The SaaS Podcast

Userflow: Bootstrapping a No Code SaaS to 7 Figures – with Esben Friis-Jensen [291]

Userflow: Bootstrapping a No Code SaaS to 7 Figures

Esben Friis-Jensen is the co-founder of Userflow, a no-code platform for building onboarding guides and product tours.

Before working on Userflow, Esben co-founded Cobalt.io, an application security platform.

In 2013, Esben and three of his friends decided that they were going to build a marketplace for bug bounty programs.

Companies such as Google were paying bounties to people who found security exploits or vulnerabilities in their products.

The Cobalt founders believed they could build a marketplace to facilitate that process for more companies.

But they didn't have any experience in the security space.

They managed to launch a marketplace and get a few customers. But the business wasn't a huge success.

And before long, they were close to running out of money until they got a request from a customer that changed everything.

That one request led them to eventually pivoting and building a completely different security product.

And they went on to raise $37 million and build a team of over 200 people.

In this interview, we talk about how 4 guys in Denmark who had no experience in the security space managed to pull this off.

And Esben and I talk about why this time he's going down the bootstrapped path and wants to see how far they can get with Userflow without any VC funding.

He's gone from co-founding a VC-backed company with over 200 employees to a bootstrapped startup where just a team of 2 people are closing in on $1 million in annual recurring revenue.

I hope you enjoy it.

Esben Friis-Jensen and Sebastian Seilund

Transcript

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Omer Khan: [00:00:00] Welcome to another episode of The SaaS Podcast. I'm your host Omer Khan. And this is the show where I interview proven founders and industry experts who share their stories, strategies, and insights to help you build, launch and grow your SaaS in this episode, I talked to Esben Friis-Jensen, the co-founder of Userflow, a no-code platform for building onboarding guides and product tours.

[00:00:36] Before working on Userflow, Esben co-founded cobalt.io and application security platform. In 2013 Esben and three of his friends decided that they were going to build a marketplace for bug bounty programs. Companies such as Google were paying bounties to people who found security, exploits or vulnerabilities in their products.

[00:00:59] And the Cobalt founders believed they could build a marketplace to facilitate that process for more companies. But they didn't have any experience in the security space. However, they managed to launch the market place and get a few customers, but the business wasn't a huge success. And before long, they were close to running out of money until they got a request from a customer that changed everything.

[00:01:22] That one request led them to eventually pivoting and building a completely different security. And they went on to raise $37 million and build a team of over 200 people in this interview. We talk about how for guys in Denmark, who had no experience in the security space, managed to pull this off and Esben, and I talk about why this time he's going down the bootstrap path and wants to see how far.

[00:01:50] They can get with Userflow without any VC funding he's gone from, co-founding a VC backed company with over 200 employees to a bootstrap startup, where with just a team of two people are closing in on a million dollars in annual recurring. So I hope you enjoy it.

[00:02:09] Esben, welcome to the show.

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:02:11] Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Omer Khan: [00:02:13] Do you have a, a favorite quote, something you can share with us that inspires or motivates you?

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:02:18] I don't have a quote per se, but I have a, something that was also a core value of Cobalt my previous company, and it's something I live a lot by , which is called quality at speed, kind of derives from maybe we all know a kind of done is better than perfect these kinds of things, but I really liked the quality at speed because it speaks to you.  You're moving fast, but you're doing it with quality in mind. And that's something I, I live a lot by when I build companies and products and so on.

Omer Khan: [00:02:51] So we're going to talk about Cobalt but before we do that, let's talk about your, your current company Userflow. What does the product do? Who's it for? And what's the main problem that you're to solve?

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:03:00] Yeah. So one of the founders of Userflow together with my co-founder, we built this product that basically allows you to do in -app onboarding product tours and surveys. And you can do that without using any code we really need to do is install a small piece of JavaScript in your website.

[00:03:18] And then you can build these kinds of in-depth guides and onboarding flows without using any code. And that basically allows customer success managers, product menders the signers. To build these flows without using expensive engineering time.

Omer Khan: [00:03:34] Where are you in terms of revenue with Userflow?

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:03:37] So we had very small bootstrap, two-person company, but we are, we are closing in under 1 million ARR mark, it's going really good.

Omer Khan: [00:03:46] That's awesome. it's going really good. We're going to talk about that and how the two of you have been able to do that. But before we do, let's talk about cobalt. That's a very different type of company that you, you co-founded and worked on for over seven years. So let's go back to. 2013 actually, before we do that and talk about how it started, just again, tell us what is, what is Cobalt?

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:04:12] So Cobalt today is a pen test as a service providers. So basically, it's a, it's a term that we help kind of coin. It's a, basically a way to do penetration testing, which is security testing of your web app, mobile app, API, or your SaaS platform to do a security test of that using real humans that does the testing.

[00:04:35] So people who can really mirror what a bad hacker would be doing. So, so that that's the service and the way we delivered in Cobalt is through a platform. So that's why it's pen test as a service as basically a platform driven models. So you have a SaaS platform where you interact with the testers, get the results and work with your pen test then, and do data analysis and so on.

