How I Started A $1.6M/Month Online Surveys And Research Tools Software
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi there! My name is Vivek Bhaskaran the Founder of QuestionPro. The most robust survey software you are going to find on the market along with Customer Experience, Employee Experience, and a Research platform that will give your company every advantage. We focus on not only providing the tools for creation, distribution, and analysis of surveys, but also provide the platforms for polling, tablet-based mobile research, and data visualization.
We have provided reliable and innovative technology to Fortune 100 companies, academic institutions, small businesses, and individual DIY researchers for over 12 years.
Our vision around QuestionPro development is to be a complete ecosystem from tools to solutions for insights, feedback, surveys, and market research.
To that end, we have 4 distinct solutions:
- Surveys: Our easy-to-use and ridiculously simple tool for everyone to create, send, and analyze surveys.
- Workforce: An employee / HR facing tool that allows for understanding employee culture and managing 360 feedback along with gathering workforce analytics and intelligence.
- Research Edition: A holistic platform that enables companies to create digital communities, find the right audience, execute that focus group, and find the right fit to analyze the voice of the customer.
- CX: A customer experience measurement system that systematically allows companies to stack rank and see how their customers perceive them and what are the areas of continuous improvement.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I started QuestionPro back in 2005. In fact, I bootstrapped it for the first couple of years - which is code for - I was working my day job and working on developing the core software behind QuestionPro during nights and evenings. One day, in the fall of 2005 I returned home from work, I can even tell you what time it was, 6:30 in the evening. I looked at my wife - Kalpana while we were cooking dinner when something just clicked, at that moment I said, “Honey I am going to quit my job and I am going to run QuestionPro full time. I’m done.” She looked at me with a sense of bewilderment, horror, and pride. “But what about our mortgage?” - was her next statement. My answer was - “Well - we’ll figure it out. I have 6 months of savings” - to which she said - “Ok cool.”
My biggest reason for quitting my day job was not actually money, it was the freedom. Freedom to do what I wanted. Freedom to pursue a technical strategy that I saw fit for the company. Freedom to experiment with business models. Freedom to create new ideas. Freedom to engage with customers and create value for all of us. Freedom to take a put my ideas to practice.
Ask anyone who has quit their day job towards the pursuit of entrepreneurship - and you will almost universally get the same answer - the best decision ever. Universally. I hardly know anyone who does not get an adrenaline high by going down the entrepreneurship route. Yes - it is hard - it requires that you work almost 3X of what you could coast by - but the intrinsic rewards are 10X more. In fact, it's hard for most folks, including me, to imagine working a normal 9-5 job anymore.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
The original idea clicked when I was a student at Brigham Young University and a Market Research Professor was talking to me about how he was spending a lot of time designing and developing a survey and the technology associated with it (Databases, Applications, etc.) - all from scratch every time he consulted someone on a research project. This seemed very cumbersome and repetitive. We set out to eliminate this process and create a generic platform where anyone could create, deploy, and analyze surveys.
Our biggest challenge while starting the business was to figure out customer acquisition. Paid (SEM) acquisition was not feasible - because we did not know what the ROI on that would be i.e - we could not estimate what the ARPU (Average Revenue Per User) would be - which would dictate our marketing spend. Since we were bootstrapping the business - we had to find a new way of customer development and acquisition - that did not rely on a massive marketing budget.
I was well versed in development and scaling systems - but had no idea about internet marketing, customer acquisition, or sales for that matter. But we all knew that we had to wear all the hats when starting a company. My theory is - all founders are janitors also. If you are not willing to get your hands dirty and do what it takes - don’t jump into the mud pit. It’s a tough game - with emotional highs and lows - that can take you up and down - not even daily but even within the day.
Marketing - we stumbled into SEO and made that our North Star. We basically said to ourselves - we need to be #1 for anything people search for - when it comes to surveys. We did (and still do) interesting hacks like - we give our platform away for free to non-profits in exchange for having a link back to us - that increases our rankings.
