Connect Spotlight: Typeform

Posted: 3 Sep 2020

Back in 2014 we led the seed round in the Barcelona-based Typeform, a small SaaS startup with big ambitions. Since then, our partner Pietro has been an active board member and a huge fan of the team and of the product.

In this month’s Connect Ventures Spotlight, Pietro caught up with Typeform co-founder David Okuniev, and company CEO, Joaquim “Kim” Lechà. They talked about Typeform’s origins, its organic and exponential growth, how it balances being both a product-led and customer-driven company, and how it views the future in our interview below.

Pietro: Typeform is an original product with a singular take on forms. David, you personally crafted Typeform, can you tell us about the company’s initial insights, and what guided your design principles?

David: Well, it was kind of an accident. Robert [Muñoz] and I were running two small web design agencies at the time. One of Robert’s clients, Roca — which is a bathroom company in Barcelona — wanted a contact form for their showroom gallery, so that when people left, they could leave their contact details. They came to us to build it, and instead of just building a normal contact form, we tried something a bit different, which was kind of inspired by the 80s film, War Games. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but there’s a part where Matthew Broderick interacts with a computer and it kind of feels like a conversation. So we thought, ‘Why can’t a form be like this? It asks you a question, you fill it in, and then you go onto the next step.’ That inspired us to create a similar kind of interface for Roca. From there, we thought, ‘Here’s an idea that we could maybe investigate more,’ and it eventually turned into Typeform.

Pietro: We’re so glad it did! Once you were there, how did you go about the launch and getting your first adopters?

David: It was quite a long process. After Roca, our first instinct was to sell this to our clients. We didn’t immediately think ‘startup!’ and pushing out to many people. Then we started building a backend; we started iterating on the form itself. After a few iterations, we realised this was going to be a product, and it wasn’t just for clients.

We spent about a year and a half working on it as a side project until we actually got something, a beta out the door. And all we did before the beta was a cool video, which we put out on a landing page. We got featured on a site called BetaList, and we got 6,000 pre-registrations for Typeform, just based on people seeing our video and leaving their email address. We launched the beta on 2nd February 2012, and people started building Typeforms. They started sharing those Typeforms with their audience. Because it said “powered by Typeform,” it would pique the interest of that audience, and they would click and sign up. That was really the marketing engine that started giving us traction. Nothing but product-led growth, essentially.

Pietro: Is that when you realised that Typeform was a product that people loved?

David: There were a few moments when Robert and I would look at each other and say ‘Shit, this might actually be really big.’ One was even before we launched, when we realised, ‘Wow, we’re doing something that like, everyone could use.’ There was one more distinctive moment, shortly after we launched, when we started to see the traction. We kind of laughed nervously, taking in the fact that this was going to be quite a force.

Pietro: I know that feeling, it is a combo of excitement and challenge! A key success factor of Typeform is putting the users at the centre. What did you do, and what do you do still, to nurture this love your customers show you?

David: We do many things; how we treat customers is very important to us. A good amount of our communication is also done through microcopy. We put a lot of effort into that. For example when GDPR was rolling out, we sent a really catchy title, approaching GDPR in a different way, and it got great feedback. We’ve always been focused on communicating with a human-first approach to better connect customers and people. Being customer-focused is in Typeform’s DNA, and we’re always looking for ways to do it more.

Pietro: Kim, how do you feel about that? Coming into the company later, were you already a fan?

Joaquim: I was, but I decided to start working at Typeform mainly because of David and Robert. I love startups in general. I love this feeling of discovery, of always pursuing the off-the-beaten path. I’ve worked in different types of e-commerce, in telecoms, in mobile games, in online classified ads, in other software, even in the healthcare industry, so when I was introduced to the opportunity at Typeform, at first, I didn’t know it that well. I thought to myself, ‘Bueno, forms, sign up forms, the usual stuff, no?’

Then I met David and Robert. I loved their motivation and their drive, and I started digging further into the product. I realised we were actually using Typeform at my former employer. I talked to some people there and understood that it was not only forms, it was an actual way of interacting with people we don’t know, and at scale. At my former employer, we had at one point 6–7 million monthly active users (MAUs) in just one of the two games we had published. Typeform offered a very different way, and a much better way, of interacting. So it was first the founders and later the product that attracted me to Typeform.

