The Three Mistakes That Defined Our Company | Chris Savage | BoS USA 2014

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The old saying goes, “We all make mistakes, it’s what you learn from them that matters”. But what happens when these are good mistakes, bad mistakes, or even dangerous ones? Chris Savage discusses in this funny, but extremely informative BoS talk.

Video, AMA & Transcript Below

Video

 

 

Video Marketing Masterclass AMA

 

 

The 12th Business of Software Conference USA, October 1st-3rd 2018. Boston, MA.

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Transcript

Chris Savage: How’s it going sir? How are you guys doing? So I have come BoS – this is my fourth time. I am really excited to be here. It is my favorite conference. I think it is my favorite conference because it is the one place where if you go and talk to anybody here you are going to learn something.

I had trouble picking the mistakes to put in here because we have made a lot of mistakes at Wistia. But, some of them have been solved with just random conversations with people here in the hallway. So, I just say get out there and talk to everybody and learn as much as you can.

So, I am going to be talking to you about the three mistakes we have made as a business that really defined us. First, my name is Chris Savage, as Mark kindly said I am the CEO and cofounder of Wistia. Basically, we try to help people get more out of video on the web. My Twitter handle is @csavage, if you have questions throughout the talk feel free to shoot questions I’ll be sure to get back to everybody after.

So, I think to start. There are a lot of different mistakes that we have made and a lot of different types of mistakes. I like to break mistakes into three different kinds. I am going to break down these types of mistakes for you, then get into the ones that are most defining for us. Basically, the worst mistakes that we have made.

So, I think first, you have good mistakes.

Good mistakes might be like over hydrating, like my cofounder here is doing. Really what I mean, is that good mistakes are where you learn quickly that you made a mistake but you can also recover pretty quickly. An example that came to mind recently, and this is not a business defining mistake for us, is that we sent out this news letter two months ago. When we sent it out, you know we send these things out. It is digestive content. We do a lot of content marketing. It is a really great way to get people back to the site. We sent it out and thought it went pretty well. Then we started to receive messages like this, and I am going to read this to you. Basically, in our support inbox, somebody said, “If I am already on your email list, why must I sign in again to read an article on your email newsletter?” Waste of time for the viewer and very irritating. This does not make for a very good user experience.

OK, so we had done something wrong. What we had done is actually shared the admin link to our blog post, a really simple mistake. But this is a good mistake and not a business defining, horrible, terrible mistake, which we are going to get to those. So, the response here is pretty quick. We learned that we made a mistake pretty quickly. What we did is we sent an email back to everyone on the list, and basically what it said was, “I’m feeling pretty silly right now, because as you might have noticed, there was a broken link to our blog post about how to record audio in the email we just sent you. Sorry for wasting a click. Here is the real link. Hope you can forgive me.”

This was a nice little moment. What ended up happening, of course, is way more people came back and way more people saw the blog post. So, it is like a nice hack if you want to go try this. [Laughs] This is a good mistake. This is not business ending and it does not define who we are.

Then, you have bad mistakes.

Bad mistakes are not as fun. I have certainly made bad mistakes. I would define bad mistakes as where you learn quickly that you made the mistake but you recover very slowly. These mistakes hurt, but you can recover.

When I think about bad mistakes, I always think about Netflix. In July of 2011, Netflix introduced new pricing. What they did is they split their DVD subscription from their streaming subscription. So, instead of one price for both of those things it was going to be separate prices. If you wanted both you would have to spend more. People were pretty upset. Two months later they decided to introduce Qwikster. I don’t know if you guys remember this, but the concept here was the DVD business would be a separate business called Qwikster. Not a great name, I could go on about that for a while. So, this happens and it was definitely a bad mistake. If you look at the data, you can see that when the pricing change their stock price started to drop because the public had lost faith in them, and then when they launched Qwikster, people were like, “Oh, they really don’t know what they are doing.”

[Laughs] Personally, I was a huge Netflix fan and I was so excited and proud that they disrupted Blockbuster, but when the stock started dropping, I bought some of it at $180 a share, and then it kept dropping. It got to $120 a share and I was like, “I’ll buy more. This is great.” These guys are going to recover; this is going to be the perfect story for me. Then, the next month, they rewound this plan. The next month they said, “We are not going to do this separate thing. You wanted everything together. DVD’s are for all the things that are rare and hard to get, streaming is for instantaneous feedback”. Then, they recovered. Took a long time, but I think when we think of Netflix today, we think of “House of Cards”. We think about how they have the next season of “The Killing”. We think about the fact that they have all these amazing shows and they are kind of revered. Now, personally I held onto those shares for about a year. This was October 2012. [Laughs] File that under bad mistakes. I was just like, “The public doesn’t understand! They don’t get it!” But they did, and it came back.

