In Episode 571, Rob Walling chats with Peter Suhm about moving on from WP Pusher and Branch. We also dive into how he came up with the idea for Reform and his process for validating the idea with a landing page before building.
The topics we cover
[2:48] Default alive and selling Branch
[8:15] Changing customer behavior is hard
[12:25] Struggling through customer interviews from a small studio
[16:20] Thinking through all the options and deciding to keep going
[18:45] Moving from a list of requirements to a form builder
[27:23] Building a high-quality MVP, starting with a landing page
[34:52] Entering a big, horizontal, crowded space
Links from the show
- Branch – Automated deployments for WordPress
- Reform – Hosted forms. No code required.
- Start Small, Stay Small
- Obviously Awesome – How to Nail Product Positioning so Customers Get it, Buy it, Love it
- Peter Suhm (@petersuhm) | Twitter
If you have questions about starting or scaling a software business that you’d like for us to cover, please submit your question for an upcoming episode. We’d love to hear from you!
Rob: It’s Startups for the Rest of Us. I’m your host, Rob Walling. This week, I talk with Peter Suhm. He’s the founder of Reform.app which are clean forms on brand. You might know Peter from the Out of Beta podcast that he co-host with Matt Wensing or you might have seen him at MicroConf. He’s also the founder of WP Pusher and branchci.com. These are two apps that he’s just announced that he has sold. He has an exit under his belt and he was part of the inaugural batch of TinySeed back in 2019.
Today we catch up with Peter to talk through his thought process of moving on, in essence, from WP Pusher and Branch to Reform. When we recorded this, he had not sold them yet so you’ll notice we don’t specifically address that, but we do talk through thinking through moving on and it’s how far do you push something before you decide to move on.
We talk about his involvement with TinySeed and how that has impacted not only his decisions but his progress over the years. Then we talked through Reform, how he came up with the app, started working on it, what the launch was like, and the night and day difference he saw with Reform versus Branch. It’s a great conversation. I hope you stick around for it. Let’s dive in.
Peter Suhm, part of TinySeed’s first batch. The co-host of the Out of Beta podcast with our mutual friend, Matt Wensing, and you are building Reform.app. Welcome to the show.
Peter: Thank you.
Rob: We’re going to talk through some fun things today, sir. What I like is you emailed me a month ago and you said, hey, I’d love to come on the show. It’s a bucket list item for me. I was actually surprised that you hadn’t come on the show before. With 500 something episodes, I often forget if guests have been on.
Peter: I try to stay under the radar, I guess.
Rob: Under the radar, yeah. You’ve just been part of the community, the MicroConf community. I know you are a listener for the show and part of TinySeed. We just have so many mutual friends through that. Good to finally have you on.
Today we’re not only going to talk about what you’re building with Reform. Folks know your h1 is, “Clean forms. On brand. Putting together clean, on-brand forms for your business should be easy. With Reform, it finally is. No code required.” That’s what you’re working on today and it’s still in the early days of that. We’ll talk about what you’ve been up to with it.
I want to start by talking about the prior app that you spent a couple of years working on called Branch. Folks can see your landing page, branchci.com and your h1 there is, “Branch is no longer available to new customers :(” Sad. It says in 2018, I set out to build a better solution for WordPress developers to build, test, and deploy their code. It’s been a fun journey. In summary, we’re not taking new customers.
That’s the project you applied to TinySeed with and got funding from us, and you worked on it hard for three years. You want to talk us through? We don’t need to go through the whole story, but as things progressed over this timeline, what were the signals you started seeing that made you think, I need to consider moving on. I need to consider moving on to my next project.
Peter: Branch was actually the startup where I wanted to do everything right. I feel when you’ve been in this game for a bit you’re like, okay, we’ll start over. I’m going to start a new thing. I’m going to do everything right. I’m going to take pre payments and stuff like that.
Actually, I did all that. When I started working on Branch just for some context, I was working on a similar project before that even in the same space called WP Pusher, which was also in the WordPress space. I guess I kind of wanted to take that to the next level and I had so many ideas for how to do that and basically take it to a broader market.
I built basically a prototype for this and I recorded a video for it and I feel like I’m the Dropbox guy in the early days. I’m recording a video, putting it on Twitter, and people were responding really positively. Using that momentum, I built an early access list and I asked some people if they would pay up front and I got some pre-payments and stuff like that.
