Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses and I do it for an audience of real entrepreneurs. In fact, you can hear it more and more in my interviews. People who used to listen are now on to do an interview themselves and talk about how they built their businesses. That’s my focus here, to help train and inspire real entrepreneurs by interviewing proven entrepreneurs.
So, I feel like I live in the future because the software that the entrepreneurs that I interview and I befriend and the geeks that I befriend and the sites that I look at are always a little bit more advanced than everyone else. And so I taking a lot of interest years ago when I started to see Typeform appear everywhere. Instead of using the old forms that were out there, instead of embedding a form on their sites, people just went to Typeform. And so I started noticing it more and more and I thought it was kind of interesting.
One line, one question at a time, just very conversational, very simple, doesn’t feel like a form, feels more like answering questions from a friend or a researcher. And I thought this is a really interesting company. I wonder how it’s going to do. And sure enough, more and more people are using it. And then I said, I’ve got to get the founder on here and we started working on this interview back in I think 2015. It is now 2018 and we did it, David. Did you know we’ve been working with you for like three years?
David: Yeah, I wasn’t aware of the three years but I’ll take your word for it.
Andrew: I had been admiring you from afar for at least that long. All right. David is the co-founder of Typeform. His name is David Okuniev. I pronounced it right, didn’t I?
David: Okuniev. Almost.
Andrew: Almost? Say it again.
David: Yes, almost.
Andrew:Oh, come on, get it right for me. I didn’t want to . . .
David: Go for it.
Andrew: No, you do it.
Andrew: Okuniev: All right. He is the founder of Typeform. They make forms and surveys look really good and conversational. Actually, they do even more than that. They do some quizzes and there’s so many other uses for their forms. You guys have probably seen Typeform everywhere. We’re going to find out how he built up his business thanks to two great companies. The first, I’m not really great at design. These guys created fantastic designs for me. I can’t wait to tell you about them. They’re called DesignCrowd. And the second sponsor is a company that helped me hire a phenomenal developer. It’s called Toptal, but I’ll tell you guys about them later. First. David, good to have you here.
David: Good to be here.
Andrew: You know what, when we started researching you back in 2015, we wanted to know what the revenue was and at the time you had . . . Actually here’s what you said to someone on our team, “We had a million in recurring revenue in year one and then $2 million within 17 months.” Is that accurate?
David: Yeah. That’s correct.
Andrew: That’s phenomenal growth. Where are you now 2018?
David: You know, we’re quite a bit further but I’m not going to give you the exact numbers, but we have 40,000 customers now.
Andrew:Fair to say over 10 million in recurring revenue?
David: Yes, we are way past that.
Andrew: Which is huge because the company that is the established player in this space is a giant that people thought couldn’t be competed with. They would gobble up anyone who came up like, Wufoo and here you guys are. Why do you smile as I say that?
David: No, I was wondering who you were talking about. Like SurveyMonkey, Google Forms . . .
Andrew: I feel like, isn’t SurveyMonkey the biggest one?
David: So yes, in the survey space, they’re definitely the most known brand but it’s a pretty fragmented industry. Even in surveys, there’s hundreds of companies doing this. SurveyMonkey is actually the market leader and it only has around 10% of market share in online space, but they’re still the market leader but just because it’s super fragmented.
Andrew: Why do you think there’s room for so many players to succeed? I’ve interviewed about half a dozen entrepreneurs in this space who all have profitable businesses.
David: Well, I guess every company out there needs to communicate with customers and particularly on the use case, which is something that all companies do. So there are many different vendors which are trying to get into the market. SurveyMonkey’s been there for a long time, but we’ve got many smaller vendors which are kind of doing something similar to them, you know, different pricing, maybe some different features, but essentially it is a kind of, I always looked at it as a pretty legacy market. That’s where we came in. We thought like, hey, there’s something that we can do that’s quite new here.
Andrew:And you did. You made it look pretty, you made it look more conversational, more inviting, less like a daunting form that somebody just put in your face.
David: We did. Actually, we did, but we didn’t do that on purpose. It’s not like we saw the survey market or the data collection market and think, “Hey, like we can disrupt this.” We actually came across the idea just by accident actually.
Andrew:You told our producer awhile back that, what happened was you were doing project work for clients, you ran a small agency in Barcelona where you’re calling me from right now and you actually liked it. Except that every once in a while you’d have a frustrating customer. Right?
Andrew: Give me an example of a frustrating customer that made you say, “I think I need software instead.”
David: Yeah, I guess. Typical thing is an advertising agency, they’re on really strict deadlines and on the last minute they change everything and then you end up working till like three or four in the morning just to get that piece of work out.
Andrew:That’s what happened with Bugatti. You literally were working on their project till three in the morning just because they changed things on you last minute.
David: Yes. That was one of the projects. And it’s just a series of those which made me think, you know, I’m kind of tired of having clients. I’d rather have customers. I’d rather make waves than puddles, which is kind of what we’re doing with each project that we are taking on. So, you know, I was ripe to actually just focus on one thing at a time. So why not?
Andrew: You know what I have noticed that about you? I’ve gone back and seeing your tweets, including your very first tweet. I’ve gone back and seen what you’ve written online. One of the things that I get from you over the years is you’re someone who loves to focus. Am I right about that?
David: How do you mean?
Andrew: I get the sense that you’re someone who would love to spend a day doing one thing and one thing only and seeing it all the way through.
Andrew: That’s the way you are. And what you enjoyed about project work was you get to work on one project. Beginning, middle, and focus on it completely. Right?
