How does sticking with the tough times of business lead a founder to build a software company that powers 11M Web sites with 75M monthly visitors?
David Rusenko is the co-founder and CEO of Weebly, the easiest way for anyone to create a web site, blog or online store.
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David Rusenko, Weebly
David Rusenko is the founder of Weebly, a website creator that allows you to create pages with template skins and content widgets.
Andrew: Three messages before we get started.
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Here’s the program.
Hey, everyone, I’m Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com, home of
the ambitious upstart and the place where you know hundreds of proven
entrepreneurs have come here to tell you how they did it, their highs,
their lows, their clever hacks and their solutions for building an
incredible company. In this interview, I want to answer this question. I
want to know how sticking through the hard times of business can lead a
founder to build a software company that powers 11 million websites with 75
million monthly viewers.
David Rusenko is the Founder and CEO of Weebly, the easiest way for anyone
to create a website, blog or online store, and I am looking forward to
hearing his story. Thanks for coming here and doing it and telling your
Andrew: Hey, what percentage of the overall Internet, or what percentage of
websites are now being run on Weebly?
David: So, about 2% of the active websites on the Internet are currently
run on Weebly, and it’s a number. If you go to NetCraft.com they do a web
server survey. It’s one of the most accurate ones we have access to. The
thing that’s interesting about that number is it sort of strikes a lot of
people just being sort of unbelievable, like it’s just not possible. It’s
not possible for anyone. It just doesn’t seem right. What’s actually sort
of surprising about that number is that there are only a little bit over
200 million active websites on the Internet. That’s a pretty small number.
So, you look at almost a billion people every month that go to Facebook,
that process is super easy. It’s super successful. If you look at creating
a website, you have to know HTML, you have to know CSS. A lot of times you
have to know some kind of back end language, and it’s just really hard, and
it’s not accessible to the average person. So, essentially, that’s what
we’ve done and that’s where you’re starting to see a lot of people get
online and actually create a website for themselves.
Andrew: And it’s the 11 million number. These are active websites that are
still going, that are still being taken care of?
David: Yeah. So, 11 million isn’t our active website number. If it was,
then it would be a lot higher than 2% of the Internet, but a significant
percentage of the websites are active, are still being taken care of, are
being updated on a regular basis.
Andrew: All right. So, here’s the thing. I did go online and started to
look around to see how I could confirm or refute this 2% number. I couldn’t
come up with anything solid, but what I did discover, as I went through it,
is this company, your company, that I don’t really hear about much in our
circles is powering a ton of websites. What I want to know is how you did
it, and I also want to know why people just don’t talk about you in the
same breath frankly as WordPress. Why we don’t talk about you when we’re
talking about even SquareSpace? Why you’re not as well known as Tumblr,
considering the number of websites and the number of people who you’re
You have a quick answer for it? But I want to discover the full answer
throughout this interview. What’s the answer to that question?
David: What’s interesting about that is just we haven’t been super visible
in the tech community, and I think one of the reasons is it’s just not a
need that a lot of us have. A lot of us do know how to go and use HTML and
CSS basics and put it up on our website. And so, it doesn’t strike most
people as this is a massive problem that a lot of people have. If you go to
middle America, if you go to the non-technical side, not just middle
America but anyone that doesn’t have technical skills. It’s very common.
It’s shocking the number of times where I’m just out and about and the
people I interact with know about Reboot[SP]. It’s just not something that,
so far, has really taken hold inside the tech [??].
Andrew: All right, so let’s go back and see how you got here. How you built
this website and how you got so many people on it. You were in school and
as I understand it this started out as a school project, am I right?
David: It did. One thing, and before we started, so probably about seven or
eight months into working on it, Google Pages came out. That was probably
the first online version, and we had been working on it for a while at that
point, but that was the first time you could just log on somewhere and
create an actual website. Before that, and when we were in school, the
process was open up Front Page or Dream Weaver and start to try to build
something. Then all these things would be screwed up. Like your images
weren’t resized properly. Links you had set that were local on your file
system, when you uploaded them they were all broken.
Andrew: Couldn’t you do it on Geocities or on Tripod? Couldn’t you build
websites pretty easily back even in those days?
David: Even back in those days it was more about the posting than it was
about building the website. There were these really, really very basic and
simple tools but you certainly couldn’t build anything. I remember my first
website was on Geocities and I built the thing by hand and then uploaded it
onto the server. There were all these unintuitive things that you had to do
and just the software wasn’t very good. We noticed that when you look at
something like Dream Weaver it was more geared towards having a preview and
then having your code pane.
We noticed that most of these tools weren’t very imaginative. They were
more like bringing the word processor analogy to web pages. But what we
noticed was their interface was just like Word. When you give someone a
word processor they create online word docs, they don’t create a website.
That’s what you saw a lot of non-technical people doing with these tools,
was creating more or less what looked like a word document online.
We set out to say well, we could make this whole process a lot easier. All
these things we can take care of for the user, including hosting. You
basically just drag and drop. You’ll notice things are, by default you have
a title and a paragraph grouped together. Things that basically make a
website a website and not just an online word document. But publish,
literally within a couple of minutes it’s online and ready to go.
Andrew: All right, so that was the vision. It’s true that back in the days
when you had to use Front Page or Dream Weaver you had to figure out how to
set up a website for yourself. You had to figure out how to connect it to
the website. They try to make it easy but it really wasn’t. I understand
the vision for it, you see where I’m trying to go with this. But then, you
know what, no, I don’t.
You know what? What was it? Was there somebody who you saw who tried to
create a website who was frustrated by it? Because, you know what, I was
living in that world and I thought hey, you know what, when I went from
writing on paper to writing on a computer I had to learn a little bit of
something. I took a step forward. When I went from writing on a computer on
a word processor to building websites it was natural that I needed to learn
how to use Front Page. That’s a natural evolution and I wasn’t thinking,
hmm, problem that someone needs to solve and that maybe there’s a business
opportunity in there. What made you see what I missed and what so many
other people missed?
David: It’s actually funny. There are a couple of examples. One is that at
Penn State all students had to create online e-portfolios. It’s sort of
supposed to be this place where you document your work online, including it
all on your resume. This was in 2005, 2006 that this was a requirement. At
that time probably, for what tools were available, pretty forward. We saw a
lot of people struggling with that.
But one example really comes to mind, actually, has nothing to do wit e-
portfolios. My good friend Jordan had to create a website for her astronomy
class. The astronomy professor said everyone has to create a website as
their class project on this topic instead of writing a paper. She had to go
and create that website and she’s like Dave, I can’t do this. Can you help
I went to her and that was like one moment where it really clicked. She
said OK, well I want to add an image here. She dragged it on and then she
resized the image from this big to this big. Then it didn’t actually resize
the image. Then all these things were just so broken. That was one moment
where it clicked, we were sort of working on Reboot[SP] a little bit at
that point, more geared towards e-portfolios. It clicked at that point
where we thought just, this is way too hard.
Andrew: That’s when you realized this could be more than just a way for
people to serve up portfolios, to create online portfolios. This could be a
way to solve problems like my friend’s problem and a way for anyone to
create a website quickly.
Andrew: You got into the portfolio mindset because of what?
David: Just because it was a requirement at Penn State and we thought it
would be easy. At the time I was working on a separate business. I thought,
‘This is super monetizable.’ We could charge five bucks per portfolio
created and our slogan could be “It’s less than
McDonalds.” That was our idea at the time for the first couple weeks.
Obviously things moved pretty quickly. That only lasted about a couple
weeks. That was our idea. It was super monetizable. We had run some bio
marketing campaigns on campus. If we expanded into a whole bunch of
politics we might make a couple million bucks a year. That was sort of the
upper limit of what, within the first couple weeks we thought was possible
Andrew: I see. Holmgren of Y Combinator says it was within half an hour of
the deadline to apply for funding and support from Y Combinator. Without
even telling your co-founders, apparently you applied. Why?
David: We’d really been working at (??) for a lot of time at that point.
