How To Attract An Audience For Your Product
February 28, 2023
What if I told you that my next guest reached $100k in ARR without a website or an app—just 100% community hand-raisers?
Or that they grew a newsletter audience from zero to 14,000+ in less than 18 months without paid ad spend?
You’d probably think I was lying. But this story is 100% true.
It’s about Adam Schoenfeld, founder of PeerSignal (the niche media company) and Keyplay.io (the seed-funded platform for building your ideal account list). You likely already know about Adam from his viral LinkedIn posts where he shares PeerSignal’s research on everything from hiring to pricing to PLG along with his experience building in public.
Adam and I unpacked the PeerSignal <> Keyplay SaaS and media flywheel. He also took us behind-the-scenes into his exact playbook for building an enviable founder brand on LinkedIn (he’s rapidly approaching 35,000 followers—I’ve got some catching up to do 🤣).
Let’s get into it.
KP: Why start with content and community before having SaaS or a monetizable product?
AS: We knew who we wanted to serve before we knew the problem they needed us to solve. So we started with the research we felt was missing in B2B SaaS. We created this process:
- Publish free data-rich resources for GTM leaders.
- Participate in the community.
- Listen carefully.
Months passed. Then two dots connected.
It was increasingly frustrating to get our research lists right. Lots of data gaps and inaccuracies. Painful maintenance workflows.
People started emailing “can you help with my ideal account list.” Not for research—for sales. Such an old problem, but they didn’t have a trusted solution. That’s when we began turning what started as a research project to study GTM into a SaaS-media flywheel.
KP: What was your initial wedge and what did you do to get initial traction on it?
AS: The first wedge was our PLG Index on PeerSignal.
We built a dataset of PLG companies and did some web crawling to compare companies by different dimensions of the GTM orgs and tactics. We published the raw dataset in Airtable and made it available to anyone who signed up for our content. We then used that dataset to do research and publish our findings.
Because PeerSignal started out as just Andrew and me, we mostly relied on my LinkedIn audience to get the word out. The best content for us was data-heavy decks that I’d post as “zero-click content” on LinkedIn. This drove a lot of engagement and subscribers. As people subscribed, our newsletter became a big part of the growth loop. This helped convert some of that borrowed LinkedIn audience into PeerSignal subscribers, which created a better feedback loop and credibility for our mini media company.
Once we had some traction with PLG data and content, and published our findings in an almost-weekly newsletter.
When Camille Trent came in to lead content and community at PeerSignal, we were able to double our borrowed LinkedIn audience as she started posting about our research on LinkedIn as well.
KP: How did you manage to scale the community from 1 to 14,000+ subscribers in such a short period of time?
AS: Consistency, credibility, and big swings.
We were up to 6.7K subs right before Camille joined. Most of that growth wasn’t flashy. It came from one LinkedIn post and one newsletter per week (most weeks). However, we paid attention to spikes and leaned into what worked. For instance, every new index launch led to more PeerSignal free subscribers.
The same thing happened when we launched in-depth reports on pricing and our first screenshot gallery, featuring 1,000 B2B SaaS pricing pages. More people wanted in.
Our two biggest subscriber growth spikes came from launching yet another screenshot gallery—2,042 B2B SaaS homepage screenshots—followed by our Q4 hiring update amidst the biggest tech layoffs. We attribute a lot of that subscriber growth to timeliness.
Meta had just announced its layoffs and November represented the biggest layoff month for tech workers. Being in the right place at the right time is luck, being prepared to strike at the right place at the right time is strategy.
KP: What advice do you have for other founders about how to effectively build a personal brand in support of company growth?
AS: We’ve carried the PLG mindset of giving more value upfront (instead of forcing folks down a funnel) over to our content by sharing most of the insights from our indexes and newsletter on social. By formatting the longform content for the feed, you can significantly boost your reach because it’s more accessible, so more people take the time to consume and share it.
Here’s the summary of what I learned as a CEO and founder on the journey to 30k+ LinkedIn followers:
- Zero-Click Content still “converts.” Give away more than you gate.
- Audience ≠ community. If you can’t create a community yet, look for ways to create two-way conversations.
- Consistency *might* be overrated. No one’s going to mind if you have to send the newsletter a few hours later, or even if you skip a week.
- Don’t reinvent the wheel. Understand your niche audience and angle and borrow from role models for proven formats.
KP: How did you leverage the community to build the SaaS product and what were the pros/cons of that approach?
