Figma’s community-driven path to success
If you were involved in the 2010s design scene, you'll remember the complete monopoly Adobe Creative Suite had in the lives of everyone from graphic designers to video editors, illustrators to web designers. It was the best (and in some cases, the only) choice available when it came to design software, and its price tag was prohibitively expensive. Its features were powerful – but a good portion was either unintuitive or unnecessary.
Figma stepped onto the stage at the perfect time with a collaborative, community-minded solution. By combining the best of both worlds – modern web development and a strong focus on collaboration – Figma quickly rose to prominence as the go-to design software for creative teams and became Adobe’s biggest competitor.
Fast forward ten years after its conception and Figma has been acquired by Adobe for a whopping $20 billion, a clear indication that their focus on community was a success. Let's dive into how Figma built its community and everything it has managed to achieve with a community-led growth strategy.
Figma: a quick history
We know that Figma first rose to public infamy after its official release in 2016. What you might not know, however, is that the bricks were being laid for this meteoric rise to success long before then.
Figma was founded by Dylan Field and Evan Wallace in 2012. They had both previously worked at Microsoft but wanted to create something that allowed designers to collaborate online – a feature absent from the design software of the day.
From the beginning, Field and Wallace knew that collaboration would be an essential part of Figma's success, which is why they released their beta version in 2014 as a web-based application allowing multiple users to work on projects simultaneously.
The following two years saw Figma slowly build its community through word-of-mouth marketing, as well as strategic partnerships. For instance, in 2015, they joined forces with Google Ventures and Greylock Partners, two of the biggest venture capital firms at the time, who both recognized the potential of Figma's collaborative approach to design.
Product and values
To properly understand where Field and Wallace were coming from when they conceptualized Figma, you need to know what the design landscape looked like at the time: It was expensive, unintuitive, and often limiting – a far cry from what we are used to today.
The digital transformation was also well underway, and brands needed the ability to produce high-quality visuals quickly and fluidly. Field and Wallace knew that the only way to do this was by offering a collaborative design platform that allowed designers from all backgrounds to work together on projects in real time.
The pair wanted Figma to embody their values of collaboration, creativity, and efficiency, something which they have kept true since its founding day.
This focus on providing an intuitive user experience has been key to Figma's success with both amateur and professional designers alike. It allows users of all levels to contribute without fear of getting lost in the features or complexity of the software.
Figma has millions of active users (including big names in tech like Dropbox, Slack, Twitter, and Volvo) and has successfully reached unicorn status. So, how did the company manage to grow so quickly?
The answer is simple: they put their community at the heart of what they do.
From the very beginning, Figma chose a community-focused marketing strategy that reflected their collaborative product and stuck with it throughout the years. Their Senior Director of Marketing Claire Butler and her entire team spent the lengthy stealth period demoing the product to design teams and collecting valuable feedback. She invested in connections and built a network of excitement and anticipation before the product was even available.
“When you’re pitching your product to users and gathering feedback, that’s an exercise in community. You’re starting to identify the types of folks who could be your early adopters. The next step is just connecting those folks to one another,” says Claire Butler.
Figma’s entire team embraced Claire’s community-minded approach, aiming for buzz over perfection and investing in the community they’d built. The tool was finally launched in 2016 after four years of careful preparation – and needless to say, the launch was a success.
Figma continued to invest in content marketing and community management initiatives that encouraged user engagement. They heavily targeted Twitter's design community, formed close relationships with corporate designers, and partnered with organizations to spread the word.
Leveraging 'design evangelists'
There's no denying that Figma had a genuinely high-quality tool with incredible potential, but it was their community-led launch strategy that made the difference.
The company smartly identified and leveraged ‘design evangelists’, who were leaders in the industry and had a large following of their own. They invited these creative influencers to be among the first users of Figma, giving them early access and allowing them to share feedback on their experience – something they were very eager to do.
This approach had a snowball effect: as more people saw respected figures speaking highly of Figma, it helped build confidence in potential buyers. As user numbers grew rapidly, so did word-of-mouth marketing and conversions from free trial users into paying customers.
Design and product advocacy
Another winning strategy Figma employed at the time was to hire a 'design advocate'. This advocate was responsible for encouraging peers to compete in design challenges and showcasing their work on the Figma platform.
Brent was the first Figma advocate; he’d met the team at a spontaneous pizza night held to attract community members. His strategy stood out as being one of the best community-minded incentives the team had seen yet.
“Every Friday, Brent would bring in a few of his designer influencer friends to compete with each other live in Figma in what we called Pixel Pong. It was a really fun, lightweight way to showcase the tool,” Claire Butler said. “We would Livestream the different showdowns so that folks could watch along, and people voted for the winner on Twitter.”
People began actively engaging with and promoting the product. It had a positive knock-on effect of increasing user numbers across different platforms, including Twitter and Instagram.
Conferences, meetups, and online spaces
A few years down the road, and Figma is still seeing immense success thanks to ongoing community-led strategies. For example:
- The Config global design conference is hosted by Figma each year to bring together designers, developers, and product teams for networking and knowledge sharing. It's largely focused on the latest industry updates and trends – but the outcome is a deeper appreciation for and greater awareness of the Figma platform.
- The company also hosts Meetup groups around the world every single day. These are arranged and advertised through Figma's community platform, Friends of Figma. Volunteers organize these events, making them incredibly scalable and replicable. It certainly helps that all of the volunteers are passoinate advocates; they really do the events justice, and they do so willingly without any incentive other than their enthusiasm.
- Figma launched an online space called the Figma Community, which is a hub of resources and support for designers around the world. Designers can post 'portals' linking to their work so that others can view and be inspired by their creations. Not only is this helping to shed light on the skills and talents of community members, but it also goes a long way in supporting the notion that Figma is community-first.
What can we learn from Figma?
Figma successfully reframed the meaning and function of 'community'. Using the stealth period to get a headstart on their user base, and then putting in place strategies to keep the momentum going, was a highly unique strategy for the time – and is a tactic many other organizations have attempted to replicate.
It's certainly an inspiring tale of success for any business looking to launch a new product – and one that emphasizes the importance of engaging users in a meaningful way in achieving exponential growth.
When a strong community like Figma’s is created and nurtured, the original avid users become your brand ambassadors and help spread the word about all the great things that you do, making it easier to grow.
The beauty of Figma's story is that the tool itself is built with community in mind. Designers can collaborate from anywhere in the world, making it possible for the digital interface of tomorrow to be stitched together by millions of active users, all brainstorming and collaborating via Figma's cloud-based platform.
From attracting advocates and design evangelists to hosting incredible events that benefit everyone involved, there’s nothing halfway about Figma’s community approach. It’s authentic, it’s consistent, and the community members have much to gain by taking part.
Could you be the next Figma? It’s not an overnight phenomenon; Figma made it to where they are today through intentional and consistent community building, plus a thoroughly planned strategy that put users at the heart of everything. Take inspiration from this uniquely impactful approach, and you might just reach a similar level of success.