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Driving Success through Customer-Centric Innovation with Stefan Debois
Sean: Hey, guys, what’s happening? Once again, Sean here, your host, Mr. CEO at 22. And for today, we got Stefan Dubois from Belgium. Stefan, if you didn’t know, is the CEO and founder of Pointer Pro before they were known as Survey anyplace. It’s an online software tool to create engaging surveys, quizzes, and assessments with an advice report.
So if you are an entrepreneur, you’re starting up, you might want to check out their software. Stefan is also passionate about the use of technology to build professional relationships with people at scale, and he’s been doing this for a long time, somewhere 11 years already.
Stefan, thank you so much for being here on the show today.
Stefan: Thank you for having me, Sean.
Sean: All right. So now I’m wondering, with $3 million in annual recurring revenue and you bootstrapped this, what was the problem that you bumped into that you told yourself, the world needs this and I’m going to start this out.
Stefan: Yeah, originally it was kind of another problem and we evolved to what we are now. So originally back 11 years ago in 2012, I was working as a consultant. I’ve been working as a consultant for a long time, with companies like PricewaterhouseCoopers and large consulting firms.
I’m an engineer by background, so I wanted to do something myself or to make something, preferably in software, because that was the area of expertise that I was also working in as a consultant. Then I decided to make a quiz slash survey app that would be easier to use or more engaging than traditional tools that were on the market back then.
Back then it was more like a market research data collection kind of tool in the survey market. And we wanted to make something that focused on the respondent experience and thereby collect better data.
So that was a survey anyplace. That’s how it got started. But then over the years, we saw that like in the survey market, there was a lot of competition, so it was quite difficult to differentiate. So we knew that we had to do something else, something more valuable.
And then in 2019, I mean, it was not kind of a big master plan. Also, I would like to just begin by talking to customers and looking at the market that we saw. Some customers ask for this advice, the results of the questionnaire or the survey would be transferred then into an advisory board.
And then we started to create that first as a custom-built solution and then decided to make that also part of the software and then pointer pro was born. And now it’s not any more surveys, but it’s more assessments with automatic advice reports.
We come back or we look back and it’s a consultant. So my previous job where I was working as a consultant is now our main target audience.
So I can say that kind of automating some of the activities that I did in my previous job, Not all of them, of course, because the consultants continue to exist. I’m not afraid, but that’s in a nutshell how it started.
Sean: Who are the people that are going to be answering your survey, and why would they answer your surveys?
Stefan: Yeah, the people that are answering our surveys are mostly the customers or the employees or the audience in general of our customers. So our customers create the assessments and send them to several respondents.
The difference with the normal survey is that the normal survey at the end, it’s just like, thank you for participating in this survey. That’s typically a one-way transfer of information that is just data collection, which is not bad also, but at that point.
It only starts at that point for us because then at the end of the assessments that are made with our tool, it says like, Thank you for taking the assessments, and here is a button to download your personalized report. And then for example, if I don’t know if it’s a cyber security assessment. Then it can ask questions like, do you already have an antivirus on your PC?
And if you download the report then it will give you advice based on what you’ve answered. If you’ve answered that I don’t have antivirus, then it will probably recommend installing antivirus.
But also of course more complex advice and more complex rules. So it can be highly personalized and that’s exactly the value for the respondents.
So if you ask why would someone participate in such an assessment, it’s to get this personalized advice, of course, automatically and efficiently because they don’t need any human interaction or to pay a consultant for it.
Sean: So if someone, maybe a marketing consultant company would want to use your software, what’s going to be the differentiator?
You mentioned earlier, you said that there is so much survey software out there. What makes yours different and stand out from all of them?
Stefan: So if it’s just surveying like data collection, very transparent. Then there is no differentiator. What we used to do is data collection, what we are doing now is automating advice and if that’s the goal.
The differentiator is that we have these automatic advice reports based on the data that is collected. That’s one differentiator because no one has those tools, questionnaires, and reports in one application, otherwise, you have to link different applications with.
The second one is that you can set up the logic between the questionnaire and the advice without quotes, no quotes. If the answer to the antivirus question is no, then give the advice. Install antivirus. Very simple, but this kind of logic can be set up without code. So that’s the second advantage of our software.
