Andrew: Hey, everyone, check this out. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of mixergy.com. You guys all know this. I love entrepreneurs. Largely, I read biographies of entrepreneurs the way other people watch movies for fun. So that’s partially why do these interviews. I also do them because I know my audience of entrepreneurs are listening, learning, and building their businesses.
But check this out. I’ve got Macs all over the freaking place and iPhones and iPads and they all come with Keynote for creating presentations for free. I didn’t have to pay for it. Created by the company that’s one of the best design firms in the in the planet, right? One of the best software creators in the planet. And I’m not the only one obviously, right? A lot of you are listening to me and you could say the same thing. You’ve got Keynote. And if you don’t, you’ve got . . . what’s the other one? What’s the Microsoft version? Why am I thinking of that?
Payman: I can’t remember what it’s called. PowerPoint.
Andrew: PowerPoint. Thank you. Yeah, it exists. And still the guy who’s voice you just heard, Payman Taei, says, “I’m getting into the space,” and he did. He created a company. Totally bootstrapped. No outside funding. It’s all him putting his money on the line, his time on the line. He created a company called Visme. They are a visual design tool that allows you to create presentations, infographics, and other visual content. So in a way, he’s competing against big guys like Keynote, and frankly, in the other spaces, the infographic creation and the eBook creation and all that. The other big guy is competing with him too. And eBooks, Payman, Apple also has an entrant, right?
Payman: Absolutely. Exactly
Andrew: Yeah. And still he’s got a business. It’s growing strong and I invited him here to find out how he did it. How is he creating Visme into this online tool that’s competing really well with all the big guys. All right, this interview where we find out about how he did it is sponsored by two companies. The first will help you host your website right. It’s called HostGator and the second will help you hire your next phenomenal developer. It’s called Toptal.
Payman, revenue-wise, how much you guys bring in?
Payman: Great question. So that is one of the things that we really don’t close because we are a private company but I will leave at that we are profitable. We became profitable by the year after we launched our paid version. And we are well over a million users and growing.
Andrew: Over a million in revenue, right?
Payman: Well, we’re over a million users but we are over that revenue but I can’t disclose exactly what that number.
Andrew: But you’re just saying over a million in revenue. You’re saying that?
Payman:We are definitely.
Andrew:How profitable? Hundreds of thousands a year?
Payman: Yeah, we’re definitely above that. But again, remember that we have a very high profit margin and gross margin, but again, we invest heavily into the future that’s all.
Andrew: So when you say that it’s hundreds of thousands, does that mean you’re taking out of the business and putting it into something?
Payman: We reinvest a lot back into the business, but we still do a walk away with profit as well. I do believe I guess, you know, because of the type of business that we’re on, being bootstrap and so on, you always got to have some for the rainy days. So we definitely, you know, have an oil reserve in that area.
Andrew: Where do you put your rainy day money? I do for Mixergy and like it turns out four or five fricken different bank accounts. Because if you put your money in a Citibank bank account which I did when I opened up my company in Santa Monica, then you go to D.C., they treat you like you’re with a whole other company. So I opened up one in Citibank in D.C. Here in San Francisco, they don’t recognize, so then I opened up another one and I said, “Screw all these guys. I’m going to Chase.” So I got a whole other. What do you do? And that’s not a way to be.
Payman: Yeah. You know, there’s multiple accounts and, you know, cash only gives you so much return, right?
Andrew: Right. So I take you for a real estate guy.
Payman: Yeah. There is real estate involved but it’s more REIT-base that I . . .
Andrew: You invest in REITs, Real Estate Investment Trusts.
Payman: Yeah, yeah. Because again, you know, it’s hands off. I like hands-off stuff because I’m pretty hands-on. You know, Visme that is a huge amount effort in the past.
Andrew: Publicly trades REITs? Or you’re talking about like friend of a friend?
Payman: No. We’re talking about both. Yeah, I’ve invested in both. So talking about, you know, those platforms such as, you know, Fundrise, Realty Mogul, and then there is the actual, you know, ones that I was introduced to through colleagues and others that have . . .
Andrew: You use Realty Mogul too?
Payman:. I am actually looking into that. I have it in Messenger, but I have been in Fundrise.
Andrew: I interviewed the founder of Realty Mogul. I love the idea. I don’t know why I just haven’t gotten into it.
Payman: It’s almost like a subcontractor in essence, right? I forgot what the term is. But you are going through a sponsor and the sponsors you have to really weigh them out as far as if they’re right or they’re not because there is some bad deals that come out of those.
Andrew: Even through Realty Mogul, possibly?
Payman: Yeah, they could be possibility. I haven’t experienced it. But I, you know, last I had talk they said, you know, there are cases that happens. They’re rare. But as with any investment, right, you have to really do your due diligence.
Andrew: Here’s why I bring this up. I had no idea how many people in tech, how many people in software were investing in real estate and other things like that on the side. It’s just interesting and it’s the bootstrappers. The bootstrappers that take money out. They want a little bit of security. They want some diversification. They’re always freaking out because nobody’s got their back. So they want to make sure that if all goes away, they still have something. And you’re a guy, frankly, who came from like a family where you could see that things could go away. Your dad was an entrepreneur?
Andrew: I grew up with a dad was an entrepreneur, I would never draw on my loose leaf binders, because I was always worried the business would go away. And I’d have to use my same loose leaf binder the following year. And if people saw they were the same drawings, they would know that I was a loser, which was like, I don’t know how I got that in my head. Did you grow up with that at all?
Payman: So there’s two sides. I mean, my dad, you know, a small business owner, not a big business owner. And so, small business owners. I’ve kind of firsthand saw the challenges that comes up with that. And even I would say, I don’t want to say mistakes, but, you know, certain things that you don’t do, they can affect you. And actually, I experienced that firsthand at my agency, which is how Visme came about, a web agency that I started. So I even . . .
Andrew: Oh, yeah, we’re going to get into what happened there.
Payman: But like on my mother’s side, you know, she’s very traditional in that go to school, get your degree. And when I actually started designing websites out of college to kind of pay my way through college, she was like, “Why are you starting a web design company? Just go, you know, be a web designer for someone else. And you make, you know, X amount of dollars per month.” And I’m like, “No, you don’t understand” But right now, I’m making this little bit down the road. You know, it could generate, but it’s what I like doing. But, you know, now, I mean, that’s all turn around as far as, you know, seeing the big picture. But my dad was the opposite. He was like, you know, “Well, if you really believe in something, just go for it as long as it does heard out of the people.”
Andrew: Your dad had a business that resold computers?
Andrew: And one of the things that you took away from that was, you have to evolve. Why did you take that lesson? What was it about his business that left you with that?
Payman: Well, you know, Dell came along, right, Dell and some of other. So they basically almost eliminated the majority of the resellers. And their rates of the pricing of the computers’ hardware drastically came down. I mean, there was a, you know, Pentium computer that used to go for $5,000. I mean, now, you can buy, you know, three Macs for that. So, you know, things have changed drastically.
Andrew: Because the way used to work is resellers would buy computers, keep it in their showroom, be consultants, help people buy their computer and take it home right there. Dell said, “Screw all that. People can call us up, tell us what they want, then wait a few days while we make the computer and ship it out to them. But in return for that wait, we will customize something to them and sell to them at rock bottom prices.” How do you compete with something like that?
Okay, so you took a lesson from that. You then still went out and became your own man, your own entrepreneur. You started a company called Hindsight Interactive back in 2001. The nerve on you after the dotcom explosion, you get into this, but you were student at the time.
Payman: Yeah, it was literally right before that, you know, that I’d started doing things and it was just a way, paying my way through college. I always liked design. I used to play with a little animation programs. I can’t remember the name of it before whole Adobe Flash and so on. And so I kind of, you know, played with it and gave up on it after a while. I got into bodybuilding and weight training. And I was like, “Okay, how do I put the two and two together? I guess sports medicine is that a way to go. Because I don’t want to be a physical therapist and I don’t want to be a lawyer and attorney and so on.” And, you know, I was like, “Okay, I like nutrition.” So I got into that and therefore I went to the general biology. Long story short, by the time it was my bachelor’s degree time, I was like, “Uh, that’s seven more years of school.”
And I’m not the type that wants to . . . not that I was doing bad in school, I just don’t have the patience to go another six or seven years in residency. There’s so much more I could do. And so that’s when the whole internet thing was taking off. And I started actually a little tiny coupon business where I went door to door to businesses and said . . . I had like $100 in the bank. I had nothing, you know, in my name, and went in and say, “I’ll create a little coupon webpage for you and it will be like 99 bucks a year.” And nobody wanted it.