Omer Khan: [00:04:58] Is this the same as ethical hacking or is pen testing is different?

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:05:02] Yeah, I would say so ethical hacking is basically what you do when you do pen testing. So you find the vulnerabilities before the bad guys do.

Omer Khan: [00:05:09] So the company was founded in, in 2013. How did you come up with the idea for the business?

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:05:15] So we are, we were four Danish founders who  wanted to start a business and  we had seen what the Google and Facebook were doing  where they were inviting the entire world to come and the find vulnerabilities in their websites, and then they would pay them bounties for the findings. None of us four founders were actually in the security. So that was pretty interesting, but we found it super was a time where a lot of big hacks were happening. So we were also finding it kind of odd that why is this problem so hot to solve and so on.

[00:05:48] So we sold those two trends and then we decided to build the platform that could facilitate this kind of bug bounty programs as they're called for more than just Google and Facebook, you should be able to do it if you were any kind of business. So that's why we started. And we moved initially through when, where we kind of built an MVP in Argentina, and then we got accepted into an accelerator in the bay area and then we stayed around in the bay area.

Omer Khan: [00:06:17] If you guys, if none of you had any experience in security, how did you know what to build?

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:06:22] Yeah. Good question. I think we, we looked at what Google and Facebook had done. Right. So, we could see, okay, this is how the model works. So really what we had to build was some kind of, you know, marketplace platform, right?

[00:06:36] Two-sided marketplace platform, where you have the testers on one side who should be able to submit a report. And then the business on the other side should be able to accept or reject that report and pay a bounty if they accept the ride. So it was really facilitating a workflow more so than facilitating a security kind of tech security kind of thing.

[00:07:00] And I think we were all great at facilitating workflows and we've used that throughout building the business and also think given we came in with an unbiased kind of view on the security industry has actually helped us a lot to think out of the box and really challenge the status quo in the security industry.

Omer Khan: [00:07:19] Okay. So, you, you built the MVP and then you moved to the Bay Area to get into this accelerator. Tell me sort of what that first year looked like. And how did you go about turning that MVP into, you know, your final product and kind of finding that first customer?

[00:07:42] Yeah, so we, we, we give out into the accelerator and it was boost VC by the way, Adam Craver, who's the son of Tim Craver.

[00:07:51] So accelerate them in the, in the valley. And that was an amazing experience where we were coming from another country Denmark, moving into Silicon Valley. And that was of course, really, really cool. And we, we just wanted to build a great business and we, we also got some early traction in this smaller businesses, especially Bitcoin exchanges was a bit big market for us back then that turned out to be probably it's a day it could be a good market again, but back then they were like going on there every day, not the best market to go with, and then we moved into selling more to sell as a service businesses, which was a bit more stable market. So we were growing okay. At that first year, but it was definitely, it has its challenges of course, coming from another country and having to build a market and, and was also a first startup.

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:08:43] So we had to learn everything from scratch. Right? Initially we did everything. That was a good thing about having a team of four, right. That we could do a bit of everything. So we had one building the product, one doing operations, one, maybe looking for fundraising. And then I was primarily focused on the sales and marketing  of the business.

Omer Khan: [00:09:04] The product that Cobalt is now is very different to the product that you, you started out with.  So presumably there was some kind of pivot at some point. Can you talk a little bit about like how, what led to that point?

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:09:24] If there a lot to us, of course similarities between the products we have today, but it is a much more different model in that it's a structured way of testing. When you do pen testing, you do like a two week test with maybe a group, a small group tests as where the original model was to invite everybody in the world and, and  and pay them pound is right. And so we also moved both from a more transactional bounded driven model to a more subscription driven.

[00:09:50] You buy X amount of pen testing for a year, but what led us there was actually, I think two years or three years into Cobalt's history, we were kind of struggling to grow more. We were growing okay in the beginning and growing okay fast. And we had raised like a angel round of 1 million and we've used that to grow a bit more, but we would kind of see, as we started to try to raise our, our seed round, we were, struggling a bit one with raising the round and we were okay.

[00:10:23] Like pushback from investors, but we will also seeing that our growth rate was maybe not amazing. Right. And we struggled a bit to admit that because we have, we did have customers for this bug bounty model, right? So it's not like the business was going totally bad, but it was just not growing as fast as we expected.

[00:10:45] And so we knew something was wrong. And then we actually had one or two customers who asked. Can you do a pen test for us? And a, we said, yeah, sure. We can probably hack our platform a bit to do it. And then we saw they were willing to pay like a fixed price of thing. Like back then, like eight, $8,000. Right. Which was like, that was the biggest customers we ever have was that size.

[00:11:10] So I done been paid at all upfront. So that that kind of triggered something in us like that's odd why they're willing to do that. Right.  We, we were really, I would say it was that top that we were, you know, like not being able to raise money and not being able to really grow the business. That's a tough, tough time for business, but this kind of eureka moment of discovering that pen testing was maybe the way to go kind of triggered something in us. And then we basically decided to go all in on pen testing and then with that kind of strategy in mind, we were able to go out and raise a seed round that kinda safe that they ride and allowed us to then pursued us hence, a strategy that really  took off, right.