I’m really excited about this thing. I don’t think I was much further than that when we started talking because I had some early beta users probably at that time and I guess the first signs were actually pretty early on. A couple of months in, none of the people that paid for the product were using it.
I guess the very short version of that is that we changed our positioning many times. We turned every corner. It’s a very hard problem we were trying to solve like making something that’s very gnarly like WordPress, deployment, database, and stuff like that and make it really easy. When the stars were aligned for the exact right WordPress project, it kind of worked, but we probably never solved the problem as well as we should. Also, people didn’t care enough about the problem, and if I had read a book like The Mom Test, I would have picked up on some of these signs earlier.
I remember in maybe the second half of TinySeed, when I had my check-ins with Einar, he’ll be like, you should be adding a little bit more MRR right now than you are. All of this is documented on the podcast that I do with Matt because we started right after we joined TinySeed. We’ve been doing it for two years now.
One direction I went into was partnerships and I really believed in that actually because all the big hosting companies and stuff like that in the WordPress space were really interested in working with us. They were approaching us and it was easy to convince them to do co-promotion and stuff like that. Even when we worked with the largest hosting companies in the entire space, it didn’t really move any needles.
I guess that was like the hard-to-swallow truth that if you get a partnership with the largest partner, you can potentially get and it doesn’t really work, it’s a problem.
Rob: To be fair, I thought that was your ticket as well. You and I had a bunch of conversations about that in the early days about there are only four or five really big hosts. If you get them all to promote you, this thing becomes almost a no-brainer. The money will roll… profit.
When a couple of them came out in different forms and you were like yeah we got no signups or we got like three signups, whatever the numbers were, I remember myself being quite surprised by that. It goes to show you how much of this is, we have patterns, we have predictions, and we have gut feels and it’s experimental. When you don’t have product/market fit, that overused term, but it’s a phrase that really has deep meaning. When you don’t have it, no amount of new exposure or new customers hitting your website really changes anything.
Peter: Right, and I think if you can’t brute force a customer, just manually basically, just talk to someone and get them to be a customer which was hard for us. We didn’t have that many customers, then no partnership and no marketing channel. Nothing is going to work if you can’t do that.
I guess the problem was that we kept seeing good enough signs. We had people approach us for acquisitions that sounded really exciting. We had interest from investors. At some point, we took a check from one of the largest VC companies in the world. We had a lot of these fake signs that things were going well and everyone loved the idea of Branch. Whenever a WordPress developer saw it they loved it.
I succeeded in creating a lot of buzz around it I guess, but it wasn’t the right problem. I guess I’m learning that now that I’m working on a problem where it’s just a lot easier to get people to become customers. So if you can’t brute force that customer or just talk to someone and make them a customer, no one else can do it for you I think.
Rob: It’s kind of hard. I want to add some context to this too like when you applied to TinySeed, and we were talking about it, you had WP Pusher. It’s the WordPress plugin that was kind of solving a very similar related problem to what Branch was going to and give or take you were default to live with revenue.
When we were talking, we’re basically saying Branch’s very nascent when we backed you, but you had this other thing and that was all part of it. We saw you as someone with a customer list, an app that was already generating a decent chunk of revenue, and someone with (I’ll say) subject matter expertise in this area of WordPress continuous integration, WordPress deployments, WordPress pushing, WP Pusher. It makes for a good package, and you’re a single founder developer who had experience, a customer list, and revenue in this space.
I’ll admit, I was surprised that Branch didn’t work given all the signs that you had and given all the traction you had with WP Pusher. I mean, if I look at it, I was going to say from the outside, but I wasn’t. I was on the inside because you and I were chatting especially during the batch year, we were chatting every week or every month at different intervals.
It felt to me like you’re saying, you were solving a problem, but it wasn’t like a burning pain point and it was almost like the […]. People know they should do continuous integration, but WordPress developers aren’t, and when you ask them to change behavior, that’s a real problem.
That’s one of the hardest things to do is to get a group of people to change behavior and to do something, to take vitamins, to do something they think they should be, but really, if none of the other developers around them are doing it, and they can get by without it, I don’t know. Is that aligned with your take on it?
Peter: Yeah, actually, I think the first pre-paying customer we got was, at the time I was living in Glasgow in Scotland, and they were in Edinburgh, which is like 1 ½ hour by train. I went to their office three times to demo the product, they paid for it, and they were excited about it. They never used it. They never implemented it because they didn’t have to.
