed to drawing boxes and squares, and having an algorithm essentially guess what the underlying code should be. So you know, successful users of web flow need to make this they need to cross the chasm and jump like, like, overcome a mental leap, where it's it's a design tool, but what it is also is it's also a development tool, and for users that make a successful job. Make that mental leap, then they become empowered.
Andrew Michael 5:04
Yeah, I can actually absolutely relate to that and see it as well. Because I found what really helped was having that background in understanding how like HTML works and CS Redford was I think the learning curve was a lot quicker and be able to ramp up to get to the point we can produce something really cool. If you understand sort of basic concepts of coding and being able to build sites or things in terms of the abstraction, I think it's definitely something that I could see in the system as whether it was designed but definitely like the ease as well was just unbelievable. So big, big fan actually rebuilt in a couple of other websites using web flow. After a while I wanted to keep on playing around with it.
Bryant Chou 5:43
But power user
Andrew Michael 5:44
power is of how easy so let's, let's actually jump on to the topic that we have today is churn and retention. And finally that I messaged you, I think it was on Twitter, or LinkedIn I can remember exactly but inviting you to the show obviously is a big fan. of using their service, I wanted to try and find out like how things have been dealt with. And you actually mentioned that it wasn't something that you'd really looked into. And retention wasn't a main focus for the company. And I can obviously imagine why because I'm sure you're experiencing some insane growth. But I wanted to get a bit more context around it as well. And maybe you let us know sort of where you're at currently, like, Why is it taking the backseat?
Bryant Chou 6:26
Yeah, this is this is a fantastic question. And actually, honestly, until you asked me, you know, I didn't really, I didn't really spend enough cycles to really think about it. But I think, you know, as, as I was thinking about coming onto the show, you know, a few different things stuck out to me with regards to why webflow why webflow hasn't, you know, dove deep into churn and, and retention. And I suppose it goes back to the core ethos. product, which is the fact that it's the first and only product that allows users to visually manipulate the underlying web technologies, which, which requires users to make this, you know, mental leap. And in order to do so, we have to convince users that that mental leap is actually worth taking, because there's actually a lot of tools out there like Wix, Squarespace, you know, they, they give you a really beautiful website, and they have customizability. So, we actually spend a lot of our time actually on the marketing side, just making sure that people are aware of our product, but then also, educating them about the nuances of the product, so that they are sort of kind of on the same page as we are whenever they sign up for account and start using the product. So you know,
Andrew Michael 7:55
Bryant Chou 7:56
we do think about our investments, we just think of like, Okay, how do we actually change the conversation about what our product actually is, it's not a website builder. It's, it's a, it's a abstraction over these underlying technologies. And we have to actually get these users extremely bought in to that particular product philosophy, in order for them to even be successful. So I think a lot of our time, especially on the marketing side, is really, really spent on Hey, like webflow is a completely new kind of tool. And if you want to take a look at our gallery, if you want to take it our showcase, you'll actually see that it's like a very different kind of outcome. You're getting sites that are responsive, you're getting sites that are dynamic, they've got great interactions and hover effects, etc, etc, etc, things that other tools are not able to provide you. So our emphasis on building those tools first of off, and then marketing and creating the brand around webflow to make it stand out as like a completely Category defining type of product allows us to actually sign up users and activate users that will actively invest their time and energy getting on the same page we are with regards to our product and the things that you can do, which requires a mental leap, which requires education, which requires probably more hours than I care to admit, to have users successful. And when we have those users really bought in, then turn and reduction kind of comes, you know, more or less for free, like Yeah, exactly. You have users that understand the value of the product as they are experiencing it. And then also the brand of the company and of the product is also aspirational. It's empowering, right? So those are some intangible things that we have, that we have to do, honestly, to really kind of separate us from, you know, other tools that are out out there, because we have to kind of, you know, get these users on the same page we are, they're bought into the product, they're bought into the methodology. They're bought into the learning curve. And then the retention comes as as, as an outcome of that.
Andrew Michael 10:16
Absolutely. So I mean, it sounds as well as something we talk about quite a bit on the show, but really like understanding and knowing who the ideal customer is to begin with, but then more importantly, is really about how do you position your product so that your customer really understands and gets what the product is. So once they've come in, they know what to expect. And they're not just going to be like churning off because there's a mismatch between like your comms and your marketing and what the product actually delivers is.