David: Yes. Actually, I have to say the early days of Typeform much more satisfying to me in those ways because I was actually very much focused on designing, very much focused on the product. And as the company scaled and everything got more complex, obviously I have to switch roles the whole time, switch into different things. So yeah, I do like to just do one thing at a time, but, you know, at this stage there’s just so many things, balls to juggle. So I do end up context switching quite a bit actually at work.
Andrew: And do you ever feel like, you know what, maybe this is not the life for me because of that, too much context switching?
David: Sometimes. You know actually, I’m trying to refocus my role now. So I don’t know if you know but we run the company as co-CEOs and my co-founder used to run the business and I used to run the product and we realized that actually, it didn’t make much sense because it created like kind of silos between the two of us. So what we’re doing now is splitting based on timeframe. So he deals with everything that’s to do with today and I’m looking at tomorrow. So that means, you know, he’s really focused on execution and all the functions reporting to him for execution and I’m more on thinking what’s coming next.
Andrew:So when I see that suddenly you guys get into Facebook Messenger bots as a way to deliver forms, that’s you thinking that through and implementing it and seeing if that’s the next step?
David: That would be an example of that. Although that was me and the CTO back in the time.
Andrew: Okay. All right. The first thing or one of the first things that you tried when you said I’ve got to get out of client work is a Q and A video platform. What was that? I couldn’t find that online.
David: Yes, it was a thing called Qajack.
David: Q-A Jack, like Q and A Jack like Blackjack? And it was the kind of, the idea was to gamble questions and answers. So you’d sign up and you’d get a certain amount of jacks which was our currency and you would ask questions to the community and spend some of your jacks on requesting those answers. Each person who would answer will have to pay 10% of the price to enter and then the top answer voted by the community would win all the jacks. So then, if you answer a question, you’ve got more jacks in order to answer more questions to the community and maybe solicit slight like higher rolling players and so forth. So it was a complete disaster. Didn’t work.
Andrew: Why do you think it failed?
David: I don’t know. Maybe we weren’t . . . I don’t think we were ready. I don’t think we had a clue about running a business or you could . . . I don’t think we persevered, to be honest. I think it was quite a good idea. There was plenty of Q A sites at the time, but yes. I mean we had no idea how to run a business.
I mean, in fact when we started Typeform, we had no idea how to run a business either. I remember distinctively like when we were trying to raise our first round of investment in Spain, and this was whilst we were building the beta like a few months before releasing it, we went to all the top VCs and they just wouldn’t touch us with a barge pole. I mean, first they didn’t get the product, but the other thing they told us is that “You guys aren’t ready to run a company. You guys have no idea about business.”
Andrew: What didn’t you know looking back?
David: So I can say what we didn’t know. So one thing I will pick up, we didn’t even know what, MRR was, for example. So we really . . .
Andrew: Monthly recurring revenue?
David: Yes, monthly recurring revenue. It was just like, we had no idea about the business metrics, what drives conversions and all that sort of stuff, but what we did know is how to, I guess how to build a product. We had a lot of drive you know, we really wanted to . . . You know, I myself also my co-founder, we really wanted to like get away from all this agency work. He was also running a small agency and we just had an enormous amount of drive. We were lucky to fall upon this idea and then think, “Shit, this is the idea that we need to run with, and this is the one.” We just knew really early on that we’d stumbled across something. This could potentially be huge.
Andrew: And the idea came to you because you were working with a client who was a bathroom company. They wanted who to fill out forms?
David: So the story is that my co-founder, Robert, one of his clients in his small agency was called Roca the leading bathroom, provider here in bathrooms and toilet manufacturer in Cataluña. And they have this kind of showroom in the north of Barcelona. It’s this kind of flashy showroom where they show off all their best products and it kind of looks like a spaceship for toilets if that means anything.
And they asked Robert to build a lead generation form which would sit on three Imax in the exit of the gallery whereby where people left the space, they could kind of, you know, leave their information. We could ask a few questions and so forth. So Robert brought me onto the project, and, you know, we figured out that we weren’t just going to do like a, you know, a plain old vanilla form with like a long laundry list of questions with boxes. We kind of knew we had to do something different, right, to fit the space.
And we were inspired by this film called “War Games.” I don’t know if you remember that film. It’s stars Matthew Broderick. It’s a film that came out in the ’80s and when I was living in England, they always used to play on TV at all times. So it’s really a film I used to watch a lot. And there’s this scene where Matthew Broderick is kind of hacking away at the computer and he kind of lands on the NSA mainframe and the interaction between himself and the mainframe is kind of this conversation.
It’s kind of this command line interface where the computer starts talking and then he responds and there’s kind of this magic moment where like Matthew Broderick gets asked something by the computer and he’s like, “Wow, you see? It’s talking.” And today we just realized, like, this is kind of, could be a form interaction. There’s a lot of delight in this. Can we create something kind of similar?
Andrew:I saw that just because I knew it inspired you. I wanted to prepare for this interview and it’s him and Ally Sheedy’s character sitting in his bedroom. The computer asks, “How are you doing today?” He types in his answer. The computer asks the next question, he types in and then eventually he says, “I want to play thermal nuclear war.” And the game says, “Are you sure?” And that’s what you liked that enough because of what? What was it that drew you to that as an interface?
David: I don’t know. When we were trying to solve the problem for Roca, that just came as a reference immediately. We just thought, yeah, this is just a good example of how, you know, a computer to human interaction can be a little more human.
