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Marketing | Nov 15
John Bonini on November 28, 2017 (last modified on September 27, 2021) • 6 minute read
It’s been a tool, and project, that he’s been trying to get prioritized and off the ground for years now.
“We’ve wanted to do this for years and it just never got prioritized,” Gardner told me. “I would’ve hated if we’d done this and it wasn’t good, but it’s really good. The first time I saw it I was just blown away.”
You also don’t need to spend much time with Oli to understand just how passionate he is about landing pages or conversion rate optimization in general. That passion is baked into the product. It’s in the talks that he gives around the world (which used to make him sick, but he did them anyway), in the events that Unbounce hosts, and perhaps most importantly, in the company (team) he keeps.
People like Stefanie Grieser, an early hire (employee #9 at Unbounce) and someone who has been along for the ride as the company has grown from scrappy startup to SaaS heavyweight, has helped advance a vision and approach that brings value to every reader, subscriber, and customer.
I had the chance to sit down with both of them to talk about the launch of Landing Page Analyzer, as well as how Unbounce got its start and has grown (with limited funding, at least in SaaS terms) to one of the premier optimization tools on the market.
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I’ve included some of my favorite soundbites from our conversation below.
Gardner: “The best part was how the team all came together. It was just like being a scrappy startup back in the day and it was so [expletive] energizing.
We had done the research and found launching it on Product Hunt at midnight PST was generally considered the best time. So we had people around the world taking shifts monitoring it, responding to comments, and optimizing it in real time.
Doing that in the moment and seeing people react was inspiring. It was the most fun I’ve had in years at Unbounce.”
Grieser: “Everybody was so excited the first time it was demoed. The whole team saw how powerful and useful it could be.
Gone are the days of writing an ebook and blasting it out. We’re past that.
Now we’re getting into building tools for tools. (Laughs)
It provides much more value. HubSpot has a marketing grader. Shopify also has great free tools that help businesses. (Name generator, stock photo site) and it’s all based on search intent wherein you’re introduced to Shopify.
The main intent is still there. Ebooks and the like were created to help people learn. The same intent was there when building this tool, except now we’ve built something of value to help people learn.
Gardner: “There were six cofounders.
It can be tough, but for us, we had all worked together in many different realms for the past 6-10 years before starting Unbounce. There was a lot of context within the group.
Rick, our CEO, had two ideas. And he’d pull a bunch of us together, there were probably 10-12 of us at first, just to talk about them. Like, “what do these ideas mean? Who’s interested? Which idea should we pursue?”
We chose the right one, the other one would’ve been terrible. I have a vague recollection, but it was not a good idea. At the time it was hard to choose, but looking back, this was easily the right decision.
Over time, people filtered out because they couldn’t commit or weren’t interested. And finally, we were sitting on the rooftop of an apartment where three of our cofounders lived, drinking beer in the sun, and we said, “Screw it. Let’s try this.”
It wasn’t easy. Three of us were broke and scraping by trying to find contract work, three had a little agency. Most of us were okay with the risk, so it wasn’t that scary. It was really exciting.”
“We had spoken to a lot of marketers and they all had the same universal problem in 2009:
We need landing pages so we need to work with developers so it takes two weeks to get something done and then there is a typo or there are bugs and it takes another three days to fix it.
We ran some Facebook Ads to validate people were interested and it was just universal. It was a problem that everyone had.”
“Early on there was ion interactive but they were more enterprise. They weren’t self-serve.
Almost exactly when we launched, maybe a few weeks after, a company called Performable launched. They were our main competitor then. They were a good company and it was nice to have someone to keep us on our toes at the beginning.”
They eventually pivoted to become an analytics company and got acquired by HubSpot.”
“We were marketing six months before we had a product.
It was a mixture of content marketing and dreaming.
We’d have a trickle. One new customer. And then one more the next day.
One day our CEO came in and said, “I had a dream last night that we’re going to get six customers today.” And we did. So that’s a hack. Subliminal marketing. (Laughs.)
On day 7 I started the blog, I put up a terrible website, and I wrote an ebook on the 101 Landing Page Optimization tips.
Our CTO at the time said, “Really, he’s going to waste two weeks writing an ebook? We have better things to be worried about right now.”
Rick, our CEO, told me about this. I was like, “screw you.”
The next day I held a two-hour brainstorm with the team, covered the wall in about a thousand sticky notes, went home and pulled an all-nighter, came back with an ebook with 101 Landing Page Optimization Tips, amd was like “Boom! Slapped it on the desk. (Metaphorically, because it was digital.) That didn’t take two weeks!
We put it up on the homepage as our primary lead generation device and it got us like 1,200 leads initially. Because we did it so early on, when we launched the product six months later, we already had an audience. That really helped us net some of those initial customers.”
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