Kees Wolters
On Building A User Feedback Tool And Growing To Over 200 Clients
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Mopinion
from Rotterdam
started June 2013
3
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30
Employees
58.7K
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Hi! My name is Kees Wolters and I am one of the Co-Founders of Mopinion. Alongside two other founders, we started our company back in 2013 with the goal of helping companies better understand the needs and struggles of their customers on their digital channels such as web and mobile. To tackle this, we decided to develop user feedback software that would easily collect, analyze, and manage feedback - enabling companies to improve their digital channels.

With a background in digital marketing, it seemed really important to capture the Voice of the Customer. If you look at the eCommerce industry, for example, there is a lot of focus on the numbers, i.e. How many people ordered product X? How many visitors did we have today? How many customers dropped off in the ordering funnel? These are interesting numbers, but what these questions lack is an insight into WHY they did not order the product, or WHY the visitors left in this step of the ordering funnel.

mopinion

When we started out, there was a lot of hype around social media. However, as a digital marketer, you don’t particularly want nor expect consumers to shout out their problems with your webshop on your social channels. You want them to address the issues directly. And this was where we thought we could make a difference. We wanted to give consumers the opportunity to share issues directly with the marketing team in a non-intrusive and accessible way as the issue was occurring on the website or inside the app. In other words, not via social media, a survey one week after the purchase, or a long questionnaire with dozens of irrelevant questions. But rather, in a short survey with a maximum of two to three questions zooming in on the reasons why, what went wrong, or what was preventing the visitor from achieving their goal online.

While the feedback collection bit wasn’t entirely new, we saw opportunities for improvement. We noticed, especially for larger organizations with large amounts of traffic and users, that collecting feedback becomes much more tricky. What do you do with all this data? How do you get insights from thousands of open comments? How do you take action and follow up on this? So what we did was take a closer look at large business intelligence and customer experience data analysis platforms and try to figure out how they did this. How did they make this data available to their users in a digestible way? And that was when we found a unique selling point and truly advantageous solution.

What started out as a small side project with the three founders grew into a company with over 30 employees and 200 + clients in more than 20 countries worldwide today.

mopinion Some of the Mopinion team during our 2019 ‘SummerJam’

What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?

Back in high school, I was already thinking about starting my own business later on in life. And keep in mind that this was the nineties - the internet wasn’t that big yet, social media and smartphones didn’t exist. When you went online you’d have to ‘dial in’... those were interesting times. I was, however, very interested in animation, graphic design, and things of that nature. I taught myself animation skills with Adobe Flash (which was Macromedia back then) and some basic programming skills with HTML, Javascript, and PHP. Initially, the idea was to start my own advertising or marketing communications agency when I was around the age of 17, but once I started working at a web agency as a web designer, that idea grew more into a business in ‘digital’.

Set reachable goals, for one. First, figure out what your ambitions are and what you like to do. If you like what you are doing, you can be in it for the long run. And know that entrepreneurship is not for everybody. It’s best to do what you really enjoy.

My father was also an entrepreneur. He was a technical engineer who developed patented fuel injection systems for large motors. He started his business later in life - somewhere in his forties - with two co-founders who together grew the company to around 40 employees. After around ten years they sold the business to an American motor company. What inspired me was having the possibility to build something up from the ground and make it your own. To create something. That’s also what drove me to start my own business.

I always get a bit frustrated when I hear business owners talk about ‘making your own schedule’ and having the freedom in terms of time management. If you want to grow a business (and I mean a proper business) you have to be willing to put some effort into it. And I mean, a lot. Fully focused. Of course, there should be a work/private-life balance and it all depends a bit on your definition of ‘a business’ but - especially when we just started out - it was hard work and came with a lot of responsibility. For people just starting out as entrepreneurs, my advice is that you should be aware that it can be quite a time consuming and intense. But it’s also very rewarding in that you have the freedom in the sense of deciding where the company is going, figuring out the best strategies, and growing the business.

While working part-time at a web agency, I was working towards my Bachelor’s degree in Marketing and Communications. This study also covered a lot about business economics so although it was really high-level, it was interesting and (somewhat) useful later on.

