Founder & CEO of Hacker Noon
Please welcome our weekly sponsor Paperform to Hacker Noon! I stumbled upon Paperform when their founder Dean McPherson contributed a number of in the trenches startup founder stories, like Stop Thinking About Scaling — For Developers Working on Crazy New Startup Ideas, to Hacker Noon. Today, we’re going to catch up on the state of this startup — and find out what makes Dean & his cofounder Dionysia McPherson do what they do.
If you’d like to express interest in becoming the weekly sponsor of Hacker Noon, please learn more information here. Spoiler alert — the landing form is powered by Paperform :)
Could you share some of the numbers on Paperform’s progress, scale and usage?
We launched with an AppSumo deal last December, which gave us a 2K+ users in the first two weeks. We are now at 6K+ users, and growing 20% month on month.
Tell us a bit about your startup life. What hours do you work? What’s your desk like? How is your computer organized? How do you choose what projects to prioritize?
It’s great to be spending our time and effort on something that’s ours, so we’re loving startup life. We previously worked in 9–5 tech jobs, and realised that we had the right skillset between us to establish a viable business. Why would we work hard for others when we can do it for ourselves?
We don’t really pay much attention to tracking hours — we are much more task focused — it’s about getting stuff done rather than watching the clock. Also, living together means we have the advantage of resolving issues or making decisions at lighting speed. We tend to work in the mornings, from 8am-1pm, as that’s when our focus is best, and then we try and get out of the “office” for a bit to clear our heads, spend time with people, hit the beach, grab something to eat. We’ll then work again in the evening. That’s just what we both naturally prefer, so it works well. One of the reasons we started this business is so we could be there for the important people in our lives and have more freedom in general, and so far it’s working well.
We don’t have a traditional office — we bootstrapped the business, so we’ve been working from home from the start. We bought two ergo chairs, cleared the dinner table, and set up shop there. We’re super lean, so we won’t consider an office until we hire — and the need for that isn’t as great these days as our stack is awesome. We’re about to hire support, but we’ll be doing that through Influx, so our stack is about to get even better.
The nature of what we prioritize has changed in the 9 months since launch. In the beginning you have to roll with the punches and be organic and reactive. We started with an MVP with the intention of letting our users guide us in building it out, and that worked incredibly well for the first 6 months (of course, we said no to a lot of stuff, but important features become evident when loads of people are asking for them). We also prioritized legal and accounting early on — we knew if the Paperform platform was going to be anything we had to get these ducks in a row. Dean covers all product development, tech support, and product architecture. Diony handles legal, accounting, admin, and general support. We both split tasks on partnerships, product dev, content, and brand.
Now that we have a more robust product, priorities are shifting towards marketing and educating users on making most of the tons of features we have. We have a fortnightly sync that runs about 40 minutes where we run over the entire business to ensure we’re controlling the beast. That’s really important. We’ve actually taken the last month off from new features and content to assess our vision, strategy, and roadmap — perfect time to do this!
Just about every site in the world could benefit from beautiful forms, which opens the business up to many industries. But a startup can’t be everything to everyone. Where are you seeing adoption? And when you’re building and messaging the product, what persona do you serve?
That’s so true! It’s interesting when we get users who try and convince us that we should have a chatbot feature, we tell them straight that that is not what we do — it’s the opposite of what we are about. The form-builder market is quite crowded, but no one is really catering to businesses that need to visually engage (until now!). There is a stupid amount of research that proves visual engagement is a vital component of making sales. People see, then they want, then they buy. Logic has very little to do with it, even for the most logical person (we recently did a post on this that goes into detail here).
We are seeing adoption in any business that needs to visually engage — food, fitness, photography, marketing, real estate industries, are just a few. We also have quite a few users who don’t want to use high res images in their forms, but need something that handles content alongside questions well — like education and Not-for-Profits. So, they’ll show a preview video of their course within the form, and then follow with a sign-up section. People need to tell a story to move their customers to action, and they need visuals to bring stories to life. That’s what we allow them to do.
Recite Lab Founder A.Fairiz described Paperform, via Product Hunt, as having “this subtle way of ‘hiding’ the form elements. It’s like I’m reading this narrative about a product, watching a couple of images about it and suddenly in the next paragraph, there’s a couple of checkboxes. My mind naturally perceives that these are part of the narrative and I might as well check a few boxes while I’m at it so that I can continue on with the content.” I’m very fascinated by blurring the line between reader and writer, as well as, how sites can be more actionable. So I guess what I’m asking is, what is your mantra for driving user engagement?
We love that quote — it perfectly describes why Paperform forms work — it’s designed to allow anyone to create forms that draw your audience in and provoke a response. There’s a big assumption out there that web forms are purely administrational, boring, data vacuums. If you really want meaningful data or to make a sale, forms shouldn’t be any of those things.
We actually describe Paperform forms as “landing forms” because of this intersection of narrative content and data capture. Our mantra is that “Paperform empowers you to create forms as beautiful as you,” not just because the forms have unrivaled code-free customization, but because our users can embody their brand and vision in their web forms. Creating a Paperform from scratch forces you to evaluate what you’re really about as a brand, and allows you to convey that. The process itself is very powerful; Diony actually prefers when customers create a form from scratch rather than using our templates, because the form creation process is more than an administrational task — it’s an exercise in understanding your business’s personality and goals. She feels they have a more holistic experience that is beneficial to understanding their business, not just the form they’re working on that day. They have to ask core questions like:
Dean started building the first version of the Paperform editor because we had so many friends asking him to create engaging bespoke forms. They struggled to find anything that could help them create what they needed without code. There was an obvious gap in the market.
We’ll always ask how we can drive user engagement by ensuring the Paperform platform continues to offer the tools our customers need to engage audiences. We’ll always be looking to the latest research in marketing and product psychology to ensure that forms created with Paperform are effective.
One of our favorite stats at Paperform is that we have 10% of our customers go out of their way to tell us that they ‘love’ the Paperform platform. We have incredible organic growth — we actually haven’t had to spend much on marketing at all because people are sharing the product with their friends and bringing in a constant and stable stream of new customers. It’s an incredible feeling, and we love our Paperform community.