So, what I want to talk to you about today and really the crux of this talk is about dangerous mistakes.

Dangerous mistakes are mistakes where you learn very slowly that you made the mistake and for that reason, you recover very slowly. Usually, when you make a dangerous mistake, you feel really good. You feel like you made the best decision of your life. I have three of those for you that we made that we somehow have recovered from to some degree.

So, the first dangerous mistake that I want to cover is hiding who we were. In 2008, things are going OK for Wistia. This is our front page, and we are selling to businesses. Don’t laugh, Patrick. So, we are trying to be in one word: Professional. I think this site looks pretty professional. You have a tagline, “Video at work”. You have video sharing for your team, company and customers. You have got sales and marketing. You have training. You have trials. You have an 800 number, all this stuff. We are trying to be as professional as we can be, because we want businesses to trust us.

This is what our team page looked like at the time. I would say in one word what this team page looks like: Legitimate. This is a legitimate team page. Everything about this team page, everything that we had done, was set up so that we could be professional. My bio reads, “Chris leads Wistia with strategy and business development efforts, blah, blah blah”. I was basically blogging at this time, but we will not put that on here. This was my actual business card from that time. We had a fax number, which I thought would be professional, obviously different than an 800 number. My email address was csavage@wistia.com. Why was it csavage@wistia.com? I wanted to imply that there was so many Chris’ that I couldn’t get csavage@wistia.com. The wild thing was this was working.

Basically, we thought that were definitely making the right decision and there was no way we were making a mistake. So, Cushman & Wakefield signed up, they are a huge real-estate firm signed up. HBO did not sign up but they took us seriously, we went to their offices, we met with their head of production. I saw actors in their off Susan [xx]. It was crazy. It felt really good.

Then, Cirque Du Soleil became a customer. At this time, when someone saw all the stuff that Wistia was doing, I wanted them all to imagine that it was this. A fucking office park. I thought this was the coolest thing in the world. I was like, “You’re going to see that stuff and you’re going to think that we are so legit that we are an office park! You are going to have to drive up and there is a receptionist and there is all this stuff, and this is why people are trusting us!” The reality is it looked like this. [Laughs]. This is Brendon, my cofounder in our office AKA his bedroom doing everything and running everything. We were trying to present this very professional and very legitimate view to the world, and I really thought that was the thing to build trust.

We were having meetings at the time. Actually, this is a selfie after we closed our first deal that I just felt like I should share with you guys, because this is a pre-iPhone selfie. With a real camera outside the window of a care. We were feeling pretty good about this strategy and we were feeling pretty legitimate. One thing I want you to notice on this page is that it says, “Management”. The reason it says management is because there were four people on this page and there were four people in the company. Obviously, what we are trying to do is to make it look like there are a ton of employees who are not important enough to be on here, only management is on here.[Laughs]

Basically, I felt like this was working. Then, we hired two more people five years in. Five years. We are talking about dangerous mistakes, things go for a long time, and five years in we hired two more people. I started to feel kind of bad. I started to feel bad because there are these two other guys who are putting their blood and their sweat and their tears into building this company, and they are not on this team page. This is the one thing that I can give them. It is the only thing I can give. We also figured no one is really looking at this team page, so we might as well change it. I want to show you guys what we changed our team page to. A little different. This is what it looks like when you have six people who are trying to look like bad asses. [Laughs] We basically took photos in front of our white board. I obviously look amazing, right there in the middle, 50 pounds heavier, no big deal. We have the full bios for everybody. We are still trying to be professional. We figured at this point no one is really paying attention to our team page so what does this matter?

Brendon my cofounder, wanted to do something for Jeff. Jeff is the only guy smiling here and he is still the guy smiling the most at the office. But, Jeff had just joined us and it was Jeff’s birthday. He wanted to do something for Jeff. What he did, is he made it so that if you typed, “Dance”, on this page, something would happen. Do you guys want to see what that thing is? OK, cool. I hope so because we are going to look at it.

