Our Path to Acquiring KISSinsights

Yesterday TechCrunch covered our acquisition of KISSinsights.  This acquisition may seem a little out of left field, but we’ve actually been moving in this direction for a while. I figured other entrepreneurs would benefit from understanding the path that we’ve been following.

The path started with CatchFree.com.  The idea for CatchFree was to capitalize on the fact that the freemium business model was creating many very strong businesses, but the economics of these apps constrained their ability to pay to accelerate adoption.  Our leap of faith was that by organizing freemium apps around detailed user ratings, we’d be able to create a very popular resource for consumers and small businesses.

Since launching at TechCrunch Disrupt last year the site has attracted over 1.8 million users and collected detailed ratings for over 1000 apps.  But surprisingly, app publishers were more interested in the structured insights we uncovered than the traffic we were sending.

If you read my previous post, I mentioned a service we were developing called MustHaveScore.  It was an attempt to productize our process for collecting detailed ratings for the products listed on CatchFree and package the insights in a way that they’d be even more useful for app publishers.  The response was very strong.  Tomer Dvir, CEO at Soluto, recently told me that insights have enlightened everything from their messaging to their product road map. And others were enthusiastic too.  In fact, we soon realized that our “concierge MVP” approach was going to overwhelm us.  By concierge MVP, I mean that we were manually categorizing write-in answers to how people used an app.  Now that we’ve validated demand for this product we are working on a more automated way to provide it.  We’ll also come up with a price point that makes it a viable offering.  In the meantime, we’ve moved MustHaveScore into a private Beta.

Through the execution of MustHaveScore we found that many people were looking for a more elegant way to collect feedback from their users.  They also wanted the flexibility to ask their own questions.  It became clear that what they really wanted was KISSinsights, so we approached our friends at KISSmetrics about buying it.  Fortunately for us KISSmetrics wanted to put all of their focus on their hot analytics business and we were able to reach an agreement to acquire KISSinsights.

What is KISSinsights?

If you’re not familiar with KISSinsights, it’s absolutely awesome.  It essentially pioneered the microsurveying category, making it possible to ask website users questions as they are making decisions, the crucial point at which they are likely to remember their motivation for making the decisions. This is a really powerful way to learn how to improve conversions and engagement. Of course it can be used for more general surveying, but this flexibility to intelligently target users on a website is what really makes it special.

And as an advisor to KISSmetrics, I’ve been helping with the product since it’s inception so I really understand it.  It evolved out of the Survey.io project that KISSmetrics and I launched in 2009.

Heat Seeking Missile

Our business will continue to evolve for the foreseeable future.  Josh Kopelman referred to this process when he wrote about entrepreneurs that are “heat seeking missiles.”  I highly recommend his blog post on the subject if you haven’t read it.  One of the areas we’ve been exploring is helping companies take action on “actionable insights.”  Our longer term vision has also evolved, but I’ll save that for another blog post.

If you’re a KISSinsights customer or have ever used it, I would love the opportunity to talk with you about it.  Please send me an email to ellisatcatchfreedotcom so we can schedule a quick 15 minute call.

Vision Synching in a Lean Startup

In the age of the lean startup, we often forget about the importance of vision.   A big audacious vision is critical for attracting venture capital and for getting the early team to “take the leap.”  It also stimulates the emotion/passion needed to fuel your team’s persistence to blast through inevitable hurdles.

Vision Needs Traction

Achieving your vision requires first getting traction.   The most realistic way to get traction is to break down your vision to something very relevant now for the sweet spot of your target market.  This MVP (minimum viable product) is a bridge between concrete customer needs today and your big audacious vision.

Customer development teaches us that elements of the MVP are often based on flawed assumptions.  As we validate and refine our assumptions, we need to make sure that the MVP is tracking to these new facts.

Vision Synching/Expanding

It’s also important to revisit your vision when new customer facts emerge.   This often provides inspiration for extending the original vision but you should not be exclusively tied to your original vision.  Always seek more interesting directions to be able to take the business once traction is established.

At FREEjit we’ve mapped out a primary vision but we continue to explore other huge opportunities we could pursue once we have some traction to leverage.  Each new fact adds credence to some potential pivots and reduces the viability of others.  Eventually we’ll need to focus on one vision, but the right vision will crystallize over time.  Even while we explore these opportunities, our current execution is very focused on the MVP needed to get traction.  And the MVP maps well to each of the big opportunities we’re considering.

While vision synching seems like a distraction from gaining traction, I find that it reinvigorates the team and makes the pursuit of traction even more exciting.

Since my team and I are heads down on FREEjit, I don’t have much time to monitor comments.  Instead, I’m hoping to get some discussion around this concept on Quora.  I’ve posted the following question on Quora: “How do lean startups avoid iterating their way into a small niche and missing big opportunities?”  I’d appreciate your thoughts.

I’m Founding a Startup

In case you missed my Tweet on Aug 13th “Burn the boats – I’ve reached the point of no return and finally admitting I’m founding a new startup. Details soon.”

I didn’t really intend to become a founder, but was hit with an epiphany of a huge opportunity that I was perfectly suited to execute. I actually tried to push it out of my find for several days (my consulting practice has been fun/lucrative) but I kept having a nagging feeling that it had to be done. I shared the vision with a few venture capitalist friends and they quickly offered to fund it. I then received strong need validation from potential customers, which wasn’t surprising since the original epiphany had been based on engaging many potential customers.  Momentum has been strong ever since (though surely there will be course corrections along the way).

I’ll be on a blogging vacation for the foreseeable future…