I recently did an interview with Ben Jabbawy, CEO of Privy. Making heavy use of quotes from the interview, I’d like to tell you the story of their growth. Any emphasis is mine.
Privy is a startup which “helps businesses grow their customer lists. Pop-ups, banners, and bars which will sit on your site to help customers share to social media and subscribe to your email list.” They’ve been growing quickly using a strategy which hasn’t historically been talked about much (until Slack Apps at least), integrations.
We spent literally years trying to do direct sales and the classic direct sales, email, co-marketing. We really did a lot of that. We were adding users, but not at a rate that felt good given the type of product we were building and the market we were serving.
Rather than investing their time in creating content, or doing more direct sales, they grow by integrating with Content Management Systems like Shopify, and email services like Mailchimp.
Should I Build Integrations?
The path Privy took to integrations was after a long attempt at more traditional marketing methods. You don’t necessarily have to go down that road though. It always makes sense to try different growth strategies before betting on one. The odds are, one or two will work best for your team and product, but you have to experiment to find it.
Of course, the first question is, do I have a service which could be integrated with something? For example, if you are running a wallet manufacturing company, it would be a stretch to integrate with Content Management Systems. If, on the other hand, you build something which can be installed into websites (or could), an integration with a CMS makes all sorts of sense.
For most of us acquiring new users is the strongest motivation for creating an integration. Every day there are users who search through their CMS’ plugin listings for tools. If you can craft the right listing, they will become extraordinarily well qualified leads to your service. In other words, a user acquired this way is very likely to actually know what your service does, and need it.
When we were doing direct sales, we were calling anyone and everyone who would listen to us. It was a real problem to get over the hump of educating them that this was a problem that they had, positioning ourselves as the best solution. The market has developed a bit. Especially in the verticals where we are growing quickly, particularily ecommerce, email is now recognized as one of the highest ROI channels.Now what we’re finding is our user base is growing faster than many other SaaS businesses out there, and now we get that scale.
There are benefits to integrations which transcend user acquisition though. In Ben‘s words:
As users get more sophisticated, it’s very unlikely that one vendor handles all of their marketing needs. If we don’t have that one integration, and they can’t move their data seemlessly between Privy and something else, then we’re at risk of losing that user. As opposed to making it really easy. Like if Privy gets connected with everyone on both sides, then in theory if they switch their ESPs, and everything they’ve done in Privy can remain intact, then the transition process can be simplified by having those integrations in place.
Just having integrations will make your tool easier to install and easier to connect to existing tools, irrespective of where your users come from.
We’ve looked at number of integrations as a measure of retention. I would say these days the average Privy business has two integrations. The way they get us installed on their site is an integration, and the way they connect us with their email provider is another.
If you don’t have two integrations setup, then that’s either an opportunity for us to build a new product, or it’s a sign that things aren’t going well with your onboarding.
To summarize, you should consider:
- If your product is something which it makes sense to ‘integrate’ with.
- If there is a platform people who might use your tool go to which you could integrate with.
- If the users you attract through that integration are likely to ever pay you.
- Will having integrations help you retain the customers you get from elsewhere?
How To Decide Who To Integrate With
To me, it makes a lot of sense to integrate with external platforms. Their growth then becomes your growth, and there is no limit to how many platforms you can be integrated with. I can also easily see spending the time on an integration, and ending up with next to no new users. So I asked Ben how they decide who to integrate with.
In the top of the funnel, we do a lot of research in how to prioritize integrations. Does that vendor have a lot of users? How engaged are those users? Do they look similar to our current users? What’s the app store experience like? Is it weaved natively into the dashboard of that tool? Are there reviews? How healthy is that app store ecosystem?
Take a look at Weebly. The list on their site that they have 30 million sites. You can register for a free Weebly account. We noticed that inside the website design experience they are showcasing apps. So it’s a massive userbase, and also a nice integration into the product experience. That will likely be a win in terms of the ROI of our engineering efforts to build out that integration.
There’s no guarantees there. There are also other factors which go into that. Like, we were one of the first into the Weebly app store. But thats definitely a part of the prioritization process.