[Laughs, background music] We will just let this run for a few more seconds. OK, there we go. So, basically, what had we done? We had built a team page where if you typed, “dance”, it would play “Girl talk” for nine minutes. [Laughs]. We had two images of each person, and that was it. It was really just for us and it was for fun. So, we decided to share this in the way that we shared all the other content before, on Twitter, Facebook, Hacker News, and everything. Nothing before had ever taken off, and we put this on Hacker News and it took off. It took off on Twitter and all these different places. The first time we had ever been honest about who is on the team, and we looked like we didn’t know what we were doing and that we were young, not professional, and we were probably not in an office park, things started to come in.

We have these comments up here. You don’t have to read everything; I’ll just pick the comments for you. Top comment, “Weird, for one, how many negative comments you are getting. I personally love it. It’s weird, energizing, and the awkwardness energy is fun.” OK, OK. Next one down, “Too many chiefs that just went craftsmen.” This definitely rings a bell. It is such a shame for startups to enterprise their job roles. That hit close to home. There is a number of other comments about how I had not shaved, I was unprofessional, and not to be trusted. Those were all the fears that I had, had all come true in this moment.

Then, what happened is two weeks later, which was the time period of our free-trials, the traffic actually converted. This was crazy. The traffic that came in on our team page, that had nothing to do with business video hosting and business tools and all this stuff, was the time that we had been the least professional looking by a long shot, was the first time that we had brought in a lot of traffic and converted into real paying customers.

What I learned, is that being authentic, just like Dave in this photo who is on our team, being authentic is the thing that’s going to create trust. That whole time we were trying to be professional, legitimate, and trying to create trust, I actually think if you look at this site that it is pretty clear we are not a big company. It is pretty clear that we are trying to be big. The second we were honest about who we are, it changed everything.

Now, if you go to our website you’ll notice that all of our marketing has been defined by this. Not entirely, but defined by this. The front page is an auto-playing video. It has everyone on the team in it, or most of the people on the team. If you go to our “Features” page, you are going to see people presenting the product that are also actually team members. Some people will say to me that this looks big. There is like fifteen people in this video right now out of 33. Most people say, “You guys are so huge! I can’t believe how much you have grown!” People have seen us grow from like six people to 33. Another interesting thing that has happened with this, the second that people knew we were small; they stopped complaining about how long it was taking to get back to them for support. They were like, “Good on you! Really fast, I really appreciate that.” I was like, “This is way easier!” My God. Why didn’t we do this earlier? Only five years of making a dangerous mistake.

Then, if you go to our blog, I think this is another nice example. This is Merrill who is a writer on our team. If you go through and look at the content, you’ll see that there are illustrations of people on the team in this particular post. It is Chris Lavigne and Merrill. You are going to see bizarre and goofy videos of things that we actually do at the office. We just somehow find a way to put this stuff in there because what we find is that the more texture, personality, and the more we are ourselves, the more that people build connections with us.

So, I think this is very similar to what lots of big companies do. This is Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and CEO of SpaceX. I certainly look up to this guy. I think his story is incredible. I think when Tesla News comes out you sort of look at it through the Elon Musk lens. Last week, Apple’s announcement. Everyone was saying, “How is Tim Cook going to stack up to Steve Jobs? What’s going to be different? Is the watch going to be amazing, or is it not? Is it going to be incremental like Jobs never would have done this”? The thing about this is big companies know this and they spend a huge amount of money and time and effort on the PR to get people to build a connection with one person.

Turns out, it is way easier to do when you are small. Everyone wants to root for, that’s basically what I learned. When we were honest about the fact that we were small, people started rooting for us. Before that, they were complaining. Of course, there were images of me in the wild at this time. If you were to go and search for Chris Savage at Wistia, you might find my Facebook page. You might be wondering, “How did I present myself at this time?” This is boss. I might as well show it. This is my actual Facebook photo from when we first began. [Laughs] I was concerned about this of course. I called up a friend who was a photographer and said, “We have to take the most baller photo that you have ever taken”. He said, “I know exactly what we are going to do. We are going to MIT; there is a bridge with graffiti. It is where all the bands go.” I said, “Yes!”

So, we went there and I popped that collar and I felt amazing. I was like, “Oh yeah! I am so professional, I am so bad ass, and this is what business looks like”. I will also say that this particular photo, when I was looking for it I found it in my iPhoto in an event labeled, “Baller”. [Laughs]. So, there’s that. We were lucky enough at one point to be featured in a magazine, and we still had not really shown anybody who we were. So, they wanted Brendon and me to go take photos. I called up the same photographer and told him that we had to be bad ass again. We came up with this guy. This is us at MGH in front of a train. No big deal. No smiles here, absolutely none, because this is business. So, dangerous mistake number one, for us it lasted five years, please don’t hide who you are. I realize that there are going to be enterprise companies that are here who are worried about this. Everyone wants to make a connection with an individual; I think it is really easy to do this.