During my time at the web agency, one of my friends and colleague at the time, Floris Snuif and I discovered that we had a lot of similar interests when it came to digital technology, marketing, and entrepreneurship.

Once I got my Bachelor’s degree, I decided to work for some other businesses first. So I took on different marketing and communications roles within other businesses to get to know how larger companies work and get more hands-on experience. After a couple of years working for different corporations, I took a position in a company where I met Udesh Jadnanansing. He had just stopped working on his startup and was working again on payroll to earn some money for a while and give himself some time to eventually start a new business. Much of the time Udesh and I were more focused on our own ideas to start a business than working for the company that hired us. I believe that might’ve driven our manager a bit crazy…

This all went down around 2009, right after the financial crisis. And after a couple of weeks, Udesh and I decided to quit our jobs and start our own business. I also knew Floris had just graduated and received his Master’s degree so I messaged him and scheduled a meeting with him, Udesh, and myself. Udesh and Floris had never met in person before, but at the first meeting they found out they were living in the same apartment building, which was quite a coincidence.

Shortly after, Floris decided he was also up for an adventure and thus, our startup was born.

mopinion caption: Left to right: Floris, Kees, and Udesh

The company was called Conceptables (we still have the domain name…). It was a digital agency that launched new digital concepts like apps. We started out with an idea to help employers work with recruitment agencies in a marketplace format. With our business, we provided a platform in which employees could post their job openings and in turn, recruitment agencies could offer up candidate resumes accompanied by a bid. This enabled employers to pick and choose the best candidate for the best price. We had some traction but not a long runway. Investors were not keen on investing as it was right after the financial crisis.

In need of cash, we decided to start up some projects in digital marketing campaigns, web design, and app development and offered these services to clients on a pay-per-hour basis. After a while, we realized that the market was not ready for the recruitment marketplace yet and decided to move on. Later on, we found out that there is a huge U.S. firm active around the same concept, so it wasn’t necessarily a poor idea. Our timing just wasn’t right.

After some other projects and working a lot on social media campaigns for our clients, we decided to delve into customer feedback. There were a lot of successful third party reviewing platforms for restaurants, products, and webshops (Yelp, Bazaarvoice, Trustpilot, to name a few). But interestingly enough, there weren't a lot of software tools whereby consumers could directly submit their feedback to the company. After some research, we decided to give it a go and around 2011 we developed our first Proof of Concept for a website feedback tool to easily collect feedback on a web page when a visitor experienced an issue. In 2011 / 2012 we onboarded our first users and in 2013 we decided to put all of our focus on the feedback tool, known as Mopinion, and cease all other activities in Conceptables. In other words, we basically bootstrapped the company and funded it with the money we made from projects we did in-app and web development.

Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?

The first couple of years of establishing the company were pretty tough - both financially as well as finding a product-market fit. We gave shape to the company by first creating an organized breakdown of responsibilities. Floris handled most of our development work, Udesh was responsible for finance and sales, and I took on product design, user experience (UX), marketing and also got involved in onboarding and consulting our clients.

Our first hire was a PHP developer. In the beginning, we did a lot of custom configuration work ourselves, such as helping with custom designs of the feedback forms, whereas nowadays all of these tasks can be done by the user within our self-service platform. This model worked for a while but later proved difficult in that it wasn’t exactly a scalable solution.

We then came to the conclusion that we needed to hire more employees to make things work. We hired a project manager to manage the onboarding process for new customers and brought in front-end developers and designers to further enhance the software. This freed up a lot of time for the founders and enabled us to invest more time in actually growing the business. We finally had a moment to focus on other operations such as finance, risk management, taxes, legal (terms & agreements, personnel contracts, vendor contracts, and client contracts), and activities for promoting the business.

Within the first few years, we finally started gaining some traction, having signed some big contracts in a wide range of industries. We worked with companies in the automotive industry and retail industry as well as with lottery and telecommunications companies. The challenge here, however, was that many of these large players also had different demands and wishes, which have a tendency of disturbing your progress on the project roadmap. There’s always the fear that certain choices may pull your product in the wrong direction, so you have to stay focused. You have to ask yourself things like: Is this requirement or feature request useful for all of my users? Or just to keep this one customer happy?