You can do as much planning and strategy as you want. And sometimes we build these integrations and they flop. And other times we build them and it’s awesome. There’s two categories of integrations with the CMS’ and the email tools. It’s very rare that the email tool integrations we do will drive a significant top of the funnel traffic. The CMS integrations are more impactful on the top of our funnel.
Drawing from this last comment, it really matters what you’re integrating with. Users of email tools, for example, just don’t look for plugins by-in-large (and most email tools just don’t have plugin stores). You need to integrate with platforms where people are already looking for solutions, if you’re relying on this for growth.
In short, it really matters. You have to look at:
- How many users the platform has.
- What features (like search) does the platform have that will allow users to find you?
- How likely are these users to want, and later pay for, your service?
- What extra promotion effort is this company willing to do to integrate with you?
What Should My Plugin Do?
It goes without saying that users have to have a good experience when they use your integration. That might mean figuring out how to register users inside your integration. You may also have to move parts of your interface into the integration. If you’re really bold, you could even build your entire business inside integrations.
You also have to find the right pricing model. Users on app stores are less likely to pay for something without having tried it (perhaps because so many plugins are terrible). You may have to go for a fremium model, or allow users to preview your tool before it’s time to pay.
It’s not just building integrations, it’s converting to paid, an incredible onboarding experience, just like a really smooth product foundation that has mass appeal and fremium works well for the app stores.
How Should I Promote My Plugin?
Once your app is built, it could easily get listed on the target platform, and then disappear. I asked Ben what Privy does to promote newly created integrations.
There have been certain integrations we have done, namely Shopify, that has gotten us into a massive user base, that is highly engaged. Over time we’ve really gotten good at optimizing our listing to increase the volume of new users. What we’ve also seen is, within an ecosystem, there are other vendors you can integrate with that may only be pertinent to that environment.
When someone’s searching within their Weebly app store or Shopify app store, they’re looking for a solution to a problem. So what we found is being to the point in our app store listings, vs trying to ‘sell the vision’ of where we’re going, has helped us position ourselves.
He provided some examples of what would make a great tagline versus a terrible one:
- A terrible tagline would be “A single solution for local businesses”
- A targeted tagline would be “Coupon Based Popups”
You want something super specific. Think about your SEO approach to Google. It’s a very similar process. If someone is looking for a way to capture email, display popups, things like that then you want them to find us. I don’t want people looking for the ‘one marketing solution they need’, because it’s not a very good qualifing indicator for what we’re offering.
Just because we’ve had simple messaging doesn’t prevent us from expanding into new product lines and pursuing a bigger vision.
Every app store works their own way. Some platforms don’t even have stores. So working that integrations team or BD team to make sure you categorize in the right place. Search terms, how to weave those in. The title that produces the highest relevancy to search, the bullet point, what it is. Taking an extra look at the different app store features, and using those in interesting ways. To make sure to someone just browsing the entire list, A. yours stands out, B. to make sure they understand you offer what they need just from the icon.
I also asked him if they commonly arrange a comarketing plan with the platform they’re integrating with ahead of time. He said generally no:
There’s two categories of integrations, in terms of what you can expect from a marketing standpoint. Sometimes when you integrate with big vendors like Shopify or Mailchimp, I can tell you you probably cannot get marketing partership there. When you integrate with smaller vendors inside that marketplace though, you can. Sometimes we’ve done integrations with smaller vendors, explicitly because they’ve offered to tell all their users about Privy when it’s launched. That’s really helped adoption for us.
2016, a lot of the time they just have API docs. I would say in all of our most successful integrations, we hadn’t talked to anyone before we built it.
- It’s common to build an integration with a big provider without talking to them first.
- Use simple copy and taglines which directly address what your tool does, avoiding ‘marketing-speak’.
- Don’t be afraid to start with something which solves a small problem well, you can always expand the scope of your offering.
Thanks for reading! I would very much have liked to post the video of our chat, but the quality wasn’t quite good enough for it to be easily understandable. We’ll work on it for future posts. Please subscribe below if you’re interested in being notified when we release them.