The thing is like I was saying, everyone is deploying, right? So everyone needs this tool. The problem is, if everyone is deploying, they’re already deploying. It would be nice for them to have a better way to deploy. But the reality is, it’s not like they haven’t deployed before. Their website is already deployed somewhere.
I think my co-host, Matt, said on a podcast, I ended up with a $50 a month product with a $2000 a month sales process. People were expecting demo calls. They were expecting me to help them convince their boss to buy this tool. It was just horrible, actually. It was really difficult to sell because it was a really expensive problem to solve and implement for them, but it wasn’t that important.
Actually $50, I started to realize that’s actually a really difficult price point to start up at because it’s enough that people really have to think about it, well it depends, but a lot of people don’t just sign up for something at $50. If they expect some sort of sales process, you’re just screwed actually.
Rob: Yeah, you’re right. I mean, $50 for something, at Drip, that was our starting price, but people knew that we were ESP or a marketing automation provider. We fit in an existing category and it was really simple. People know they needed it. They either needed it or didn’t. If it was really good and could do all these fancy automation, it was worth $50 for 2500 subscribers versus you weren’t inventing a new category because continuous integration and deployment already existed as SaaS. There’s CircleCI and the whole gamut of folks there.
You were almost trying to niche it to WordPress, not almost, that essentially was the plan as we said it. It just didn’t seem to be a burning need in that group. Even though, as you said, you had all the signals because you had these people wanting to integrate with you, wanting to co-promote these large companies, you had people wanting to acquire you, you had people you know asking about the product.
As you’re getting, you’re seeing these signals along the way of this two-, three-year journey that kind of keeps you going. The big signal—the MRR and the customer number—was not big. You would get a new one here and there and MRR would tick up a notch, but it was not growing to the point where you’re like I’m going to default alive with just Branch anytime soon.
You were telling me before we hit record that there was this really tough period as you were deciding to essentially step away from Branch where you, your wife, and your newborn were all in one room and you said not a one-bedroom, but a one-room apartment. We call it a studio apartment here in the US and you were doing customer interviews, you had a crying baby, and all this stuff. That sounded terrible. You want to just talk us through that real quick?
Peter: Yeah. We moved to Denmark on a whim during the pandemic because my wife was pregnant and we’re going to have our son. In the spring of 2020, no one knew how long this was going to last. Lockdown over there was very strict so we had no idea when we would see our family the next time if we decided to stay over there and have our son over there.
We had this crazy week where we planned everything and we just threw everything in the car and gave all the stuff away that didn’t fit in the car and basically drove to Denmark from the UK. Then in Denmark, we have a little cabin here that we lived in during the summer and he wasn’t born there, but that’s where we were when he was born. Then we were lucky to be able to get a little studio apartment in Copenhagen where we stayed I guess for four months.
Basically, Branch is clearly not working, but I’m not 100% ready to give up yet. You kind of know it’s not working, but it’s really hard to come to this realization. All I’m doing is I’m turning every stone. I’m talking to all my partners and I’m doing these customer interviews just to try to see if we can pivot or if we can take it in another direction.
Everything was happening in the same room. My wife will be breastfeeding our son in the background while I’m doing six customer interviews in a day. The office I used to work in in Copenhagen was shut down of course because of the pandemic. It was not a fun situation to be in.
I remember it was really hard to find time to think and just figure out what to do. I remember I had some walks where I got on calls with you and talked through some stuff. I think what I needed at the time was actually permission to move on because I think this is a common belief people have when they take investment that now you have to make it work because you took someone’s money, and because of TinySeed, you were my investor.
I had a lot of stuff to figure out at that time and ultimately, we decided to bet on one of our partnerships because one of the partnerships had a little glimmer of hope, basically. small signs that it might work, so we actually decided to ignore everything else and just focus the rest of our energy on that partnership. But then, in a matter of a few weeks, we actually had some stuff happen behind the scenes, I guess, that made us realize that that partnership wasn’t going to be working out and we just decided to move on.
Rob: This seems like that was the last straw of this is the end, in essence. At that point, you had a few choices or you had a choice, you could go in a few directions. You could have shut the company down. You still had an asset. WP Pusher still as a revenue-generating asset so you could have done something with that.