Bryant Chou 10:43
Andrew Michael 10:44
Definitely. Obviously, a lot of work has gone into that as well. I think looking through liquid flows websites and like doing a little bit of research this time around because myself previously I would have been like using WordPress, time and time again. And what really attracted me To me, it was it was your showcase and seeing what was possible with the workflow, which was something that was unseen I think like with any other service you mentioned, like Wix or Shopify. So really like a couple of things really helped to distinguish and separate workflow, at least in my perception from whatever else was out there in the market. So you focus as well then, like really heavily on the marketing side. You talked a little bit about to the concept of onboarding as well. When we think about onboarding, and you mentioned something as well, he said, Oh, well, you're a power user. I wanted to touch a little bit on that concept and here sort of like how you're going about categorising users, like what process did you go about? Is this something that you actively track as well and how did you go about setting these metrics internally?
Bryant Chou 11:53
So the topic of customer segmentation is actually top of mind. This is actually an excellent Besides that we have recently embarked on here at webflow. And I think it could be interesting to your listeners to kind of just like, maybe share web flows like journey there. And I don't know if that's something that could be interesting, but I'm gonna, I'm gonna take, I'm gonna take a crack because I actually think it's, it's pretty interesting. So 77 years ago, when we started the company, we more or less built the product.
Thinking that we would be the ideal target customer. So, Vlad, Sergio and myself, we all built websites for, for personal reasons. We built it for clients. You know, Vlad built it for a lot of dentists. surgery was his designer. And we just thought that it was like, okay, like, we just need a tool to allow someone like us like freelance web developers and freelance web designers to quickly mock up a website and then actually bring the design spirit experience straight into the difference. experience. But you know, the target, the ideal customer profile, the target persona that we're building after was these freelance web designers. And that was the persona that we had for three or four years. And about three years ago, we took a hard look at our data. And we were kind of astonished to find that, oh, wow, there's actually more than just freelancers using web flow more than just agencies signing up for our product, but and businesses are as well. And we just thought it was like, Oh, why would end businesses also, you know, use this this product? Aren't there other products out there that do you know, solve this this problem much better than we do, like, you know, the aforementioned tools. And then we started going down the path of really understanding all of our product personas, but then also, recently, we started really understanding and stuff Started segmenting our buyer segments as well. So the difference that we have, or the view that we have internally is, is that our product personas are actually very, very different than the end buyers. And the way we, the reason why we want to make that distinction is because the concerns and the motivations of the personas are very, very different amongst each other. So we actually feel that we've done a fairly decent job of roadmap roadmapping features and building features to solve the majority of our customers. But it was only until very recently when we started thinking about the end benefactor of the website that we started to really take a hard look at because like, Oh, actually, it's not just freelancers we've got and businesses that are benefiting from the website. So, you know, there's freelancers that are out there and they're building a lot of sites but we've been Never really actually considered who those sites are for. And that was a really big revelation to us. It was just like, you know, wow. Like it took us a really long time to actually understand that these freelancers are being fed, because of the demand that they have the businesses that they serve. And then we started to think about, alright, what did these businesses look like? And we started to really take a hard look at like, Okay, how large are these businesses? How many employees do we have? We try to look at firma graphic information, we look try to look at industries. And we ultimately saw was that web flow is used by a variety of businesses, not just SMBs, not just very small SMBs. But, you know, growth stage startups, public companies, fortune five hundreds, and this really, really surprised us. So now, the viewpoint is and we're still actually doing a lot of the legwork here is is that in order to actually navigate our business in the ideal way, we actually have to create, essentially like a company level data book. And this data book is something that we're pushing internally, to just get a very, very strong understanding of all of our customer personas and all the different buyer segments cut by employee size, cut by industry, etc, just so that we can start to really understand like, oh, like, workflow actually has thousands of businesses that are, you know, generating a billion dollars in revenue or something like that. And then that will actually be super important for our marketing teams for our product teams that then go back and actually look at what opportunities we have just given where we're positioned in the market. So I think that's a really long winded way of saying, like, we have gone through several iterations of trying to discover like who our ideal customer profiles actually are. And, you know, for four years, it was actually very easy because if you We thought it was just one. Yeah. But the reality is, is that it's actually a fairly matrix customer composition that we still don't have extremely good handle of, but we're starting to get there. And I think once we do, then our, our product roadmap, together with our go to market strategy will be extremely tactical, it'll be extremely incisive, and then we'll be able to start making the right investments even more in even better places.