Around that January/February of 2006 I started that class. It was my spring
semester of my junior year. I started this class where the goal was to
create a web app. It was very open-ended. You’re supposed to be in teams of
five. We were just brain storming ideas for the web app and I sort of
caught on to the idea of (??) and went to the professor and asked, “Hey
would it be cool if I worked on this by myself? I promise you I will do an
awesome job.” And I knew that before. And he said ‘OK. I don’t normally do
this but that’s OK.’
Andrew: You went to the president of the school and you said could I take
this project that I’ve been working on…
David: No. Just my professor for that class.
Andrew: The professor for the class, and you asked “Can I make this into a
David: Exactly. I said, “I’d like to work on this by myself and eventually
turn it into a business.” He said, “OK, that’s fine.”
Andrew: Why did you need his permission to take something you created for a
David: No, so I was supposed to do it in a group of five and I ended up
doing it by myself.
Andrew: Ah. OK. I see. All right.
David: Yeah, so I needed permission for that. So I worked on it all through
that semester. There was a two or three week period where classes ended and
my summer job started where I literally just worked 100% of my time that I
wasn’t sleeping. I’d work about 30 to 34 hours straight, and then sleep for
about 12 hours, then work for another 30 hours, then sleep for about 12
hours. That just happened to be my natural, all things considered, closing
the windows so you couldn’t see any light at any time of the day. That was
my natural rhythm. I worked on it for a couple weeks like that, and then
went to New York to work for (??) that summer.
Dan, at that point, was working with me and he was working for GEM in
Connecticut. So we were pretty close. We worked on it part time that whole
summer. That fall when we came back, t I was reading Slashdot late at
night. I had heard of Y Combinator, I don’t’ know how. But I had heard of
them previously. I just saw ‘Application deadline.’ I literally noticed it
about an hour before the deadline. So I really quickly filled out the
application and didn’t have the time to ask Dan and Chris so I just
submitted it. I called them up the next morning and asked if they would
drop out of school and move to San Francisco, and both of them said ‘Hell
yeah.’ I didn’t think that both of them would. But they were both super
Andrew: At what point did you connect with them? How did you find them?
David: I met Dan freshman year. We were in the same dorm.
Andrew: Mm-hmm. This is Dan Veltri?
David: Veltri yeah. I met Chris Fanini probably about sophomore year. About
a year later through some really good friends of mine that I had met at
school. He was a good friend from high school with them. And that’s how we
met. So we were all friends before we started a company together.
Andrew: Why did you give them a piece of this company that you wrestled
away from your college project class and had to get permission from your
professor to take on ownership? Why didn’t you say, “Hey, this is mine. You
guys go find something else and maybe once in a while I’ll ping you with
some questions.” Why did you bring them on?
Andrew: If you hang around the valley people tell you take (??) make them
eat coal? I think at the time it was just natural. First of all, no one is
going to be committed unless they’re actually part of this, right? There
was a moment when we sat down and said, “OK lets figure out who gets what
equity? Who gets how much?” We basically came up with this equation of who
is contributing and how much. Then you have to look at that through the
lens of how long are we going to work for the next four, five, six years?
Everything you bring to the table, when you put it in that perspective,
really pales in comparison to like the six years of your life that
everyone’s going to put into it.
So, to me, it was just fundamentally important to have co-founders. It was
something that I thought was critically important and just . . .
Andrew: Why? I mean, this before Paul Graham’s statements about co-founders
was well known. This is before people accepted, I think, that a co-founder
was necessary, plus you were still in school. This was your project, your
baby, what was it that made you say I need a co-founder?
David: I don’t know. It just . . .
Andrew: It just seemed right to you, that seemed like the way things
David: It felt necessary and it absolutely has been. It’s like you are
going into battle. Going into battle by yourself would be crazy. You need
to have a team of people working with you. There’s not just the extra work,
the extra people contribute is part of it; but just the moral support and
just having people, multiple people, working on, working towards one goal,
it’s just . . .
Andrew: I’m sorry to interrupt, but let’s take a break from this. I want to
continue in chronological order, but let’s take a break from that order for
a moment and just give me an example of something that you wouldn’t have
been able to do later on if not for Dan or Chris?
David: I’ll give you the perfect example. Very early on, within the
first couple weeks, we were deciding how we were going to . . . how we were
going to publish your site. So, we built the site builder, probably not the
first couple of weeks, but the first couple of months. We built this early
version. You can actually build something really, really basic. It was like
one theme and you can drag out some texts and pictures. It was really,
really simple. There wasn’t much to it.
But then we came to the problem of what happens when you like publish,
right? Like where’s that going to go? I was dead set to having people FTP
their site over their hosting because I said hosting is a s***** business.
It’s a commodity business and I don’t want anything to do with that.
Andrew: You didn’t want to host for people, you wanted to say, here’s all
your stuff, now take it and go find a hosting company?
Andrew: Okay. All right.
David: That, I thought, was the best thing to do at the time because I
thought it would be horrible to get into the hosting business and Dan felt
the other way. He said, look the market . . . and he was completely right.
People were building this cool court [?] don’t want to worry about hosting.
They don’t want to worry about internet IP [?] credentials or downloading
it or uploading it somewhere else and I told him that he was wrong.
He kept badgering me over the next, like, two months continuously saying,
come on, trying to convince me. So, finally, he did convince me. Absolutely
the right move. Like things would not have been where they are now if it
wasn’t for that, it was 110% the right move, and he spent months convincing
me of that.
Andrew: I see. All right, that makes sense. And then if he was just an
adviser or a friend who cared and you kept butting heads with him, he’s
say, you know what, screw that. I’ll prove to be right in the end or he’ll
just suffer for not listening to me and never know that I was right; but
I’m not going to bang my head against the wall with this guy. Because you
guys were partners and he had a vested interest in this and it was his baby
too, he had to keep pushing you?
David: Yeah. I mean, absolutely. There’s an entirely different level
of commitment from a co-founder as there is from anyone else. That
commitment . . . I’ve never heard of a team of two or three people that
started a company and someone said, man, I wish I didn’t have any co-
founders. Like, I’ve never heard anyone say that. Like, I wish . . .
Andrew: I’ve heard people say that, I wish these guys were . . . I’ve done
a few interviews where people seem to . . . they didn’t specifically say
it, but they wished death, I think, on their co-founders.
One more thing before we continue with the narrative. The name Weebly,
where did it come from?
David: Sure. So, that’s, actually, a real interesting story. Even in
2006 it’s, obviously, impossible to find a domain name, even harder now.
But we were three scrappy college kids, like, buying something was just not
an option. So, we had to come up with a domain name that was available. So,
I wrote a pearl script that would generate pronounceable short words and
short was the key to something being memorable and, obviously, thought
So, I wrote this pearl script that would generate pronounceable short words
and check them against the linguistic database and I figured consonant,
vowel, consonant, consonant, vowel. I figured I’m not a language expert,
but I figured that’s a pattern for a pronounceable word. Then, as vowels, I
put in double O’s, double E’s, all that stuff. I ran through a whole bunch.
I spent a couple hours pouring over these. Most of them were complete junk.
But there were a couple that stuck out. There was a short list of about
I only remember one other one and it was Moovoo, M-O-O-V-O-O.
David: And I sent it to Dan. I said, Dan, what do think of these
names. I’ve been looking at this for like hours. Look, I’m, like, seeing
gibberish at this point. Then, he said, oh, we have a new website creation
made easy and then it just sort of clicked right there.
Andrew: And Weebly was one of the names on the list or not?
David: Weebly was one of the names on the list.
Andrew: Oh, wow. Okay. That’s pretty clever how you did that. You know
what? That leads, then, into my next question. I asked Paul Graham on
Hacker News why he invested in you guys and he said, well, here’s what we
told me. He said for young founders, they were still in college, they
seemed unusually formidable. That’s what he said on Hacker News. What does
that mean? How did you show him that you were unusually formidable?
