Editor's Note: The Early Adopter program for our new product, Center, is now closed, but click here to learn more about what we'll be releasing in 2016. * * *
This is Part 1 of a series of posts I've wanted to write since we started LeadPages.
Right now, LeadPages is gearing up to release something that I've been dreaming about since 2013. It's taken 3 years to get to here, and I'm feeling a mixture of restlessness and excitement. More about that later. First …
An Apology for Being Off the Grid for So Long
A lifetime. It feels like it's been that long since I last posted to this blog in May of 2013. May of 2013 was quite possibly the last month of sanity before the rocket ship of our growth took us all on an unanticipated high-velocity journey. Back then, LeadPages was about 15 people strong and had about 7,000 customers. (Now we're 164 strong with over 40,000 customers.) Much like the company itself, my role at LeadPages has changed dramatically since we've started. I quit blogging (unintentionally) after that. Our marketing/content team had it covered. Also, I told myself that creating content wasn't the best use of my time and that my main mode of expression was through the products and practices of the company that Tracy and I had founded. Not through blog posts and writing thought pieces. So I left this blog cold turkey; I'm sorry for that. So why am I back? I'm back 2 years later because after all this time I've got something truly new to blog about … and I want to tell you the story of LeadPages. I'm back because I finally have something to say again. [cta-box]
More about that later. First, let's take stock of …
Where We've Come Over the Last 3 Years
Before we started LeadPages, Tracy (my cofounder) and I created and sold information products. And when we first created LeadPages, we realized that we could do so much more education and teaching through tools than through courses. At the end of the day, LeadPages® was an online course disguised as software. We had a lot of things to say about conversion, lead generation, and persuasive design, and we thought software was the best way to say it. There's a good Buckminster Fuller quote that describes exactly why we created LeadPages: “If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don’t bother trying to teach them. Instead, give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking.” We also launched LeadPages because we had a philosophy about how marketing software should work. (That is: we think marketing software should be simple, empowering, lightweight, and easy to use; we also think it should inspire marketers to take on and achieve more than they ever thought possible.)
What Happened After We Launched (And What Has Happened Since) Still Blows My Mind
There's not enough space here to give a play-by-play of what's happened since LeadPages launched. Maybe I'll write that blog post one day. But suffice it to say that I wake up nearly every day, pinch myself, and stand in awe of what our team has accomplished (although we still have so, so far to go; we're maybe 1/20 of the way there).
Here Are Some Stats on LeadPages as a Platform and Business ...
- We have 40,000+ paying customers.
- We’ve served well over 1 billion page views.
- Our users have created 1,456,097 total pages.
- We’ve spent over 4,000 hours interviewing applicants on our way to building a team of 164+ people, 100 of whom have been hired since January.
- Our amazing customer support team has logged over 89,000 hours serving our users.
- We’ve created more than 500 videos, delivered over 1,000 hours of live training, and published over 1 million words to our blog—all with the goal of educating marketers and entrepreneurs across the world.
Once in a while our industry also notices what we’ve accomplished: when this year's Inc. 500 list came out, we were on it (note: revenue figures are for 2014, so it’s a little behind). The year before that, Mattermark named us the fastest growing company in Minnesota. We've also received some nice press from Forbes (we're #40 on their list of the hottest startups of 2015), Huffington Post, TechCrunch, and Inc. Magazine. It's nice for us to occasionally get recognized like this (certainly it helps with PR and recruiting), but what I'm most proud of is how LeadPages changed our industry.
Growth Has Led Us from Me Sitting in Front of My Home Staircase Making Videos for This Blog (See Above) to Being the Biggest Player in Our Space
For example, since starting LeadPages . . .
- We’ve developed the largest paying-customer base in our space.
- We’ve raised most funding support in our space ($38M).
- We have the highest cash flow in our space.
- We have the largest team in our space (164 people).
