Behind our Series A
Today we announced our Series A: an $8M round of funding led by Kleiner Perkins, one of the world’s most iconic venture capital firms, with participation from inspiring product visionaries – the founders of Intercom, InVision, and Envoy. Below I’ll speak to how we got here and where we’re headed. You can also check out the official release announcement.
Let’s start with “why”
I started productboard because I’ve been always inspired by people who genuinely care about making something that deeply matters to others… visionaries who wake up in the middle of the night, passionate about an idea… people who crave the feeling of building something that others will cherish, who put pride into making something truly excellent.
I’ve always imagined what it must have felt like when Steve Jobs announced the first Mac, the first iPod, the first iPhone to the world. The immense sense of pride, fulfillment, and accomplishment. It must have been exhilarating. And not just for Steve, but for everyone who had the privilege to be on the teams that brought these products to life.
No matter what product you happen to be working on, no matter how big or small, I believe that all of us should try to make something excellent.
And while trying, we deserve to feel at least a little bit of the same sensation of pride, stemming from the confidence that we have fulfilled a need that matters to our customers.
At productboard, we understood from the beginning that there are many who are just fine with delivering something that is good enough, hoping for a quick profit, and moving on. Which is fine… for them. But not for us. These are not the people who choose us.
There are many ways to manage product development and most of them work… if you want to build good-enough products. That is not what productboard is for. We are for product makers who pursue mastery, who won’t stop until they reach excellence, and by doing so, they win and lead in the marketplace.
We build productboard for passionate product makers who understand that observing the world around us and listening to customers with empathy is the only way to gain deep, genuine insights into people’s needs – insights that can then inform design and product decisions with something really great emerging as a result.
We are for product leaders who’ve come to realize that great products are not created by individual geniuses. That even teams with incredibly strong product minds like Steve Jobs would never be able to create amazing products without a shared understanding of customer needs, without the team’s collective creativity.
The best companies figure out a way to let customer insights flow freely into product teams. They create a fabric that connects the teams on the frontlines (sales, marketing, support, success, services) with the product makers (designers, researchers, product managers, engineers). And on top of that, they also figure out a way to create transparency around what the product teams are working on for the rest of the company to see and contribute to.
It is up to each of us to choose our path. The path of “good enough”, or the path of excellence. You know where you’ll meet us.
Wake up, the world has changed
While resting on your laurels and waiting for sparks of genius may have been enough to survive in the past, that’s no longer the case.
The pace of the market has accelerated dramatically. With today’s ecosystem of cloud infrastructure, modular platforms, and SaaS solutions, new entrants enter the market overnight and reach thousands of users and millions in revenue in months, not years or decades.
If the new entrants offer superior user experiences or succeed in building stronger customer relationships, if they offer product excellence, your customers can (and will) defect to them.
Today’s competitive climate means companies often have just a few years to dominate their category, or risk the fate of mp3 players before the iPod or chat apps before Slack.
In short, you have no time, because your customers have no patience, and no loyalty. Achieve product excellence fast, or die. That is the tough reality facing new startups and traditional enterprises alike.
The world has also changed in another profound way. Business has become more personal.
The rise of social media and messaging apps like Intercom has created an explosion of direct customer conversations. This created a huge goldmine of insights about what your customers need and care about. But it has also created a big challenge because while customer-facing teams (sales, marketing, support, and customer success) are having insightful conversations, the product teams (product managers & marketers, designers, and engineers) are disconnected from those conversations. Yet, they are the decision makers who absolutely need to be part of these conversations to translate insights into the right product choices.
The approaches and tools of the past are no longer helpful. Customer input floating in emails, Evernote, and spreadsheets, linear engineering backlogs with feature ideas without any customer context, static PowerPoint roadmaps, and disconnected and stale feature request forums are completely insufficient. The new digital and conversational age needs modern approaches and systems.
The good news is that while it’s difficult to reinvent your products overnight, it is possible to adopt a new approach to product management today that will ultimately help your product organization get the right products to market faster, solve users’ most pressing needs, and earn a rabid fan base with products that delight. This is the recipe for delivering really excellent products. This is the recipe for winning.
That’s what we’re helping organizations achieve at productboard – to win by reaching product excellence.
How far we’ve come
When we set out to build productboard we wanted to do more than help product teams design attractive roadmaps. If our mission was to help product teams make really excellent products, we knew we needed to help them decide what to put on the roadmap in the first place.
Early on we learned that product managers desperately needed to get out of the weeds of project planning tools and engineering task management tools, so we introduced a new way to organize feature ideas and whole products. We designed a delightful and modular interface that allows you to surface rich context for making critical prioritization decisions. We continued to listen to our customers and added new types of advanced prioritization criteria, like the User impact score and Prioritization score, that allow you to surface the most strategically important features.
Then back in August 2016, while productboard was still in beta, we launched a new interface to help product managers consolidate their user feedback from a variety of sources all in one place, so that key user insights could be identified. Originally dubbed the Research board (later the Insights board), it was our biggest breakthrough, in part because it resonated so much with our early customer-centric users, and in part, because we immediately began reaping its benefits as productboard users ourselves.
We delivered all this functionality in time to launch publicly at TechCrunch Disrupt Startup Battlefield in September 2016, and that’s when things really took off.
