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Chris Cardell

Interview with Chris Cardell (Cardell Media)

Chris Cardell has shown thousands of business owners how to grow their business.Chris Cardell's - Cardell Media

I interviewed Chris Cardell, founder of Cardell Media to find out more. This interview is the hundred and fifty eighth in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Chris!

Avoiding the Dangerous Number One

Chris Cardell is a strong believer in the golden rule of the entrepreneurial world: the most dangerous number in business is one.

As UK & Europe’s leading provider of online and offline marketing information for businesses, Cardell knows that Entrepreneurs can’t rely on one of anything – whether it’s one key customer or client, one key employee, one key supplier, one key product or price, or one key marketing method.

It’s a lesson he knows well and has continued to teach during the more than 20 years that he has helped Entrepreneurs grow their businesses.

As one of his current clients at Cardell Media puts it: “The lesson that we learned during the recession was that you can’t be reliant on one business source, which is something that people who have listened to what Chris Cardell has to say are aware off.

“That’s one of the first things you learn when you sign up to work with him,” according to Dan Butt of Now Chartered Surveyors, whose one key business source prior to the recession was High Street lending institutions.

He is just one of the many business owners that Cardell and his marketing company, Cardell Media, have helped get out of the “one” mode.

“The majority of businesses have one or two or three vital customers who – if they were to go – would cause major difficulties,” Cardell said. “On the face of it, it is very appealing to have one great customer paying you oodles of money and who is enjoyable to work with. But all the positive points are outweighed by the risks involved in that dependency.”

For one, this type of situation makes business owners weak, because at some level, they are operating from a level of fear, according to Cardell. It also means the Entrepreneur doesn’t have a system to bring in new customers, so the business can never grow.

It’s a situation Cardell knows firsthand. He was in the “one key client” position early on in his career, a situation that worked well for both Cardell and the client at the time. And although the relationship ended amicably, he said most of these types of relationships end badly.

“Freeing yourself from that dependency should drive your entrepreneurial actions every day,” he said. “You need to have enough customers so that if, despite your best efforts, you lose some, it doesn’t matter.”

Having gone from one key customer to Cardell Media’s tens of thousands of customers, he said: “I can assure you that the difference is not just financial. It’s psychological. I don’t want to lose a customer. But if it happens, it makes zero difference to my life. That is a key element of what financial freedom is about.”

While one key customer is bad, the “just one” key form of marketing is even worse.

It’s also fairly common, he said, noting that about 90 percent of businesses are dependent on just one or two forms of marketing to get customers, usually Google, referrals or Facebook.

“I have lost track of the number of businesses I’ve heard about who were making small fortunes purely from free traffic from Google. They were completely dependent on it and everything was going fine until Google did one of its algorithm changes,” Cardell said.

“These business owners woke up one day to find their website had gone from the top of page 1 of the search results to page 5 or 10 – or in some cases, they had completely disappeared from the search engine. End of business.”

Of course, he continued, there are also “the business owners who got all their customers from Yellow Pages – until the year that their phone number was printed wrong. Or the businesses that were totally dependent on Google AdWords – until the month a couple of years ago when Google closed the accounts of 30,000 businesses in a policy crackdown.

“I’m sure you get the idea,” he said. “The first step to marketing success is to find one or two methods that work to attract customers. The second step is to do whatever it takes to find two or three more, so you’re not dependent on the first ones.”

Again, this is an area that Cardell knows well. He grew his business from a small company to a multi-million pound enterprise by using a wide variety marketing methods, including Google AdWords, Facebook and other online marketing methods.

But he said he also has spent – and continues to spend – a huge amount of time and resources on direct mail, newspaper ads and multi-channel TV advertising.

“Why? Because I don’t want to be dependent on the online element.”

While he is proud of the rapid and dramatic profit increases he has helped business owners achieve, he said, the more important work they do together is to build a long-term, multi-marketing approach to growing their businesses.

And yes, he practices what he preaches. For example, he has spent about £3 million of his own money on Google AdWords. He handles the Cardell Media ad campaigns himself, making him very qualified to be Europe’s leading trainer of Google AdWords.

“I’ve trained more people in AdWords than anyone in Europe,” he said, noting that it is absolutely crucial that businesses advertise through this medium because people are always searching for products and services on Google.

 

Another area where Cardell works diligently to change attitudes with Cardell Media members is the idea of one product and one price.

He continually encourages them to think about offering premium products/services, so that they can charge premium pricing. In doing so, they are offering more than one product and reaching a larger number of potential customers.

There will always be those who will buy the most high-end product available, he said. And when Entrepreneurs add in that higher-priced option, their more basic offering will look even more affordable so their sales will increase too.

He used Apple’s recently released watch as an example of why business can’t fail with a high-end version of a basic offering.

“Along with their main offering of the Apple Watch Sport, which starts at $349 (£230), they also launched a premium price version that will range from $10,000 to $17,000,’’ he said. “The more that Apple has us talking about the $10,000 watch, the more we forget to have a conversation about why a $400 or $700 watch is actually pretty expensive.”

Enough said. It’s easy to get the picture. Perhaps that why Cardell Media has had a hand in creating more successful Entrepreneurs than any other marketing business in the U.K.

Cardell can take a situation from today’s news reports, like the Apple watches, and put it in easy to understand, practical terms for all sorts of Entrepreneurs – whether it’s on premium products and pricing, AdWords, or avoiding the forbidden “one key” of anything.

More on Chris Cardell

Interview with Rod Drury (Xero)

Xero is an online accounting platform for small businesses.

I interviewed Rod Drury, Xero founder to find out more. This interview is the hundred and fifty seventh in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Rod!

How would you describe Xero in under 50 words?

Online accounting for small business. We connect small business owners with their bank, accountants, bookkeepers and other advisors with beautifully designed accounting software.

How did you meet co-founder Hamish Edwards and what made you create Xero?

Hamish was my accountant. Working with him I could see the disconnected process of sending files around was broken and desktop software looked 15 years old. Together we decided we could make life much easier and fun for small business owners.

