Technology is drifting on all fronts in 2018. The jump to artificial intelligence is standing…
Scrolling through the tech section of any news site can often make you feel like…
I wrote about some of the overpriced domains and hopeful sellers on eBay back in 2008. I…
DoesWhat has just received a brand new Elonex ONE. We’ve been following the progress of…
Powerisers have been around for a few years now, with the 2008 model recently released…
Technology is drifting on all fronts in 2018. The jump to artificial intelligence is standing out as truly newsworthy, big data is getting bigger, and wearables are moving to new ventures at a hot pace — these are just a couple of the technology trends that you have to stay mindful of amid the following couple of years.
As a technology executive, you have to grasp the trends and relentless the ship for an immediate course when coordinating these new innovations into your business put. Being fruitful in the business takes in excess of a comprehension of what is seemingly within easy reach. You should have the capacity to give your organization the foreknowledge and want to comprehend why the selection of these trends bodes well and, most importantly, regardless of whether it will profit in the coming years.
- Demonstrate your eagerness
Regardless of whether you originate from a Computer Science foundation or not, it’s essential to have hard proof of your enthusiasm for processing. Join a figuring club, take in a programming dialect (C++ and Java are especially looked for after), or assemble your own site (attempt WordPress).
- Hone your abilities
Come to an IT bootcamp (Microsoft run one, as do PC clubs) to indicate duty and activity, as well as enhance your specialized abilities.
- Turn into an ace communicator
One angle worried again and again in the necessities for technology-orientated graduates is the significance of interchanges abilities – yet it’s one which is regularly neglected by understudies.
Utilize your opportunity at college to pick up understanding of working in groups (e.g. sports clubs/theater/discussing), both enhancing your companionship gatherings and your range of abilities. Work involvement and temporary positions additionally present extraordinary routes for you to propel yourself out of your correspondence “safe place”.
- Locate the correct condition for you
Find out about the workplaces in various firms, contingent upon size, working game plans, item center and preparing openings. Equipped with this data, you ought to have the capacity to work out which condition suits you best – the adaptability and acknowledgment of a little firm or the structure and clear profession direction, (yet relative namelessness) of a big firm.
Finishing entry level positions in a scope of situations is a fabulous method to learn direct where you fit in, as much by finding what you adore, as what you don’t.
- Keep your finger on the beat
It merits remembering that a solitary change presented on Facebook can reform the whole internet based life area. One refresh to a financial trading system can have the effect between a multi million dollar trade, or a multi million dollar misfortune.
While it’s an outrageous model, to land a high-flying position in such a dynamic and quick evolving industry, you have to ensure you keep over all the most recent improvements – from the ramifications of Facebook’s most recent changes to what’s behind a claim among Apple and Samsung, from Microsoft’s latest software discharge to the most praised gaming character existing apart from everything else.
Scrolling through the tech section of any news site can often make you feel like you are in some futuristic science fiction world where anything is possible. Whether you want to live forever, change the channel with your mind, or simply never have to shop for inanimate objects ever again, it’s all going to be possible and some of it already is.
Anti-aging creams have been around for years and the desire to look younger is almost entirely ageless. From actresses and models to mothers and grandmothers, women have paved the way for an industry of “age-defying” makeups and plastic surgery treatments that can make any part of your body look younger than it is. With the help of science and technology, anti-aging has never looked so good. By using genetic modification, scientists in Japan and Australia have been able to essentially turn the aging process on or off. In some lab rats, they have actually been able to reverse aging, causing degradations in tissue to disappear and literally turn back the clock.
When the punks of the late 70’s were putting piercings in places people couldn’t imagine, little did they know that they were giving us a preview of things to come. Instead of tiny studs or rings, implants are essentially piercings using computer chips instead. Whether it’s a magnet placed inside of your earlobe or a tracking chip into your child’s arm, implants are increasing in popularity and technology. With contact lenses that can display information, we are only steps away from an implant that simply displays statistics directly into your eyeball, giving you a digital dashboard for the world you see. Scientists are even working on radio chips that are installed into your brain stem, allowing you to control radio devices with your mind, including televisions, cell phones, and cars.
Tired of paying for all of that stuff in your house? Kitchen utensils, dishware, tools, and furniture can sure be expensive. Furnishing a new home or simply trying to fill your first apartment can take quite a chunk out of your income. Imagine if you could simply download all of those things the same way you might download a song on your phone. With the acceleration in technology around 3D printers, this is actually something you could do today. As time goes on, costs are expected to go down and it’s something we are already seeing with smaller versions of these 3D beasts. Some companies aren’t waiting around, though, and have already developed printers that can literally make you a coffee table, chairs, or anything else your imagination can come up with. After your initial machine purchase, you’ll never have to buy furniture again. Don’t like your sofa anymore, use it for materials and make a new one. The possibilities are endless.
With all of the advancements, it’s no wonder that the future of technology is already here and growing exponentially. If you want to be a part of it, just imagine your wildest desire and use technology to make it come true!
Chris Cardell has shown thousands of business owners how to grow their business.
I interviewed Chris Cardell, founder of Cardell Media to find out more. This interview is the hundred and fifty eighth in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Chris!
Avoiding the Dangerous Number One
Chris Cardell is a strong believer in the golden rule of the entrepreneurial world: the most dangerous number in business is one.
As UK & Europe’s leading provider of online and offline marketing information for businesses, Cardell knows that Entrepreneurs can’t rely on one of anything – whether it’s one key customer or client, one key employee, one key supplier, one key product or price, or one key marketing method.
It’s a lesson he knows well and has continued to teach during the more than 20 years that he has helped Entrepreneurs grow their businesses.
As one of his current clients at Cardell Media puts it: “The lesson that we learned during the recession was that you can’t be reliant on one business source, which is something that people who have listened to what Chris Cardell has to say are aware off.
“That’s one of the first things you learn when you sign up to work with him,” according to Dan Butt of Now Chartered Surveyors, whose one key business source prior to the recession was High Street lending institutions.
He is just one of the many business owners that Cardell and his marketing company, Cardell Media, have helped get out of the “one” mode.
“The majority of businesses have one or two or three vital customers who – if they were to go – would cause major difficulties,” Cardell said. “On the face of it, it is very appealing to have one great customer paying you oodles of money and who is enjoyable to work with. But all the positive points are outweighed by the risks involved in that dependency.”
For one, this type of situation makes business owners weak, because at some level, they are operating from a level of fear, according to Cardell. It also means the Entrepreneur doesn’t have a system to bring in new customers, so the business can never grow.
It’s a situation Cardell knows firsthand. He was in the “one key client” position early on in his career, a situation that worked well for both Cardell and the client at the time. And although the relationship ended amicably, he said most of these types of relationships end badly.
“FREEING YOURSELF FROM THAT DEPENDENCY SHOULD DRIVE YOUR ENTREPRENEURIAL ACTIONS EVERY DAY”
Chris Cardell said:
“YOU NEED TO HAVE ENOUGH CUSTOMERS SO THAT IF, DESPITE YOUR BEST EFFORTS, YOU LOSE SOME, IT DOESN’T MATTER.”
Having gone from one key customer to Cardell Media’s tens of thousands of customers, he said: “I can assure you that the difference is not just financial. It’s psychological. I don’t want to lose a customer. But if it happens, it makes zero difference to my life. That is a key element of what financial freedom is about.”
While one key customer is bad, the “just one” key form of marketing is even worse.
It’s also fairly common, he said, noting that about 90 percent of businesses are dependent on just one or two forms of marketing to get customers, usually Google, referrals or Facebook.
“I have lost track of the number of businesses I’ve heard about who were making small fortunes purely from free traffic from Google. They were completely dependent on it and everything was going fine until Google did one of its algorithm changes,” Cardell said.
“THESE BUSINESS OWNERS WOKE UP ONE DAY TO FIND THEIR WEBSITE HAD GONE FROM THE TOP OF PAGE 1 OF THE SEARCH RESULTS TO PAGE 5 OR 10 – OR IN SOME CASES, THEY HAD COMPLETELY DISAPPEARED FROM THE SEARCH ENGINE. END OF BUSINESS.”
Of course, he continued, there are also “the business owners who got all their customers from Yellow Pages – until the year that their phone number was printed wrong. Or the businesses that were totally dependent on Google AdWords – until the month a couple of years ago when Google closed the accounts of 30,000 businesses in a policy crackdown.