The second dangerous mistake was not being our own customer. A few years’ later things are going pretty well. This is a shot of the team, well three of us, at the bar because we were celebrating obviously, no big deal. At this time, we had hundreds of paying customers, we had a very low churn rate. We also had people using Wistia for all different types of things like training, collaboration, sales, marketing, and all this stuff. I was feeling pretty good. I was like, “OK, we can make a pretty great product. People like this product”. The numbers said that and the user research said that this product was good to me. We got a new office. That’s Lenny our office dog. I was really proud of this office and felt like getting out there. Skylight down the middle. When you have a videographer on your team you end up with amazing photos of everything, that’s why there are no stock photos in this. It is all people in our office in this and it is kind of fun.

It’s not made of cheese. It’s made of wood, reclaimed barn wood. [Laughs]. This was our website at that time. We started to use video a little bit. You’ll notice that last page we did not use video. I made this video, so I am going to play it. I am not going to let you listen to my bizarre whispery voice from this period of time. It is basically just a screen cast.

Wistia has video hosting and video hosting analytics. I felt like we were using the product. We were doing it justice. We had an odd aspect ratio on the site, there was a button over the video, the player was really clean with no ads, and all that stuff. We felt like we were Wistia customers the same way that the people around us were Wistia customers, so we felt good. We felt like we understood the product.

We were focused on other things. We were focused, not on the product, but other things like advertising. This is advertising that we made at the time. I kind of thought I was Don Draper for a little bit there. I was not, but it was very beautiful obviously. This is a blog post at that time before we really figured out content marketing. “8 Reasons to Choose Professional Video Hosting” sounds like something that wants to put me to sleep. But, we were trying this stuff and we thought that is what we were supposed to be doing. We thought that what we were supposed to be doing was trying the traditional marketing, all the traditional stuff to get the word out there, all the traditional PR, we hired a PR firm, we did all of that stuff.

Then something funny happened. Jeff, the smiley guy on the team, his friend Chris was a video producer. Chris saw what we were doing and was like, “Hey you guys, I think you should maybe make more videos and you should be in them”. I was sold on that. I learned that. But I was not sold on making a video. I was not sold on doing a lot of video marketing. I thought we were already doing a lot of video marketing. I thought that’s what was happening on the front page. Chris was going to come in and I said, “I’m not going to pay you”. He said, “All right. I am going to come in and I’ll shoot something for free just to prove it to you.” Now, I’m going to show you guys this video because it definitely changed how we think.

[Music and video playing] I liked that video, obviously, it was kind of fun. We took the video and we shared it out. Of course, the same thing that happened with the team page happened, it took off. People shared it all over the place. The funny thing about this is there was no forethought in this video. Obviously, Chris came in and he shot it. But we didn’t plan it out and I didn’t even want him to do it. That is why we were actually working. The only thing that’s in there that we thought was cool was the hockey stick part which is clearly the worst part of that video. People were like, “Seriously? A hockey stick with revenues?” I was like, “Yes, I know. I am sorry.”

It started to make us think that maybe we should actually be using videos as part of our marketing. How long into building videos is this? Six years, approximately. Five and a half years into building the business for content, Wistia has been around for 8 and a half years. So it is pretty late in for a video marketing company to think about marketing itself with video. But, I am here to admit my mistakes. I am here to admit my dangerous mistakes.

So what we did is we said, “OK, let’s build a landing page and instead of just trying to get people to sign up for a webinar or something like that, we’ll record five or six videos in a video series. People want to watch videos and we’ll put it behind this gate.” So, we did that. About 10% of the people that came to this page signed up, this was great. We had never gotten any conversional rate like that before. You couldn’t even see the video, until we thought, “Aha! Video is kind of tempting; maybe we could do something even better”. So, we took those six videos and we put them in a playlist and we put an email capture form on top of it. This was not an easy task for us to do. The marketing team was one person at the time. We had one designer. We needed an engineer to help us. We had to justify this as an offshoot, totally custom thing. We did that. Now, 30% of people that came to this page signed up. We were like, “OK, this is great”.

