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Bootstrapping to $13 Million with Freemium and Free Trials: SurveyGizmo CEO Christian Vanek (Part 4)

Posted on Friday, Sep 9th 2016

Sramana Mitra: I was about to ask you about the commercial terms that you negotiated with the company that was giving you all this input about what to build. How did you structure the terms?

Christian Vanek: The terms were very simple. It was a gentleman’s agreement to be honest and we still are upholding it today. That organization could use SurveyGizmo for free forever, provided that they kept the “Powered by” byline. All of those other individuals that I was introduced to worked for organizations all across the United States, from very tiny market research firms to large publishing firms. These folks also had that same deal: Help me build the software and you get the software. They were so excited about the prospect that they were very involved in it and helped develop all of the initial features.

Sramana Mitra: Who was your first paying customer for the service customer?

Christian Vanek: I actually don’t remember their name. I looked this up a couple of years ago. It was just someone who had found the website and started paying $19 a month.

Sramana Mitra: You put the software on the web for people to buy online?

Christian Vanek: Yes, I put it online. The first version was actually just a blank page and had a software box. People just seemed to think that software came in boxes at that point. I had my logo on it and a little ‘Contact Me’ email form. After that point, I actually did have an e-commerce platform where you could actually sign up, buy, and begin using the tool without ever speaking to me. Honestly, that has been the core model of our software for the seven years of our business.

Sramana Mitra: How did people find your website? What was the customer acquisition strategy?

Christian Vanek: The first one and the one that really helped to accelerate acquisition was word of mouth. It was those “Powered by” logos being sent out to so many people using this new piece of software. I got a lot of traffic from those links in the first year. After that, working for the marketing publishing company taught me a lot about SEO. As soon as we began writing and publishing information, I just started writing articles and optimizing everything on the website. Even to this day, we rank within the first three spots for online survey software.

Sramana Mitra: There are several others now. We’ve actually done several stores on survey software.

Christian Vanek: We thought that the big competitor that was out there was going to be SurveyMonkey. To a certain extent, we do compete with them. They are definitely the 800-pound gorilla in our industry. What we didn’t realize early on was that we built technology that was highly competitive for larger organizations that wanted more advanced survey software. That’s when we started competing with Qualtrics and Key Survey. Our main acquisition strategy has always been search engine optimization and content marketing.

This segment is part 4 in the series : Bootstrapping to $13 Million with Freemium and Free Trials: SurveyGizmo CEO Christian Vanek
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