EPISODE 5... Interview with UserVoice Co-founder, Scott Rutherford23 SEP
- Uservoice were the first to create the now ubiquitous “feedback” tab.
- Their first corporate clients were Deloite in Australia. This meant customer support (no pun intended) in the completely opposite time-zone. So they actually slept even less after they started getting paid than when they were broke and building the product. Richard moved to a polymorphic sleep schedule whereas Scott just worked until he passed out. At this point their M.O. had become “ABC – always be coding”
- During one of UserVoice’s early (and critical) investor meetings with David Chen, Marcus, one of the original people with the company, interrupted and said “Scott, NASA’s on the phone. Can I borrow you for a minute?” Turns out he wasn’t making it up… NASA was calling to sign up as a customer and they’ve used UserVoice a couple times internally.
- The UserVoice feedback tab was adopted by StudiVz - Germany’s largest social network. Within two hours, 4 million people signed up and went through our system.
User Growth by Methods & Numbers:
Beta: April 2008 (Launch) - January 2009
- 0 - 5,000+ signups
- Most of the early traction came from contacts
- Stack Overflow was one of their early customers. They placed the Uservice “feedback tab” on their site and that resulted in 5,000-6,000 accounts alone
February 2009 - July 2010
- No marketing or sales was done
- Viral nature of the feedback tap accounted for 50% of all new signups in 2009
August 2010 - Present
- Marketing through Adwords and SEM launched
- Sponsor conferences + give winners free UserVoice services
- Host weekly online demos
Future Plans (Sept 2010 onwards)
- Focus on inbound marketing as a strategy
- Hire a sales team (As of the time of the interview, they didn’t have a sales person)
1. In your own words can you tell us what UserVoice is?
UserVoice is two products: a helpdesk and a feedback system. We originally started with the feedback system which was a reinvention of the feedback forum. Earlier this year (2010) we launched a helpdesk and knowledge base as well. Together we call them full service which we like to think is pretty much everything you need to engage and keep your customers happy while you’re building your product.
2. How did Uservoice come to be?
In 2007, Richard, founder of UserVoice was working in the US, and I was in the UK working on my own startup. We met while building an open source project called ActiveScaffold. I decided to build it because I found myself rebuilding the same thing over and over again for various projects. I found out that Richard built something called Ajax Scaffold. Turns out we were both building the same thing but from different perspectives from either side of the pond. I thought his front end looked good but I disagreed with every aspect of the programming and architecture behind it. So I posted a blog post describing how I took the front end – it was all open source – added a back-end, re-architected it. Richard saw it and contacted me through Skype and we started meeting regularly after that. At that point I’d been staying in San Francisco for a while doing odd jobs here and there and was looking for a solid project to work. Soon thereafter, Richard told me he was looking for a technical co-founder and it was a great opportunity that came at the perfect time so I decided to join UserVoice.
3. How long did the development of the product take?
UserVoice had been ticking around for a while. Richard had already started on it. The original version was built with the third guy we brought into ActiveScaffold, Lance. He did an initial blast through it with Richard. It started out as ‘UserSuggest’ actually. One of our early angel investors didn’t like that name so he did his own search and came back with ‘UserVoice’. It turned out Richard already owned that domain and hadn’t noticed so that was the easiest domain acquisition ever really. So we moved over to UserVoice and I think that’s a better name anyway. It’s boader. UserSuggest’s great for the forum but not so great for our other features like the HelpDesk. UserVoice on the other hand goes better with our broader solution.
After Richard and I decided to work together, I came over and lived in Santa Cruz for 6 months in the same room and began coding on the idea.
The initial product only took a couple months to complete but it was very MVP – minimal viable product. The admin section was basically ActiveScaffold and the front were the lists, ability to vote, etc. It wasn’t a complex application or idea but it was the right idea at the right time. Richard and Lance up with the feedback tab and that was the first feedback tab in the industry.
4. How big are you guys now?
Almost 74,000 companies have signed up. Over 23 million people have left suggestions or voted using UserVoice.
5. What did you guys do for the “launch”?
It was just a whimper really. We were just happy to have it up and running on friends’ sites. Being in Silicon Valley, having access to a community of developers really helped us grow. It was very much close contacts and other developers who used the product. For e.g. Superhappydevhouse, a local hackathon event, was where it first came out and was big for us. We did go to South by Southwest and that was big for us too.
The beta period was from April 2008 to mid January 2009. We were up to 5,000 accounts and at the end of January, 9 months in, we had about $89 worth of revenue.