David: I’m not sure. I know at that point, like then, he’d probably be a
better person to ask than us. I do know one anecdote that comes to mind is
that he, so YC started off as sort of this summer boot camp. Like come try
starting a company over the summer and then if it turns into something drop
out of school. I know they sort of felt like they got burned by people who
treated it more like just a summer program, a summer job. They wanted to
start a company, worked on it, YC felt like they had a lot of promise and
people said nah. Like I want to go back to school, I’m not really
interested in dropping out.
When we interviewed, and I think we were like the third or maybe the fourth
class, when we interviewed in November, 2006 they were still, obviously had
been scarred from that. I think they asked us like four or five times in a
row if we’d be willing to drop out of school. Literally it was like but oh,
you guys are still in school. You’ve got to drop out of school. We said
yeah, no problem. They’re like no, but are you really going to do it? We’re
like yeah, yeah, of course we are. What’s your mom going to say when she
calls? I don’t care, right?
They just hammered us over and over. I mean, that’s the only thing I can
think of where they sort of came to that conclusion. Probably a better
question for PG than for me.
Andrew: Why was school so disposable that if you found a better opportunity
you were willing to just cast it aside?
David: Well, you know for me, we only had one semester left and I kind of
figured I was going to be able to finish [??], and I did. And Dan did, too.
We always joked that Chris is way cooler than the two of us because he’s an
actual college dropout. We’re just lousy college graduates. You know, for
me personally I just figured [??] work but I think for all of us it was
very, very obvious that it was a massive opportunity. We’d already gotten
all the benefits out of college, sort of all the learning. Whether we got
the degree or not really wasn’t as important as going and pursuing this
Andrew: OK, so you ended up staying in school? Even though you committed to
leaving if you needed to.
David: Sort of. We moved out here and then I enrolled in the classes and
then I emailed and said hey, is it possible for me to take it from out
here? Our number one commitment was to being out here. If that meant that
we weren’t going to finish school that was fine. If we could try to finish,
I had one more class left. I actually had a dual major, I dropped one of my
majors and that meant I had one class left. I emailed the professor and
said look, I’m willing to fly back for the midterm and the final if that’s
what it takes. I just can’t be in class every day. But I promise I will
pass your midterm and final. They actually worked with me and said hey,
we’ll let you do a project as an alternate [??].
Andrew: I see. All right, you and I have this set up here. This is
PowerPoint, I can even show it in this zoomed up way, with some of the
slides that show the growth of the company. You wanted to show it instead
of my face to tell the audience about your rise. Is now a good time to
start going into the slides?
David: Yeah, let’s do that.
Andrew: All right, which one do you want me to start off with?
David: Start off with the first slide and then we’ll actually go straight
into the second. Basically, this is just a set of slides, what we’re
looking at in most of these slides is just trying to give a feel for really
what it’s like to start off at the earliest stages. Here we’re looking at
February, 2006. We covered this a little bit but this is a picture I took
in February, 2006. This is a computer stadium, we’re at Penn State. This is
where we started working on Reboot[SP].
Go to the next slide. You’ll see that this is August, 2006. This is seven
months after we started working on the project. I’ve seen start ups start,
get funded, and quit in less than seven months. But this is seven whole
months of working on this project. One thing you’ll see from this graph is
that there’s basically no sign ups. This is just us and a couple of friends
that we have try it out.
Andrew: This is the number of sign ups that you have, plotted over time.
And the big day that you had came in late June where you got 10 sign ups
and it seems like almost every other day is zero sign ups. Am I reading
this graph right?
David: Absolutely. Mostly we were working on building the product. It’s a
fairly complicated product. And yes, this is sign ups per day. New sign
ups, new users per day. You’re looking at maybe like 12 at that max [?] 12
maybe, seven full months after you start work on. If you could go to the
Andrew: Take a look at the next one.
David: So, this is nine months after we start work out. This is when we
actually are trying to get users, so nine months. So, in October we said
OK, let try to get users. So we went to a couple forum…
Andrew: And up until then you weren’t trying to get users?
David: You know we set up some byte codes but we were mostly building a
product as opposed to really trying to get a lot of users. So its private
data, we had a couple of people, maybe 30 using it but it wasn’t meant…
Andrew: Before we go on with more users, while you were still building the
site in school and then through Y Combinator, how’d you get feedback to
know what to build into it to know what’s easy for you is really easy for
the average user especially if you’re coming from of view that FTP’ing is
pretty freaking easy but the average user doesn’t know what FTP stands for.
David: Yeah, this is extra; user testing is not that hard. If you asked
five people to use your product and you sit behind them and watch them use
it, then the hardest thing about it actually is keeping their mouth shut
while their struggling because it’s incredibly painful. Like you just want,
OK can you [?] site or sign up for an account and just watching people
struggle you want to be like, well it says sign up right there, why don’t
you just click right there. But if you just keep your mouth shut you will
learn so much and in our experience almost every [?] every [?] problem will
surface within usually three but almost always five, watching five people
use the product.
Andrew: So, you would just have five people come in, who do have come in to
want to use the product.
David: We’re just using our friends so we’d say hey, sit down and try it
out, what you think. Basically people that we knew and have them try it out
and see what their reaction was, see what their experience was.
Andrew: OK and you came across issues like they didn’t even know where to
David: In one of our home page designs we came across some really
interesting insight which was we were just about to launch the home page
and said well, you know, we should probably do some user testing before we
launch our new homepage and we found out that, we wanted to boil down the
number of fields on the site so we just went to two. We said it was just
going to be email and password and it said sign up email, password, sign up
and what we learned was with five out five people we tested on, every
single person thinks a form with two entries is a log in form [?]. And that
you need three of these for most people, they would [?] no, that’s where
you would log in, where I sign up. So, interesting things like that is
going to surface really quickly.
Andrew: What do you add when you don’t need an extra field just to let
people know, this is not a log in form, this is registration?
David: We put in your full name because we figure it wouldn’t hurt to have
Andrew: I see and think you still do that now right? Today, you ask for
full name, email, password and that’s it right?
David: That’s it.
Andrew: OK, all right. So, I got my answer. Let’s go back to the chart.
This is nine months in.
David: So, this is nine months in. You notice that big day there is where
we got 32, 33 users and we were pushing [?]. We figured all founders
figure, man we’re going to let this lose and it’s going to explode, right?
And so we posted on some forums, we emailed bloggers, we went and got a
couple blog posts and you can see it, almost nothing. So, in addition, we
said oh, we got to do private data; we have to have invite codes. It’s
going to get really big; our server’s going to melt. We only had two
machines at that point and of course nothing happens. You go out there and
it’s sort of disappointing. You work your ass off and you don’t see much
adoption. So, this is nine months after we started work out.
Andrew: And that’s, just to make sure I’m reading this right, that number
there is 30 new registrations in September and then it goes back to zero
and fluctuates between zero and just under ten in October, registrations
David: It’s like one day in September, we’ll call it September 9th, I don’t
know what day it actually is but that day had 32 people who signed up and
you can see some days, you can see the effects of us sort of hustling but
it pretty quickly almost dies down to almost nothing.
Andrew: OK, all right. This is, by the way, this is really painful. I
understand when you’re building a great product and say as soon as I
release it the world’s going to love it. You’re expecting millions of
people. I remember going into the bank to open up my first bank account, I
shouldn’t keep telling my story, but I do remember sitting in there, in
fact walking in and saying to my brother, as soon as they know what they
have with us it’s going to blow their minds. Once we launch this thing and
all the money comes into this bank account, it’s going to just; they’re
going to want to open up a special table just us, special desk. Nothing
happened for us. It’s very frustrating but I understand that excitement for
All right, let me go through back quick to you. People are asking me to
talk less about my experience and let the guest talk more so let’s move on
to the next item here.
