How do you get users to try software with a learning curve?

Today’s guest has a company that basically fights against the idea of explainer videos.

The idea that you have to make somebody watch a three-minute video is a quixotic pursuit at best. And even if you get them to watch it, you’ve failed because they are watching something instead of using your software.

So today’s guest created in-product tours.

Pulkit Agrawal is the founder of Chameleon which offers product tours that blend seamlessly into your product experience.

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Pulkit Agrawal

Pulkit Agrawal

Chameleon

Pulkit Agrawal is the founder of Chameleon which offers product tours that blend seamlessly into your product experience.

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Full Interview Transcript

Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder Mixergy where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. You might have noticed that when you’re creating software, there are features that you want people to pay attention to, but they don’t. In fact, it’s not just software, anything. You put anything out into the world, you spend a lot of time paying attention to the parts that you think are important, and then people completely ignore them.

I’m thinking about what we decided to do at one of the products that we create. We have an online educational site and people weren’t going in and seeing that we give them assignments that we will give them feedback on the assignments that we were giving them software. Because I work at Mixergy, I have access to a lot of software entrepreneurs. We were giving them seven free pieces of software that they needed and they would come back to us and say one of two things, either, “I bought this software,” and we said, “Wait. We’re giving it to you for free, and so we didn’t know it was there.” Or they’d say, “I heard that you were giving it away for free. I didn’t know where it was.” I say, “Well, it’s right there on the . . . ”

Anyway. So what we did is something that I didn’t give much thought to until I met today’s guest. Someone on the team said, “Andrew, why don’t you just record a video, tell people where to find stuff.” And so I did. I put on a nice jacket, and I got on my mic, and I recorded an explanation of what’s where and then someone on the team took some screenshots to make sure that there was good B roll to explain it.

And then I got prepared for today’s guest and his whole company basically fights against this. The idea that you have to make somebody watch a three-minute video is a quixotic pursuit at best. And even if you get them to do it, well, you failed because you forced them to watch some things to learn your software instead of getting them to use your software as a way to learn it. And so what they created was in-product tours, no little overlays that say, “Hey, pay attention to this.” That say, “Tap on that.” That say, “Click on that,” that shows you what to do. And if you’ve ever use software like Slack for the first time where they’ve drawn your attention to aspects of it with these little tooltips, then you what they did.

He doesn’t want me to tell you that their product, and I should introduce him. His name is Pulkit Agrawal. He is the founder of Chameleon. He doesn’t want me to tell you that they offer product tours that blend into your product experience because they’ve gone beyond product tours. So here’s a sense that he’s got for us. It’s in-product experiences that help drive engagement. He sees this as more than just showing people around your software, but getting them to actually use it and getting them to go to the next step. We’ll talk about what that means.

We can find out how well this business did, the struggles that he’s having with it, and so much more thanks to two phenomenal sponsors. The first, you’re going to dismiss. I dismissed him. He’s so freaking good, though. If you are working and you need to focus, subtle tool brain.fm, I’m telling you, will get you to focus, but you’re not going to believe me until I tell you a little bit more and then you still won’t believe me, and then you’ll try and you go, “Oh, Andrew, that’s amazing.” I’ll tell you about them later. And the second is a company that will help you host your website right, it’s called HostGator. So I’ll tell you about those later. First. Pulkit, good to have you here.

Pulkit: Thanks, Andrew. Great to be here. It’s a great introduction. I’m excited to talk more.

Andrew: Thanks. I’ve been thinking maybe we should be using you. For some reason, I didn’t even know that this exists. And not for some reason. I feel like you’re a little too . . . I think you’re pretty bad about getting attention for your company. Like, even you guys were in Product Hunt. Like, some dude created, no joke, a site full of GIFs of butts that move up and down. They got more votes than you did on Product Hunt. And you’re like changing people’s software and . . .

Pulkit: I know. We’re product people at heart. So we’re engineers. We’re not marketers. We’re getting better. We’re trying to learn how to communicate. And it’s actually funny and ironic because that’s what we help our customers do. Communication between product people, product itself and users is a little broken today. It happens mostly on email, mostly through text. And as we all know, we get too many emails and it’s very hard to learn how to use software by reading emails. So it’s a communication problem. In the end, it’s a user experience problem and now we’re all working towards improving.

Andrew: What’s your revenue right now?

Pulkit: Our revenue is about $1 million ARR.

Andrew: And you’ve been around for how long?

Pulkit: We’ve been in the market just over three years.

Andrew: And when I started talking about you guys, I was saying it’s software to help people look around our product and use it. So, if I’m teaching and I’m offering some bonuses that people paid for, I want them to go get the bonuses. I want them to see where their content is. And software, you want people to see where the chat feature is, you want them to see what, etc. You said, “Andrew, it’s not about that. They’re not understanding it.” What is it about then?

Pulkit: Yeah. So this is a good question. It’s not really about showing people around. That’s just an evolution of having to read a manual before you get playing with your kind of next gadget. No one wants to read the manual. People want to play, they want to discover. And although having kind of interactive experiences that have product tours inside of your software is an improvement of having them watch your videos outside of your product or have to read documentation on a different site, it is an improvement. But really, the way to truly engage us in a modern sales where you want things on demand relevant contextual bite-size is to think through the user experience and think through what are the pushing forces and the friction forces that are causing people to act. So a pushing force might be their motivation to solve a need, they may have been referred by somebody, it may be part of their job. Those all pushing forces . . .

Andrew: Let’s get more concrete. Give me an example of a potential client of yours. I know you’re not going to talk about actual clients. Who could we potentially have as a customer that we can use?

Pulkit: Okay. So let’s take . . . I want to maybe take some common software that many people might be familiar with, let’s take a project management tool like Trello, maybe we can deal with that. So, in that, a user discovers Trello maybe because they’ve read about it on a blog and they see some cool graphic around how you can use Kanban boards. And so they have some motivation. They’re like, “Okay. I want to explore and discover this and use this for this goal. I might have a . . . ”

Andrew: Because they’ve understood, it’s somehow going to get me more to be more productive and it’s a visual where I can see cards on sets of columns and I can move my card along from column to column until I finish. That’s rough idea of what most people come to it with once they face it. I think the two founders of Trello were on Mixergy at one point or another, and they did talk about how tough it is for people to get it. And so you’re saying, what? How would they use Chameleon to fix that problem?

