“Build it and they will come!” some say with supreme confidence.
Whilst everyone needs to start with an MVP, the changes you make to that must be decisions driven by your customers.
I had the pleasure of speaking to one of the most successful tech startup founders of the modern era on my podcast recently. I’m talking about Chris Savage, the CEO of juggernaut Wistia.
Wistia helps brands with their content by focusing on video, and turns over 32 million dollars of revenue a year.
Chris spoke about how he made changes to his product in response to what the customer wanted, and how the company grew from 30 paying customers to 200 rapidly as a result:
“In the very, very early days, we did not want to compete with YouTube. We did not want to compete with Vimeo. Neither of those things seemed like good ideas. But we did think that online video was going to be really big. And we got in early. We started 2006 and I thought it was going to be really big in 2007. And it was not! It took a long time! But what we found was this little niche that nobody else was doing, which at that time was our very first customer was using us to privately share videos around the world.”
This is where the journey of listening deeply to customers started:
“It was a medical device company. They were doing clinical trials and they shot video as part of the clinical trials. And they would have to ship a DVD around of the video to then iterate on the procedure. We started talking to them — we gave them a way to do that online securely with commenting and it was instantaneous. So we were really competing with DVDs, we weren’t competing with YouTube. And our first 30 customers, which took us like two and a half years to get after that first one — they’re all doing that exact same thing, not medical device companies, but they’re all privately sharing video.“
Then clients wanted the videos embedded, which wasn’t what they had in mind:
“And then only when we had 30 customers and we had some analytics because people were using us to track how training videos were working internally, we started to get requests to allow the videos to be embedded on someone’s website. And we told people, “No, you shouldn’t do that, you should go do something else. You should go use YouTube, you should go use Vimeo.’ And they were like, ‘No, we like your analytics, we think your analytics are better. Eventually, we relented and it took off.”
Chris said it was about continuing to listen to the customers, and delivering them what they need:
“We ended up focusing on those innovators are super, super early adopters that didn’t have a solution except for us. And I feel like that’s what we’ve always done, actually, as we keep getting bigger, but we keep trying to continue to focus on a part of the market, and an angle that no one else is focused on. And that’s allowed us to patiently build something pretty significant, which has been really fun.“
The journey towards your first paying customer
Chris said acquiring customers didn’t happen overnight:
“We got our first paying customer, a year to the day after we started…and then we got a new paying customer basically every month after that. And about another year in we had a dry spell for five months and then we started getting a few a month, and then it started to grow. The thing that was convincing to us that we were onto something big was the diversity in the customers. So the first one was a medical device company. Then we had a two billion dollar public telecommunications company that was using us for training. We had a very small video production company that was using for reviews and approvals. Then we had Cirque du Soleil that was using us for sharing, which is crazy — they used us for eight years to run their casting video system. So when someone applies for a role in Cirque Du Soleil, they would submit a video of themselves doing whatever the circus act was, that would be uploaded to Wistia.”
Chris said this is the point he knew he was onto something big:
“The thing that we thought was: ‘Wow, we’re solving a wide variety of problems, and these are all really important problems to solve and they’re all really different.’ And it convinced us that the opportunity was really big. But then how we could go from that super-focused place to big opportunity, but you can’t just like flip a switch — we had to keep developing based on what customers were telling us through support.”
Chris revealed having all staff doing support with vital to the companies growth and success:
“Everyone on the team was doing support at that time and it ends up being incredibly important that that was the case. Because, the first engineer we hired was doing support and he was seeing things that potential customers were mentioning and then he was building them, and then those customers were signing up. Our salesperson was doing support and then he would follow up with people. And we fixed things that were not in there or fix things that were broken or build things that weren’t in there, and they would buy. And everybody had this slew of potential customers that we’re talking to and we all kept it in our minds what they wanted. And that just kept growing and compounding.”
Chris adds that personal emails with changes to the program was very beneficial to customers:
“At 30 customers — it was a critical moment because we’d had people embedding videos on our site. But you couldn’t embed a video inside Wistia, the only way you could do it was you would email us, and we would email you back an embed code. Someone was like: ‘I want to embed this thing’, we could build that feature or literally we could handcraft an embed code right now. And so we did that.”
This was the perfect indicator the feature had to be built:
“It meant that when we were taking the time to do that and they actually were satisfied, then you really know that you should build that feature! And so we built that feature! And at that point, we’d also been trying to figure out where we should anchor our pricing. And we settled on a free trial, and having the pricing start at like seventy nine dollars a month. And the day that we launched a free trial with it, where you can embed yourself for thirty nine dollars a month, we had 30 customers and that was three and a half years after it started. And two months later, we had 200 paying customers.”
It’s an incredible startup growth story, achieved by focusing on the customer!