Growth insights from our Fireside Series with Picsart's Chief Growth Officer
November 21, 2023
Unlocking Growth Strategies
In our latest Fireside Series, Panobi CEO Merci Grace sits down with Thibault Imbert, Chief Growth Officer of Picsart — a creative platform used by over 150 million creators globally. Imbert shares how Picsart generates revenue, explores different business models, discusses surprising growth levers, and highlights the exciting potential of AI in creativity. See the full Panobi Fireside Series conversation below:
Scroll down to read the full transcript.
Exploring Picsart business model: From free app to AI features
Picsart has been a thriving creative platform for over a decade, with an impressive 150+ million creators using its product. Imbert shares that Picsart monetizes its product through a combination of paid ads, in-app purchases for the free version, and a subscription model for the paid app. Interestingly, Picsart initially started as a completely free application, generating revenue only through ads, but introduced a subscription model in 2018.
Thibault notes that Picsart is currently reevaluating its pricing and packaging strategy, focusing on the growing demand for AI features among SMBs, mid-market, and enterprise customers.
Surprising growth levers
During our interview, Imbert highlighted the significance of pricing and packaging strategy in driving growth. He emphasized that companies that experiment more with their pricing and packaging tend to experience faster growth compared to those that do not. Drawing from his experience at Adobe and GitHub, Imbert emphasized the importance of continuous experimentation and iteration in this area.
He draws examples from his previous roles at Adobe and GitHub, where pricing and packaging played significant roles in the success of their products. Noting that, at Adobe, the company focused on bundling and acquiring products to create the Creative Cloud portfolio. At GitHub, the team implemented a freemium strategy by slashing the price of their plan, resulting in increased acquisition and market competition.
Imbert discusses his experiences with growth experimentation and iteration, sharing an example from his time at GitHub, where one of their most significant successes in driving free to paid conversions was a simple plan recommender. By asking basic questions about the user's needs and team size, they were able to present the most suitable plan to the user, resulting in a substantial increase in conversions.
Imbert credits Grammarly for inspiring this approach, recalling how impressed he was when he went through onboarding for their product.
On the flip side, Imbert acknowledged that not all experiments and iterations yield the desired results. He mentioned the common trap of focusing too much on complex enterprise onboarding processes that end up not moving the needle significantly due to limited volume. Instead, he emphasized the importance of tackling the fundamentals and continuously refining the basics to drive growth.
The exciting potential of AI in creativity
Imbert expressed his excitement about the impact of AI on creativity and product experiences. He referenced a quote from the CEO of NVIDIA, who likened the current state of AI to the transformative introduction of the iPhone.
Reflecting on the time when GitHub initially started working on Copilot in 2019 and 2020, he commended the foresight involved. Our conversation also touched upon Picsart's early adoption of AI technology, long before its widespread recognition. Central to this evolution, he believes, are changing interactions with product interfaces and user experiences (UX). With the emerging AI systems, he envisions consumers easily interacting with technology, noting that people will get very used to prompting, reducing the need for traditional clicking on buttons and navigating settings. Imbert illustrates what this might look like by providing an example of a business owner requesting something for an upcoming Black Friday campaign.
Key growth takeaways
Exploring Business Models: Picsart generates revenue through paid ads, in-app purchases for the free version, and a subscription model for the paid app. The company is currently reevaluating its pricing and packaging, focusing on the growing demand for AI features.
Surprising Growth Levers: Continuous experimentation and iteration with pricing and packaging strategies can drive company growth. Efforts should focus on fundamentals and continuously refining the basics.
The Exciting Potential of AI: AI technology has the potential to revolutionize creative tools and platforms, enabling user experiences with personalized content creation.
We were delighted to have Thibault Imbert join us and provide great insights into effective growth strategies, exploring different business models, and the transformative potential of AI.
Stay tuned for upcoming guests and more key insights to help supercharge your growth team.
Merci: We are here today with Thibault Imbert, who's currently the chief growth officer at Picsart, a creative, creator platform. And he was formerly the VP Growth marketing at GitHub and the director of growth marketing for Spark at Adobe. Welcome.
Thibault: Hey, thanks, Merci. I'm super glad I'm here. Thanks for having me.
Merci: Oh, my gosh. Thanks for joining us. So we're going to jump right into it.. I would love for you to explain the business model at Picsart. How do you make money, and what else, if anything, has the business considered?
Thibault: Yeah, so we are a creative product, and we've been around for a long time now, more than ten years, the way we think about it. We're the leading AI powered creative companion. We have today over 150,000,000 creators using the product on mobile.
That's pretty amazing. Before I joined, I didn't believe that, but then I saw the dashboards and I was like, holy cow, it's true. So we make money from paid ads and in-app purchases, really, for the free product, and we have a subscription for the paid app. Actually, I learned that we used to have an entirely free application. When it started, the app was entirely free. Yeah.
