One of the best kinds of NewCos are those that are “hindsight obvious” – at first you don’t get what the big deal is, but after you spend a bit of time grokking the company’s story, it’s undeniable how much better their version of the world is than that which came before.
Such is the case with Typeform, a four-year old startup I came across during NewCo Barcelona earlier this fall. TypeForm’s co-founder and joint CEO David Okuniev spoke at the NewCoBCN kickoff event, and later came to San Francisco to visit our offices. His is a compelling NewCo narrative, the story of a bootstrapped company formed to scratch its founders’ itch, now scaling past 10,000 paying customers – all on the cloud-based SaaS model much beloved by Valley insiders. This narrative is so common in the Valley that what initially struck me about Typeform wasn’t its business model, it was its location. The company feels like a typical San Francisco Internet startup, but when you dig in, it’s unique.
First, the product. Typeform declares its mission in three simple words: “Make forms awesome.” Sounds pretty mundane, right? But once you get Okuniev talking about his company, you realize both how clever and compelling his company’s product really is. Typeform started when Okuniev and his partner Robert Muñoz, both designers, were working with a client who required a friendly user interface for an in-store promotional display. The task involved enticing customers to approach a Macintosh and interact without any prompting. Adding to the challenge and humor of the story, the client was a toilet company – not exactly the kind of product one readily discusses in a public setting. The partners created a friendly platform that elicited responses in a conversational interface, and the core of Typeform was born.
It’s hard to describe how much better a Typeform-powered website is, it’s far better to experience it (here’s one, and another, and yet more). Nearly all businesses require their customers to input data at some point or other in the “customer journey,” and nearly all of them (including, I’ll admit, NewCo), resort to pretty crappy interfaces to do so. The point at which a customer has to fill in a form is quite often the point at which that customer leaves a site, never to return. But Typeforms are fun, they offer deep customization, and their approach – asking one friendly question after another – entices people to engage. There are now more than a million Typeforms in use, with more than 17 million uniques engaging with them every month. And Typeform’s completion rate is 50% – four times higher than industry averages, according to Okuniev.
All that success wasn’t obvious at first. “We pretty much didn’t know anything about business,” Okuniev told me. “We just realized we had something, and thought ‘Why not start a company.'” Typeform was born, and in the first three years, it bootstrapped on customer subscriptions alone. They released a video of the initial product and had more than 8,000 customers sign up afterward. The product is free to use, but thousands now pay from $20-$60 and up for pro features.
When Okuniev and Muñoz realized they had a hit, they set about reinventing what a company could be as well. “We wanted to make a new way of doing a company,” Okuniev told me. “We are building our company around our people, and the most important thing isn’t making money, that comes behind great products and treating people well.”
With Silicon Valley NewCo Survey Monkey – itself an extraordinary story of new approaches to forms, company creation and employee management – recently valued at $2 billion, it’s clear there’s plenty of room to grow. Typeform is currently at 60 people but will grow to 100 in the coming months. Half of its employees, including Okuniev, hail from outside Barcelona, but he has found the city’s charms and its easygoing, inexpensive lifestyle are huge draws. The raft of expat employees fosters a tight-knit community inside the company’s offices.
When I met Okuniev in San Francisco, he was fresh from a recruiting meeting with VP Engineering candidates. Yes, he’s taking engineers out of the Valley. He was also meeting his new investors, Index Ventures, which led a $15 million (!) Series A round a few months ago. Okuniev and his team are using the money to move into larger offices (a converted gymnasium which will feature hundreds of plants to foster a healthy lifestyle) and evolve his platform from forms to all manner of interactive building blocks. “We see Typeform as Lego for user interaction,” Okuniev told me.
And that’s when really I got it. The Internet is rapidly becoming more than a series of web pages, forms, or apps. It’s moving to an intuitive, conversational interface that works seamlessly across devices, platforms, and use cases. Typeform, the fortuitous brainchild of a toilet company’s dilemma, is poised to deliver that experience to everyone.
Here’s a quick video overview of the service: