In December, we finally hit our goal of having 100 customers using PingPong.
The journey from 0 to 100 customers took us almost 3 years, so I can certainly say we didn’t hit a world record for fastest customer growth!
As we enter a new decade, now seems the perfect time to share some thoughts and reflections on that journey so far.
We’re bootstrapping and I can tell you it’s not easy but still the best option for us
After years of wrestling with the possibilities for growth and funding, we made a decision in 2019 to stop chasing angel and VC investors. Not only do I not personally enjoy the process of fundraising (very few do!) but I also enormously enjoy the personal freedom and the feeling that comes from not being indebted to external investors.
The real cost of raising capital is the reduced freedom and increased stress that come with that decision. I choose better sleep and greater freedom, albeit with the potential for slower growth and more limited resources.
This is a bit tricky here because having fewer financial resources does have the potential to create stress. The slower progress in particular (you can’t launch an aggressive hiring and marketing drive if you don’t have a generous pot of cash to invest) is something that can be frustrating at times, particularly when you know that your product has a lot of potential and you could move a lot faster if resources were there.
We did opt to take a small bank loan in 2019, but that’s a little bit different. While an investor would be looking for perhaps a 10-100x return (forcing us to scale aggressively), a bank expects simply a few percent of increase on their financial outlay.
We do things that don’t scale
Even now, we still intentionally do things that don’t scale. We still do a lot of in-person product demos and walkthroughs. We also visit cities where our customers are and meet in person. These are great to connect with current and potential customers on a more personal level and listen to their stories.
We really value the ability to do this type of non-scaleable action, because it allows us to stay attuned to product quality, rather than having to aggressively scale and automate everything about our business, with the risk that we might be taking things in a negative direction.
You gotta do a lot of sales
I’m a designer myself, and I never had the serious sales responsibilities in my past. Realizing that this type of business is very sales driven forced me to learn the basics of sales. If you quickly need to understand and learn sales, then SPIN Selling and Give and Take are absolute must have books for introverts like me.
I’m still far from being a sales expert but I can safely say I’m much more comfortable with the sales process and can confidently explain and manage sales meetings and discussions. When you’re a small product focused company without a dedicated sales team, that’s an absolute must. And of course, the benefits you get from sitting in front of customers and hearing what they’re looking for in your product are a valuable way to make the product itself even better.
Building a product and company out of thin air is absolutely awesome
Just a few little examples of things that are bringing me joy as we’re moving ahead:
- I’m still super excited whenever we release something new (or even just small improvements, as we did in our last release).
- We’ve built massively powerful features that enable fellow designers and researchers to perform research that they simply couldn’t do before. Like our one and only Japanese customer who registered and then ran a research next day in the US without any problem and not even asking a simple question in our support channels.
- To better understand how we’re doing, we implemented some micro surveys at multiple points of the user journey (for both researchers and testers). This helps us improve the overall experience as we see what’s going on more clearly. And it’s always very rewarding to hear directly from users what does and doesn’t work in the product.
- We’re rebuilding uxdesignersalaries.com to better support the community and show the data in a better way.
Why are we focusing on our total customer count, rather than on revenue?
We used to focus on revenue but there was a serious issue with that: with a product like ours, we don’t control our customers’ spending. Let me explain.
PingPong pricing is transactional - rather than charge a monthly or annual subscription, we charge per credit. A single credit pays for a 30 minute research session (a user interview and/or user test). A typical research study will include 3-6 of these sessions.
A customer might run a hundred research sessions in a month (they’re gearing up for a new feature or product launch), or they might run none (their team are on holiday, or they’re not building new features). Customers also buy credits in advance - credits purchased in February might be gradually spent over the 3-6 months that follow.
When you have a relatively small customer count, that means it’s very tricky to accurately predict and gain meaningful insight solely from the total monthly revenue. So we instead decided to switch our KPI focus to the total number of customers who had purchased credits. It gave us a single metric that the whole team could band around and watch closely… and a big target to reach our first 100 customers!
So, 100 customers, huh?
Our first 100 PingPong customers are fantastic and I couldn’t wish for a better bunch of companies. Out of these 100, we have some really big and well-known brands:
McKinsey, Dropbox, Skyscanner, British Red Cross, Habito, Transferwise, Zapier, Monese, ING, TomTom, DiscoveryEducation, Lululemon, just to name a few. Check out our customers page for even more :)
Let’s dig into those numbers a little more...
How they found us
Roughly speaking, our first 100 customers were acquired as follows:
- 50% of our sales have come from organic leads.
- 25% of our sales come from LinkedIn outreach and networking (something I focused more on personally as I learned more about building sales processes).
- 25% came from personal connections and growth channels (e.g. a designer moving to a new role or switching companies).
Who they are
- 60% of our customer base is product companies (like Zapier, Skyscanner, Transferwise, Dropbox, Monese, Farewill, Habito and Tickr).
- 30% are agencies (like 72andSunny, Hugo & Cat, Potato and Beyond).
- 10% are freelancers and individuals.
Product companies are our most hardcore and loyal users. A lot of them implemented PingPong deeply into their product development process (for example, running weekly research sessions) and we’re being used widely within teams.
I personally want to help agencies sell more UX research and do more research in general. As I was working for an agency in the past, I know this is tricky but I also know that their clients definitely need more UX research. We feel that PingPong’s transactional pricing fits well with agencies (who usually run tests more sporadically, when they happen to have a project running which requires them) so this is something we’ll definitely be focusing on in 2020.
Where they’re based
And our client base is super-international!
- 45% are from the UK.
- 30% are from the USA.
- 25% are from the rest of the world (EU, Japan, Canada, South America, etc).
This is something that makes me very happy. I always wanted to build a company with a global customer base, that wasn’t focused just on a single country. Our customer count in the UK is a little higher than elsewhere because we’re incorporated here, and also have a bit more local knowledge.
What’s in store for the future?
I want to take the opportunity here to thank all of you for using PingPong. We’re constantly-grateful for all the designers, researchers and product managers who have given us a try, trusted us to be your partner in user research and been a part of our community.
At PingPong, we’re not just in the business of selling access to our testers and software. When you choose PingPong, you’re committing yourself to a more user focused approach. You’re committing yourself to connecting with your users on a deeper level. You’re committing yourself to your users themselves. And as designing for humans is becoming increasingly important, I’m not sure if there’s anything else more important.
Now that we’ve reached our initial goal of 100 customers, dogma would suggest that we need to double that goal, triple it, or even 10x it! But that doesn’t feel fully compatible with what would make our product and company as strong as possible. So instead, we'll continue going where we see the most opportunity: building a better way of doing user research. And we’re only just getting started.