For Wingify to go from
0 to $18M in Annual Recurring Revenue,
6,000+ paid clients in 90+ countries,
backed by a team that grew from the lone founder to 200+ people,
in 7 years
and that too bootstrapped
is undeniably startling!
Business: A SaaS (Software as a service) company offering market-leading tech products to B2Bs
Founder / Chairman: Paras Chopra
“When we are growing up we have a vague notion of who a businessman is. He either has a coal mine or a refinery. Basically something that you need money for. The idea of just a laptop and some code and you could create a company like Google was very inspiring for me. “
– Paras Chopra, Founder & Chairman, Wingify
Paras Chopra had an early start. With computers, technology, programming and all that comes with the territory of owning a startup. He began tinkering with programming and toying with ideas of a startup during his school days. He was all of 13 years when he was able to write workable programs using Basic 6.0 and was strongly impacted by an essay titled ‘How to Start a Startup?’ These early influences formed the genesis of the evolved entrepreneur he is today.
I spoke with Paras, the man behind Wingify, to know more about the startup that brings together his passion for AI, Programming, and Marketing all under one hood.
- The idea: How he came up with it?
- How he launched the idea?
- The verdict
- How he got his first set of customers?
- How Wingify grew and soared?
- Distribution of Traffic
- Summary of Growth
- Metrics that matter to Wingify
- Product Innovation
- Advice from the founder
The idea: How he came up with it?
Back to Basics
He jotted down his interests. Literally as simple as that. But he spent close to a month doing just that. This helped zero in on some key areas that excited him the most among which the theme that trumped the list was marketing optimization.
It combined his interests in analytics, technology and marketing in a fun yet challenging way. A marketing optimization platform was his idea for Wingify. He registered the domain name in 2008 right after graduating, even before the work had begun.
Creating a platform for marketing optimization
Paras began moonlighting while still employed. He made the required disclosures to his then employer making sure he knew that his project was not in conflict with what he did at work.
Google Analytics was very popular at the time with people catching on to the invaluable insights being offered by the service. However, implementing the inputs in a manner that would generate results required a fair bit of customization and IP on the website. Thus users had access to information about their sites but acting on that information was definitely a challenge. With Wingify Paras wanted to build a platform which served as an interface between Google Analytics and the user website helping users to implement changes in an intelligent and optimized manner.
While writing marketing optimization software on Google, Paras came across other sub-specialties such as ad optimization but they were primarily built for large companies. There were no practical methods available for small and medium businesses to run marketing optimization strategies.
How he launched the idea?
He worked on the product whereby he set out to commoditize marketing and optimization features for websites owned and managed by SMEs. The scope of the idea was established when he began focussing on what marketing optimization could effectively do for a website. He discovered it meant having to implement the following features – A/B testing, targeting, segmentation, and analysis. After having developed these features for close to 8 months he had a basic prototype in place. A sum of Rs.50,000 (~$800) fetched him a basic website design with inputs from his end.
He launched the website on Hacker News.
In his own words “Everyone hated it. Nobody understood what I was trying to do with the product.”
The gut-wrenching feedback from Hacker News said it all.
“I called it a conversion rate real-time optimization platform, and nobody understood what that meant. I was caught in the trap of having an engineer’s mindset.
The various algorithms I was using came very naturally to me, but they did not mean much to anyone else.
I also gave very little thought to the usability of the product. If you were to log in to the product, you would see at least 25 to 30 options. I thought that it would be good to have as many options as possible. I did not realize that this was going to overwhelm and intimidate people.”
– Paras being candid about Wingify’s failings
How he got his first set of customers?
Keeping it simple
In December 2009 after having faced the kind of heat that Paras did, he could have just given up. But he realized that the inputs from Hacker News were actually quite insightful and relevant. The feedback indicated that the product offered too many options and the terminology used was very complex. This helped him refocus and simplify the product. If users could not understand what the product could potentially do for them, it defeated the purpose.
Focus on one area
He decided it was best if he did not try and fix all that was wrong with the product at one go. Attacking the problem in its entirety could potentially backfire. Instead, he decided to keep it simple and focus on just one area. He wanted to learn from his past mistakes which also included trying to create a product that offered multiple solutions at the cost of being too complex.
- He scrapped the code he had written. All of it.
- There was a free Google tool available at the time of website optimization but it had very poor user reviews. It was very difficult to use because it required separate versions of a website to carry out the testing. Additionally, some high-end commercial tools were also available however their subscriptions cost thousands of dollars.
- He chose to zero in on A/B testing and made it Wingify’s focus area.
- Ver 2.0 was launched in one month and was called Visual Website Optimizer (VWO).
Hacks can be a good thing
When Paras saw the opportunity to create a simple, easy to use, A/B testing tool that could be offered at an affordable rate, he used many hacks to write the second version. He used the typical structure of a SaaS package from 37signals.com (now Basecamp). Design and Branding were clearly low order concerns at the time, so he bought a $5 website theme and used that for the app. He spent around $20 for a domain name + server hosting. He chose to resort to readily available solutions at cheaper rates instead of reinventing those aspects at the cost of extra time and resources.