Andrew:The thing that I liked about that kind of interaction in the same that I like about you guys today is, a form seems so daunting. You look at it and it’s like all these fields and go, “I want to run away and go do something else.” But on Typeform, it’s one at a time. If you don’t like it, you always feel like you could back away and leave. But then after you answer the first question, you kind of invested in the form. So you’ll answer the second and if it’s delightful enough and it’s easy enough, you’ll go to the third and then you’ll want to complete. Was that all a part of it? Was it more like, yes, it’s a cool interface but also if we show people less at a time, we’ll get more of them to fill it out.
David: That was fundamental.
Andrew: That was?
David: So that’s a piece of it. It seems super obvious now, but actually breaking stuff into smaller components is what keeps people engaged than if I [inaudible 00:15:22]
Andrew: And you knew that from the beginning, that was your thinking?
David: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And this happens in life with anything you have oi do. If you have a really daunting thing to do, by breaking up into smaller pieces, it’s more manageable and it’s more motivating. So Typeform does that. It just shows you one thing at a time and then there’s kind of this natural flow of things coming. I don’t know if there’s like something that happens in our brains with serotonin when we’re kind of rewarded the next thing. It kind of motivates us more. Maybe there’s something in that too.
Andrew:You did it for them. How did it go over?
David: I think I really liked it. I think our focus was, we were thinking this is really cool and we weren’t really caring about the feedback from them. We were like, thinking, “Wow, why don’t we do this for our other clients?” We weren’t even thinking like quite yet like this is the idea for the stuff that we were thinking, “Ah, we can use this as a business to sell to our other client.” Then, quickly and surely we realized like, “Hey, anyone could use this.”
Andrew:I wonder why you ended up with the name Typeform. It looks like somebody had it like some domainer had it and you guys bought it from them for like $500 I think. Why? Why the name Typeform?
David: You’re reminding me of stuff that I’ve forgotten. I completely forgot that we actually bought the domain. So we did. It wasn’t called a Typeform from the beginning. We started off as Quickieform. This was prelaunch actually. The project was called Quickieform. The idea is that you can quickly fill in a form. Terrible name because it’s kind of a quickie. I don’t know what the U.S. says but a quickie is kind of a quick sexual relationship. So catchy, but not sure if that’s like has . . .
Then there was a company in Spain that reached out to us and said, “Well, we’re already called Quickieform. We’ve already registered the name.” So that was kind of a blessing in disguise. So we went on a search to look for other names. We had, I remember one of the final names was Flamingo Forms, which is also just a terrible name, but Typeform was there. And in the end, that’s the one that we went to.
Andrew: Okay, all right. So it wasn’t more of like a vision behind that name. All right.
David: Well, they’re strong reasonings behind that name if you want to go into that.
Andrew: Yes, tell me about that.
David: The reason why we went for Typeform as well.
Andrew: What is the reason? What else?
David: One is the ability to just type the within the form without touching your mouse. The other reason is that it’s a different type of form and the third one was typography. And we really blew up the font sizes because we really wanted to show off typography and also make sure people make their words count. Really put focus on that.
Andrew: All right, so now you said we’re going to build it ourselves and you spent a very short amount of time putting it together. The first version, right?
David: No, actually. A very long time. The thing is, we . . .
Andrew: You know what? I see it, the prototype. It’s not that it was done in a flash. I’m looking back at my research. It was done in Flash, right?
Andrew:You used Flash?
David: Well, actually the original project for Roca was in 2009. We didn’t release the beta till 2013.
David: We were running our own companies and kind of doing . . . We were looking at the Quickieform idea on the side and it took time to really start getting to the point where we thought, “Hey, we’re going to really focus on this.” I think we really started properly like. So if it was the end of 2009, let’s say 2010 was when we kind of, we gave it to Roca and yes, it wasn’t until two thousand and . . . I’d say mid-2011 that we really started rebuilding it as a product. Before that, we were just kind of still prototyping and trying out stuff.
Andrew: What was it that finally that got you guys to move? Yeah, I see the site didn’t really launch in beta until 2012.
David: There wasn’t any real, real point. It was just very gradual. We just started putting more and more of our resources into it. You know, I think the immediate step after the Roca project was we kept the Flash form but we started building this really crappy backends around those Flash forms and that probably, I don’t know how long it lasted, like six months or so.
And then, you know, remember we were still running our little web agency so we were kind of like moving forward on downtime. But there was a point where we said like, let’s kind of just go for it. And that was kind of a year and a half of development where we rebuilt the whole form experience. We went from Flash to HTML. There was a time when kind of Flash was dying out as well, and we built the whole back end as well.
Andrew: David, I don’t want to play armchair psychologist, but I know you are a musician at 19 signed by Sony. You’re an artist. You’re someone who likes to get lost in design. Is it also that you didn’t see yourself as a software entrepreneur? You didn’t see yourself as the next Jason Fried or Bill Gates?
David: Well, I knew about Bill Gates. Certainly didn’t know about Jason Fried.
Andrew:The founder of Basecamp, right.
David: Now I know who he is.
Andrew: Is there a part of that?
David: Part of the what?
Andrew:You didn’t see yourself as a software entrepreneur and so when this idea came to you didn’t say, “Let’s productize it, let’s start getting sales.” You didn’t see yourself as that person.
David: No. I think I was more excited about solving a problem. But I think, you know, nothing’s . . . there’s no absolute. So I think everything happens gradually. There was a point whilst we were building this we thought, “Okay, this is going to be. This is something you know, that we’re going to need some money for this. We’re going to start, you know, this can be a viable business.”