You could have shut the company down, returned investor money (what was left), and got a salary job. Just chill the heck out, not do this entrepreneurial insanity for a year or two or whatever. You could have basically cleared the cap table and then just gone out and started something else and raised a different round.
But instead, what you decided to do was to keep the company as it is with the existing cap table, right? You have TinySeed as investors, advisors, and you have that large VC firm as you said. That’s what you decided to go with. How did you think through those options? And why did you decide to go with the last one?
Peter: Actually, for a few weeks, I thought I was going to get acqui-hired because the problem Branch solves is a problem that basically every WordPress host wants to solve. It would have been very easy for us to get acqui-hired and for me to get a job. They would be the ones paying my investors back and I would just get a job basically is what that means.
I thought about that. Honestly, I was really tired. 2020 was a long year for all of us, I think, and I was especially tired and a little baby. I seriously debated just doing that, but then I just remembered one day, I just realized that I’m definitely not going to do that. I didn’t work hard for many years to have that be the outcome, and it doesn’t have to be forever, but that’s not what I wanted to do. We actually had some runway left enough that at least I could be working for another year on a startup, which is a great opportunity. You can get pretty far in a year if you—
Rob: If you hit the right things. You look at what Derrick Reimer had done with SavvyCal or was doing at that time.
Peter: Yeah, and I did it because I’m in a mastermind with him. We talked basically every day—him, Matt, and I. I called all of my investors and my voice is shaking and I’m telling them this is not going to work. I don’t have money to pay everyone back, but if you’re the only one who wants their money back, I can probably get it to you.
No one wanted their money back. One of them actually said and if he’s listening, thank you. He basically said—he didn’t even care what I used it for—just go have fun. Take a break or something. After doing that, I felt good that okay, I know I have some time now to come up with a new idea. So I read The Mom Test a few times to make up for the times that I didn’t read it.
I mentioned we have a cabin, so I went up there for a day and I had written down some criteria for the type of business that I wanted. I revisited them and I learned a few things. I changed them a little bit and I actually learned later that they were very similar to some of the stuff that Derrick wrote down when he started SavvyCal on his website. I looked at them as well actually.
That just really helped when I was thinking through different ideas. I had a few ideas. Basically, my process was to start talking to people and figuring out, trying to tease out if any of those ideas had any legs. None of the ideas was to build a form builder, by the way. That came more organically.
Rob: Yeah. That brings us to the part of the story where we start digging into Reform. Again, it’s Reform.app. “Clean forms. On brand.” A visual form builder. How did you get there? How did you get from I have a list of requirements? I had a similar list of requirements 10 years ago when I was thinking about Drip. It’s like, I want an app that’s X dollars a month or more expensive. I want an app that a lot of people need. I want an app I can market through this. I want something maybe for me at the time it doesn’t require enterprise sales. I had all these criteria.
Again, derrickreimer.com if you want to see his list, which probably has quite a bit of overlap with ours. Then how did you get there? There are a lot of form builders, right? I can name six off the top of my head. For some of which have been acquired. I’m going to name all of your competitors and tell people to go check them out. No, but there are a lot of them. It’s a big horizontal space. I won’t go far to say it’s a commodity because I do believe that you can differentiate.
Like I always say on this show, you can go into a large market with a lot of competitors if you can figure out how to have a really unique feature set or positioning and you own that in people’s minds. Or if you have really proprietary traffic channels that you can own. An example of that is Ruben with SignWell. We used to formally doc sketch. E-signature is a huge space. He’s one of the best in the world I know at SEO. He gets hundreds of thousands of uniques a month. If you can rank number one for a bunch of terms, great.
SignWell is not a commodity, but you could literally build a commodity rank one in Google and build a great business. Either or, if you have both, even better. Reform, you’re coming into the form space. I guess the first question is how did you get to that idea? The next question is how did you start to prove it out in your head to make it worth building, to not get stung this time.
Peter: At this time I’m talking to my investors all the time because I’m trying to figure out what’s next.
Rob: It’s funny. You say you say investors and people might think, oh, he’s reporting to someone. They’re really advisors who happen to have put money in. That’s how you think of them, right? It’s like mentors, advisors.
Peter: And friends, right. Matt is one of my investors.
Rob: I know some people listen to podcasts when they hear you say investors, they’ll be like that’s a negative connotation. But no, they’re aligned with you. You all want this, we all want this to succeed.