Thibault: And then it was revenue generating. Very kind of similar to gaming, if you think about it, like with ads in the application. And then in 2018, the team decided to launch a subscription model with our gold plan back then. And so there's been multiple iterations of how we monetize the app. And it's funny we are talking about this because as we speak, I'm working on a proposal for how we're going to continue to think about our pricing and packaging strategy.
And so with AI becoming a core part of the product experience, and then the cost that this means for us to run, that compute, and then also increased demand from what we see, SMB, mid market and all the way to enterprise, we're again looking into pricing and packaging as we speak. So, more learnings on that, maybe in another episode with you where I'll explain if we failed or succeeded.
Merci: Yes. Can you share any surprising levers for growth or the inverse? Are there types of experimentation, iteration that have been more fruitful than you expected, or types that have unexpectedly fallen flat?
Thibault: Yeah, many have been falling flat. As much as I think a lot of us in growth like to celebrate, it's trial and error. I'm going to start with, I guess, a good connection with the previous point we made about pricing and packaging and business models. For me, something that has been often underappreciated or underinvested in, in companies, has been pricing and packaging strategy. And it's known that companies that do experiments more on pricing and packaging will actually grow faster than companies that don't.
Both at Adobe and GitHub, I was lucky enough to be close to the business in these roles to understand how the sausage making was happening, and I was able to influence that. And at Adobe, it's an art, right? The company is very much used to how to package, bundle, acquire, and make that the creative cloud portfolio that we all know. And at GitHub, there were some bold moves that the company did, one of them was before I joined in 2019, if I remember, where the team, the leadership, decided to slash the price of the plan and decrease the price of the plan to basically go with the freemium strategy and grow basically acquisition. And it worked effectively to compete with competitors.
And then with GitHub and Copilot and AI, there's also now a combination of, if you think of GitHub, a combination of usage based pricing and more traditional seats based pricing. So I think pricing and packaging is something that's also sometimes a little bit boring to everyone, but it's something that's really, really powerful. Whether you decrease or increase the price or work on your tiers and all that, it can really accelerate the business. So something that's maybe surprising for some people and unsurprising for the experts around. In my time when it comes to the things that I think iterations, experimentation, and things that have worked as expected or better, I can give some examples.
So in my time at GitHub, one of our biggest wins in free to paid, and we did a lot of experimentation in that was something very simple, that maybe some of the people watching will be like, duh, Thibault, of course you got to do that. But it was a very simple plan recommender, when people start using the product where basically we ask simply how many people do you have on your team? What are you trying to do with the product? Which features, and a few basic questions like that to route them into a simple page that presents the free plan and what we thought was actually the best plan for them, segmenting the value prop and then the messaging for each segment. I have to give credit to the team at… what's the name of this product that does suggestions …. looks at your writing and spelling. Grammarly.
Thibault: Yeah, Grammarly is maybe the OG. I remember using this product thinking, oh my God. During onboarding. It's such a smart idea. We replicated that at GitHub and it was our biggest win.
And it sounds simple because you're potentially looking into areas deeper into the product. But this was a huge win. Such a huge win that we ran the test twice because we couldn't believe this was such a win in free to paid conversion. And to the organization. It was a reminder of the importance of the first time user experience, the clarity.
I remember a talk that you gave a long time ago in the US where you're like, you look at people using your product for the first time, “it's a horror movie.” I think you had that in your talk.
Merci: Oh, yeah, the horror movie.
Thibault: And I think that we often, as growth or product, tend to drink the Kool Aid. We're kind of biased and we think that actually it's something more complex. But people come with no basic understanding of what your product does versus between the free plan and the paid plan, what's the value? And that is just the simple things.
So for me, that was something that was not unexpected, but unexpected in its impact to the revenue. We thought it would be just a simple lift and it was a oh, shit type of moment. The thing that fell flat, I've seen that in many talks, it's always the same thing, especially for B2B. You end up rebuilding the onboarding of the enterprise plan for ten years and then it never works because you don't have enough volume, so you never get to the minimal detectable effect. So your team is like, we're going to go for big swings and it's going to be great and we're going to see, and it never actually moved the needle. But then we're like, oh, 14 days for a trial is maybe too short, we should make it 30. And, that actually had an impact on the revenue.
So I keep more and more as I grow and mature into this work, it's like the simple things, I think a lot, not rocket science, it's just you got to nail the basics. And many times in the businesses I've been at, there isn't necessarily that thinking of going back to the basics and fixing the basics. And at Picsart, we're doing a lot of that as we speak.