Except one guy got back to me via phone call because I sent some fliers out and said, “I want a website.” And I said, “No, I don’t do that. I create one page coupons.” And he’s like, “No, I need a five to six-page website.” So, you know, I was like, “Okay, it’s going to be $1,000.” Long story short, that’s how it started. I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t go to school for design, self-taught myself and over, you know, all that period, I learned how to do it. And little by little, somebody else wanted it. And so I formed it into a little tiny web design agency, which grew to about, you know, 10, 12 people at the peak of it and . . .
Andrew: It’s still going on, right?
Payman: It’s still going on. I still have it and it’s still actually is close to that. It’s a tiny, a little bit smaller. It’s under now seven or eight people now, because so much of my focus is on Visme. But I still run that because a lot of the creative work that we still do is actually done by some of my designer and assets are at Hindsight. So we’re on the same office, same location, and we’re able to, you know, tap into different resources as needed. But that’s how, you know, the way Hindsight led to Visme was that the whole . . .
Andrew: Wait, before we get into that, let’s talk about that issue that you addressed earlier, which is you were kind of dependent on one thing, and then the world changed. And that one thing was Flash.
Payman: Flash it was. So . . .
Andrew: Why did you create pages for companies in Flash? I remember when restaurants all had Flash sites and none of us could understand why.
Payman: I mean, looking back, I kind of laugh at it. But it was then when people saw things moving around and want sound effects. And you go to this homepage. And again, it took like, 30 seconds, 40 seconds on the DSL, you know, [crosstalk 00:10:58].
Andrew: To load.
Payman: To load, yeah. And they had all these stuff going on. It wasn’t about user experience where most people then and I was guilty of it. It’s all about interactivity, emotion. So, you know, a lot of companies or businesses will look at and say, “I want my site to look like this competitor and I want it to be better, because if people look at it, they’re going to like it more.” And everybody got onto that bandwagon. You know, most of the sites you went to, they had a little Flash intro.
So we did a bunch of stuff. 2008 elections for ABC News. We created all these modules for the elections and it was great stuff that we did. And then literally right after that, I can’t recall exactly when it was 2009, 2010 or so. And then, of course, Flash, you know, Apple stop supporting Flash, and literally in a matter of six months to a year. And that’s also when WordPress was starting to become more popular and we had done none of that.
People and companies, they just didn’t want to sites on Flash. And the whole portfolio was pretty much Flash based, right? So it was pretty damaging and revenue went down. It was pretty, you know, gruesome. And so it kind of lessons back to my dad’s business and seeing how where, you know, the evolution of things. Things just change constantly. And so that’s what we did was to, you know, go into the . . . I’m sorry about that.
Andrew: It’s okay. Is that your phone?
Payman: Yeah. It’s my Bluetooth kicking in, which is very odd. Let me just turn that off.
Andrew: I’m surprised when anyone even has a volume turned on their phones. You don’t keep it on vibrate?
Payman: Actually, it is on vibrate, it is on mute, but it’s my laptop that takes over.
Andrew: Oh, because of Bluetooth thing. And, by the way, I know how Flash based you are is I went to the Internet Archive to see what Hindsight looked like back in the day. There’s only one image I could see on the whole site. It’s the button that says “Get Adobe Flash Player.”
Payman: Yeah, exactly. So that’s, you know . . .
Andrew: So it chopped your business. Apple said, “No more Flash.” That meant other people didn’t want to create a Flash. It took away the majority of your business, not all of it. You still had some. All right, so then take me to how you ended up with Visme? What’s the thing, the impetus?
Payman: Sure, sure. So the way that came about was, you know, I kind of found a little . . . there is this little bridge that I noticed, because when we were doing websites with people, people would say, “I want to edit my website.” And so they needed a do-it-yourself tool. And then on the other hand, we had other people who needed a custom solution. So, you know, the reality is that for a custom solutions, like when you want to create a presentation and so on, majority of the people are going to hire . . . they don’t want to hire a professional. They don’t have the budget for it, right? So they sometimes want to do it on their own. So today, you look at most people, they create their own PowerPoint. And once in a while there is this opportunity, and they need something very high end, and therefore, they hire someone to do that.
So that’s where I saw a vision. I was like, “You know what? That is probably what we’re going to do. You know, that’s where we could lead to.” However, before that there was something else. I looked at it when Flash was going on a road, I said, “Let’s do a little experiment, not for money or anything. I think just for see if we can actually do it. Flash is going out the door. I love design. I love animation. Let’s create a tool that’s animation base. That’s based on HTML5 that’s for designers who was got a time.” It was literally like Flash, animation, timeline, everything.
So we spent about nine months or so internally putting that together, launched a little beta for about 600, 700 users, you know, to come to try it out. And we noticed soon that they really don’t care about it. They are actually trying to put together a little slide deck, or they’re trying to do something that looks like almost like a one page . . .
Andrew: You said, “Flash is going away because the technology isn’t being supported by phones. Let’s create something that creates a Flash-like experience using HTML5 so nobody could take it away.” You created it, you looked, nobody cared about anything other than creating presentations.
Payman: I think that most of the people the way we actually put out the beta, it wasn’t so much adhering to all designers. A lot of them were non-designers as well, so they can care less about the animation or, you know, timeline and it was very complicated, right? So that’s kind of where, which I’m glad that that was a mistake that we didn’t really targeted towards the designers, because things would’ve turned out a little bit differently. You know, we would have kept going potentially in that route.
So very quickly, even though the product was very buggy, it wasn’t, you know, well put together, it quickly was a way to see that, “Hey, there’s a bigger opportunity out there.” So, you know, it’s very quick light bulb went off. And I said, “All right, you know what? This actually should be a tool for non-designers, for everyone, not just for the very, very small percentage of people that happened to be designers, which are going to continue using advanced tools like Adobe product line.
Andrew: What was the tool that eventually led you to this conclusion? What’s the website for that?
Payman: So as far as what?
Andrew: I want to go back and look at that website of the product that was trying to reproduce Flash.
Payman: Oh, well, it’s not even around anymore. That was us trying to recreate it, right? So Visme became what it is today. So that product doesn’t really exist anymore.
Andrew: It was still visme.co?
Payman: It was at the point at that time, we call it Presenter. We call it Presenter and the name change came along because I wanted to come up with a name that is unique, it’s different, it’s only very short. So therefore, Visme after a lot of back and forth, and you know, name decisions came along. So we did a name change, you know, some time about a year and a half, two years after the product development started.
Andrew: What was the previous website? I want to go look it up on Archive.
Payman: I don’t know if you could even pull up anymore. It was called Presenter. So EWC Presenter.
Andrew: PWC Presenter?
Payman: No. EWC Presenter.
Andrew: EWC Presenter. You know, so I was looking through your history and I came across this one site, again, still have available, that seems like . . . Easy WebContent. That’s what it’s called. It seems like an in-between business. It seemed like what you saw was building websites is tough. That’s why people hire my agency to do it. I’m going to make it easy for them to build their own websites. And you created a website builder, which is similar to what Squarespace has and others, right?
Payman: Yeah, great question. So I kind of skipped over that just because I don’t want to make this story too long for you. But in fact, let me connect the dots, right? It will make a lot more sense. So when I was still . . . which I continue to do so running Hindsight. But at some point, this whole thing about people asking for being able to edit their own sites, I created a very simple tool, it was just an HTML editor, where basically anyone whether we design a site for them or not, this is before WordPress where the sites were static HTML based pages. And in order to edit it, they had to, you know, download program.
So we just create a very simple tool. All it was, was you put your FTP access, your hosting account information, and it connects to your website, regardless of where it’s hosted, HostGator or, you know, anywhere else. And then it would just open your content in your page and you edit the content, and then you publish it back. So it wasn’t really to build websites. However, between that we did tackle getting into building a site builder, and so on. And really, that was something . . . that one didn’t work out. Didn’t work out . . .
Andrew: Why not? Because it clearly makes sense. Frankly, even HostGator is nervous about these builders.
Payman: It is. And, I mean, I’ll tell you right now, one of the biggest mistakes I have made was a site builder, and why? One of the best decisions I made was the HTML editor knowing however after a couple years that it’s going to go downhill because less and less sites are going to be static. More and more people are going to use site builders or their sites are going to be WordPress built. Therefore, they don’t need our tool anymore because they already come with an editor itself, right?
However, it was so inexpensive to build and it took very little effort that it actually the timing was right and it did. It was a product that actually went on to this day, it generates some revenue for us. A few thousand dollars a month still, after like nine years.
Andrew: Wait, which product makes . . .
Payman: The HTML editor.
Andrew: The HTML. When people say, “Hey, I’ve got a website. It’s already built and not in WordPress, I can’t edit it. I’m going to use this tool and edit my existing site.”