David: OK, so here’s where, and this is a really interesting story, this is
where we get tech around for the first time and I think it’s a different
profile now then it was in November 2006 but basically, so we decided, a
programmer told us, take away the private data invitation code required,
it’s useless, right? And literally, this is how dumb it was, you were going
to give it out right away and you sort figured there was this whole Gmail
thing, this whole secret allure to be invite only and that’s actually going
to be a lot of people talking about you and it doesn’t and this is how dumb
it was it actually looked like a web app on my trio that I would be at the
bar [?] people because we wanted as many people to sign up so someone would
[?] my email address, get an invite code and I’m checking every ten minutes
to try to herd people while I was at the bar and it just doesn’t work.
So, finally programmer told us, like, so we emailed, and put in an
application and he got real angry at us and said this is dumb. I should go
try it out right away, what are you doing and so that’s where [?] located
we should take down the invitation only and we should put some basically
some circuit breakers in case there’s too much activity and the circuit
will break and [?] sing up and they’ll say sorry we can’t [?] right now but
we’ll email you as soon as we can. So, if you look at that graph that’s
where you see this [?] straight up and then straight down to almost zero.
That’s what it normally looks like. This one is where you see the circuit
breaker we letting in people enter through the days and we get then but,
you know, I think we got 2,000 users from that first tech run post. People
are pretty excited about. It generated a lot of buzz. Go to the next slide
you’ll see what happened is, yeah…
Andrew: That’s after you got tech crunched?
David: After we got tech crunched.
Andrew: From this to this.
David: So, at this point we got accepted into Y Combinator, we moved out
here in January 2007, 11 months after we started working on it. I think
we’re getting about eight new users per day. Things aren’t blowing up,
things aren’t exploding. We’re just hands down focused on building product.
I think next time a few pictures just to give an idea what it looked like.
So this is our apartment in what was dubbed after the y scraper. When we
were there was Steve Huffman rented was there, Justin TV was there, Scribie
was there, drop off was there, all kinds of other stats, I think at one
point there was 12 floors, five apartments per floor. I think we had at one
point 17, 10 or 15 stories in that building and this is what it looked
like. It was just three desk bunched together, sitting on wicker chairs 24
seven and just working our ass off and luckily we had a nice view to keep
If you go to the next slide you can kind of see what that looks like. It’s
just a gorgeous view of San Francisco Bay but that’s where we spent 24
hours of every day just sort off, all grouped around, this little pod and
just working. Two bedroom places, we had the three guys staying there and
it was a pretty small place and basically just puddling that group and
work, work, work. So, again, 11 months after we got started but if we move
on to the next slide, this is cool. This is a little hardware device that
[?] rigged up.
Basically we show our total user account and show our logged in users and
this is showing three here because you have the three of us, we’re logged
in. It’s usually during the day or sometime at night. This was sitting in
the middle of the desk and I remember once it showed four and then that was
a big moment for us because it meant someone else besides us was using the
site at that moment. So, switch to the next slide and so here’s, again, 11
months after January 2007 we’ve got our next crunch article and you can see
here this is one of our [?] like straight up, straight down and this is
what press looks like. It’s not straight up and then straight up after
that. It’s straight up and then boom right back down where you started.
Andrew: Can I show the one afterward? Actually, you know what, before I got
to the next one afterwards, I said in the beginning of the interview, back
when you and I were even talking privately, I kept asking why didn’t you
give up, most people would give up and especially as I’m looking at this
device that you made which just shows such cleverness on your part that
your able to create a little device that shows how many users are on the
site, it shows you how many people are logged in and to look at that I’d be
so depressed I couldn’t take a picture of it. I would only wish years later
that I had it and here you were taking a photo of it. There’s some kind of
belief in yourself that this shows. That you knew that at one point this
was going to be worth more. Where does that come from? Why don’t you say we
screwed up, we should go back to college or go start something else or get
a job or do something else?
David: It’s because at the time, and this is hard to imagine, once you get
infected with the Silicon Valley like blow up in three months or quit
mentality you can’t get it back. But at the time we were actually really,
really excited to have 100 new people per day coming to our site. We were
ecstatic. We took a picture of this because we were proud that 7,000 people
had signed up. In a certain sense it’s a bit of being naive and basically
just being happy with where things were going.
Andrew: I see.
David: We knew the product had a lot of potential. We knew that it had a
long way to go and so we knew there was a lot of work we had to put into
Andrew: Can you talk to me a little bit before we go to the next chart
about how you keep yourself positive in these moments. What do you say to
each other as cofounders? Do you get your dreams going? Do you talk about a
friend who went through Y Combinator and suddenly his business is blowing
up? What do you do to keep positive?
David: Yeah, I mean, I think so part of it, keeping positive, is having
cofounders. If one of you is in a really bad mood and you just feel like
things really aren’t going well it is most likely that the other one is not
in a bad mood and is like dude, you’re just depressed. Come on, are those
really the words coming out of your mouth? I think we’re both really
excited about this and they’ll go on to convince you about how stupid
One thing that was really important for us, actually though was we were
sort of living out the last semester of our college when we were in Y
Combinator. One thing that was super important for us was taking every
Saturday completely off.
Andrew: Doing what? Taking every Saturday off?
David: Taking every Saturday completely off. We would work Friday until, I
think, about 9:00 p.m. Then we’d go out to the bar and then we would,
Saturday the rule was no work. We can’t do work on Saturday. If it was like
sitting down and basking in the glory of watching trashy TV. Or whatever it
was, we were intentionally wasting our time on purpose just to mentally
take a break. Then we’d go out again on Saturday night, have a great time.
Then wake up Sunday around noon, 1:00 p.m, really start hitting the books
again, get back to work.
Andrew: All right, I can see how that would help. I never thought that I
earned the right to do that and I wish that I had. I wish I had given
myself that Saturday or even a few hours. I kept thinking until you make it
you have to keep pushing yourself. You can’t ever take a breath.
David: The one thing I think we must have implicitly realized, and I
certainly realize it now, is that there are sprints in start ups but for
the most part a start up is a marathon, not a sprint. You have to act
differently. You have to watch yourself so that you don’t get burnt out and
so that you make sure that you’re still enjoying life. You can’t think of
it as this miserable time that buys you this great time in the future. You
have to make sure that what you are doing right now you are really
enjoying. If you’re not, then make adjustments so that you are.
Andrew: All right, this is where we were before. Tech Crunch writes about
you again. You get a nice pop again. This one’s really big. Then this
David: Then this happens. This is 14 months after we started working on it.
This is almost the end of Y Combinator. You’ll notice a couple of things.
First of all, you’ll notice right after the Tech Crunch pop it scales down.
This is not moving in the right direction, right? We clearly get a little
bit more awareness and it settles at a new, higher level. But that level is
declining. Then that second pop, that’s another press hit. I don’t recall
right now exactly what it was. But you notice a similar pattern. We get a
little bit higher level of awareness and then a decline after that. It’s
sort of slowly moving down.
At this point, towards the end of Y Combinator we had less than $100 in our
bank account. I remember having this discussion. It wasn’t ever really much
of a concern for us, besides obvious things like we weren’t going to be
able to make rent the next month and it was due in two weeks. But we knew
we were going to make it work. We just had this blind optimism that it was
going to work out. It was either we were going to raise a round quickly or
Dan’s dad was going to float us a couple of grand to buy a couple of
months. I mean, we knew it was going to work. But I think at this point,
something we realized afterwards, if you take a third party and plop them
down and present to them the circumstances, what this looks like, it
certainly doesn’t look very good.
Then we move to the next slide you’ll see that 14 months after, very
shortly after we raised the $650,000 angel round. This was the price round.
This is the closing paperwork. It’s something that is sort of old fashioned
now, sort of old school because these days convertible notes are just a
couple of pages. But price rounds you have a nice, fat stack of paperwork
and that’s what it looks like. With less than $100 in our bank account we
raised the $650,000 angel round and sort just squeezed through. Didn’t need
anybody to float us any money and all of sudden had enough money to keep
Andrew: All right, let’s talk about what happens next. I want to hold off
my question until that. What’s the next thing that happened? Is it this,
you get into Newsweek?