Peter: Yeah. I talk to my people. What I wanted was I wanted a way to make it easy to communicate with, in this case, investors. I had this idea for how to make it easier. I was describing it to a friend that this was one of my ideas. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while actually. But now it was more present when I was talking a lot to my investors. I’m describing this idea to a friend and I’m telling him about the idea. I’m describing it as kind of like a Typeform when you do an investor update.
I wanted to be able to do an investor update that’s asking me smart questions and you just get one question at a time. Then he was like, can you just build it in Typeform then? Yeah, I guess I could. I hung up the phone and I basically do like a prototype of this. I asked a couple of founder friends if they would want to actually pay $50 per month for this.
I think three people just from me DM-ing, a few people said yes. I had to kind of like the thesis that I could get them to send more investor updates than they did now—which was the goal—but they didn’t really change anything. But then in the process, I got to play around with some other form builders and got frustrated about a few things and was like that’s interesting. I joked to Matt and Eric in my mastermind that maybe it’s time for a new form builder, hahaha.
And then they’re like, yeah, maybe it’s time for a new form builder. They had some frustrations as well. I’m like, are you serious? Then I started thinking about it. Actually, this has not been shared before, even Out of Beta, but I know someone is going to build it when I mention it, but I’m going to mention it anyway.
The first idea was actually to build a form builder that was markdown-based. The super geeky and developery and we did some mockups of that. Me and my now co-founder Bjorn that I worked on Branch as well as a contractor. Everyone we showed it to loved it, especially developers. No one wanted to pay for it.
Rob: Yeah, I was going to say, I didn’t love it because you showed it to me and I’m like I don’t have time for markdown. If I’m going to do a form builder, I’m going to drag and drop, and then I’m sure developers are like if I’m going to do a form builder, I’m going to build it myself.
Peter: Yeah, but we’re kind of intrigued by the idea of doing a form builder in general. The more people we talked to, we realized that it didn’t have to have markdown, it just had to be better than the form builder they were using right now. Apparently, everyone was frustrated with their form builder and everyone had a form builder of choice. There is something interesting about it.
You’re right, it’s a really crowded market. It’s a horizontal space. I knew it was going to be really challenging. The thing I liked about it compared to Branch was I feel like I actually did a good job in many ways with Branch and I learned a ton of things. I got really good at doing partnerships and we build a really awesome product in many ways. We did some cool integrations and stuff like that. I feel like I was doing a good job, but it’s just the wrong job or the wrong product. I was actually excited to really like try something difficult, but that actually had a chance of working.
Forms, it’s a very proven space. Some of the form builders you probably haven’t heard about, but they’re making millions a year in annual recurring revenue. It’s a kind of product where you can carve out a piece of the market as well in a niche or something. You could go more or less horizontal I think.
Rob: Yeah, what was the validation? I’m not saying validation in the traditional sense of I talked to 17 people and 9 told me yes they would pay this. I don’t mean that. But you had a bunch of conversations and people said I would use that even though there are existing alternatives and then you were like, cool? What was that thought process?
Peter: Yeah, actually when Derrick was thinking about doing SavvyCal, you joined one of our masterminds. So it was you, Derrick, Matt, and I. I remember you told him, if you can match what Calendly is doing, I’ll happily switch to your thing. I remember Justin Jackson saying similar things about podcasts. If all my friends will probably switch. I got the same vibe. At least, my friends sounded like they would use it. You never know for sure, so I wasn’t necessarily trusting that they would because a lot of people said they would use Branch as well, but they never did.
The way we validated it was we didn’t do a ton of validation. I had a bunch of conversations, maybe 20 or something like that with people. I talked to people who worked at form companies. I talked to power users of other form tools. I started to get a great idea. I just felt like we needed to try it at least. What we realized was that it needs to be a very high quality. We couldn’t just build some […] MVP and validate it that way because no one was going to…
Rob: There are already good solutions out there.
Rob: You had to build something that was at least as good but had something maybe compelling or different about it.
Peter: Yeah. If we wanted to test this in a few weeks we could just keep talking to people. I don’t know if we would learn much more from that and we couldn’t build a great product. We could build maybe a prototype of the markdown idea, but we decided that that’s not what we wanted to do.
Instead, we decided to build a landing page with some mockups and basically a prototype of the form that was actually built on top of Netify’s form API. That really limited the scope. I’ve never spent this much energy on a landing page, but we really sweated every pixel and the copy as well, I’ve never spent that much time on a piece of copy.