Payman: Exactly. So we still have some users that are using it. And we’re talking about these are people that have sites that are 10 years old, 12 years old, 15 years old, who never still have taken the initiative to redesign their sites. They’re just fine. They’re just want to keep it or they don’t care about redesigning it. So they just go in and edit the site. But it’s a dying business, this HTML editor.
Andrew: So then what about the web builder? Why do you say that that was a mistake?
Payman: Wrong execution, bad user experience, just, you know, either the mistake that I made was trying to tackle too many things within the site builder at one time. Instead I’m making it extremely simple, focused too much on powerful features, which doesn’t appeal to the non-designer in that aspect. So all these were really good learning lessons, though, of how Visme came about. Now Visme, Easy WebContent is basically now the corporate entity. You know, it’s just the legal name of . . . because Visme is the product. We really don’t focus on the site builder. You know, there is, you know, support as needed on the HTML editor but it’s all about Visme.
Andrew: Got it. Okay. When we get into Visme right after this pop up, just to sum things up, it seems like you learned to create software and you learned how to get Visme right by getting the site builder wrong. And the site builder to me made so much sense at the time. You were one of the first people to realize, “It’s too tough for people to build websites, I’m going to create a tool that makes it easy.” But making it easy is hard and that is something that even with Visme you’ve discovered, and I’m guessing that what you learned before with the site builder is helping you make Visme better, easier to use, and helping you obsess about it.
Payman: Exactly, right. So there’s been a lot of learning lessons along the way. We still, you know, as any product developer would ever tell you about, it’s always a learning curve. You’re always trying to improve things, you know, but it’s definitely been a great thing. So, you know, my 17, 18 years of knowledge into design development, you know, having worked with clients on a regular basis on designing their sites, what they want, what they don’t want, creating presentations for clients, infographics, all those things together. And then the mistakes made or also good decisions made through some of these, you know, other small offerings is all now kind of, you know, it’s all now making sense. You know what I mean?
Andrew: Okay. You know what, let me take a break here and talk about my first sponsor. And the first sponsor kind of connects with WordPress because fricken guys at WordPress. I had Matt Mullenweg here, he’s an unassuming guy. Now, he’s grown his hair long, kind of like very open source. He battles and cares about only open source. I’ve never seen him battle about anything else. And still, every time I go to frickin Techmeme, I look at their ad that they have for jobs, it doesn’t say, “Come work for us. We have good benefits.” It doesn’t say, “Come work for us,” whatever.
It just says, “Thirty percent down, 70% to go, WordPress.” Meaning 30% of the internet is now on WordPress, 70% of the Internet has to go. And I’ve been watching this for years. It used to say I think 20%, then 20% down, just 80% to go, 21% . . . So they’re like boom, boom gobbling up. That means 30% of websites are built on WordPress.
So here’s the thing guys, if you’re listening to me, you’ve got to hear the 30% of websites are built on WordPress for a reason. WordPress just fricken works. I just interviewed the founder of SkyBell yesterday. He won’t even let me talk about how many millions the guy is generating in sales. He’s kind of a freak that way. In that he’s like watching his data very carefully. He’s very concerned with making sure that nobody knows . . . concerned with privacy because he’s selling to bigger companies.
Still, I just went to builtwith.com and I see his site is running on WordPress. The guy selling Internet of Things doorbells with video cameras. He’s super bright, great technology, cutting edge. And still when he publishes a website to tell the world what it does, he uses WordPress.
So 30% of the internet using WordPress. Even cutting edge technology creators are using WordPress to produce it. So if anyone’s listening to the sound of my voice and they’re looking to set up a website, really I urge you to consider WordPress as a way to do it.
Now if you’re going to do WordPress, there tons of hosting packages, tons of hosting places where you can go to have your website hosted. I highly recommend that you go with HostGator. I when I started this new business for chatbots, I went immediately to HostGator. I was checking myself for a moment to make sure we did. Yeah, we started immediately with HostGator.
And the reason is, they’ve been around for years. I’ve done interviews with people who HostGator competed with. They talked about how HostGator crushed them because HostGator was obsessed. They’ve been around. They’re not going away, number one. Number two, their prices are super low. Why pay for . . . frankly, I hate to say this for a HostGator business, but it’s become commoditized web hosting. Why pay $30,000, $50,000, whatever it is, when HostGator will give it to you at a low price. And then if you need to grow, they’ll grow with you. They have products that they don’t even list on their website. When you’re ready to scale up, they’ll scale with you.
All right, if you’re looking to host your website, go to hostgator.com/mixergy where they will take their already low prices and lower them even more. They’ll make it super easy for you to launch a website, one-click install, and you’ll be ready to go. There’s so much more that I could say about them, but I’m just going to let that website stand for itself. Hostgator.com/mixergy. Wow, WordPress really took over the fricken internet.
Payman: It did.
Andrew: I see how you had this business. I see how you said this is not enough. I get now also how Visme came about. What I’m surprised is when I go to the Wayback Machine and I look at the early version of visme.co, immediately you don’t just take on infographics. You don’t just take on banners. You do the whole thing, product demos, presentations, infographics, animations. Why do so much?
Payman: Yeah. So that’s what differentiates us from some other competitors and it’s been also made things a lot more difficult. You know, I mean, typically, you know, for most companies or products that you develop, right, usually go and basically tackle one thing. So you just focus, let’s say, on presentations. And so maybe that made sense.
However, in our case, I just knew that, you know, Visme really what we’re trying to be is an all-in-one visual communication tool, and usually I have to explain what does that mean. Our mission and our vision is that if you want to create anything that is not a giant proposal with, you know, pages and pages, texts, which you’re going to use Microsoft Word for, the future of communication is visual. And so we’re trying to make this all-in-one tool that you use to do all of those.
Andrew: But even if that’s your long-term vision, why not say we’re going to start with the first thing. And the first thing is people come and test for presentations. We’re going to let them make presentations here.
Payman: That’s correct. So the way that it was done, you know, first of all, like the focus that we had mostly on, you know, to be frank was on the presentation and infographic. So those are the two we focus heavily on. So although you could do some of these other abilities on it, if you want to do let’s say a product demo, it basically will be a presentation that you attach some motion and some video and so on to it and you create it as a product. So it was still a presentation, but it was more interactive. You see what I mean?
So we’re just tying the lines in between. I look at it as not being different things, I look at them all being synced. That’s the thing. So when I look at their presentation, when I look at an infographic, an infographic to me is a tall form of a presentation. You know, a presentation is slides and infographic is blocks of slides stack on top of each other. So you see there’s a resemblance for me, for us . . .
Andrew: It’s all a canvas with different blocks on top of it.
Payman: Yes. So . . .
Andrew: So here’s the thing, when I when I first heard about you, here’s the thing that that blew my mind, I remember talking to Hiten Shah, the marketer about infographics. And he said, “People laugh at infographics but they’re great. They’re viral, they lead to leads and so on.” I said, “How do you do it?” He goes, “Well, it costs like $1,000, $1,500,” I forget what it was. And I thought, “That’s interesting, but that’s a lot to spend to experiment with this thing that who knew if it was going to work.” And then boom, you come in and you say, “Guess what, guys, you can just go in and use this tool. And it won’t be as customizable as infographics that you pay $1,000 for., but it’ll work and it will look good.”
Payman: Yeah. And we weren’t the first ones to do the infographics, right? You know, there was a tool called Easel.ly, you know, that I think they were one of the first ones that came out, and there’s been a few others out there that have done it. Our approach was a little bit different. We looked at those tools and either they were a little bit dumb down, or they had limitations in the templates. Or what happened was, I didn’t have any to use kind of engaging abilities. You couldn’t assign Easel.ly links and have it go to a link to a website or create a pop of if you wanted to. I want to roll over this, you know, icon or his iPhone and show like what the product can do, instead of having to, like, you know, just make it taller and taller with more information. So we wanted to bring that engaging part into the tool and that’s where I saw the opportunity.
Andrew: How long did it take you to make that? This is clearly not like an MVP that you had in mind.
Payman: Yeah. I mean, it’s continually being developed. You know, where we have so much. The more of the problem . . .
Andrew: You just told me . . . you blew my mind. You said, “Hey, Andrew, the news that I have to share with you now is no longer in beta.” I said, “Are you kidding me? You guys launched this business back in 2012. You just got out of beta in 2018?” You said, “Yeah, there’s, there’s a lot to explain about that.” But before we even get to leaving beta, the first version that you actually launched, that someone was able to use, how long did that take?
Payman:That was about nine months, which was a buggy MVP. That was that initial, you know, in terms of as a potential replacement for Flash. So that was about nine months of development, very, you know, brief MVP that was launched. And then from there, when we made a decision to modify the tool to make it for the masses, right, for the non-designers appeal to them, it was another year and a half. I’m going by memory here.