Andrew: I have a sense of when you knew it was going to be a viable business. We’re going to come back to that in a moment because something interesting happened with Facebook, New York Times and Uber all like at once, but first I’ve got to tell everyone about my first sponsor. It’s a company called DesignCrowd. Unlike you, look at me. I’m not super designed. This is like the same background I’ve always had. I’ve put on like a new tee shirt, but even putting on a new and buying a new tee shirt gives me anxiety.
I’m looking at you. You’ve got a nice look all the time. You’ve got your beard even though it’s late in the day, you’re looking good and you’re walking through your house trying to find good Wi-Fi. Everything was nicely designed. I don’t have that. I’m intimidated by design because I can’t logically put it in a spreadsheet and understand it and come up with an easy answer, which is why when I needed to cover art for my podcast, I stuck with the crappy cover art that someone like hacked together internally.
And then, I found DesignCrowd and I was even intimidated about them frankly because I knew that there would be a form and I knew the form would ask me to articulate what I wanted out of a design. And I said, no way. But one night my wife Olivia was out of town. I had nothing to do. I was drinking scotch and I said, “You know what, let’s try this DesignCrowd thing.”
And the form was super simple and just like, you guys do at Typeform, so easy. I said, “Do you know what? I think I know the answer to that. I have a strong opinion about what I want us to look to be.” And partially, I said, “You know, a copy of the same color as the top podcasts at the time,” which was green. And then put my face on it because I hated to put my face on it, but everyone else has their face on it.
All the top ones do. So let’s copy that and don’t make Mixergy big because nobody knows Mixergy. And if they do they’ll search for it. Make startup stories big because . . . So I had that. You know, they kind of coached it out of me with their little form. And then I forgot about it, largely because I was drinking scotch.
And then on Monday I came into the office and my assistant and I were going through my email, boom, a set of emails from designers, each one with a new take on my idea and I gave them feedback on it and this one guy instead of using green, used yellow and I said, “Oh, I like that. Why do I have to copy the top podcast?” Which was Planet Money? “Let’s go with this yellow.” This guy reimagined it nicely. I gave him some feedback. He adjusted it. I bought it for like a few bucks. Not very expensive, super easy process. Even someone like me can actually end up with a really nice design. If only DesignCrowd would like design outfits for . . . I’d be in heaven.
All right. Until they do. We can use them for anything. Web design, cover art design, book design, anything that you need designed, I urge you to go get it from DesignCrowd. designcrowd.com. In fact, if you go to designcrowd.com/mixergy, they’re going to give you a big discount and you can see the design that I bought from them. Designcrowd.com/mixergy. You’ll save up to 100 bucks.
All right? Yes. Are you intimidated by design? You’re not.
David: Intimidated? No, I love designing.
David:I crave for it.
Andrew:You do, huh?
Andrew:Like what? What’s an example of a place where your design needs express themselves?
David: Well, the way I crave it is whenever I can get to design something at Typeform I’m most in my element actually. It’s kind of cathartic. I can spend a whole day in the designer’s chair.
Andrew: Just sitting and designing new forms using your software.
David: Well, whatever it is, I just love sitting down and just developing ideas visually. I just lose myself in that.
Andrew: How do you do it? What software do you use? What do you create?
David: I use Sketch. I don’t have much of a process. I just like to jump in and just try ideas. I’m not someone that sketches much on paper. I just liked to just build interfaces and it’s kind of an iterative process. You kind of the first layer then iterate and go forth and just get it until it’s perfectly balanced.
Andrew:You created a beta form on your site. Pretty typical, but you got 7,000 people to fill it out. How did you get 7,000? . . . Oh, look at this. I just clicked on the old version of it and it’s like a Typeform form.
David: Which one?
Andrew: The one that you guys put. The beta form that you had up on your website in 2012. I hit it and then it’s just got this one little line asking me for my email address. I’m going to put in a fake email address because I don’t know where this goes.
David: I saw it. It’s just a single field by itself.
Andrew: Okay. So you did that. How did you get 7,000 people to fill that out?
David: I think we put it on BetaList. I think that gave us a bit of traction. We created this kind of cheesy video, obviously seemed to work. I mean, it showed the product well enough. On February 12, 2013. We had 6,000 people that we could send the first version was Typeform to, and they could build Typeforms and that’s where it just took off.
Andrew: And there was no costs involved. People could just go in and use it themselves.
David: Yes, it was free. We run the beta for a year, so it gave us time to get quite a bit of traction.
Andrew: Do you remember the first people to use it because of that BetaList?
David: People in terms of customers?
David: No, no, we had no idea who they were.
Andrew:What I heard was, you started seeing MailChimp use it early on Facebook, New York Times. Even Uber used it for feedback.
David: That was after the beta period.
Andrew: That was after the Beta. Okay. And then at that point, did you say we need to add a paid version?
David: Yeah. It was about a year into the Beta, we added the paid version.
Andrew:How did you know what to charge for?
David: Just looked at SurveyMonkey pricing.
Andrew: And then their features too?
David: We’re guilty for making surveys cheap, actually. They’ve driven down the price. I mean if you compare that to what the average selling price for a MailChimp customer is, there’s is a big gap.
Andrew:Yeah. And so you looked at them, but what about the features? How did you know what features to add into the first paid version?