All of the companies who used it were startups. All of that early traction was word of mouth. Some of those early accounts made a big difference, for example StackOverflow. That’s when we started to discover the power of freemium and the power of the feedback tab. We signed up 5,000-6,000 accounts that can be traced back to StackOverflow.
Being a part of the startup scene in San Francisco and getting that initial word of mouth traction really made a big difference. And I don’t think that environment really exists anywhere else. Being in and around hackers and engineers was key to getting us off the ground because they were building all of the other services we wanted to be on.
6. In those first 8 months how many accounts did you add monthly?
Growth was very slow. We were probably adding about 20 accounts a day towards the end of that 8 months by January 2009. We still weren’t doing any marketing and it was all word of mouth. Marketing has been something we just started thinking about and up until now our product has been our marketing. We’ve tried other small things like trying to be a thought leader in our market by focusing on our blog. One of our highest trafficked blog post is “How we didn’t raise $800,000 in funding”.
Around about January 2009 we closed Deloitte in Australia which was our first big paid client. We also went multi-language very quickly compared to our competition - Zendesk and Get Satisfaction. Get Satisfaction just released their first second language, French a few months ago and we’re in 42 languages now. Initially we started out paying a company called Virtual Words to do all the translation. What we then actually built is a crowd sourcing platform for our own translations and if you go to translate.uservoice.com you’ll see a stream of translations and once we get 3 translations that match then we publish it. And that’s helped a lot.
7. How did you get the word out in other countries like Germany?
Again it’s all been word of mouth. It all comes down to the Feedback Tab that has a viral loop. The product’s not hidden. It’s very visible and it catches people’s eye. And they go there and think its a good idea. And they think “Oh I want one of those”. And they see the “Powered by UserVoice” logo and signup. That has been our marketing - our product.
In terms of getting into larger companies internally like Deloitte and Genetech, they’re cutting-edge, forward thinking companies that have searched us out. It’s built into the internal entrepreneurship of those companies to seek out tools like UserVoice. But obviously the public doesn’t see any of those implementations so that doesn’t really help us in terms of growth.
Externally though the feedback tab is really our dirty little secret because it’s so visible. It’s picks and shovels but any business that’s out there on the web needs these tools. It’s been a massively key part of building the business. We’ve been keen to make sure that tab ends up in and around good companies.
I spend time when I go to Launch, Disrupt, Pitch, Startup Weekend, etc. to speak to the top companies there - the winners - and get them to use our product. It’s our guerilla marketing. We’re up against companies who have raised tens of millions of dollars that we haven’t. We’ve been incredibly lean. We raised $850,000 over two years ago and we’ve built a profitable company. We’ve built something organically, grown it out to our 13 person team, and have become profitable.
With our limited resources, not having a sales and marketing team, and not having additional funding we’ve had to think about marketing in slightly different terms. We’ve had to use guerrilla marketing... and it’s worked. Another example, About.me was using our helpdesk and they got acquired by AOL and now AOL is rolling us out on their sites. So its all been word of mouth and guerrilla marketing.
8. What was the growth like after you came out of beta?
After launching that first year 2009 we were generally signing up 40-70 accounts a day, 10% of which signed up for a paid plan and half became subscribers. Now, the number of signups is double that on a daily basis. The biggest change we’ve made is tuning our message and pushing different people to the site and now 70% of the signups are paid.
9. Now that you guys are “established” what are you doing to grow customers?
Now the real push is really starting. We’re now building our first customer outreach and marketing teams. That’ll make a big difference to how we move forward. It’s now a product with obvious projects around it and has become more highly definable. We’re going to ramp up everything we’re currently doing.
As we graduate from the early adopter market to more mainstream users, we’ve realized that the main market doesn’t understand things (the product) so easily. One of the things we’ve done to address this is that we’re heavily promoting our online demos. Prior to this, people would have to personally email us asking us for a demo. Now, we’re hosting an online demo once a week. The A/B tests are quite astounding. We went from having no button on the homepage that says “Signup for a demo” to having one. It’s literally takes 40% of the number of people that signup.
We’ve now got 10 people signed up for a demo next week when we usually only had 2 people previously because they would have to email us and ask. If you look at the difference between people who created an account and those who didn’t - the numbers don’t look so great. But if you look at it the other way around, a significant number of people signed up for the demo. So when they now signup for a demo and then signup for an account, are they then going to be qualified leads and turn into genuine subscribers? Well I don’t know but I think that’s probably true. The more you explain to people and show them what you do, the better chance you have of getting them to become a customer. The more people we get into that trial funnel and the faster they understand our product, the better. It’ll be interesting to see how that’ll affect our signup flow and if it has the potential of becoming a whole new channel for us.