Sales - my aha moment in life was when I realized that sales are all about confidence and having the ability to talk about money in real-time. That’s it. I was technical anyway - so I could almost convince anyone that we were the best technical solution out there - but being able to translate that to a specific ask - and drawing a line on the sand - to close a deal. That was some challenge, but I learned the hard way after failing a bunch of times. Eventually - I was able to do it!
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
In two words. First is Bootstrap. We don’t hire big pr firms. We don’t run Super Bowl ads. We are pretty good at SEO – that’s still the number one driver of leads for us, and it’s practically free.
The second is Hustle. We take care of our customers. We go the extra mile. We build products and features based on what our clients tell us they want.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
2020 started as a roller coaster. We moved our global HQ to Austin TX in January and are excited about how tech-friendly the city is and look forward to QuestionPro placing our roots here and driving our business to the next level. In February, we launched our UK office expanding our already diverse global team. Currently, we have offices in Pune, India, Merida and Cancun, Mexico, Berlin, Germany, Dubai, and Austin. By March we finished the acquisition of CareExperiences business unit for patient experience, moving our CX platform to also be adaptable for healthcare.
And then…. COVID-19 hit. Like the rest of the world, we took some time to assess and plan. And then we did what we do best – hustled. We developed a way to run the business completely remotely, made better use of digital marketing on existing and new platforms, and found new ways to engage with both customers and our resellers/partners.
We learned a lot – but most importantly we learned about perseverance and innovation.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I could probably write a book about what I’ve learned. In fact, I already did (QuestionPro for Dummies, but that’s a different story). My big takeaways, in no particular order…
- Get the business first, worry about how to handle it later
- Sometimes it’s better to apologize than ask for permission.
- Everyone has a price. Find out the number and you can do any deal you want.
- Guerilla marketing works.
- If you’re not failing, you’re not taking enough risk.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I would much rather always build it than buy it, which is a tricky rabbit hole for technical founders. We have found that it works great in some cases and not in others. It goes back to the idea above about freedom.
- Marketing: Hubspot
- Sales: Copper
- Productivity: Basecamp
- Employee Engagement: Slack and our own Workforce tool
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Principles: Life & Work is a 2017 book by hedge fund manager Ray Dalio based on principles he had developed while running Bridgewater Associates.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
For my fellow founders out there, forget the norms - there are no rules. Build the company you want to build not the company that others put pressure on you to build. I started QuestionPro in Seattle, and I remember a bunch of my Microsoft friends laughing at me. We all know now that everyone who worked at MSFT made exactly zero dollars in stock options between 2000 and 2010 - and they hated their lives. Listen to a lot of people but make your own rules and judgment around what you want to do, nothing else works.
Focus on providing value - To me, value is defined by either when a customer pays for your service/idea (in the B2B context) or folks truly enjoy using your product - in the B2C context. It’s truly not about your next round of funding or your next flashy PR article - it’s all about creating independent value for the customer and hence the business.
And last, don’t sell yourself or what you’ve built short. About five years after we launched QuestionPro, we were crushing it. And mainstream market research firms got religion about the internet and one of them wanted to buy us. Let’s just say we couldn’t agree on valuation, and I said no to the acquisition.
They were pissed and told me that our company would never amount to anything – that we were “a bunch of F&*’ing Internet Cowboys.” The next day, I made a dozen t-shirts for the team with “I’m an Internet Cowboy” printed on the front – it’s become a badge of honor for me over the years.
And, shameless plug here. I’ve started a podcast called The BootCast – we interview founders who have started their businesses like I did – with nothing except a vision and an attitude. Available on most major podcast platforms, or here.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Yes, we are currently looking for a Research Account Executive. For this role, we’d like to find a detail-oriented go-getter who can design, coordinate, and execute a variety of qualitative and quantitative research studies, often across multiple clients and projects simultaneously.
Also with high level consulting and project management skills. In this role, you will be part of a dynamic and highly capable Research and Insights team at QuestionPro. You will work closely with all members of the team, across departments and offices worldwide.
Day to day activities:
- Lead projects and consult with clients and internal stakeholders
- Scoping projects with clients
- Writing and helping with RFPs
- Designing and programming surveys
- Fielding and managing surveys
- Conducting statistical analysis
- Writing reports
- Building/managing a customer research panel
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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