We started using it around our market. We started making videos, putting an email capture form over it, and putting it around a blog post and linking it to things. But, every time we were doing custom work. Eventually, we decided to give it a name, we’ll call it “Turnstile”, and we will deliver our product. The wild thing was, of course, and I didn’t think that this was going to be a big deal; I just assumed that no one else cared about this, but it was the first time that we had actually been using our product to market with video. It was the first time. What happened was it just took off. People loved it. People would say to me, “That’s the first time I understood why Wistia exists. You’re doing totally different things. This is really easy.” All we were trying to do was just save ourselves time.

Then it really hit me that I had been looking at these numbers for so long. But, we weren’t actually being our own customer. We thought that our product was great because we had really low turn and our monthly numbers were going up. All of this stuff and we actually ignored our product. You know, the early days we had relationships with our customers. We were trying to help them out. This has become a guiding principle of what we do now, and a guiding principle of how we think about the product is how we would use it.

An example here is, as we started using more video we started making more mistakes in video. We would sometimes have a music track be listed too high, hard to hear the vocals, we might screw up a logo, and we might screw up a title for someone that we had interviewed for something. So we were going around our product, logging directly into a CDM and replacing video files manually. We were doing this relatively consistently, enough so that it was annoying. We were like, “Well how much work would it be to put this in the product?”

Turns out that it was literally one day of work. All right. We have this video guy that we are working with. We are making videos to promote things. How long would it take us to make a video to promote this thing? Well, about a day. So, two days time we made this video. I am going to show it to you guys.

[Video plays] “And that’s why video is an amazing marketing tool! Everyone makes mistakes. That’s why we now allow you to replace your video, even after it is embedded. That’s why video is an amazing marketing tool!” [Video ends] So what happened? We put it out there and people loved it. Something also happened that never occurred to me. You can’t even replace a video on YouTube because if a video gets popular, they don’t want popular videos that people are constantly changing out. So, we had found this little edge case that we thought was only for us and no one had ever asked about. The second that we were our own customer and thought about it like that, we got this into the product, and again it took off.

So we started making more videos to promote ourselves. We started using the product more and more and more. This video I am not going to show you but I am really proud of it. If you want to go see it, it’s basically how to build a lighting kit for less than 100 bucks. It is basically stuff like this, it would take off, and we would put it on our blog. But, then it would get lost. It would disappear into the blog. So, we had an idea, a very simple idea. We will build a learning center on our site, and that learning center will automatically pull in videos from an account. So we basically built something on our API’s, and one person who has no technical coding experience whatsoever, can upload a video into a normal Wistia account and it shows up in this really nice interface. It has really nice descriptions and it’s indexed, and all this stuff.

Now what we are looking at is, “Should we turn this into a product for our customers?”

The question we keep asking ourselves is, “How would we use it? Are we evolving? Is this stuff working?” This is the defining question that comes up when we talk about product. I am not trying to say that you shouldn’t do user research, and I am not trying to say you shouldn’t figure out what the job to be done is. All of that stuff is extremely helpful; I am just telling you that every time we have built something that we don’t actually use as a customer, it starts to not be as good. It starts to fall apart a little bit. When we find things that are a quarter of our business, we make them really great. So, just one more great transition. There we go.

Dangerous mistake number two is not being our own customer. So, number 3 was giving up the customer relationship. The team has grown at this point. We’re in a new office a couple of years later. I wanted to have one mistake in here that was very recent, and I’m not even sure exactly how things are going to end up from. We have grown. The nice thing about growing is that you get to have those problems that you dream of, like, “If we could just get a small percentage of people to do something, the revenue we could generate would be incredible!”

So, you start considering things that you weren’t considering before. We started considering things about our marketing; we are using video as our main driver of marketing at this point. Content is huge for us. Using our product and not hiding ourselves, we kind of figured this stuff out. One of those things that we had been using since the very early days is called, “White labeling”.

From the very beginning, people would find us and say, “I have never heard of Wistia before, but this is great. I want to tell my friends. But the thing is I want to get rid of this little Wistia guy at the bottom. I want to get rid of the little guy. I want to get rid of the Wistia guy in the player. I want no Wistia URL’s; I just want to white label it.”

They wanted to white label it so they could resell it. We always said, “No”. Then we said, “Our product is good enough. Yes, let’s do this.”

So about a year ago we launched this reseller program that allowed people to buy Wistia in a white labeled way and sell it to other people. The thing about it is that it worked. It felt really good. This is definitely a dangerous mistake, because I was over the moon when we launched this thing. We shared it out to a very small group of people, like 200 email addresses, and it took off on Twitter. Everyone was like, “Oh my God, the Wistia agency thing. It is incredible.”

