Sramana Mitra: Tell me how you got there.
Vince Steckler: It’s basically a few things. When the company went into France, we started at the community side. The competition in France at that time had English language products, which doesn’t really go very real well in France. So we built a French language product. Since everyone in the company was Czech, there wasn’t anyone who knew French but there was one developer who claimed he knew French. It turns out his experience with French was because he had a couple of French girlfriends. The quality wasn’t very good.
The French, as polite as they are, complained a little bit about it. One of our founders took it to heart and posted a message saying, “We’re sorry. We’re Czech. If it’s not good, can you help us?” Lo and behold, a number of people volunteered. They translated the product into really good French. If you do something free for users, people will help.
Sramana Mitra: People will also do something for you.
Vince Steckler: It started a massive push in lots of different countries. We posted messages online, “We’d like to get this product in Vietnamese or Portuguese.” We have around 45 languages including Braille. You can ask the users for that. You can also ask the users to do tech support. Our tech support is almost entirely run by volunteers. We have people who’ve answered 60,000 questions from users.
Sramana Mitra: What do they get?
Vince Steckler: They get a hat each year.
Sramana Mitra: That’s it?
Vince Steckler: Yes. My father was a metal worker. He used to make this decorative metal trees that were gorgeous. One of his friends asked him why he doesn’t sell them. He said, “If I sold them, it wouldn’t be fun to do anymore. It’s a job.” It’s the same thing with community volunteers. If you pay them, it turns into a job. It takes their fun and sense of fulfillment out of it. You want to do other things. On the online forums, those that are really active have special status. We bring them to some events. They meet journalists. You take good care of them that way. They don’t want to be paid. They’re doing it because they enjoy it. They handle probably 90% of our tech support.
When I was at Norton, for roughly 50 million users in the world, we had 3,000 people in tech support. Some were in India, Philippines, and Malaysia. Avast has over four times as many users. We have 230 million. For the same model, we need 15,000 people manning the phones. You can’t afford that no matter where they are. You have to do it in a completely different way. Then you use the community to distribute the product.
For every family or group of friends, there is one or two geeks who support everyone else. When average users have a question, they tend to ask their community geek. You want those people to be recommending your product. A personal recommendation from someone you trust is far more valuable than an advertisement you see on TV or online. You get the support of those guys. They start recommending. Those are also the people that tend to man our technical support forum.
Sramana Mitra: How many of these technical support volunteers do you have now?
Vince Steckler: Thousands and thousands. There’s a small number that are up there in the 60,000 to 70,000 questions, but there are thousands of them.
Sramana Mitra: That pretty much takes care of your community’s technical support needs?
Vince Steckler: Except for Americans. Americans like to pick up the telephone. For example, our American user base is 5% of our user base. That’s about 13 million.
Sramana Mitra: Substantial.
Vince Steckler: US market is number four for consumer. Our non-community forum, which is online support and telephone support, is on a freemium model. We try to support it by selling service support for them. That just covers the cost of providing the free support. Americans, even though they’re only 5% of our user base, are about 90% of those two forms of support. People here are so used to 800 numbers.
We have 36 million users in Brazil, yet virtually no support queries from them. It’s the same thing for Russians and French. They’re very comfortable with self-service. Americans are not. It makes it expensive to support the US market. From all that, we learned that if you treat a community well and if you focus on those recommenders and get the people involved, you can grow in disparate markets. For example, we’ve got 36 million users in Brazil, but I have no employees in Brazil. I’ve got 55% market share in France and no employees there.