AS: The first benefit was community-driven development. Because of the work we’ve done to build a media company first, we have received hundreds of email replies and comments with ideas, problems, and suggestions. Many of these things lead to new capabilities within the Keyplay platform that benefit both our SaaS customers and media consumers. If we were getting this feedback via outbound customer development, it would have taken way more time and yielded way less feedback.
I liked that we were able to start signing up design partners and building our SaaS business with inbound interest.
There were moments where I questioned whether or not it was worth the time to write and engage with the community without knowing the economic engine that we wanted to build. I loved the work and knew we were delivering value, but in some ways it increased ambiguity about our business rather than reducing it.
Looking back, I now think we’ve discovered a flywheel that can sustain us for the long-term. It works in two parts:
1. SaaS Powers Media—Keyplay makes PeerSignal better.
Keyplay software powers PeerSignal research. Camille and I do the curation and analysis, but automation and workflow unlock more/better insights.
Each new signal or workflow in Keyplay unlocks new angles for research and insights for PeerSignal.
By monetizing the underlying SaaS platform instead of the media company, PeerSignal research is paywall-free, ad-free, and independently minded.
2. Community Accelerates SaaS—PeerSignal makes Keyplay better.
The original benefit of community-driven development has continued. As now as we’ve built an engaged audience, we see other benefits.
The combination of credible content and effective distribution hasn’t just led to leads and referrals. It’s opened up partner opportunities, which expanded our audience and reach.
- Credibility. There is no way to perfectly measure credibility, but I’m certain it’s helping our SaaS stand out. Many SaaS vendors act like tourists selling a quick fix. We wanted to do the opposite. We wanted to be citizens of our community. We spend time and money creating content and participating in discussions.
- Distribution. By powering PeerSignal, Keyplay gains awareness. Very few people in our PeerSignal community will ever buy Keyplay, but our relationship has already helped Keyplay gain reach and referrals. Our eight pre-launch customers came without a single outbound call or investor referral. We didn’t even have a website for Keyplay. 100% were curious community members who engaged.
These small decisions and optimizations helped us expand reach significantly:
- Posting 1-5 times a week with insightful B2B content to spark discussions on LinkedIn
- Posting 1-2 research-backed insights on LinkedIn
- Keyplay and PeerSignal sites link to one another
- Send B2B SaaS analysis newsletter once a week
- Provided assets for all Keyplay employees to optimize their LinkedIn profile (optional)
- Coordinated Keyplay funding announcement and campaign
- Building in public – listening to what the community wants us to build next
KP: When did you decide it was the right time to start monetizing?
AS: When we started to see a pattern in inbound emails and then uncovered real pain and willingness to pay.
We did some small self-serve revenue tests that were interesting, but the bigger insights came when we got on the phone and dug into the problem and gaps in other solutions. This gave us enough confidence to start offering paid design partner plans to a few people and building around their needs.
KP: What’s next for Keyplay and PeerSignal?
AS: Our goal for PeerSignal is to become the go-to resource for 100K+ B2B sales and marketing professionals to study modern GTM and get inspired to improve their craft. Instead of hiring a traditional demand gen marketer, we brought on Camille as Director of Content and Community to double down on PeerSignal. She’s had an immediate impact and will be writing the playbook for a media brand inside a SaaS company.
We have different goals for Keyplay, our SaaS. But we believe that as long as we focus on building a relevant community—sales and marketing professionals in B2B SaaS—through our research and media arm, revenue will follow. Just as it did when we started PeerSignal as a research project.
We’ll continue to strengthen the relationship between the two by refining our definition of “good content.” Right now, we rank all topics in our content backlog by potential impact and relevance. Aside from that, we’re studying freemium models and thinking about our content as a product. Only the best content ideas move from “Idea” to “Scoping” to “Planned.”
Lastly, we’ll improve our B2B SaaS library on PeerSignal with more resources and effortless user experience. With upgraded equipment (resources) and choose-your-own adventure paths (UI/UX), we’ll build a better, more accessible playground for GTM professionals.
The TL;DR – Adam Schoenfeld’s five-step playbook for a media <> SaaS empire
- Built content and community (PeerSignal) before software.
- Grew a 14k+ newsletter audience.
- Let the community tell us what business problems to solve for money (SaaS customer dev).
- Got to $100K ARR without a website or app, 100% community hand raisers.
- Turned the solution into software (Keyplay) with those customers.