Pulkit: Exactly. So before you even start using Chameleon building anything with Chameleon, you want to know what is the user experience, you know why people are coming and their onboarding actually start pre-sign up because they’ve got some information about what the product does or how they found it. So they have some context and have some motivation which is the pushing force. And then they have the kind of resistance, the friction. And so you really need to understand what is the friction.

And some examples of the friction might be, they don’t have a real use case for Trello, so they don’t know what content to put in that. They don’t know what both . . . So when they start creating something, they get confused, they have a decision point, they don’t know what to write, they leave. Another friction might be that they don’t really understand how to set up a list and what is the difference between a list and a card. That might be an example of friction where they don’t understand the terminology, and so they get confused . . .

Andrew: So what we want to understand is, what’s going to frustrate them so much that they’re going to leave?

Pulkit: Exactly.

Andrew: Or just leave them empty, and so they stop using what they paid for or what they’re exploring for free. Okay.

Pulkit: Yeah. They basically come into it with a bucket of motivation. They basically have some fuel. And as they have to do work by figuring things out or taking actions, we’re depleting that fuel. Now, when they discover an aha moment, which is either something that meets their need or gets them excited or they solve some problem, they replenish the fuel and have more motivation to succeed. So that’s like a general kind of way that people are [inaudible 00:08:08]. And where Chameleon fits in is to understand what the friction is and help reduce that friction.

Andrew: Got it. So, with Trello, their first friction might be, “It’s an empty board. What do I even do here?” And that’s what would keep people from playing around and moving on, and we have to capture that and say, “How do we get them past that empty board feeling?” And then the aha, the pushing forward moment is when they get to cross something off because they realize or move something to the right column because they’ve completed a step in their process, then they feel proud and they understand. So we identify both of those.

And you’re saying, what we would do is we’d go into Chameleon and say, “How quickly can we eliminate that frustration feeling and get them a little bit of progress. And maybe what we would do is use a tooltip to have them see that they could press one button and bring something to a column,” and then maybe another tooltip that say, “Now add this to your . . . Add the first item to your column, and so on down.” Or actually, you know what? What I might do instead is give them three columns, and then a tooltip that says, “Now press this to add a card to your column. Great. Now move it over.” And once I’ve gotten them to see those three things, they’re happy. That’s what I need to figure out as a product developer.

Pulkit: Yeah. Or you might even . . . If you’ve identified the problem is they don’t have a good use case yet, what you can do is give them an example use case like, “Hey, why don’t you try filling this out for an event you’re planning?” or, “Why don’t you try filling this out for your next big report deliverable?”

Andrew: Got it.

Pulkit: And so that would be kind of a dynamic in-product modal or kind of a helpful tip. The idea is that you’ve given it to the right person because you know, “Hey, they’ve visited for two sessions, they haven’t created anything. We hypothesize based on their user data that they might be confused. Let’s give them a little nudge and see if that succeeds.” And for a different user, it might be a different friction point which is that they’ve created cards but they haven’t actually moved them to a different list. And so for that user, you might have a different kind of nudge prompt.

Andrew: And what you do in Chameleon is you enable me to do that without having to code or more specifically, you enable the marketing and the product people to do it without having to go to the engineers. The engineer just add a little bit of code to their site, and then the product people, the marketers can go and take on from there.

I want to understand how you built up this company, how you got your first customers by cold-calling, how you went out and talked to potential customers to understand what the problem was. I want to know about the previous business that didn’t do so well. I was going to say fail, but I know that once you say fail, entrepreneurs, like, I lose their attention, so I’ll say it didn’t do so well. How that led you to this. Let me go back a little bit in time. I’m noticing that you’ve got an accent and the kind of accent I wished I had in high school. Where did you grow up?

Pulkit: I grew up in a variety of places, but mostly I grew up in the UK in London.

Andrew: London. Yeah, that’s the kind of accent I wanted. And is that where you went to high school and did that whole record business?

Pulkit: Yeah. I went into high school in London, did a bit a small business on the side, then went to university and did another . . . That is . . .

Andrew: What was that business in high school?

Pulkit: It was around . . . It was kind of funny. You mentioned as a record business, but it’s a typical record business. It was repurposing vinyls and forming them into bowls as pots and salad bowls.

Andrew: I’ve seen people do this. They like craftspeople who try to sell them on the sidewalk. Is that what you were doing?

Pulkit: We were kind of selling through fairs and other kind of markets. But essentially, we were collecting for free or for cheaply old vinyls that people didn’t care about, and this was kind of in the early 2000s, late ’90s. And then we had a little simple process with hot water, we reformed them. And it was all very kind of not very official. I don’t think we got any licenses or anything, but we were in high school, so we made some money that way.

Andrew: How much money did you make?

Pulkit: I think it was in the order of thousands of pounds.

Andrew: Okay.

Pulkit: So not immaterial, but not . . .

Andrew: Not tens of thousands but thousands of pounds, thousands of dollars. And were you actually doing it yourself? What did you do? I imagine you heat up that record until it bends a little bit, and then . . .

Pulkit: Yeah. You basically have to put it in hot water for like I think 30 seconds and it becomes malleable, and then you either use a mold or you can just press it and you can do slightly different design, slightly different . . . It’s kind of wavy. I don’t know. It’s like . . . Have you seen the CDs that people repurpose into clocks?

Andrew: Yeah.

Pulkit: It was kind of like, you know so we . . .

Andrew: Can I do that with a vinyl record by myself at home just use boiling water to make it malleable?

Pulkit: I can’t take any legal responsibility for you messing around with vinyl . . .

Andrew: But essentially, that’s what you did.