How long did it take to put together the initial version?

As we had capital we were able to do pure R&D for the first 4 months, building the foundations for a scalable global financial platform. After we had the foundations right we started building the accounting features. First customers came on a month later.

6 years on we’re still building but have 135,000 customers and 200,000 users.

You’re based in New Zealand and considering Xero was only founded in 2006, how have you managed to expand into over 100 countries so quickly? Did you expect the growth you’ve received?

Yes, we thought that if we did it right we’d be targeting millions of customers. We did a New Zealand version, then UK, then Australia, then global (with configurable tax) then USA. It’s all the same code base so we can be nimble.

We also focussed on Xero as a platform with an open API and have over 200 applications already that connect to our engine.

Being gracious with partners has seen a thriving ecosystem develop and that is helping build network effects.

You had only 100 paying customers when you went into IPO, which seems quite bullish, but it definitely paid off! I’m curious about the process you went through to convince yourself and others that the business plan was scaleable. When did you have the epiphany? Did you have any doubts?

In our home country the Venture Capital market hadn’t developed as it has in the USA so we had to think of how else to raise the substantial funding required to have 50 people from day 1. As we had been successful with a number of other ventures we could bank our reputations and sell the story.

It was logical, but if it didn’t work we’d probably had had to move to Mexico. Thankfully the strategy has been sound and it places us in a strong position of being listed but with aligned and supportive owners.

So listing was more necessity than an option.

You’ve received over NZ$145 million in funding and have market capitalisation in excess of $700 million. Now with over 200,000 users, what do you attribute your success with Xero to?

Doing the foundations right, building an excellent team, focussing on the customer and building the right global culture. Building a big horizontal app like accounting is a massive build so we needed to be patient and let the strategies play out and stick to the plan.

It still feels like very early days. We’re close to ticking the boxes on the horizontal features and now having fun changing the game with real innovation that delights our base.

What was technically the most challenging part of developing Xero?

Hiring and scaling. We’ve doubled staff to over 350 in the last year. We’ve managed to do that while keeping our quality and culture which is a lot of work. As we’ve grown making the decisions around features and scale is hard. I want features of course but we also need to balance refactoring and performance. So prioritisation is a big challenge.

What hurdles have you faced in creating Xero? How have you overcome these?

Doing a high growth, loss making company on the public markets is different. In our local market investors aren’t used to that so we took a lot of flack early on, but that is subsiding as we keep doubling revenue.

It will be nice to be at break even though.

How are you reaching your target audience? How have you convinced accountants to put their clients on to Xero?

The accountants channel is key for winning the accounting market. We run an enterprise style selling model to develop this channel, coupled with a direct model to end users. We focus a lot of customer acquisition costs.

The channel starts expensive then gets very efficient. We are disrupting the market by building the accountant-side side tools into the platform and avoiding the double dipping of the incumbents. It’s compelling.

How have you differentiated yourself from competitors?

Beautiful design and focus on the customer. It’s great to have long term incumbents to push against.

It’s not the big that eat the small but the fast that eat the slow.

What is your primary focus in terms of new developments at the moment?

Finishing the horizontal feature set, completing the accountant side, jaw dropping innovation.

Where do you see Xero in 5 years time?

A globally admired company that small businesses around the world love and trust.

What advice would you offer to any soon to be startup founders out there?

Treat entrepreneurship as a series of baby steps. With each business you gain more experience, contacts and capital.

Don’t rule out working for companies of scale that are doing cool things. You’ll learn a lot.

Can you convince the reader to start using Xero in under 50 words?

Jump onto xero.com and have a try. Building a business is fun and we’ve made doing the books easy and satisfying.

Finished reading? Check out Xero!

Interview with Jon Froda (Podio)

Podio is an online work platform for collaboration and project management.

I interviewed Jon Froda, Podio co-founder to find out more. This is the hundred and fifty fifth in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Jon!

Describe Podio in under 50 words.

Podio is the collaborative work platform that helps teams be more productive when working together. It drastically reduces email clutter and is far more effective at structuring projects and workflows than using documents. Oh and signing up is free at Podio.com.

Describe yourself in one sentence.

I’m an explorer thriving at the edges where the physical and digital worlds collide.

Give us examples of how Podio is used. What is the most bizarre use you have come across?

A company in Kuwait that sells and maintains swimming pools uses Podio to manage not just their sales department but also the service engineers that go out to hotels and homes to maintain the swimming pools they sell. It’s a great example of how a company that would never have found a tool for themselves without spending thousands of dollars now has a completely specialized solution in the form of a Podio app.

I also really like how it connects the people using Podio from their desks to the people that are almost only using Podio on their mobiles, it helps people work the way they want.

Tell us the Podio story. What made you and fellow co-founders decide to start working on Podio?

We started Podio more than four years ago in a basement, near to where we’re located now. We noticed that work was not in context or connected, and tools were either too lightweight or too heavyweight. The tools available weren’t flexible enough. We noticed the collaboration tools that people were using the most was email with document attachments. People were using Excel extensively for managing work and projects and email to distribute it.

We wanted to facilitate collaboration in a better way, without the clutter and email overload. We noticed a behaviour in the market and wanted to create a tool that could facilitate work in many forms and empower people to work the way they want to.

What sets Podio apart from the competition?

It’s the flexibility, and the all-in-one nature of Podio. A lot of new social software makes it easy to talk about work – few are tackling the processes, the workflow. For example if you are using Podio to track your sales funnel, you will customize Podio to fit exactly how your sales process should work by building your sales app. You will then interact around and track individual leads on their leads “page” inside Podio – all actions have context, the system of record, the social glue (commenting) and the revision history (how the lead evolved over time) is in one place, and available on your mobile as well.

What technologies have you used to build Podio? What was technically the most challenging part of developing Podio?

I would say the most challenging part was developing a product that is really flexible, that works like anyone wants to work. At the same time, we didn’t want to be a heavyweight IT system. It was a task to make a generic tool yet so flexible that people can get their work done. It’s much harder to build a simple platform that is so powerful yet flexible.