“I’m sure you get the idea,” he said. “The first step to marketing success is to find one or two methods that work to attract customers. The second step is to do whatever it takes to find two or three more, so you’re not dependent on the first ones.”
Again, this is an area that Cardell knows well. He grew his business from a small company to a multi-million pound enterprise by using a wide variety marketing methods, including Google AdWords, Facebook and other online marketing methods.
But he said he also has spent – and continues to spend – a huge amount of time and resources on direct mail, newspaper ads and multi-channel TV advertising.
“Why? Because I don’t want to be dependent on the online element.”
While he is proud of the rapid and dramatic profit increases he has helped business owners achieve, he said, the more important work they do together is to build a long-term, multi-marketing approach to growing their businesses.
And yes, he practices what he preaches. For example, he has spent about £3 million of his own money on Google AdWords. He handles the Cardell Media ad campaigns himself, making him very qualified to be Europe’s leading trainer of Google AdWords.
“I’ve trained more people in AdWords than anyone in Europe”
he said, noting that it is absolutely crucial that businesses advertise through this medium because people are always searching for products and services on Google.
Another area where Cardell works diligently to change attitudes with Cardell Media members is the idea of one product and one price.
He continually encourages them to think about offering premium products/services, so that they can charge premium pricing. In doing so, they are offering more than one product and reaching a larger number of potential customers.
There will always be those who will buy the most high-end product available, he said. And when Entrepreneurs add in that higher-priced option, their more basic offering will look even more affordable so their sales will increase too.
He used Apple’s recently released watch as an example of why business can’t fail with a high-end version of a basic offering.
“Along with their main offering of the Apple Watch Sport, which starts at $349 (£230), they also launched a premium price version that will range from $10,000 to $17,000,’’ he said. “The more that Apple has us talking about the $10,000 watch, the more we forget to have a conversation about why a $400 or $700 watch is actually pretty expensive.”
Enough said. It’s easy to get the picture. Perhaps that why Cardell Media has had a hand in creating more successful Entrepreneurs than any other marketing business in the U.K.
Cardell can take a situation from today’s news reports, like the Apple watches, and put it in easy to understand, practical terms for all sorts of Entrepreneurs – whether it’s on premium products and pricing, AdWords, or avoiding the forbidden “one key” of anything.
I interviewed Patrick Smith, Convertable founder to find out more. This is the two hundred and first in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Patrick!
How would you describe Convertable in under 50 words?
Convertable is a simple web-based closed loop marketing platform that automatically tracks the source of conversions from the moment a lead is submitted through a contact form all the way through the end of the sales funnel enabling you to truly measure ROI of marketing campaigns.
How did you meet co-founder Chris Hull?
I first met Chris in January 2007. A mutual friend introduced us when he found out that Chris was looking for a web developer for his web design studio. At the time, I specialized in building websites and dabbled in SEO, so I partnered with Chris building the websites that he designed.
Before long, we found that most of our web design clients were asking about how to get traffic to their website now that the new site was built. Since we were hearing the same question over and over, instead of referring them to another firm, we realized there was enough demand for online marketing services that we decided to start a separate search marketing firm in April 2008.
While at Streamline, I spent a lot of time trying to increase the number of leads generated through our clients’ websites by digging through analytics data to identify the best performing sources of traffic and uncover things that could be improved. After pouring through analytics and conversion tracking data, we could see which keywords were generating conversions but there was no way to keep track of which keywords generated conversions that resulted in sales.
What gap in the market did you discover that inspired you to launch Convertable in 2012?
Because traditional conversion tracking and web analytics tools (like Google Analytics) only offer aggregated, anonymous metrics, tracking leads hits a dead end once the form is submitted. And since most forms do not pass along web analytics data within the lead email (or to a CRM), it is impossible to tie the original source to each individual lead to the end of the sales funnel to determine how much revenue was generated by each lead or marketing campaign.
While there are several tools that offer similar features, there are currently no other services in existence that do exactly what Convertable does. The concept came to us when one of our search marketing clients asked us for a way to track their web leads through the end of the sales process. We were unable to find any 3rd-party solutions that did this, so we decided to build it ourselves.
How long did it take to put together the initial version of Convertable?
The initial concept came about in 2010 when I was working on monthly SEO reporting for one of my clients. This particular client is very results-oriented and was excited about the results Streamline has achieved for them, as far as increasing the number of leads through their website. Every so often, they would get a very promising lead and they immediately wanted to know exactly how this prospect found their site. I came up with a process to identify the source by tagging each conversion with a unique identifier, looking it up in Google Analytics, and sending that information back to the client. Oftentimes, the best leads were generated from the SEO or PPC campaigns which made the client appreciate our efforts that much more!
While it was great to be able to have solid evidence our efforts were generating high quality leads, we typically did not ever find out if the lead resulted in a closed sale or how much revenue was generated since we were not tracking the leads throughout the entire sales process. Not to mention the fact the manual process of looking up the UIDs in Google Analytics was quite tedious and thus we realized we should develop a system to do all of this automatically. Initially, we simply wanted the tool built to use only for our own clients and thus we hired a freelance programmer to develop the first barebones version in late 2010. As we received more and more positive feedback from our clients, we realized others may be interested in using Convertable. As a result, we decided to overhaul Convertable and launch it as its own product in late-2012.
Convertable is currently free. What’s your revenue model?
We had literally been working on the concept of Convertable for several years when we decided to open it up to beta users. The beta launch was really just to see what kind of marketing viability there was. Since we launched it, we have had over 700 users create accounts with minimal marketing effort on our part. Even though these are non-paid accounts, we felt there was enough interest in Convertable to continue to develop the product.
Our immediate plan is to continue to work on improving the core functionality and build the user base. In the near future, we will announce paid plans for users who want more features.
What do you feel makes Convertable stand out from competitors such as Wufoo, Google Analytics and Saleforce?
WuFoo – WuFoo is the industry leader in building contact forms. Their plans are affordable to most small businesses as well. However, WuFoo specializes in the building of web forms and thus does not focus on the tracking and updating of leads throughout the sales funnel whereas Convertable offers form building, lead tracking and lead management.
Google Analytics – 82% of websites use Google Analytics for tracking user activity. It is very easy to use while being robust and not to mention free, so it is easy to see why so many websites use it. However, Google Analytics is simply an analytics tool to track activity on websites. So once a lead is submitted through a contact form, the tracking hits a dead end since the Google Analytics data is not passed along with the lead and updated through the end of the sales process, which could take weeks, months or even longer to be finalized. Without the lead management and individual lead tracking components, using only Google Analytics for measuring the performance of online marketing campaigns is not sufficient.
Salesforce – Salesforce is likely the most popular CRM platform in use today. However, we have heard numerous complaints from business owners over the years that Salesforce is unnecessarily complicated to use and too expensive for them to justify using it. Salesforce is also removing the ability to track the sources of web leads, especially for Google AdWords campaigns.
We are not trying to make Convertable into a full blown CRM, marketing automation platform or web analytics software suite. Our goal with Convertable is to keep it simple, easy to use and affordable for our users. That being said, we are working on an API to integrate with other third party services.
Has Convertable got the feedback and growth you expected since launching?
Yes, we have received a lot of very useful and positive feedback. It is great to hear that other people are finding it as useful as we did. We have also gotten great input on improvements and additional features from our users
You recently launched custom thank you pages, any other new features coming up?
We have several ideas for new features we plan on adding sometime down the line, but two features I am especially excited about and are currently being developed are the API and a WordPress plugin. Several of our beta users have requested these features. We expect that these additions will greatly add to the growth we have experienced thus far.
In December you worked with a National sporting goods manufacturer to improve sales and a small 10-minute change resulted in a 30% conversion increase overnight. Can you tell us a bit more about this?
Chris actually wrote a detailed blog post, but the basic idea is that we changed the “Add to Cart” button from blue to red so it was more likely to catch the eye of the user. One simple change can obviously make quite a significant impact.
You have a growing team, are you on the look out for developers at the moment?
We are still building Convertable while we are running our businesses full-time. We would love to add more developers to the fold but we will first need to start generating revenue and/or acquire fundraising to do so.
Where do you see Convertable in 5 years time?
