Our Online Meetings Platform Skyrocketed During The Pandemic And Now Makes $10.8M/Year

Szymon Grabowski
Founder, ClickMeeting
$897K
revenue/mo
1
Founders
93
Employees
ClickMeeting
from Gdańsk, Poland
started
$897,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
93
Employees
6.46K
alexa rank
4.48K
followers
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hello, I'm Dominika Paciorkowska, Managing Director and Board Member at ClickMeeting – a platform for webinars and online meetings. ClickMeeting was launched in 2010 and has been performing as an independent company since 2016.

As ClickMeeting spun off, my first job was to transfer a product into a self-contained, separate, and fully operational entity. Several years before ClickMeeting's spin-off, I worked for Simon Grabowski and his ventures. Simon's main business activity was always focused on supporting small- and medium-sized companies, as well as big corporations, by providing them with modern communication and marketing software.

In 1998 Simon Grabowski founded GetResponse: a platform primarily supporting email marketing, now offering assistance in very complex marketing activities. Within that platform, a separate tool was also developed for creating webinars and online meetings.

In 2020 alone, the ClickMeeting platform hosted 2,316,074 events with over 30 million attendees. GetResponse services are used by more than 350,000 customers. Both companies are constantly evolving, developing new functionality, reaching new markets, and supporting our customers.

This time I would like to focus mainly on the development of ClickMeeting: an innovative platform that focuses on intuitiveness and providing a real-life experience in the virtual world.

our-online-meetings-platform-skyrocketed-in-pandemic-and-grew-to-10-8m-year
Dominika Paciorkowska – Managing Director of ClickMeeting

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

Simon Grabowski tested many ideas for supporting marketing processes and communication. These were very diverse. He was developing them in parallel, but of course, not all of them proved successful, and not all of them were followed up. ClickMeeting quickly demonstrated its ability to acquire customers and retain them. At first, the main focus was on the American market. First of all, because of its large size, as well as its very modern character. Online marketing was already highly developed there, and customers were looking for new solutions.

The new business was not profitable initially, but it came as the number of customers increased. It was also driven by the cost profile and a large share of fixed costs.

Acquiring new customers will not help if you do not offer a stable platform. Of course, you can expand the functionality, and add new tools, but from the customer's perspective, the most important thing is reliability.

In the first stage, it was not intended to establish a separate company and build a dedicated team; we relied on the potential of the people who had already worked at GetResponse. The growing interest of customers confirmed the validity of scaling the business. ClickMeeting was launched in 2010, grew as part of GetResponse, rebranded in 2012, and became a separate company in 2016. Both companies' good financial health allowed us to comfortably finance the platform's development without having to reach for external sources.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

Since the beginning, the platform was designed to be browser-based, and no additional software installation was required. At that time, there were not enough solutions on the market, and most of the competitors were application-based. Unfortunately, browsers back then couldn’t give you access to options compared to the ones we know today. They didn’t allow you to use a microphone or a camera natively, for example. The only technology that made it possible to provide such a tool was Flash, and the conference backend relied on Flash Multimedia Servers, both developed by Adobe.

Over time, of course, the situation changed: browser engines became much more powerful, Flash was no longer needed, and many companies started to move away from it. We realized that we had to replace it with another technology, especially since it was foreseeable that Adobe Flash Player support would be dropped. The transition from Flash to WebRTC was a vast and engaging project, one of the milestones for the product and the entire organization.

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ClickMeeting event window

Initially, ClickMeeting was developed by a small team of developers who were also involved in other activities within the company. There were many ideas, and not all of them were worth pursuing. At first, the platform was supposed to be one of several tools in a package supporting communication and management of marketing processes. The team often brainstormed, and our programmers tested the ideas in practice: they started coding live almost immediately and then tested the prototypes themselves.

Concepts would usually change fundamentally within a few hours. This approach, however, stemmed from tremendous enthusiasm. Our developers were fascinated that they could co-create an innovative product and bring their ideas to life. The commitment of the employees was also reflected in the integration of the payment system with a smart light bulb that lit up in the right color and the right frequency in the sales department, depending on the type of product that was purchased, and the size of the package. This was a great motivator for all team members.

Of course, the nature of the product meant that we had to face different problems. From the very beginning, we focused on the capability to scale events and operate in different places because quality and stability depended mainly on the location of the user and the server. We also wanted to take a comprehensive approach to our customers' needs and enable them to organize not only virtual meetings and live webinars, but also automated and on-demand webinars, which is perfect in line with current market trends.