Sean: Stefan, I’m wondering when you started the company somewhere 11 years ago, what happened then?
You had a problem, you saw that there was an opportunity. What was the first thing you did? Is it just to get on your computer and start typing code? Or is it to hire a programmer and partner with them?
Stefan: Yeah, I’m an engineer, so it was the first option. I had to refresh my knowledge about coding back then because when I was in school in 2011, those technologies had evolved, and I had to reskill myself.
Then you automatically start to look. There’s a lot of resources available back then, like open source. So to reskill yourself, the best way to do it is by building something. Then you build a small prototype.
So that was a tablet quiz for the anniversary of my daughter’s birthday. I like to have an entertaining quiz on the iPad. That was like the first day that iPad was still new.
It was really exciting that people answered questions on the iPad and also saw videos and pictures of my daughter. But yes, rather quickly made a website for that quiz for the tool to make the quizzes and then to promote it on blogs and guest blogs and everywhere on the Internet on forums pretty quickly.
Also, did the non-technical promotion distribution work because that’s also an important part of starting a company, of course.
Sean: Right, and how many people do you have working with you right now?
Stefan: 25, It’s a traditional split between I think it’s about half products and development and then half sales, marketing, customer service, and a bit management traditional split for the kind of company that we are.
Sean: A lot of people ask me about this on Discord like co-founders or family working together and stuff. So this is a very important topic that I want to pick your brain on, they don’t know what’s next.
Like what am I going to be using the money for? You know, am I going to infuse more of the capital in or should I buy my next house?
I mean, it’s a lot of questions swirling in my head. And you mentioned it’s not wrong for you to take profits during that time, but how come you know what you’re going to be investing in already in the long term?
Stefan: Back then it was different than now. Of course, we have a pretty good idea about that. We just took a loan from a couple of banks here in Belgium. We had to justify how we were going to use the money.
The challenge is on the one hand the marketing and on the other hand the product. I would say so in marketing. I mean, we are doing quite well with our inbound acquisition. So inbound marketing like Google Organic Search, but also paid acquisition.
AdWords on Bing advertising also works well, but we also need other channels for future growth, so we also need to be less dependent on Google.
It’s more top-of-funnel marketing, thought leadership, and content marketing, these things that we have to invest in with the goal that people know us already before they need us.
And it’s easier said than done but that is what we have to do and that will require some resources, so that’s one thing.
The second one is in the product building of a new module assessment center, basically a kind of way for clients to give a customer portal to their clients to manage their assessments.
And that’s very shortly the fact that we are going to be able to ask for more money for our tool. So higher deal size and that is also impacting the revenue of course.
But of course, this needs to be developed and there also you need resources, development resources and that’s also part of the money that will be invested in the product.
Sean: How did you know, like this is going to be the next feature? How did you know that? Do you just ask your customers what they want or do you also look at some people who are new in the field, like upcoming competition or maybe bigger competition? How do you do it?
Stefan: Not the customers because the competition by ourselves on some features or how to create some things from our competition like we build a new reporter, drag and drop editor.
These are more tactical things that we can also see, not so much on the competition, but also on other software vendors which are not.
So we can get some inspiration, but for real new features or like the bigger, I would say, way forward of our product, we look mostly at our customers and we don’t ask them what they want.
Sometimes you don’t have to ask, we want to achieve with our software and then we try to determine the functionality, the underlying functionalities that are needed.
Sean: And how do you keep ahead? I mean, there are so many people entering the software as a service space.
Maybe this is the most people entering the software as a service space. Since the beginning of time. A lot of developers right now, a database, front end, back end. How do you keep ahead of the competition?
Stefan: We have discussed that internally before. We were clearly in the survey category. Now we are in the category of assessment software, but not really because the other assessment software is more like pre-made assessments.
That’s like, for example, if you want to recruit someone and you want to do a psychological test, you can buy a subscription to that kind of software, and the tests and so are part of the software, which is good for that use case. But it’s not our use case.
Our use case is just like someone who wants to create their assessments, their assessments with the software tool and distribute it to their clients. That’s our target audience. And then if you look at the existing assessment software, there are not many players who do that.