Within the next 6 months, we expect to get the paid plans in place so Convertable will start to generate revenue.
Within 12-18 months, we hope Convertable is producing enough revenue that it’s fully sustainable on its own as a standalone business with a team of full-time developers.
In five year’s time, we would like to be known as an industry leader in the online marketing analytics space.
Can you convince the reader to start using Convertable in under 50 words?
Anyone can track the sources of conversions in Google Analytics. However, if you want to take the next step and identify the sources of the leads which convert into actual sales so you can determine how much revenue is generated by each marketing channel, then check out Convertable!
I interviewed Ritu Raj, Objectiveli founder and CEO to find out more. This is the hundred and twenty fourth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Ritu!
Describe Objectiveli in under 50 words.
Objectiveli is the best way to manage all of your organizations or personal Goals and Objectives in one place, in real-time.
Objectiveli Drives Outcomes that matter, fulfilling your Goals and Objectives, instead of losing focus; managing day-to-day emergencies and “things to do”.
Describe yourself in one sentence.
Ritu is a serial entrepreneur dedicated to bringing innovative services and systems to market, which create new experience for people at the same time makes a difference in their lives.
Tell us a bit about your background, from founding pioneering computing company Avasta (acquired by Navisite) to founding Wag Hotels (the largest chain of dog hotels in the world!) and OrchestratorMail.
I was a senior executive with TMP WorldWide, and in the beginning of 1999, got a DSL at my house to access corporate data over VPN. That was the genesis of Avasta. There was an inordinate demand for sys admins and DBA’s – we figured if there was a way to bring economies of scale to manage the server operations, there was a business there, left my very well paying job to start Avasta.
Accenture was a large investor in Avasta, joined Accenture and was burnt out on technology. Wanted to create a company where you did not have to sell, and was closer to people. Discovered the huge market for dogs and cats services, completely fragmented, run by mom and pop shops. What if I could bring scale, design and engineering into it – that’s how Wag Hotels got started. OrchestratorMail was started as my own interest in coordination, and the language/philosophy of action – built an application which could streamline, create a taxonomy of action terms over email, for all people coordinating over email, specially globally, different cultures – bring closer the gap between intention and interpretation.
What made you decide to start working on Objectiveli?
Objectiveli was like a light bulb while talking to a senior executive who uses OrchestratorMail, and loved it. I realized at his level he was only interested in Managing and Tracking Outcomes, with his team of 10 executives. It was not that he did not look at things todo, but his job was to fulfill the goals and objectives of his company.
I had met him for dinner, and could not sleep, thinking about how outcomes get tarnished with things todo. They were two different things, all things you do, does not mean that it fulfills the outcome.
I had seen a similar thing when I was doing some work for Walmart Labs, my friend had 12 engineering teams under him, and it was really difficult for him to get the status the objective of every team. Somehow in our culture there is a tendency to talk about what we have done (todo’s) and not the outcome that we have produced. People build wiki’s while running large projects, and in 3-4 weeks no one uses them. Yammer, and other communication tools are about exchanging information. Not necessary about reporting and tracking outcomes.
Who uses Objectiveli?
Objectiveli is being used currently by a few companies to manage their Goals and Objectives, in an operating environment. Objectiveli manages, tracks and communicates all the changes, re-negotiations that take place while reaching the end goal.
The other constituent who use Objectiveli, to my surprise were regular people. Now they had a simple platform for setting, managing and tracking their Goals and Objectives. One of the communities that’s really taken it on is the Mommy Blogger Community.
I believe in the future Objectiveli would also play a big part in the schools and classrooms. Most teachers are trained in creating Outcomes for their lessons planning, and also are teaching goal setting in the classrooms.
Who is the team behind Objectiveli?
Objectiveli was built by several engineers, the main developer behind Objectiveli is Jonathan Yankovich, before I met him I was working with Steve Yancharas, to build the UI, and most of the UI I built. I had to learn Illustrator, but it was worth it.
What technologies have you used to build Objectiveli?
Objectiveli is still in its infancy but so far has it got the feedback and growth you expected since launch?
I think we have more than 500 users, and at least 10% of them are still using it past a month, we would know about the rest soon. We are getting a lot of feedback, a lot of it is about how people love the interface, and some about how to navigate the interface. We have plans to rework the interface, as we realize that it’s not as smooth as we want it to be.
Where do you see Objectiveli in 3 years time?
I see Objectiveli firmly in place at Enterprises, disrupting some of the large vendors. The key is that we have an operating application driving outcomes, the 800 lb gorilla in the space, is more focussed as an HR application and for annual performance.
We see the Objectiveli apps used by regular people to fulfill the Goals and Objectives in their lives. A major growth in the upcoming but huge segment of coaching and self help.
And personally I want to see it in the classrooms, want to give the young adults a structure for fulfilling their dreams and vision.
What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?
I think to have a startup is to be a champion of eating dirt, getting up and going at it again. We have made small and large mistakes, working with developers who were not masters of the technology stack, not managing or reading the commitment of members of the team. The thing that I have learnt is to be really clear of the founding team’s commitment, pre-funding.
What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?
Key hurdle is to build the right team, learning from my previous mistake is that it’s really difficult to be a Product Manager and Sales & Marketing at the same time. I am actively looking for a CTO, an amazing UI/UX person who can really think outside the box and product management and marketing person.
With substantial experience in business and entrepreneurship, what piece of advice would you give to someone starting up?
#1 Initially it’s all about understanding customers for your service or product, beyond the people you know, and keep understanding them. It’s not just the “Customer Discovery Process” it’s a way of life.
#2 It’s all about the process of development, testing, customer acquisition, rinse and repeat.
#3 Know your customer, how would you find them, where do they hang out?
What key goals have you yet to achieve?
#1 Transform the UI
#2 Have a strong Team
#3 Raise Seed Capital
What are you most excited about at the moment?
Currently excited that we have traffic, without spending money, and now working on increasing conversion rate. Also excited how well the concept is being received in the marketplace.
MailChimp is a well known freemium email marketing service.
I interviewed Ben Chestnut, MailChimp co-founder and CEO to find out more. This is the hundred and eighteenth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Ben!
Describe MailChimp in under 50 words.
Monkeys send your email, so you don’t have to. Only they’re apes, not monkeys.
What were you doing before MailChimp?
I ran a web-dev agency called The Rocket Science Group. Pretty much sucked at it.
What made you decide to start working on MailChimp in 2001? Why did you wait until 2007 to dedicate yourself strictly to MailChimp?
Back in 2001, we had multiple customers who needed help sending their email newsletters. They were using really big, expensive, bloated software. We had some “scrap code” lying around from a previous business idea that failed (e-greetings), so we modified the code and turned it into an email newsletter app for them. We opened it up to the public, set up some Google Adwords, and basically forgot about it.
In 2005, we noticed it was a better business than our web-dev agency (it was growing faster than us humans, and its recurring revenue was basically keeping us afloat) so we decided to take all of 2006 to wind down the agency business and beef up MailChimp’s features. We officially hit the “reset button” in 2007 and became a product company.
How did you come up with the name? Does the chimp have a name?
The big, bloated email software back in 2001 required you to manually code your tracker links, your HTML emails, and all kinds of things. We thought it was silly to force users to do a bunch of repetitive coding that a monkey could do for you. We also had this philosophy when it came to our web design projects: “If all else fails, add a monkey. Clients love monkeys.” So we called it ChimpMail. Then we learned the domain was taken. So we called it MailChimp. One day, a customer asked us for our mascot’s name, so we came up with the most ridiculous one we could think of: Frederick von Chimpenheimer IV (aka “Freddie”). It’s amazing when I look back at Freddie’s history. We really didn’t spend that much time fostering his image or brand or anything. It was our customers and employees who brought him to life and gave him his personality.
Your non-traditional creative culture scared away a lot of typical corporate customers. Did this affect your growth at all?
Yep, it made our growth more fun.
Seriously, corporate customers are stodgy and high maintenance. We avoided them, because we always dealt with them back when we were a web-dev agency. We had our fill. The whole point of starting a software business, in our opinion, was to make scalable, self-serve apps. We felt like we shouldn’t need to talk to customers, nor should they waste any of their time talking to us (they should be spending their time smelling flowers, or hugging their mothers and stuff). The app should be so easy, they just get things done.