In the months that followed, we systematically captured feedback streaming in from Intercom conversations with prospects and customers, routing it to our Insights board for analysis. Doing so helped us spot trends in user feedback that again changed the trajectory of our business. It helped us learn that users craved a way to validate feature ideas they were considering, and efficiently collect user feedback on ideas from hundreds or thousands of customers.
This past October we launched the Portal to help them do just that. Designed with the help of all of our customers who’d expressed a need for it, the Portal was voted product of the day on ProductHunt (and might have been Product of the Week if not for Firefox and Tesla swooping in for the win!)
Every step of the way we’ve used productboard to know who to follow up with when researching the best possible solution for some problem, and who to notify when new features go live. (Tip: Want to delight a customer? Write them a personalized note the day you launch a feature they requested over a call with you a year ago.)
We’ve found that launching features that resonate with our users to be one of the best forms of marketing. As word of mouth has spread, we’ve enjoyed rapid growth with net negative churn. And we owe it all to a systematic approach to understanding our users, staying focused around clear strategic objectives, and rallying everyone on our team around our plans.
It has worked because our revenue chart started looking like this:
Most importantly, our customers have found great success with productboard:
- CoConstruct reports using productboard has helped them get features to market 30% faster with a tighter feedback loop.
- Envoy reports a reinvigorated engineering team, motivated by gaining context behind the features they’re working on.
- Traxo reports a higher win rate when closing major deals after using productboard to keep track of each opportunity’s product requirements.
Today over 1,200 modern, customer-driven companies use productboard. Some, like Zendesk, Sprout Social, and Envoy, are SaaS solutions, but others include e-commerce platforms, medical device manufacturers, academic journals, news outlets, book publishers, on-demand services, and brick and mortar stores transitioning to digital storefronts. In the era of digitization, every company is becoming a technology company, and their product teams share similar needs.
That takes us to today’s funding.
We didn’t have to raise this round. We had enough cash in the bank and were cash-flow positive. But all business metrics looked great and I felt that it was time to scale, to ramp up our acquisition efforts and boost the capacity of our product teams, so that we could advance our product even faster, make it even more delightful, and invest into providing superior customer service.
Ilya Fushman, a general partner at Kleiner Perkins led this round, and we couldn’t dream of a better investor. Before becoming a venture capitalist, Ilya headed product at Dropbox. So when I pitched him on our vision for a product excellence system, he immediately recognized the opportunity, because he intimately understands the needs of product managers.
When the word got out that we were raising money, founders of several of our partners and customers reached out with interest to participate. We were humbled and delighted that Eoghan and Des, founders at Intercom, Clark, founder of Invision, and Larry, founder of Envoy, joined the round. Their entrepreneurial success and relentless focus on delighting customers by delivering excellent products has been an inspiration for us and we are grateful for their support. Their expertise with scaling modern SaaS businesses is invaluable.
All our great seed investors returned to participate in this round as well. Jan Hammer and Ari Helgason at Index Ventures, Ondrej Bartos and Andrej Kiska at Credo Ventures, Ondrej Fryc at Reflex Capital and Jakub Havrlant and Viktor Fischer at Rockaway Capital – all had the foresight that we are tackling a really big opportunity with a unique approach.
Where we’re headed: Helping every product team to achieve Product Excellence
Our incredible growth over the past months and adoption by some of the best product teams out there has shown that our vision resonates with many and that our execution hits the mark.
We have grand ambitions, and thanks to the new funding, we can execute faster, build an even stronger team, advance our product, forge new partnerships, and as a result, provide an overall superior product and customer experience. It will take a lot of hard work, but helping so many brilliant product makers out there is quite a privilege. That’s all the motivation we need.
You can look forward to seeing some major advancement on several fronts:
All customer insights in one place: We will be doubling down on integrations and opening up our APIs so that you can collect more customer insights from even more sources and colleagues. Our Portal will get a major boost so that you can collect input directly from your customers. Colleagues will be able to vote on particular ideas on behalf of particular customers as well. (Check out our team’s Portal and suggest ideas!)
Clarity of product strategy supported by powerful product workflows: You will be able to slice and dice your product and feature ideas in more advanced ways than you’ve ever been able to do before. You can look forward to advanced prioritization visualizations, and new ways to structure objectives to help you stay even more focused and aligned.
Collaborative roadmap planning: We will make our roadmapping functionality even more flexible and easier to customize and share so that each of your audiences can get just the right view of your plans and progress.
We will be also investing directly into our customers. Our customer success team is growing rapidly and we will invest into collecting and sharing stories and practices of the most successful product teams out there to help you learn from the best. We are grateful for the great community that’s built up around productboard and you can look forward to more events and content tailored specifically for visionary product makers. Get started by signing up for our newsletter below.
As our vision scales, so will our team. Our offices in San Francisco and Prague are going to expand significantly. (Buckle up for a wild ride, and a lot of fun along the way!) If our visions resonate with you, if you want to help others make truly excellent products that matter to people, join us and be part of this amazing journey. We are hiring across the board.
It’s been a great journey thus far and we, the whole productboard team, are incredibly grateful to all our customers, partners, and advisors. Thank you for all the support, advice, and feedback.
For our prospects and customers who’ve reported needs faster than we could satisfy them, thank you for believing in our vision and bearing with us. Rest assured that all your input has been heard and is now neatly organized in our internal productboard project. We promise to act on it as we walk forward on the path to product excellence!
If you’d like to stay in touch and get great product tips from us, sign up for our newsletter.
Join top-performing product leaders
Get expert product management tips straight to your inbox.