Merci: That's cool. It's so interesting. I love those examples too, because both asking questions to the person creating a team or creating an account about what their planned usage is and sort of who they are, their team size is something I hear a lot of pushback from kind of core product and often execs around are you going to add more steps and more clicks to sign up. What if that impacts conversion? And then I hear a lot of that same fear around pricing and packaging and changing with the prices. And people feel like they're nervous to. “Oh, we just kind of barely got this moving in the right direction.” They seem actually pretty nervous to touch those things. But it sounds like your recommendation is, those are huge areas for lift.
Thibault: Yeah, the positive friction, we call it. And I think it's also, Pinterest, a while back, they had a really great growth team, I was reading a lot from their team, and they had this article about positive friction, and it's actually something we're working on at Picsart. Friction can be good and driving clarity and helping. I think a lot of generations of product managers have been told remove, remove, it's adding friction. But in the world where we live in and the amount of information and volume of things, you got to simplify.
Merci: So you've worked on some incredible tools that engineers and creators love, like GitHub, Adobe, and now Picsart. We're at what feels like a new dawn of creativity and power with AI. What are you most excited about? And any reservations?
Thibault: Yeah, I have to say that there's this quote from the NVIDIA CEO. He was saying at a recent NVIDIA conference, I think in the middle of the OpenAI kind of like, chat GPT launch, he was like, we're going through an iPhone moment with AI. And I think us all, that have been in the world where we're old enough to have seen a world without an iPhone, and today. It's kind of incredible to be able to go through that. And there was a before, large language models and an after. So for us at GitHub, maybe you've heard them, you've seen Copilot, the impact that it's having, and the team is having incredible success with that. The team started working on that in 2019, 2020.
Merci: Oh, wow. Yeah.
Thibault: So it took a lot of foresight and actually resilience to kind of envision. And I was not at the company back then. I was like, kudos to these guys for having the vision. But the reason I bring that up is because at Picsart, we've been betting on AI also for a long time. It's not new, before it was cool. And for me, the biggest impact or the thing that's the most amazing, we were talking about this with a product designer recently is like, what is ultimately the role of product interfaces and UX in this new world?
Chat GPT, right, is very primitive, but I suspect that very quickly even consumers are going to get used to that very much. And why would I need to? I mean, we talked about onboarding, maybe this goes back to asking, who or what's your business? I run a Shopify store. Okay, what are you trying? Like a few basic questions, but ultimately, how much is that clicking on buttons, going into settings, whether it's for pros or for SMBs or consumers, I think we're going to see people getting used to prompting, getting used to talking, and actually kind of like the system.
But what is the experience looks like? And so for me, in a world where I started designing product in 2009 and 10, it was radically different. And so I think we don't know what we don't know. It's moving so fast. But for me, the potential and the impact on products, for creative is immense. I keep thinking in the future it's going to be like, here's what I'm trying to do. I'm trying to run a business. This is what I'm trying to do. Oh, Black Friday is coming up. Why don't you create something for me for my Black Friday campaign? And then the product is ultimately going to create things for you. And so that is radically different than how most of these products work. Today at Picsart, we're actually looking at that and how it's going to change the way people work. It's just insane. And I'm so glad we're going through that innovation right now.
Merci: Yeah, seriously. And it's a really good time to be at a large company with volume and established audience and product market fit. It's so unique from both, the completely, like the mobile phone experience where, okay, suddenly now there's an app store and this new hardware that's location aware and everything like that. But it didn't favor incumbents apart from Apple, of course, the way that this does. Where you talk about GitHub and Picsart, having started years before the sort of LLM breakout has empowered all of these smaller startups. It's really interesting.
Thibault: Yeah, very interesting. And then of course, we're recording this in the middle of the open AI.
Merci: I know.
Thibault: Crazy. Whatever season, coming up over the weekend.
Merci: And with Satya Nadella , I mean, putting himself in the running to be one of the greatest CEOs of all time at this rate. My God. My God.
Thibault: Yeah, I don't work there anymore. So I don't have to say this, but I was amazed before I joined GitHub, Microsoft Company. When I was there, every interaction had been incredible and his vision was, fun fact, when I met him at Microsoft, we had a chat about marketing in general, and that was my single and only interaction with Satya in a call. And he wanted to talk about PLG. And when we talked about our marketing efforts, he actually asked us about how we were thinking about PLG and building actually at GitHub, a PLG centric strategy, which we were doing. But I was like, oh my God, this guy is at an altitude, and he was calling out competitors and calling out experiences in their products that were ahead of us back then at GitHub saying, you should be looking into more of that. And for me, I was like, the ability to go at different levels at all times, and consistently is just amazing leadership. So I can attest to the incredible person that he is.
Merci: Yeah, man. So cool. Thank you so much for joining us. It was awesome to speak with you. And we got to fangirl over Satya Nadella together. I loved it.
Thibault: That was awesome. Thanks for having me. And talk to you next time.