And then we re-launched it, basically, open it up to the public at that point, and it was just free. Everybody just come in, you know, use it so we could get feedback. And it wasn’t until about almost a year or something after that, that we actually open it up as a paid option, too. So you could also now get the premium version.
And since then, it’s gone over, you know, pretty much every year, year and a half. It’s gone over some major, major updates. And this last one that we just did was a couple months ago was a major upgrade, which is setting the tone for all the great stuff that we’ve got on the way that’s coming up. I can’t get into too much of those, but I can tell you is that there’s some really cool stuff in the works, right?
Andrew: I feel like the biggest challenge, and you and I talked before we started, the big challenge is how do you give all the tools that professional designers need in your site and at the same time make it easy enough that someone like me who’s intimidated by design can go in and know what the click and not get to in the weeds.
Payman: So feedback, feedback, and feedback. That’s one. Also, you kind of after being, you know, designer yourself for 17, 18 years, you learn a couple of things, but you also make some mistakes, because this has actually been a huge challenge. It’s only in the last two, three years that we’ve got it down and I’m very guilty of it. Is that I will look at it as a more features, or we need to give more flexibility to the user. And if it was another person I know that was a non-designer that started this tool, they probably would have made it extremely dumbed-down so that it had very little flexibility. Now, that would have actually probably appealed to a lot of other people, but what we’re trying to do is to find this, you know, balance between the two.
Well, how is it that we’re trying to make this, you know, Visme where it appeals to the non-designers and also professionals, by the way, there’s more and more of them using the tool as we roll out things, is to kind of make certain things subtle that they’re there if you need them. So like if you want to animate something, it’s not like in your face, there’s in a timeline sitting at the bottom just waiting for it. You actually have to look for it. You know, you have to click an icon and look for it. If you want to add in an activity, you actually have to take a couple of steps, but they’re not extremely hidden, where you just cannot do it. They don’t require coding. They don’t require too many clicks to achieve. So we give you just enough . . .
Andrew: But that’s the balance that you you’re serving, not just multiple different visualization options like infographics, presentations, etc., but also, you’re servicing two different groups of people, professional designers and amateurs. And how do you make it work? How do you make the tool work for both? That’s the challenge that you guys keep working on? Well, let’s go back to the beginning. I mean, fair enough?
Payman: Sure. Let’s do it.
Andrew: Okay. Let’s go back to the beginning. The first few users that you got came from places like TechBreakfast. What’s TechBreakfast? And how much can you get from there?
Payman: Yeah. It wasn’t many but it’s actually ranges. At TechBreakfast and it was launched in the D.C. area and it was a very interesting. And right now, I think it’s going, you know, not as strong now. It’s still going on in some places. But it used to be where every week in the D.C. area, there was two or three TechBreakfast in different locations, local cities. You go in at 8:00 in the morning, there’s five demos that are startups and basically, they get in front of 50 to 100 people that care about technology, continental breakfast and basically screen share and show what it does.
So I did a few of those, you know, in different locations over a course of six to nine months. And in fact, what’s interesting is the very first time that I did it, Visme wasn’t out of beta yet. We were just working on it.
And that exact question came up is that I had screenshots. I’m showing you, this is what the tool is going to be, this is what it’s going to do. And the question from a couple of people was, “Why are you trying to tackle more than presentations? Why don’t you just focus on that?” Right? And so that’s the thing is I was like my vision was much grander and so it’s why it’s taken, you know, so long to kind of to come where it is.
It wasn’t a lot of users. We’re talking tens of users coming from there. Other users were, you know, from online posting on some local sites and some, you know, different communities, “Hey, there’s a product coming out. It’s Visme . . . ” well, in that case you know Presenter joined the actual invite. So we got about 700 something total at that point in Tech.
Andrew: And the large number of them was you reaching out to people?
Payman: It wasn’t manually reaching out at that point. It was just, you know, having a construction page up, you know, a beta page up, you know, invite only, and they would put their emails and we just posted on some of the local communities.
Andrew: Got it.
Payman: When I say local, I mean, niche communities on design marketing content.
Andrew: Okay. So you got all those people on a mailing list, then you opened up the app to them, they got to use it. What’s the big thing that you learned when real users used your software?
Payman: It wasn’t ready at all for prime time, which I knew.
Andrew: Really? What wasn’t ready about it?
Payman: User experience, it was buggy. It wasn’t still working on most browsers. It wasn’t ready for IE yet. It was just Chrome based at that point. So also, it was a resource hog. It took a lot of . . . you know, it would heat up your Mac at that point, if I say that. So we’ve come a long way.
Andrew: Why didn’t you give up on it at that point?
Payman: That’s just not the way my mind works.
Andrew: You just knew this was going to work? Tell me about how your mind works? What is it about your mind that got you to keep going? Are you the kind of person who just stick with things? Or are you the kind of person who when you have a vision, you can’t stop? What is it?
Payman: Yeah. I have this, you know, almost, if you tell me, “You can’t do something,” somebody tells me, I have to prove them wrong. It’s almost like, you know, going back to my parents. You know, “Don’t do this,” and I would do the opposite. Not that I was a bad kid but, you know, I . . . and I was never a rebel in terms of, you know, from an aspect of getting to trouble we’ve done but it’s more of if somebody tells me this is how it’s done.
Like when I look at PowerPoint and I see this tool in 20 years hasn’t really changed much, I just can’t help to say, “Why the hell can it be done differently? Why is it have to work this way? Why can you bring all these other things into it or simplify it?” That’s just the way my mind works. But also, I truly believe that we could do a fantastic job at really being the one company that can create this medium that becomes the tool . . . let me explain this way very briefly.
I believe that most people when they go to create some sort of a content, it’s segmented. When they, you know, I need to create a PowerPoint, I need to create a presentation, I need to create a document, I need to create a business card. And for each of those, they have to use different tools, different user, you know, experiences, why does it have to be that way? Why can’t there just be one tool that allows you to do all of that within one interface and so that you don’t feel like you have to go to five, six different places, pay for a four or five different tools or have different learning curves? That’s really the way I . . .
Andrew: Kind of like if I want to take a note for myself, I might open up a Google Docs. If I want to create a letter to send out, sure I might use Google Docs. But for all these different writing experiences, I open up Google Docs. I don’t need a different letter writing app in a different note taking and so on.
Payman: Right. On a vision [inaudible 00:36:01], right, it’s a little bit different because it’s not text. It’s a combination of text, video, audio, images, icons, right. So it gets a little bit more heavy which is why people differentiate the different tools to do that. We’re trying to just bridge that gap. We’re trying to bring it all together.
Andrew:Okay. You started to get some feedback on it. You kept on building this out the software. I’m still thinking this is a guy whose business just lost a lot of customers because of Flash. You must have lost a lot of money. How in the hole did you go in order to build Visme?
Payman: It’s been expensive. It’s not been cheap. You know, it started very slow, meaning that it was a side project. It was just me and I had one of the colleagues, you know, the developer got involved at Hindsight to work on it. And that’s all it was when we came out of the beta after about nine months, right? And so basically all the profits that was coming out, I made the Hindsight very lean, lean as it could be and pretty much took all the profits that was making and just every penny were meant to Visme. And that HTML editor that I told you about, you know, it was a little bit helpful. It was generating some . . .
Andrew: But there was no period there where were you were losing money month to month?
Payman: I’ve always been a guy that likes to have something for the rainy days. So if I needed to tap into it, I did that. But there wasn’t many cases of that. I mean, look, you know, going on a product that is not . . . there’s no investing in it, there was no outside raised, there’s no loans or anything to, you know, create Visme. Over a period of two and a half, three years, it was not generating a single penny of revenue by itself as a product, you would think like, “Why are you taking your time? You know, come out.” But I just knew that down the road in time, things will come together.
Andrew: You know what? Payman, I’m at a point where I think I might be losing money month to month now. And I want to make sure that I understand it. I’m going to go over it with my financial advisor in a little bit. But I’m wondering if it’s the right decision or not. Should I be investing in a business and losing money a little bit so that I can hire the right people, test a bunch of ads? Or should I always make sure that every month we at least make $1 in profit? What’s your philosophy on that?
Payman: I think, you know, making profit is very important, especially when you’re a bootstrap operation. I think in any business, it’s extraordinary. And it’s not the reason why I, you know, started these businesses. Well, Hindsight, yeah, to pay my way through school. I can’t lie about that. And look, we have to charge money to make a product and at the end of the day your family is sowing the benefit from it. But I would always ask the question on, “Do you truly believe in what you’re creating? And do you feel that it’s going to have enough value for your audience?”
And if the answer is , “Yes,” and you feel that you’re going to have mileage enough to go that far, I would a) run it as lean as possible and be very self-conscious about, you know, what you’re investing in and so on. However, you know, if you have, you know, just . . . at some point, we all have doubts, whether we really, you know, should be . . . I’ve had doubts at some point, not about do I should I closed down, but, “Hey, how big can this get? Can this actually, you know, become profitable at some point?” And so, there has been those questions. But I will look at two years down the road, instead of looking at the one month down the road, I look at two or three years down the road. How confident are you?
Andrew: So you would be willing to lose some money for a year or two, maybe even three?
Payman: I wouldn’t bankrupt myself, but I would set a certain amount of . . . I would budget it. I will put some money..
Andrew: Okay, that.
Payman: Yeah. I would take some money out of the bank actually, like, out of my personal expenses, and so on, and literally moved into an account. It’s almost like an investment. You know, “Hey, somebody just came in and invested 30K, 50K, whatever it is, 20K, 10K.
Andrew: And you consider yourself the investor, putting that money in the account and say, “This is what it is, I’m not endlessly bankrolling this thing. But I just invested whatever amount.” How much money did you do that with?
Payman: So, let me see, I mean, over the first, you know, two or three years in terms of how much was allocated to Visme to then reach, you know, profitability, I honestly never really crunched out the numbers. I’m looking at . . . I did go through the numbers. It was in bursts. I would go and, you know, six months, a year, it was probably a few hundred thousand dollars, you know. Few hundred [inaudible 00:40:34], whether it was 200, 300, or 350, it was somewhere . . .
Andrew: Somewhere between two and no more than five you put into this just . . .
Payman: Exactly. But I look at it this way, I could have gone and bought, you know, a property, let’s say, you know, a house or a town house within 100K, 150K, and spend another 50K to 100K fixing up and so on. And potentially in 5 or 10 years, it could double in costs, right? Or some of it paid off, and I walk away with $500,000, $600,000. Or I could invest that money into a product that I truly believe in. And it could generate much, much more than that. It has much high prospects.
Andrew: My issue is psychological. There was a period in my life where my business was doing really well. And then we had a month it was down where we lost money. And I remember the CFO coming into my office and saying, “We lost money.” I go, “Why does this guy care that much? Look at the rest of the year.” And it wasn’t until later that I realized he was highlighting an issue. I shouldn’t have blown it off and said, it’s a one-time thing. I should have said, this is a crisis, because after that month, there was another one and another one. And it took me a little while to recognize a crisis.
And so now I keep thinking, never lose money, always figure out what you need to do in order to get the month at least be profitable, even if you don’t always get it there. But at the same time, I also have another part of me that says, invest in the business because, like you said, where else are you going to get a better return?
Payman: Yeah, I mean, if you look at the most wealthy people, not wealthy as in not the products that build and then if you want to talk about, you know, the monetary side of it as well, then, you know, majority of those had their own businesses start or they were early on part of, you know, an operation. That said a thing go . . . But I think it also depends on person to person. I’m actually pretty risk averse person. I’m not a person that will go, has actually . . . I’ve never skydived. You know, I don’t go do crazy things and so on. So a lot of times entrepreneurs, some of them are known for taking very, very crazy risk. I try to take risks that I’m as, you know, that I look at the worst case and the best case situation.
So, you know, there’s a potential that Visme could be multiple times bigger than it is right now. We could have actually gone the investor route and taken . . . you know, I’d look at it as more risk and potentially bigger, you know, rewards, but I just know how far this thing can go. And now that we’ve gotten into a point where it’s growing, and it’s doing, you know, pretty good, I’m very happy with where we are. You know, we’re going to keep reinvesting it. I don’t look at the short term, you know, results of it. I look at the long term. I look at, you know, really, it’s about three to five years down the road that I want to look back and see how far Visme has come along.
Andrew: Let me talk about my second sponsor, which kind of connects into what we’re talking about here, a company called Toptal. On Monday of this week, we’re recording this on a Wednesday, on Monday of the following week, I should say, I’ve got a conversation scheduled with Jack, the guy who I connected with through Toptal. I went to them and I said, “I need a part time CFO, someone who’s going to really hold me accountable, let me think through profitability, and so on.”
And it’s interesting. First thing you do with Toptal is you talk to a matcher and the matcher didn’t just listen to what I wanted. He said, “Let me think about it.” And he came back to me and said, “Andrew, what you’re saying to me is not that you need a part time CFO. What you want is a profitability advisor. You want someone to just think through profitability this month, but also a year from now. Is that right?” I said, “Oh, yeah.”
Suddenly he got me in touch with five different . . . actually it was four different people, because I wasn’t sure what kind of person I wanted. And I hired Jack. Jack has been great. Jack did things for me like I knew I should have a budget for 2018. I can’t freaking sit down and do a freaking budget. So I said, “Jack, can you do it?” And here’s a great thing, I said, “I can’t even participate.” He said, “Can you give me like some data on this?” I go, “You know what I could do? We use Basecamp to chat with our whole team and keep things. I could add you to Basecamp and put an announcement and can you talk to everyone?” And Jack never is like a lazy guy. He loves this stuff. He goes, “Yeah, sure. I’ll talk to them.”
He gets on calls with people. He puts together a spreadsheet for me with my budget for 2018 based on even talking to a writer and saying, “What percentage of your time are you spending on this project versus that project?” I look at it. I go, “Okay, this is not something that’s going to be an exact month to month achievement. But it gives me a sense of where we are and what where we could spend money.”
For a long time, Toptal got on the phone with me and said, “Talk about the finance people. You always talk about how people can hire developers from us. Talk about the finance people. Like, talk about the fact that if someone’s raising money, and they need spreadsheets, and they need data, they could hire a finance person from us.” And I never did, because I thought, if you’re going to promise people that they hire a Toptal person, and then they’ll raise money, that’s not what you’re trying to say. I don’t know how to explain that they could hire finance people without giving that impression. No way. I’m not doing it.
And then I started talking to their finance people and I understood, dude, they have people there who first of all have worked for companies that have gone public and/or worked for major management consulting companies. We’re talking about the best of the best in finance. A lot of times the reason they want to get involved in this is because they’re in between jobs, the company they work for was sold, and they’re looking to figure out what they want to do next, or they want to just be involved in new industries and the way that they could learn is by bringing the finance experience that they have.
There’s a lot of reasons why it’s such great people in finance would work for Toptal. And if anyone out there is listening to the sound of my voice and has heard me talk forever about developers at Toptal, I’m telling you, they got great developers, but you should consider having somebody give you some feedback on your finances. You should consider having somebody take a look at the way you run your business and give you advice. It really is tremendously helpful and these guys at Toptal have some of the best of the best people in their network. And don’t take my word for it, just go to this URL I’m about to give you and you will be able to talk to them and see if it’s a good fit or not.
Here’s the weird thing, when you go to that URL, you’re going to see what I’m about to read to you which is that Mixergy listeners will get 80 hours of Toptal developer credit when they pay for their first 80 hours in addition to a no-risk trial period of up to two weeks. I actually don’t know if that applies to the finance people but whether or not it does, click that green button. You’ll get on a call with someone at Toptal. You’ll ask them any question you have and if it’s a good fit for you, you can get started right away. That’s top as in the top your head, tal is in talent, toptal.com/mixergy, toptal.com/mixergy. Do you have anyone giving you outside feedback? Is it your dad? On your finances I mean.
Payman: Not so much. You know that we have consultants, you know, legal and accounting, bookkeeping. So those are things that we . . . I don’t want to say outsource, but, you know, it’s companies, you know, individuals and so on that we have. But yeah, those are set up as needed on demand, you know, tap into those resources.
Andrew: That’s what I have right now too. I went a month without talking to Jack. I said, “I’m too busy.” I took a long trip for 10 days to Portugal. I don’t have time but immediately I came back I go, “Jack, we got to talk.” All right.
Payman: It’s always good to talk to, you know, financial person. Hopefully it’s not depressing but, you know, reality checks come from that point . . .
Andrew: That’s why I tried to schedule ahead of time with the finance people, with the bookkeepers. Every month, get on a call with me, force me to look at it at least once a month. Because otherwise, you know, like you said, when it’s depressing you avoid it. You think, you know what, I can’t deal with this now because I’m trying to improve the numbers. But you got to look at the numbers while you’re improving them.
Payman: Yeah, exactly.
Andrew: Right. Do you do that? Like Wil Schroter, the founder of startups.co. The guy who bought Zirtual and a bunch of other businesses. He says every day he get specific numbers on his phone. He will not start as day without them. Are you at that level of obsession?
Payman: Not every day but I can tell you that there is certain numbers and so on that are reviewed every few days. And there’s numbers that are viewed monthly basis.
Andrew: Like what? What’s the every few days numbers you have to look at?