What’s the startup scene like in Copenhagen?

I think it’s much more happening now. There were not a lot of startups, or at least they weren’t identified as being startups when we started out. Now you have Everplaces, Tradeshift and tons of other successful startups based in Copenhagen.

Podio was acquired by Citrix Systems in April 2012. What were the motivations behind this decision?

We were approached by Citrix who had some interesting ideas. They had various really successful online products, leaders in video conferencing with GoToMeeting.com and file sharing with Sharefile.com, but didn’t have the facility to tie them together and add social collaboration to the mix. Bringing the two together enabled us to combine our experience with asynchronous social collaboration with the real-time collaboration experience of Citrix. We were able to do this without changing the product or the team dramatically, so in many ways it was an easy choice.

Copenhagen. San Francisco. How do you deal with the time difference?

With Podio. Seriously, I don’t understand how other people deal with it via email and discussing things back and forth, in unstructured documents. We only have a window of one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon so we wouldn’t be able to get any work done without Podio.

Last year Podio took on a $4m Series A round led by Denmark’s Sunstone Capital, expanded to the US, and was voted Europe’s Best Business Startup at the Europas. Podio is now used in more than 170 different countries, in seven languages. What would you say are the main three factors that have led Podio’s success?

What sets us apart is really that we empower people to work the way they want to and we have a team that is deeply dedicated to execute that vision. We introduced the first easy to use app builder where people, with no technical skills, can create their own workflows and apps, and we added mobile support for these user-built apps. No one else in the market has an offering like this.

Also Podio started off as a multilingual product. Most companies only bother with one language so end up one year or so down the road running into internationalization. We started out with multiple languages from day one and then we picked up on those countries that were embracing Podio the most and those countries with great growth opportunities. We also have more than 15 different nationalities in the team in Copenhagen.

Where do you see Podio in another 3 years time?

I see chat, live video and more social commenting merging together as one. I also see a lot of development in mobile, more than 30% of our mobile users use Podio on their mobile at least as much as they do on the web, so we see a change in how work is getting done. More and more people and businesses realize the value in working from anywhere with anyone on their preferred device, rather than having to go into the office. I see the demise of the physical office as one of the biggest changes to peoples lives in the affluent West the coming 10 years. Off course this is not just about technology, but technology is both enabling and amplifying the trend and Podio is very well positioned to support these new evolving ways of working.

Did you ever expect such great feedback and massive growth?

I would have to answer yes. Four years ago we put a massive poster on the wall in the basement, “We want to give back the power to manage work, to the people who do the job.”

We went out there saying we wanted to compete with Google and Microsoft and even email. We weren’t satisfied with only being popular in one segment. We really wanted to change how people worked. We’re happy it turned out this way and we managed to get so many people involved in the movement around how people work. We have a lot of work to do as there are still a lot of people working in an inefficient way.

Is there anything you would go back and do differently if you had the chance?

I think the biggest challenge for a start up is telling its story in a coherent way. We’ve been pretty good at storytelling and putting ourselves out there. We tried various ways of doing this but I do think that the best way to do this is to keep doing it yourself and avoid outsourcing in the early days.

What one piece of advice would you like to give to soon to be startup founders out there?

Start selling early. Don’t wait, go out early. Then you’ll start finding out about the pricing and demand in the market for your product.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

I really believe in building a product that people like and use and that is capable of actually changing how people work. I would always say I’m most excited about seeing people doing that. I’m most excited about developing a real time environment that works on any device, in real time and asynchronous. I’m also excited about the number of apps people are building and using. More than 2.6 million apps so far, that’s not bad, really.

Finished reading? Check out Podio!

Interview with Cathrine Andersen (CanvasDropr)

CanvasDropr is a visual collaborative web based application – a virtual meeting table.

I interviewed Cathrine Andersen, CanvasDropr co-founder to find out more. This is the hundred and thirty third in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Cathrine!

As you put it, CanvasDropr is like Google Docs for images and videos. Tell us more.

CanvasDropr is a visual collaboration tool. Imagine how many people and companies use text based co-editing and collaboration tools like Google Docs every day. Now think about many people work not only with text but also need to work real-time across distances with visuals such as images, videos, Photoshop files, etc. CanvasDropr makes that possible; a virtual meeting table where you can see everything your collaborators put on the ‘table’ and where everyone can comment, edit and draw, etc. at the same time.

What made you and co-founder, Christian Rasmussen, decide to start working on CanvasDropr?

Christian and I started working on CanvasDropr in the summer of 2011 – we were both done with university and doing consulting jobs. We were quite bored in our jobs and wanted to do something great. Christian had been working on a prototype for CanvasDropr for some months and asked me whether I was up for working with him on that project. I was psyched and we talked about everything for a couple of weeks, bought two tickets to go to Hong Kong and South Korea to start testing it around universities and schools. It’s safe to say that our core target group has changed a bit since then but this served as a great kick-off for CanvasDropr and a good place to test and get feedback.

How long have you known your co-founder Christian?

Christian and I have been friends for 6 or 7 years already and therefore we knew each other quite well before we started doing business together. This has been very valuable in this rollercoaster ride that we’ve been through together :)

With feedback from both consumers and businesses, you have undertaken a total redesign and rethought the concept and product over the last few months. How different is CanvasDropr from first launch?

CanvasDropr has changed A LOT in the past year. CanvasDropr started out as an easy way to exchange images and videos real-time in private or public. We tested the early alpha version around universities in Asia and that’s where we got our very early traction and feedback. Until December or so we were working with these initial users and everything we kept hearing was how this platform would be so useful as a collaboration platform for more professional use. After a while we simply had to react – companies were calling us up asking specifically if they could use it for real-time visual collaboration. Some of our very early thoughts included the potential use for both private, business and educational purposes but it was too broad to start out with.