David: Yeah, so the next thing that happened is a month later Steven Leafy
had been sort of following Y Combinator to write one of the first major
feature pieces on YC. 15 months later that article came out. We were very
featured in that story and sort of told the story of all these start ups
that are working at YC. If you go to the next slide you’ll see what that
actually looks like.
That’s what that Newsweek looked like. Interestingly, that first mini-spike
that you see there is when it came out online and the next spike is when it
came out in print. Obviously for Newsweek more print audience. You see that
pretty big spike and one thing you do see is that level of awareness. It
settles higher. But if you look what you’ll notice is it’s still going
down. We’re looking at a slope that’s not going in the right direction.
This is a full 15 months after we started working on it, almost a year and
a half after we started working on Weebly things are still not heading in
the right direction.
If we continue to the next slide.
Andrew: The next one is Time, Time Magazine.
David: The next one is Time Magazine calls us up and says they’re going to
make us one of the 150 best websites of 2007. You see what that looks like.
Now Time has more of an online readership. That huge spike is when the
online version comes out. At that point it’s just more of the same, right?
Things go up and then they go down. A little bit higher level of awareness
but things are certainly not moving in the right direction a full year and
a half after we had been working our asses off on Weebly.
Andrew: All right, this next one is really important. I want to hold off on
showing it for a moment just to understand where we are right now. Do you
go back and say to Dan and Chris hey, you know what guys? We’re missing
some element here. It’s not about getting more publicity because every time
we get publicity we get a spike and then it goes down. There’s something
about the product that we need to create that will create a viral loop so
that each new customer could potentially invite their friends to come one?
Or something that would create some kind of publicity for us that would
bring people in, but just keep it going. What do you say about the product
itself that would do it?
David: Yeah, you know at that point we weren’t, you know viral was probably
at that point just starting to become a thing. And I think that’s one of
the things that you’ll see that we did is we didn’t get distracted with a
quick fix. It wasn’t about the quick fix. It wasn’t about what can we
implement now that gives us the hockey stick in two weeks? It was no, at
that point we were just blindly, we knew that the product wasn’t very good
and that it needed to get better. I mean, it was pretty good. A lot of
people thought it was really good. It was something new. It was something
that had never been done before.
But we thought the product sucked. We thought it was still really, really
bad. We still think it’s not great. We still think there’s a lot for us to
do with the product, even where it’s at today. It was just sort of this
blind optimism that if we improved the product, if we really keep making it
better, we know it needs to be better, if we keep making it better that
things will continue to grow. For what it’s worth at that point I don’t
even think we had enough sophistication to really look at the graphs and
internalize what we were really seeing. We just saw, you know, at the time
we weren’t even looking really at the trends. We just saw whatever it was,
200, 300, 400, 500 new users a day. That was exciting and for us that meant
we were on to something.
Andrew: What did you think you needed to fix in the product to make it
better and how did you know that’s what the customer wanted, too?
David: Well, we were always big on feedback so we always asked people to
send us feedback very prominently. We asked people to rate us. We asked
people for their, just their open opinion on what we were doing. We
collected and really listened to customer feedback. You know, same thing
with user testing. We just knew that there were a lot of improvements, the
product was really limited. That we could get a lot better.
Andrew: And what kind of user testing did you do? Again, just bringing your
friends still, at this point?
David: In coffee shop user testing. Bring people in, any non-technical
friends that we had would sit [??] at [??] the computer, even technical
ones too, and say, ‘Do this. OK. Now do this. Now do this.’ Just watch them
struggle and we realized, pretty quickly, where [??] are.
Andrew: Were you charging for the product at this point?
David: No. At this point it was completely free.
Andrew: The charging came, 2008. Let’s go back to the data. This is Time
Magazine. Can I show the next one?
David: Absolutely. Finally, after Time, the product finally got good
enough, it was finally usable enough that it really started catching on. So
the first real traction that we’re seeing is 20 months into working on the
product, we start to see that finally things are taking off. Now we’re
headed in the right direction and now we know we’re 1000 users a day. We
were just overjoyed. A thousand people a day was massive for us.
Andrew: Why? What happened?
David: The product, I’ve got to refocus on making it faster. We focus on
[??], we focus on all these things that all of them combined really paid
off. Finally, there was all the awareness out there and the product was at
a place where it actually satisfied that need. Before, we just had [??],
people thought it was cool in concept, but in practice, there were a lot of
things missing, there were a lot of things broken and then finally we got
to the point where the product was good enough, the awareness was out there
and it really started to take off. This is 20 months after we started
working on Weebly. Finally we started getting, our sign for our first real
Andrew: It’s just making the product better and then coasting off of the
publicity that you built up before, through Time Magazine, Newsweek,
TechCrunch and so on?
David: One thing about it, our product has always been, it’s not viral.
It’s this word of mouth product. So it’s not one of those things where you
have this viral loop that you very carefully tune and it’s like you track
emails, clicks and all this stuff. We’ve never done that. It’s shocking.
Since the beginning of Weebly, and even today, 80 percent of our main users
come from offline word of mouth. Someone tells them and they either type
weebly.com in their address bar or they type weebly.com into Google and
that’s where 80 percent of our new users come from. The rest is mostly
organic search. [??] hate anything that require [??] users and [??] focus
on creating, for us is a focus on creating a product that people just love,
that they love to use. That it’s super easy, intuitive and people really
connect with that. They love it so much they [??].
Andrew: I want to spend a little time on how you made the product so
intuitive. I went through the registration process before this interview
and everything was exact. It doesn’t make sense for me to show it as we’re
doing this interview, does it? Let me see if it does. We’ll really make
this into a visual interview because you just anticipate everything that I
need, as I need it. What I want to understand is how you knew to do that.
Will this come up? I’m going to fake up a name. I’m going to say my name is
Andrew Smith, use my Gmail address with the plus sign, password. There.
That’s the captcha. So you want me to title my website. I titled my site. I
told you that it was for personal use. I’m going to do a sub-domain, which
is just random letters, happened to be available. Hit continue.
I like, by the way, how you walk me through this. WordPress never did this
for me. Look at that. Immediately this thing bounces up, this section here.
I hope the audience can see it, and says, ‘You probably want to drag
something down.’ Yeah, I do. I drag it down. Now it says, ‘You probably
want to click here and design.’ Of course, I do. So I pick a design for
myself. Let’s go with this one. Look. Immediately it says, ‘Looking good.
Now click on pages.’ So I add a page to it. These little cues and this
understanding that I need to be told instead of exploring. That doesn’t
just happen overnight. That’s not just, ‘Hey. You have to add user
experience and you have to care about your audience,’ and, boom. This stuff
happens. That some iteration and time with customers. Talk to me more about
how you do that; I’d like to get that good.
David: Yah, you know, I think it really comes from empathy for your
customers; from being able to put yourself in the shoes of your users and
customers. And one thing that’s hard but very valuable to acquire, is a
mental model of how people behave when they’re using your site. Most of us
start with completely the wrong mental model. A lot of people have asked me
why, if I give them three options, wouldn’t they just go and do it. They
don’t understand, the thing that I like to explain to people is it needs to
be easy, it needs to be simple. Not because people are morons, not because
they’re idiots. It’s because they’re not 100% focused on your site right
now. Picture this for example, why would anyone drop off [??] site. That
doesn’t make any sense.
Andrew: Drop what?
David: So, that first title page of your site. Why would anyone drop off
there? It doesn’t really make a lot of sense. Just choose a title! And you
might think that’s totally [??] but a certain percentage of people do. The
reason is because – I just picture someone on the phone, while they’re
using it, and their kids crying in the background, and they have all these
distractions, and they’re checking their email at the same time. They’re
jumping back and forth between your tab and their tab and there are all
these things. And then they get an important email and then they forget
The next day they come back to that tab and they’re like “Oh, I don’t
really care about that anymore” and they close it. That’s what’s going on
when people are using your site. That’s why you have to make it really easy
to keep going and really intuitive for people. It’s because you don’t have
100% of their attention and they’re really distracted. They don’t care that
much, they’re not invested in what they’re doing with you. So helping
people to focus on the next step, to make it really easy, and to only
present with the next thing you want them to do helps people use your
product and get started.
