Offer-Led Growth

Product-led growth. Audience-led growth. Community-led growth.

These buzzwords mislead indie founders. Last week, this poor guy asked a question here on finding paying users for "founders with no audience" as if they were an exception

No, they're not. Founders with no audience/community/super-duper-product-that-sells itself are actually the rule. Here was my answer to his question:

I don't agree with the "doing that without an audience is even harder". I've analyzed how 450+ founders got paying customers (see Zero to Users for more details) and the majority got them WITHOUT having an existing audience.

Here are the top channels they mentioned for getting the first X users:

  1. Marketplaces & app stores (worked for 78 founders). Recently wrote a post on Indie Hackers on this.

  2. Product Hunt (worked for 78 founders)

  3. Reddit communities (worked for 45 founders)

  4. Cold email outreach (worked for 42 founders)

  5. "Powered by" marketing (worked for 42 founders, see this Indie Hackers post for explanation)

  6. Hacker News (worked for 39 founders)

  7. Having an existing audience (worked for 39 founders)

Yup, having an existing "media brand" came up on the 7th place. Most channels tapped into an existing audience someone ELSE owned. For eg, reaching out to people who follow an influencer in your niche. Finding a "directory" and cold-emailing people there, etc.

Don't let "I need to have an existing audience before getting started" limit you. You can get paying users without that.

Sure, audience/community/product-led growth have their place later in the process. But many founders think that they need an existing audience/community/great product BEFORE they even start selling. Which is simply not true.

In my experience and research, what matters the most is your offer. What product do you provide? What problem do you solve for people? Lead with that and see if there's some interest.

Examples of clear offers

Take Exploding Topics, for example, and their pro offer:


Pretty specific and something you could put in front of 200 people to see if they're interested.

Or take Support Shepherd and their straightforward offer:


Another example is AirHelp:


These are all 1-2 sentence offers you could present to people to see if they're interested.

There's evidence this approach works

MarketingExperiments is a team of researchers who've conducted thousands of experiments on what makes a bigger % of people to say 'yes' to your offer.

They came up with the saying "clarity trumps persuasion". This was based on the observation that making your offer more clear increases sales. Here are one before/after example:


Here's another example where the researchers have taken the most important points from the offer and made it more clear and specific:





The conversion rate of the original was 4.86%. The conversion rate of the optimized version was 14.65%. That's a 201% relative difference. For a concrete offer. Let that sink in.

Expose your offer to a sample of people

Once you have your offer, try to see if people bite and enter their email and/or pay for it.

Depending on where your potential customers are, you use channels such as Product Hunt, (sub)Reddits, Facebook Groups, forums, even ads if they're cheap enough) and see if people bite.

Remember: Your offer is a set of words. In case the channel doesn't accept external URLs, you can just express your offer in a post. For example, if you were AirHelp, you could do a Facebook post saying:

"Hey guys, I'm making a tool to help you get up to $700 for cancelled/delayed flights that happened over the past 3 years. So far I've helped process a few refunds for a few friends. Looking for a few more beta testers to see if this can scale. Let me know if you want in (posted some pictures below on how it works)."

I did this multiple times for a few products and it worked well.

Btw, if you like this post, I publish one new post on growth each week. Feel free to subscribe to my series below:

Do you think offer-led growth is superior to audience-led growth?

  1. 6

    Offer-Led Growth (OLG)? I expected at least some push back against the emergence of yet another buzzword and checked out the comments and it appears there are no dissenting opinions ... so I'll bite 😁.

    I read the whole thing and it seems OLG is really just a spin on the established practice of writing killer copy aka Conversion Copywriting.

    Why re-invent the wheel?

    (PS: This ~7 hour old article is currently the #1 result on Google for the freshly minted term OLG).

    1. 4

      Thank you the contrarian opinion :)

      I didn't want to invent a new term. This was more of making fun of "[insert some buzzword]-led growth" phrases. You're right; this is conversion copywriting at its essence.

      My point was that you can always LEAD with it. Wherever you promote yourself. I mean, companies have been doing this for decades. It works. Of course, you can then add [x]-driven-growth on top of it. My problem is that many people have been confused and have been trying to replace this foundation with thinking like "I'll build an audience, then will try to pitch them my core offer".