So that’s what we focused on: making it easy. Turns out a lot of those big corporate customers seem to like simplicity too, and are signing up to MailChimp despite the monkey business.
You often send customers gifts and handwritten postcards. How have you built customer loyalty?
The gifts we send are just fun. We know they’ll surprise the hell out of our customers, because nobody does that kinda stuff anymore. Plus, we’re an online-only company, right? So it’s ironic to send something hand-written and tangible. We love irony.
The goal isn’t to buy any kind of loyalty. I really don’t believe brand loyalty exists (anymore), and I don’t believe a company should waste any time trying to earn it. People want what’s best for them, and they can switch on a dime, because there’s always a new disruptor disrupting the last disruptor. So companies should just strive to keep changing and adapting to their customers’ needs.
I get the impression MailChimp is a fun place to work! How have you cultivated the culture?
I can’t say we really try to make it “fun” around here. Just “fulfilling.” I do my best to keep changing things up and to keep coming up with new, difficult, challenging projects that make your brain hurt. People who think that kind of work is fun tend to hang around longer. Kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy?
What does a typical day as CEO consist of?
On a good day, it consists of a lot of walking around to talk to different teams about what they’re working on. I can help connect ideas, plant new ideas, show people it’s okay to be weird, prevent meetings, etc.
On a bad day, it’s just me stuck at my computer.
MailChimp went ‘freemium’ in September 2009 and increased the number of paying clients by 150%, while growing profitability by 650% during its first year. With now over 2 million users, what would you say are the main factors that have led to MailChimp’s success?
I spoke about this recently.
1) Going freemium.
2) Being different. Different in our design, our name, our personality, our approach with customers, and just about everything. By being different, and therefore not dwelling on the competition or playing by their rules, it basically made us more creative and nimble.
Did you expect such massive growth and success?
Expect? No. But massive growth and success is kinda the whole point of starting a business, so I definitely dream about getting it one day. All. The. Time.
What are your thoughts on the future of email marketing?
Like everything else, it’ll change. The challenge is staying nimble enough to adapt.
Can you tell us about the data research you’re doing under EmailGenome.org, which you started to help improve the email ecosystem?
It’s been a challenge just wrangling the massive amounts of email data we have. But so far we’ve uncovered lots of awesomely cool things, along with some awesomely disturbing things. Like the predictability of reader engagement. And how we can find the optimal time to send an email to each recipient. And how there are networks of comment trolls, constantly signing up for certain types of lists. We can also uncover trends in email, like whether or not certain industries are dying. We’ve been able to tell when accounts import stolen lists, and identify where the lists originated from. We can tell who is human, and who is not. Perhaps the most interesting part about this “big data” initiative is the fact that it produces so many innovative product ideas, it’s hard to choose where to begin. The data keeps growing, so the possibilities (and scope) keep growing.
What do you wish you’d have known ten years ago that you know now?
That it takes about ten years before your company really hits its stride.
Where do you see MailChimp in another ten years time?
Not sure what business we’ll be in, but I’m pretty sure we’ll be coming to work in jet packs. Bet on it.
What is your favourite app or piece of software that helps you every day?
Hmm, that’s a hard one. Helpful and used every single day? Communication apps: Gmail, Apple Mail, iChat, and Jabber.
What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?
About 10 years ago, I put my life savings into Apple stock (when it was around $17 a share). It was a wild bet, but I kinda liked where Apple was going, and I thought OSX might be huge one day.
After a year of no change whatsoever in the stock price, I chickened out. I took some stupid advice I read in a book about “diversifying” and I traded it all in so I could spread it out into safer stocks. All of those stocks–every single one of them–flattened out or declined. Sigh. If I could go back in time, I would’ve put all that money into MailChimp instead. I can’t control someone’s stock price, but I can at least have some control over my own company.
What one piece of advice would you give to startup founders?
It’s hard. And just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does. There’ll be times when it just keeps getting worse and worse and worse. Meanwhile, everyone else around you is getting better and happier and richer. You’ll feel like the only one who hasn’t figured it out yet. You’re sinking, your life sucks, and your business isn’t going anywhere. Oh yeah, and you’re not getting any younger, either. And just when you think about finally throwing in the towel, and saying “f* all this!” that right there is the test that all founders are eventually faced with: when things get too hard, you decide to stay, or you decide to quit. My advice is this: Before you decide, look at all those great, successful businesses that inspired you to start your own. They stayed.
What’s the best prank someone has played on you at work?
Years ago, someone arranged for some accomplices to ring my landline, send an email, pop up a chat message, send me a TXT, and call my cell phone all at once. Everything just suddenly started beeping and buzzing all around me. I was paralyzed. I had no idea which to answer first. The sheer logistics of making this happen is pretty impressive, considering this was before telephony APIs.
What key goal have you yet to achieve?
Sadly, I’ve yet to finish a business plan.
What gives MailChimp a competitive advantage?
oDesk enables employers and contractors of technical, business and creative services to build work relationships across the globe.
I interviewed Gary Swart, oDesk CEO to find out more. This interview is the seventy third in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Gary for the interview!
How would you describe oDesk in under 50 words?
oDesk is the world’s largest and fastest-growing online workplace, allowing businesses and contractors to work together without geographic limits. We enable businesses to hire, manage and pay a flexible, online workforce, and we enable contractors to work whenever, wherever and however they want.
Who founded the company and how did you become CEO?
oDesk was co-founded by Odysseas Tsatalos and Stratis Karamanlakis; I joined them and a few others about a year later to help build and scale the company. I came to oDesk by way of Sigma Partners while trying to raise money (unsuccessfully) for my previous company. I was attracted to oDesk because of the sound business model and massive market opportunity, as well as by the chance to contribute something meaningful to the world of work.
What kind of growth has oDesk had since launch?
When we first launched in 2003, we were a SaaS company, with technology that enabled people working remotely to collaborate and monitor progress. But when we realized that this technology could have a significant, global impact on the way companies operate and the way people work, we pivoted in 2005 to become an online workplace, with the original technology as the backbone.
The marketplace quickly took off, and since 2007, oDesk has experienced an annual growth rate of more than 100%. Currently, contractors are earning more than $300 million per year through oDesk, and the demand is still incredibly high — we project the online work market will reach $1 billion this year, so we don’t expect our growth to slow anytime soon.
Who vets the contractors available on oDesk?
The contractors are vetted by the clients on oDesk. As a marketplace, oDesk operates as a meritocracy — contractors receive feedback after every project, both quantitatively (with stars) and qualitatively (with reviews). We also offer contractors hundreds of free skills tests, in addition to self-provided quality indicators such as the work history and portfolio sections.
Do users mind the ‘big brother’ aspect of the service?
When you mention “big brother,” I assume you are referring to our patent-pending Work Diary technology that allows us to guarantee payment to the contractor and guarantee work to the client. The opt-in Work Diary functionality takes screen shots of a working contractor’s desktop six times per hour at random intervals, enabling clients to “manage by walking around” online, just like on site. Clients have real-time visibility into the work as it happens and can validate that an hour billed is an hour worked (part of the oDesk Guarantee). Contractors don’t mind providing this visibility into their work because they appreciate guaranteed payment for all hours worked, without ever having to submit a time sheet or status report, justify their hours billed, or call their customer requesting to be paid. We pay contractors each week based on the sum of the hours logged in the system, for all hours worked — guaranteed.
Is there a secret to effectively managing work remotely?
oDesk’s work management tools, of course!
In all seriousness, I would say the most important factor is communication. Frequent, open communication (through emails, instant message, video chats… whatever works for you) is critical to establishing a healthy, trusting work relationship, and for identifying issues before they become problems. When we look at long-standing client-contractor relationships (many last several years or more), it’s usually because both parties have invested in communication.
How do you ensure a fair price for non-US based freelancers?
Rates for all workers in oDesk’s network are determined by the contractors, not oDesk. Workers set their rates based on their skills, knowledge, personal characteristics, motivation and any other factors that are important to them. We believe that people should be able to command the rates they are worth in a global economy, and with a platform like oDesk, the transparency and visibility into previous work history and rates is unprecedented.