[00:11:53] We just, from there, we just grew really, really fast. And I think it was due to a couple of different reasons. One, it was a, instead of like creating a new market, which pumped down economy was you. We were tapping into an existing market that was owned by consultancies. And we were then coming with the modern approach to this existing pen test market.

[00:12:15] And to pen testing is very much a sales-driven motion, a lot of customers do pen testing to satisfy big enterprises they want to sell to runs on. So, there's like a sales driver behind it. And that they didn't really have that. There was only the security driver. And even though I would love that security was like the only, like the could be a driver on its own.

[00:12:38] It's not always the case. A lot of businesses are more driven by, you know, their sales and so on. And so, they, that helped us as well. Right. But that was actually a sales driver as well on top of the security driver. So those two things really help us grow. And you can say that's when we found product market fit.

[00:12:55] Right. It was, we didn't admit that we were struggling to find it back then, but when we really were right, when we pivoted to pen testing, that's where we found it. And then it just took off.

Omer Khan: [00:13:07] I mean, I know you, you, you said before that you had customers, but you were also starting to run out of money as well, right?

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:13:14] Yeah. Yeah. And we weren't, you know, so it really starts coming to you always kind of the next round is super critical. Right. Especially in a VC -funded business. Right. So, yeah, we were, we weren't getting close to that on we're talking about, okay, what strategies should we do if we just thought running really out of money.

[00:13:30] So this came just in the right time for us, right. This discovery of the power of pen testing and yeah, so that sometimes the timing is just right, right? And we were lucky or had the grit to also find the new strategy. Right. And, and we're, we also took a risk, right, because we actually lost some existing customers. And during this transition, but, and then we gained so much more from doing it. Yeah.

Omer Khan: [00:14:00] So I think this pivot was a pivotal moment. Forgive the pun here. Right. But I think that was a really an important point because a lot of founders get stuck and don't get past this point and you guys were also sort of there and struggling.

[00:14:22] To figure out effectively product market fit. And when this, so I want to talk more about this because I think this is a really interesting part of the story. When this customer turned up and asked you, if you could do pen testing, did the lights go off immediately when you were like, great. Yeah, this is, this is the direction we need to be going.

[00:14:42] Or was this more about great. We've got somebody who's going to pay us some money and give us a little bit more of a lifeline. While we can figure out what to do with the bug bounty business. Like how long did it take for you to decide to figure out that pen testing was the way to take the product as well?

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:14:59] It was definitely a transition period, right. It was not like, okay, they won, then we do it. Right. It was like, Okay, let's try to do this. We kind of hack it a bit. We had a platform, a bit to satisfy this customer. It was a customer we really liked. And they, they said, can you do this as well? And then yeah, sure.

[00:15:19] We want to try it out. And when you're a small startup, you a more flexible in what you can try out, right. We initially tried it all up and we did it on a couple of more customers. And then the period we started, marketing kind of dual thing, right? Like we are the pen test and bug bounty platform.

[00:15:41] But actually that didn't work so well either because that was just confusing. And you didn't have like a full focus. I've always been a big advocate on a thing, all the co-founders were and, and also use the power of focus. Right. Doing one thing really well. And I think we, at some point landed maybe in a kind of like dual marketing where we had like bug bounty and pen testing because we were afraid to let go of our existing customer side. But in sometimes we just took the risk and said, in order for us to really grow fast because we could see that pen test business was growing faster than the bug bounty. Let's just go all in on pen testing because then we can build a product that's perfect for pen testing, we can build all our support and sales and marketing, everything aligned around that single product. And that was a super important period. I think it was like a transition period of one year we went through before we follow the transition.

Omer Khan: [00:16:41] And did, do you remember roughly how much revenue you were making at the time and, and what the split was between bug bounty and pen testing?

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:16:49] Well, that's a good question. Probably. I can't remember the exact numbers, like 1 million ARR, but then we, you know, we started doing the triple, triple, double, double, double kind of growth numbers. I can't remember the exact number, but it was, it wasn't the lower end, but the other thing you have to keep in mind, we were actually a transactional business.

[00:17:11] So we didn't even count things like ARR we just counted on revenue and looked at that. Right. And then the other pivot was really transitioned into a subscription business. Right. And that was another critical decision that because we could just have kept on selling pen tests as transaction, but really what we saw in the industry. And I think that was again Thinking out of the box. Consultancies were selling a lot of this, like transactionally, right. Pen test by pen test. But we saw that, especially compliance and these kinds of things, we're actually driving a model where SaaS businesses had to do pen testing year off, a year off a year.

[00:17:51] Right. It was not just a one-time thing. So we with the platform, because we had the SaaS platform, we had that consistent touch point that allowed us to say. Okay. Yes, you might just do one pen test as a year, but it's actually an annual subscription where you have access to the platform. You can get free testing, et cetera, throughout the  year. And then it renews the next year. Right. And companies that do many, many pen test that makes even more sense, right. Because then they have that platform on an annual basis and then they run the same amount of pen test again, the following year. And so moving into subscription as many have done, others have done successfully. We also did that. Right. And there was also a pivotal moment. Then we started counting ARR at that point.