David: Yes, we looked a little bit of the competition I think as a reference. I don’t think we, you know . . . we kind of just laid it out. I think a lot of it was just like, hey, we knew we needed the basics, we needed a place to collect the data, we needed to also aggregate the data into a report, and we needed a builder to build our Typeforms. And actually, we didn’t have much reference for that because we were building something quite different. I guess one thing we took as a cue was the typical kind of drag and drop interface for you while pulling a block over.
Andrew: Great. But that was all in the free version too. You didn’t talk to customers and say, “Hey, what do you need that we don’t have and what would you be willing to pay for?” None of that.
David: No. And this is particularly true of the form we built. We didn’t take any customer input. We’re just chiseling away at it.
David: Well, one was, I just don’t think we’re that motivated to do it, but I think it was good we didn’t because I think we might have been put off experimenting with certain things early and trying to really make it work if we had got like some negative feedback. And so we just tried and tried until we got that specific thing to work. But if we would put it out and they said, “Well, this doesn’t work,” we might have just taken a completely different direction as opposed to just . . .
Andrew:You just had an artist’s point of view on it?
David: Yes, maybe.
Andrew: Was that point of view informed by the clients you had when you were working with clients when you were creating forms for them? No?
David:I wouldn’t know for sure enough.
Andrew: Okay. All right. At what point did you hit a reasonable or impressive monthly recurring revenue? Actually, you know what, it was a year after I’m looking here, right? A year you’ve made a million dollars. At that point. Did you say, we know business. I got this. This is amazing.
David: It was amazing. I was going to say, we’ve been kind of following this kind of unicorn path where it’s like triple first year and second year again and double-double. So we’re kind of trying to track to that kind of growth.
Andrew: So, what do you attribute that to? Two guys who every VC said you don’t even know business didn’t even know what a monthly recurring revenue was. Suddenly had annual recurring revenue over a million dollars. What do you attribute that to?
David: Good product-market fit, a great value proposition in a legacy market when all the players had been doing the same thing, essentially collecting data through plain vanilla forms and we’ve kind of, we breathed a breath of fresh air into it and I think just consumers caught onto that.
Andrew:I want to know how you even got consumers, but you know what? I have a theory. Part of it is that . . .
David: When I say consumers, I mean businesses.
Andrew: Yeah. But the way that it was, how did you get them to sign up? I think that the thing about forms is that they’re naturally viral. If I use a form, I need you to fill it out and probably not just one person, but lots of people and Typeform would always put its logo clickable on, each free form, right?
David: Yes. So here’s the trick. I mean, most form providers with their logo and the bottom of the form and their form goes out, but all the user sees is just yet another form. When someone lands on the Typeform, they’re landing on an experience they have not seen before and they’re typically pretty well from the experiences, “Hey, I’d love to use this for my business.” You don’t get the same thing with a normal form. And that’s really driven our growth.
Andrew: You know what, I feel like having interviewed other people who are in the form business, they did get that. Someone would see a form, look at the link on the bottom, click over, sign up for their form, click over to the homepage. What you guys do differently is, yes, it’s a different form. So I could see why it would be attractive, but the other thing that you guys do differently is, when someone clicks that Typeform link, it doesn’t take them to a homepage, it takes them to a form where they could get their own account. Got to walk down the house, we’re at dinner time now.
David: A little emergency. Sorry, one sec.
Andrew: What’s the emergency? What happened?
David: Nothing. Everyone’s wearing headphones at the time and someone was ringing the doorbell. It’s my other kid, so I wanted . . . come in.
Andrew: Fair to say that it’s naturally viral. When someone sends out a form, they basically spread the word about Typeform to lots of people.
David: That’s right, exactly.
Andrews: What else did you do in the early days to get users?
David: We started doing content marketing, that really worked well for us. We really started focusing on our brand, building our brand up, that will increase the brand loyalty that we had and that kind of added fuel to the fire. You know, one thing is viral growth and you know, you can’t just expect to always just rely on that. So we’ve also done some kind of growth hacking in the product early on.
Andrew: Like what?
David: Well, we were experimenting with pricing, like putting features in different plans and seeing, you know, where the value really was. We had some big shifts in MRR due to some kind of pricing in shifting and that was really good for us.
Andrew:Can you tell me more about that?
David: One was the branded Thank You screen. So that’s now if you want to customize the end screen after you submit that’s a pro feature and that really drove a lot of upselling.
Andrew: Yes, it looks like one of the first things you guys charged for was the number of forms, the number of responses that people could get, right?
Andrew: And then you just kept playing with it.
Andrew:Well, you guys really didn’t know much about MRR. One of the first pro price pages you had allowed people to pay for just one form, one month without any recurring bit.
David: We tried that. We tried like one form for 10 dollars, we scrapped that. It didn’t really work for us. It wasn’t . . . Yeah. It didn’t work. Some people still ask for it actually, but yes, it didn’t. Numbers didn’t make sense.
Andrew: No. All right. And so, and the reason it doesn’t make sense is why? How would you explain that?
David: I think it was cannibalizing a little bit the pro plan and we just didn’t see much growth in it. It was probably stifling virality as well a little bit. Those people that were paying $10 a month, we just thought, let’s just give it to them. They could just use a free product or upgrade.
Andrew: You early on hired a CTO. How’d you find the CTO and how did that go?
David: We hired a CTO early on, but it was because we, you know, CTO is thought like a really high executive role, we were a really small team. I think we didn’t really need a CTO at the time. That’s just the name we gave it. It went okay. It actual our CTO has left now. [inaudible 00:35:58]
Andrew:The connection’s a little bad. So it’s awkward to say this, but you guys had an issue. It was a very challenging relationship, wasn’t it?