Let me give you an example. A contractor in Russia is making $5 when he starts. He quickly stair-steps his way to more than $30 per hour in one year, based on his stellar reputation from previous assignments on our platform. Today, he has more work than he can handle and has invited his friends onto oDesk to work with him for his clients all over the world. Platforms like oDesk are a great equalizer for enabling everyone to make the wage they are worth in a global economy.
Who should and shouldn’t be using oDesk?
We like to think that everyone should be using oDesk! It has huge benefits for startups and small businesses, because it allows them to punch above their weight in the competition for talent. It can be great for medium-size businesses and even larger companies too, helping them scale their teams cost-effectively.
For contractors, there is demand for such a wide variety of skills and price points, that really I would recommend it to anyone — from the legal counsel to the virtual assistant.
All work types, all company sizes, globally!
What advantages does oDesk have over its competitors?
oDesk is the world’s largest and fastest-growing online work company — we are actually larger than all other online work sites combined. We have achieved these results by being the most innovative company in the space, with the best business model and the right team to execute. In addition, our proprietary work management technology allows us to guarantee payment to contractors and work to employers, which no other competitor can offer.
Does oDesk have any new features in the pipeline?
Absolutely — this interview is not long enough to highlight all of the features and functionality we are adding for our users! Suffice it to say, there is no shortage of things we can do to improve the experience for our users. Currently we are prioritizing our usability and the scalability of our service, so we can earn the right and respect to continue to serve our users and their friends.
What does a typical day as CEO consist of?
It is my responsibility to make sure that I am creating an environment at oDesk where everyone can do their best. This means that we have the right strategy; clarity as to how we will execute on our priorities; and clear roles, responsibilities and standards. With this in mind, I am focused on continuing to strengthen our already stellar team by recruiting and hiring new team members, as well as developing our current team. I also spend a lot of my time externally speaking with customers, journalists and influencers to help share the oDesk story.
With more than 17 years of experience in the enterprise software market, what do you wish you’d have known 20 years ago that you know now?
Just about everything I have learned in the last 20 years! If I had to narrow it down I wish I had known that the internet would be playing such a major part in our lives. I am constantly in awe of how core the internet and technology is to the way we work, shop, travel, and live.
Where do you see oDesk in 5 years time?
The online work industry seems to be quite parallel to the ecommerce industry. Ecommerce revolutionized what most people considered the standard way of living or doing business, and now we can’t imagine a world without it.
Online work is already firmly on that trajectory, having shifted the way millions of businesses operate. In the future, as the technology behind online work improves, it will become an increasingly standard and intuitive way of working.
As oDesk is the largest and fastest-growing player in the online work market, I am very excited about the opportunities this evolution will bring.
What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?
The biggest hurdle we faced when we entered the online work space was the issue of trust — for people accustomed to working in the same office, sending work to someone on the other side of the country (or even the world) could seem unfathomable. How would you know the work would be done well, or that the person was actually working on the project during the times they were billing you for it? How would you ensure your information was going to stay safe?
We have addressed this anxiety in a number of ways. First, we created a very transparent and meritocratic marketplace, so you could select exactly who was working on your project, according to their qualifications and reviews. We also rely on our proprietary time-tracking and team-room software to give businesses more visibility into the work that’s being done. Finally, we built non-disclosure agreements into our Terms of Service, so clients’ intellectual property is automatically protected.
What are you most excited about at the moment?
I’m excited about oDesk’s tremendous growth, and the huge opportunities that are still ahead of us. We really have the chance to change how the world works — to help businesses operate more efficiently and effectively, and to help people around the world work whenever, wherever and however they want, on the projects they choose and at the rate they set. I am proud to be helping to bring boundless opportunity and incredible freedom to people around the world through this kind of employment model.
Can you convince the reader to start using oDesk in under 50 words?
Businesses: Hire, manage and pay experts from around the world with just a few clicks, giving you a global, specialized, on-demand superworkforce.
Workers: Choose when to work, what you want to work on, what to charge, and where to work. All you need is your talent an Internet connection.
GitHub is an online project hosting application using Git. It includes a source-code browser, in-line editing, wikis, and ticketing. It’s also free for public open-source code.
I interviewed Chris Wanstrath, GitHub co-founder and CEO. This interview is the seventieth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Chris for the interview!
How would you describe GitHub in under 50 words?
GitHub makes software development awesome for everyone. You can use it to develop an iPhone app by yourself, open source software with strangers, or an enterprise application with your entire company.
You started GitHub as a side project in October 2007. Did you have any idea of it’s potential at that point in time?
We knew it was good because we were using it every day during development. Once we finished the basic source control features, such as code browsing and viewing the commit history, we started getting really creative with other features we could add to make the experience more awesome – that was really exciting. We thought it could turn into its own business, but at the time we mostly focused on making the best product we could. And we knew we were on the right track.
How did you come up with the name?
Tom Preston-Werner came up with the name. We wanted a place where people could easily share Git repositories and also learn more about Git – a Git hub, if you will.
You launched publicly in April the next year, what did you learn from 3-4 months of private beta testing?
The beta was a great way to find and fix bugs. Hosting git repositories wasn’t something we’d ever done before – it was extremely helpful to have hundreds of people pushing code to GitHub. Tons of issues were exposed early on. We had to rewrite a few basic systems because our assumptions were wrong or because we hit some major blockers.
Has your initial vision changed since launch?
We still want to make sharing code as easy as possible, but now our vision is much broader. Sharing code is just one part of the software development process. Reviewing code, working with your coworkers, exploring open source projects – there are so many things GitHub can do to make your life easier and we’re trying to do them all well.
How did you meet co-founders Tom Preston-Werner and PJ Hyett?
I met PJ when I was working at CNET. We worked together on the relaunch of Chowhound.
Tom I knew through the open source community. He had released some pretty awesome Ruby code that I was using. Eventually I met him at a Ruby meetup in San Francisco and we started working on projects together.
When did GitHub start gaining traction?
From my perspective it had traction right away. Our first beta user was Yehuda Katz, a prolific hacker who was able to give us tons of good feedback and invite other high quality developers. The Ruby community took to GitHub right away and really helped us figure out what to focus on.
You learned Rails in your spare time while you were developing with PHP professionally at CNET (before GitHub). Would you recommend PHP developers branch out to Rails or Django?
I actually learned Rails before I started at CNET, but there weren’t many Rails jobs at the time and I really wanted to work at GameSpot. So that’s why I was still doing PHP.
I loved PHP, but I loved Rails more. My advice would be to try as many new technologies as possible. Try Rails, try Django, try node. Don’t write anything off just because it’s new.
What has been the most challenging scaling issue you’ve come across?
The first major problem was the way we were storing git repositories. In early 2009 we were using a network file system so all the machines had the same view of the repositories on disk. This was really simple to develop against, but it wasn’t scaling at all – the network file system was failing daily, and when it wasn’t failing it was super slow. We knew we needed a new approach.
Tom spent most of 2009 designing, developing, and testing our new repository storage system. It was classic sharding – instead of every machine sharing everything, we’d have specialized file servers that would each store a subset repositories based on the owner. We developed a routing system to keep track of who lives where and how full each file server was.
Two and a half years later we’re still largely using the technologies Tom developed for the rearchitecture. We’ve made some changes and improvements, but the general idea is still going strong.
How has the growth in open source projects compared to the growth in private paid for repositories?
They’ve both been tremendous. There is so much great open source on GitHub that it really boggles my mind. At the same time, we have some of the companies I admire most using GitHub to host their private code.
As a developer, why did you become CEO? Did you consider taking a more technical role and hiring a career CEO?
We’ve never discussed hiring a career CEO – I think we all agree that the best person to be CEO is someone who works great with the founding team, is technical, understands where GitHub came from and where it’s going, and believes in making both the company and the product great.
Working well with the founding team is really important. All the GitHub founders are very hands-on in running the business. We’re working hard to build a place where people can do their best work, and we’re doing it together.
If I wasn’t CEO, one of the other founders would be. There’s just no point in looking outside for that role when we have so many qualified people internally.
As far as me personally, who better to be CEO of GitHub than a developer?
GitHub is completely bootstrapped, did you ever consider pitching for funding?
We never considered pitching, but we’ve always had interest from investors. Plenty of times we had serious discussions but the timing never felt right. We didn’t need the money and were super happy with the way things were going.
How do you find talented employees?