Andrew Michael 17:34
It's really, really funny, but we're actually going through the exact same exercise at hacia at the moment, and as well, one of the ones working on the research. And similarly to you like describing I think the product started out as David our CEO, came from a specific background and the product itself, like the initial thought process was like the features and everything we're building was around that persona. Coming from like an agency background and solving some of the challenges of like multiple scripts in different tools. And interesting. Similarly, we did the same thing where we started looking at Okay, so there may be agencies and agencies make up a good percentage of our customer base around 30%. But then Who are all these other companies that have started using hot char over and about and really trying to understand what is the thermographic and demographic makeup of customers and looking at, like you said, like, at a company level, who is the actual end benefactor, but then also on like a persona level? Like, what are these roles and people need? So it's really, really timely and I'm actually interested, you mentioned you putting together a data book. And I'd be interested to sort of hear what your process was like in a little bit more detail around figuring out some of these data points around companies and was it using a service like clear bits to enrich the data like have you been doing things manually asking it sign up? Like what
Unknown Speaker 18:53
is it that you've been doing?
Bryant Chou 18:55
Good question. So
I described The data book to our team as we had to think of it almost as like the Rosetta Stone to the company. So we actually want to try as hard as possible to remove as much bias as much room for interpretation from the data book as possible. It has to be like rooted in, like truth. And in order to do that, we actually have to remove a lot from the data book, it's got to only contain information that we can attribute the source to. And one of the really tough things about that is that we've actually done a lot of surveys and we've actually done a lot of different types of research. But you know, those are things that we will try to weave in only if we feel like it's, it's unbiased. Only if we feel like the way we've constructed the surveys is going to give us a very picture perfect clear view. So the approach that we've taken is We actually kind of start from like, the first principles of like, what are the ideal outcomes of the data book. And I think if any company goes about constructing a data book, without the ideal outcomes in mind, then you're more or less just going to end up with just a bunch of raw data and no one's gonna really kind of make sense of it all. So, for us, some of the ideal outcomes that we had are, we want the data book to serve as a good foundation to work from for all sorts of pricing and packaging efforts. To help us understand our go to market strategy better, specifically, who we want to target, which customers are the profitable customers, which customers are the less and then also from a product standpoint, trying to understand exactly what features people really care about which ones are being used. And then also some of the psychological factors like of the things that we actually sell, which ones do people sell? They value but don't actually value. In actuality, when they're using the product or in terms of like, people say they value, you know, 10,000 CMS items, but they actually only use a couple hundred. So we kind of split things out that way. And then the other thing that we also layered on is we wanted to try and weave in the competitive analysis in addition to our understanding of the TAM. So those are all things that we felt we can provide extremely quantitative answers to, that didn't leave a lot of room for interpretation. So the first section of our data book is a Tam, where we kind of split by all the different buyers segments that we're currently aware of. We try to map out the revenue opportunity there. But then we try to weave in a little bit of qualitative understanding for our product market fit in those particular segments. So that's where we kind of took some of the data that we ran from previous surveys, where we actually saw that it was like, okay, for companies that are 50 to 200 people, we actually have stronger product market fit than companies that are between 20 and 50. Just as an example, yeah. So that that will give us not just a good idea of, of like the, the town, but then the TAM also cut by how sticky Our product is. And then that'll, that's especially important for for our type of product because we see adoption from all all parts of the stack, we see solopreneurs adopting us all the way up to fortune 500. So then that is information that we feel like is super valuable. So it's it's still a work in progress, but we're really, really happy about where it's where it's at. And then we've got you know, a lot of feature usage data. We have a lot of What else do we have in there? We have a lot of thermographic data. So we've taken all of our stripes of subscriptions. And we've cross referenced it with clear bit. We use segment and then we have the clear bit. Integration turned on. Yep. So it made it very, very easy for our data scientists to enrich that data. So we're actually pretty excited about where, where it is at and the insights that we can glean from it in the near future.