David: With our CTO?
David: No, like things, they come to an end. You know, Toby’s a great guy and I have a lot to thank him for, but there was a point where we realized that we needed to [inaudible 00:36:28]
Andrew: You know what? The connection is pretty bad. Would you be able to go closer to Wi-Fi and I’ll do an ad for Toptal?
David: Yes. I need to plug in my computer.
Andrew:Okay, go for it. While you plug in your computer, I’m going to talk about my first sponsor . . . My second sponsor is a company called Toptal. I want to do a quick ad for them by saying that I needed a developer. I never thought that I was the kind of person who could hire from Toptal because I thought that they have the best of the best and frankly I was a little intimidated because the best of the best is not what I needed. I just had a WordPress site that needed heavy improvements. And I happened to have a conversation with a Toptal and they said, “Dude, we have developers of all kinds. Just tell us what you work on and we’ll find someone for you.” And I said, “All right, let’s do it.”
I talked to them. I said I use WordPress. I talked to them about how we operate as a team. I told them what my vision was, which was better search and they said, “All right, we got you.” They had two people for me to talk to. I didn’t know how to talk to those developers because I just didn’t know what they were going to do on the site and what made sense and what didn’t.
So I asked my brother. I said, “Hey Michael, you know this stuff, can you please talk to the developers that Toptal introduced me to?” He said, “Sure.” Michael got on a phone call with them, said, “Here’s your guy.” And the first person was not the right fit. The second person was. He redid our search the way that you guys asked for with tags and all kinds of stuff. And when we hired him, we had a great experience with him. We didn’t have to commit to him for the rest of our lives. We just needed him for this project.
He did it, got it done excellently. And then as a result, we had to beef up the design of the site because it gave us all these search options. We wanted to make it clearer for people to understand how to use them. That’s what happens when you hire a great developer. They do excellent work and then they level up the whole organization. We didn’t just end up with better search. We ended up having to create better design to highlight and make usable that great search.
So if you’re looking for a great developer, do what so many people in my audience have done which is go to not just toptal.com, but a special URL I’m about to give you where you can get 80 hours of Toptal developer credit when you pay for your first 80 hours in addition to a no-risk period of up to two weeks. That’s top as in top of your head tal as in talent, toptal.com/mixergy. I’m saying this kind of slowly and laughing as I say because I’ve been given a tour of David’s house as he’s walked around looking for a power plug and Wi-Fi so that we can continue this interview.
David: Exactly. I’m going to have to switch computers because I left the charger in this computer . . .
Andrew: Cool. Do you want to just give me a ring back and we’ll connect it?
David: Ring back. Yeah.
Andrew: Let me know. All right, so we can continue. Now you’re on your girlfriend’s computer, soon to be wife. Thanks for switching computers for this. A lot of this stuff feels like you’re just bouncing from success to success. I had in my notes that there was an issue with the CTO. If that’s not a big challenge, what was the big challenge? Let’s not make this sound like it’s some big happy go lucky. Everything worked out for us story.
David: I think one of the hardest things and this is just and my little experience in running a company this big. You know, we built a really special culture from the start and trying to keep that culture going while scaling it is really, really difficult. Sometime last year we hit this magic number of 150 people. It’s called the Dunbar number. And the theory is that when you get around those numbers, the kind of inherent trust you have in . . . . Hello?
Andrew:Yeah, I can hear.
David: Sorry, the inherent trust that you have in a group of people starts to kind of break down like under 150 people, you know, people generally tend to have their backs. In larger groups of people that kind of bit more cynicism creeps in, so that’s the . . .
Andrew: Did you start to notice that?
David: Yeah, definitely a little bit.
Andrew: You did?
David: Yeah, yeah, of course.
Andrew: How did it express itself?
David: People, you know, people notice less motivation, a bit of tiredness, you know, more . . . There wasn’t kind of the same kind of excitement that we had when we were 30 people. And I think part of it also is that, you know, we’d never been just rapid scaling, creates a lot of ambiguities in the organization and I think like, you know, some people were feeling a bit lost at times and I think that definitely contributed.
Andrew: You guys have a head of culture because culture is important to you. I’ve seen you tweet this stuff. I’ve seen you talk about it. If I could sum it up in one word, it would be human, right?
Andrew:But I don’t know that that gives me enough insight into what that means. What your culture is. How intentional were you in the beginning? How did you articulate it?
David: It wasn’t intentional from the start, but it was something that we noticed. Like in every action that we did. We always tried to make things a little more human. So we had kind of this approach to a product like humanizing web forms, so we also wanted to create an organization that really cared about people. Well, our brand proposition is really knowing people, that’s something that we really try hard to do a Typeform. Like creating spaces or creating events where people can really get together and get to know each other. We know we believe that people aren’t just here to work. [inaudible 00:42:08] certain part of their lives [inaudible 00:42:12]. We put importance and meaning on that relationship and the relationships you can build as you work here at Typeform.
Andrew:I feel like at this point it seems kind of obvious or it seems like a nice thing to say, but I could see a different way for you guys to have gone. You could have been the increased conversion company, right? We create forms that increase conversion as opposed to we create forums that feel more human, more like conversations and that would have changed the direction of the business. Why did you decide to go for that? For something so touchy, feely, as opposed to something that’s more metrics-driven, will get more of your forms filled out.