It’s hard. We’re lucky that we’re in San Francisco and there is so much world class talent here. Mostly we try to use the networks of people who work at GitHub. If that doesn’t work we’ll post a job on our job board – we’ve had some amazing luck doing that. We also sometimes receive unsolicited resumes that turn out to be really great.
We’re always watching the rising stars in the open source community. We want to find really amazing people who are passionate about what they’re doing, and open source is a great way to find that type of person.
Where do you see GitHub in 5 years time?
What I really want is happy users and happy employees. In five years, in ten years, in twenty years. That’s really all that matters.
As far as the product goes, I see GitHub further integrated into the process of software development. We spend all day with github.com open in a browser, but there are still other tools we use in our workflow. Some of those tools suck. GitHub should make software development awesome, and if that means broadening its scope so you spend all day with great tools instead of crappy ones then that’s a direction we should head. At the same time, we shouldn’t be competing with great tools but instead working together with them.
What are you most excited about at the moment?
2012. We’ve built such an amazing team and this year we’re going to release some really awesome things – new features, new products, and reimagined versions of current features and products. As a GitHub user, I can’t wait for all this new stuff to get released so I can start using it daily.
Can you convince the reader to start using GitHub in under 50 words?
I don’t think I can, and I wouldn’t want to. I’d rather you just try it out for yourself. Explore some open source or contribute to someone else’s project. GitHub sells itself better than I ever could. I think if you give it a shot you’ll really like it.
Evernote helps you remember and act upon ideas, projects and experiences and is synced between all the computers, phones and tablets you use.
I spoke with Phil Libin, Evernote CEO to find out more (download audio MP3 – 36:16). This interview is the sixty sixth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Phil!
To anyone who’s never come across Evernote, how would you describe it?
Evernote is your intellectual brain, it’s a service that lets you remember everything important that happens to you and use that information in a way to make yourself happier and more productive.
When you joined, it seems like you took some great projects and helped combine it all into a product and viable business. You joined a team with a largely scientific background, what were some of the difficulties you had at this time?
There was actually two teams that we brought together in 2007, a team of mostly scientists and researchers that had been working on image recognition and this concept of memory augmentation for a long time and I had a startup team mostly of engineers that were interested in making a product along the same lines. Making a product that would help people remember everything and combine those teams in the summer of 2007 and launched the first Evernote service in 2008.
I think starting with two teams presents slightly different challenges than a typical startup where you just go with a small number of people that are all together, but on balance it was definitely a very positive experience.
Could you tell me a bit about Evernote founder Stepan Pachikov and Dave Engberg CTO?
Well Dave and I have know each other for many years, he was the CTO of my last company CoreStreet, he was part of the original team that was with me at the beginning in 2007. Stepan started a different team of people in Russia in the late 80s, they developed a lot of the really cool technology for the Apple Newton, the very first tablet computer back in the late 80s early 90s and Apple actually brought them from Russia to California and then they sold their company to SGI. Stepan and his team have been working in this area for a while. So Stepan had one group of people and I have Dave, Andrew and a bunch of other people and we met up in 2007 and joined forces.
With around 20 million users you must receive a lot of feature requests and suggestions. How do you manage all of them?
I think we may have just passed 23 million. We get quite a bit and we really want to hear from users and see what they think. We’ve found that different types of user feedback is relevant in different ways. The least relevant is when you ask users what should we build, having users do product design or feature roadmap for you doesn’t really work. Users aren’t designers they don’t particularly know what they want so in terms of how we decide what to build. We are the target market, we are the users that we want to build for. We build software that we want to use and so anytime we get a recommendation or suggestion for something new, the filter we run it through is whether it’s something we want to use. That does happen sometimes and if not then we don’t build it.
What user feedback is extremely useful for, is feedback about particular things that we’ve done that aren’t working particularly well that people aren’t understanding or that they don’t like. The negative feedback and the feedback about how to improve specific features, that is the most audible feedback. Feeback about big ideas are just as vocal, but less ultimately valuable.
So have you had any feature ideas yourself which you’ve managed to push through?
Everything we make is basically made for me, it’s what I want to use. For me and for the rest of the team, we’re a bunch of fairly like minded people, it’s a diverse group in terms of backgrounds and tastes and ages and demographics, but we’re all nerds and passionate about the idea of remembering things. So we really build things for ourselves. I guess I am kind of king of the nerds, so a lot of the stuff I want gets built.
Who started the notion of Evernote as a 100 year company and how does this idea make itself apparent within the company culture?
Evernote is my third startup and a lot of the original team were with me or with Stepan for a couple of startups so it’s a pretty experienced team, almost everyone in the initial group had built 2 or 3 companies before. I think we had a common experience, theey were successful companies with good exits, but we were always building them for someone else. The products we built weren’t products for us, my first company built e-commerce software, so we sold to a lot of retailers. My second company built security systems for government and big banks. Those were all interesting, but we weren’t a government or a big bank, we weren’t a retailer. We never felt like we were building it for us. Ultimately we sold both of those companies, so it wasn’t even a company that we got to keep and when we were doing Evernote we thought, the first two companies we built for somebody else, the third one, lets build it for us, lets make a company we want to keep. I think from the very idea, this concept that this is the one we want and if you’re building something that you love and you’re building it for yourself you shouldn’t want to sell it, you should want to keep it.
I don’t think we thought about it as a 100 year company right away, but we knew we wanted to do something that was very long term, we weren’t interested in flipping it. We were interested in building something great. The 100 year stuff, probably most of it was influenced by Japan. We started traveling a lot to Japan, just because Evernote got very popular in Japan so we started doing a lot of work over there. We had a lot of partners and a lot of users and some of our partner companies were these Japanese companies that are more than a 100 years old and they’re still innovating and we felt really inspired by that. Let’s try to combine the best of both worlds. Let’s build a company that has the long term planning and thinking of some of these great Japanese companies, combined with the best of the Silicon Valley startup mentality. We don’t just want to build a 100 year company, we want to build a 100 year startup.
Am I correct in saying that roughly 5% of users upgrade to Evernote premium? What’s your philosophy on converting free members?
The overall percentage fluctuates quite a bit and isn’t particularly important because what happens is users convert as they use the service, the longer you’re using Evernote the more likely you are to convert. The conversion rates go up with the age of the user, so if you just want to take the overall conversion rate, you’re dividing the overall premium users by the total number of users, that’s primarily influenced by the ratio of new users to older users of the system. In a month when we grow really fast we get a whole bunch of new users, the overall conversion rate will be lower because more people haven’t been around for a few months, if we slow down growing then the overall conversion rate goes up because a larger percentage of users are older returning users.
The overall rate we frankly don’t pay attention to, but it’s probably somewhere around 4 or 5 percent range. What we pay a lot of attention to is what percentage convert in the first month, in the first year, in the first two years. Our oldest users, the ones who have been using Evernote for about 4 years, I think we first launched the service 4 years next month actually. Of the first few months worth of users, people who have been with us for about 4 years, around 25% of them are paying us right now, that ratio declines as you get new users.
We don’t care if you pay, we just want you to stay around and keep using it and get all your friends to use it. The longer you stay, the more likely that you’re going to fall in love with it and then pay.
In July 2011 you received $50 million in funding and have raised almost $100 million total. Do you think this kind of funding is necessary to create a world changing business/startup or do you have other motivations for raising such large amounts of capital?
We never needed all of this funding, we haven’t spent the majority of the money we’ve collected. We may very well take additional funding even though, we don’t need it for the cash. We really see funding as just another type of infrastructure we’re building, the goal is to build a 100 year company, when you start planning for a 100 year company you have to take that seriously and say well how do we structure everything for longevity. Part of that is how do we build out our data servers? How do we build out our architecture, how many people do we hire and how do we build out our management structure? A big part of it is investors and how do we put in the financial infrastructure that will last for 100 years. When we think about funding, we really think about in the context of wanting to isolate ourselves from having to make any short term decisions and being influenced by fluctuations in the market. We don’t want to have to time things. Is the IPO window closing, all that stuff, so we want to make sure we have investors who have the same time horizon. Investors who have this very long term vision and then whenever we can put together some financial infrastructure at good terms from the right investors, we’re always happy to take it because it’s just another tool to make sure we can achieve the company we want.
Where are you currently focusing your spending?