Private beta (Free Trial)
Paras ran a private beta (free trial) of VWO through blog invites. Readers of the blogs received exclusive access to the software and he, in turn, received what matters most. Feedback. The free trial created interest with many requesting demos. Paras actively sought user feedback and the comments were very encouraging. It also helped shape the product to a great extent because VWO is essentially a useful marketing tool and Paras had very little insights into marketing at the time.
First 1000 signups
By March 2010 the growth was more than he could handle. He had over 1000 users and among the initial feedback he received was an early user whose email address was linked to the domain microsoft.com. The user told Paras that he “had gold in his hands”. Encouraging words such as these made it easier for Paras to quit his day job to be able to focus on Wingify full time.
Creating a revenue stream
Taking the difficult decision to leave a job also meant he needed to create a revenue stream from Wingify. Paras was convinced that businesses were going to have to be his primary user base because they would be willing to pay for the product. Paras did not have any real economic rationale for pricing the product. He just followed what he saw at 37signals.com which was to keep pricing under $100 and so went ahead and charged $39 a month. He finally launched the paid plans and signed up 10 customers on the very first day. By the end of the first month, he had made $4,000, way more than what he had expected. While the conversion rate was around 10% he also received some hate mail from users who expected the product to be free forever. They cited Google as a company offering free products to which Paras had to state the obvious and indicate how Google was a lot bigger than him and he had to be able to sustain the product and support himself.
How Wingify grew and soared?
1. Blogging on own website: Paras had maintained a blog over the years and wrote a lot of content. He loved writing and on looking back he believes it was one of the most important things that helped Wingify gain traction.
Type of content – A/B split testing, case studies, conversion optimization, infographics, research studies
Frequency of content – 6 to 8 articles a month
|Informative, long-form, high-quality blog posts
|On topics like – conversion optimization, marketing|
|Tweet within articles
|Subscribe via email
|Subscribe via RSS|
2. Content integrated with Email Marketing: Paras had maintained a blog over the years and wrote a lot of content. He loved writing and on looking back he believes it was one of the most important things that helped Wingify gain traction.
He collected email addresses via Exit Overlay to keep the engagement going.
Emailed content (via newsletter) once-twice /week
3. Constant contributor to Hacker News:
|Industry + VWO
4. Guest blogged for Smashing Magazine: They had good traffic at the time (~200K -300K per month) and so Paras reached out to the editors. The About Page had all the required information. He introduced himself, gave a brief background on his work, spoke about articles that could provide value to the readers (Industry + Concepts) and thereby add value to the magazine through his contributions. They gave him the thumbs up. He began with A/B testing, what should be changed on a website, the difference between A/B testing and multivariate testing, and best practices in the industry. He also strategically incorporated VWO in the content thereby soft-selling it effectively. This helped generate a lot of interest in Wingify.
5. Contributed to Open source GitHub: Wingify has one of the strongest product teams in the country and its open source projects are helping a lot of companies all over the world. This is evident from the top ranking on Github.
6. Via Case Studies [content broken down by industry]: Case Studies is a huge play for VWO because their clients are looking for examples of successes in their industry. VWO created a trigger in the system which would get activated when a customer increased their revenue by 20%. An e-mail would be sent to the customer with the question ‘Would you be willing to be part of the VWO Case study?’ This product feature also let VWO understand how many of their customers were increasing their revenues rapidly which directly correlated with their success. This small feature ad helped VWO create case studies in different industries rapidly without having to scout or manually search among their client list. Examples – Hyundai: Automobiles, Tinkoff Bank: Banks, BizzTravel: Travel.
7. E-Books (Download for free by giving an email address). Contents include –
Definitions & Guides: A/B Testing, Glossary terms
Templates: E-commerce page, landing page
Case study on how to boost conversions
9. Webinars at least one each month
10. Recommendations from leading names in the industry – SEOMoz, CopyBlogger, Neil Patel
1. Ad Words (SEMRUSH analysis of VWO)
- Traffic from Adwords: 1000 – 3000 visits/month (SEMrush.com)
- Total number of keywords they rank for: 266 (SEMrush.com, Spyfu.com)
- Approximate money spent on Adwords (Monthly): $5500
- Campaigns they’re creating within Adwords
- Generic Keywords – A/B testing, Mvt testing, Cro software, Heatmaps, Conversion funnel
- Branded Keywords – Visual website optimizer, VWO
- Competition focused keywords – Optimizely competitors, Optimizely techcrunch, Optimizely glassdoor, Mixpanel alternatives, Google conversion optimizer
- The Ad Copy
- Using quantifiable numbers – 5000 leading brands
- Superlatives – The World’s Easiest, The World’s First Connected CRO
- Features Set – Multivariate, A/B Testing, Heatmaps, User Testing
- Other cool things
- Over 100 different ad copies
- Customized URLs for every Ad
2. VWO Landing Page contains:
- Social validation: All the brands
- Simple Call to action: No information overload. Free 30-day trial
- What they do
- The primary headline: “ VWO’s New A/B Testing and Convers..” changes based on the ad
3. LinkedIn Marketing Programs:
- Targeted Marketers
- Used Inmails, Sponsored Posts and Display Ads
4. PR aka General Coverage
5. Expansion via online premium partnerships (with digital agencies in Japan, Israel, Brazil, UK, USA, South Africa)
- How they create partnerships?