From January we started working with a number of companies and included the feedback from the many early private users who had been testing the platform early on and released a complete make-over of CanvasDropr in late April 2012. With the new CanvasDropr it seems we’ve hit something that truly solves a pain for a lot of professional users and we’ve increased user signup and retention remarkably. It’s tough to change the product so drastically and to pivot in this way but for us it was certainly a great decision! Apart from hitting a sweet spot with business users, we’ve seen a rapid increase in the edu space; both K-12, post-graduate and among both teachers and students.

What was technically the most challenging part of developing CanvasDropr?

This question is best answered by Christian, Co-founder and CTO. One critical and complex part of CanvasDropr is the synchronous behaviour and the protocol to ensure this real-time experience. The team has been working non-stop to optimize the experience. Furthering the cartesian coordinate system built as the backbone of each canvas was a major challenge in the development of CanvasDropr. The team built CaRTS, the Cartesian Real-Time System, which is a unified generic communication protocol to ensure a solid and sound visual representation on each user’s screen.

What do you wish you’d have known 5 years ago that you know now?

5 years ago I was 19 years old and I had just started studying business administration. I didn’t know what a startup was, I didn’t know anything about the stuff we’ve been working with for the past year and a half. Looking back maybe a year from now there’s a lot of things that would have been useful to know. The most valuable lesson that we have learned is how important it is to work systematically with user feedback in order to avoid developing features in the wrong direction. When we started working with cohort charts, measuring use and implementing a feedback loop in the development process, we quadrupled user retention over 8 weeks.

Have you picked up any tips from other startup founders?

We’ve learnt a lot from Dropbox founder, Drew Houston and the experiences he’s shared (e.g. on Slideshare) about learning from users, measuring the right things, maximizing viral effects and much more.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

We just took the leap over the great pond and are currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area and are really excited about the new opportunities this (still temporary) move brings along.

Can you convince the reader to start using CanvasDropr in under 50 words?

If you ever needed a tool to show people something visually over a distance or work with people located in different places around the world on text, images or video then CanvasDropr is your new favorite tool.

Finished reading? Check out CanvasDropr!

Interview with Chuck Longanecker (Hello Bar)

Hello Bar is an unobtrusive yet engaging web toolbar that sits at the top of your website.

I interviewed Chuck Longanecker, Hello Bar founder to find out more. This is the hundred and thirtieth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Chuck!

How would you describe Hello Bar in under 50 words?

Hello Bar is a simple notification bar that sits on the top of your website and drives clicks to your most important content.

How would you describe yourself in one sentence?

Driven, optimistic and focused on having fun as a design entrepreneur.

Tell us how it all started – where did your vision for Hello Bar come from?

As a user experience company, we are always striving to make the web experience better. We asked ourselves, “What is the minimum goal of any website?” The answer that we came up with was “To deliver a simple message and call to action.”

Since all websites are different, we wanted to offer an unobtrusive, yet highly noticeable and consistent way to deliver a message and call to action. At the time, we really only had flash bars within web apps to confirm your changes were saved or to update you on downtime…etc. We figured this medium could be transferred to marketing websites and Hello Bar was born.

How long did it take to put together Hello Bar?

We built the first version of Hello Bar in 2 weeks. After that, we spent countless hours of design and scaling optimization.

What was technically the most challenging part of developing Hello Bar?

Figuring out how to use WordPress to build a website and optimizing both the bar serving platform and statistics once we started serving 20MM+ bars a day.

What made you sell Hello Bar in June 2012?

We never planned to sell Hello Bar, however, we started to receive offers and realized that an acquisition would fund bigger and more impactful projects for the design of the web.

You are founder of SlideDeck and digital-telepathy. Tell us more about these companies.

digital-telepathy is a user experience design company and the mothership for all our projects and UX clients. We employ about 20 designers and developers with the goal of improving the design of the web with our products and services. Most of the products come from the DT Labs division. We perform a lot of experiments with new ways to interact with web content and eventually build products from them.

SlideDeck was the first official product from DT Labs. We built SlideDeck to allow people to better tell their story on their website. It was one of the first sliders to be built and sold with jQuery and WordPress. We now have over 250,000 users and counting.

Do you think entrepreneurs are born or made?

Born and developed over time. It takes a bit of crazy and a lot of experience to be an entrepreneur. You are driven by something different than most people and I don’t think you can make that.

You could only afford to pay yourself $300 a month when you first started out. What kept you motivated?

I had some of the most fun in those times. I had good friends, lived in sunny San Diego and I got to make things up for a living. As they say, the best things in life are free.

You co-founded TEDxSanDiego. What is the most inspirational TED talk you have seen so far?

You can’t go wrong with any of Sir Ken Robinson’s talks. But I think my friend Simon Sinek’s WHY talk has had the most impact on me.

Do you have any new projects in the pipeline?

Always. We will continue to create simple website feature products and offer free versions here.

We are also working on evolving the way websites are designed so they are easier to build, use and work seamlessly on any device.

What do you wish you’d have known 5 years ago that you know now?

5 years ago, I wish I knew how to focus on the things that matter most. Life is 80% minutia, I think the secret is to focus on the things that make a difference.

What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?

Taking on projects just for the money. Whenever we closed on a large project without having a deep connection with the client, they have failed. We now work only on projects where we have a mutual respect and connection with the cause and client.

What web app or site could you not live without?

I love Quora. It’s much better than Googling for answers and is a blast to explore.

Name 3 trends that excite you.

1. Working within the z-axis of web content instead of opening new pages
2. An internet of things
3. Gesture based navigation

What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?

Not raising capital. We bootstrap everything, so we have to move slower and learn to work within constraints. However, this is also our strength since we are required to fail quickly and not waste time or energy on shiny objects.

What key goal have you yet to achieve?

I’d love to make a significant historic impact with the way that people interact with web content.

Which entrepreneurs do you most admire?

Those that are irreverent, built themselves up from nothing and invented new ways of doing things – Richard Branson, Henry Ford, Steve Jobs…etc.

What piece of advice would you give to someone starting up?

Always care about what you do and don’t be in a hurry to succeed.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

Moving from San Francisco back to San Diego to work directly with our team on our next product.