People were telling each other to sign up for the program. It dwarfed our revenue expectations. Just dwarfed them. It felt really good. Then six to eight month later it started to fill kind of weird. It started to feel a little weird. There was not one thing that helped me realize that we were making a dangerous mistake here, but it was kind of a collection of bizarre things that have now kind of coalesced into what the problem was.

The first of them was that way little customers were much more frustrated with the same product. The resellers were more frustrated and their clients were more frustrated. We were getting support requests through them, and the support requests were about the same thing, but they were way more upset. It was kind of weird. You’re thinking, “Well this is the same product. We have lots of people using it; it’s out in the world. Why would you have a problem with this? This is the thing that people are paying for.”

But they were definitely more frustrated and the support that we were trying to help the resellers to do was taking longer to do. The second thing is that they really did not like change. This is a little tangent. We introduced this thing called “customize” last year. It changed the paradigm of how our application works. It used to be that you would upload a video, it would convert, and when you went to embed it you would change the color on the player. You would add a call to action. At this point you were turn style and social buttons. We changed things so that instead of embedding being the time when you are customizing, you could change things before you embed. So, you could upload and customize. The reason this is important is that you could send people to your Wistia page, and if you did change your customizations, they would flow through to wherever they were embedded. This is way better for everybody. We were really excited about it because it was hard to prioritize this. We went to the resellers that were white labeling and they said, “We don’t want it. We don’t want this. Why change it? The product is great.”

They didn’t like change because they had to explain change. They didn’t understand it. The long term ramifications were different. I should also mention at this point, this is not a resell problem; this is our problem that we created. We have many people that resell this product and they don’t do it in a white labeled way, and they have just always done it. It’s not even reselling; they just buy it for clients are what I mean. In any case, we did this, and they did not like change. What we finally came coalescing in is that we had removed the relationship of the customer from the overall experience. We had taken the relationship away. I am going to show you what I mean.

What’s this? It’s a happy meal, delicious. I had two of these today. [Laughs] I didn’t. But, I feel really good when I think about a happy meal. I feel pretty great. What we did is we basically took this experience, if you want to use this as a metaphor for the Wistia experience, we took this happy little experience, and we just broke it down to a shitty burger. I am not trying to say that Wistia is a shitty product; I don’t think that it is, but I think that without a lot of other stuff, it’s not as good. If you remove the Play Place it’s not as fun. The Play Place is free, but it’s not as fun. If you remove Ronald McDonald, well he’s creepy, but lots of people like him. If you remove the place for the adults to walk in and buy whatever they want, and the arches that they know well, and definitely if you remove that drive through, you are in trouble. The thing about all this stuff is free. It is just relationship stuff. They don’t have to give you the toy. They don’t have to put it in the fun box. They don’t have to have the drive through.

It started to hit us like, “Oh my God, we took the product away from our own support, which people loved because we cared very deeply about it, we took it away from the learning center, we took the blog away, the Twitter social presents, and all of the stuff. All of the relationship building stuff, and all the stuff about adding personality, we took it away. We had farmed out the most important part. We had farmed out the customer relationship. This one really sucks. This is pretty recent; this is kind of an open wound a little bit. We have made some changes. This is definitely defining our future and it is starting to define our recent past.

One of the things that we did after this is we decided to run a conference. Conference call “Wistia Fest”. We did this in May. It was our first conference ever, there were 200 people. I was terrified and excited. The cool thing was, we were not just able to have people build a relationship with us, and we were able to have people build a relationship with each other.

It was one of those things that we realized is that people value very deeply at what we do at Wistia and we wanted to extend that relationship building. The other thing that we did is that we built this community. We have a community now where you can go and ask production questions. There is a ton of in house video producers on here. Basically, any question about video you have you can find and you don’t have to rely on us or content marketing to solve those problems for you.

I think that we all make dangerous mistakes. I certainly have made many of them. I am probably making one right now that I don’t know about, like my fly being down. We all make dangerous mistakes. I think that key is that you can’t forget to question yourself. When you are making a decision and you feel really good, you should ask yourself, “Am I sure this is not a dangerous mistake? Am I sure that I am not pretending to be something big, and I am actually throwing away the trust that I could build up.”

I would also like to say thank you guys so much. I really appreciate it. Even having this talk internally at Wistia, I gave it to the team yesterday, is causing us to talk more about mistakes we are making and help us reflect on them. I hope it does the same thing for you guys, so thank you so much. [Applause]

The 12th Business of Software Conference USA, October 1st-3rd 2018. Boston, MA.