One of the missteps we made was turning our business into more of a Customer Experience Management-focused business (also known as CEM or CX). Some of our clients inquired if we could also cater to their non-digital channels for collecting feedback; channels such as call centers, account managers, or physical stores. And at the time, we thought why not give it a go.

Unfortunately, the consequences of this decision were largely misjudged. We were used to having tech-savvy digital marketers, UX and Ecommerce Managers on our platform, but now we had call center agents and account managers (whose bonuses were depending on the feedback scores, i.e. NPS) using our software. This put pressure on how we managed expectations from our clients and how we supported them. On top of that, in terms of UX, these users had a specific set of goals (which made sense for their use case) which differed greatly from that of marketers.

In theory, it makes sense to bring feedback from different channels together in one system. However, in practice, these different teams have very different views on what a platform should do and how it should work. In fact, nowadays, you hardly see feedback systems that ‘do it all’ (i.e. product reviews, website feedback, employee feedback, and call center feedback). And vendors that do offer a lot of different solutions under one brand usually do it in isolated systems. Our takeaway from this experience was that in order to scale our SaaS company, we had to keep the focus on the core product and invest in improving that product.

Ultimately we decided to skip the non-digital feedback solution and focus only on digital channels such as websites and mobile apps. These solutions also brought us users that fit well with our backgrounds and went along with what our solution was intended for in the first place.

In 2016, we, therefore, decided to do a small, early-stage funding round. In total, we raised around 500,000 USD. With that money, we aimed to scale the business internationally with increased marketing and sales efforts. As far as the product went we figured that there was a demand for self-service tools among digital marketers. In fact, there was a gap in the way tools across the digital feedback tool landscape handled data analysis and data discovery. Collecting feedback was the easy part, but making sense out of huge amounts of feedback data proved challenging. So we decided to tackle that problem and eventually that paid off.

mopinion caption: Udesh signing the contract with VC firm Capital Mills

The funding took place at the end of 2016. In 2017, we worked out the best business model as well as continually improving the platform, making it more suitable for self-service usage. In three years’ time, our team tripled and our client base grew from around 60 clients to 200+, many of which were enterprise and upper-level SMBs. This growth has enabled us to better cater to our clients with a small team. We are now a one hundred percent SaaS business with recurring revenue streams only.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

This year we expect to be profitable for the first time. Of course, this depends a bit on how the COVID-19 crisis affects our growth, but thankfully because we work for various industries that spread the risk a bit, we are optimistic that this year will be successful. For example, online retail and technology companies are still doing extremely well. So we are fortunate that we haven’t been hit too hard by the crisis.

Additionally, for us profit is mostly invested directly into growing the business, meaning hiring more qualified employees. And in this stage, because we are backed by venture capitalists, these investors are more interested in our growth rather than profit.

The roles we filled in the early stages of the company as founders are still very much visible in the organization today. I lead the marketing and support teams, Floris and I lead the development team together and Udesh is responsible for the sales and finance teams.

mopinion caption: Filming a Mopinion promo video at the office

With around 30 people on board, we are now in the process of further professionalizing the teams, business structure, and management. This also means stepping away a bit more from operations and delegating more responsibility to the team leads. Last year we initiated this process by promoting senior employees to team leads, so most teams have team leads who grew with the business into their new roles. It’s really great to see how that has unfolded and how these team members are really taking ownership.

We are a fully cloud operating SaaS business in the B2B market, selling licenses that are mainly based on platform usage (i.e. amount of dashboards, users, etc). Our largest costs are the cloud hosting service provided by Amazon AWS (thank you, Jeff Bezos) and our employees’ salaries which ensure we bring in plenty of new customers, maintain satisfaction among our customers, uphold tight operations, and put out a great product.

