I'm David Okuniev co-founder and creator of Typeform & VideoAsk

I’ve been building products for over 20 years as a product designer/entrepreneur and now bootstrapped coder.

In 2010 I founded Typeform with Robert Muñoz in Barcelona on the back of running a small web/app design business.

Over the last 10 years, Typeform has become a household name in the data collection space by re-inventing forms. Throughout my journey with Typeform, I’ve learned that:

  • Growing businesses is painful but ultimately rewarding work
  • Delivering customer value is the ultimate currency.
  • Detail matter. Every interaction counts.
    & :rocket:Ship, :rocket:Ship, :rocket:Ship!

Recently I’ve been building a new product called VideoAsk (By Typeform), where I’ve been able to apply all my experience and knowledge to start something from scratch.

VideoAsk is now the fastest-growing part of our business, reaching even higher growth rates than our main product did at the same stage.

For more context read this: Building a face-to-face relationship with users at VideoAsk (by Typeform) – Issue 2 - Build With Users

Looking forward to answering all of your questions!

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This February 4th, (9:30 AM GMT) we’re stoked about hosting Typeform and VideoAsk co-founder, David Okuniev. With peerless intuition for transformative interfaces and a dogged dedication to translate customer feedback into amazing product value, David and team helped realise the fledgling aims of the product-led shift. And, along the way, figured out the tenets of: freemium growth, thriving in a crammed category, building ‘heart and brain’ teams and a most resonant brand!

David’s brain pickings: :raised_hands:

Here are some incredibly interesting insights and interview excerpts to help you understand David’s thought process and expertise better. Dive in!

On a necessary cultural shift Typeform had to make:

“It was very smooth sailing. It was just all growth, growth, growth. And I don’t think it happens to that many startups, we were just on a tear, basically. I mean, we’ve created a really great atmosphere in the office, it was a very open culture, a lot of freedom, just a lot of motivations, it’s the early days, you know, just a small group of people like really killing it. So yeah, the first three years was just yeah, were very, very smooth sailing. But, you know, like for all things to reach new plateaus of growth, you have to get a bit more serious with the business.

And I think this especially kind of like, hit home in the last year and a half or two, where, you know, we built, like I mentioned, built a very kind of, let’s say, people-first culture, which meant that, you know, we didn’t put a lot of boundaries around around people. So there was a lot of freedom, a lot of goodwill, but, you know, you can do that when you’re 30 or so people in the company. When you start crossing 150 people it becomes a bit more complex. And actually, I think we reached a point in the company’s size where there was a serious, you know, a significant lack of accountability.

And we were seeing like, issues with, you know, speed of execution, so forth. And I think that was because we didn’t operationalize things well enough. Because we, you know, everything was fine, we were just growing, growing, growing. And you know, we didn’t need to worry about those things enough. But obviously, like I say, when you start getting further down the line, you have to start really, let’s say, maturing a little bit as a company and putting some processes in putting some structure and a bit of hierarchy. Otherwise, what you have is just many people looking in different directions. And you know, it’s a hard journey. It’s a lot of ups and downs.”

Source: Typeform: A Case Study in Product-Led SaaS Growth – with David Okuniev

On the importance of combining customer feedback and vision

At the time [Typeform’s early days], we were just less customer-centric, we were kind of working in a vacuum, developing the product. And to be fair that may have made Typeform what it is. I do believe that if we were getting a lot of feedback on how we should build a form, we might have gone in a different direction. We didn’t take any feedback before launching the beta.

I think you need to combine both. You need to have a strong sense of what you want to achieve and have a strong vision. Then getting feedback from your team and from the community* allows you to make micro-adjustments on the way.

Getting other people involved helps shape your ideas. But you can spend a lot of time going to customer interviews, digesting all that and trying to crunch data. It can be valuable, but I personally just use it as input into my thought process to make the right decisions.

Source: Building a face-to-face relationship with users at VideoAsk (by Typeform)

On the interplay between data and intuition:

Shed everything that gets in the way, because otherwise, you forget that you’re just trying to ship value. That’s all, the customer doesn’t see all your process behind.

Create a process that works for you so that you can ship the most amount of value to the customer. The more value you ship, the more you’re going to be rewarded. That creates a virtuous circle and in my opinion, creates really good products.

If you get stuck trying to be completely data-centric, as opposed to data-informed, then you gotta ask yourself: “have you got enough intuition about what you are doing?” It’s a different school of thought, and it’s just my personal personality as well. I’m a designer, I want to design things and ship them out so that people can try them.

Be a creator, acquire the skills that you need to be a creator. Understand engineering, try coding things, try designing things, you don’t have to be the designer or the coder but understand those things.

When you start something up, you can be super scrappy and you can afford to take big risks. It’s fine because you’re just at the start of the curve. The more mature, the more data-centric you should become.

