• Elisa Yu

Silicon Valley Bootstrapper Success Stories - QuestionPro

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When did you start your business?

I started my business in 2005. It's almost 15 years now.

Why did you start your business?

I hated my boss, and I wanted to be my own boss. The idea of working for someone else did not sit well with me. Also, before starting my business, I worked in consulting, but I never really felt like I was part of something, and that drove me to build a product. I worked on my business while working full-time until I got enough money to quit my job.

What did you do well when you started?

We were a bunch of tech guys, and marketing was not one of our strengths. We chose to focus on the product. We had a great product, and our website's SEO was well done. We focused on SEO, found people who are looking for what we have to offer, so that we didn’t have to do a lot of outbound marketing. It brought us customers. It made things easy for us that we didn't need to raise money.


Where do you think you are in the growth cycle?

We are somewhere in the middle of the growth cycle. We are growing at about 35 to 40% every year. We are in the business of helping companies understand the experience of their customers through surveys. Most companies want to improve the experience for their customers, and we all know that you cannot improve something until you measure. We help companies measure the experience across the entire life cycle, we become the defecto company for measurement, and that's how our company grows.

The market is large and the market size is growing. There are two or three companies that are worth $1 billion in the space. My company has been there for almost 15 years, and we've been profitable throughout these years. We made a lot of money, and now we continue to make money. It is incredible how we have grown.

Our growth curve flattened out a bit in 2010, but we added more products and reinvented ourselves so now we are in the growth phase again. For example, we focused on international expansion, now we have offices in different places, including India and Mexico and we are looking forward to opening offices in Germany and Spain. We just have to try new ideas and see which ones will sustain our growth.

What was the biggest challenge for you in the start-up, and how did you overcome it?

For the startup phase, “you are just trying not to die”. For us, it was acquiring customers, making them happy, and satisfying them. Don’t get too bogged down with processes and systems at this phase. For me, I tend to gravitate more towards customers than investors. We overcame our challenge by making the customer the center of everything, making sure that the customers are happy, and they are adequately funding us. If you can get that to work, then you should be able to get your first million-dollar. Once you get the first million dollars, it gives you enough horsepower to think about the next phase.

To succeed, you just have to figure out what the customers want, how much they're willing to pay and see if you're able to deliver that.

What is the biggest challenge for you in the growth phase?

Putting the right systems and processes into play. In the growth phase, we are focusing on systems and processes than individual kind of deal-making. The systems and processes allow us to have consistent results among our customer base, and repeat the success we have for one customer to others.

What do you think is the biggest challenge in the first maturity phase, and how do you overcome it?

It must be decision making.

The best way to overcome this challenge is by asking yourself a couple of simple questions - if you were advising yourself, what would you say? If you were to fire yourself and then rehire yourself later, what would you do differently?

If you can have one or two pieces of advice that you could give to the people who are still in the trenches wanting to get to that successful point, what advice would you give them?

Grit: You are not going to getting everything right, and people will frustrate you, but you have to stay on the course.

Learn how to prioritize: Don't try working on 15 things at the same time. Pick up two to three things that you can work on each quarter and nail them. This will help you have clarity, and it helps in terms of internal alignment and communication. Also explicitly state what you will not address at the current time, so that you can stay focus.


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