Andrew: You know what- What about data? Because sometimes I understand
where my audience is but I’m completely wrong. I was talking to a developer
who wanted to create I-Phone apps and as we were talking I said “We’re
thinking of doing a course on that. The course will talk about development
and how to hire people”. I had all these things that were real needs and he
says “You know Andrew, I can figure out development for myself. I’ve been a
developer long enough that I can go online and learn this stuff. What I
don’t know is, how much to charge”. How would I know that charging and the
right price is a concern to him? Even if I imagined who he is and I
completely empathize with him, I wouldn’t know that that little thing is
especially what he’s interested in. How do you get it right? How do you
know that you’re right? How do you know that you didn’t imagine the wrong
thing going on?
David: Well, I think there’s a 3-prong approach. First, you really need to
focus on feedback. So in the early days Dan answered all of our customers
email for a really long time. He’s one of the founders and he would hear
everything people had to say to us. We would really encourage people to
email and to write to us and to give us there opinion and people tend to do
that with a smaller company. So, focusing on that is 1/3rd of it. I think
the next 1/3 is fact checking those assumptions first of all, and going and
fact checking in the real world. So, getting people to use your site;
seeing how people are actually using it when you’re standing next to them
and seeing what’s going on.
The third piece is looking at the data. So that’s on the back end. How are
people actually using it? But you need to combine all 3 of those pieces.
Looking at the data is not enough. Standing behind people’s backs is not
enough and just listening to your customer’s [??] feedback channels is not
enough. But when you combine the three of those you get a really complete
picture of what people want, how they’re using it and what people actually
want and how they’re actually using it.
Andrew: All right, let’s go back into the data that you sent to me before-
hand. There it is. This is where you were. This is 34 months things are
finally – actually – they go down and then back up.
David: Well, this is really interesting because this is actually our
Vanguard Corporate Account balance transfers.
Andrew: Oh, of course.
David: So, you see right where we raised the money. The wire comes in and
the levels are pretty high and pretty steady. Then, this is what burn looks
like; your balance is slowly going down. Then as we started making some
money, it curved off a little bit. And then, interestingly, in December
2008, that’s right at the bottom of that crack there. 34 months after we
started we had this interesting thing where June, 2008 we released Weebly
Pro and we said let’s have a shot at getting profits. Then around August,
July, August we said well, it wasn’t as big as we hoped it would be. We’re
going to have to raise a round. Originally we were going to run out of
money in September, 2008. Then it was more like maybe October, November,
2008. We were making some money but it wasn’t enough to cover payroll. As
you probably know the end of 2008 was a horrible time to be raising money
and we just didn’t get the terms that we wanted. For the most part thing
just weren’t, the terms just weren’t as good as we thought they should be.
Then, we sort of looked at things and we said well, between December and
January we’re not going to be able to make payroll. We’re pretty close but
we’re not going to be able payroll. Now obviously not making payroll is not
an option. We said OK, well what are we going to do? The trend is positive,
if we can squeeze out maybe another month, maybe another two months we’ll
be profitable. Sort of eke our way into profitability.
We laid out a calendar and we said OK, which bills are due when? What’s our
balance going to be like? A basic cash flow calendar, but it had a balance
trend. Then we said OK, now which bills can we really push off a couple of
months? They don’t really matter, they’ll just accrue some late fees and it
won’t really be the end of the world.
We sort of laid everything out and we twirled some knobs and figured out
how to do it. Made payroll in January, barely. Then January is a huge month
for us so things really blew up in January and then it was sort of off to
the races from then. All of a sudden we were making more money than we were
spending and things were looking good.
Andrew: Here, this is the graph of that. Here, let me bring it up. How did
making more money help this line keep going up and up and up and up?
David: Well, part of the reason we were making more money is because this
line was going up. Because at this point you’re seeing, this is new users
per day, this is going up in a really great trend here. You know, all of a
sudden whereas we were getting 1,000 users per day now all of a sudden
we’re getting 4,000 or 5,000 users per day. Obviously the more users per
day you’re getting the more money you’re going to be making.
You can sort of see here, February, 2010, 36 months after starting, a full
three years after starting Weebly it’s now off to the races. Things are
looking really great and things are finally heading, really, in the right
Andrew: This, let me see if I could show this. This little section right
here that looks like nothing, that was from here? No.
David: Yeah, so that’s that previous graph we have. That’s that little
section that looks like, it’s not even that, if you keep going. More,
actually all the way to Time. If you go forward in time, all the way to
Time Magazine. That’s that…
Andrew: Forward to Time Magazine, let’s do that. All right, hang on.
Newsweek, Time Magazine. Yes, there we go. Right.
David: That’s that section there that you see. It’s that tiny little
section at the bottom.
Andrew: Something that was so significant eventually becomes this.
David: Just a little blip.
Andrew: Just a little blip on the bottom. OK, I better put away all the
toys in this interview. What about pricing? How did you know how much to
charge? That comes from one of the questions on Hacker News from Brazina
[SP] asked. How did you guys optimize your funnel and your pricing?
David: We actually A/B tested all of our pricing, which is really
interesting. We would A/B test and offer discounts and things like that.
Sometimes the results were shocking. The results told us essentially what
our optimal pricing should be and it’s really insightful. That’s, I think,
something that you might have a little more flexibility to do when you’re
smaller and a lot less flexibility to do when you’re larger. But, you know,
so that’s how we got some data on pricing.
But at any point, pricing is sort of this gut feel. It’s how many customers
do you want versus how much money do you think you can charge. I think
there’s a lot of good stuff written about pricing. You go out there, you
try to price out. You can try some discounting. You can try some deals. But
it’s hard. Pricing is, in the ideal world everyone could A/B test their
pricing perfectly but a lot of people don’t necessarily, that might not
come off as fair to a lot of people.
Andrew: Because you’re offering some people a lower price than others and
if they start to talk?
David: [??] on other people, just to see how they react. At the end of the
day, it’s not a perfect system. It’s an imperfect system. I have seen some
really clever hack sites. I won’t name names and other [??] of that
company, but I have heard of one really clever hack, where essentially, a
site that’s really large and wants to start offering a program would
actually build a complete purchase form, and basically have the whole [??],
so the pricing, the purchase form, everything. They didn’t actually have
the features yet, but what they did was, they would advertise a certain
price, because if you send out a survey saying, ‘How much do you want to
pay?’, it’s pretty clear that that’s pretty bad data. People don’t actually
tell you the truth on those surveys.
So, they figured the only way to see is to see what people actually do, so
they built the whole quote, and they built the prices in, and they just
[??] so much prices, and when you went and filled in your credit card
information, you did everything and clicked ‘submit’, it just said, ‘Sorry,
there was an error with your transaction. We cannot process at this time.’
They ran that on a really small percentage of their users to try to see how
many people really [??], and what are the prices. They weren’t actually
charging anybody anything. Those people were basically registering their
full 100% intent by plugging in their credit card information, but the
transaction never went through.
Andrew: Do you do anything like that?
David: We have never done anything like that, but I thought that exec was
Andrew: I think the founder of Webz [sp] told me that he had a list of
items that he wanted to add to the product, up on the features list, but it
took him years to build them. He just wanted to see if people were
interested enough in them.
David: Yeah, no. There’s all kinds of interesting little hacks you could do
like that, and then you have to start worrying about making sure you don’t
impact the user experience, and making sure it’s a great experience, so it
gets kind of tricky, but some people definitely will. We’ve actually, in
the past, when we’ve launched a new feature and wanted to figure out
whether, when it’s a contributor’s feature, so you can invite multiple
people to your website, and wanted to figure out what we should call it,
and whether it should be a button next to ‘Publish’, or a tab next to
pages. Should we call it Editors and Contributors?
