Interview with Aytekin Tank (JotForm)
JotForm is a free web based WYSIWYG form builder.
I interviewed Aytekin Tank, JotForm founder to find out more. This interview is the ninety seventh in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Aytekin for the interview!
How would you describe JotForm in under 50 words?
JotForm is a free web form builder. JotForm’s drag & drop form builder is easy to use and covers any kind of form functionality you might need. What makes JotForm great is that it is optimized for speed. We’d like people to be able to create web forms quickly and get on with their busy lives.
What kind of forms can users create with JotForm?
Pretty much any kind. Last week, we released a form templates gallery for Jotform. We created 500 forms before launching. Another 100 were shared by JotForm users in the first week. So, the possibilities are endless.
The most common uses for JotForm are for contact forms, order and payment forms, event registration forms, surveys, feedback buttons, facebook forms and lead generation forms.
What made you decide to start working on JotForm?
In the past I worked for a large internet media company and developed similar internal tools. At that time, there weren’t any good tools available to build web forms.
In 2005, I quit my job to start my own company. At the beginning we tried several different products. We’ve done some consulting, we had membership products, and we had this completely free toy product called JotForm. The sales on consulting and other products were able to sustain us but they were limited in growth. On the other hand, JotForm started growing like crazy. That’s when we decided to completely focus on JotForm.
How did you come up with the name?
I wanted to emphasize the ease of use and speed of this new product. JotForm was perfect because jotting down something is a casual, easy and quick thing.
The three important criteria I look for coming up with a product name are short, unique and easy to remember.
What technologies have you used to build JotForm?
On the back end we mainly use PHP. For databases, we use MySQL and MongoDB. We also use redis for caching and session data.
What was technically the most challenging part of developing JotForm?
When I first developed JotForm in 2005, drag & drop was not as easy as today. The biggest challenge was to make it drag & drop smoothly.
Who do you see as your target audience?
Our main target audience is small website owners. People who create web sites with a low budget and no dedicated development team.
How long did it take to put together JotForm?
It took me several months to complete the first version of JotForm. Today, we have a dedicated team of 7 developers and a designer who exclusively work on JotForm full-time.
JotForm’s domain name was shut down at the request of the US Secret Service last month. What happened, how did your users respond, and how has it affected business?
Yes, that was very unfortunate.
We currently host 2,000,000 online forms. One of the difficulties of our business is dealing with phishing. We suspended 65,000 phishing forms in the last year alone. We have a bayesian phishing filter that can detect phishing forms with great accuracy. It works similar to the bayesian spam filters but instead of detecting spam, it detects phishing forms. In addition, we review any forms reported to us immediately. We care a lot about keeping our service clean of such activities.
On that Tuesday, we were already tired from an internal hackathon and we were getting ready to go home. I checked my email one last time, and I saw an email from Godaddy. It said, our domain jotform.com is “suspended for violation of the Go Daddy Abuse Policy”. I quickly replied to the email asking for details and called the phone number. They told me it was suspended because of a request by the Secret Service and gave me a name and a number. The numbers were for Secret Service Phoenix Electronic Crimes Task Force.
Our domain name servers were pointed to NS1.SPAM-AND-ABUSE.COM and NS2.SPAM-AND-ABUSE.COM. It was a matter of time for the DNS caches to be expired and the site to go down for everyone.
When I called the special agent, she told me that she had to go away at that moment, but she would get back to me. Then she took my phone number. I told her that this was an urgent matter because we have a service with hundreds of thousands of users. She just said that she would get back to me.
I kept calling her every hour. She started saying she will get back to me “this week”, or in a “few days”. I told her I was ready to take down any malicious content and provide any information they need. But, she told me she needed to take a look at the case first. She asked me to not call her again, and wait for her to call.
So, at this point, our whole online business was held hostage in the hands of someone who did not care much, and there was nothing we could do about it.
We quickly changed our site to work with jotform.net domain and we emailed the most active users, telling them to switch the form code they have on their web sites to jotform.net. This was a huge task for some users. Some of our clients have hundreds of forms located in different sites. In some cases, it was not possible to change the links. Many customers were angry at us and told us that they had lost customers, productivity and revenue because of the downtime. We provided a lot of refunds to those customers and received some threats of legal action for damages. On the positive side, many people thanked us for acting quickly to find solutions and to inform them.
Our domain was down for 2 days. They still have not told us why they suspended it in the first place. We were punished for reasons we don’t know even though we were ready to help them in any way we could.
Do you have any new features in the pipeline?
We have just released Form Templates Gallery. That turned out to be a great success. People seemed to love it and used it to create 10,000 forms in the first week.
We are planning to release integration with Google Docs soon and more integrations are on the way.
What do you wish you’d have known 5 years ago that you know now?
I wish we started doing Continuous Integration and Deployments earlier. That’s probably the single biggest thing that made a huge difference for our development team. Eric Ries’s ideas helped us start on that path.
The biggest mistake I made was not focusing enough. We are now laser focused on making JotForm users happy. But, in the first few years, we wasted so much time and effort trying to execute many ideas and products. When I meet with people who are just starting on their entrepreneurial journey that’s the single biggest advice I give them. Have a laser focus on a single product and don’t give up.
Where do you see JotForm in 5 years time?
When I think about what we have accomplished in the last 3 months, 5 years seems like an eternity. I am not worried too much about the future. I am more about what we can do TODAY to make our users happy, how we can help them save time, and how we can help them look professional.
You have over 700,000 users on JotForm. How many users upgrade to a premium subscription? What’s your philosophy on converting free members?
Yes, I’m very happy about the JotForm’s growth. The numbers may seem low compared to the social sites such as Facebook, but we are a B2B tool. 750,000 is actually pretty big number for a B2B tool.
We are a completely bootstrapped company and we never took any debt. We currently have enough Premium users to pay the bills, pay our salaries and even a small advertising budget.
Since we are above that threshold we are not pushy about converting free users. At this point, I am more focused on increasing our growth rate. Unlike similar services, our free plan is pretty good. You can create as many forms as you wish, and you can use all features. Our Premium price is also probably the lowest at $9.95/month.
Who would you say is your biggest competitor?
We have many competitors in this space, but my guess is that our biggest competition is lack of market awareness. Many people do not know about form builders. They are not aware that there are tools like JotForm that can help them create web forms quickly and easily.
What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?
Our biggest headache is dealing with phishers. We have developed tools to catch and suspend them.
What are you most excited about at the moment?
I am very excited about Form Templates Gallery. Our users are loving it. They are using form templates to save time, and they are also sharing their forms with other users.
Can you convince the reader to start using JotForm in under 50 words?
I think they should just give it a try. They don’t need to create an account to try JotForm. Simply go to Jotform.com and give the form builder a try. Drag and drop questions, customize the form and add it to your web site. I’m sure they will love it.
Finished reading? Check out JotForm!