Pulkit: Yeah, basically.

Andrew: Wow. All right. We’ll skip a little bit to how you ended up in San Francisco. What were you . . . How did you end up here? And what were you doing here?

Pulkit: Yeah. So I ended up here with kind of this yearning to be closer to technology. I was in London, I was working full-time. I was about to at the business school and decided against that as the kind of next step in how I wanted to learn about business and technology, and thought, “Well, where would be the best place to go and learn this stuff?” And I felt like San Francisco Bay Area was the right place. So I came out here from London on a two-week kind of scouting trip. I didn’t really make many kind of . . . I didn’t make much progress, but then ended up meeting somebody in London who was starting a business out here and joined him to work with his company.

Andrew: What was the company?

Pulkit: It was called Shoto, S-H-O-T-O.

Andrew: And what did you do?

Pulkit: So back in London, when I had the idea, I was like, “This is a great idea.” And then I got to San Francisco and I was like, “Oh, maybe this isn’t as popular as I thought it would be.” But it was basically a way to aggregate photos that your friends had taken. So we’ve all taken friends . . . We’ve all taken photos in a group, and then it’s like you’re trying to chase down the photos that your friends have taken, you don’t ever get them. Nowadays, I use Google Photos, I love Google Photos. But it’s still there’s a process of going to add and kind of creating an album.

And what Shoto did was automate some of that, so based on who was in your phone book, and if everyone had the app and was taking photos together in the same time and same place, it kind of clocked that, “Hey, you guys are friends and you’re in the same place and you’re both taking photos. Let’s just create a group album for all those photos.” So it kind of automated that process of collecting those photos and having a group of photos.

Andrew: You know what? That’s still an unsolved problem. Every time I go to even a tech event, and I see someone say, “Hey, take a photo of me.” And then . . . “Take a photo of me and my friend.” And then the friend says, “Oh, wait, wait, before you stop, here, use my camera. Take a photo of us too.” It feels ridiculous. And it’s because they know they’re never going to get the photo from their friends and they’ve got to pull out their phones and it’s a big hassle. Facebook tried to solve it, they created I guess it was Moments, where they were encouraging it. Apple, I think is still working on that. The next version of iOS should take it a step further, but it’s still an unsolved problem. What was the challenge with getting people to use it?

Pulkit: So it was a great introduction to consumer mobile like applications. And I think what I learned from that, some of the lessons were that it’s not just about there’s a pain. There is a real pain. But with consumer mobile, you have so little attention and you have to solve that pain so quickly. And I don’t think we succeeded at doing that. So the setup, the onboarding, the activation is really crucial, like, polishing a product is important.

But I think the most important thing is that we needed to be more focused on a specific use case. When you are a small team and you’re trying to tackle such a broad problem, not having focused means that you’re trying to get more users, but you’re trying to get them from ads as well as conferences as well as word of mouth and you’re trying to have marketing around wedding events as well as bachelor parties as well as your night out and you’re trying to . . . The messaging and the whole kind of communication on the product is broad, and so it’s hard to see that especially with an app that has network effects and limited single-user value. And so what we learned, I think, in reflection is that to kind of succeed with a product like that, really you would have had to focus a lot more on a specific use case, specific geography, and really seed that in some groups, and then let it grow out.

Andrew: What should you have done? Like, what’s a good group for you to have gone after?

Pulkit: I think a good group would have been something like bachelor parties or kind of bachelorette parties. And the reason is, it’s an event that you’re all together with. It’s pretty obvious you’re in an event because you’re in a different location away from your home. It’s an event where you probably have a lot of private photos that you only want to share with each other, but not with a wider group. And it’s something where there is an orchestrator, there’s someone planning the party, and they’re going to give recommendations, and there’s an opportunity to really engage in that. And then it’s much easier channel to market to because you have either places that people are visiting to research about bachelor parties or other software they’re using the plan it or places they’re going to. So it just brings focus on to that. So that’s what I would have done maybe in hindsight, but who knows?

Andrew: I interviewed Sachin, one of the co-founders, right? He was a co-founder of the company?

Pulkit: That’s right.

Andrew: He was talking a little bit about some of the challenges involved in the business. Is that the friend who brought you in?

Pulkit: That’s right. Yeah. Yes.

Andrew: Okay. You guys still talking?

Pulkit: Not as much now. We cross paths, but . . .

Andrew: A little bit of friction there.

Pulkit: I think so. I think there was a little bit of friction around kind of how we left.

Andrew: Why? Why? What happened? He talked about it a little bit.

Pulkit: Yeah. I don’t know what he said, so I would rather, like, not go into it too much.

Andrew: Okay. I’m getting some weird robotic voice off of your mic all of a sudden.

Pulkit: Oh, sorry.

Andrew: Yeah. You know what? Maybe let’s pause the recording, try to plug it in or unplug and plug in.

Pulkit: Okay. Sorry about that. I don’t know what happened.

Andrew: No problem. That worked. All right. So one of the things that you told our producer, Brian Benson, was, “Yeah, it didn’t work out, but I did learn a lot.” And that’s partially what led you to Chameleon. What did you learn that led you to Chameleon?

Pulkit: So one of the things that we saw . . . We were trying to solve for acquisition a lot and say, “Okay. We need to get more people on the platform in using it.” And then we ran a project around improving the onboarding and sort of teaching people some of the key gestures or how Shoto worked. And we saw a real impact on long-term retention.

And that was one of the first kind of penny drops or first aha moments for us be like, “Wow. Actually, this whole time, we should have spent more time focused on the onboarding because that has a big impact on long-term retention and success.” So that was one thing that we learned. And my current co-founder, Brian, who was also with us at Shoto. So that was one thing that we learned together, and then I think afterwards, when we were working on this, we saw some other kind of key aha moments and reasons why we thought this would be a good idea to work.

Andrew: Like what else? What’s another aha moment?

Pulkit: So another aha moment was a personal aha moment where I tried to use the software Asana which is another project management tool. And I remember trying to learn it for a team and I had two monitors and I had Asana in one, and then I had their help documentation, which is actually really great on another, and I scroll to the right article, I played the video, I paused it, and then I tried to recreate what I just played.