Source: Building a face-to-face relationship with users at VideoAsk (by Typeform)

On what makes great products great:

“What makes a good product is that it helps people make progress. I think that’s a fundamental thing that a product is for. And a good product solves a problem in your life in an easy way, that you can understand and doesn’t fail on you. Great products, however, have a difference. They go beyond utility and they create an emotional relationship with the user so they can’t live without them. I think great products do this through a combination of innovating branding, but as well, they deliberately put emotional markers all over the product to create that strong connection."

Source: David Okuniev (Typeform) teaches how to build a product that users love

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Hey David,

Thanks for doing this!

We’re big Typeform fans, here. :slight_smile:

And VideoAsk seems like an equally interesting interface. All the best!

In interviews, you’ve opened up about the cultural shift that Typeform underwent, how much at odds it seemed to what you had built in the early years and why it was necessary. Your decision spoke to a central dilemma faced by many startups as they grow and mature. All of us need to figure this out.

And something I’ve always found problematic is that the two ways of thinking are pitted against each other, instead as enablers. Structure vs. creativity, and the like. So, over the course of this change at Typeform, what are some of the things that have helped you in laying the foundation for these to co-exist as they should?

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Hey David,

Thanks for taking the time!

Glad to see you here.

You’ve mentioned how VideoAsk is a startup within a scale-up. And not merely a new, big feature. That’s very interesting to hear. We have heard about Monday.com as a unicorn that got built under Wix and there are very few such examples.

What has made you structure it independently and what does it look like operations-wise? What have been the key advantages of doing so, thus far? Are you seeing a playbook emerge for future projects? Super curious.

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Hi David,

Your startup is a role model for us at Tactiq.io :blush:

Interesting to hear your Seed stage journey. Specifically, how often have you been asked such question as “What if Google put a team and do the same?” and what was your answer at that time?

Thanks a lot!

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Hi David, we met briefly at WebSummit many, many years ago when Typeform was early. I’m wondering as you’re reflecting back on your journey, how did you know it was time for you to step down as a CEO?

My other question is what inspired you all to start VideoAsk. Did it arise as part of something you saw trending in the market or was it driven more by what the users were looking for?

Thank you for answering, and congrats on all the success!

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Thanks for the question @Krish!

I think you need to make 1 thing crystal clear to your employees → they are here to win.

I believe what people really want (and ultimately need) are ambitious goals and achievements (making an impact). If you are not winning, no amount of creativity, friendly people-first culture etc… will make up for that void.

Typeform was a typical first-time entrepreneur hitting hyper-growth story. We were winning, but it was purely product-led growth early on.

The culture that emerged from those early days was based on goodwill & friendships. These sound like good things, however without enough boundaries, what we ended up with is a consensus-driven culture where everyone just wants to keep everyone else happy. As we grew, these cultural norms made us increasingly slower.

What you end up with if you optimize only for employee happiness is a culture/company that is more self-serving and less customer serving.

My mental model for how companies should think about employee happiness is based on creating a flywheel where you aim to 1st…

Blow the customer’s mind,
in order to make your company look amazeballs,
for your team to want to work with you,
so that you can be fulfilled and fully realized as an employee,
so you can once again blow the customer’s mind
and so on…

On top of that foundation, you can lay the good cultural norms like good environment, creativity, fun, good people (don’t hire assholes) etc… and hopefully, you’ll have a winning formula!

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Did not know Monday was a spin of of Wix @rajaraman !

In the case of VideoAsk inside Typeform, the back story is that I stepped down as co-CEO as I wanted to get back to building products.

I wanted to move fast, so I made sure we were completely independent from the Typeform product codebase, so we would not suffer from any dependencies.

Had we tried to build something on top of the main product, sharing APIs, infrastructure etc… I am certain VideoAsk would not be where it is today in terms of how much we’ve actually managed to build in the 2 short years since I kicked it off.

Moving forward I plan to repeat this model in order to create new product lines for Typeform.

From what I’ve seen, innovation works best and moves faster when it has no constraints and is driven by a small team (3-4 max).

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Beautiful and thoughtful answer. Thank you so much for the detailed answer. I am going to share this with our leadership team to read and understand this.

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:wave: Hi David, I am a huge Typeform fan. I’ve been particularly enamored with your product design and aesthetic which are so refreshingly unique in a world where software looks increasingly the same.

Perhaps it’s too early to answer this, but curious if you have a rough vision or plans for what will happen with VideoAsk once it’s achieved a certain level of success. From one of your answers here, I imagine it would either fold into the core Typeform team or exist on its own as part of the portfolio while you move on to the next VideoAsk. What signals will you look for to know when the time is right?

Also, what would you say you and Typeform do uniquely (or not) to continue to maintain and further your unique design aesthetic at scale?

Thanks! :heart:

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Wow, this is a trip!

I experienced Typeform’s growth firsthand as the company went from 50–130+ people in less than two years (2015/2016).

It seemed like there were a few people who were outsize drivers of culture in the earlier days; Santi, Linus, the ping pong crew, Herbet & Guilio (at least for me). I’m not sure if there’s an answer to this, but do you think there’s any way to retain a bit of that people-driven culture and freedom even when growing past 100? We’re going to be doubling our team to 20 by mid-year and I’m very conscious of the difficulty in keeping things together, especially once the headcount gets above 70-80 people.