What’s next?

Evolving the way we create websites and allowing anyone to become a designer.

Finished reading? Check out Hello Bar!

Interview with Ben Chestnut (MailChimp)

MailChimp is a well known freemium email marketing service.

I interviewed Ben Chestnut, MailChimp co-founder and CEO to find out more. This is the hundred and eighteenth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Ben!

Describe MailChimp in under 50 words.

Monkeys send your email, so you don’t have to. Only they’re apes, not monkeys.

What were you doing before MailChimp?

I ran a web-dev agency called The Rocket Science Group. Pretty much sucked at it.

What made you decide to start working on MailChimp in 2001? Why did you wait until 2007 to dedicate yourself strictly to MailChimp?

Back in 2001, we had multiple customers who needed help sending their email newsletters. They were using really big, expensive, bloated software. We had some “scrap code” lying around from a previous business idea that failed (e-greetings), so we modified the code and turned it into an email newsletter app for them. We opened it up to the public, set up some Google Adwords, and basically forgot about it.

In 2005, we noticed it was a better business than our web-dev agency (it was growing faster than us humans, and its recurring revenue was basically keeping us afloat) so we decided to take all of 2006 to wind down the agency business and beef up MailChimp’s features. We officially hit the “reset button” in 2007 and became a product company.

How did you come up with the name? Does the chimp have a name?

The big, bloated email software back in 2001 required you to manually code your tracker links, your HTML emails, and all kinds of things. We thought it was silly to force users to do a bunch of repetitive coding that a monkey could do for you. We also had this philosophy when it came to our web design projects: “If all else fails, add a monkey. Clients love monkeys.” So we called it ChimpMail. Then we learned the domain was taken. So we called it MailChimp. One day, a customer asked us for our mascot’s name, so we came up with the most ridiculous one we could think of: Frederick von Chimpenheimer IV (aka “Freddie”). It’s amazing when I look back at Freddie’s history. We really didn’t spend that much time fostering his image or brand or anything. It was our customers and employees who brought him to life and gave him his personality.

Your non-traditional creative culture scared away a lot of typical corporate customers. Did this affect your growth at all?

Yep, it made our growth more fun.

Seriously, corporate customers are stodgy and high maintenance. We avoided them, because we always dealt with them back when we were a web-dev agency. We had our fill. The whole point of starting a software business, in our opinion, was to make scalable, self-serve apps. We felt like we shouldn’t need to talk to customers, nor should they waste any of their time talking to us (they should be spending their time smelling flowers, or hugging their mothers and stuff). The app should be so easy, they just get things done.

So that’s what we focused on: making it easy. Turns out a lot of those big corporate customers seem to like simplicity too, and are signing up to MailChimp despite the monkey business.

You often send customers gifts and handwritten postcards. How have you built customer loyalty?

The gifts we send are just fun. We know they’ll surprise the hell out of our customers, because nobody does that kinda stuff anymore. Plus, we’re an online-only company, right? So it’s ironic to send something hand-written and tangible. We love irony.

The goal isn’t to buy any kind of loyalty. I really don’t believe brand loyalty exists (anymore), and I don’t believe a company should waste any time trying to earn it. People want what’s best for them, and they can switch on a dime, because there’s always a new disruptor disrupting the last disruptor. So companies should just strive to keep changing and adapting to their customers’ needs.

I get the impression MailChimp is a fun place to work! How have you cultivated the culture?

I can’t say we really try to make it “fun” around here. Just “fulfilling.” I do my best to keep changing things up and to keep coming up with new, difficult, challenging projects that make your brain hurt. People who think that kind of work is fun tend to hang around longer. Kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy?

What does a typical day as CEO consist of?

On a good day, it consists of a lot of walking around to talk to different teams about what they’re working on. I can help connect ideas, plant new ideas, show people it’s okay to be weird, prevent meetings, etc.

On a bad day, it’s just me stuck at my computer.

MailChimp went ‘freemium’ in September 2009 and increased the number of paying clients by 150%, while growing profitability by 650% during its first year. With now over 2 million users, what would you say are the main factors that have led to MailChimp’s success?

I spoke about this recently.

1) Going freemium.

2) Being different. Different in our design, our name, our personality, our approach with customers, and just about everything. By being different, and therefore not dwelling on the competition or playing by their rules, it basically made us more creative and nimble.

Did you expect such massive growth and success?

Expect? No. But massive growth and success is kinda the whole point of starting a business, so I definitely dream about getting it one day. All. The. Time.

What are your thoughts on the future of email marketing?

Like everything else, it’ll change. The challenge is staying nimble enough to adapt.

Can you tell us about the data research you’re doing under EmailGenome.org, which you started to help improve the email ecosystem?

It’s been a challenge just wrangling the massive amounts of email data we have. But so far we’ve uncovered lots of awesomely cool things, along with some awesomely disturbing things. Like the predictability of reader engagement. And how we can find the optimal time to send an email to each recipient. And how there are networks of comment trolls, constantly signing up for certain types of lists. We can also uncover trends in email, like whether or not certain industries are dying. We’ve been able to tell when accounts import stolen lists, and identify where the lists originated from. We can tell who is human, and who is not. Perhaps the most interesting part about this “big data” initiative is the fact that it produces so many innovative product ideas, it’s hard to choose where to begin. The data keeps growing, so the possibilities (and scope) keep growing.

What do you wish you’d have known ten years ago that you know now?

That it takes about ten years before your company really hits its stride.

Where do you see MailChimp in another ten years time?

Not sure what business we’ll be in, but I’m pretty sure we’ll be coming to work in jet packs. Bet on it.

What is your favourite app or piece of software that helps you every day?

Hmm, that’s a hard one. Helpful and used every single day? Communication apps: Gmail, Apple Mail, iChat, and Jabber.

What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?

About 10 years ago, I put my life savings into Apple stock (when it was around $17 a share). It was a wild bet, but I kinda liked where Apple was going, and I thought OSX might be huge one day.