High traffic during events was also a real test. It was impossible to make sure that everything would go our way in the prototyping or even testing phase if a large group of participants was attending the webinar. Our employees monitored the situation constantly to counteract any potential problems.

However, not everything can be predicted. For example, at one large event with around 2,500 attendees, the presenter decided to provide an interactive whiteboard that everyone could edit, which led to chaos. As a result, we decided to limit the number of people with whiteboard privileges for significant events.

Describe the process of launching the business.

At the very beginning, we focused mainly on the American market. Thus, legal and tax issues, which are often different from those in Europe and vary between different states, were extremely important.

To operate effectively, we had to cooperate with companies and advisors from this market. Patent trolls, practically unknown in Europe at the time, we're also a certain obstacle. On the other hand, the US market is in many respects simpler than the European one, especially when it comes to personal data and marketing opportunities. However, the intensification of activities in this country required a meticulous study of its characteristics and many consultations.

If a project doesn't work out, in most cases, giving up on it and learning the right lessons will be far better than persisting with unsuccessful initiatives.

Indeed, the initial stage was simpler thanks to stable financing (without the need to obtain external funding), and to the presence of an in-house team in charge of product creation and development. The primary costs included salaries for software developers and support staff, agency costs for building brand awareness and presence in specific markets, running Google Ads campaigns, SEO audits, affiliate commissions, legal consultations, and payment processing expenses.

Nevertheless, the SaaS model provides tremendous opportunities to grow. For online sales to be successful, we had to invest in developing our websites, integrations, providing the entire purchasing mechanism, and developing effective customer acquisition, retention, and support methods.

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ClickMeeting website

Though our initial strategy was focused on the US market, the product was available worldwide from the very beginning. Other major markets soon began to respond, including Brazil, Russia, and Europe.

As a result, we had to look abroad for many partners. In our case, this was important because, at the time we started, few companies in our home market offered the necessary compatible services, such as payment processing, support for advertising activities, or adequate server space sharing.

We faced challenges with entirely different payment methods, often unknown in European markets; besides card and PayPal, customers also expected ACH or check payments. In addition, it was necessary to take into account the difficulties of handling customers in multiple time zones, as well as differences in the legal and tax systems of individual states.

In particular, quick validation with the market was crucial. We did not invest a lot of time or resources before launching the platform. As soon as we had a stable version of the tool, we released it to the public, checked what the feedback was, and based on that, we could plan our next moves.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

The period between ClickMeeting's appearance on the market in late 2010, and the moment when it was spun off as a separate company, allowed us to verify whether the product could develop and maintain itself. The company was founded by a single investor with no external loans. We relied on the method of small steps: at the beginning, we were supported by a minimal number of employees focused on the idea, and as it grew, the team expanded.

A fundamental way to retain customers was to understand their expectations on the one hand and their problems on the other. These were very diverse and often concerned with difficulties with finding their audience. Although we were not always able to answer them, we tried to help users by collecting experiences of successful customers and, on this basis, creating hints for others.

Quality customer service was also crucial from the very beginning. When we entered the market, basically only the giants were present there. In many cases, we found that the time it took them to respond, for example, was much longer than what we were able to offer. That's why we focused on understanding our customers' needs and meeting them.

A big temptation, especially in the early days, is to work with prominent and recognizable partners, for instance, in marketing or SEO. Most of our experiences regarding such collaborations were negative. We did not achieve what we were promised; responsiveness also left a lot to be desired. The lesson we've learned is that it's better to choose smaller agencies, for whom you'll be a big client, than large ones, who will treat you like one of many.

We also have an internal digital marketing team responsible for running campaigns, ongoing activities, and coordinating with agencies. From the very beginning, we have invested extensively in SEO, SEM, and creating quality content, all of which are cornerstones of an online business. It is essential to be aware that this market is constantly changing, so one should rely on cooperation with experts.

For example, initially, assessing the return on investment in ads was relatively easy, but over time it has become much more difficult to track the sales funnel or test the effectiveness of campaigns. The various activities are also linked to each other. So you need to look at your marketing strategy holistically and understand the processes well. However, we learned for the future.

The mistake we made was also repeating actions that were effective in previous years and expecting similar results. We observed this, for example, during the Black Friday campaigns. They used to be very profitable, but the market keeps moving, new competitors emerge, and customers' habits change, so the company must also constantly evolve and focus on effective data analysis.

