Spotlight on Paul Veugen - Usabilla!

2010 Bully Award Finalist, Paul Veugen, Founder and CEO of Usabilla, talks about his Pathway to Success!

Elizabeth Perry/White Bull:
Paul, it's great to have you here. First off, let's hear your 140-character pitch. What is Usabilla?

Paul Veugen/Usabilla:
Usabilla offers a fast and fun way to continuously collect feedback on a webpage or image.

WB:
Excellent. Word has it you’ve had an exciting year and some fantastic news. Do Tell!

PV:
We just raised a nice round of funding from angel investors. We teamed up with 5 other angels: Three from the Netherlands, one British, and one American ... for a total of $1 million (€750,000).

WB:
Congratulations! What do you plan on doing with the funds?

PV:
We are now focusing on marketing and product development. We’ve expanded our team with engineers and product marketeers. About 70 percent of our clients are based in the US. When we started we mostly focused on usability experts and analysts. These people know how to test. Our product focused on testing cycles. So you set up a test, analyze the results and start over again. Even with fast and fun tests like ours, this still takes quite some work. We want to make this feedback loop much easier and are working on continuous feedback on webpages. This allows you to set up a visual survey just once, and continuously collect valuable input from your users.

WB:
How is your offering different from other analytics tools out there?

Most of the tools available focus on behavioral data only. Tools like Google Analytics and Omniture provide great insights in what people DO on your webpage. Same goes for example for A/B testing tools. We want to complement this with attitudinal data: how do people think and feel about your website? So you simply invite users to participate in a short visual survey. This helps you to improve your site and helps to interpret behavioral data. The fun thing is that all this runs fully on our servers. Users do not necessarily need to integrate anything on their own servers. Which is a big plus for marketers and designers. No need to pick a fight with IT or development to get your tests running.

WB:
Now what was the process like to get to this next level of success? What were some of the milestones/challenges?

PV:
When I started Usabilla, I knew I needed funding and help to kickstart. I have some design and front end development skills, but not enough to build a complex system like this. I knew I needed to build a team. So, I searched early on for angel and seed investors ... skilled pros who could bring in some money. That was okay, but after the first year it was quite hard to find follow up... I think there’s a gap between early stage seed and angel investments on the one side and money to grow into something bigger on the other side.
When we started pitching for a new round of funding we had some early traction and the first few paying customers. For most early stage VC’s that didn’t seem to be enough. We were getting too big for another, small, angel round and were still too small for a small VC round.

Along the way we learned a lot about how to present the company. Mostly about how to market it. The first few talks I didn’t really have my numbers about acquisition, growth and conversion funnels ready. Our growth in combination with critical Q and A sessions helped to improve my pitches and slidedeck over time. After a short period of too much focus on nailing an investment we decided to just focus on getting to a break even instead.  Not much later I accidentally bumped into an interesting event and pitched to a group of informals That’s where I met met a few interesting angels who brought together a small group for this investment.

The most important thing, I think, is the story. You have to know your story, back it up with numbers. In the early days, tof course, there wasn’t much to pitch. There wasn’t really much data available to support my story. Now the story gets better and better. Great names, great numbers. ...

When I prepared my final pitch I was focused on getting people without any usability or maybe even internet background up to speed in a short timed pitch. My slide deck was focused on the results we achieved – like average conversion rates, funnels and number of users. I think I managed to share my enthusiasm and excitement. I might have been a bit too bold, but it was one of my best pitches. I was full of energy and just shared my rollercoaster ride of the past year and my excitement for our future plans. For example, at White Bull last year, I was way too focused on the pitch itself, instead of my story.

WB:
Yeah I notice you’ve got some great names up there. How did you manage it?

PV:
The funny thing is that most people are coming in bottom up. For example, a research firm sets up a Disney case. Or, a lead analyst at Sony that found us through publications. We also publish loads of interesting content and constantly involve our users in the design process. Practice what you preach. Involve your users. When I started, we published interesting demo cases. I tried to find out who could use our product and how they would benefit from it. The list on our homepage is growing because of our strong focus on customers, right from the start. Building a great, easy to use product is one thing. The product marketing side is another game. I see quite a lot of startups suffering to get customers because they’re struggling with the marketing side. They expect some sort of sudden mysterious wave of activity and an instant active user base. I think this is something you should grow and nurture. Stimulate and find the right triggers. Measure and tweak. Big name publications like TechCrunch are good for your ego, but in the end it’s mostly drive -by traffic, which might not be the best for longer term growth.

WB:
How did you go about meeting the right people?

PV:
I go to a lot events … not only to meet as many people as possible and for the business side, but mostly to have fun. I’m not there to pitch my company to everyone. For me, it’s not about selling my stuff but about sharing your enthusiasm, sharing stories and having fun with like-minded people. That’s the same with many of our customers.  I’m not the sales kind of guy. Every now and then I hear that I’m being too nice. If I listen to a customers story and think they would benefit more from the product of one of our customers I  will just tell them. I find being open and honest works best for me in the long run.

WB:
What do you think makes your company a winner?

PV:
We are making stuff really fun and easy for people, both for our users and for their users. We enable our customers to learn from their users. In the past, you only did stuff like this in a lab. We are really customer focused; we have a clear picture of who is using our product and who else could benefit from it. We develop at a rapid pace, but involve our users in this process: practice what you preach.
 
WB:
How, if at all, is Geography important?

PV:
Lots of people say you should focus on the local market first and then expand into the bigger ones like the US. I did it the other way around. I focused on the US from the start. As a smaller European company, over 70-percent of our customers are US based. My feeling is that if i’m able to get to the US firms, it will also enable growth in Holland. So, I’m getting traction with Dutch customers, but our company is still focused on the US. At the moment, being located solely in Amsterdam isn’t a problem yet, but I do think it might help to accelerate to expand our focus to the US even more. Especially now that our customers base is expanding.

Yeah, I’d love to have a pied de terre in San Francisco someday. It would be great to move in the future, but I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary as long as we take regular trips. It’s really about visibility, getting your name out there ... getting to the right events in both Europe and the US, like White Bull, which was great for us. I don’t feel handicapped, though, with building the company out of Holland.  

WB:
Well, once again, congratulations. Well done! What advice do you have for other companies out there looking for that golden ticket?

PV:
From the beginning, I think a company should be focused on getting the numbers straight and building a good business case. And if you know who your customers are then you’ve already got a nice story for yourself and others as well. This is the backbone for the story you’re telling. Without any data it’s hard to prove your case, for both yourself as others. It’s quite easy to collect these numbers and it helps you to stay focused on the right things.