Andrew: Yeah.

Pulkit: And then I stop, and then I go back to the video and play it and pause it and recreate it. And I found myself wondering what proportion of their users were also doing this. And I was just being surprised like why anyone would really do this unless they were compelled to. So that’s what got us thinking like, “Why is this the current way? And why hasn’t there been a better way? Why can’t I be guided in the product at the right time based on what I’m doing? Why do I have to have two sites and two monitors and what . . . ” It just didn’t seem like an optimal experience.

Andrew: I want to come back and ask you in a moment, why wasn’t . . . Why wasn’t what you just said obvious that if you onboard people right, they’re more likely to stick around? All right. Let me take a moment, though, to talk about brain.fm. Do you know about this?

Pulkit: Not yet. Not enough.

Andrew: Okay. Here’s the thing. I’ve heard about them forever and I just dismissed it, and then I realized, I’m not focusing well. And it was a lot of . . . I had a lot of writing work to do and I sat down at this beautifully inspiring spot here in San Francisco right across the street from Spark Social. I don’t even know what it’s called, but it’s outdoors. You get tents. I got my iPad which I love, my tea which is great. And I sat there and I couldn’t stay focused on the material. And I thought, “Maybe it’s me. I’m not focused right. I’m not doing right.” I got up and I got myself a cup of coffee. And then that didn’t really do it.

And then I remembered that I’ve got this brain.fm account, and I dismissed the whole thing as just like something that Spotify at some point is going to copy. What do you do? You listen to some music and you stay focused? And I was thinking about it too much like a businessperson analyzing the company. How are they going to compete with Spotify copying their thing? Why is this music going to do it more . . . I was also very skeptical about it.

I was like, “Let’s just try it.” I hit Play on it, and there’s something about the waves, and it feels like waves in the way that they play music going from ear to ear, something about the music itself that allowed me to stay kind of focused, but I didn’t realize it. I was just kind of ripping through the email that someone on my team co-wrote with me that I had to edit going through all that material. I was just kind of ripping through it for 20 minutes and I realized, “Wait, I’m actually staying focused here.”

And at first what I thought was, what they were doing was kind of blocking out the outside noise, but I do that with jazz and French pop and other random music, heavy metal even. And that’s not it. There’s something going on here. And so I went to brain.fm/science and I started looking at it and I thought, “This is just boring and I don’t know how true this is. I’m not going to research them.” But yeah, I get that what they’re doing is they’re testing out the way that they’re putting these waves through your ears using fMRI and EEG and so on. I thought, “You know, they could be BSing me with all this. I get this science looks accurate. I like that they got patents on it. But really, it’s working for me. That’s the big thing.”

And so I’ve been listening to it a lot lately and you can actually see what it looks like with pink noise, what your brain looks like with pink noise, Spotify and brain.fm music. And really your brain is more engaged. The only thing I could think of is . . . Have you ever sit in a room and just hear people make this weird noise and it’s not consistent, so it just grabs your attention? It’s like the opposite of that.

Anyway, what you’re getting with brain.fm is true focus. And you can study the science all you want on their website or you could just go and try it out. And if you go to brain.fm/mixergy, if you decide to sign up for this, they will even give you 20% off. I’m going to tell you, do this out of a selfish . . . with a selfish purpose. Go in there and see if you could get more productive. Do it at the time . . . I’m going to suggest this to you. When you’re sitting down and there’s something poke it that’s distracting you, put it in, use earphones. It doesn’t do as well when you’re just playing it loud. Use earphones. You’re going to focus, you’re going to get more results than you thought. And then you’re going to say, “There’s some BS going on.” Maybe it was just me I was having a good day. Maybe it was the coffee.” You won’t really believe it until you do it 5, 6, 7, 10 times and you go, “You know what? This actually is doing it for me. I don’t know what these guys have, but it’s working.”

All right, brain.fm/mixergy is going to get it for you. I’ve been raving about them for so long. I don’t know how Sachit got them as a sponsor. Now I get paid to rave about them, but freaking amazing. You know what I would do? Anyone who works in a remote team should just buy it for everyone on their team.

Pulkit: A great idea.

Andrew: I’m telling you, it gets them focused. Forget paying for their office space. Most people don’t for some reason even want office space. Brain.fm. Focus them. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, come back and tell me. All right. I got to keep on going with this. Isn’t onboarding obvious? Look at this. Why did it take you so much to recognize? Why did you have to go through Shoto to realize, “Hey, you know what? If people aren’t using the software right, it means that’s why we’ve lost them”?

Pulkit: Well, thanks for breaking it down and making it look dumb. But I think it is obvious in hindsight as everything is. I think when you’re working on a product, there’s a lot to think about and you’re trying to decide if your feature set is right to kind of decide how you’re going to drive growth. And you think about onboarding for the product is obvious, but let me break it down and give you an example where you’ll realize it’s not obvious but in hindsight it is, which is, let’s break it down for a feature. How many features have onboarding? It’s very rare for a feature to get onboarding, but actually, when you release a new feature, it’s the same kind of concept as a user trying a product for the first time, is that they need to be introduced to the feature. Maybe they’ve seen some marketing about it, maybe an announcement, but they don’t really know how to connect the dots or when to take action on it.

So it’s the same thing that is applied to features and teams are not there yet. We’re still thinking about onboarding for the product as a whole, which, of course, is important, but I think in the years to come, we’ll be thinking about onboarding and dynamic experiences for each feature over the life of the user in a more sophisticated way.

Andrew: Got it. You’re just saying, “Look, you’re spending a lot of time creating this new feature. Why just email people about it? Why put a blog post about it? Why not find a way to make sure that people are stepping through the feature and actually using it?” You wanted to see if this was actually something that you cared about or something that product creators cared about. And so you said to our producer, “I went on and I started interviewing potential customers.” Who did you interview? How did you ask them? And what did you find out?