So, we ran an A/B test, where we just put in the button and put in the tab,
and you click on one, and it would say ‘Feature coming soon.’ So that
‘Editors’ tab right there, we thought, ‘Hey. Maybe it’ll be a button next
to ‘Publish’, this green button that will stand out more, or maybe we’ll
make it a tab next to pages. And should we call it ‘Contributors’, or
should we call it ‘Editors?’ So we tested it, and we didn’t have the
feature developed, but when you clicked on the tab or you click on the
button, there’s a pop-up explaining what the feature was going to be, and
saying that it was coming soon. We just showed it to a really small
fraction of our users, but we were able to get some good data on exactly
where to position it.
Andrew: What about sales? How did you know what point to ask people for the
sale? I see here that the video has a ‘Pro’ button next to it, which tells
me if I click to add a video in there, that I’m going to have to pay to see
David: There’s always little interesting things that we do. What we really
want is, our philosophy, and this might not even be the philosophy that
makes us the most money, but what our philosophy is that we really only
want to charge people who are happy with the product. We really only want
to take your money once we’ve proven our value to you. That’s what we’ve
built our whole upgrade process around, the ‘Pro’ around using the product
and even here, if you don’t want to pay us right away, you can try these
elements out. It just won’t show up on your finished page. What our whole
philosophy was, you should be using the product, no upsale in your face.
After using the product, then you can choose whether you want the more
limited version, the free version, which is still very powerful, or whether
you want to upgrade to the Premium version. I don’t even necessarily think
that’s the choice that makes us the most money, but I think that what’s
really great about that is that the people who give us money, the people
who become customers, are people who are really happy with the product, and
so our retention rates are really great, and as a whole, our paying
customers are just super happy with the product.
Andrew: Another question that came to me from Hacker News was written by
Waterless Cloud, is the guy’s name on Hacker News. He was asking about the
net promoter score. What drives your 80% net promoter score? In fact,
before we get to that question, why did you pick the net promoter score as
one of the key metrics for you?
David: Net promoter score is the one metric that explains our entire
Andrew: Can you explain what it is to people who don’t know what it is?
David: I will. Net promoter score is hard to explain, but if you see it
visually, it’s pretty easy to explain. Basically, it’s the percentage of
people who are promoters minus the percentage of people who are detractors.
And if you’ve ever answered a question that’s how likely are you to
recommend this product or this business to a friend, 0-10, that’s a net
promoter score. It’s super stringent. People who answer nine or ten only
are considered promoters. People who answer seven or eight are considered
neutral. You throw that percentage out the door.
People who answer zero to six are considered detractors. If you answer six
on that question you are counting against the promoters, you are counting
as a detractor. You add up the promoters, [??] thing was 88% of people
answered nine or ten likely. And 8% of people answered zero to six likely.
The 12% of people answered seven or eight. You take the 88% minus the 8%,
you end up with 80%. That’s your net promoter score.
Andrew: OK, so why did you pick that of all things? Why didn’t you say how
many people are likely to pay, that’s a good indication of how happy they
are? And how many people are likely to return and use the site on a monthly
basis? Why a net promoter score?
David: Well, net promoter score explains our entire business. You look at
some very top net promoter scores, what’s considered one of the best you
can get? Apple’s, for example, is considered one of the best net promoter
scores and it’s 67%. So at 80%, that’s just well above that. The reason is
to date our business has grown entirely by word of mouth. It’s grown
completely organically without any paid user acquisition. That’s not to say
we aren’t going to do that in the future. But that explains a lot about our
business. Our customers are so happy with the product, just so ecstatic
about it, that they just go and tell everyone they know.
One thing we realized actually fairly recently is that it might not even
just be enough, it’s a great product. We communicate to people like people.
We communicate as people. We really do our best to make your experience as
a customer just the best thing that we can. But also everyone working
building Weebly website is working on a passion of theirs. Whether it’s
someone trying to start a business, that’s our most familiar use case,
people starting a business and setting up a website. That’s obviously, we
are helping them get their business off the ground. When they can do that,
that makes them really excited.
Or maybe it’s a photographer that wants to showcase their art. Or maybe
it’s a real estate agent trying to sell property. Maybe it’s a teacher
trying to set up a website for their classroom where they can help show
parents what’s going on. Or a politician that’s running for office.
Whatever it is we’re enabling people to actually do something and build
something that they’re really passionate about. I think that’s one of the
reasons they get really excited about Weebly.
Andrew: What I don’t understand is why you picked that metric. Why wouldn’t
you go with a metric that said how many people are returning to the site on
a regular basis? How many people are buying instead of using the free
version because buying means that they’re happy? How many people are adding
more than one feature? Why is that the one thing that you guys keep driving
David: If you look at our growth it’s extremely unusual. It’s unusual to
have a business grow entirely by word of mouth, completely organically. For
us that’s a defining characteristic of our business.
Andrew: I see, because that’s the way you grow, with people talking about
you offline you want to measure how likely they are to do that.
David: Exactly, and just people get so excited and they are so likely to
tell a friend. It’s really a defining characteristic of our business is how
excited and happy our customers are with Weebly. We feel like that is one
metric that probably says more about Weebly than anything else, is how
likely they are to recommend us to a friend.
Andrew: All right, so what drives that net promoter score to get back to
Waterless Cloud’s question.
David: Again, I think it’s people, we are enabling someone to do something
that they are really passionate about. Maybe…
Andrew: But there are a lot of other sites that enable people to publish.
What is it about here, do you think, that makes people feel excited to be
working specifically with you? What is it about the site and the process?
David: I think it’s the ease of use. How fanatical do people get about
their iPhone, right? It’s because the iPhone doesn’t just look good. It’s
incredibly easy to use. There’s all these little secrets that are built
into Weebly that you just never notice. The hallmark of [??] is that you
actually don’t notice [??].
Andrew: Like what? What am I not seeing when I look at it?
David: Here’s an example, go and add a bunch of pages.
Andrew: Add a bunch of pages, OK.
David: Go to the pages tab and just keep clicking on ‘add page,’ just a
whole bunch. Like add maybe 15 of them. Then click ‘save settings.’
Andrew: Should I add more?
David: I think that should be good.
Andrew: OK. ‘Save settings.’
David: Uh-huh, now notice what happens and notice how we showed you that.
We showed you that your [??] grouped into more tabs.
Andrew: I see.
David: You’ll notice that, and one thing we realized is that people don’t
understand that they can’t add too many pages. They don’t necessarily
understand how to organize their pages hierarchically. What was happening
was these menus were breaking and they were going onto two or three lines.
You’ve never seen a well-formatted webpage with a two line menu.
Andrew: By the way, what people are seeing on their screen is, there we go,
it was a little bit of a bug in the way I was showing it. But I see what
you mean, right. In Word Press if I were to add too many pages many Word
Press themes would just show lines and lines of links to those pages,
randomly put together depending on how the theme maker decided to do it. Or
if you ignored it, something else would happen if you ignored that concern
at all. I see, so now it’s all hidden here and you point it out to me so I
can see it. I get it, so those things are what delight customers and make
them feel like I love doing business with these guys. They thought of me.
David: You know, it’s great UI. It’s great usability. It’s the fact that
it’s just, there’s no frustration. Most products you use them and it’s like
man, why is this going on? Why is this happening? This is too hard. You run
into problems. With Weebly we would try to take all of those out. We would
try to make it a great experience. We would try to create a fun brand where
it’s not too serious but at the same time you just enjoy the experience.
You really enjoy working and building a website with Weebly. At the end of
the day I think all of those things combine to make it, you know great
customer service is another one, and all of those things combine to make it
so that people love using the product. People love the company and tell all
of their friends.
Andrew: You asked me. I just published it with everyone watching. You asked
me to share it on Twitter. Why not ask me to upload my address book and
then send an email to everyone in my address to say that Weebly just
enabled me to create a site and they might want to create one too? Why not
auto-publish stuff to Facebook? Why aren’t you guys more aggressive there?