Payman: So, you know, in terms of non-revenue, but as far as traffic, you know, engagement and so on, there’s certain channels that we have, they’re running. But as far as the revenues, I would say every day, every couple days, that is reviewed just to see if there is anything odd that’s sticking out. You know, new users, customers coming on board, even a churn and so on, that we look at every so often. But as far as, you know, what was a profits, you know, for this period of time. And, you know, that’s not something we need to look at every day, I mean . . .
Andrew: Because that’s a lagging indicator. What you’re looking at is the leading indicator. They are things that tell you, “Hey, there’s going to be a problem in a month,” not, “Hey, how did you do last month?” But when you say the channels, what are you talking about? What do you mean? That you’re buying ads and you want to know how are they converting? Is that the kind of thing?
Payman: We don’t do much ads at all. Yeah, so that’s a great point. I guess that brings up to another thing is, you know, how do you acquire users and how are you growing Visme and so on is, you know, we used to be more about selling. Now, it’s all about educating people. That’s where, you know, I have the video series, and we have all these educational resources that will create some really great e-books. We have a very, very popular what’s called a Visual Learning Center. It’s our blog, blog.visme.co that’s all about teaching people how to, you know, communicate, and so on.
And so all that content is free, and anybody can see it. Anybody can go to it. And most of all we don’t even ask for your information, maybe other than the e-book, just to get your email if we ever want to, you know, bother you and let you know about some other stuff we release. So we don’t do much advertisements.
So as far as channels, yeah, I mean, we want to know, you know, where did this user free or paid, where do they come from? Was it Google search? Was it from a specific site that mentioned us? Was it they went to our blog, they went to our specific article, and as a result, they came in and they actually upgraded? So we’re not . . .
Andrew:And this is something you’re looking at on a regular basis?
Payman: Yeah, I would say more on a weekly basis. But there’s certain things such as, you know, the number of customers gained that day, the number of users that are registered for the tool. It’s basically there’s a dashboard and it’s just there. It’s not like I have to go look for it, I mean, you know. We’ve actually by the way, build our all our own tools, which is really neat. Like, people say, “Hey, you know, what are you using for your metrics? What software do use for that?”
There are a number of tools that we use as far as like for marketing and so on. We’re a big user BuzzSumo and a few other products out there, great products. Google Analytics, you know, we use that, but we’ve created our own internal platform. We spend a lot of time and actually it’s cost us a lot than just paying 50 bucks a month, 100 bucks a month. So people say, “You’re crazy, an idiot for doing that.” However, it’s doing things exactly the way we want and it’s in one place and it’s on one console. And it works down to the spec that we needed to get.
Andrew: If you had to pick one number that’s the most important number for you to look at regularly, what would that be?
Payman: Well, total number of users, leads in a sense that actually trying, you know, trying to tool out. Conversions to pay that’s very important, we look at that on a regular basis. But at the same time, I don’t look at it on a Saturday and say, “Why the heck is it down?” I mean, it’s Saturday, Sunday. It’s like Christmas. You know, those numbers summer time . . .
Andrew: What about, I went to SimilarWeb to see where you’re getting your traffic, and you got a massive amount of traffic, because so many people will link back to the creations that they made that are hosted on your site. But one thing stood out for me, Pop Cash. I never heard of Pop Cash, but it’s sending you significant paid traffic. Look, I see the smile. You’re holding it back, right?
Payman: Actually, I don’t know about that one. I pictured it on my [inaudible 00:51:44]
Andrew: I thought that was a smile like, “Hey, Andrew, you caught me.” It’s a popunder network.
Payman: No, I haven’t looked at that value. I would have to go to one of my colleagues to look at that. It’s on . . .
Andrew: But you’re not doing like, a heavy popunder advertising as far as you know?
Payman: No, I don’t. The only thing that like, though the soft marketer of our tool really is if somebody decides to create something in our tool, and they decide to embed it to their site, or they share that published, you know, link with someone else. But there are cases where people, you know, create . . . like there is a very popular Spanish blog or actual newspaper starts with an E and I can’t remember the name I have to look them up. But every day, they’re publishing number of infographics and so on. And we get a huge amount of traffic, you know, out of that. So it’s actually happening in the Spanish market.
Andrew: How? How is that? You know, I was wondering about that. So, if someone creates an infographic with you, they could download the image, yes, they can have a watermark with Visme on it but that’s not linking over to you. What are they doing? Embedding it?
Payman: They are embedding it, because the interactivity comes with embedding. So if you have . . . I think that’s where HTML5 basics, and if you download it as a PDF, the links will work but it won’t be interactive. And people wanted to . . . also, here’s another thing, we actually have analytics. So if you want to know how many people are viewing your infographic, how many slides did they look at? That always comes with the embedding function that comes into play.
And it’s optional, you can actually remove where it says, you know, made with Visme or something, you know. If you’re on premium plan, those things can be removed, but a lot of people just leave it on. You know, they just leave it on or they don’t care. But, you know, all those people that are brand specific they’ll remove it. So, I would say there’s so much more that we could gain if we force it onto there but we only get a trickle of that.
Andrew: Okay, all right, I get this. Now I’m starting to understand how this works. All right, so we kind of jumped from the TechBreakfast to suddenly you’re on lots of different websites, you’re embedded on their sites, they’re linking to you and so on. Somewhere in between where some decisions which were . . . here’s one, you told our producer, “The first few users happened because I was just going out to networks and talking to people in person and online. Then after that, we had to figure out whether it was a product decision that helped us grow, how do we redesign the product, so that non-designers can also use it?” That was one of the big reasons why you grew. Talk about that a little bit. How design leads to growth.
Payman: Yeah, so user experience is, you know, extremely important. People make decision based on a cover of a magazine, you know, at the beginning. That once you open a cover, and, you know, if it’s not working for you, the content. I mean, there’s books have started with in chapter one or two, you know, and now I’m much better at it, really read reviews, just like movies, you know. If the Rotten Tomatoes has a rating, you know, under 80%, 75%, I’m not even going to touch it. But, you know, people will judge you by that and from the time they land on your website, they log in, the experience they get from it, that actually really heavily affects, you know, churn as far as signups and so on.
So user experience is key for us and the design part is part of the user experience. It’s not, you know, the decision maker on it. It’s part of it. But every step that you make is actually integral part of the user experience that comes into play. So one of the things that we had to do, and again, in fact, is to move certain elements and hide them and put them behind or not make them so obvious is because they were actually affecting the experience of people, they’re trying to. You know, if something keeps getting away a pop, you know, getting in front of you and that helped it get in front of you, that’s no longer a help tip, right? That’s a nuisance.
And if there isn’t one thing that we ever did, and I never really understood that, as many people have said, that is, you know, you expect that in order to create a tool, “Hey, we got a press release,” and all of a sudden, everything went viral, or we got covered on TechCrunch and things like that. However we’re a bootstrapped operation. We never had the luxury of getting press, because we say we raise x millions of dollars and so everybody writes about us. None of that.
It’s been just grueling, you know, hard work and from a product aspect, it’s been all these hundreds and hundreds of tiny little adjustments that you make. And each of them may make 0.1%, 0.0%, tiny little adjustments, together they account for a big change. So that’s how I think the success of products come in. There’s so many elements that you put together one by one. And together . . .
Andrew: How do you do that? The tiny little adjustments, I found that . . . let’s just take the Mixergy interviews, for example, our system just kind of worked and we let it go. And because things work, there’s no screaming need to fix them, so you don’t fix them. I finally had to say to the team, “I want every month, if anyone who’s involved in the pre-interview process, to get on a call together and think through all the problems that we’ve had in the last month, or opportunities and how we could seize them.” I had to do that. What’s your process?
Payman: So our process has been listening to our users. You know, when we launched the product, you know, after about a year, a year and a half, we launched it and people are reviewing it, we have some bloggers and so on, “Hey, there’s a tool can you take a look at it, can you check it out, we’ll give you access and get some reviews,” and not paying majority of those anything for it. They just wanted to write about us and a lot of feedback was overall positive.
But then, you know, we started screening through all the tickets and inquiries that come in. And we started to get and look in between the lines and we realized that, you know . . . I don’t want to call it complaints, but there’s people that are having difficulty doing certain things.
So what we started to do was create a log for every inquiry that comes in. and I personally have gone through, you know, again, I may not be answering tickets all the time, but there’s certain ones that I see or are handed down to me. So we have a huge list, and we look at what are the most common questions or complaints that people have, or pain points that they, you know, report and we find a common denominator between them, then we look and see how we can improve that.
You know, at the beginning, it seemed like, everything’s just fine. It’s just, “But why aren’t we growing more? You know, why is things going faster?” And you’re like, well, the tools good, it’s publishing, people are creating stuff, they’re sharing and talking about, but no, you got to dig deeper. And once you start digging deeper, you will always find, you know, enhancements that you make.