David: Yes, I guess it’s just, you know, the kind of people . . . well, it’s our profile.
Andrew: That’s what it is. You are . . .
David: We tend to act more from the heart and the brain maybe sometimes too much from the heart and I think that’s just kind of, yeah, a reflection of that.
Andrew:It feels like a lot of it is like that but do you do customer research too? I know that when it comes to culture, you guys do check in with the team. You’re big on that.
David: Yes, we do a lot of customer research.
Andrew: How? How do you do that?
David: Customer interviews. I mean, we have a UX team. We’re constantly testing new ideas on customers, new interfaces and even outside of the product design team, the folks are working on our go-to-market are really trying to get closer to customers to understand really where is the value for Typeform, what they really want. So, yes, that’s definitely. It’s completely part of our process now.
Andrew: All right. Let me go back to how you guys grew and then I hope to get some time to ask you about this thing in your bathroom that stood out for me and then I did research on your freaking bathroom because I got lost in that, but I feel like it tells me something. I just don’t know what and then maybe we’ll close it out with funding. So for growth, it seems like we talked about there’s the virality of the form, right?
Andrew: Every form sends out an ad basically for Typeform or a link to it. The other thing was integrations. You guys got into integrations fast and then every integration helps promote the business, right?
David: Yeah. Well, actually integrations are really good for retention. The other biggest driver, retention, because if you integrate you’re embedding Typeform into your workflow, so you’re much less likely to churn.
Andrew: Right. If my Typeform feeds into MailChimp, for me to leave Typeform and go switch to another company means I have to deal with breaking that link. The other thing that helps is, embedding into the site, but you guys don’t do much of that. It’s like . . .
David: Yeah. We offer an embed code.
Andrew: But it’s like iframe type of thing, right?
Andrew:It’s not that I can plug you in via WordPress or something?
David: You can. We have WordPress which allows you to embed Typeforms, but it’s still . . .
Andrew: Oh you do?
David: It’s an embed. Yes.
David:Actually, we’re not that integrated outside of Typeform on other people’s platforms. What we’re focusing on right now is integrating other services into our platform.
Andrew: Like what?
David: So recently we’ve done MailChimp. Google Sheets is a big one for us. Our users love that. We just released an early version of HubSpot integration now.
Andrew: So how is that different? I know that I saw a blog post back when you guys were using Tumblr, years ago that said we have an integration with Google Sheets. The integration used to be people fill out a form, the data goes into Google Sheets, right?
David: That was done through Zapier which is a kind of a catchall for integrations. We’ve had Zapier for a long time. It’s actually you can integrate Typeform into . . . you can send Typeform data into over 500 [inaudible 00:46:07] to Zapier, but you have to go for through Zapier. It’s not on the platform or you have to sign up and pay for Zapier like we’re doing now. Native integrations almost.
Andrew: Direct connect.
David: Successful integrations.
Andrew: I don’t need Zapier. I can just take any data that’s in my form and put it in a spreadsheet automatically because you guys connect and that’s the next thing that you’re doing . . .
David: It’s actually a few clicks and you’re done. You just authenticate into Google, choose a sheet and you’re sending data over.
Andrew:Okay. So I interviewed Wade the founder of Zapier and he said to me, “Andrew, we have a process. Every time we get a new integration, we have a process for getting that company to promote us and promote the integration.” Do you guys have something like that too that helps get more growth?
David: Yes, we’re doing comarketing company. If we create an integration for them, they will comarket. This is what’s happening with HubSpot for example. And it’s great because we have access to a really big user base that fits well into our persona marketers use Typeform a lot and HubSpot is just a big playing field of marketers which we can talk to.
Andrew:Okay. Do I have the top three things that you guys do? Number one is the virality of the form. Number two, it’s the integrations and then number three is content marketing. Right?
David: Branding, a lot of branding.
Andrew: What do you mean by branding?
David: Well, we’ve invested hard on brand. Like last year we redesigned our branding. We did a six-month process with the same studio that produced the Airbnb, a new brand. We really went into an introspective process to really understand who we are and what is the brand we want to put out. How can we reflect this kind of human side of the company, human side of forms? And I think we no longer look like a kind of just a software company. We look like a brand and I think that is, you know, there’s going to open up all sorts of new horizons for us.
Andrew: I see that. Where before the forum was front and center on the side. And even I think I, tell me if I tell me if I’m wrong, the logo used to have that ibeam that blinks, the blinks, right?
Andrew: To stay here, this is where you’ve type in data now. It’s more of line art, more of hand drawing, right?
David: Yeah. We’ve looked for, I mean there’s a lot of meaning with the logo, but essentially these lines are part of the human process where each concentric circle is another layer of the human being and what we do is play with that.
Andrew: So then, how do you know that that’s actually leading to more use of Typeform?
David: It’s a long-term bet. I think we believe in creating kind of this momentum in the market where more and more people will recognize Typeform. I think that brand is part of supporting that.
Andrew: Okay. So it’s not like you can see directly that you’re getting more orders necessarily from that?
David: No, I think it’s a long-term play. I mean it’s the same thing that we just rebuilt our entire platform, redesign the whole front end UI. You know, we haven’t seen like a massive inflection point. What we see as new basis to be able to grow up on.
Andrew:So then I actually went on to SimilarWeb to see what kind of ads you guys buy. It says, “Google display ads, skim links, Outbrain, Taboola, Taboola” are those, like the ads that look like editorial. But is that you guys buying those ads or is it people buying the ads for forms that they are using to collect data?