I remember going through Obviously Awesome, April Dunford’s book and get the positioning right, then wrote the copy and we built this landing page in Figma. I’m pretty sure I showed it to 30 people at least that gave me feedback and not all at the same time. I showed it to one or two people, got their feedback, iterated, and we did that for two weeks. In the end, we knew that it was pretty good. We could just see people got it more and more. That’s what we kind of put on Twitter one day.
Rob: This is like the age-old smoke test. This goes back to Start Small, Stay Small. I wrote about this 11 years ago about put up a landing page. These days I just saw someone posted in I think it was MicroConf Connect saying, does that still work anymore? Is that even a thing? I mean, I’ve put landing pages up for everything from SaaS apps like Drip to a book like Start Small, Stay Small to a conference like MicroConf. MicroConf started as a landing page for an accelerator. TinySeed was literally just a landing page. It was like, here are some things we’re going to do.
I did the same thing. I took 8 hours to write 12 sentences of copy. It was just a tremendous amount of iteration and going back and forth. This is something that has been around for a while and still works.
Something I do want to point out too is none of this is foolproof. People want the answer. They want 100% validation. That doesn’t exist, it’s a figment of your imagination. But at a certain point, you say I’m going to do an idea, I’m going to build a form builder, and you’re like, yeah. I’m like 10% or 20% sure it’s going to work. So then you talk to 20, 30 people and you’re like, I feel like 30%. That’s all it is, it’s a continuum. Then you put up a landing page. You get people to opt-in, commit, pre-buy, or whatever and maybe that gets you to 50 or 60.
You had that with Branch, right? You had validation, but there’s still room there for it to fail. Just because you’re at 60%. At a certain point at tips and then you people actually do start using it and start paying you. Anyway, I wanted to interject that, but you can keep going with the story.
Peter: We put a month into the landing page two people, and two people that are pretty good developers. Bjorn is a good designer as well. We put a lot of effort into it. I think that works. It’s just slapping something together and just put it up there. It has a much lower chance of working unless it’s a new thing that people really want. But if you’re trying to compete in a very crowded space, why would anyone sign up for a bad MVP or a bad landing page for something? That’s not going to be exciting to anyone.
We put a lot of effort into it. We had a good idea about what we did because we iterated on it. We put it on Twitter. From my point of view, it blew up with my follower amount and stuff like that. It got more attention than my tweets normally get. I got like 100,000 views or something like that and I think we got 500 signups for the early access list on the first day. I think we were at like 1300 or something like that when we actually launched the thing.
But at the time this was one of our experiments. The first thing I tested was the investor idea, then I tested the form idea. But then it blew up a little bit. 500 people signed up. We did a Twitter Spaces event and Andrew Warner from Mixergy showed up and he prepaid. Four people prepaid. They just asked if they could PayPal me money for it because they wanted to be the first customers. It’s really exciting.
The next day we went for a walk, me and Bjorn, and we were like, yeah, I think we have to go forward with this idea. It would be weird to go out and launch another thing in three weeks.
Rob: So you built it. How long did it take to build to get to the point where you could launch? Because today, you can go to Reform and sign up. I can see plans, I can go to the form builder, I can log in, and all that. How long ago did you launch?
Peter: 45 days ago?
Rob: It took a few months to get you to the point.
Peter: But we had customers way before that. It probably took us a month before. We had that prototype of a form that was our sign-up form. That was another thing that we engineered. If you want to see the product, you sign up for the early access list. That’s how you could try the product. It took about a month before we had a product where we could rebuild the early access form for ourselves. Kind of like […] it.
I had a list of people. I talked to everyone who signed up in the early days all the time. Half my time, I was probably just talking to people. I had an idea about who needed what and how many features they needed. I had them ranked and some people did need a lot of features and they were willing to try a new thing so they could try it maybe after five or six weeks. We just slowly started onboarding customers.
Rob: Essentially an early access, right?
Peter: Exactly. I remember actually after we announced the product. My first idea, because I’m in this validation mindset, was actually to manually build forms like the one we had for early access for the 10 first people or something like that. I think that was actually Derrick. He asked me, what are you going to learn from that? People are already paying for form builders. They’re already building forms. They already have use cases. You just need to see how fast you can build something that people can use to put together the same kind of form that you had on your website and that resonated with people.