- And we're having the most fun in our space. :-)
But More Important Than Everything Above, I'm Proud of How We Changed The Industry, Set New Standards, and Made a Difference in the Lives of Tens of Thousands of Entrepreneurs
LeadPages changed digital marketing by making high-converting, mobile-responsive landing pages easy to create, integrate, and publish. We made conversion accessible to everyone. (We're still very much committed to that, and there are ≈15 people working on our new drag-and-drop landing page builder that's coming out next month.) It’s easy to forget that innovations like 2-step opt-ins, LeadBoxes®, and lead magnet delivery weren’t always standard options with landing page solutions. No business or innovation exists in a vacuum, and no one company or person can take 100% credit. But here’s a list of areas where I feel we’ve made a solid (and in many cases pervasively influential) contribution to the industry … 2-Step Opt-Ins: The 2-step opt-in process became popular after we first started talking about it in 2012 and 2013. We’ve proven that a 2-step opt-in process boosts conversion an average of 30%. LeadBoxes®: The popularity of the 2-step opt-in prompted the release and widespread adoption of LeadBoxes®. If you noticed forms moving off the page and into modal windows, then you were seeing the influence of LeadBoxes®. Page-Level Lead Magnet Delivery: We’re not claiming to have invented lead magnet delivery, but we were the first to offer this at the page level. By setting up lead magnet delivery at the LeadPage or LeadBox™ level, you can give away as many different content bribes as you want on multiple opt-in pages and still drive your new subscribers to the same email list. Landing Page Design Innovations: If you’ve ever seen a webinar registration page that looked like this, then you’ve probably seen the influence of our landing page design. The last time I checked, every single landing page platform out there had a near-exact replica of at least one LeadPages® template. (Sometimes they even forget to remove our copy, copyrights, and images.) Sorting Templates by Conversion Rate: Inside LeadPages®, you can sort through all the landing page templates not just by name, but by their average opt-in rate. This will instantly show you the highest-converting templates across all of our customers, ranked first to last. When you sort by opt-in rate, you can easily see the highest-converting landing pages in existence today (either for all templates or by category). We were the first to provide this. Anyway, after accomplishing some of our initial goals, we found ourselves at a fork in the road …
We Had to Look Deep Inside and Figure Out How Large Our Aspirations Were … And This Forced Us to Face Our Most Difficult Decision Yet
Since launching LeadPages, our desire to make a huge impact had grown substantially. We’d come very far, but from Day 1 we’ve set our sights on going so much further. I realized this a while back when responding to a post in an online forum. In response to a feature announcement, someone had written: “Looks like LeadPages is trying to compete with [a niche software product for marketers].” I thought about it for a second and responded with … “Thanks for your comment. We don’t consider ourselves to be competing with them. We’ve got 40K+ customers and going after larger markets (and bringing landing pages and conversion design to the broader mainstream small business market) is much more interesting. Wix has 40 million customers. GoDaddy.com has 13 million customers. MailChimp has 3 million+ customers. This is real inspiration for competition . . . and much more interesting than competing with niche solutions in the ‘business opportunity’ market.” That's illustrative of our mindset and our desire for impact. That’s where our sights are set.
Anyway, Here’s the Decision We Had to Make …
Let me set some context: most companies stop growing because structural limitations prevent them from scaling. In most businesses (that are doing more than $5M per year), growth doesn’t stop because you haven’t figured out how to write a killer headline, or do automated webinars, or haven’t explored some SEO loophole, or because you haven’t mastered Facebook ads or retargeting. The curtailing of growth happens on a much more foundational and structural level. Here are some common examples of how structural limitations stop growth in the marketing technology space:
- A startup might be good at selling to opportunity seekers looking to “get started online” but can’t seem to go “upmarket” and sell to small and medium-size businesses.
- A startup might find that its stock/ownership structure is messy and complicated and doesn’t properly incentivize the right people.
