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Bootstrapping with a Paycheck: Aytekin Tank, CEO of JotForm (Part 4)

Posted on Thursday, Oct 8th 2015

Sramana Mitra: Were you seeing the same kind of conversion levels from free to premium?

Aytekin Tank: I can’t actually recall the numbers right now.

Sramana Mitra: This is a very big question. Whenever people are doing freemium products, it’s a question that we ask. It’s something that people are trying to understand. What are the dynamics of a freemium business. It seems like your business is a freemium business. You’ve talked quite a bit now about the benefits of releasing your first product as a free product. Really, the way to make a business work out of that is that conversion rate. It’s a critical issue in this interview that we should cover. In your second year, you did have a freemium product. You were actually monetizing in 2007. You had three products in 2007 that were all in that freemium mode?

Aytekin Tank: Subscription businesses like SaaS start very slowly. With the free version of JotForm, we had a $9 premium version. At the beginning, the revenues were pretty low because it takes time to build on a $9 business. We still had the old product. We were still doing consulting work on the side. Customers were buying the software and asked for customer modification on the software. We were doing all that for them. This helped us bootstrap JotForm. The other product had a flat line revenue. It wasn’t increasing much. JotForm was actually increasing but it was still at a low point.

Sramana Mitra: It was just you and one employee during that period?

Aytekin Tank: Yes. In the first year, it was only me and an employee. I added another employee the next year. We had a really small team.

Sramana Mitra: You kept the burn rate low. You used that original product to bootstrap and that’s basically how this was moving along.

Aytekin Tank: Yes. We kept the burn rate really low. We kept the employee count low.

Sramana Mitra: Do you remember how long it took you to get to the first million in revenue?

Aytekin Tank: I can’t actually say how long it took me. I can talk about our user numbers. Because we are a private company, we don’t share the revenue information.

Sramana Mitra: What other strategic moves have you made in building this company?

Aytekin Tank: I can talk about our team strategy. We started having problems as it started becoming harder to communicate and move fast. That’s when we moved people into separate cross-functional teams. We actually gave each team their own room so they can talk to each other. Each team has a goal. For example, a team might have a goal to increase the number of our active users. So first, there should be a single goal. Second is there should be a single metric that can actually be used by the team. We now have five teams and they each have their own room.That’s how our engineering teams work.

Sramana Mitra: Can you talk about the geographical distribution of your team?

Aytekin Tank: Our marketing is in San Francisco. Our engineering team is in Turkey. We also have some employees working remotely from different countries. We have a support and maintenance team, and they’re all working from different countries.

Sramana Mitra: So, a large part of your organization is virtual?

Aytekin Tank: Yes. I would say that half of our organization is working from home. The other half is working in our offices.

Sramana Mitra: How many people do you have totally in Turkey?

Aytekin Tank: In Turkey, we have around 25 people.

Sramana Mitra: How many people in San Francisco?

Aytekin Tank: We have five people in San Francisco that comprises our marketing team.

Sramana Mitra: The rest, you have in a virtual format?

Aytekin Tank: The rest is 25 people who work from home. The support team just answers customers. The maintenance team’s job is to fix bugs and work on small improvements on our product. JotForm has all these different kinds of widgets. You can take a picture right on your phone. You can record audio. We have a team that works on those widgets.

Sramana Mitra: Thank you. It was nice meeting you.

This segment is part 4 in the series : Bootstrapping with a Paycheck: Aytekin Tank, CEO of JotForm
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