Pulkit: So at the point where I felt the personal pain and I’d seen it previously as a creator at Shoto that, okay, this was important, and then I felt it as a user with Asana. I wanted to ask, “Why are teams doing it this way?” So, with a combination of cold emailing folks, I remember emailing someone at Buffer, like a product designer at Buffer. I remember emailing folks. We ended up working with Amplitude and others and we were just like, “Hey, is this a problem that you have?” ClassDojo. A bunch of kind of people that are either friends of friends or cold email. And resoundingly, we heard that, “Yes, it’s a problem.”

Andrew: What? What was the problem? What did you ask them?

Pulkit: We asked them about user onboarding. Firstly, is user onboarding something that’s important for you to improve . . . ?

Andrew: Did you really ask it that open-endedly, that generically, “Is user onboarding a problem for you?”?

Pulkit: I think so. I think we wanted to get . . . Like, firstly, is this a metric you care about or is this a kind of a part of the funnel or loop that you care about?

Andrew: Okay.

Pulkit: And suddenly, people were like, “Yes, it’s so important.” So most people who’ve been working on it felt like it was important. The second thing that we learned was that people considered improving user onboarding a really big project. So they were like, “Oh, we know we have to improve it, but we just don’t have the capacity, we don’t have the time.” And then I’ll dig, like, “Why do you think that?” “Well, the last time we did it, we spent month and a half and it required multiple engineers and a big research project and a lot of prototypes . . .

Andrew: Because what would they do in order to onboard properly?

Pulkit: So they were doing rebounds. And it was a little bit reminiscing of like the old kind of waterfall approach in feature development. It was like, that’s what it was being applied to user onboarding. So people would do a big change, revamp it, think it would make a big step difference, and maybe it would, and then they would leave it, and then they would stay like that for nine months or a year, and then suddenly everyone would be like, “Oh, we need to improve user onboarding. And let’s improve it.” And then they would do a big project.

And so that kind of mentality of doing it wise fashion and requiring a lot of engineering horsepower to do a revamp was very different to what we were wondering why people weren’t doing, which is running smaller experiments or giving people more inc . . . or having improved incrementally much akin to like a website conversion. You might want to . . . You don’t leave your website and just revamp it every year. You also want to be running experiments to improve conversion and people weren’t really doing that.

Andrew: By the way, does Chameleon tell me the lifetime value of customers based on different onboarding experiences, or how do I know if something has worked or not?

Pulkit: So we felt . . . I mean, we don’t know your revenue models necessarily, but we can track events. So, as users take actions in your product, and so you can set a conversion goal. Very similar to . . . If you think about running an ad, what you’re doing is you’re giving an offer to somebody based on you thinking that they would be interested, it’s the right fit, and then you see if they clicked to convert. So, in a similar way, when you’re looking at users inside of your product, you want to figure out which users are having pain or struggling, what type and what their patterns are. You want to present a relevant information to them about what to do next or how to take the next step. And then you want to see if they actually take that next step by taking some action in your product by clicking or whatever it is. So we can track that and show you like, “Okay. Well, this is the people that you showed some experience to and this is that proportion that actually took that action.”

Andrew: Got it. It’s not that I know that it’s actually kept them on longer, but I know that they’ve used the stuff that I’m trying to get them to use. They’ve at least experienced it.

Pulkit: Exactly.

Andrew: That’s what you’re talking about.

Pulkit: Exactly. And hopefully, with some of your analytics or your general product measurement and understanding, you’ll have some sense of, these are the key actions that drive conversion to paid or retention or [inaudible 00:29:30].

Andrew: I wonder if that’s one of the challenges that if you can show a business, “Here’s how much more money we’re making because you’ve signed up with us,” they’re more likely to stick around, they’re more likely to try you than if you say, “If you do this, you’re going to get better results in general.”

Pulkit: I would absolutely agree. I think any business or software that can show clear bottom-line impact is going to be a very easy case to sell. I think we’d love to work towards that and maybe better understand the lifetime value based on kind of payments or revenue per user or value of engagement, but most teams we speak to have a sense of like, “Okay. Well, if people are engaging with this feature, that’s really valuable to us because we know they are much more likely to convert or much more likely to invite a team or whatever else it is.”

Andrew: I kind of feel like you guys are moving in that direction, but we can get back to that in a little bit, the direction of showing bottom-line results. You then started cold calling people of Y Combinator. Did you get anything different from them? What is it about people who get funding and an acceleration help from Y Combinator that was so different?

Pulkit: So, at that time, we were a couple of guys, we didn’t have a product. We had an idea and an idea for a solution for the product. So we knew that teams felt like it was a big effort to build, improved user onboarding. We realized that with JavaScript, you can actually create these in-product experiences whether it’s a modal, banner, tour, etc. And we knew there was a way to actually do that without having to code. So you can build an interface and let non-engineers, non-technical people create these experiences and run them through JavaScript.

So we had this idea. So we were like, “Okay. We want to be lean about this. We read all this stuff about being lean. How do we find somebody who’s willing to buy this from us or let us do this on their application without us having built something first?” We didn’t want to invest in building and then realize that it wouldn’t work, and we want it to be driven based on customer needs.

So we were like, “Okay. Well, which kind of group of people could we email to figure they would be willing?” So we wanted some validation, some credibility of having some funding from YC is that. We also wanted some teams that were small and kind of hacky and we thought these companies would be small enough. So we just kind of went through those, a list of where are, “What are the YC companies at the recent batches?” And so then we just emailed them.

We were like, “Hey, we have this idea. Would you be willing to . . . ” We had a quick chat. And so the goal was to get a quick call. And we had a call with a few companies, one of whom we ended up working on. They basically gave us access to their production code without . . . We invented it a little bit, but we were able to build on that. And so that was what we needed, which is like real usage. And that way, we could then develop the product as we went along and hear from them about what they wanted and kind of that’s how we got started.