Our average yearly revenue growth has amounted to around 50-60% per year over the last couple of years. Given the circumstances in a heavily competitive industry, this is a pretty good figure. We are aware that this isn’t comparable to other SaaS players such as Slack, Stripe, or Zoom in terms of ‘hyper-growth’, but it's also a completely different market and momentum. On top of that, there is also quite a bit of consolidation happening in our space, with larger players such as SAP, Salesforce, and many others acquiring smaller feedback vendors.

We firmly believe that the market still offers a lot of potentials for us to grow. We have a great product and plenty of happy customers in different industries. Our ambition is to not only maintain growth but also increase our Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR) and keep customer churn as low as possible. We aim to achieve this last goal through our recent investment in customer success.

By raising our growth levels even slightly, we could get a really interesting valuation for an additional round of funding later this year. The funding itself, however, isn’t the hard part, but rather getting the best valuation possible for a higher rate of growth.

Because we focus on digital and data analytics, we are considered more of a niche player. We are not the kind of company to aim for an IPO because the market for our niche is simply not big enough. There are however lots of investors interested in the CX space and lots going on in terms of mergers and acquisitions. That being said, it could eventually make sense to team up with a larger player in the CX or CRM space. But we need to see how the market evolves first. As of right now, we are not in a hurry. We are just focusing on building a great product and a healthy and profitable company.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I could probably write a book about it... There are plenty of things I’ve learned along the way. As I mentioned earlier in the interview, it’s really important to keep a focus on the product. At one point we got pulled away from the core a bit. And sure, there may be a lot of potential in other directions, but it’s critical that you make sure clients don’t steer you in the wrong direction. For example, a lot of startups blog about ‘pivoting’, or shifting the business strategy to accommodate the market or client preferences. And I agree, a pivot makes sense when you only have a few users and do not see any increase in traction (in the near future), but I also believe in the power of taking small steps. We’ve done this quite regularly by setting up tests and seeing what works, asking customers to try out a new feature, and really getting them to talk about it. It’s very easy to cherry-pick ideas from other blogs about growth hacking but in the end, there is no silver bullet. If you want a shortcut to growth, buy a lottery ticket.

When things do work out, the next step is to see if you can scale it. We had some traction early on in retail so what we did was ensure that our logo was visible (and clickable) on the feedback forms that run on the clients’ websites. This approach may occur to some as very obvious, especially seeing as how there are a lot of feedback and chat tools that do this, but for us as well as many other vendors in this space, this is something that really helped us reach many customers in the same industry. We’ve also taken this a step further and have made a point to target certain verticals by way of vertical-specific events using a dedicated team. For example, events for retailers that showcase how important feedback is to their industry, using user cases from existing retail clients. In other words, when we have a bit of traction in a vertical, we try to scale that as quickly as possible.

When I look at our marketing strategy, in particular, I think in hindsight it was a good choice to invest heavily in content and inbound marketing. In fact, one of the first hires, after we received funding, was a content marketer. At that same time, we also invested in good automation software.

The challenge with inbound marketing, however, isn't solely based on technology but also on finding good topics to write about. You have to know your personas as well as do a lot of research to understand where your gaps in SEO lie. We were lucky in finding some great gaps in Google which have ended upbringing in a lot of traffic to our blog and converting a large number of these visitors into trials and sales. We even have articles, written in 2017, that are still bringing in dozens of trials a month per article. This traffic and therefore awareness have grown our customer based in countries we couldn’t have reached using an outbound model.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We are currently in the process of obtaining certification for ISO 27001, which covers a lot of ground in terms of data security; an important topic amongst our clients. For this audit, we were required to make an inventory of assets and vendors, which amounted to over 50 software vendors, most of which are cloud providers.

