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DevRel was doing Product-Led Growth before PLG was Cool.

Updated: May 28, 2023

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash
Photo by Gabriel Mihalcea on Unsplash

Product-Led Growth, or PLG for short, is a term first coined in 2016, according to OpenView. PLG is a strategy that’s gained a lot of traction over the last few years, especially related to SaaS companies. And speaking of Traction, Caroline Lewko recently led a panel about DevRel at a conference of the same name in Vancouver, where the topic of PLG was prolific.

So, what exactly is PLG?

According to the Product-Led Growth Collective, PLG is:

a business methodology in which user acquisition, expansion, conversion, and retention are all driven primarily by the product itself. It creates company-wide alignment across teams—from engineering to sales and marketing—around the product as the largest source of sustainable, scalable business growth.

They also tell us that:

Product-led growth leads to a higher revenue per employee—in other words, higher financial productivity. That’s because when the product is the driving force behind acquisition, engagement, retention, and expansion, companies are able to reallocate or save huge sums that would traditionally be spent on scaling sales, marketing, and service efforts.

If we unpack that along with other research, ten key points of PLG seem to be:

  1. Focus on the user as a customer

  2. A self-service product (at least in the early years)

  3. Free trials

  4. Absence of a sales team

  5. Focus on the user journey

  6. Creating a friction-less user experience

  7. Listening to users for product growth

  8. Facilitating a community to support users and use word-of-mouth promotion

  9. Bottoms-up approach to user acquisition

  10. Importance of cross-functional teams




PLG is also a valuable growth strategy.

There are many similarities between Product Led Growth and Developer Relations. A number of very successful Developer First companies were built by following a Developer-Led growth strategy before PLG’s inception. Combine both methodologies for maximum impact.

These companies that used a Developer-Led growth strategy include Unity (founded in 2004), MongoDB (2007), Twilio (2008), SendGrid (2009), Stripe (2010), and Datadog (2010).

So let’s conclude that a Developer-Led Growth strategy provides value to a company.

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What’s the difference between PLG and Developer-Led Growth (DLG)?

Even though there are many similarities in strategy, when it comes to tactics, there are two key differences between PLG and Developer Led Growth.

1. The Developer as the user. In DLG, also called B2D (Business to Developer), understanding the nuances of the Developer - we call them the ‘Developer Truisms’ (see diagram below) - is crucial. In addition, nailing your own unique developer segmentation and developer personas are the first steps to designing the best go-to-market approach.

Developer Truisms

2. The Developer Journey. In DLG, the ‘try before you buy’ becomes ‘build before you buy.’ In reviewing the Developer Journey map, the developer will want to build something, at least as simple as a ‘hello world.’ So, as you can see in the diagram below – the adoption and purchase motion compared to a typical sales funnel is very different. You must optimize for that.

Mapping DevRel to a Sales Funnel

So are you still wondering if a Developer-Led Growth strategy has merit or whether your company should put resources into a Developer Program? Take the lessons from PLG to heart. After all, DevRel did it first!


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