The Secret to Success in Product Led Growth—According to HubSpot’s Kieran Flanagan

May 27, 2020

In 2006, Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah founded HubSpot to help businesses “market to humans.” Traditional marketing was broken, they believed, so they set out to fix it.

Within eight years, HubSpot grew from zero to $100+ million revenue with an IPO in 2014. And now, of course, they’re synonymous with growth—they’ve built a highly engaged audience of over six million people between their blog visitors and their social connections, considered to be the largest in the software industry.

[Related: Peek Inside HubSpot’s Multi-Million Dollar SaaS Growth Strategy]

HubSpot’s rocketship growth trajectory is something straight out of SaaS dreams—but for Kieran Flanagan, the company’s VP of Marketing and Growth, it’s been all about executing on smart strategies. After joining the company in 2013 as the marketing leader for international, Kieran eventually worked on a small team within HubSpot whose mission was to turn a free Chrome extension into a freemium business.

But instead of building a marketing funnel, they created a product funnel of traffic, free users and product qualified leads (PQLs). Freemium is now an integral part of HubSpot’s go-to-market.

Since Kieran’s been at the forefront of leading HubSpot to embrace the product-led movement, we asked him to stop by the BUILD Podcast to discuss all things growth. He wound up sharing what he believes is the secret to success in product led growth: cross-functional teams.

“To excel and thrive in a product-led company, you must be great at cross-functional collaboration,” Kieran explained.

Many B2B companies use the traditional top-down org structure, which means work is siloed. This structure might work well for some, but product-led companies are tossing it out the window and organizing themselves into cross-functional pods and squads.

“A lot of the benefits that Growth has brought to companies is distilling your funnel down to these very concise metrics and the ones that actually matter,” Kieran explained. “Then you can look at your acquisition to activation, to monetization, to retention, and think through who are the best people—regardless of functionally where they sit—that could actually make an impact against that metric.”


For example, on the activation side you might need a copywriter, data analyst, UX designer, a couple of growth engineers and a PM. This pod would then work together to impact a specific metric like increasing the number of activated users.

Operating this way means flipping the org chart on its head and looking at projects based on the different functions needed to do them, which is exactly what HubSpot does.

“Product-led is really the rise of cross-functional.”

So when you’re trying to figure out whether you’re under-resourced for a project, it’s no longer about asking if you have enough marketers or salespeople. It’s about asking if you have the right skill sets within the pod for the project to be successful. As Kieran explained, “It’s a different way to look at your resources and your team alignment.”

The bottom line: The only way to scale a product-led engine is with cross-functional teams. Adding processes, documentation and trainings isn’t the answer—it’s your org design that matters.

Kieran had much more to say about the shift happening in B2B marketing, the importance of ops roles in a product-led model and why you shouldn’t go freemium. Listen to his full episode of BUILD on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or our streaming site.

Managing Editor<br>OpenView

Kristin joined OpenView after spending over four years at InVision managing their Inside Design publication and helping build brand love as chief storyteller, lead producer and editor. Before InVision, she co-founded the digital strategy agency Four Kitchens, spent several years in the restaurant industry as a chef, and was Editor-in-Chief of the nation’s largest college humor publication, the Texas Travesty, as an undergrad at the University of Texas at Austin.