Why Human Warmth Is Essential to a Product-Led Growth Strategy

A conversation with Max Greenwald at Warmly

I hadn’t met #Warmly's CEO & co-founder Max Greenwald in person until he came to visit me (and my newborn daughter!) in my backyard in the Bay Area a few weeks ago. But we had done a number of phone and Zoom calls before that — and he had created a palpable feeling of warmth in those meetings. It struck me as appropriate that his company was launching a new free product on the new Zoom App Store that helps other people infuse that same kind of warmth into their meetings.

In this fireside chat that we recorded during one of our Zooms, Max and I discussed what it means to create warmth in an era when human relationships are mediated by screens and product-led growth (as opposed to human-led growth) is all the rage. According to Max, we can do a better job of creating warmth with our customers through our screen time. But he adds that screens aren’t always sufficient for a strong go-to-market: early human involvement with customers can make a PLG strategy more successful, not less. 

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I know you just launched #Warmly 2.0. What does it do, and why is it true to #Warmly's mission?

We're focused on helping people build authentic professional relationships. Now we're all working at home, and you can see my cat crossing the back of my screen when we hop on a Zoom call. There's an opportunity to bring a little bit more of who you are into what you do.

Warmly is an app in Zoom that empowers users to create deeper relationships with the people they connect with. In real time, Warmly offers instant insights and context on everyone you meet directly inside Zoom. Our goal is that you never have to prep for a meeting again, since #Warmly helps you learn what and who you have in common with customers, prospects, and teammates. Simply connect your calendar and spend more time on what matters most: building authentic relationships.

I want to get into the meat of your ethos at #Warmly -- this belief in building authentic relationships. How does that manifest itself in your go-to-market motions?

I'll give you one example. We are now building a direct-to-consumer product. To be a very big business we will need millions of users one day. We’ll need strong, robust growth levers that lead to thousands and thousands of people joining a day. But for us, especially at the beginning, we adopted an onboarding process that didn’t scale at all. Any user who signed up for our waitlist had to meet with me for 30 minutes. 

We're doing this partly because we want to build relationships with our customers. I personally hopped on 250 of the first user calls back-to-back all day, 15 or 30 minutes at a time. I wanted to know our actual customers. I wanted them to see the passion I have for Warmly and get them excited to use a clunky pre-PMF product. Obviously, that doesn't scale to millions of users, but it does speak to our desire to build relationships with our customers and our belief that our customers are the most important thing toward building our company's success. 

I recently was trying to convince the founder of another startup that it would be worthwhile to do these onboarding calls manually for users. His pushback was that they did an A/B test that showed that users were not more likely to convert to the product if they had a person-led onboarding call versus if they just watched video tutorials. It was hard to argue with that data point. What's your reaction to that?

That founder is absolutely right if they're framing the question from a growth perspective. But we look at it from a user research perspective, too. The onboarding call is a sneaky way to ask a user about new features coming up. Every week I have three questions that I'm looking to explore, and why not do it on onboarding calls instead of trying to recruit users for research interviews by paying them a hundred bucks each? 

So it sounds like you're measuring the success of these onboarding calls not based on conversion or some other growth metric but rather based on the degree to which you're learning from these calls. Is that right? 

Yes. I also think that speaks to another aspect of #Warmly’s culture. We have a concept called "slope over Y intercept." The idea is that if you have a high rate of change, which is your slope, it means you learn faster than others and can surpass people with high Y-intercepts, which means they have high starting points for knowledge. If you're learning faster than everyone else, you are going to be the smartest person in the room over some amount of time.

From its earliest days, #Warmly has always championed rate-of-learning over experience. We think the most successful teams are those that learn the fastest. So as we launch this product, we will certainly track week-over-week how fast our team is learning. 

That makes a ton of sense to me. Many founders are laser-focused on creating a self-serve, product-led growth model. Certainly that's often an extremely smart strategy (and recently I wrote about how Dooly.ai did this). But the PLG model is not necessarily mutually exclusive with calling your customers sometimes to learn about the actual experiences that underlie the metrics that you're tracking. Through those conversations you can learn in what ways it makes sense to automate the customer experience. 

For example, a couple of years ago, I had an onboarding call with a specialist at Superhuman after I signed up for the app. I was grateful for that call as a new user. But what I found fascinating was that the onboarding specialist was paired with an automated workflow in the UI. She walked me through that workflow and made sure that I didn't have questions or didn't get stuck along the way. Superhuman's onboarding process seemed halfway between a pure-play, self-serve process and human-led onboarding. It struck me that they were in transition and were learning a ton from these onboarding calls about how to improve the product-led walk-through. 

On another topic, how do you "drink your own champagne" internally with your team, in terms of fulfilling #Warmly's mission of helping people build more authentic relationships? 

Every two weeks we have a mental health check-in, which we've found especially helpful in a remote work environment. We have a spreadsheet with a set of factors, and team members rate their own personal health against these. Factors include how much playtime have you had in the last few weeks? How much fulfillment at work? Do you feel you're getting focus time? Overall, the goal is to figure out how we are doing as humans, and then we talk to one another about it. We welcome vulnerability. The conversations can be deep.

On a lighter note, we have a rule at #Warmly, which is that you can't get on a Zoom call without a fun Zoom background on. 

Oh no, I'm not using a background right now.

I forgive you. The reason we do it is because in a remote world, it's often hard to be creative and expressive. By putting on a Zoom background, you're saying a little bit about yourself and...there you go. I love yours. For the audience's sake, Allison just tossed on a very great background that I sent her back in the day with the #Warmly logo.

Anyway, a virtual background is a way to express yourself and what you care about. We make our own funny Zoom backgrounds and they can be goofy. They can be serious. They can tell you a little more about yourself. You can toss a picture of your weekend escapades on there. It's a really fun way for the team to feel connected. 

We have auto-generated Zoom backgrounds that we call Background Signatures in our new product, as part of our mission to help people create more authentic connections. Importantly you can share your preferred pronouns and how to pronounce your name, so others can work with you the way you’d like them to! Plus in one click, you can add a “shoutout” to say “Happy Birthday Jimmy” or “Congrats on the new baby, Allison!” The backgrounds really leave a lasting impression on people.

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You can check out #Warmly's new product here.

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