My Evolution and Product-Led Growth
Hi, I'm Nick Cucci, and I'll be your Street Smarts℠ writer for the next 12 months. I'm excited and honored to be writing this column for The Green Sheet. I've published more than 60 articles for this magazine, spanning back to my Network Merchant Inc. (NMI) days in 2009.
A fortuitous start
I began my career working for my father who, with James T. McKenzie, co-founded NMI. I was blessed to have had great mentors and people around me before and after college. (Thanks, Dad! You and Mom played major roles in helping your children find our footing and always held us accountable.) This support guided the trajectory for my family and me.
I graduated from Benedictine University in 2009 with degrees in English language and literature, and a minor in biochemistry. I quickly became a certified fraud examiner from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners and served on the organization's advisory council as well. I also met my wife and best friend Jessica at Benedictine. We have two children, Rosalia (5 years) and Nico (2 years), and two German shepherds, Ari and Donnie.
I was at NMI for 12 years, wearing many hats (under the director of marketing title) and gaining valuable industry experience while assisting in developing new products. I exited NMI after its initial sale in 2014. I then gained experience as a merchant from 2014 to 2018 when our family bought a Ford dealership in East Dundee, Ill., naming it Cucci Ford.
The start of Fluid Pay
After dealing with a disastrous, disorganized payments experience at the Ford store, Jeff Rooney, Fluid Pay co-founder, and I decided we wanted to build our own gateway. We were tired of using multiple systems to accomplish a single task, and we questioned why so many pieces of software were needed instead of just having everything in one place. We'd seen first-hand what growth by acquisition meant and did not want our new company to be forced into old industry standards and become a dinosaur.
In 2017, Jeff and I started working out of a little plane hangar office at the DuPage Airport in West Chicago, Ill. It was 10' x 10' and looked stuck in the '80s. Our renovation options were limited, but the office's size and decor never stopped us. We quickly began building what is now Fluid Pay LLC. And we met numerous nice people and saw some amazing planes along the way.
We've since grown tremendously, moving from a plane hangar in Illinois to a large office in Franklin, Tenn. Our company was just named Top Payment Processing Company of 2022 by Banking CIO Outlook magazine.
Sharing the conviction that the payments space has become too complicated and complex, our goal is to create a suite of products that function inside a completely cloud-based environment while being scalable for any size merchant—from small to enterprise-level businesses. We are the industry's first and only fully cloud-based gateway. Well, enough about me, time to get to the good stuff. I'll begin with product-led growth.
A popular strategy for business growth
Business growth is the ultimate goal for every business. But the path to that growth isn't always clear. Business owners use many different models and strategies to build their brands and expand their reach. In recent years, buzz about product-led growth has been growing. In this article, I"ll discuss the strategy behind product-led growth—and why so many companies are choosing it.
Product-led growth is being used by brands in every industry across the world to attract and maintain customers. While traditional business strategies involve getting a customer to understand the value of a product and invest in it, product-led growth leads with the product first.
Product-led growth takes the guesswork out of winning over customers. Most commonly seen in technology-based industries, like app design and video games, product-led growth kicks off a business cycle by trusting that the customer will love the product.
Typically, product-led growth models offer a completely free product or a version of a product with paid upgrades. Offering free options gives customers a chance to confirm that they love using the product or service and that it is worth money. This strategy is so effective that 91 percent of companies surveyed recently plan to invest in product-led growth initiatives within the year, according to Product-led Growth, a book by Wes Bush (see https://productled.com/blog/product-led-growth-benchmarks-2022).
How product-led growth works
Product-led growth strategies are a huge twist on traditional sales strategies. Offering a free product might not seem like a way to make money, but it really is. Businesses that use this model win over their audiences effectively and create brand loyalty simply by trusting that their customers will love what they offer.
When a customer tries a free trial or limited version of a product, they are able to get hands-on experience with it. They can explore the interface if it's an app or test out the mechanics if it's a game. Companies that specialize in physical products can use this model by offering freebies or early discounts.
Customers often take their time when purchasing products or services, particularly if they can't confirm the quality of the experience before purchase. Product-led growth strategies allow customers to try the products to confirm that they work well. Then, customers are more likely to choose to pay them because they know their worth. A few common paid offerings include premium app subscriptions, video game battle passes, and pay-per-use systems.
Why product-led growth is here to stay
Product-led growth entails a leap of faith. Ultimately, brands still need to figure out how to create a viable product that customers feel is worth the investment. The good news is that brands with a product that sells itself derive quite a few benefits from product-led growth. When asked, 60 percent of consumers said they purchased a product after trying a free version (see https://bit.ly/3JWJAFR).
It is widely believed that product-led growth is the future of business, particularly for technology companies. Following are just some of its benefits: Market research and audience knowledge: With product-led growth you really do get to know your target audience. Allowing customers to use your products or services without purchasing them for a period of time provides insights on what kind of experience your products offer and reveals a lot about what works for your business.
You can quickly gauge what does and doesn’t catch their interest. This is great for refining products and marketing efforts, which then allows you to capture the attention of even more potential customers.
Enhanced conversion rates: For typical business strategies, conversion is about catching attention and making a sale. Product-led growth strategies stir customer interest naturally, and companies using them experience three times the conversions to premium offerings, per Bush's Product-led Growth. People who try out your products and services will be more likely to feel comfortable purchasing them because they already know they like what you have to offer.
Easy customer acquisition: Most business models require a sales representative to convince customers to buy your products. With product-led growth models, you skip the need and cost of a sales team.
You provide the free version of the product or service, then offer your customers the chance to make the purchase or upgrade. The product sells itself. Leads from this strategy turn to paid customers 25 percent of the time (see https://bit.ly/3JYGAsK). An experience customers love: Complicated how-to guides and training sessions are frustrating. Product-led growth models dispense with all that: instead of demanding a steep learning curve, you can make it easy for your customers to try out what you have to offer on their own.
By creating a user-friendly process, you enable customers to feel empowered when they choose your brand. From start to finish, they control the process, deciding what is right without sales pressure or difficult onboarding. They simply try, then buy.
Lead with your products
Enabling customers to experience what you have to offer is a great way to convince them to pay for it. Whether you choose to offer a free product or service or a free trial version, customers will feel empowered when they choose your company. With a great product, you can't lose with product-led growth.
If you have suggestions on topics you'd like to see tackled in this column or have questions, please don't hesitate to reach out at Nick@FluidPay.com or 630-381-8055.