David: Yeah, you know the Facebook thing is actually sort of a current bug
that we’re working out. We have a lot of education users and we’ve found in
the past that a lot of times when we include some of that Facebook java
script the school firewalls will block the site. It’s sort of this bug
we’re working on. We would actually love to publish to Facebook and
probably will have that re-enabled within a few weeks.
But what I think the larger question is just we see Weebly as, we don’t see
ourselves as a social network. That’s why we always thought the [??] was
really different. This isn’t a place where you come to be an independent
social network. A lot of people try to make it that and it’s not something
we’re interested in being. We think Facebook is a great social network and
Twitter is a great social network. That’s where you interact with your
But when you want to go and make something a little bit more perfect[SP],
if you’re having an event and you really want to showcase that. Or you’re
getting married and you want to put up photos and details and RSVP forms.
Or for your business, or for whatever reason. Weebly’s a great place to do
that. It’s a virtual[SP] circle. Your Weebly site can drive, you have a
‘like’ button. You can actually post that to Facebook. People can come and
post to Facebook and then people will [??].
Andrew: But it still, I wonder if I’m pushing too hard for a question that
was just answered. It just feels like, it doesn’t feel like this kind of
virality is part of your corporate culture. That you think about how do I
make this exciting for the user? How do I show him little users that he
might not have expected that we’ll take into account for him? But you don’t
do things that are, you don’t ask me to upload my address book. You don’t
auto-post to Facebook. You don’t auto-tweet and ask me if I want to auto-
tweet every time I add a blog post. That kind of virality just isn’t in
you. You don’t create a place for my friends to come, or a way for me to
update automatically my friends when I post. Right?
David: Yeah, no…
Andrew: Is it a cultural thing?
David: Some of those things are there but we’re not grasping at straws.
We’re not looking for that one quick fix that’s all of a sudden going to
get us a lot of traffic. We’re trying to build meaningful, lasting
relationships with our users and our customers. You don’t necessarily get
that when someone spams your address book and, like, you just happen to
check out the website and sign up for an account but it’s not interesting
All of our users, almost all of them come from someone, one of their
friends, telling them. Then they come and they’re excited and delighted
about the experience with Weebly. That’s a really meaningful, lasting
relationship with that person. That they all of a sudden now are interested
in the brand and they love it. But it’s not in some cheap someone uploads
their address book and spams you way, it’s in some way that’s like I really
wanted to come and check out Weebly because I have this need right now and
my friend said it’s the best thing out there.
Andrew: All right, what about, I’ve got just two more lines of questioning.
I’m looking at the clock here and I’m so fascinated by your story that I’m
just taking more and more of your time. But I’ve got to ask you this. Why
didn’t I hear your story before? I’m fascinated by internet companies. I
keep reading every post on Hacker News about everyone who got a new blip on
their traffic charts, but I don’t read about your progress much. I hear
more about WordPress and, as I said, about your competitors, but you guys
are completely off my radar and I’m watching for you. Why?
David: [??], we just live quietly, build a product. Our main focus is just
on pleasing our users and really [??] the best experience possible. We have
a lot of work left to do so we don’t necessarily spend a lot of time right
now [??] that showcase our progress, or showcase what’s going on. For the
most part, we’re just content to quietly behind the scenes helping millions
and millions of people get a website online and enable that passion. Part
of it is that tendency just to focus on the product and part of it is just,
we don’t even necessarily have the time for it. The things we focus on,
things I focus on everyday are engineering product, building the best thing
possible and not necessarily going out there and trying to drum up some
Andrew: Let me say this and then I want to ask you something very
important. I won’t spend too much time. I’ll just say, “Guys, if you want
to take any of the courses that we have on Mixergy, which are taught by
proven entrepreneurs, go to mixergy.com/premium.” The reason that I can
even do things like this and, we can even bring up PowerPoint and then zoom
in on it. All these things come because of the tools that we’ve built up
for the courses and it’s because of the people who sign up for Mixergy
courses that we can do it. What I’m saying is, “Guys, if you’re a Mixergy
Premium member, thank you for doing it. You’re allowing us to have all
these tools and allowing me to do my work here. Thank you.” This is the
worst plug that I’ve given. I’ll just say, “Guys. Thank you for being
Mixergy Premium members and if you’re not, I hope you join and maybe next
time I’ll do a better job of selling.” Sales don’t come naturally to me. It
does actually, but not in these interviews. In these interviews, I want to
ask you about yourself, I want to make sure that I get every question in
there. Do sales come naturally to you?
David: I think everyone has to work it at selling. Part of sales is
creating excitement and really getting people to see what you’re trying to
get them to see, but I don’t think anyone starts off day one as a freakin’
salesman. It’s always something that you have to work at and you have to
constantly get better at.
Andrew: Let me let this guy Spencer do the selling for me. Let’s see if I
could try this instead. There’s an email that I got from Spencer. I put it
in my Evernote. He goes, “Andrew, you’re the very reason that I am where I
am today. I wanted to drop you a note to tell you thank you. Thank you for
being exactly who you are and what you are becoming. I can honestly say
that without you, I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am today.” I’m not
sure that’s true. He seems like he’s been doing a lot for himself. “You can
put credit on your guesses, I know you would.” There. I did it. “But the
real truth,” he says in this email, “Is these guys wouldn’t be able to
connect with people like me if you didn’t know how to get it out of them.
Over the year, I’ve developed and launched my new venture. I did it all the
Mixergy way. I’m proud to say I’ve loved every minute and best of all, it
has been successful. I don’t even remember when I first found your site.”
Spencer Caldwell, thank you from FitnessVT.com. One of the many emails that
I’ve gotten from members who apparently do a much better job of explaining
why being a Mixergy member is so important to them. Much better than I
Here’s the final question, I want to get more people on here. First of all,
what’d you think of this interview? How’d it go for you? I want to know
from you, who else I should be interviewing. Who would you want to see
here? Specifically, of the people who you know, of the entrepreneurs who
you know well and admire, who do you think I should have on here to talk
about how they built this quiet success story like you have?
David: I think there’d be a couple interesting people to talk to. I don’t
know if you’ve talked with [??] at the team of [??].
Andrew: The team at where?
Andrew: No. I haven’t.
David: I think they would be a really interesting team to talk to. I don’t
know if [??], but I think talking to Robbie and Danny with [??] would be a
great team to talk to. And if you can, I don’t know if you’ve heard
anything about, this is off the beaten path, but if you talk to the team at
Churchkey Company, they’re launching a startup [??] out of Seattle that is
really interesting. It’s a complete different business. It’s not tech, but
it’s really interesting watching them go through a lot of the same things
that tech startups do just around raising that initial capital and getting
the first prototype going and just trying to move fast to stay focused.
Andrew: I saw them actually. They still haven’t launched, right? These are
the guys that have this beautiful looking can of beer that comes with a
church key to open it up like we did in the old days. I’m trying to focus
on interviewing entrepreneurs who’ve already built their success stories. I
was thinking I should wait with Churchkey for a year or two, at least, to
see how it pans out. But you’re recommending them. Why? You know Mixergy.
You’ve listened to my interviews. Why do you think I should be interviewing
guys who are earlier stage than I have been?
David: [??]. They’re well on their way. They’ve launched in Seattle and
they’ve just got a tremendous amount of traction, tremendous amount of
interest and I think, it could be one of those stories, although they
haven’t blown up and been super successful yet, it could be one of those
off the beaten paths stories that is interesting. Something you don’t hear
about very often that could add a lot of interest. You know what? Maybe
interview them now and then interview them in a year and see how it goes.
Andrew: Once we end, would you help me meet these three groups of people so
that I can ask them to come on here and do interviews?
Andrew: I don’t know how to sell sometimes, but I do know how to ask for
the referral. Thanks. I appreciate that. Thank you for doing this
interview, David. The website that you guys have been watching us play with
or watching me play with is Weebly. Go to weebly.com and check it out.
David, thank you for doing this interview. I can see how formidable you are
and I understand why Paul Graham said that on Hacker News.
David: Thanks so much for having me. I was really glad [??].
Andrew: Thank you all for being a part of it.
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