After a year of no change whatsoever in the stock price, I chickened out. I took some stupid advice I read in a book about “diversifying” and I traded it all in so I could spread it out into safer stocks. All of those stocks–every single one of them–flattened out or declined. Sigh. If I could go back in time, I would’ve put all that money into MailChimp instead. I can’t control someone’s stock price, but I can at least have some control over my own company.

What one piece of advice would you give to startup founders?

It’s hard. And just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does. There’ll be times when it just keeps getting worse and worse and worse. Meanwhile, everyone else around you is getting better and happier and richer. You’ll feel like the only one who hasn’t figured it out yet. You’re sinking, your life sucks, and your business isn’t going anywhere. Oh yeah, and you’re not getting any younger, either. And just when you think about finally throwing in the towel, and saying “f* all this!” that right there is the test that all founders are eventually faced with: when things get too hard, you decide to stay, or you decide to quit. My advice is this: Before you decide, look at all those great, successful businesses that inspired you to start your own. They stayed.

What’s the best prank someone has played on you at work?

Years ago, someone arranged for some accomplices to ring my landline, send an email, pop up a chat message, send me a TXT, and call my cell phone all at once. Everything just suddenly started beeping and buzzing all around me. I was paralyzed. I had no idea which to answer first. The sheer logistics of making this happen is pretty impressive, considering this was before telephony APIs.

What key goal have you yet to achieve?

Sadly, I’ve yet to finish a business plan.

What gives MailChimp a competitive advantage?

Our weirdness.

Finished reading? Check out MailChimp!

Interview with Daryl Bernstein (RightSignature)

RightSignature is a web-based application that allows users to sign documents using their mouse.

I interviewed Daryl Bernstein, RightSignature co-founder and CEO to find out more. This interview is the hundred and fourth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Daryl!

Give us the elevator pitch. How would you describe RightSignature in under 50 words?

RightSignature is a beautifully-designed, all-in-one solution for getting documents filled out and signed online. You can upload a document and send it for e-signature in seconds, and your recipients can apply a legally-binding, hand-drawn electronic signature in any web browser or on an iPad, iPhone, or Android device.

How does it actually work?

Users upload any document or grab a file from our integrations with Google Docs, Dropbox, Freshbooks, Evernote and other file sources. They enter the name and email of each signing party, place any required text fields or signature boxes on the document, and click Send. RightSignature has proprietary navigation tools to walk signers step-by-step through filling out and signing the document online

RightSignature also has a powerful feature called Reusable Templates, which are documents set up for frequent use. These can contain merge fields, to enable users to merge data into a document before sending it out for signature. Another powerful new feature is Online Forms, which enable users to embed the RightSignature online document signing experience inside their own websites.

You are a self-proclaimed ‘born entrepreneur’ who has been launching and running different businesses since you were was a kid. What sort of businesses did you dabble with? How successful were they?

Yes, I joke that I emerged from the womb with a business plan in hand. When I was a kid, I spent my time playing baseball and launching startups. I tried the proverbial lemonade stand and quickly realized I build bigger businesses by fulfilling more pressing pain points. In the span of a few years, I tested and shuttered a dozen startups. This was the rapid pivot (before pivot became a strategy).

When I was 12, I founded a company on my kitchen table that I grew into the largest distributor and producer of educational videos for the K-12 market. It was acquired by a publicly-traded education company when I was 24.

How did your interest and specialty in software-as-a-service develop?

I’m passionate about the online software revolution. Installing and maintaining desktop software is generally a pain in the a#@. Years ago, I recognized that if businesses could handle everything in a web browser and let other people worry about software maintenance, they would do it in a heartbeat. I began investing in business SaaS about ten years ago and continue to invest in and advise innovating SaaS startups today.

What was technically the most challenging part of developing RightSignature?

While RightSignature functions in a simple, beautiful way on the surface, there is a huge amount of technical complexity in developing and maintaining an online document system at scale. Most SaaS products, CRM being an example, are data repositories. In contrast, RightSignature processes user-uploaded documents and makes them viewable and actionable online. Like YouTube or even Facebook photos, whenever you’re taking in user-provided files in a variety of formats and trying to normalize them, there’s a significant technical challenge.

Are signatures obtained via RightSignature legally valid?

Yes, documents executed on RightSignature are legally binding in compliance with the US ESIGN Act, UETA, and international laws. Completed documents include a Signature Certificate, which includes signer authentication data and an audit log.

Do you have any new features in the pipeline?

Our pace of innovation is one of our greatest strengths, and we are always adding cutting-edge features to our service. In addition, we continually refine the user experience to ensure the process of sending and signing documents is as elegant and intuitive as it can be on all browsers and devices.

Where do you see RightSignature in 5 years time?

Our goal has always been to become a key tool for modern businesses. To run a company, you need an email provider, a website, a CRM program, accounting software, team collaboration software, file sharing, and online document signing. We will have accomplished what we set out to do if, in 5 years, for most businesses around the world that online document signing service is RightSignature.

Who would you say is your biggest competitor?

Our biggest competitor is paper. On any given day, most of the world’s contracts and forms are still printed, signed, and then faxed, scanned, or snail mailed.

When you’re not in the office, where can you be found?

Taking a walk or run on the beach. It’s where I clear my head and sort the dozens of priorities that we balance every day as a growing company.

With your background in startups, what one piece of advice would you give to someone starting up their own business?

Almost everyone I meet has a startup idea in the back of their head. They spend way too much time thinking about the risks and obstacles, talking to advisors, and pondering the right time to get started. Every business has challenges and pitfalls, and there is a lot you can’t know until you are in the game. My advice is start now (even if that means staying up really late after work), deal with the issues as they arise, and learn as you go. Starting a business is the adventure of a lifetime.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

After years of hard work, RightSignature has reached a point of ubiquity, with solo professionals, small businesses, and enterprises around the world using our service. Our next chapter is all about managing growth and scaling, which are exciting challenges that define truly great SaaS companies.

Can you convince the reader to start using RightSignature in under 50 words?