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Q&A

Q1: Hi there, I’m Luke from Fog Creek. I wanted to ask about Wistia Fest. One my colleagues went. Can you talk about the mindset that you went into to build that conference? Was it always about video or was it a lot about marketing? Did you take away any lessons from the customers that came to visit you?

Chris Savage: I think the thing that we did to make it really different is that we hosted it three blocks from our office. The main talks were at the Meridian Hotel on Cambridge, and then we would walk everyone back to our office for the parties. Then, we had a day of workshops that were also in the office. What a lot of people told me was like being in the space and asking questions in the space was really different. Being in the actual production studio was really different. Our goal was honestly; I felt more like I learned more from the people that came to that then from the speakers. We have a group of people that are using us, that don’t usually get the chance to talk to each other. We just wanted to bring those people together.

Q2: Hi. With the white label stuff, is there a solution that doesn’t involve…its making money. Do you have plans to turn that chip? Campaign Monitor…

Chris Savage: …absolutely. We have thought a lot about it. Campaign Monitor definitely helped us and inspired this. I think the thing for us is we have gotten good at the relationship building stuff, and we realized that to do white labeling right we probably have to build a separate group within the company. People that are just dedicated to that and solely focused on that. I think you can definitely make that work, I think the thing is that even at 33 people we are too small. In our case, we couldn’t pull it off. When I think about future opportunities and relationships, what are the things that are going to play well together in the Wistia ecosystem? So, people know it’s Wistia, it’s not a bad thing to be interconnected, and what are the things that should be totally separate, like maybe a completely different brand. We are starting to consider some of that stuff.

Q3: At the beginning you said, “Video for Work”, and then toward the end it seemed like you were more “Video for Marketing”. Did you narrow your marketing focus? Do you still have a lot of customers using Wistia for all kinds of different things, or has it coalesced into more similar things?

Chris Savage: OK. That is an amazing question because it has a really boss-centric answer. Three years ago in 2011 I came to Business of Software Conference and I met Mike McDermott the CEO of Fresh Books. He was sitting in the lobby and I just went up to him and said, “Hey, I have a challenge that I am dealing with right now.” The challenge is that we have all these different customers that are using Wistia. We have customers that are using Wistia for sales, like sales teams that are sending videos to see if people are watching them. We have videos that people are using for marketing so they are putting it on their website to try to engage more. We have people that are using it for training, private sharing, and collaboration. What should we do? I can’t pick one of these things. These customers are using it for all this stuff, I can’t let them go. He said, “You just have to pick the best one, and guess what, if you’re still the best product for the other people, they will still use it, even though you don’t say that”.

We knew marketing was the thing for us. We knew that we should be focusing on that, we were just afraid of it. We just changed course and said, “All right. We are going to focus on marketing.” The wild thing is that we still get a ton of customers that are video production companies that use us for collaboration for in progress work. We still get people that use Wistia that sign up today for training at big companies. It turns out, that if you have a solution that is really good for somebody, they don’t really care what you say.

If you look at how Mail Chimp has changed their messaging, there are a lot of times where Mail Chimp says, “Send easy emails”. That’s all it says. The simplest tagline in the world on their site. I noticed the reason I was telling people to use Mail Chimp in the early days is because the brand is really fun, they have really great and easy toolset, it’s the right price, and all of this other stuff. Then I was like, “Wait a second. The word of mouth just circumvents that”.

So, changing the framing on the site is more about what we want someone to see the first time they come and touch things. Actually, Mark and I were talking about this in all of the mistakes that we had made. That was one that we had almost put in there. We didn’t.

Q5: Real quickly, what would you say are the three biggest successes of the company?

Chris Savage: Oh dear God. I would say probably for me, starting really young. We were 22 when we started and a year out of school. We didn’t know what we were doing and we were naive enough to start. I thought that I was going to be rich in eight months. I was certain. Or I would be out of money. Then, two years later I was like, “Definitely not rich. Definitely not living in Cambridge.” Whole other story. I think we started so young and naïve. I think being naïve was really helpful for us. I think that figuring out how to use the product and actually being a real customer, when I go back and look, was a defining moment for us. One of the biggest successes we have had is evangelizing that video marketing can work on your site. You can control the whole experience and that is part of what matters.