Andrew: But what’s your cadence? Is it every week you go through the list of things that came in and you go over them? What’s that process of the company at Visme?
Payman: So, yeah. One of the advantages of, you know, the way that we operate . . . and again, I’m sure others operate in some way that way is that we’re pretty quick. We make decisions pretty quickly, you know. And we’re a team of about 20, you know, low 20s people right now. And, you know, every morning, I’m involved in development meeting every morning, pretty much. If I’m here in the office, I’m going to have a 10, 15 minute meeting with the development team and with different departments, 5, 10 minutes, if needed. I will talk because I want to know what’s going on, pretty hands on. And however, one of the things with our support is that, there is this trail of tickets that come in. And then the support people are responsible for reporting certain things that come, you know, that are reported.
It may not be bugs, it may just be other items. So when we look at those, we dissect them and then we make decisions. I mean, there’s been times where, just actually yesterday, you know, we looked at it and just today, “Hey, the images are too small in the left panel for people to drop them into the background.” You know, I just saw this happened myself when my designer is actually, I told her, “Hey, I want to send this slide deck to someone and so I need to change the background image. Can you put this one in?” She puts it in. It’s not working and puts another one and then real quickly we realize, “You know what, the images are too small on the left panel. We need to make them bigger.” That’s like a decision in a matter of two hours that was made. I lost your audio . . .
Andrew: So it’s just, here’s a problem that comes up, we’re going to go and take care of it.
Payman: That is exactly right.
Andrew: That’s it.
Payman: Yeah, I mean, look, there’s times that there . . . but we have to agree as a team, there’s times where something is questionable, somebody may ask for something and then we have to look at it and someone may raise their finger, one of the team members and say, “That doesn’t make sense. It’s right there.” And then we have to agree as a team. So it’s usually like three or four of us and if, you know, more than one person raises their arm and says, “Hey, I don’t know if this is questionable,” we’re going to leave it off. We leave it off, we come back to have somebody else complains about it.
So it’s not where everybody ask something, we do it. We actually have a certain process. But it’s very dynamic, it’s very quick, and it’s almost based on . . . it’s not a calculation. It’s very fluid.
Andrew: You know, so I had a problem with that, where I would find a problem and then I’d stop everyone and say, “Let’s deal with it. It’s important.” But I was making crazy work for people because they were working on something else that was really important and I’m telling them to stop because of this. So what I decided to do was anything that’s a fire, if it’s critical we stop and we deal with it. Anything else goes on a specific list and then once a month, or once every two months, you have to go through your list, pick the things that are most important and address those and then come back again in another month or so to take care of the next list.
Payman: We’re very similar to that. I mean, we have the emergency issues, priority issues that occur. They’re addressed very quickly. But there’s loads of other stuff which I kind of call them noise and between those noise you find little signals, tiny ones. And they kind of go into this with . . . I forgot the term. We have a term for it, it’s called The Long List or the Ever List that we know it will never be completed, right? It just grows but then we move stuff . . . it’s just a Google Doc. You know, it’s just a sheet of like bullets and we just move stuff into the priority and decide when we’re going to pick them.
And of course, you know, we use bug tracking, Lino [SP], Jira and so on and we have backlogs. But even before that, we have this master list that all the other people are involved and only me and one or two other people actually decide if it’s needs to be looked at further on. But it’s not an everyday thing. It’s a once in a while item that we visit.
Andrew: What’s that thing that you guys did where you led people embed maps and SurveyMonkey polls and so on in Visme? Where did that come from? And then how did that do?
Payman: Yeah, it actually does great because there’s people that embed external content. They will come to us and say, “Hey, well, you guys don’t have the survey feature. You don’t have this.” But the fact of the matter is we’re not going to create every single component that you possibly can think of. That would be a site builder. That would be, you know, such and such.
Andrew: And they wanted to embed a poll within a presentation, within an e-book, within what?
Payman: Yeah, let me give you a scenario. Let’s say, you’re a nonprofit organization, and you create an infographic to raise awareness about your cause. And at the bottom of it, typically, you would say, in that infographic that’s shared everywhere, you would say, “Hey, go to our website, and donate now.” But now who’s going to actually put that URL and then go to it. The next step was some tools allow you to link, you know, click here, and you click and go to that link. In Visme, you can do all of that or you can actually go and let’s say, you’re using SurveyMonkey and/or some other tool and has a donation form, you go embed it right into your bottom, your infographic.
So now the nonprofit is using that, they get to the bottom, “Okay, I’m convinced. I want to donate.” They click to donate. It is secure, because it’s actually using the embedded code from that platform. You can embed talent acquisition. You know, there’s some large companies using us for talent acquisition. You’d be surprised they create their resumes in our tool instead of creating tech space. You know, IBM is a big user of our tool. They have a department or division that creates a lot of job opportunities using our tool in conjunction with other posts. And they drop in videos. They drop in, you know, maps that are from, you know, Google maps that show the location of areas. So there’s so many different usages to it from the nonprofits to the corporate to just the individual who wants to maybe embed something into the project.
Andrew: All right. There are a couple things I want to end on. One is I’m hoping you could tell the story of the big company, I know you’re not going to say the name, they came to you and said, “Hey,” what did they say?
Payman: Which one? There’s been a few of them.
Andrew: Okay, I saw you smiling. So I said, maybe you understand which one I’m talking about so I stopped talking. It was the one that said, “Hey, look, we have a big group of people who want to sign up. We need an enterprise plan.” You said, “We don’t have an enterprise plan.” They said to you, “Here’s how many people we have.”
Payman: Yes. So what happened . . . this is early on our tool, before we had a team and enterprise plan. Okay, we we’re just a single user. This is, I don’t know, three, four years ago. Three and a half years ago or so. I’m going by memory here. And they came and said, “Hey, we are looking to, you know, adopt a little bit further away from PowerPoints and we want to bring them online. We want to be willing to make it easy to share. But none of the tools out there have everything that we need. You guys are kind of closest to it but here’s a list.” So there was this big list up, too long, 40 something, 50 items and so on. And long story short, it was between us and, you know, 9 or 10 others. I think it was 10 actually total.
So we made it down to just a few and eventually made down to us by doing pretty much a lot of the stuff that they wanted. And looking back, we spent five, six months of taking away resources, which we had very little of into just rolling out an enterprise team plan and so on, for this one basically company, which they could have just turn around and said, “Hey, sorry.” But the way I looked at it was, it’s a good risk because even if that fell through, now we will be able to very quickly go in and migrate and actually roll out team plans and enterprise plans, and so on which has been great because that allowed us to now roll that out where there’s many companies that are bringing in teams of 3, 5, 10, 25 or whatever.
Andrew: Yeah, now, you guys do have a team’s version. But from what I understand this company came in, they ended up becoming like 40% of your revenue, something like that. It was like . . .
Payman: Less than that but it was a good chunk.
Andrew: It was like getting funding. Suddenly, a big chunk of revenue is coming into your business, allows you to fund it, but you spent a lot of time building it and then, there were changes at the company, and they came back and said . . .
Payman: They kind of, went. It wasn’t . . . yeah, there was changes from the management side, they basically started consolidating lot of products, you know, things I can’t get into, and so on. But long story short, they just ditched majority of the products that they had and they kind of went back to PowerPoint, in essence, and which was very upsetting for some of the decision makers context there that really wanted stick around with Visme. And so that’s how I know but yeah, I mean, overnight that went away.
So however, here’s the thing. At that point, we had grown enough where it was no longer a, you know, it was still a decent chunk but it was no longer, I don’t know, a third or, you know, so that was now a fraction of that. And so it was like, you know, “Damn, that’s going to hurt us for a few months before, you know, we make off without revenue.” But it was nice, because, yeah, it was like a big fat paycheck that you get upfront. And this was on for, you know, a couple years that this occurred and it was great. I mean, it was almost like getting an injection in essence. So, we’re really appreciative of that, being given an opportunity. But it definitely was, I think, good for both sides.
Andrew: David Heinemeier Hansson would be proud.
Andrew: Not necessarily that you stopped everything to build for one client, but that you got your funding from your client. I was kind of taking notes here towards the end of the interview, just so I have for myself, how you guys got your customers at Visme . At first it was you going into meetings, online communities, people are coming, signing up, giving you feedback, there was nothing to buy basic stuff, very one-on-one. Or not one-on-one, let’s say one on a few, then you guys had the embed, so your Visme content was created and embedded on a site, it was basically linking back to Visme. Even if it wasn’t embedded on the site, if they were using the free version, the Visme watermark was there. And so people knew how they created the infographic, for example, and then they came back.