We spend money on the same things that we always do, it all goes to the product. The vast majority of the money we spend, the people we hire are building the product. So it’s developers, designers, QA, managers, testers, support people, operations people. We don’t have a sales culture, we don’t sell anything, we don’t have a sales team. Everyone is working on the product, we get more money as we increase spending, it all goes into the product account or the majority of it does.
How involved are you with fundraising?
We don’t do very much of it anymore, we haven’t needed to raise money in several years. The first few years of the company that was extremely involved, it was very time consuming, very difficult for us to get money the first couple of years. Really the whole team, but I suppose mostly me spent a lot of time and energy on it, now that it’s less important I don’t personally spend a whole lot of time on it myself.
We don’t go out and look for money, we get a ton of inbound requests on a daily basis from people who want to invest. Most of them we don’t talk to, it doesn’t take up much of my time these days. I spend most of my time on what I want to be doing, which is basically product design.
Back in 2007 everyone was pitching social startups. How did you convince investors that unsociable was right for Evernote?
We didn’t really convince them, we had almost no investment until 2009. 2007, 2008 we never had a few weeks of money in the bank, we were putting a lot of money in ourselves. I put money in, Stepan put money in, we were getting a lot of friends and family for funds. We were getting money from some of our more passionate users, from Russia, Japan, Canada, but we didn’t really have professional venture investors until 2009. Everyone was pitching websites and social, we were the opposite of both of those and we suffered because of it. We couldn’t actually get investors to pay attention until we had the data, it all flipped around in 2009 when we actually had a year or so of data and we could show the covert analysis and what was actually happening. Then it turned, almost overnight we went from having to constantly beg for money to having multiple term sheets.
So would that be your tip to someone looking for investment, create your product, make it successful to a certain level and then take it to investors?
I think the central insight is to match the investors that you’re talking to with the strengths that you currently have and the stage of the company that you’re currently in. There’s a type of plan that’s very common, which Evernote definitely falls into, it’s fundamentally not an investable concept. We couldn’t walk up to an investor and say here’s our plan, we’re going to make some software and it’s going to let you write stuff down and remember things and we’re going to give it away for free. We don’t have any experience in the consumer space either, please give us some money. That was the pitch. It doesn’t work.
The idea behind Evernote isn’t particularly novel, no ones going to hear, “we’re going to use computers to help people keep track of information” and be like “ok I’ll write you a cheque”. There are other ideas that are not on the face of it really brilliant ideas that you may be able to do this with, but certainly not 99% of what people pitch. For us it was about showing we had traction, we understood what our users were doing, we understood what they wanted. We could deliver a product, meet on time, deliver our plans and fundamentally we got the unit economics right. Every time we added a user, we made money. Once we showed that and we showed that in a very rigorous way, we’re fanatical about the data and how we present things. Then it became much more real, investors were much more willing to take a chance on us. It was still very high risk, everyone understood that it was still very unlikely, there was a very high degree of uncertainty, but we could show proof, that worked out well.
How did Max Levchin (PayPal founder) become involved with Evernote?
He was actually involved with Stepan. Max Levchin and Esther Dyson were actually both on the board of Stepan’s company before Stepan and I had even met. Max and Esther were probably the two people most instrumental in talking me into combining the two teams and making a unified Evernote.
Evernote has native apps for most operating systems, both desktop and mobile requiring varied skill sets and many teams. How many people are currently working at Evernote and how do you find talented people?
We have about 104 people right now worldwide, which has grown really quickly. We were only at about 40 or 45 people just last year, so we’ve basically tripled in size in a year and we might triple again this year, which is a little bit scary. We’re probably going to go from 40 to 130 to close to 300 maybe in a year. It’s difficult to get excellent people, it’s always the hardest thing. It hasn’t been nearly as bad as I thought it’d be because so many people that come in looking for work at Evernote do it because they love Evernote. People will come to us and say I love Evernote, I love what you’re doing, I want to help build it. We draw in a lot of people who specifically are not just looking for work, they want to work with us, be part of the adventure. That really helps, that gives us a very big qualified group of people and of course we hire people everywhere in the world. We have people in California, Texas, Switzerland, Japan, China and all over the place. We tend to attract the best and the most passionate product people from many of the top countries in the world.
How involved are you with the hiring process?
Not just hiring, but building the team is a fundamentally important thing, it may be the most important thing. It’s what I tell all of the managers as well. The product we build is built for us. Evernote could only have been built by our team. A different team wouldn’t have built it, they would have built something different. We’re not working off abstract customer requirements. We are the customers. To guarantee the long term success of the company, the only way to do it is to make sure that the team continues to be the right kind of people. If we become the wrong kind of team we can’t build this product anymore. It’s pretty important and all of us are deeply involved in it, luckily I have various executives that have become excellent at keeping and recruiting people and evangelizing. It’s working relatively smoothly.
The HR job is almost the most important one at Evernote because the HR department is in charge of building the company that’s going to build the products. It’s what has to come first.
How quickly did you realise that native clients would be important to the success of Evernote?
Realize is maybe not the right word. We bet on it. Our intuition, we didn’t know if this was going to be correct, but our intuition right form the beginning was that people are going to want the best possible experience on their devices. So much of the growth of the mobile industry, of app stores, so much of that is generated by rapid improvement in the quality of the hardware and in the devices from generation to generation. The shiny new tablet that you buy now is a lot better than the shiny new tablet that you bough last year. We thought while this really rapid improvement in consumer devices is happening people are always going to want the best possible experience. Evernote has to work better on your brand new phone than it did on your crappy old phone. If it doesn’t give you a better experience then what was the point? The only way to do that is to write all the clients natively. To go down the bare essence of what the device can do and say, how do we make the best possible experience on this great new device? If you take the lowest common denominator approach using cross platform stuff, you by definition create something that’s average. You get an experience that’s the same on your shiny new phone as it was on last years phone. If it’s the same experience you’ve removed the motivation for the manufacturers and publishers to promote you. You’ve removed the excitement of people who get their new device.
That was the bet we took, at least for the next decade or two, consumer devices are going to be improving so rapidly that it’ll be important to take advantage of that. If that ever slows down, maybe we can go to some sort of lowest common denominator approach, but there’s certainly no evidence that the improvement in phones and tablets is slowing down anytime soon.
You gained your first half a million users in around just 10 months. How did you get off to such a quick start?
Our user growth has actually been really smooth from the very beginning. It’s actually quite surprising, I just dug up the original model we used when we closed our first Silicon Valley round with Morgan Capital in 2009. I found the original plan, we built this model for them that shows how we’re going to grow, both users and revenue. It was from 2009 and that plan went to the end of 2011. The end of 2011 back then was unimaginably far in the future for us. I just found it, I wanted to compare how we did against what we projected and we were within 5% on both users and revenue, that’s kind of amazing. The growth has followed this really smooth exponentially growing upward slope. It’s just driven by word of mouth. We don’t spend any money on user acquisition, we don’t do any SEO or SEM. There’s no tricks. We don’t pay money for users. We don’t pay for incentive downloads or any of the stuff you hear people talking about, we don’t do any of it.
It’s all just word of mouth and people finding Evernote because of friends who love it recommending it. We’ve probably added more than 2 million users in the past month and it just keeps increasing because of that.
What were some of the initial successes you had with gaining users, up to to get say the first 20,000 users?
We launched closed beta on TechCrunch, we were lucky enough that TechCrunch wrote about us right as we were starting the closed beta and we gave away 100 invites, that was the first spark. We had a couple thousand people within the first few days just because of that really early spark and it just grew from there.
What we did, is we really killed ourselves in the first couple of years to always be in all of the app store launches on day one. Whenever a new device or platform would come out, we would work days and nights for months before that to make sure Evernote was there and supporting the new device or operating system in the app store on the first day. So that it could be one of the showcase apps for all of these devices as they launch. We were mostly successful. When iPhone launched we were one of the very first iPhone apps, so we were promoted and had a lot of visibility. When iPad launched, we were there on day one, not just with a port of our iPhone client which a lot of other companies did. A completely new designed version for the iPad even though we’d never seen an iPad before we stood inline with everyone else. Same thing with Android devices and Kindle Fire.
In the early days the we put in a lot of hard work synchronizing so we could follow in the wake of all these massive new releases and benefit from those. Now that’s less important to us because the momentum is already so high, but in the early days that was fundamental.