David: We’re playing around with [inaudible 00:49:56]
Andrew: You are?
David: Downsizing yeah. This something relatively new for us. Up to a year ago, we were doing very little on this. Now we’re starting to look for universal opportunities for data acquisition.
Andrew: Okay. All right. The thing that I saw on your bathroom was your bathroom is dedicated to Elliot Strangeheart.
Andrew:Why? I looked them up. I have some background on him. He’s a former Airbnb guy. Why?
David: Yes. It was one of our employees. Unfortunately, he passed away a few months ago. Elliot was a binary person. We didn’t know anything about binary apart from the first binary person to join them.
Andrew: What’s a binary person?
David: Someone who doesn’t identify with one sex or the other that’s neither male nor female. And Elliot spent six months in Typeform and then unfortunately passed away. But I think taught us a lot in terms of diversity and we thought a good idea that we could actually convert our toilet into unisex toilets as a tribute to him. So that’s why we put a sign to Elliot on the front of the bathroom.
Andrew: Because your bathrooms are for men and women. Got it.
David: They were separated, we knocked them through into one big. So we removed the urinals and it’s now for everyone.
Andrew: How does this reflect you guys as a culture that you do this?
David: Well, I mean, inclusive is a kind of fashionable word at the moment. I just think we thought it was a good tribute to them to do this. You know, like I said, it was something new that we learned about and it just made sense for us.
Andrew: If people feel this way, then we want to care about them to the point where you’re using the word, the pronoun them for him. I saw that on his Facebook profile where he said I am like, they isn’t . . .
David: Well, it’s not he said, so we say them.
Andrew: You say them about Elliot or they?
David: They don’t identify with he or she.
Andrew: Okay. And the reason that I think that this is captured my interest is I feel like this is the way that you guys as a company, it expresses some of your beliefs, which is, here’s how people come at us. We’re not here to judge them and tell them they’re wrong or right or that we are championing them or not. It’s just we’re accepting you. We want to see you as the human that you are.
David: Yes, I think that’s true of the culture. It’s very accepting. I think people are very open. I think the strongest thing we have at Typeform is people. When people say, we often have people say like the culture is the people, not the culture itself, it’s the group of people that we’ve brought together. One of the things that we look for is really humble people and generally humble people are more accepting of other people. So that’s kind of been very much reflected in culture too.
Andrew:All right. I’ll close it out with this. You guys raised according to CrunchBase, $52.3 million. You told someone on our team who contacted you a while back. It’s very validating to have raised that money. How so?
David: Well, you know, in our latest round we raised 35 million so you can imagine, you know, the valuation that we got around that. You know, it’s a validation that we can take this company to a billion valuation and beyond. Although it’s not, of course, it’s not about the money, it’s about really building value and really taking over the market. But yeah, I guess fundraisings or just kind of good milestones or obviously we need the money, but it is like you say, a validation of the step where you are.
Andrew:All right, congratulations on everything you’ve built here. It’s exciting to see someone who did not know what monthly recurring revenue generate so much in annual recurring revenue and do it, I could see your way. Everything is just so . . . There’s such a David stamp on all this and I know it’s other people on the team too, but I see your personality and the product. All right.
David: Some of it just not . . .
David: Some of it. I’m a founder so is my co-founder, so obviously yeah, that’s going to have a big influence. But you know, the people have a lot to do with it.
Andrew: There’s not much sense for me frankly sending people a Typeform. They all know a Typeform at this point but they don’t know is the story behind Typeform and I glad that we got to talk about that. But I also, one of the things that I like about you guys is that you have like these templates that are really beautiful that I can just copy and start using, which means that . . .
David: We need more of those.
David: We need more of those.
Andrew: I agree. I think that I could see I could use a lot more of those too because you guys have a really nice design sensibility for everything. It’s like the background on the form, the type that you use, etc. I want to basically steal and copy your design as much as possible. Speaking of, MailChimp copied or design recently, a little bit. Not exactly
David: On which?
Andrew: Not MailChimp actually. On the other, SurveyMonkey.
David: No comment. Look. I mean this is the way things are going, right? I think we started the first conversational form but there’s other companies like SurveyMonkey that realize that this makes sense.
Andrew:Fair to say though, but here’s the thing. They did it, but they didn’t fully copy it. They don’t have design in their DNA. What they have in their DNA is data and that’s why they can never copy your design.
David: They’re a data analytics company more than a user interface company. We’re very much focused on the user interface.
Andrew: Right. That’s the distinction.
Andrew: Okay, all right. User interface typeform.com. Go check them out. I want to thank my two sponsors for making this happen. The first is the company that makes someone like me who has no design eye, has no sensibility. If David were to look at my office, he would just . . . you know what, he’d walk away nicely because it’s a nice guy, maybe go grab a beer, but there’s no design eye here.
That’s why I’m really proud to use DesignCrowd. They give me a crowd of designers who give me designs that I can pick from and that’s what I use whenever I want nice designs. Go to designcrowd.com/mixergy, and if you want to hire a great developer, do what I did. Do what so many people on Mixergy community. In fact, forget the mixergy community. They’re not just listeners, it’s interviewees, so not to forget to Mixergy community, but the interviewees are using Toptal and that’s why they keep coming back and sponsoring, so go check them out if you need to hire developer top toptal.com/mixergy.
David, I want to ask you offline about our process because I want to keep improving it, but I’ll say online here. Thank you so much for doing this interview and thank you all for being a part of it.