Pietro: Typeform is the ultimate example of a product-led growth SaaS company. Can you describe the in-product growth engine and how you have fuelled it?

Joaquim: Since its launch, Typeform has provided a delightful experience both to the job performer (our user) and to the respondent of forms.

It is this experience that incentivises people to talk about Typeform, to recommend it, and to use it themselves, creating a viral and organic growth loop. And that’s the dream, really: a product so great, you don’t even need to advertise it.

I believe that marketing acts as a booster to this. For about a year and a half now, we’ve been strengthening our different marketing and go-to-market strategies, but I still believe that the product is the key.

Pietro: How about the challenge/tension of being product-first vs customer first? How do you prioritise?

Joaquim: We are what I like to say both customer-driven and product-growth led. We’re customer-driven, because we believe that products are there to solve customers’ problems and/or create new opportunities for them. We strive to provide better value and innovation to the customer than competing products so that customers will choose us above others and stay with us for longer. We are also product-growth led because our products are the main reason users come to us and stay with us.

Pietro: Let’s chat about product culture. What would you say are the challenges of maintaining a strong product-centric culture that meet the business goals as the company scaled up? Both in the earlier stages for you David, and the later ones you’ve taken on, Kim? What are the challenges to deliver customer value at scale?

David: So when does the early stage become the late stage cause my answer might be different depending on that? [laughs] There’s also a middle stage, which is the hardest.

Pietro: Let’s talk about the middle stage then.

David: Like any company that grows rapidly, we had hypergrowth. We went from a few employees to 150 in the space of a very short time. We experienced massive growing pains in terms of aligning our culture, working well, setting the right expectations… For me personally, the biggest challenge was trying to wrestle back some of the cultural norms I had created myself. For example balancing the creation of a very human company, that really puts people first, with some pragmatism to keep things operational and thriving. People need to feel heard, but they also need direction. They need to be able to grow within an organisation. Many of these aspects came at a later stage for us. Those are some of the typical growing pains of trying to mature a company. All in all though, the Typeform of today is a Typeform that I enjoy much more. It is capable of really optimising on its core competence. For me, the future looks amazing right now — better than ever.

Joaquim: From my perspective, I agree and I see those circumstances and situations as quite normal. One of the things I like to say is, it’s actually the successful companies that are the most problematic ones. If you go from zero to one in ten years, you never have any stretch. But if you go from zero to ten in less than three years, a lot of stretch is created, all the time. So what worked yesterday may not be enough today.

Personally, while I’ve been in many different industries, I’ve actually had to learn a lot. And I’m still learning a lot. On one hand, this is what I really love; I believe that a life without learning is basically a boring life. But at the same time, it also creates some stress, because people have a lot of questions and I don’t always have sufficient answers.

In regards to the product, I believe that this opportunity that David is talking about is absolutely amazing because we have a broad vision paired with a product that is very versatile. People use Typeform in their personal life, in their educational life as a student or professors, and in their professional life. This versatility is wonderful because we can become that standard of online interaction at scale in an asynchronous world. In a world that could become even more impersonal, we can be that standard of interaction that is more personal, that actually brings people together.

Our biggest challenge now is how do we prioritise? And how do we do so while staying true to the company’s raison d’être?
We need a disciplined strategy and execution; we need to understand who we are trying to help most; and we need to be careful to grow the product in a way that doesn’t become too complex or difficult to use.

Pietro: Always the hardest task in product management, ruthless prioritisation. To finish, do you have any go-to podcasts, products, books or anything else, that you’re loving right now and want to share?

David: When it comes to podcasts, I tend to follow politics, ethics and philosophy, to be honest. I don’t actually follow a single product podcast! The only thing I do is look at products on Product Hunt.

Joaquim: I’m still schooling myself, so I tend to read and listen to a lot of different sources. What currently keeps me alert in terms of product is everything around Jobs to be Done methodologies, Agile development, and understanding the root causes of retention. I would love to find the sweet spot where our customers are so satisfied with us, they never have a reason to abandon us.

Pietro: Amen to that! Thank you so much for your time, David and Kim. David, we’re watching your progress on VideoAsk with a keen eye, and Joaquim, we look forward to seeing Typeform continue to grow under your capable leadership.