Sign up for a free trial of RightSignature to streamline your business, impress customers, reduce costs, and close deals faster. You can set up your frequently used documents as Reusable Templates or Online Forms, so getting NDA’s, new hire paperwork, and sales agreements signed becomes a one-minute task.

Finished reading? Check out RightSignature!

Interview with Brian Halligan (HubSpot)

HubSpot provides a marketing software platform for small and medium sized businesses.

I interviewed Brian Halligan, HubSpot co-founder and CEO to find out more. This interview is the ninety eighth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Brian for the interview!

How would you describe HubSpot in under 5 words?

All-in-one marketing software.

For those that don’t know, what is inbound marketing? How can marketers embrace inbound marketing? What is a great example of inbound marketing?

The way humans shop, learn, and spend their time has changed dramatically in the last few years in two important way. First, humans are sick-and-tired of being marketed to and are getting increasingly good at blocking marketing out through DVR’s spam protection, callerID, etc. Second, people spend tons of time in Google, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc versus watching TV, reading mail, and talking on the phone. …The idea behind inbound marketing is to transform the way you market to match the way modern humans live today by pulling them in versus interrupting them with emails, cold calls, ads, etc.

What were you doing before HubSpot? What inspired you decide to start working on HubSpot?

I was an Entrepreneur-In-Residence at a venture firm and my job was to go around to the portfolio companies and help them grow. All of the companies had a similar “marketing playbook”: hire a PR firm, buy Google Adwords, hire telesales reps, go to tradeshows, etc. My realization was that the playbook was broken — the market stopped responding to it.

While this was going on, Dharmesh Shah, my eventual co-founder was in school and spent a few hours a week blogging at OnStartups. His blog was getting 10x more interest than most of my venture backed startups! Wtf?!?!

That’s where we came up with the idea of helping folks shift from the traditional outbound marketing playbook to the new inbound marketing playbook which was better aligned with the way humans live, shop, learn, yada, yada.

Who are the other co-founders of Hubspot? How do you all complement each other skills-wise?

I met my cofounder, Dharmesh, while we were studying together at MIT. I think there are two things that have worked well for us. First, we have a complimentary skillset — I am from a sales-ish background and he is from a tech-ish background. Second, we get along and tend to see the world in a similar way.

Who came up with the name?

Dharmesh came up with the name. …The idea is we want businesses to turn their website into a “hub” on the internet that is pulling people in from Google, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. I also like the double entendre (Boston is the “hub” of the universe).

HubSpot has been named Inc.500 2nd Fastest growing software company and ranked #17 in the Forbes top 20 most promising companies. What are the main factors that have led to HubSpot’s growth and success?

Well, I think we saw the massive shift that needed to happen in marketing and it turned out we were vaguely right about it! After that, we worked hard to build a product that people love and a process to bring customers on board and delight them that scaled. …Frankly, there’s been no “one thing” — lots of little things done right and wrong along the way and lots of course corrections along the way.

You literally wrote the book on inbound marketing (you co-wrote ‘Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media and Blogs’). How much of a challenge was this? Any plans for more books?

This was actually a pretty big challenge — not for the faint of heart, it turns out. Every spare second of my life for about 4-5 months was consumed by the book.

We are working on another book now that is a broader and more modern version of the Inbound book. Pumped about it!

Last year you closed $32m in series D financing from Sequoia Capital, Google Ventures and Salesforce.com. Overall, HubSpot has raised more than $65m in venture capital. What is the secret to securing venture capital?

Having a hockey stick growth curve doesn’t hurt!

Congratulations on being awarded Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year in 2011. What appeals most about being your own boss?

Huh? I must have missed a memo. When you are a vp of something, you have one boss. When you are a CEO, you have a board. In my case, I have 6 bosses on my board! Smile.

If you had a time machine, is there anything you would go back and do differently?

This is going to sound weird, but I wish we actually had less access to capital in the early days. It would have forced us to be a bit more disciplined. It would have forced to solve everything with software versus relying a lot on humans.

Where do you see HubSpot in 5 years time?

I see it as a standalone company, not part of something bigger. When we started the company, we set out to build something that our grandkids would be proud of.

Are you able to keep a work-life balance?

Not really.

What book are you reading at the moment?

Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer.

Who would you say is your biggest competitor?

Point solutions: Google Analytics + Constant Contact + Wordpress + SEO consultant + Marketo + IT person.

Marketing hasn’t changed much over the last 50 years, but during the past 5 years it has changed a lot. What trends in marketing do you foresee in the next 5 years?

I kind of think the marketing industry today looks like the horse and buggy industry in 1912. Back then, there were 16,000 companies making horse shoes, saddles, whips, etc. There’s basically none left as that industry was wiped out by the auto industry. …The changes over the last 5 years are just the 1st inning.

What one piece of advice would you give to startup founders?

Go big or go home.

Finished reading? Check out HubSpot!

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?

Our main goal has always been to make it easy to quickly create web forms. So, JotForm is heavy on JavaScript. Our codebase is based on the Prototype library. We’ve always been happy with Prototype but we have recently also started experimenting with Backbone.js and used it on our Form Templates Gallery. The speed and ease of implementation was very impressive.

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!

Interview with Duane Jackson (KashFlow)

KashFlow is a web-based accounting application for SMEs with no accounting experience.

I interviewed Duane Jackson, KashFlow founder to find out more. This interview is the ninety third in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Duane for the interview!

How would you describe KashFlow in under 50 words?

KashFlow is web-based accounting software for business owners that are sick of spreadsheets but alienated by traditional accounting software.

There’s no accounting jargon, it’s integrated with lots of other web-based apps like MailChimp and Dropbox. It automates many tasks to make your business more efficient

It’s fair to say you have overcome a variety of setbacks in an extraordinary career so far. Tell us a bit about your background and how you came to start working on KashFlow.

I grew up in childrens homes in the East End of London and left school at 15 with no qualifications and spent a year with a ZX Spectrum and a programming book.

At 19 I was arrested in Atlanta, Georgia in possession of a lot of Class A drugs. The full story involves DEA agents, guns, lap dancers, a serial killer, big piles of cash, death threats and a 6 month police surveillance operation. But that’s one for another time!