Andrew: Because what the software does now it’s off-the-shelf. If I can just go and get the code myself, I can use it myself and just start seeing results, but you said, “No, we’re not even going to wait to get it to that level. We’re going to go and be like engineers on their team, code something up for them, see if they like it. And then if they do, then we’ve got enough traction that we can start building something that’s more off-the-shelf.”

Pulkit: Exactly. And at the time we were building that we were starting to think about, “How do we productize this? How do we package this? How do we compartmentalize this?” So it was kind of a bit of both at the same time.

Andrew: The first version of your site that I was able to find goes back to 2015. On the homepage is Alicia Shiu. She’s marketing and growth at Amplitude Analytics, your first customer.

Pulkit: That’s right.

Andrew: What does Amplitude do?

Pulkit: Amplitude is product analytics software. So they help companies understand what users are doing inside of their software.

Andrew: Okay. And so how did you get them as a customer?

Pulkit: It was through a connection to Spenser who’s their CEO. So he went to MIT and I had a connection to him, and so it was kind of, “Hey, Spenser, would you be willing to have a quick chat with somebody?” Being an aspiring entrepreneur trying to start something, trying to figure it out. And so our conversation with Spenser led him to connect me with Alicia and she was like, “Okay. I think this is reasonable. We have a demo environment where people can come and play around with Amplitude, but it’s overwhelming because people don’t know how to use it or what the functionality is. And we could do with something that would help guide them in this manner.” So we ended up . . . I think Amplitude was our first customer. We ended up helping them build some kind of very gentle guidance inside of their software.

Andrew: Let me ask you this. Amplitude raised well over $100 million. They got enough funding, they’ve got enough engineers. Why couldn’t they just say, “We’ll figure this out ourselves. Thanks for telling us. You really have highlighted it. We’ll do it and we’ll kind of chat from time to time about how it’s working for us and maybe you can use it for your clients and what you learn from your clients we’ll bring back here”? Why couldn’t they just go do it on their own?

Pulkit: I think that’s a general build versus buy from most of SaaS. You think about product analytics which is what Amplitude does. You could say the same thing. You could say, “Well, companies, why don’t we just log all our analytics ourselves and analyze them ourselves? Why do we need SaaS software for this?” And I think there’s that general build-buy tension for all SaaS, but I think my perspective is if there is a SaaS solution for something, most likely it’s going to be more powerful, deeper, more thought-through then building it in-house unless it’s a core competency or a core capability that you and your product or your team has. If it’s not a core differentiator or a core capability, or if there’s no strong reason why you need to have it in-house, I would suggest that the modern product team needs to have its own stack and leverage that party software versus a very traditional perspective of controlling everything in-house.

Andrew: All right. I’m going to take a moment talking about my second sponsor then we’ll get back into this. My second sponsor is a company called HostGator. And these guys now have over 200,000 clients it looks like. I just googled to see how many people are actually using HostGator. They’re huge. And the reason they’re huge is because hosting is a solved problem. If you need a website built, you can go and find . . . It feels like infinite number of people who can host your website. So why go with HostGator? It’s because they’ve been around forever, they host right, they start off inexpensively, and then they’ll scale up with you. I’m going to give you a URL where you can get a super low price. It’s hostgator.com/mixergy. Do you still care about deals, Pulkit?

Pulkit: I do always.

Andrew: You do. Like, what’s an example of what you care about deals on? I sometimes forget to care about it.

Pulkit: The deals that I’m kind of buy it for myself.

Andrew: Like you personally, do you still care about little details like saving money?

Pulkit: Absolutely. I think it’s hard to get out of that kind of like scrappy mindset. So I care about it for buying software for Chameleon. I’ll ping folks and be like, “Hey, is there a better deal on this or can we get a discount?” But also for myself. Like, actually, my wife is starting a business or a company or a startup around reusing stuff because it’s too much wasted and I love kind of getting some second-hand and . . .

Andrew: What you’re saying, you’ll even reach out to companies who you’re working with and say, “Hey, can we get a deal? Is there a discount? Is there something we could do here?”

Pulkit: Yeah.

Andrew: Yeah. You know what? I was on vacation last week and I said, “I bet you Comcast has increased the price on me.” And sure enough they did. We started out in like 20-odd something dollars. We were over $50 a month. A small thing, but I was just sitting around waiting for my wife to come back in the room. I called them up, I hit the Cancel button, like, we’re canceling. I know that’s how you get Comcast’s attention. I said, “What could you do for me on the price?” They said, “There’s nothing we could do.” I said, “Look, you got competitors who are coming in. There’s Sonics and building with AT&T. Is there anything you could do before I cancel?” He said, “Well, actually, we can go to $29 a month.” I go, “Okay, fine. Great. Do it. Let’s do it.” He said, “I’m going to have to ask you some questions.” I said, “Sure.” I put him on mute while he went to look for the questions and I talked to my wife and then I came back and I said, “Yes, yes, yes.” And boom, we were done. Less than five minutes. I’m totally with you.

All right. So I’m glad you’re into that because if you go to hostgator.com/mixergy, HostGator is already super low price, but they will take off their price and lower it even more for you. And they’ll give you all kinds of unmetered disk space, unlimited . . . Listen, guys, all the features that you need, really. They’re going to shower you with everything because they’re investing in you. They figured if you’re getting started with HostGator, eventually, your business is going to grow and you’ll want to use email marketing and maybe you’ll switch to their email marketing or you want to upgrade and get like dedicated server and so on and switch to them.

They’re basically . . . I can’t imagine they’re making much money off you when they’re starting. They’re investing in you at the beginning, expecting again to make more money with you later on as your business grows. So go get started with them. And if you don’t like them, you can always move on to someone else. Hostgator.com/mixergy. Give them an opportunity to show you how great they are. I’ve been with them now for a long time, and I’m very happy with HostGator. Seriously, very happy, meaning, I don’t even talk to them anymore. I’m signed up. I’m done. Now focus. I’m talking to my customers.

All right. After you got Amplitude, did . . . When you built it for Amplitude, were you building something kind of custom for them but with the idea that it would be a standalone product for other people or how were you working that?