      1. 1

        My problem is that many people have been confused and have been trying to replace this foundation with thinking like "I'll build an audience, then will try to pitch them my core offer".

        Wholeheartedly agree.

        And the reason why a lot of people misunderstand the basics, is actually quite fascinating.

        At the core, sales and marketing are fairly straightforward activities, but the counterintuitive thing is that, each time a new technology gets widely adopted, it makes it difficult for newcomers to reason about these two activities clearly.

        I’m hoping to educate a technical audience with an ebook I’m writing, as I used to struggle with the basics myself. No idea when I’ll finish but writing clearly is hard.

  2. 2

    Just subscribed after a really insightful read of this post!

  3. 2

    Awesome post Darko. As a solo dev founder it's so easy to look for the growth-hack that will get you 1000 users in 1 month. After doing this for a while I have realized that it (usually) never works like that.

    Instead I should reach out to people in my niche to see what they have to say. Have found that the "help-me"-approach like your example in the Facebook group works well.

    The hard part is to distill my product down to a clear sentence. As a person from Sweden where english is not my main language it's even harder. Trying to listen to what words my potential customers are using to clarify the offer.

    Do you have a good resource to write a good conversion copywriting offer?

    1. 1

      Yup, look at MarketingExperiments.com, they have good before/after examples. Also MarketingExamples.com.

      1. 1

        Thanks a lot. I've been looking at marketingexamples before. Need to take another look at it :)

  4. 2

    Awesome post, Darko! Thanks for sharing!

    1. 1

      Glad you found it useful!

    1. 1

      It has some really good, timeless principles.

  5. 1

    Great post.

    The binary choice here isn't the right way to approach this: Yes or no, is offer-led growth superior to audience-led growth?

    I believe the harsh reality for many products is that you can't trust that one approach is going to take you to the promised land.

    SEO and content don't deliver instantly, though they build a great foundation and help build the brand. Pure cold email outreach is direct, and fully within your control, but it could lead to a target customer being turned off, if not done well.

    Sales offers are great, but if you're merely flooding your target market with "Wanna buy?" messages, I don't think that works — unless your product is a real "painkiller", not a "vitamin".

    But these are just my opinions. Would love to see real data on this: certain growth approaches done in a vacuum versus done together. Most founders here on IH don't have a following and can't wrap their heads around what it would take to build one.

    1. 2

      You could "flood" your market with 10 different variations of your offer and see if any "wanna buy" message will resonate. In my experience: 10 offers with "wanna buy" > 10 different tweaks of an offer where the clear result was that people don't wanna buy. The second approach can work as well, for eg, I really want to do research on growth and I'm willing to limit myself within this domain and test offers there.

  6. 1

    Awesome as always, Darko. Btw, congrats! This post of yours is ranking on Google for "offer led growth" keyword. :)

    IH have amazing SEO!

  7. 1

    Interesting that most of these offers are very specific. In my experience, this is harder to do than it seems. My default mode is complicating things and making a headline/copy that will confuse the hell out of readers :)))

    1. 1

      Going to people and asking: "What is this page about?" can be a good way to validate how clear your offer is.

  8. 1

    People won't buy what they don't understand. I've been guilty of this too, trying to persuade before I explain. Thanks for the post!

    1. 1

      We've all been guilty of that :) Simplicity is hard.

  9. 1

    When you build an audience before a product, you're making an assumption that audience will buy the product. Which can be false. Alternative, for people who've already done that and build an audience, I think they can just take this approach and take different offers to see what works for that audience vs. giving up after their dream product fails to convert that audience into buyers.

    1. 1

      Yeah, though if you think more, having different offers + different kinds of audiences from different channels > one type of audience and different offers.

  10. 0

    great post Darko! ... though, I have a small thing to add here ... what about the time for each channel to work, or the MRR each channel can generate?

    I found that PR has the highest MRR (even better - MRR per employee) ... think Pieter Levels when he started and how he took off, word of mouth + PR

    The best performing channel based on MRR per employee

  11. -1

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