Omer Khan: [00:18:37] So around the time you were, you were doing about a million a year. How much of that was coming from the bug bounty business?

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:18:42] Yeah, I can't remember the exact number, Omer, sorry.

Omer Khan: [00:18:48] Was it just like, was it like 50, 50? Was it…

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:18:51] Yeah, I mean it was, initially you know, it was a transition period over the year, right? So it was like initially maybe 5%. It was like it grew, pen testing took like more and more market share.

Omer Khan: [00:19:04] And is that how you started to see the future because you were seeing more and more customers in this need and, and that was growing faster?

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:19:11] Yeah. And also the willingness to pay more for it. Right. Because it actually wasn't an existing market. It had an existing price tag, it had the sales driver, compliance driver. So if there was a defined pricing ride where we, as any other listed SaaS company creating a new market, we may be priced ourselves too low in the bug bounty space. Right. I think it was like a 20% fee on bounties, right? So you both had the problem that what then happens when you stop finding stuff. Right? Because when the platform becomes very secure, you're kind of, you're still delivering value, right? Because you're technically testing, but if you're paying per pound and you're charging a fee per bounty, and they don't find as much anymore, then you're not earning any money, right? So the business model was also bad. So a lot of things were stuff we learned drive. And then we really hit the nail with the, you know, subscription driven model, the pen test and so on. So a lot of learnings along the way, but it was know tough learnings, but that's what, what is fun about startups, right? It's those kinds of learnings that you do all the time.

Omer Khan: [00:20:20] So you guys were going out and doing the selling, right,  in the early days. And when, when you started to focus on pen testing, traditionally that as you said, was an area that had been sold as a consulting service, not a product. Yeah. And so now if you're getting in front of customers, you guys don't have that much experience in security, you're probably competing with consulting companies that have been doing this kind of stuff for a long time. What was that experience like? What did you learn from that about how to sell?

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:20:57] So one where you were moving into a market where there was a high touch sales process, right? For and we were maybe more in favor of a lower touch product led kind of model. Right. That's what we had done with the bug bounty stuff.

[00:21:10] But with pen testing, we really saw, okay, now we're competing against service companies. And they have a tendency to do high at sales, and we were coming with a brand new model. And so, we had to do some education on our model. So, I think we, at that point, decided to transition into a more sales led model, where we did demos.

[00:21:32] We have customer, success customer. So I'm more high touch both, sales and support model. And we needed to do that because of the kind of competing with, with the service industry. Right.  But then over time, as Cobalt grew in size and maturity and, and our model became something everybody knew about, especially in the software as a service space.

[00:21:55] And pen testing became more and more normal. And so do everybody knows what we also, again, started looking to move more and more product. We always kept our eye on trying to have as much self-service post-purchase as possible. Right. But I think the other thing we then started to transition back towards was what can we also do in pre-purchase right. And, and, you know, can you do a free trial? Can you do with these kind of product-led motions for Cobalt as well. So, so that was a journey we started on and that I helped facilitate to get our with, with our product and customer success and sales and so on. And that, that really also was, got me excited about Userflow. And that's why I decided to leave a Cobalt. And I'm still an advisor there, but leave my operational role and join the Userflow, which is a, you can say a product in the product led growth space, and it's also a born product led product, which is interesting.

Omer Khan: [00:22:57] Yeah. Yeah. I think that there's some interesting connections between product led and sales led and, and, and what, what you're doing with, with user flow.

[00:23:06] So I, I want to kind of just wrap up a little bit on, on the, the story here with Cobalt, and then we'll, we'll talk more about Userflow. So you're doing, you're doing outbound with Cobalt. You guys are doing the sales efforts. There was some. Inbound that you were also getting, the other thing was events was another part of your growth strategy, right?

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:23:28] Yeah. Yeah. So we have an amazing Chief Marketing or VP of Marketing, sorry, who he had been in the security industry for a long time. So we hired him and then we also hired an amazing Chief Strategy Officer, Caroline Wong, who was a thought leader in the security space and, and amazing speaker and thought leader.

[00:23:51] And both those hires really helped us also create a brand. Right? Remember we were for Danish people, so we didn't really have a big network in the security industry in the US or anywhere. And so they helped us create that brand and the security space and a big part of selling security. There was a couple of big conferences RSA black hat, Devcon, and these kinds of the way you do a bit more event driven sales as our event driven marketing.

[00:24:22] And we were really good at that due to, especially our VP of Marketing, been really good at that. But then also for especially smaller customers we of course had a lot of inbound from SEO, but all of that, of course also came from the branding we were doing through our VP of Marketing and Caroline.

Omer Khan: [00:24:42] So you told me earlier that the security community in the US is, is pretty close knit. And that's not something that you guys were, were initially…

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:24:53] We didn't know anybody. Right. So we were not even from security.  And then on top of that, the security industry is a close-knit group. So I think even though we had an amazing product we had to speaking of time, right? That was hard for us to get, I was, we were unknown. And I think that's where Caroline and Chris, our VP of Marketing really help us create that trust and brand in the US security industry.