Quite often, we only start to understand this when problems arise. Over time, we have concluded that we need analysts and systems to process data and analyze it. That way, we can not only monitor performance globally but also evaluate the effectiveness of individual activities. So we know very well what works and what should be improved.

our-online-meetings-platform-skyrocketed-in-pandemic-and-grew-to-10-8m-year

ClickMeeting is also available on mobile platforms

For the entire organization, the big step was creating new jobs and implementing work culture and process changes. In the past, following the agile manifesto, we did not focus on documentation. Moreover, we did not employ testers. Often their tasks were performed by developers themselves. So sometimes, our releases weren't perfect. As our customer base grew, however, we saw that continuous quality assurance was necessary in terms of brand reputation. So we engaged testers, set up a system for feedback and continuous improvement.

It's a good idea to look at your business through the lens of your goals, and, at the same time, not get attached to your activities. You need to develop the ability to cut yourself off from projects that don't deliver the expected results.

Acquiring new customers will not help if you do not offer a stable platform. Of course, you can expand the functionality, and add new tools, but from the customer's perspective, the most important thing is reliability. In the past, we had periodic problems with stability, which affected the dissatisfaction of users and the morale of the team.

Meanwhile, it has always been extremely important for us to build a relationship between the employee and the company as well as the ClickMeeting brand. So we spent several months working hard to fix the problems and provide our clients with a reliable tool. As a result, we've gained both in the eyes of the market, and our employees, who identify with the brand and engage in product development.

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

After achieving the scale effect, we significantly expanded our team. During that time, the labor market has changed as well: it is now definitely more competitive, affecting our employees' salaries. However, growing revenues and the structure of distribution between fixed and variable costs ensure stable profits. Average monthly revenue is at $897K, with the highest year-on-year revenue growth at 123%. According to Similarweb, 2.8M users visit our sites per month, and our average conversion rate for 2020 and the first three quarters of 2021 is 9%.

our-online-meetings-platform-skyrocketed-in-pandemic-and-grew-to-10-8m-year

Thanks to consistent work we are developing and gaining popularity.

Just as for other platforms of this type, the pandemic period turned out to be a breakthrough. With much of the business and education sectors shifting to online channels, we saw tremendous interest in our tool. We had to quickly prepare for this - both in terms of customer service and infrastructure. Growth in some markets reached several hundred percent.

For example, it was 868% in Greece, in Germany 519%, and in France 423%. The interest was so high that we did not have to run extensive campaigns. Now the market is stabilizing, and new competitors have joined, so we are working hard to reach out to new customers and provide innovative solutions for different sectors. We are currently focusing mainly on the European market.

The US market, which was a priority before, is much more difficult due to strong competition and acquisition costs. We also focus on internal activities: improving project management, training system, using OKR, and concentrating on value creation within the organization. Due to the increasing number of processes, it would be much more difficult to operate without formalization. We also continue to develop new features and tools (check the full list). Recently we have introduced, among others, Breakout rooms, innovative Edu mode and further integrations.

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The pandemic gave us a boost to growth, which was reflected in organic traffic

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And the number of events that have taken place on the platform

As for planning, we operate in the model of annual plans divided into quarterly goals. However, we try to remain flexible and avoid being tied to activities that are not effective. We want to compete with large companies, so we have to react quickly and remain flexible. This is more difficult in the case of big corporations.

We focus on creating a user-friendly product, which is also confirmed by the regular surveys we conduct. Intuitiveness is one of the essential features of ClickMeeting, and our customers like it. Besides, we are constantly working on adequate customer support. We try to make our advisors speak the customer's language. Not only do we localize the product itself, but we also provide extensive materials, including a blog and other content, in the languages our audience speaks.

In the imminent future, we will focus on webinars and large events. At the same time, we want to show that ClickMeeting is also a good tool for virtual meetings and everyday work.

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

It's a good idea to look at your business through the lens of your goals, and, at the same time, not get attached to your activities. You need to develop the ability to cut yourself off from projects that don't deliver the expected results. In doing so, your organizational culture should focus on supporting your employees and creating an environment where they are not afraid to take risks, but do not invest much effort in projects that are not fruitful. In recent years, much attention has been paid to developing tools and processes that help managers and teams streamline work daily.

The agile methods of running projects are replacing the vast and complicated development of year-round plans and budgets. OKRs help to focus on clear goals and understand the system of relationships in task execution. Tedious periodic evaluation processes are being replaced by constant feedback. It is great that we can benefit from all of this. I believe, however, that the success of implementing tools is always lagging nurturing the right attitudes: mindsets that we should require above all from ourselves, but also try to build among our co-workers.