On product velocity: you mentioned that VideoAsk has been way faster to develop because of the small team size. It seemed like the same factors played into how quickly Anders’ team were able to make progress on the V2 admin. What do you think is the ideal team size/makeup for this level of efficiency, and as you grow, how do you divide up the work to retain that?

Love from Mexico City,
The Ranger

p.s. besides the product itself, the barception was the best idea you guys have had :wink:

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Hey David,

Glad to be here! Thank you.

When you have limited funds (bootstrapping)- What are the key evaluation points for pivoting roadmap and stay agile as a response to such pandemic (or generally any unplanned) situations?

Thanks!

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Hey Knesia,

Often came across that question on my journey. Or more precisely “What if any competitor does the same”.

Although Google forms never went the ‘Typeform way’, most form/survey product followed suit eventually with the “One question at a time” format.

It’s generally hard to protect IP with Saas products, so my best answer over time has been to push forward as fast as you can and show your backside to your competitors (“let them see your ass”). Like this they are always copying whilst you are focusing on innovating and getting there first.

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Hey Ai @cathching !

Totally remember visiting your stand! Long time ago!!!

I knew it was time to step down as co-CEO long before I actually stepped down. In fact, I think I hung on too long in the role.

I’ve always seen myself as more of a creator than an operator and at some point as Typeform grew, my responsibilities started to change and I became more and more detached from product, having to deal with the day-to-day of a fast-growing startup. I was not happy.

As soon as I stepped down, I launched myself into VideoAsk and started prototyping the idea with another developer.

I was driven to the idea, not by any market forces or any user feedback… It just felt like the next logical step on the journey I started 10years ago to ‘Humanize’ forms… and coming to the conclusion of what could be more human than actually putting real humans in the forms, via Video!

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Wow! Daaaaaaaaave! Super nice to hear from you!

Companies are like organisms, they evolve as they grow.

I would set the right expectations with your team because you will always find resistance to change. If you are clear about the goal you want to reach and make sure they share the same vision, change will become a daily/monthly/yearly part of growing up as a company.

I do have nostalgia for the early days of Typeform. It was great, but some aspects of the culture, imo, was somewhat holding us back as we started to scale.

That said, when people leave/move on from Typeform today they usually send a goodbye email to the whole company in which they more than often highlight the people-driven culture. So even though we’re much better organised and effective through better structure and processes, we’ve retained that sense of belonging and kinship with colleagues.

To your other question…

VideoAsk has been super fast in customer delivery for several reasons:

  1. Small team with no dependencies
  2. Newer code base with more recent technologies (no legacy)
  3. I’m the acting PM, product designer and I’m also doing some FE development. This avoids slow decision making and bottlenecks.
  4. We can take more risks (smaller venture), so we can be more pragmatic, making us faster.

Ideal team size: 6, no more than 8. We’ve now split into 2 teams (Videoask Core / VideoAsk growth)

To your point about the v2 builder…
We’re just completing work now on the v2 builder for VideoAsk. We were just 2 people building that, Francisco and me. I think we would have been slower had we got the whole team involved + it means they were free to ship other features!

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Typeform looks and feels gorgeous. How do they approach product design? How big is the design team? How do they find the right product designers? How much effort goes into product copy?

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Hey David,

Thanks for taking the time for this!

Both Typeform and VideoAsk seem to have arisen as technological insights. But you’ve also figured out how to position them just right in the market. This isn’t always the case. The best products don’t always win, as they say. What has helped the most in this regard? And how would you advice another product-first founder to go about GTM?

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Hi David,

Thanks so much for doing this AMA with us. Typeform is just brilliant, we are big fans! I have the following questions.

  1. I love your company success flywheel. How has your team adapted to being remote? What have you done to keep your culture going?
  2. I completely agree with your statement of combing customer feedback and vision. How do you achieve the balance of just the right amount of feedback while sticking to your vision for the product?

Thanks in advance.
Best wishes for your success.
Ravi

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Hey David,

Another Typeform fan, here! Thanks for doing this!

I’ve got a broad one. As someone who has led fast-moving, impactful teams (both big and small) what are some of your key mental models/frameworks when it comes to leading product teams?

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Hey @brendan,

Thanks for the kind words!

VideoAsk will be handed over to the main product org in the next 12m, however, the team working on VideoAsk will continue and the product, as such, will continue too.

As far as I’m concerned we’ve more or less found product market fit and can now start doubling down and scaling. This means that in the next 12m I’ll be looking at kickstarting a new innovation cycle (inside Typeform) and moving on.

To your question on design aesthetic at scale…
I think it started early, with championing design principles such as “Every interaction/detail counts”, “Make things a little more human” etc… . This has empowered the company to set the bar high when it comes to product experience. I would not say this is unique to Typeform though, there are plenty of amazing companies out there really looking after the experience on their product, always trying to push the envelope and delighting the customer.

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