Interview with Kristian Andersen (TinderBox)
This interview is the seventh in a series of interviews with people working on interesting online projects. Big thank you to Kristian for the interview! You can find out more about Kristian at his about.me page or follow him on Twitter.
How would you describe TinderBox in under 50 words?
TinderBox is a web-based application that makes it easy for individuals and teams to create, manage, deliver, and track interactive business proposals. Tinderbox makes the proposal process painless. Tinderbox allows you to manage all aspects of proposal creation including: writing, formatting, management, approvals, and tracking all from within one simple interface.
How and when did you come up with TinderBox?
We came up with the basic concept in late 2009. Mike had just just completed the sale of a company he had been running, and Dustin had just left Vontoo (his last startup) and the three of us where actively looking for a way to do something together. We started talking about how we could scratch our own itch, and we kept coming back to all of the pain around writing, delivering, and following-up on proposals.
You have a (growing) family and a lot of other projects, what percentage of your time do you dedicate to TinderBox?
I’d say right now I’m dedicating about a 1/4 of my time to TinderBox. To your point, I’m involved in a couple dozen startups, in varying degrees – either as an investor, founder, advisor, etc. So that number changes based on where the demand for my time is. But TinderBox is definitely a huge priority for me personally and one of the most exciting businesses that I’ve ever been privileged enough to be involved with.
Has TinderBox got the feedback and growth you expected since launch?
We’ve been blown away by the positive feedback and consistent growth we’ve seen. We knew we were really onto something special when we realised that no one was saying no. Not only were they saying “I get it”, but they were giving us their credit card numbers as well – the ultimate proof that you’ve got a product / market fit.
Has your initial vision changed since launch?
Well I don’t think I can point to an example of a successful startup that hasn’t modified their vision in response to what the market was telling them. However, I’ve been surprised by how little our vision has changed overall. I think we had a really good understanding of the problem we were trying to solve and I believe we executed pretty well against those assumptions. I think one of the basic assumptions we had, that has been challenged, is around the size (and type) of Organisation that would gravitate toward this type of solution. Early on we really felt that this was perfect for smaller, high-growth businesses. This is certainly still the case, but we’ve been (delightfully) surprised to see an interest in TinderBox from larger, enterprise caliber clients as well.
You’re an investor in a number of startups. Do you prefer investing?
I enjoy helping ambitious entrepreneurs and high-potential businesses succeed. My heart is really for people who start things. That’s why I consider myself to be so blessed. At KA+A we work with startups every day to help them craft their brand and product offering. Through my work with Gravity Ventures, I have the opportunity to help launch and grow companies by providing seed-stage funding. So I guess the answer to your question is that I don’t really make a distinction between consulting, investing, advising or founding. It’s all about helping launch and grow successful businesses.
How is TinderBox funded?
TinderBox was initially self-funded. We actually self-funded all the way to our initial launch. We then raised a small amount of angel funding from some close friends and business associates to help accelerate growth.
There are a number of other unrelated products using the TinderBox name. How did you come up with the name and was there anyone else using the name when you launched?
We settled on the TinderBox name pretty early on in the lifecycle of the business. We felt that the literal definition of a tinderbox was an apropos descriptor of what the product does, specifically – set things on fire. Well not literally… but when you think of the role of the proposal in business it’s to get things started and ultimately provide the fuel (revenue) to grow your business. To the best of our knowledge there are a couple of other businesses operating in the US that use the name TinderBox. The biggest downside to this is that many of our friends now expect us to be able to get them great deals on cigars (www.tinderbox.com).
TinderBox doesn’t have any set pricing plans, have you found that customers prefer to work with you to find a custom plan?
This is a great question. One of the things we’ve done since day one is to continually tinker with our pricing plans. We’ve settled on a seat-based model that we think strikes the appropriate balance between flexibility and accessibility. Additionally, as we’ve moved up stream a bit, we’ve found that a conversation is typically helpful in order to determine exactly how the product will be used, what types of integrations are required (e.g. Saleforce.com), and what level of implementation support is desired. It’s tough to do that with the standard, self-provisioning, one (or three) size fits all pricing model that is prevalent in many small business SaaS products.
Who do you see as your target audience?
Our target audience is anyone that is responsible for creating, managing, and distributing sales proposals or other critical business communications. Our tool has applications for small, medium, and enterprise businesses. With that being said, we’ve found that our earliest adopters have been businesses that recognise the importance of insight, analytics, and control. Our customers include: software and technology companies, professional services firms, and businesses that are looking for another way to differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace.
Who is your biggest competitor?
We do have some direct competitors in the “online proposal” space, but I would argue that are biggest competitor is the mindset of just doing things the way they’ve always been done. In that regard, you might argue that are biggest competitors are Microsoft (word processing), Adobe (PDFs), and printer manufacturers. In the same way that Henry Ford’s earliest competitors were horse breeding farms.
How long did it take to put together TinderBox? How was work split between yourself and co-founders Mike Fitzgerald and Dustin Sapp?
We went from the concept to our first paying customer in just a shade over 3 months. This is actually one of the aspects of the business that we are most proud of. We relied heavily on prototyping early on and that paid huge dividends in our ability to translate visual prototypes into a functional product very quickly. Dustin Sapp, one of the co-founders, served (and continues to serve) as TinderBox’s product architect and lead developer. Dustin now serves as the president of Tinderbox. Mike Fitzgerald, my other co-founder, was instrumental in crafting the vision for the business and was responsible for leading our sales and business strategy. I, alongside my long-time business associate Nathan Sinsabaugh (the design director at KA+A), was responsible for leading the branding and interface design of the TinderBox product. At the end of the day however, we were all responsible for driving the business forward and doing, literally, whatever was required to build the product, close sales, and service our customers.
In can’t say enough about what those three individuals have brought to the table for TinderBox. I’m a huge believer in the importance of assembling the right team and that’s what we’ve got at TinderBox… the right team. Dustin, Mike, and Nathan are absolute rock stars.
What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?
I think one of the largest hurdles that startups face, in general, is maintaining focus. It’s very tempting to pursue opportunities that are not core to your stated mission. It’s really easy to start adding features and creating lots of customised offerings in an attempt to close that one big sale or to broaden the perceived value of your product. What’s really hard is to stay focused and chip away, piece-by-piece, at the problem you set out to solve – even when it’s more expedient to not do so. But, I believe, great companies are built by focused teams, solving well defined problems.
What are you most excited about at the moment?
That’s easy – simplifying the jobs of sales and marketing professionals and helping them be more effective in their respective jobs. I really believe that the TinderBox represents a quantum leap forward in the way sales and marketing folks do their jobs. Just look at the how Salesforce has fundamentally changed the way businesses manage their customer relationships. Or how GoToMeeting has turned the “idea” of traditional meetings on its head. Or how ExactTarget has transformed the notion of one-to-one marketing. TinderBox has the opportunity to do the same type of thing in the world of sales proposals and business communication.
Can you convince the reader to use TinderBox in under 50 words?
I’ll give it a shot.
Would you like to create higher quality proposals that leverage rich media (video, audio, animations, etc.)? Would you like to cut the time required to create a proposal dramatically? Would you like to be notified (via SMS or email) when a prospect views your proposal? Would you like to track how your proposals perform – in real time? Would you like it to integrate with your CRM? If so – visit us at: www.gettinderbox.com
Ha… OK, I went over a bit… but it was worth it.
Finished reading? Check out TinderBox!