[00:25:18] So we could get, get out and speak about our product and when then people like actually could listen, they, they all like and tried it and that helped us grow a bit. But yeah, that was always a challenge for us getting through the, there are so many vendors in the security space, right. So you really have to figure out how you get there.

Omer Khan: [00:25:40] And to date. So, so eventually you did raise money and Cobalt's gone on to raise, I think, $37 million so far. And what's the size of the team? How many employees does the company have?

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:25:53] It's getting close to 200. So they're growing really fast these days, raise the series B in and last year. And yeah, the company is going really well. Security as not, you know, as you probably know, security, it's good market, it's keep on increasing and slightly not going away.

Omer Khan: [00:26:09] Yeah. So over 200 people at Cobalt, how many people do you have working at Userflow.

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:26:14] Two and that's the founders.

Omer Khan: [00:26:20] So, so you got, you guys are closing in, on your first million in ARR and Sebastian, your co-founder at Userflow was, has been working on this product since 2018. And. And just kind of describe what your relationship was because you, you, you sort of joined full-time earlier this year, but you've been involved with Sebastian for, and with user for, for quite some time.

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:26:46] Yeah. So Sebastian is a friend of mine and he was actually a customer of Cobalt. That's how I got to know him initially. He's also from Denmark and he was based in the Bay Area as well. So there's a small Danish community in the Bay Area.

Omer Khan: [00:27:01] How many Danish people are there at Bay Area.

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:27:04] I think, it's actually more than a thousand? I think I've heard. So there are a few, I got to know him through, through the Bay Area in San Francisco.  And then we stayed friends and when he started working on watch back then he worked on something called Studio One that later transitioned into being Userflow. It was actually a video, kind of a platform for making videos, training videos, onboarding videos, but he's transitioned into this more interactive in that guidance in 2019.

[00:27:36] I stayed very close to him.  I, I bet the consider joining him in already back then. Cobalt was going so great. And I wanted to help push Cobalt to the next level. And I could still see me getting a lot of value in Cobalt then. So, so I waited a bit, but advise them from time to time on certain topics.

[00:27:56] And then, then the end of 2020, where Cobalt had really been on this product-led journey for a year or so. And I really was getting excited about it. Maybe I was also looking  to get back to that early stage  feeling again, you know, I'm a founder by heart, so really enjoy that early stage of a company. And Cobalt was maturing into a great larger company.

[00:28:20] Right.  So I maybe made the decision due to those reasons to John Sebastian full time and go all in, on, on, on helping grow Userflow to the next level. So that's  that's the short story for that.

Omer Khan: [00:28:35] So you spent many years at Cobalt in a, in a very sales-led environment. And then now with, with Userflow, you've, you've gone back to product-led, which is kind of how you guys started out with Cobalt. So kind of going full circle.

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:28:51] And I think we always kept a bit of it in Cobalt, but, you know, we just were, we were more forced to have a more sales led model. Right. And so, yeah, I think, but in, in years ago we were really at that, which we were always in the early stage of Cobalt like the root true product led,

[00:29:06] where you, everything you do is product led, right. We try really not to do sales meetings at all. Right. And not have customer success necessarily. And there's all like the product that's driving. The selling and the support and the retention and so on. And of course we are not neglecting our customer. We still talk to them if needed, but we try to push everything into the product.

[00:29:33] And that I think is what has allowed us to scale to that level of revenue without hiring anybody. Right? Because we're basically we do free trials and the customers, many customers will just buy. Without ever speaking to us, right. They'll just go to the free trial and then buy a product.

Omer Khan: [00:29:51] Are you hiring freelances, vendors?

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:29:55] No.

Omer Khan: [00:29:55] Nothing.

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:29:55] We've had a bit of a UX help from a freelancer there, but that's, it, it is basically because we can manage the business just the two of us at the moment. And we also have this, we want to try to see how it is to bootstrap a business. Right. So we also haven't raised capital. And we're not planning to raise capital.

[00:30:11] We want to see how far can you actually go with hiring a, maybe a limited amount of people and, and and not raising any capital. And so far it's been, it's been so good.

Omer Khan: [00:30:22] So what is it like Sebastian's working on the product and you're focused on growth?

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:30:25] Yeah, he both  and I met Sebastian is an amazing engineer. He has built other software as a service products before, and also worked at Google. And then I focused on the growth path and customer support. And these kinds of things.  So really making sure that we get more customers and also support the customers that we have.

Omer Khan: [00:30:45] So user flow is not the only onboarding product out there. There's, there's quite a few around how is the product different to others products that are out there. And then secondly, how are you messaging that to the market?

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:31:01] Yeah, I think really the biggest difference friends and I think that's  what I  of course I'm biased, but the biggest difference is we, we focused a lot on building a fantastic UX, right?

[00:31:13] So a product that's easy to use. But yet advanced. So we have all the advanced functionality that you would expect from a solution like ours, like version control localization, you can branch flows, you can do all sorts of advanced things, but we really focused on keeping it clean and nice. Right. So, so that is our biggest differentiator.

