Quin Hoxie is the Co-Founder of Swiftype, a modern search service.
Showing people the value of the product as quickly as possible is key. A couple of things we started doing early on that have helped significantly are:
1) Showing the pages we are finding as we find them.
2) Letting people see a live preview of the search installed on their site.
By doing this our customers understand exactly what we have to offer in the first minute or so of trying the product.
At Swiftype we use Github extensively. Every major change is broken out into a branch and setup as a work in progress Pull Request. The whole team monitors all of these and there are almost daily discussions around the specifics of the code. This keeps our codebase in optimal condition and everyone is engaged with the projects, even if they are not working on them specifically.
When our customers launch a new Swiftype integration. I’ll often monitor public forums like Facebook and Twitter to listen for user feedback on their new search. In some cases, where there is an issue with the implementation reported, I’ll work with the site owner to get it fixed. This is obviously important to us from a customer service standpoint, but our customers also serve as a face for what Swiftype can do, so we strive to see every customer have the best implementation possible.
Never give a pitch or an explanation that you don’t actually believe. There are always going to be things you know and things you don’t know about your business, product, market, etc. It is important to stick to what you know and be candid. You’ll always sound better — it is easier to be confident when you’re right.
Direct meetings or calls, person to person, were key for us early on. Trust can be an issue when you’re small, especially for a Saas company. It was always important for us to be personally accountable to our early customers – they should know they can call you, the founder, even if they never do. Many of these people we reached out to early were influencers in various verticals, and we leveraged our relationships with them to capture larger pieces of their respective markets.
Matt and I quit great jobs at Scribd when we applied to Y Combinator. We hadn’t yet gotten in. In retrospect, it has worked out well, and we have great relationships with everyone at Scribd. At the time, though, it was terrifying, but we knew we needed to be all-in on Swiftype.
We got a lot of mileage early on just by nature of the fact that we were constantly writing code. Many of our seed investors were impressed with what we had built in such a short amount of time. This was a bit confusing to me and Matt at first, because we didn’t know what else we would have been doing. “Write code and talk to users” is what Paul Graham always says to do, and it worked well for Swiftype.
Matt and I had quite a few customers we wanted to land but could not get introductions to any decision-makers. We started going onto their website’s user feedback systems like Olark and GetSatisfaction. From there we would periodically message them saying we, as anonymous users, were unhappy with their search and wished they would use something like Swiftype. This actually worked remarkably well in a few cases and landed some key customers!
We were in the thick of fundraising, which mostly involves driving back and forth across Sand Hill Road. All of our meetings were stacked one after the other. Right before our last meeting of the day, I looked up the address of the firm… and it was in San Francisco rather than Menlo Park. We were over an hour late and extremely embarrassed, but the people there were very understanding.
Know what aspects of work you find most rewarding — the things that make you happiest. Nothing beats positive customer feedback for me. If I’m down, I go back through old emails from customers or search “Swiftype” on Twitter. Seeing people tell the world how much they love your product tends to heal all wounds.