Pulkit: Yeah. At that point, we started to have a dashboard. And so with a dashboard, you could do some minimal things like you could change copy or something like that. So we started productizing it. And it was still two of us and we basically bought a cheap theme of bootstrap and put something up. And so some other things, custom things they’d have to tell us. And I remember, like, we went back and forth on Google Slides with screenshots like, “Okay. We need this done differently.” Like, “Okay, fine. We’ll do that.” That was helping us kind of get to a product.

Andrew: And so the first version they paid for it?

Pulkit: They did. I think we asked them for money after a while. I think we had something on their site when, “This was the first time we’re doing this, but maybe we should ask them for money. I don’t know. Is that kosher? I don’t know if we should ask them. They’re helping us out.” But we asked them for money and they were okay to pay and then they would submit the scramble and be like, “Oh, we need a bank account. Oh, we need the company. So we have to get a bank account.”

Andrew: How did you pay for everyday living in San Francisco if you weren’t making money for that period there?

Pulkit: Yeah. I think we basically had committed, Brian and I, for a few months that if we could work on this and get traction, we could probably self-sustain ourselves for a few months, not much.

Andrew: Okay.

Pulkit: We weren’t prior entrepreneurs or have real exits or anything. And then the other thing that we did was we got some commitments from friends and family that we didn’t take, but we just got commitments to invest in us if we decided to go forward with this. And that was actually kind of a nice buffer because we felt like, “Okay. Well, we’re not going down a blind tunnel. If this does work and we do want to spend more than one or two months on this full-time, then we can actually call upon some other commitments from friends and family and that will get us a few more months and maybe that way we’ll be able to kind of figure out the next thing.”

Andrew: And you didn’t need their money because you got investment from first round and angels or because revenue from clients was coming in?

Pulkit: So, in the end, when we raised . . . After we got some of our first customers, we ended up raising a seed round . . .

Andrew: Got it.

Pulkit: [inaudible 00:40:32] angels. So we didn’t need it but it helped us get to that point.

Andrew: And so you were starting to build this up, and then at that point, you created the self-serve. Am I right? Function?

Pulkit: Yeah. Yeah. So, essentially, it was the kind of off-the-shelf like you can sign up online, put your credit card in, install the software in your application and get going. So that was kind of the approach that we took and we thought, “Okay. Well, let’s make it broadly applicable, the more people that we have trying this.” One of the biggest technical challenges of this all is that we have to operate within different in-app environments. There is no . . . There’s very little standardization. There are some frameworks which helps, and we’re getting more towards kind of standardization, but really, it’s the Wild West of how people build applications, how they use CSS to change elements, how they structure their DOMs. But we have to really operate and work smoothly in this whole Wild West of like applications, and so we thought, “Okay. Well, the broader reach that we can get, the more feedback we’ll get and that will help us really correct for various things.” So [inaudible 00:41:38] initially.

Andrew: I wonder why you never went for a free version or like a super cheap version. I guess, 300 is your lowest price. That’s not bad.

Pulkit: We’re actually moving farther and farther away from a lower price version. And that’s probably because what we’ve seen is that this space and this product is not quite ready for plug and play. It really does require expertise and input and thoughtfulness to design really good experiences. And so actually, if you make it really too easy to use, people expect it to be on the side of like, “Well, I’ll push a button and suddenly my engagement will go up.”

But really, it does require nuance and an understanding of, as I was talking about earlier, the frictions and the motivations and thinking about what is the right design experience for people like that. So I think we’ve decided that where we’re able to help our customers and be available to support both in terms of the design expertise or in terms of the tech expertise because we’re operating in different apps. They’re more successful. And so I think we’re trying to . . . We want our customers to succeed in the end, and so we realized that if we’re more involved, they’re more successful and we’re trying to adapt our business model to support that.

Andrew: You presented at Jason Calacanis’ LAUNCH fest back in . . . Was it 20 . . . When was it? 2016.

Pulkit: That’s right, yeah.

Andrew: Three years ago. You told our producer, “Look, that was a big goal for us. It was important for us to have it,” because?

Pulkit: Because we felt like we needed a forcing function to get out into the market. So it wasn’t really about getting attention, but it was around kind of rallying the team and rallying ourselves to have a clear point where we said, “Okay. This is our goal. It’s an external deadline.” Internal deadlines are so flexible. Okay. “This is an external deadline. We have to have something ready.” And after we had raised money, we had actually gone back and decided to rebuild the product. That’s actually probably one of our mistakes that maybe I can talk about some other time, but . . .

Andrew: Why did you rebuild the product? But just to close out the thing with LAUNCH, you said, “Look, we need some external goals, some deadline that somebody else has for us where we’ll look like fools and chumps if we don’t hit it.” And so that forced you to work and code up faster. Got it. And you did LAUNCH. You had a good presentation. Let’s talk about the revamp of the product. Why did you revamp it and why do you say that was a problem?

Pulkit: So we revamped it because we thought this is a really good opportunity before we get locked into design decisions to take a step back, we just raised some money, we could pay for a designer with some expertise rather than both of us. And we really kind of did a broader exploration of what do we want our product to look like. And one of the things that we came up with was that we actually don’t want it to look like the traditional SaaS where you can go in and login and build it from a dashboard.

We wanted this to live inside of your application. You’re creating experiences out of your application. We wanted this to be a seamless part of that, so we created this kind of in-product editor which kind of slides in and with that you have controls on your page to design and build. And that was quite a different kind of paradigm to what we built before. So we ended up going back almost out of market for six to nine months rebuilding it with a new design perspective and going back to the market, which it was great in some ways, it did solve some of the problems that we had, were seeing. But the time out of the market was expensive and I don’t think we realized the difference between actually being lead and continuing and iterating and evolving from that point versus kind of taking us, stopping going back and coming back again.

Andrew: And so one of the things that you’re doing right now is you are working away from the product team on sales. What does that mean for you?