[00:31:37] And that's also what we hear from customers is that we are, that's where we win, right? Like we have a really strong UX. So you can say there are two buckets of competitors that are the ones that are, they're simple to use, but they're also very basic. And then you have the ones that are advanced, but there also have been hard to use. And we really try to find that middle ground where you have something that's advanced, but easy to use.

Omer Khan: [00:32:00] How do you go about building a great user experience. And I know this is, this is probably a question that we could spend all day kind of talking about, but what I'm trying to get to here is that like, I mean, I'll talk about personally from my experience, I can, like, I'm always like, you know, just because of what I do, I'm always like looking at different products and trying things.

[00:32:22] And for me, it's often about when I, when I sign up regardless of the functionality, there's this kind of this visceral thing that I go through to, to decide, do I actually like being in this app, does it actually feel pleasant to use? Does it actually make sense? And in many ways, even if a product lacks some features, but kind of passes those things that I just mentioned. Yeah. I'm more likely to stick with that and spend money on that than something that has more functionality, but for whatever reason, just doesn't feel right. Or is it a little difficult to use? So what does great user experience mean for you guys? And then how do you figure that out for Userflow?

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:33:11] No, I, I totally agree with you.  UX is sometimes more important than features or I would say always more important, but of course the features matters as well as you start using the product more. If, if you relax some key integration or something, it's also not good, right.

[00:33:28] Then you might stop accepting a worse UX just to get that feature.  But I think UX in my view is the most important thing. I really don't like working with with products that is hard to use, or it doesn't give me a smooth experience. Maybe they're slow and, and things like that. Right. It's always hard to like put a definition on what is a great UX.

Right? I think there are many elements that plays into that. I, one of them is of course, like less is more right. Sometimes,  many many platforms try to put a lot of stuff in their platforms, which of course adds complexity. Right. And it's really about like, how can you make it as simple as possible while still achieving the AHA moment, the goal of, of what you want your user to do.

[00:34:17] So, so I think that's how we always think as well. Like how can you keep things simple? And how can you do things smarter? We're looking a lot of our customers challenges, right? Like other certain challenges. Whenever we get a support ticket. We always think, how can we solve that into product instead of thinking of how can we write a helpdesk article that can explain it, right?

[00:34:38] Like we much rather want to solve that support issue in a, by having the product through something smarter or better. Right. So, so we  we're also always listening to our customers and see what they struggle with. And also do like maybe videos without customers seeing how they use the platform. So we can see certain things they're struggling with  that we can maybe make smarter.

[00:35:01] So, so we do a lot of customer analysis, but that's also combined with  a lot of intuition about what is a good user experience. Right. And what, how would you like it to work yourself right. And care about that? Carol bought the quality again, that quality at speed. I mentioned in the beginning is super important.

Omer Khan: [00:35:19] Yeah. And, and it, it can be hard to do that. The more time you spend on a product because you get used to it. And sometimes you don't notice those little things that a new user coming in might see or might struggle with.

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:35:34] Exactly, there are great tools for that today, right? There are the tools like  LogRocket and these kinds of tools out there where you can actually see what new users do, and then you can learn from that.

[00:35:44] So, so I think that there was a tools you can use to kind of learn and see what you can do better. Right. And then it's also not across from a saying, you should do this, but you actually witnessed the problem. And see, okay, this is actually like a real problem. They struggle with, how can we do this model? Right.

Omer Khan: [00:36:02] So do you use Userflow for Userflow?

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:36:05] Yes, we do. We do use Userflow for Userflow and we're very focused on. So I think even though we use Userflow on Userflow, which helps guide the user, right. We also still focused on having a great UX of our platform in general. Right. So Userflow should be used for introducing people to the key kind of actions they need to do.

[00:36:29] But it, it shouldn't, it's not a compromise for bad UX. Right? I think you should do both and you should have like a good focus on having a good UX and then have something like Userflow to do your, your onboarding, right, or guidance. I think even the most user-friendly app, it's still, there's still a lot of power in guiding the user to do certain things, especially in B2B where you just have, there is a level of complexity in vis-a-vis applications that you might do it in a different way than others do it. And people are used to certain things. So, yeah. It's good to have that kind of onboarding, even though you have a great UX.

Omer Khan: [00:37:10] Yeah. I think that's a great distinction because, I mean, and to me, if you don't have a great UX using it to like Userflow might help, but it's kind of, you're not fixing the root cause of the problem. You're just trying to put a bandage on it and, and, and trying to sort of get things through.

[00:37:30] Whereas I think it's like Userflow tools like that. I think really about the onboarding then in terms of, okay. Even if it was. The product is still intuitive. It's easy to use, but there's in order for them, you'll your customers to have success. There's a certain pathway or steps that they should take to get there.

[00:37:53] And then those, you know, using tools like Userflow can help you to take users from point A to point Z where they need to get to, but don't think that this is going to compensate for a crappy UX.