- Be a part of Wingify’s extended sales family
- Earn a share of revenue sourced and be a part of lucrative incentive plans
- Get on-boarded and trained by experts
- Provide extensive sales, technical and marketing support
- Access to Wingify’s white papers, case studies, product guides and optimization best practices
- Incorporate the company’s name in Wingify’s Partner Directory
- Gain eligibility to use Wingify’s partner logo in sales and marketing tools
1. In-person sales: Hired a VP of sales in India
2. Trade shows, events & conferences: Wingify is big on events. The Sales team is perpetually traveling across to set up brand booths at events and make their presence felt. By engaging with conference attendees, the team ensures that the news of VWO & PushCrew’s ‘s value offering spreads far and wide. The team in attendance diligently works towards understanding the needs of the attendees and starting conversations that offer information and solutions with a context.
3. Other Free Tools: Another strategy Wingify used is the creation of mini-tools. These tools like the A/B Testing Duration Calculator, Landing Page Analyzer give you insights based on your website and the growth you want. These tools help with two things. They inform the user about their situation and also show the benefits of A/B testing. It is a subtle strategy to acquaint people ono are in the fence with the concept of A/B testing or VWO as a platform.
- With PushCrew, they added a small message “Powered By Push Crew. This small addition to all websites had an immediate viral effect and led to a lot of new users. This might seem like a common thing but companies don’t really think of ways where they can add unobtrusive marketing copy.
Distribution of Traffic
Similar Web, a data collection tool was used to gather statistics related to online visitors.
Over 50% of their traffic is direct which means a lot of repeat users. Their next biggest traffic driver is Search which means they’re creating content optimized for search. Low social traffic is common for most B2B companies.
Summary of Growth
|Idea → First customers||● Focus on a single area
● Using hacks
|First customers → Growth
|● Hacker News
● Guest blogged [Smashing Magazine]
|Growth → Expansion||● Hacker News
● Guest blogged [Smashing Magazine]
● Case studies
● Referral: SEOMoz, CopyBlogger, Neil Patel.
● Email marketing
● Linkedin Paid Ads
● Online partnerships
● Offline Sales
● Creating new free tools
Metrics that matter to Wingify
- Monthly growth in paid users
- Retention rate of paid users
- Monthly revenue
Wingify hopes to forward integrate with both their products.
VWO (Conversion Optimization Platform)
They are moving from an A/B testing platform which is purely website focused to the expansion of conversion optimization which covers a wider universe – emails, drip campaigns, website, social and other channels. So, its conversions across all channels. A wider product suite.
PushCrew (Push Notification Tools)
With this tool Wingify is pushing the limits of better customer support aided by AI. They built a Customer Success Management team and a Marketing team very early on and are moving ahead a lot more aggressively after having learned the ropes with VWO. This tool has every imaginable feature for multi-website and mobile support for every entity and the are building on it each day.
Advice from the founder
Being bootstrapped is winning in the long run
Pros of Bootstrapping
- Entrepreneurship is about freedom and creativity
- Dictate your pace. Decide which products dictate growth.
- You own a lot more, can build more ownership within the company with more working partners onboard.
- Set the tone and experiment all at the same time.
Cons of Bootstrapping
- Things may progress slowly
- Advisors and course correctors may be few.
- A constant compass is missing.
Being in India is an advantage
- Cost of living and thus expenses (mainly salaries) are low.
- Living with parents isn’t a stigma
- It is a lot easier to connect with the ecosystem
- Raise your bar. Someone who is an achiever can be the best anywhere. Innovation and success are not exclusive to the Silicon Valley.
- Today in India we have many accelerators, coworking spaces and incubators to help succeed.
Being culturally distinct helps build team dynamics
- Wingify has very casual structures allowing for the best ideas to flow and flourish without tripping over hierarchies.
- The team takes their work very seriously but not themselves.
- We promote a culture that encourages people to express freely which is conducive to the company’s growth and the team’s well-being. Work-life balance is given a lot of importance by providing flexible work timings and work-from-home options for those whose need it.
- Wingify organizes Friday Camps for the team to relax and unwind from the grueling week and takes the team on company-sponsored Trips and Experiences that help build solidarity among the employees
Wingify is a great example of a B2B SaaS company making a global impact from India. And there is hope for others too.
Write in if there are any companies that excite you.