That’s what we did. That’s kind of what we’re still doing. We’re still trying to catch up to all those baseline features. But we have enough that I think most startups can use us for all their form needs. We have templates for product/market fit, surveys, SaaS onboarding, and stuff like that. All this stuff that we need ourselves, which is fun as well so we get to […] it all the time.
Rob: Right, that’s the cool part is when you get to the point where the product where you can use it yourself. I do like on your home page, you say the problem, what’s wrong with the status quo? Then you go through some reasons. Look, there are a bunch of other form builders, but here’s what we don’t like about them, here’s what we kept hearing people they don’t like about them, and then how Reform is better. We’re faster, we’re brandable or linear and nonlinear.
You really bring it out in a way that would address the inner narrative, the conversation that’s already going on inside the prospect’s mind.
Peter: I remember recently, Bjorn told me, this feels like it’s a lot easier to get a customer for Reform than it is for Branch. And actually, it also feels like it’s a lot easier to get two customers and three customers. It’s so much easier for people to sign up. There’s a much smaller mental barrier to sign up, pick a template, you get a URL, your form is ready, right? You don’t have to convince your boss, all this stuff.
I’m just enjoying that right now, to be honest. I don’t know if we’re going to figure out all the marketing and if we’re going to scale and all that stuff, but right now it’s just fun to have, in a few months, more than 60 customers, usage, feedback, and life in a sense.
Rob: Yeah, I mean you’ve built a self-serve tool that’s quite horizontal. If people find out about it and they do like the look of it, like the feel of it, or do (to your point earlier) have an issue with the current form builder, it’s $20 a month. It’s not that big of a risk and they don’t have to get a whole development team using it. The switching costs, it’s not trivial to switch from old form builder if you have data and such, but it’s certainly possible. We’ve done it with MicroConf and TinySeed, customers in Reform as well. It’s interesting.
I think folks listening to this might be thinking well, should I enter a big horizontal crowded space as well? It’s like, well, maybe. I mean, there’s a bunch of ways to think about this, right? Something similar to you and that you and Derrick have is that you both build really good products. They look really good. They function really well. You are exceptional at building products.
A lot of people think they are, but you look at Reform’s homepage, you look at SavvyCal’s homepage and you compare it to a lot of SaaS apps on the web and yours, they stand out. That’s an advantage unto itself, but it’s not enough, of course. You’re not going to get to half a million or a million just because you can build a great product. That marketing piece has to kick in, which I’m assuming is up next for you guys because you’ve built something people want.
Now you have to get more product-market fit. As I always say, it’s a spectrum. You’re notching that up and eventually, you’ll get to where people are just flocking real quick and then it’s like okay, everyone’s signing up and everyone is converting, but now how do we have 5X, 10X, 20X the sheer volume of people who know about us. That’s the playbook.
Man, congratulations. I was going to say making a pivot but it’s not even a pivot, it’s just like, I’m just going to build a different app. It’s a risky decision, obviously, but there’s a lot more founder gut that has to go in these things than I think we want them to have, especially as engineers. We want there to be a right answer in black and white and numbers that point us to 100%. But you’re off to the races. Now, it’s plug and play, blocking and tackling, and building the business.
Peter: Yeah, I actually thought about if I should do another round of TinySeed just to like…
Rob: Apply again?
Peter: Have more traction and go through all the exercises.
Rob: Yeah, totally. You can go back in there, let a minimum review.
Peter: Maybe I could sneak into some Zooms or something.
Rob: Yeah, totally. Well, sir, it’s been a pleasure having you on the show. If folks want to keep up with you, they should look for the Out of Beta podcast wherever fine podcasts are sold. And of course, Reform.app is your app and you are @petersuhm on Twitter. Thanks again for joining me.
Peter: Thank you so much. It’s fun.
Rob: Thank you for joining me every week on Startups for the Rest of Us. If you’re not already subscribed, love it if you can hit the like and subscribe button as the kids say these days. But no, seriously, it’d be great to have each of these episodes appear in your feed each week if you’re not already doing that. It’s great to have you here. I hope this episode and all the episodes are helpful with your mindset with some strategies, some tactics, some thought process, some inspiration and that help you push your bootstrap or mostly bootstrapped business forward every week. If you keep listening, I’ll keep recording. I’ll be back in your earbuds again next Tuesday morning.