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Bootstrapping to $13 Million with Freemium and Free Trials: SurveyGizmo CEO Christian Vanek (Part 5)

Posted on Saturday, Sep 10th 2016

Sramana Mitra: You said you that you rank in the first three search results for survey software. As you said, there is lots of competitors. Why do people buy your software over your competitors? What is the key positioning point that you win on?

Christian Vanek: We serve two markets. The first market is definitely price sensitivity for function. We’re not the cheapest. Over the last 10 years, it’s also about building name recognition. Early on, there weren’t quite as many competitors as there are now. That helped us. The only ones that did appear had problems. One of the things we heard early on was that the name of the survey software mattered because they wanted people to take them seriously.

We had heard, “We don’t like SurveyMonkey because it has monkey in it.” SurveyGizmo was just enough to appear more professional but still approachable. Early on, we made approachability and customer service the hallmarks of our software. Even though it’s a long play, it has definitely panned out for us.

Sramana Mitra: How did the business ramp? You said it’s mostly an inbound marketing play. You’re receiving search engine and content marketing results. How did the revenue ramp?

Christian Vanek: In the first couple of years, we started growing a million dollars a year in new revenue. We were super excited because if you look at that from a percentage basis, it’s just incredible. What we actually realized was that those methodologies help you grow in a consistent fashion but they don’t necessarily accelerate your growth rate. For five or six years, we were growing at about $1.3 million year over year.

It was consistent based on the traffic volume on the key terms that we had targeted. Then, we had the discovery phase in the second four years after that. We worked on new marketing strategy, building sales teams, expanding our SEO presence, understanding our market better, and turning it from a startup into more of a business.

Sramana Mitra: What did you discover as additional customer acquisition strategies that turned out to be productive for you?

Christian Vanek: We learned more things that didn’t work than things that did.

Sramana Mitra: That’s always true. You experiment on various parameters and then find one nugget that works.

Christian Vanek: It’s amazing. As soon as you are messing with another dial, you screw everything up. SurveyGizmo has definitely been an educational journey for all of us. We tried understanding how word of mouth helped us grow. What we learned was word of mouth helped us grow for key accounts and larger business deals. Our do-it-yourself customers were highly price sensitive. They were feature-focused, which was odd for us.

We’ve always had rampant features. We could pretty much do anything, but how do you let the customer that was looking for that one thing find it without getting distracted or terrified by hundreds of things listed on your website. In the last couple of years, we learned that selling still has a place in business. We were completely sold on the freemium methodology. For eight years, we resisted having a sales team. As soon as we added the  sales team to the mix, we focused marketing on working with them really well together. That’s when we started taking off.

This segment is part 5 in the series : Bootstrapping to $13 Million with Freemium and Free Trials: SurveyGizmo CEO Christian Vanek
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