Andrew Michael 23:29
Yeah, I'm really as well like excited because this is actually something we're going to embark on as well. Like really started quantitatively as you think and I think one of the things we wanted to look at and I'm excited we'll also be interviewing Rahul from superhuman soon. I don't know if you've read first Ron capital, it's like a really great resource on how they iterated their way to product market fit. And literally just asking that questions like how disappointed would you would you be if you could no longer use our service or product and then like, somewhat very disappointed. It or Not at all. So we also simply doing something very similar to you were we going to then once we have this idea of the demographic and demographic data is then overlaying that on top of like this, like product market fit qualitative survey to see sort of, are there any specific segments or specific like attributes of a company that tend to be a little bit more sticky when it comes to product market fit. So, it's not invalidating hearing that there's others out there doing the same thing. We didn't invent this either. So I want to make that very, very clear. You mentioned something as well, that I think is very, very important, and it's very difficult to do is to eliminate bias. And like I can speak honestly as well, I think it hacia when we first took a crack at going around doing this, like we inherited Lee and advertently introduced the bias into our research that we did, where we took the initial cohort that we selected and we selected like Their current spin as a as a segment, which we like took a call, and we analysed what their user looked their, what their user group look like. But inherently by just taking the spin due to the nature of the way our pricing and packaging worked, we potentially eliminated a lot of big businesses that just didn't fit our pricing and packaging model. So it is very difficult to how are you sort of treating this as well? And I think obviously, when you say bias, like you mentioned earlier, you had your own ideas of who the product was for and like, is this something you just written? The team? No, like, there is no sort of right or wrong, like we really need to just detach ourselves from what we knew before. Like, how did you work with a team on this to eliminate the bias?
Bryant Chou 25:39
So two thing I think the most important one is making sure that the way we are collecting information is not biassed in the way we're analysing the information is not biassed. So by collecting biassed information that actually refers to qualitative methods of running a survey, for example, In the absence of user researchers, for example, there can be surveys that are constructed that, you know, more or less ask leading questions that kind of get to the answer that you're looking for. And you can actually construct, there's just so many potential, you know, potholes that, you know, survey designers run into when when collecting that data. And then also when you're pulling data, you also from quantitative sources. So like the example that you gave, where, you know, you only looked at a particular segment. So I think it's really important to look at all segments, but then you're also looking at removing the bias of your staff status quo. And by that, I mean, like, if you're looking at revenue data, and if you're looking at Oh, which segments pay us more money, you're only looking at the revenue data of your business today, not your business tomorrow. So that is something that you have to be extremely careful about. If you're taking a look. Look at an Excel sheet or something, you're, you're saying like, Oh, yeah, we've got all these businesses in this segment there drives so much of our revenue, we should only go after these businesses. Well, that's with your existing pricing and packaging that has nothing to do with where you're looking like. It has nothing to do with how you're optimising this business for the future. So that's, that's one bias. And then when you're analysing the data, that's also a really important place to remove bias, for example, you know, as a founder, I'm probably the most biassed person in the company. So something that I try to do as much as possible, is share the fact that he's like, Hey, I'm actually very biassed, I actually do think that freelancers are extremely important to our growth or something like that. Yeah. And then I will then share my point of view. So then, like interpersonal, in team dynamic, at least you're being upfront about where your biases may lie. Secondly, I think It's going to be very contextual on exactly what problems you're solving for, for example, if you're trying to solve for a pricing and packaging problem, and if you have a particular bias about where a feature should live, that the truth of it is, is that when you're discussing discussing something as sensitive as pricing or packaging, no, there's going to be a lot of loud voices inside the company about where and how to monetize a particular feature. You're going to have PMS and engineers saying that it should go on all plans, you're going to have business people say that, like this is only something that you know, we're going to sell on our enterprise here. What's going to be really, really important is that the company has to come up with a set of pricing principles to essentially eliminate that bias. So that everyone is kind of rooted in the same philosophy with how you want to approach something in something like pricing and packaging is a perfect example for coming. Coming up with a list of, you know, three to five principles or philosophies that the entire company wants up by by.