I sometimes get asked how I “fell in to crime”. I didn’t fall into it, I’d grown up amongst it. The guys I’d grown up with were running a large drug trafficking operation and I got involved to make some quick cash without giving it much thought.

On my release from a 5 year prison sentence my girlfriend fell pregnant very quickly. I didn’t want to end up like the many men I’d seen in prison only seeing their kids for an hour or two a month and decided I needed to turn my life around.

With no chance of getting a job or any start-up finance from a bank, I turned to the Prince’s Trust for help.

You have met and been praised by Bill Gates for turning your life around. This must have been quite a moving moment?

It was quite a surreal day for sure. It was before Office Live and I was winding him up about Microsoft having not yet moved to the cloud. He assured me they would be.

It was also shortly before he stepped down as CEO at Microsoft. Maybe after meeting me he decided to give up? : )

Are you still involved with The Princes Trust?

I am still involved with the Prince’s Trust. I’d never have got the help I needed anywhere else so I’m eternally grateful to them.

I quite often attend small lunches for them with tech entrepreneurs that have had a big exit with a view to encouraging them to make a donation. So I get to meet very interesting people and occasionally it ends with a big fat cheque for the Trust.

You are the first accounting application in the world to be PayPal certified. How did your partnership with PayPal materialize?

When we first built our API we wanted to build a “proof of concept” app to show what could be done. So we wrote a small tool that connect to the PayPal API, extracted data and imported it into KashFlow to create your financial accounts. It worked but was a bit clunky.

PayPal got in touch and encouraged us to rebuild it within the KashFlow application and make it as easy to use as the rest of our software. They said they’d help promote it to their customers and gave us access to the techies at their end so we could get it done quickly.

PayPal are a great company to partner with and they continue to promote us to their business customers today.

KashFlow regularly beat established accounting software companies at software awards. Congratulations on your numerous awards! What advantages do you offer to customers over your competitors?

Very simply: software that makes sense to non-accountants.

Winning customer or product satisfaction awards when you’re up against the likes of Sage and Quickbooks is a bit like beating the Elephant Man in a beauty pageant.

You have published a lot on the ‘flaws’ of one of your competitors, Sage. They have even threatened you with legal action. To what extent has the controversy around KashFlow and Sage raised the profile of Kashflow?

The Sage battles have been enormous fun and really helped to raise our profile. The whole “David v Goliath” angle is a great way to get your name out there on a tight budget.

There’s an entertaining blog post from one of my friends who was around at the time it first kicked off that gives you an insight into how Sage reacted to us.

As well as lots of media coverage it means we’re also well regarded by city analysts. They often phone for my opinion on Sages’ latest SaaS-related comments and in return we get name-checked in various reports.

What do you wish you’d have known 6 years ago that you know now?

We went through an interesting time in 2011 and I learned a lot. A lot of time was spent in talks with other companies that wanted to acquire us.

I’d always thought there was a “proper” way to build and grow a business. That there are some sort of magical rules that MBAs and corporate know about that I didn’t.

The realisation from talking to these big companies is that there isn’t. The whole SaaS business model is so massively different from the old world of software. The old rules of business and business models just don’t apply.

When I sat and listened to what these companies thought we should be doing differently if they bought us I was amazed at the utter stupidity of some of what they wanted us to do.

So I wish I realised more clearly 6 years ago that I do actually know what’s best for my company and had more confidence in what I was doing then.

Where are you based and who is the team behind KashFlow?

We’re based at London Bridge. There are close to 30 of us now and everyone plays an important role. But there are four people who have been with us a very long time and have contributed lots.

Dominique joined us out of school at 16 at the time when I was first starting up. She was Employee #1. She wears many hats including office manager, running the support and admin teams and was my PA for a long time. She pretty much runs the business whilst I’m front and center taking all the credit.

Michelle built up our accountants channel which accounts for a large part of our userbase.

Sandile is our lead developer. Having a CEO who writes code isn’t fun for him. He spends more time correcting bugs in my code than he’d like.

And Tim is the unsung hero of the support team. As he’s been with us so long he knows a lot about the wide range of features and the inner workings of the system so can quickly resolve complicated problems that would take others a long time to figure out.

Where do you see KashFlow in another 6 years time?

I think we’ve cracked the basic “accounting software is full of jargon and incredibly dull” problem already. We’re gradually adding more and more automation and integrations to make small businesses more efficient.

I think as we move more and more in that direction then KashFlow will become a wider business software application as opposed to an accounting application that happens to be useful in other areas of a small business too.

If there was one thing you could go back and do differently what would it be?

I’d have built a marketing team much, much sooner.

We’ve done very little actual marketing. All of our growth came from word-of-mouth, PR and social media. Whilst that was great and gave us brilliant growth at a very low cost we could have grown much quicker with a more structured approach and actually spending money on marketing.

It’s wasn’t until early 2012 that we actually had people in the company whose sole focus is on marketing.

What one piece of advice would you give to someone looking to startup?

Don’t do it. It’s going to be hard thankless work for a long time. Working silly hours, having no social life. TechCrunch aren’t going to write about you and you’re not going to make any money. Ever.

And if they listen to me and decide not to do it then they weren’t meant to be entrepreneurs in the first place.

What are you most excited about at the moment?

We’ve got lots of platform work going on behind the scenes. We’re moving from what is mainly a classic asp (yuck) application to a pure Javascript and HTML5 client that plugs in to a new REST API.

This is going to be a massive improvement to the user experience, be beneficial to our development community and enable us to iterate much faster across multiple platforms.

There’s lot of other exciting commercial things in the pipeline, but it’s still the technology and product that excite me the most.

Can you convince the reader to start using KashFlow in under 50 words?

If they’re not convinced after reading all of the above then another 50 words won’t help. But maybe watching the video (voiced by Stephen Fry!) on our home page will.

Oh, and there’s a free trial.

Finished reading? Check out KashFlow!