So do you think the timing was perfect because that period was when apps as we know them now were taking off? You were there at the beginning of a big change in mobile.
We definitely were very lucky with the timing, absolutely. I think that’s mainly true of many successful companies, in hindsight you look back, it’s always easy to point to things where the timing worked out. We were very fortunate that the app stores were launching right as we were getting ready. If we were 6 months behind in our development, we would had missed all of it.
The logic works the other way as well, there’s many events where the timing was horrible. We ran out of money, we came within days of shutting down the company in October 2008, this was the worst time in the history of the universe to raise money. That was when Lehman collapsed and the markets were crashing. No one was giving any money. That’s bad luck, needing to raise money at the worst time for raising money is also not something we anticipated. In the long term you have to deal with both the good luck and bad luck that’s dealt to you and what you make of it is ultimately what determines the success of the company.
You had over 125,000 users before you came out of closed beta mid 2008. What was the main takeaway?
The main purpose of the closed beta was doing the user testing, making sure we understood what people actually wanted and that it worked. This was a new experience for most people. We had native apps that were synchronizing in real time, we had a new type of server architecture that we were tweaking, so a lot of it was really just for technical reasons. We couldn’t support a lot more people, but it also started as a good way to generate interest. The fact that you have to sign up and send around invites to get in actually generated some buzz. That was never our intention, we never thought of the closed beta as a marketing exercise. We were frankly terrified that everything would crash all the time. It actually turned out to be pretty good as well as just a way to generate interest. I wouldn’t recommend that any company starting up today go through anything like that purely for the sake of generating interest. I think users can smell that. They can smell marketing tricks and you tend not to respond to it very well. But for us it worked quite well.
We were almost forced out of beta by Apple. The iPhone app store launch in July 2008, Apple doesn’t allow betas, you can’t have a beta in the app store. We knew if we wanted to be there on day one, we had to be out of beta, so we worked 20 hour days 7 days a week for a few months before then to make sure that we could have something that was genuinely available and out of beta.
Everything about Evernote, from the product to the business model seems to be based around simplicity. How important is it for you to keep Evernote simple?
That’s a real balancing app, I think the core Evernote app is too complicated right now. I don’t think anyone understood design philosophy, especially mobile app design philosophy in the early days, we certainly didn’t. A lot of initial designs were very feature oriented. We had check lists of features we wanted to implement, we went through and put them in. What we’ve realized since then is that isn’t really how you should build software, you really need to be experience driven. Focus entirely on what is the experience of using that and then add the features almost as a secondary criterion. So I think a lot of our newer products are very straightforward and simple and a lot of initial products aren’t. But we are in the process of tweaking the designs, sometimes in major ways to simplify them. Of course you don’t want to lose any power from those apps while doing it, so it’s very difficult.
It turns out it’s much much harder to make something simple than complicated. Making something complicated is easy for developers, because it’s always easier to add things. Making something simple is very hard. We’re just starting to get good at it.
Do users tell you how they’re using Evernote? What are some of the surprising ways in which it’s being used?
I think it’s an early sign that you might have a successful product, when you see people using it in ways you totally didn’t anticipate. That started happening right away at Evernote. Use cases are very broad.
I was just in Tokyo a couple of weeks ago and went to get my haircut. The hair stylist was using Evernote to basically run the business. So she would take pictures of all of her clients and their hair styles every time they came in and take notes on them. She had Evernote on iPads and would flick through so whenever someone came in they could see what they’re hair styles looked like before and what some of the other people had gotten and choose what they wanted. All the notes, shampoos were in there, so she was using Evernote as a source of both inspiration and management for hair salon, which was certainly not something I ever dreamed of, but a really cool use case and there’s thousands more as well.
When you look at companies like Dropbox, do you think that’s the future now, as in flexibility and simplicity? Letting the user decide how they want to use the product.
I think Dropbox is doing something really great. They’re the ubiquitous hard drive in the sky. They made this industry and got a head start on everybody else, so now Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and everyone else, every cellphone carrier, they’re all trying to compete with Dropbox. Dropbox just did it really well and got a lot of love and deserves it. The primary use case is fairly simple, you shouldn’t have to think about the concept of computers and files. What we do at Evernote is philosophically pretty different. We’re not an infrastructure play, we’re really about how you experience your life. The experience of your memories, what they mean to you what can you use them for to make yourself more productive and happier. We really focus more on making a beautiful user experience, but I think the core philosophies are quite similar and I’m a big fan of Dropbox myself.
What do you wish you’d known when you became CEO?
We certainly made lots of mistakes. The fundamental thing that I wish I’d of known, is I underestimated the importance of simplicity and design. The first couple of years I really didn’t feel that, I didn’t have a good enough appreciation that the most important thing for consumer facing software was that it was beautiful, simple, people immediately and intuitively understood how to use it.
It really wasn’t about making it more powerful, it was about making it more natural. I think I’ve only internalized that in the past couple of years and it’ll take another lifetime to really master it.
What are you most excited about at the moment?
Wow, I’m generally a very excitable person, I figure if I need a one word description for myself, if I need to put something on my tombstone. I just want it to say I’ve certainly been an enthusiast. I’m excited about just about everything, I think this is the best time in the history of the world to be starting a technology company and running a technology company.
We live in almost a geek meritocracy right now. Where all you have to do is make a great product and you can be successful. That was never true before, that wasn’t true for my first two companies. You could make a great product, but you still had to worry about everything else, all the channels and logistics, advertising and relationships. It was very tough. Right now, especially in the consumer space and because of things like app stores and tablets, if you’re a nerd and you focus passionately on making a great product you could be really successful and change the world and that’s a deeply exciting thing for me.
How would you describe Quote Roller in under 50 words?
Quote Roller revolutionizes the work of sales reps and small business owners, helping to create and deliver elegant sales quotes efficiently.
At the age of 19 you moved from Minsk, Belarus to the US and started a web design agency. What did you learn from the experience?
The move to America was a huge step but I was really excited about it. It’s great to be in an environment where entrepreneurship is appreciated. I learned a lot. I learned, pretty much, all I know now. I learned how to run a business and I learned that the customer should be central to your business.
What made you decide to start working on Quote Roller?
We had an internal pain creating sales proposals for our small web development company. We didn’t get why there wasn’t an app that integrated sales quoting in business operations.
How did you come up with the name?
We had a client who used a bit of a sales jargon asking to “roll out a quote” any time he wanted something to be done by our team.
What was technically the most challenging part of developing Quote Roller?
Marketing and getting the application to suit the needs of other companies, not just our own.
How long did it take to put together Quote Roller?
Well, the first version of Quote Roller took just about 3 months from idea to launch. However, what we built then doesn’t have much in common with what we have now. Reason why – our first beta was crap.
Do you have any new features in the pipeline?
Absolutely. Our pipeline could connect San Francisco and Tokyo. It’s about that long 🙂 We figured out that we need to advance the integrations we already have as well as add more integrations. Besides, there is a bunch of internal improvements that we should take care of. And, we really need a HTML5 version of the service to provide mobile-quoting support for all the platforms.
Where do you see Quote Roller in 5 years time?
We see it as the #1 application to create and send sales proposals.
What makes a good business proposal in your experience?
Format, style, and, of course, the content. I don’t like vague quotes. And, I hate paper documents. If I need to print something, you can be sure it’ll take a while.
Has Quote Roller got the feedback and growth you expected since launch?
Yes, but there is a lot to be done to make things even better. We’re looking for a good PR professional to join the team.
Who would you say is your biggest competitor?
Our biggest competitor is paper / Word-made proposals. We’ve got a better concept and believe that guy should go away.
What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?
Just like any SaaS that offers a free plan, our biggest challenge is (and I assume going to be) to make people pay for the service.
Who do you see as your target audience?
Right now we have a few groups interested in what we do: IT companies, Photographers, Event Organizers and Manufacturers.
What are you most excited about at the moment?
We just introduced billing and now there are some folks that have switched to paid plans. That’s exciting considering we’ve already spent a fortune building the application.
Can you convince the reader to start using Quote Roller in under 50 words?
Our customers say that Quote Roller increases the acceptance rate of their sales quotes 2x times. Some say that they save at least 2 hours a week on sales proposals. Why not improve the way your business operates? Give it a shot