What is most vital for us, and what makes ClickMeeting successful, is the conscious and careful selection of the right people who create the tool. Without their knowledge, commitment, and willingness to contribute to the platform, ClickMeeting would not only fail to achieve success and take advantage of positive circumstances for expansion, but like many other interesting initiatives, it would remain a niche solution at best. That's why we've always put so much care into our work environment and developed a culture based on friendship, accountability, and respect.

One of the lessons we are learning now is undoubtedly the need to ensure operational flexibility and agility. This applies, for example, to the creation of a sales proposal or flexible price list management. If this involves IT or testing, making changes will be time-consuming, which would not be positive from a business and customer perspective. There are also many changes when it comes to managing marketing efforts. Google's algorithms are changing, as well as the policies of social media platforms. This requires a lot of knowledge, flexibility, and good preparation.

It is also important to be aware that many issues are beyond our control. These are mainly legal concerns, including changes that are often introduced quite unexpectedly. We encountered such problems, e.g. in Russia, where regulations made it difficult to operate.

Entering the Chinese market, in turn, is difficult because of the ban on holding servers in this country. Of course, significant legal changes are also taking place in the European Union. They mainly concern the processing and storage of personal data (GDPR).

As a European company, we are obliged to comply with them. Still, we do not take this as a setback - on the contrary, it is an opportunity for us to create an even more secure platform that focuses on ensuring the privacy of its users. For many, the fact that we care about GDPR and host servers in the European Economic Area is a big advantage of our platform.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

As a company engaged in developing its own IT product, we need to use tools that allow us to manage projects and efficiently ensure optimal communication. Nowadays we increasingly recruit candidates who work remotely, often residing far from Gdansk, where we are based. However, thanks to good tools, clear procedures, and a highly organized culture, we provide excellent working and developmental conditions.

The basis of our communication is, of course, ClickMeeting: we use it to organize various meetings, such as status, daily or weekly, as well as meetings in a larger group or business meetings. We also use webinars, including automated and on-demand webinars, which are useful for training courses, for example. Another tool supporting communication is Slack.

For project management, we rely on Jira and Confluence. Thanks to this, we can efficiently run projects following agile methodologies and manage information and data.

We also use many tools to support analytics. These include Tableau, Google Analytics, Semrush, Ahrefs, Buzzsumo, and Similarweb. For email marketing and many other marketing activities, we use the capabilities of GetResponse, the platform from which ClickMeeting is directly derived.

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

I always say that the book that influenced me most is Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. Gaining the awareness of how easily we are trapped by cognitive biases and lack of individual criticism helped me to strategize effectively, think faster, and make better decisions.

For people who want to achieve success in marketing and business, I can also recommend Marcus Sheridan's books, especially They Ask, You Answer. Technology is constantly changing, new strategies are being developed, but one principle still holds: to sell effectively, you must first know your customer and provide them with what they expect.

Another book that also had an impact on me is From Impossible to Inevitable by Aaron Ross and Janson Lemkin.

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

Try to test your product in practice quickly (if it allows for this). As a result, you will find out at an early stage what your potential recipients think about it, and you will be able to assess whether it is worth investing time and money in it.

It's worth confronting both your product and your marketing efforts with your audience as soon as possible. Test on small groups to find out what works and then try to replicate the ideas. This will help you assess where you are and give you a better idea of what steps you should take.

Also, don't be afraid to not only take new initiatives and implement them but also to walk away from ideas that don't provide the best results. This is a mistake that many business people make. If a project doesn't work out, in most cases, giving up on it and learning the right lessons will be far better than persisting with unsuccessful initiatives.

It would be best if you also shaped the right culture for the organization. The people you work with should not be afraid to take risks. If they feel your support and encourage them to take initiatives, they will return the favor with great ideas to make your business grow.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

Our team has grown a lot recently. In 2016, we employed 30 people, and now we have almost 100 employees. In 2020 alone, we increased our workforce by about 30%. In two years, the management personnel has risen by 40% - it now consists of 20 people.

We are also pleased that our employees are growing with the organization. Almost half of the new managers are employees who were promoted internally. New competencies concerning team and project management are also acquired thanks to the leadership programs we run. We are constantly looking for new employees.

There is a high demand, especially for programmers, testers, and Customer Success employees, and particularly people who can support our customers in specific markets. Other departments are also expanding, including our internal marketing and PR team. You can find our vacancies on this page.

Where can we go to learn more?

-  
Szymon Grabowski, Founder of ClickMeeting
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