- A startup might find that it has problematic intellectual property and ownership issues. Or its code base contains GPL code (making the entire code base GPL). Or one of the founders owns part of the intellectual property and makes an acquisition, IPO, or venture capital financing round impossible.
- A startup might be good at selling direct via its website but can’t build out the sophisticated sales team required for larger 6-figure deals.
- A startup might be able to get some initial traction with an early version of its product, but 3–5 years later be unable to keep up when larger companies with seemingly unlimited engineering budgets get involved.
- A startup might find that its initial success was heavily dependent on founders and that the next generation of true product, revenue, operational and engineering leaders isn’t in place to pick up the slack when founders leave or burn out.
- A startup might develop a monolithic code base and create too much technical debt to maintain product innovation and velocity. Little by little it becomes harder to release new innovations.
- After creating a new market, a startup might find that competition has heated up to the point that profits are competed away (and be left without funding or backing to weather the storm).
- A startup might find that it simply doesn’t have the resources to recruit world-class talent, maintain a good culture, deal with problematic employees, and maintain high-output management practices.
- A startup might find that its monthly retention rate is just too low to continue growing. When a startup is small and has 1,000 customers, a 5% monthly loss in customers (i.e. 50 customers) is easily replaced. But when you have 20,000 customers, that same 5% monthly customer loss now means that 1,000 new customers need to be generated in order to prevent business decline.
- A startup might find that it doesn’t have enough good customer and business data available to make important pricing, retention, and strategy decisions.
Anyway, during the end of 2014 we saw that unless we implemented some structural changes to our product, brand, and architecture in 2015, we’d run into structural limitations near the middle of 2016 that would have serious implications on how large we could scale. Every growing business runs into structural limitations at one point or another. It’s how you decide to address them that makes all the difference (and the faster you’re growing, the faster you’ll run into structural limitations). The things that get you from 0 to 40,000 customers are not the same things you do to get you to 100,000+ customers. And those things aren’t the things that take you to 1 million+ customers. So we had to choose. We could: (1) plow ahead on the trajectory we were on, or (2) bite the bullet and start rebuilding some key parts of our app and business from the ground up.
We chose the latter approach, and 2015 has been all about one thing—scaling up for something big and doubling revenue again.
We decided to build the infrastructure and architecture necessary to support millions of customers. Not just in terms of technology, product and engineering, but also with regard to people, processes, systems, marketing, sales, services, etc. For example . . .
- We decided to rebuild parts of our app from the ground up for scalability.
- We decided to build out a true product-management department.
- We decided to really invest in our office space and exclusively hiring locally.
- We decided to create an enterprise sales force that can work on large deals.
- We decided to create the foundation for an industry-leading conversion conference.
- We decided to build out a services function.
- We decided to build out a data and analysis platform.
- We raised $38M in venture capital (see here and here).
- We built our product and engineering teams up to 72 people.
- We started a project to rebrand the company.
Even though the core functionality of LeadPages® (as you’re using it today) was essentially built by a team of 5 engineers, we now have 57 amazing full-time engineers on staff. Obviously, you don't do these things if your aspirations stop at creating a landing page product (although we’ve got a killer new landing page builder ready to release next month). Our vision has been to build something much more immense. And next week we're going to reveal the beginnings of what we’re creating.
So Now We’re Restless
In 2015 our revenue doubled, but we also spent much of 2015 building things that we haven’t shown you yet, and we’re all excited for the upcoming releases of several large updates. But the important thing to note is that …
On December 29th, We’ll Show You How We’ll Change the Game Again
When LeadPages® first came out, we made high-converting landing page creation accessible to everyone for the first time. And on December 29th we’ll have something entirely new to show you that we believe is another first in our industry. We're on the verge of releasing the next version of everything around here (our landing page builder, our integration system, our brand) … but that’s not what I’m talking about here. Those changes are evolutionary. What we reveal this Tuesday will be revolutionary. Mark your calendars for December 29th. If you're interested in learning more, please opt in below.
Warm regards, Clay