I would say the third is we just built a team that is really strong. We made it really hard to join Wistia. When we were at 14 people or so, we started talking about culture a lot. It was because some people were not great culture fits. I think we got kind of lucky that we got to 10 people when were at that level. Now, I am extremely proud of our hiring, on boarding, and just the culture of the company.

Q6: Matt. I love your product; we use it all the time for our marketing. I really identified with your talk in terms of perception of the company. We had a long road as well from going from B to C, C to B, and enterprise. When you are small, you think a lot about those perceptions. When you guys sell, we are subscribers I should know this, but we are small. You had a lot of big names on there. What is the perception of your company? Who are you selling to in those huge organizations? How do you manage that? What was said earlier, I think it was Scott that said it, when companies see small teams or small startups, risk is a huge deal.

Chris Savage: Yeah. A huge deal.

Q6: Venture finding helps? Being strong and stable helps. How did you resolve that anxiety?

Chris Savage: Yeah. Sure. For us, at one point we just realized that for one we are not venture funded. Companies growing. The way that we have resolved it is that really have focused on people who are the happiest and best customers for us, which really mostly small and medium sized groups and not just small and medium sized businesses. There are a lot of small and medium sized groups in big companies. In the early days, those first few customers were big enterprises. Now, there are tons of companies that sign up that are really big. I don’t even know how many accounts IBM has. It’s a very large number. They don’t even know that it exists, otherwise. If that makes sense.

I think that there are people, and probably everyone in this room is like this, using something as an early adopter and taking a risk, knowing that it might not be perfect, and knowing you might get an advantage before someone else if you do that. I just try to focus on those people. Someday I assume that as we become better known hopefully, and more people know us and find us, it will be better to have that trust extend to larger companies.

Q8: I am Chris with Software Pricing Partners. I was always envious of when I had my software company of those companies that could eat their own dog food, meaning you could use your own software, and take sort of a tranche of people that we have talked to, so many people have so many unique apps that have nothing to do with their own business for example, the goat thing we saw earlier. How might you recapture some of the findings that were so innovating that you found eating your own dog food, if there was no physical way or conceptual way…?

Chris Savage: That’s a great question. I don’t know. I have a guess. I think what I have seen work the best, is getting people that are your customers that have the pain. I like to think of the pain of the product. When we were feeling the pain of replacing videos ourselves it sucked. When we were feeling the pain of getting developers every time to change that stuff it sucked. But, it is really easy to look at the data and say that it’s not that bad, those aren’t people, and the numbers are fine. I would say that it is really getting people in person and close to you that are feeling the pain. I definitely hear product feedback very differently. I got some product feedback the other day from some people that use Wistia. They were like, “This part is actually a real problem.” Someone else said, “Yeah, it’s a real problem”.

I was like, “Shit.” That’s amazing. I think I treat that differently because I have heard those problems before, but they have come up through emails or other things with people that I don’t have a connection to. The very earliest days, before we started using Wistia, we were trying to market ourselves. We were trying to sell to enterprises. We did get some enterprises to sign up and the way that we did it is we just spent a huge amount of time with them. I would guess that you would just have to try to do that. We still work to make sure there are enough people at Wistia using Wistia. We have, as of tomorrow, two video producers and a five person marketing team. There are a lot of people in the company that are not necessarily using the product every day.

Q10: So, Chris, you guys seem like you are classic growth packers. When you had those happy accidents, with the dance video and stuff, how did you go about the process of kind of validating and taking action on that? That was in fact where you should be and how you should be changing.

Chris Savage: Growth packing, what is that? I am just kidding. We basically didn’t test or validate anything. We saw that this was a lot of traffic and people are excited. I was like, “Dear God, the traffic converted”. That was the most mind blowing part. People would come in for something completely different, and the connection is what would bring them back. I would say a lot of the data has come through qualitatively.

In the early days of making the videos, it was hard for us from a quantitative aspect, it seemed like it was working but it wasn’t generating a huge amount of traffic. It took time to build up. But people would be like, “Oh yeah, Jeff is awesome”, or, “Brendon is amazing!” They clearly were calling people by their first name, and that was really weird and really different. I noticed when people would say to me, “How is Brendon doing? What’s going on?” I would say, “Oh, do you know him?” “No, I don’t know him. I guess I feel like I know him” That was data to me that this was working but in a very different way. Of course, we test stuff. I have a long rant about [xx] testing. We didn’t really validate it, I guess. [Applause]

The 12th Business of Software Conference USA, October 1st-3rd 2018. Boston, MA.

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