Then there was content and you guys create lots of content, not just about presenting but also it seems like you go to tools like BuzzSumo, you see, what are popular topics that people care about, we’re going to create a blog post about that and you guys can write about any topic, because what you do is you say, look at how well we can tell this story if we have visuals . . . And by the way, these visuals are created by Visme. I’ve seen some of those blogs.
Andrew: What did I miss in here for getting users?
Payman: Yeah, so the other part has really been word of mouth. I mean, in fact, going back, the part about . . . and the expectation for me early on, and with anyone that creates, and there’s a B2C side of the tool like SiteBuilders and so on, it says, “built with this.” Or, you know, MailChimp, you know, send with MailChimp. We were expecting, hey, there’s going to be so millions and millions of people that are going to be embedding this content and so everybody’s going to get. And it was actually very disappointing, because there really wasn’t that much links and traffic coming in from these embeds. And to this day, it only accounts for a fraction of the traffic that comes because a lot of people still download to be honest. You know, they would download for offline use, and so on. And a lot of you would just strip off the business, it’s not a huge amount . . .
Andrew: It’s so easy to get rid of your watermark.
Payman: Yeah, yeah, it is. It’s easy, I mean, well, that the watermark, you have to download, but I’m talking about the embedding. Embedding, there’s a line of code that you can remove if you decide to it, right? We don’t want to force it on people if they wanted to remove it. So that part of it was, you know, almost disappointing and that’s not accounting for each other. So we had to find other ways to do that. And yes, the content is been probably . . . I was very against investing in content, or you want to call it content marketing at the beginning, because for those that are listening on, they haven’t done this, it is a very time consuming thing.
You have to spend a lot of time, you have to become an expert in a certain field or niche and you have to create the best content, and you have to do it for a long time. It will take months before you start seeing results, typically. And it’s a lot of, you know, missing shoot as well, because there is content you ride and your content will be all great but really only a few of them are going to give you the maximum, you know, if they’re going to get viral and so on. It’s not always every single time. And so, but that has a huge return. It’s becomes evergreen content. And it will continue to . . . it’s like a dividend. It keeps giving you a dividend for months and months, if not for years and on it. So that’s really been valuable for us.
But the other part is in we’ve just asked a lot of people that if you like the tool, just tell other people about it. You know, it’s been . . . and it’s gotten to a point where enough people like it, that we’re getting inquiries on a daily basis for team accounts and other opportunities. And I’m like, how did you hear about us? And the question comes up, “Well, actually, we were at this event and this client was using your tool and,” and I’ve never even heard of them, but we go look, and we’re like, yeah, they’re a user. So that part of it really, I think our biggest asset has become people liked the tool enough that they talk about it. And I think for most of the brands [inaudible 01:10:22]. That is probably our number one converter now.
Andrew: Okay. But that’s less interesting to talk about in an interview. So I don’t bring it up and talk about it. But you’re right, I see it. By the way, about the content, not only you guys write about presentations, but you also, as I said, you write about general interest topics. Here’s one created by Matt Casey at your company, “Fewer flights, bigger delays in a bad year for Jet Blue. Seventeen charts on the U.S. airline industry in 2017.”
So he’s telling the story of what’s happening, like point number one, fewer flights and he’s got some texts about that. But what my eye goes to is the big graphic that he has showing how flights have gone down since 2010. And by the way, if you look at the bottom right, it says, Visme. More delays and he’s got a graph showing how many delays there are. And by the way, at the bottom right, it shows that this was created via Visme. That’s what we’re talking about.
Payman: That has been, you know, so those type of content is basically original content we actually, you know, research, spent a lot of effort and time from a data science aspect. And then we visualize them. You look at that post, you know, when we spend a lot of time writing the content after researching it, and then putting in and also we put in front of the eyes of the relative audience. And those things get picked up. They do picked up over time. We’ve had posts that, you know, last week just got picked up from a year and a half ago, we wrote something, well, that’s really amazing. And those do have a lot of traction. So people like those graphics, and they actually go embed them. So those are not links, but those are watermarks, and so yes.
Andrew: I’m surprised it’s not links because you guys are so good at turning those posts into lead magnets. Like in the very bottom, there’s a, “Did You Know” box, that’s so beautifully done. I could read it but I don’t think it’s going to carry the emotional impact of the image. Says, “90% of all information transmitted to our brains is visual people remember,” and then there’s a nice visual showing how much they remember versus what they see.
That’s another thing that I like about Visme. Usually if I create a presentation, I have to go into some freaking tool to go and create a bar chart. I’ll open up a spreadsheet and then I’ll embed the graph. With you guys, I can just drag a graph onto my spreadsheet and then tell it what the numbers should be and then just be done and move on.
Payman: Yeah, I mean, you can even connect it to live data. A lot of people don’t know that you could . . .
Andrew: I even want to do that. Sometimes I just want to say 70 . . . like what you guys did here, people remember 80% of what they see, 20% of what they read. I go and create a fricken spreadsheet just for that. It sucks.
Payman: Yeah, yeah. So yeah, the way we looked at it is two ways. There is heavy data visualization which we have charts, you know, and graphs for it and then we have all these widgets that are related to Visme, these little tiny stats and figures. You know, pictographs and so on, arrays of data, populations that just drag and drop so 80%, 70%, 30% or 300. You know, small numbers that you can just stack together. They’re not always charts. So we wanted to kind of find a balance between that.
Andrew:The website for anyone who wants to check it out is visme.co and the two sponsors . . . I’m looking by the way at BuiltWith. Do you use geeky tools like this? I just can’t stop researching people. You know let’s just end this with a couple of tools. I’ve read you’ve got some interesting tools, builtwith.com. I know I’m running late here. I’m sorry, I can’t let you go.
builtwith.com, I used to research people’s websites. SimilarWeb to see where they get their traffic. Obviously archive.org to see what the site used to look like. Here’s one that’s golden for me, take an email address of someone that you’re trying to research, put it into Pipl. Do you know Pipl?
Andrew:pipl.com, you put it in there you get their fricken age. You get where they live. Let me put andrew@ my email . . . I should just grab your email address but it’s not handy. It gives me links to their LinkedIn profile, their Facebook profile, their family members. It’s freaking creepy but it’s good. Is there a tool to use for business that helps you for research, for anything?
Payman: We do use BuzzSumo. Ahrefs, we use that a lot and Google search of course but BuzzSumo and Ahrefs our big . . .
Andrew: They’re going to be your sponsor.
Payman: Yeah, that’s great.
Andrew: Wait, it’s A-R . . . I thought it was A-H-S.
Payman: I always have a hard time for saying it Ahres. I always have a hard time.
Andrew: The name just is so annoying. But it’s a great freaking tool. I was just talking Rand Fishkin. He said, they basically helped like crush him . . . not crush him but they . . .
Payman: For those listening, actually, the Rand Fishkin’s book, the new one that came out “Lost and Founder,” you got to read that. Anyone who’s in it and it really goes into . . . and again I’m not trying to, you know, it’s a tool . . . I’m actually on chapter, I don’t know, eight or nine but it’s a great book for anyone that wants to read it.
Andrew:I’m with you.
Payman:Yeah, great, great read.
Andrew: I’ve got a good interview with him coming up and I said to him, “Look, this is a great book but no one’s going to expect it because they think you’re either going to talk about marketing or you’re going to talk about the head game of entrepreneurship.” I thought it was about lost like being depressed and founder meaning find yourself. No, it’s about, “Hey, I have nothing to lose guys. Let me tell you what sucks and what’s real.” Good choice.
Payman: Good level. Exactly.
Andrew: All right, guys, go check it out, Visme.co and my two sponsors that I want to thank our HostGator for hosting websites, check them out at hostgator.com/mixergy and if you want a hire a finance person or developer, go to toptal.com/mixergy. Man, this was a good interview. I kept you on way longer than we expected.
Payman:That’s okay. Apologies for that phone, man. It’s the weirdest. I have to figure out because I turned the Bluetooth on and still went off. It’s off.
Andrew: Why are you Bluetoothing it into your computer?
Payman: Because in my car I have a Bluetooth and so it just connects directly to my laptop. I have to go through the settings to turn it off.
Andrew: Weird. I wouldn’t even understand why it would do that but okay.
Payman: And maybe now that I’m thinking about, maybe it’s not a Bluetooth, maybe it’s connected to something else. But anyway . . .
Andrew: Oh, I know what it is. It’s a . . . you say on your computer that you can take phone calls from because you have a Mac computer and you have an iPhone and you can say, “I want my calls to come to the computer,” that happens to me. Yes, you’re right.
Payman: I have to turn that off, settings . . .
Andrew: I don’t even know how to turn that off because that hardly ever happens. Anyway, thank you so much for doing this interview. Thank you all for listening.