Wondergraphs is a beautiful, simple-to-use reporting and analysis service that has recently started to take off. Dirk Stevens is responsible for product design and business development for Wondergraphs. They are bootstrapped and successful; a great story. Here’s my interview with Dirk.
Me: Tell me about Wondergraphs and what you do.
Dirk Stevens: Wondergraphs is a Software-as-a-Service platform for business analytics and reporting. We want to help businesses get value from their data in spreadsheets and databases and help them to share reports with stakeholders in a simple, easy to use and efficient manner.
My role in Wondergraphs is focused on product design and business development. I am an all-round guy with a passion for technology and business so you could say this is my dream job. My colleagues Kim and Ruben are technology wizards and build our magic – from product to infrastructure it’s amazing what these guys pull off. In addition they do the day-to-day interaction with customers on everything related to technology.
Me: How has bootstrapping played a role in the growth and development of Wondergraphs?
DS: Bootstrapping has primarily meant working with a limited budget. I don’t think we would have done things differently if we’d have had an investor on board; we’d for sure would have moved a lot faster.
Bootstrapping keeps us focused on cash, keeps us lean and keeps us on the customer development path in a natural manner. Those are the fundamentals for a sound business. But bootstrapping can be miserable too. When you know you could move faster if you had just a little more cash or when the team is so small that you have to do things you are not that good at or don’t like doing. In a funded company the roles in the team are more specialist and focused and probably more efficient.
It’s said that with outside financing entrepreneurs are less hungry. I am not too sure about that and I am not sure if that’s so relevant. A good entrepreneur certainly wont be less hungry! And with more people and money on board from the start, it could be that some people have a lessened sense of urgency, but from a pure business progress perspective 10 people giving it “just 90% is still twice as fast than 3 people giving it 150%…
Now that we’re through the tough parts of building the business and we’re at the point of scale, I am happy about the great things we learned and achieved. I recently met with a fellow entrepreneur who has been funded with several $million and he is jealous of our independence, while we are jealous of his resources.
DS: Ooh…I believe marketing is something we could have done better so here’s some thoughts on principles that I believe set the tone for how we market and sell.
Build a beautiful product that eases a real pain of real customers. We’re down to earth guys who believe in classic economics: offer clear value and charge fair money for it.
Be real and love what you do. If you take pride in building your business and making a difference in your market then people feel that and like to be associated with you and tell their friends and colleagues.
Take things step by step. Our first marketing campaign was sending a video of our beta version to a few potential customers. We didn’t want to bite more than we could chew. We have a complex product and in the beginning our technology was too immature to handle many customers at once. Our TechCrunch article last week was our first large scale marketing and was planned a long time ago because we wanted to make sure that we’d be able to support many customers.
I’d ask all fellow entrepreneurs to please keep your marketing environment friendly and limit the useless plastic marketing crap. We can do without all that polluting crap we receive in the mail or when visiting a conference. (How many bottle openers, bags, mini-mouses and whatnots do we need?!)
Me: What advice do you have for new entrepreneurs when it comes to choosing between bootstrapping and seeking outside funding?
DS: Rather than spending time on courting people with money by running spreadsheets and predictions of the future, I believe you should build your minimum viable product and start selling as soon as possible so you get money from customers and learn from your customers. Your customers are really your investors – they’re as vested in your success as you, they give you money, quality time and feedback, and they certainly don’t want to run your company!
Maybe along the way, you’ll find an investor who shares your passion for your product or market and can afford to fund you based on your dreams (because you probably have little facts to prove it’s more than dreams) and that would be great, but don’t count on it.
Software development freelance work is in general easy to find and well paid, so we started Wondergraphs with a few months consulting projects to get some cash in. That cash gave us about a one-year runway.
Me: What financial advice do you have for other bootstrappers out there?
DS: I have got a question on scaling growth that maybe on other bootstrappers’ minds also? At what point would you consider attracting outside funding and what form would you prefer? Or would you rather fuel your growth by giving out more stock options to hire talent? Have you ever thought of asking partners for some form of investment?