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:38:05] No, exactly. That's exactly what I mean. Yeah. And then I think you can actually learn a lot from building the Userflow onboarding as well, because you have to build the guides, so you will see, okay. Is there something we're doing here that doesn't really make sense? Right. So that's also interesting.

Omer Khan: [00:38:23] Yeah. Yeah. I really liked what you said about, you know, rather than just creating another help doc, we first take a look at and think about how could we make things more obvious or easier in the product.

[00:38:33] That's a great, great mindset to have. So let's talk about what you've done, what you and Sebastian have done to grow this business? What, what is sort of the main growth drivers here, like you doing a lot of like outbound emails or you, you kind of driving a bunch of inbound through SEO. Where are the customers coming?

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:38:58] Yeah, no. So we, we do  of course SEO is, SEO is something we're always working on. Can we do more as you know, because it's cheaper. We also do run Google ads, right. To help while SEO is improving, Google ads is great for like compensating for that. Right. And then I would say we don't, it's not like we don't do any formal outbound.

[00:39:17] We do have some outbound, like email campaigns, LinkedIn and networking and so on.  And, but all of them that we do a lot of thought leadership. So we try to go out and talk a lot about product- led growth, SaaS onboarding it's really create a brand around that. It's also big trends these days. And we also speak to the whole no-code trend that we also play in through as we do a lot of thought leadership.

[00:39:40] And of course helps that I've founded a company before. So I can use my voice this time, which I have a bit more wiser now than I used to have in the early days of Cobalt and then we also are listed on a number of like the G2, Capterra at this world. Right. You know, that's also a great challenge where people leave reviews because that's a good place to spread the word of mouth.

[00:40:05] And that's the fifth thing I really want to mention is word of mouth, right? That's essential for us. We focus a lot on building a great product so people will talk about it through their peers and share the word. And that's really how we see ourselves growing a lot in the future. Either. Of course, we're gonna, yeah, spot that with other things, but, but, you know, word of mouth is key to us and that's also what you see with all the successful players with product-led growth, Slack, Zoom, et cetera. Right. And they, they have amazing products and that creates word of mouth that creates these viral effects. So they get even more customers.

Omer Khan: [00:40:44] I'm still curious. How, how are the two of you able to do everything like I, you guys like, just like, you know, ultra-productive or you've just figured out a way to, to, you know, decide that, you know, the 80, 20, there's only a certain number of things you're going to focus on and say no to everything else.

[00:41:03] Like, how are you doing it?

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:41:05] Yeah. I mean, you, of course don't do everything right. You say no to certain things. I mean, I don't have a partnership program or anything like that, but I, you know, it is really about letting the product be the main driver for a lot of stuff. Right? Like it's like that mindset, that when you get a support ticket, you try to solve it via the product.

[00:41:24] So you avoid that support ticket going forward. Right. It also helps that Sebastian is an amazing engineering can build stuff extremely fast. Right. So that of course helps us a lot. But in general, it's that mindset around having the product, that's your main kind of a tool. And actually what we see as they, the customers, they ask a lot of questions maybe in the beginning when they do the trial.

[00:41:48] Right. But we have a two week free trial, but then after of that, they kind of go away and they build their stuff and they know what to do, right, because it's a good UX. It's all and all the initial questions were answered. And then we don't hear so much from them again, and they still keep on renewing.

[00:42:04] Right. So it's. That that's ideally how you want it to be. So, so you, you don't have to spend significant amount of time. I think when you look at, at least for me and like products like Salesforce and so on as well and Slack, I mean, I don't think they get a lot of, I don't know I mean, I, I haven't been in their teams, but I've never written a support tickets or Slack. Right. I've never written a support ticket to Zoom because they have great products. So I don't need to, right. I might need to write them about something I would like to purchase or some advanced scenario, but like for the baseline functionality, I don't really need to write the mind.  And I think that that is.

[00:42:43] Categorize as a great product is one where you can just use it. And it's a no brainer how you use it. And so on.

Omer Khan: [00:42:50] So who, who are your customers today? And, and, and, you know, w what's the mix like how, for example, how many enterprise customers do you have? Just just a percentage wise.

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:42:59] Yeah, so right, I mean like, like any other early stage SaaS business, we,  majority of our customer basis, SMB and SaaS, SaaS, B2B, SMB. Right?  That's kind of the majority of our customers, but we have seen a couple of larger enterprises  both in terms of like larger SaaS business where maybe or two product teams are using it, right. Or also large traditional enterprises. So  like we all know like a SaaS is becoming a thing even for the traditional enterprise and they're building portals and platforms to interact with their customers and they also need onboarding.

[00:43:40] So we work with a couple of like larger traditional fortune 500 companies that they have these kind of platforms.

Omer Khan: [00:43:49] And, and then has the sales process for them, for those larger customers been, been different or are they just going through and signing up?

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:43:57] Yeah, so, so we, yeah, it definitely has. Right. But that's why we often end up having a demo with them. The procurement process is also still a contract and so on. Right. So that is different, but the way we handle it, We have three packages today, right? We have startup, we have pro, we have enterprise and you can get more or less the same functionality in pro, but it's online terms and credit cards. Right.

