My first job in technology was at a startup called Feedster. We were trying to build a real-time search engine to deal with this new technology at the time called RSS (Really Simple Syndication). 

The premise was Google showed you the most relevant links based on their PageRank algorithm, and Feedster wanted to show you what was happening in real-time based on what people were talking about on this whacky new thing called Weblogs. RSS was the underlying technology that allowed blogs to syndicate their content so that we could always have the latest posts. 

Feedster didn’t quite work out. It was early to market, this company called Twitter came along a  few years later,  something, something, etc. The premise of bringing up Feedster is we wanted to index the 500 most important weblogs at the time. This was a very big deal to the small group of people that thought real-time content updates, RSS/newsfeed-focused consumption, and user-generated content was the future. We had top sites like Digg, Reddit, MetaFilter, Engadget, Huffington Post, and many others that are now considered very important corners of the internet. I wish I could show you a picture of the list, but unfortunately, even the Internet Archive fails me. (For another article, we should really talk about how we are preserving all the work that was done on the internet over the last 30 years). 

While I don’t have a screenshot, I do have this chart from an article Noah wrote about RSS in 2004 that created the first contact that ultimately connected us.

In announcing the PLG Index, I see a lot of similarities with where we were with the Feedster 500 back in 2005. In 2005, there was still an argument about whether user-generated content was just a fad (or even legal!) and whether real-time updates were really an important way to get information in a feed-like/reverse chronology model. 

Today the largest media companies in the world are real-time content engines, the largest technology companies in the world sit at the center of user-generated content, and the feed-like model powers the streams of the ~5 Billion people that now have access to the Internet. 

PLG in 2021 feels a lot like user-generated content in 2005. A small number of people believe this new way to go to market will revolutionize software. I, along with my colleagues, are part of this group. We set out to index what we see as the best PLG companies out there to provide a blueprint for others to follow. The critics of PLG will say it isn’t for them, that the sales motion doesn’t need to change and that some products require paywalls, friction, and a terrible customer experience. That last part is there just to tease because they know it is true. :-)

The PLG Index is the top private B2B software companies based on: 

Offering a freemium or trial product

  • Allowing a user to start using the product, friction-free from a paywall or interaction

Offering transparent pricing

  • At least one of their pricing stages gave a price, even if the enterprise edition might say something like, contact sales. 

We then cut these companies by: 

Valuation 

  • Crunchbase or Pitchbook as our systems of record

Success score 

  • A way to look at their recent momentum with some secret sauce in it

We have added categories for each company, along with a categories page. On any company page, you can see the employee breakdown of the company, specifically how many people work in Sales, Marketing, and Engineering. We are specifically focused on the ratio of engineers to sales and marketing, we think this multiple over time could be a telling way to see how operationally efficient a company is and how much the product truly sits at the center of the go-to-market motion.

If you don’t see a company that you think fits this criteria, please add it in the form at the bottom of the page. 

This is the PLG Index: a list of 300+ companies that will blaze the path for all future software companies. To the pioneers of this list, we are excited for what the future holds for you, your work inspires us at Variance, and we are looking to build tools for you and the companies that will come after you. If you aren’t on this list, have no fear, we will continue to keep it updated and work tirelessly to promote and build on this list as much as possible. 

We are looking forward to building a PLG future with you.

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