Pulkit: It’s tough. The mentality around product and the mentality around sales is a little different. I do enjoy sales because it’s a chance to talk to real customers and real prospects and understand their pains and help solve their problems. But it’s different to product because it’s not just about shipping and getting stuff out and being productive all the time. There’s a lot of like step wins or step losses. You’re working on something for a long time and then there’s a decision point and you’re either winning or losing. Whereas with product, you’re continually delivering and it kind of feels good.

But the reason I’m actually thinking about this is because as a founder I was a product person and an engineer, if I’m going to build sales, if I’m going to build a sales team, I need to know what sales is about and I need to be able to inspire leadership around sales too and be able to be conversant with a sales leader as well as kind of sales reps. So that’s kind of my personal learning into sales is how do we do sales? And sales, I’d always considered a dirty word, it’s like someone is trying to fuse you or someone trying to give me something that I don’t want or con me in some way. And I think it’s part of this is the learning of like that that’s not what sales is. It’s not what great sales is. Great sales is about solving problems and helping communicate the solutions in a way that you . . .

Andrew: But you’re still a process-oriented person. You personally, what’s your system? You told our producer, “Look, I’m internally working on systemized this whole thing so that it’s not just about my presence or someone’s charisma.”

Pulkit: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s the transition that most early-stage teams will need to make, a founder-based sales to non-founder base sales. But really, the goal is to have a process. And part of our process is thinking about how do we help our prospects make decisions? There are other competitors in the market, of course, there are. And there’s lots of different features, and everyone is a little overwhelmed because there’s like, “We’ve never bought this before, but there’s so many things that we can compare.” So everyone is like, “Okay. Well, what is the longest list of features I can create and think of? And what makes you checks the most boxes?” But really, it’s about helping our prospects really identify what is the pain point they have, what is the real value they’re looking to drive, and how can we help them drive that value, and whether Chameleon is a good fit for them at this stage and with who we are?

Andrew: And how are you getting people who are calling you or your salespeople?

Pulkit: So a lot of it is really inbound. We’ve been doing some basic marketing for a while. People are searching for software like this. We’ve been on various kind of blogs and other places.

Andrew: And so from there, they’re coming to your site, they’re filling out the form where you say, “Come see it.” And when I hit the link that says, “Come see it,” I was asked for my contact information. I got it. And that’s how you’re following up. By the way, now we’ve got a partner in Ahrefs, a research tool. So I’m using Ahrefs and typing in your URL. And I see that there are a bunch of articles now that you’re appearing in. Like Process Street did a whole post on onboarding process. HubSpot did “Six Best Practices to Streamline User Onboarding.” Neil Patel did a post on different . . . Here it is “The Top Seven User Onboarding Tools to Grow Your Business, Improve Your Conversion Rate.” This is like this new thing for you. Right?

Pulkit: Yeah, it’s new like growth, distribution, marketing. It is new. And the way that I think about it is . . . My goal is to help educate the market to the best of my ability because it’s not just about Chameleon. It’s really about improving as a community the way that we are onboarding users because I am also a user and I also want great . . .

Andrew: And you want to understand a product when you’re onboarded. I get it. So what you’re doing is you’re going over to people, you have someone on your team who contacts writers like Neil, or maybe it’s probably someone outside your team, right? You’ve hired a company that has these relationships that says, “Hey, user onboarding is important. We can help you write this article about how to do it.” Am I right?

Pulkit: We’ve done a variety of different things. We’ve had someone in-house who’s going to lead that. We’ve also used agencies or contractors. So it’s been a mix of match and we’re still trying to think about what’s the best way forward.

Andrew: Okay. But I can see that this is part of your process. And it’s not just write about us, it’s, here’s this new thing. User experience is really important. First interaction with your product, with your business is the one that’s going to help determine whether people decide to stick or not. I get it.

Let me close out with this. You’re in San Francisco. I feel like everyone in San Francisco is . . . It feels like everyone is always better off than everyone else. Are you ever in a place where you feel like, “All right, I’m good. I’m settled in here.” And you especially now that you’ve got funding, now that you’ve got clients, now you’ve got . . . How are you coping with that? How are you dealing with that? Let’s be open.

Pulkit: It is hard. I absolutely agree. I think a lot of founders are very susceptible to it or a lot of other folks who are comparing this, it feels like there is a rat race, and actually, it’s something that I’m not a big fan of. But I think part of the coping mechanism is being grounded with activities outside of tech and outside of work, outside of startups. I think part of it for me is meditation and meditating regularly, which helps me think about something beyond just the day to day. But I think it’s tough and I think it’s definitely . . . I’ve definitely suffered from anxiety or kind of concerns and probably over-thought about alternatives or competitors or future. Really, it’s having a good day at a time.

Andrew: And what do you do to deal with the anxiety of it? Meditation?

Pulkit: Yeah. Exercise, meditation, reading or listening to podcasts that are not about work. I think for me, it’s mostly about how do I find ways to disconnect because otherwise I’m thinking about it the whole time and any email or any notification will get me spinning and really not being in the moment.

Andrew: That’s my problem that even my friends who I disconnect with were somehow connected to work and there’s a sense of like, hierarchy wherever we are. I have a friend who works at Uber. When he was doing . . . When Uber was doing well, he, like in the social hierarchy, he was higher. All right. And now when Uber is not lower.

A2744088: Taso-du-Val-Toptal-on-Mixergy0819.mp3 1:26:15soAll right. I know you’ve got a call coming up, so why don’t I close this out? I want to thank everybody for listening in and I want to thank the two sponsors who made this interview happen. The first, guys, go listen to me. Whenever you want to stay focused, go check out brain.fm/mixergy. You’re not going to believe me until you see it for yourself and then you’re going to thank me. brain.fm/mixergy. Make that the next thing you do after you’re done with this. And finally, when you’re looking to host a website, go to hostgator.com/mixergy. Pulkit, thanks so much for being here.

Pulkit: Pleasure. Thank you so much. Great questions.

Andrew: Thanks. Bye, everyone.

Pulkit: Okay. Bye, bye.

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