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Bootstrapping by Piggybacking from Romania: 123FormBuilder CEO Florin Cornianu (Part 2)

Posted on Tuesday, Jun 2nd 2020

Sramana Mitra: What was the product that you got together?

Florin Cornianu: It was a very small script that allowed you to build a contact form and put it on your website. Back then, there wasn’t any Google Forms.

We thought about automating the creation of contact forms. It turned out to be a product. Instead of selling the script, we decided to sell it as a subscription. We did it on a freemium model.

Sramana Mitra: What was free and what was premium?

Florin Cornianu: That was about 12 years ago. It was premium to use more than 10 fields.

Sramana Mitra: We always probe a little bit on freemium businesses because it’s always tricky to design a product where you don’t end up giving the product away for free completely. The conversion from free to premium is very low. I’m always interested in hearing how people manage to build a freemium business. What is the paywall? Where do you insert the paywall?

Florin Cornianu: In our case, we didn’t have that much knowledge. It was a lucky guess. 

Sramana Mitra: It was an accurate guess. Did it produce conversion?

Florin Cornianu: Yes. We immediately introduced the possibility of connecting your form to PayPal. That was another feature that produced conversions.

Sramana Mitra: What does it mean to connect to PayPal? What was the use case?

Florin Cornianu: Someone comes on our support line and says that they want to use the form to get paid. People select the product from the form from just 5 or 10 products. After they make the selection, the end customer is taken to PayPal where they pay. Then it is taken back to our system where we record the payment. 

Sramana Mitra: Where were your free users coming from? How did they find this particular product?

Florin Cornianu: We had a bit of experience on the SEO part because of other projects. We played that card properly and we quickly started getting organic traffic. For us, that was the main and the only source of users initially. 

Sramana Mitra: What kind of volume of users were you working with? What percentage was converting into paid?

Florin Cornianu: We were fighting for every paid subscriber. If we were in the US, the cost of living would have been bigger, and this would have been a dead business.

Sramana Mitra: This is a very common story that we hear all the time.

Florin Cornianu: It took us about two years to generate $60,000 a year. It took us a lot of time to start getting a bit of traction.

Sramana Mitra: Do you remember what kind of conversion ratios you were seeing? What was the free traffic and what percentage was converting?

Florin Cornianu: I don’t remember the exact numbers. I’m pretty sure it was not more than 2%.

Sramana Mitra: 2% conversion for freemium is not bad. It generally ranges between 1% and 2%. This is why freemium businesses are difficult to build. The other question was what was the pricing model. How much were you charging?

Florin Cornianu: I think we started charging $10 a month. This was our initial price.

Sramana Mitra: To get to $60,000, you needed a lot of customers.

Florin Cornianu: Yes. It took us a while. What we also did was to give them the option of purchasing a yearly subscription, which was $100. That helped us collect more money upfront.

Sramana Mitra: When did you start this?

Florin Cornianu: 2008.

This segment is part 2 in the series : Bootstrapping by Piggybacking from Romania: 123FormBuilder CEO Florin Cornianu
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