A few tools that were important to us from the very beginning include:

  • Salesforce: this was the first “expensive” software license we purchased. We have built our entire sales and marketing strategy around this software. Being so dependent on such a system presents a bit of a risk of course, but then again, that is their strategy.
  • Salesforce Pardot: for marketing automation, we rely on Salesforce Pardot, which is Salesforce’s B2B offering for marketing automation. We use Pardot because it is well integrated with our sales workflows and monitoring systems.
  • Atlassian Suite: for a product, we work a lot with the Atlassian suite, so we use Jira for managing the backlog and roadmap,
  • Confluence: for our support and customer success we work with Confluence (mainly as a knowledge base) and Jira Service Desk.
  • Github: within the development team, Github is a tool that is often used for version control. But our customers also use it for issue and bug reporting when they use certain code repositories (for example, for libraries they can use to programmatically connect with our systems).
  • Google Suite: In terms of office software we rely on Google Docs, Google Slides, Google Sheets, and Google Chat and Video.
  • Slack / Asana: For logging and project management tasks, we are big fans of Slack and Asana.
  • Amazon: Because we are hosted in the Amazon cloud, we also use a lot of their cloud services.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I read a lot and actually most of what I read is non-fiction. Perhaps this isn’t the most original answer, but I really liked Eric Ries’ book, Lean Startup back when it had just come out. At that time (2011), we were busy with the proof of concept for Mopinion. I thought the ‘short feedback loops’ he described as ‘trial and error’ was an interesting concept and that’s also a bit how we approached things back then. Feedback also played a dominant role in his book, so a lot of the information was relatable to our software product.

I’ve also done a lot of reading on WWI and WWII, the history of Europe, and the formation of the European Union. This has taught me a lot about society, how people interact, and how politics and government get ideas across. Mopinion is part of the European startup ecosystem and Europe (together with the US and Canada) is our most important market. In my opinion, it’s really important to understand - as an entrepreneur - how society and all its structures work. It teaches you a lot about how people think and act and enables you to reflect on how your own company operates.

At the moment, I’m reading The Invention of Science by David Wootton. While I think that the title already says enough, he basically looks at all the great inventions of the past (from type printing to perspective printing and from the telescope to the practice of conducting experiments and the laws of nature) and makes the link to industrialization and the modern world as we know it. I’ve always liked stories about inventions and science, which probably has to do with my interest in creating and building as well as starting my own business.

Lastly, there are some great podcasts out there on topics I’m interested in such as programming, sports, cycling, etc.

In terms of programming, I mostly listen to the ones on Python because that is the language I use most of the time. One such podcast is the Python Podcast __init__, by Tobias Macey. But then again, when I listen to podcasts I’m usually either in the car or getting ready to go to sleep so I want to get my mind off work. In that case, I listen to sports and cycling podcasts. The cycling podcasts I listen to give a lot of practical tips and tricks on cycling itself. In fact, Lance Armstrong has a nice podcast, but my favorite is ‘Live Slow Ride Fast’ by former pro-cyclists Laurens ten Dam. As with many professional sports, I think cycling is a sport in which the athletes train extremely hard and there are a lot of factors that play a role in their success. When you look at all of the details that are being measured, monitored, and analyzed such as nutrition, equipment, training methods, riding techniques, and team strategies, it has parallels with running a business and being the ‘best in the game’. You can learn a lot from how they work towards common goals with the team, how they stay focused, and how they improve with even the slightest of details.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Well, if you decide to start your own business, I believe the only way to do it, is to go all in. Don’t listen too much to stories in Silicon Valley or other successful businesses in your industry. Try to figure out what works best for you. The context and people are always different. The strategies that work for one company aren’t necessarily a guaranteed success for the other. Like I said before, there is no silver bullet.

You don’t have to become the next Amazon or Google. I mean it would be nice (if that's your goal in life), but there are a lot of other ways to start a successful and profitable business and be happy. Set reachable goals, for one. First, figure out what your ambitions are and what you like to do. If you like what you are doing, you can be in it for the long run. And know that entrepreneurship is not for everybody. It’s best to do what you really enjoy.

We’ve come a long way since 2013 and as a growing company, we still have a ways to go. Luckily we have a great team in place here at Mopinion with a lot of people that love what they do and that have been with us from the start. All we have to do is continually innovating, staying true to our vision, and maintain a healthy level of growth and enthusiasm.

Where can we go to learn more?

And some interesting resources on our blog

Here are our main social channels:

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Kees Wolters,   Founder of Mopinion

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