Andrew Michael 29:07
And the next lessons are definitely like I see the pricing and packaging is a sensitive topic. It's like, do we put this for all users? So we can use it as a retention driving initiative? Is it a monetization initiative is always going to be debate when it comes to these sorts of things. And I'm also glad as well, that you pointed out in terms of like the future looking business First, the current situation because this was actually another thing. When we did this, like two years ago, whatever it was, was also a big mistake is that we just looked at successful customers at the time and we tried to understand what their makeup was. And then because we had a certain percentage that was maybe higher in one segment, we focus on that segment as opposed to also looking at the inverse view of just looking at how many people signed up during a specific period, like maybe 12 months ago and how many of them are still with us today. And maybe that the dynamics that we have a certain extra portion of it specific segment is only due to the fact that marketing was targeted towards them. And perhaps they were the early adopters. But man now moving into like sort of the early majority, late majority, that has changed. And so it's really, really important to be thinking I think, when doing this work is that you're not just looking at who it is today, but where this market is going and who the markets going to be in the future. Very good point. See we running a little bit short on time now as well, Brian, but I have one question that I ask every guest on the show. And I think for you, maybe it's a little bit different. But let's imagine a hypothetical scenario now. Then just say you've joined in your company now. You arrive at the company and your attentions not doing great. The CEO of this company is asked you to try and turn things around for them. And they've given you 90 days to try and show some results like what would you want to be wanting to do in the first 90 days to deliver some results for the company?
Bryant Chou 31:00
The most obvious one that jumps to my head, given that my background as an engineer and products person is just to go super deep into the product. Because I think as much as customer interviews as much as data dives, can be helpful, I think there's nothing that can replace someone's intuition, especially someone that has seen a lot of products seen a lot of SAS project, products get built, built a lot of them and kind of just develop a very early hypothesis about, you know, where the products is, how good it is at activating how clear the value propositions are, how, how good is the conversion flows, and then also just developing just a very, you know, almost emotional connection to the product. I think if I were to work for SEO, and that was my my 90 day outcome, my goal at the end of the 90 days is to really be able to tell at every stage of the customer journey, how I feel, when I am exposed to the product, how I am activated in the product, how I am converted, and then also how I monetized and then retain in the product and I think describing it from an emotional point of view, as like, Hey, I was actually extremely excited when I first signed up. But then after I started using the product, I felt defeated, describing that like emotional journey, plotting it out as like a line graph almost can actually visualise a potential user's emotional journey. And then that would be able to paint a clear picture for a CEO for a company to determine exactly where to focus time and energy.
Andrew Michael 32:50
Yeah, I love that like that sort of the journey mapping but then attaching like the emotional component to it and seeing how that changes over time. It's really important you want to make sure that you're keeping people excited about the product and removing any of those friction points that are really bringing them down. Cool. Well Is anything else like any other final thoughts that you'd love to like to share with us today? Anyways, they can keep up anything exciting happening in web flow. Back to mention, Ah,
Bryant Chou 33:20
no, I think like the no code movement is new. It's very, very exciting. It's something that has something for everyone. Whether you're a marketer, designer, engineer, I think it's something that not just webflow has a very big part of, but a lot of other companies are part of the no code movement. But the most important thing is that we have to remember that movements are made up of people. And I think without the amazing community behind SAS products and the no code movement, things would be very different and that's what makes the this particular movement There's no code. Very exciting to be a part of. So thanks for having me, Andrew.
Andrew Michael 34:04
Yeah, it's a pleasure. I'm excited to see where we're pluggers from Yeah, because I can just see the future possibilities and potential it does have. Exciting. Thanks very much for joining Brian. So Best of luck now going forward.
A new episode every week
We’ll send you one episode every Wednesday from a subscription economy pro with insights to help you grow.
My name is Andrew Michael and I started CHURN.FM, as I was tired of hearing stories about some magical silver bullet that solved churn for company X.
In this podcast, you will hear from founders and subscription economy pros working in product, marketing, customer success, support, and operations roles across different stages of company growth, who are taking a systematic approach to increase retention and engagement within their organizations.