Inside ClickUp’s Journey to 8 Million Users
Project management platform ClickUp has had the quintessential startup rocketship journey. From bootstrapping in 2017 to serving more than 8 million users across 1.6 million teams this year, ClickUp has recently achieved some eye-popping milestones:
- Grew from $4 million ARR to more than $100 million ARR in just over two years
- More than doubled its paying customer base year over year
- Makes 8+ products, with 15+ views, and built 100+ integrations in the last year
- Recognized by Fast Company, Deloitte, and more for growth and innovation
The OpenView team recently sat down with Gaurav Agarwal, ClickUp’s chief growth officer, to learn about the company’s growth, product strategy, and what lies ahead for the PLG giant.
Note: This conversation has been edited for clarity and concision.
Q: How does ClickUp differentiate itself in a crowded market?
We’re in a very competitive space. Everyone is trying to attack project management and productivity in some way or the other. But our CEO Zeb Evans was clear from day one—it’s not a single point solution problem, it’s a platform problem. And so, our vision is to be a productivity and collaboration platform that gives you all the tools you need to do your work in one place.
When thinking about our competitors, here’s what sets us apart:
- Breadth. We offer more than eight products and 15+ customizable views to cater to diverse team needs.
- Flexibility. We try to build individual components like Lego blocks that teams can stack on as needed. I often tell people we are a project management solution, a docs and whiteboarding solution, a communication platform, a workflow automation platform—all in one.
- Full platform approach. With productivity and collaboration, there’s a real tax that you pay when you context-switch between different tools. With ClickUp, users can replace several other tools, streamlining their workflows.
- User experience. Legacy solutions cater to buyers, but they end up losing the end-user. ClickUp is obsessed with user experience and actively involves its community in shaping the product. We offer a freemium product because we want people to gain value before we think about monetization.
- Pace of development. We continue to ship product updates to our customers every week. We do weekly release notes and released more than 100 new features last year.
Q: How did you decide your monetization points?
Initially when the company was bootstrapping and about to run out of money, our CEO took the initiative to generate cash flow and monetize customers. He came up with the idea to start paywalling by offering limited usage for premium features.
So for example, Gantt charts are a premium feature. Users could create a few Gantt charts for free, but exceeding a certain number required upgrading to a paid tier.
This allowed us to strike a balance between prioritizing the user experience while still generating revenue—without monetizing the hell out of our user base. Users had the opportunity to try the product, derive value from it, and then upgrade if they needed additional features.
Q: Tell us a little bit about ClickUp’s growth playbook and some of the key tactics that have worked across different stages of growth.
During the bootstrapping phase, we focused on efficient growth due to limited resources. We heavily utilized organic channels, including web scraping, SEO, and word of mouth, growing organic revenue by over 1,000% year over year. We implemented a paywall, which helped us achieve profitability before raising venture capital.
From Series A to B, we identified product-market fit and invested in performance marketing, leveraging quirky brand videos for viral growth.
During Series B to C, we ramped up performance marketing across our productivity suite. We expanded with a sales team and experimented with product-led sales. Our marketing spend increased, including investments in billboards and a Super Bowl commercial. We optimized our performance spend to operate efficiently, resembling a consumer company.
Throughout each stage, our approach involved building upon previous strategies. We began with a strong foundation of organic content and a viral community. Then, we added layers of performance advertising and brand marketing, allowing our growth tactics to snowball.
Q: What were some of the challenges you encountered and learnings along the way?
Personally for me, one of the biggest learnings in the last year has been the need to distinguish between buyers and users. Oftentimes PLG companies index heavily on users, but it’s important to understand the motivation of buyers. For buyers, it’s not about a feature. It’s about “How do I get my company to become more productive? How do I cut costs? How do I deliver more with less?”
In SMB, users and buyers are often the same people. But as you move upmarket, the gap between them widens, necessitating dedicated teams to cater to both groups.
Q: How do you build a growth motion that serves both buyers and users?
As we look at our business now, we think of it in two distinct ways:
- The user-focused play. Here we focus on velocity by enabling quick purchases for SMBs and micro-prosumers through product-led growth.
- The buyer-focused play. Here we identify ways to find and cater to upmarket users.
In my team, we have separate squads dedicated to both. Their KPIs are different, allowing them agency and autonomy to focus and execute against goals, but of course those KPIs are all linked. For example:
- The acquisition team with user goals focuses on generating more sign-ups.
- The event marketing team with upmarket goals focuses on developing revenue, marketing, and events focused on our larger prospects and customers.
When you give different teams specific swim lanes but then still connect the dots, you put them in a symbiotic relationship with each other, which ultimately creates synergy across the board.
Q: How do you balance growth experimentation with tactics you know are working?
I’m a big moonshot guy. Every team needs to sign up for a moonshot initiative. Why? Otherwise, you’ll just be a fast follower, not an innovator in the space.
Q: Any growth advice or words of wisdom for early-stage founders?
First, prioritize nailing product-market fit. Don’t try to skirt around it. That means identifying qualitative measures of product-market fit, like customer feedback, along with quantitative measures (i.e., you should see net retention increasing.) Remember, growth and marketing cannot solve for a bad product.
About 15% of our time goes towards exploring—placing bets in the hopes of striking gold. Then, 25% of our time goes towards optimizing; in other words, finding the best ways to mine the newly found gold. The remaining 60% of our time is dedicated to sustaining and refining our proven tactics—or keeping the existing gold mines running.
Then, focus on retention as a growth strategy.
After you have nailed the above, figure out what your organic growth strategy will be. This could include content-driven approaches like SEO and social media, viral tactics like referrals and invites, or fostering a strong community and word-of-mouth.
Once you’ve nailed that, then you’re ready to think about more expensive marketing tactics, expanding a sales team, etc. But don’t even think about investing in advanced growth techniques until you nail the fundamentals.
Q: What’s next for ClickUp’s product strategy?
We’ve added more and more products. We’re in the process of rolling out ClickUp 3.0. We are making a big push on AI. We believe AI is going to be very crucial to how people work and collaborate. Going upmarket and building enterprise capabilities is also a huge focus for us.
And I think philosophically, we have changed our viewpoint from “one app to replace them all,” to “one app to integrate them all.” We understand that work is so fragmented and trying to build everything is not the solution.
Key growth takeaways for founders
- Identify the correct problem before building. ClickUp realized the market was saturated with point solutions and decided to take a platform approach instead, which then guided the company’s overall product strategy and growth.
- Implement growth tactics that build on one another. Unlocking efficient organic growth early on enabled ClickUp to experiment with quirky branding videos, which then led to bigger performance marketing bets like billboards and a Super Bowl commercial.
- Balance a focus on the end user with a focus on the buyer. PLG companies index heavily on users, but buyers have different motivations. Consider building separate teams or functions to focus on both within your growth organization and enable them with the right KPIs.
- Carve out time for exploration. You’ll never know the next big opportunity unless you experiment. Consider spending at least 15% of your time exploring new growth tactics.
- Stand out and don’t settle. Don’t be afraid to experiment with campaigns that seem unconventional. For example, this music album by ClickUp has led to more than 1 million plays. Whatever your tactics, approach them with the mindset that ordinary won’t cut it.