[00:44:24] So we really disincentivized. The enterprise purchase. Right. So we really want enterprise to think about, are you a truly enterprise, right. And many business, I think, especially like the size of like 200 employees, they sometimes end up thinking like an enterprise, even though they really shouldn't. Right.

[00:44:43] We try to push those type of business to think a bit less like an enterprise and maybe buy the, the credit card, online terms, packets. Right. And then have the true enterprises that really needs this kind of lengthy procurement process and all this stuff go the enterprise route. Right? So, so that, that's how we do that.

[00:45:03] And then we, of course, to satisfy all the pro customers, we make a lot of material available on our website, like policy security policy, you know, all the things they would need for the lengthy procurement process. But it's all written by us. It's not something that has to be manually drafted. So I think, yes, if we move more of moderate with the traditional enterprises, we would have to do more of this kind of demo contract work. Right. But, but that's just the part of the game.

Omer Khan: [00:45:31] Yeah, no, I liked, I liked that. I, I never sort of come, not come across that before this whole idea of like, trying to de-incentivize customers and really think about but do you really really need that.

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:45:44] It sounds funny, right? Because wouldn't you like these big rise by them, but really what we want. We want a business that works at scale, right? And the more business we can try to work in a scalable fashion where they don't need like heavy.  Kinda procurement cycles or anything like that, the better, right, that's each of us.

Omer Khan: [00:46:04] Yep. That's good stuff. All right. We should wrap up, get on to the lightning round.

[00:46:10] So I've got seven quickfire questions for you. So just try to answer them as quickly as you. All right. Ready?

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:46:18] Yep. I'm ready.

Omer Khan: [00:46:19] Okay. What's the best piece of business advice you've ever received?

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:46:22] Stay focused. Do do one thing well, and stay focused on that.

[00:46:26] Omer Khan: [00:46:26] What book would you recommend to our audience and why?

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:46:29] The Product Led Growth by Wes Bush is a great book. It's  really gives a great interest to the whole product led movement.

Omer Khan: [00:46:36] Yup. And I had worked on the show a while back, so we kind of did, I can't remember which episode it was. Just, just look it up, but we chatted about that. What's one attribute or characteristic in your mind of a successful person?

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:46:47] Grit. I think you need to add a lot of grit. Just keep going. And there will be a lot of tough times, but you

Omer Khan: [00:46:54] What's your favorite personal productivity tool or habit?

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:46:57] That's a good question. I really don't know. I'm an inbox zero kind of guy. And I organize my inbox to be zero. Right. So even though you get a lot of emails that I don't read, they're all. The right ones are structured in a way. So it becomes inbox zero and nothing for me at least to function and be structured and make sure our customers get response on time. I think that's super important to kind of follow the rules.

Omer Khan: [00:47:25] What's a new or crazy business idea you'd love to pursue if you had the extra time?

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:47:30] How crazy? I would. I mean, I don't know if this is crazy, but this is access. I'm logging for a CRM for product led businesses. And I think that is something we need in the market.

[00:47:40] That era of Salesforce is I love everything, Salesforce, that far industry, and they've done so much amazing stuff but their CRM is, is outdated when it comes to product-led sales motions, and we need something new in the market. And I think  I would love to see that, and I know there are a few early stage coming, but let's see what's out there.

Omer Khan: [00:48:04] What's an interesting little fun fact about you that most people don't know?

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:48:08] Oh man. So I  I actually lived in Tanzania from I was until I was like three years old. I've been born global. You can say it even though I'm Danish. And since then I've moved around in the world and now living in the Bay Area for, for the last eight years.

Omer Khan: [00:48:26] Africa, Europe, South America, North America.

[00:48:30] And what's and finally, what's one of your most important passions outside of your work?

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:48:33] So I do a lot of biking.  I bike the beautiful nature here in  in  the Bay Area and also go to other places to bike and like biking and hiking and the nature.

Omer Khan: [00:48:44] Awesome.  So if people want to find out more about a Userflow, they can go to userflow.com and they can find Cobalt at cobalt.io.

[00:48:55] If people want to get in touch with you, what's the best way for them to do?

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:48:58] LinkedIn is the best way to just connect with me. It's been pretty extensive.

Omer Khan: [00:49:02] Yup. We'll include a link to your profile in the show notes there. Esben, awesome. Thank you so much for joining me and  spending some time to chat about Userflow and Cobalt.

[00:49:13] I wish you and Sebastian the best of success. And  I'm curious to know how far, you guys can go before you feel like you need to hire someone.

Esben Friis-Jensen: [00:49:26] Before we hire someone, yeah. Interesting. Let's see, yeah. Thanks for having me. It was a pleasure being on this show.

Omer Khan: [00:49:32] Awesome.  Thanks so much. Cheers.

Book Recommendation

The Show Notes

Userflow: Website | LinkedIn | Twitter
Esben Friis-Jensen: LinkedIn | Twitter
Sebastian Seilund: LinkedIn | Twitter
Omer Khan: LinkedIn | Twitter

Other Resources

Cobalt: Website | LinkedIn | Twitter