The value of feedback and letting go

19 September 2016

Gemma Hurst / Co-founder of PageProof

In 2015, we launched PageProof, a fully encrypted cloud-based proofing and approval system that lets people share documents, artwork, audio and video files for others to add their comments. Security and simplicity are PageProof’s two most important features, and our goal is to be the preferred tool for gathering feedback on campaigns, no matter what the media.

Our first customers were local ad agencies sending work to their clients for sign-off. But today, just a year after our global launch, PageProof is used in 129 countries. Much of our growth has been organic and through word of mouth, but we’ve also been actively targeting large corporates here and overseas. Many have in-house marketing and design teams that produce a huge range of materials – from radio and TV ads to billboards, brochures, websites and animated banners – that are difficult to circulate internally for timely sign-off. 

While our number one market is still Australasia/Pacific, accounting for around 35% of sign-ups, the United States and UK/Europe (at 25% and 15% respectively) are both rapidly growing markets that will soon surpass local sales, particularly as we’re only just beginning to focus on the US.

Companies developing software are always advised to scale for growth, but it can be hard to envision that scale. One large customer can quickly tip the balance and make you wonder if you’ll still be standing at the end of the day. In the space of a week we were forced to look at every piece of the PageProof code and revise it to cope with huge increases in resource usage on our systems. 

But scale isn’t only to do with software and systems, it’s also about people and support, and ensuring your pricing works for larger customers. We’ve had to adjust to the fact that while a medium-sized agency in New Zealand might have 30 people, in the US, medium-sized means 500-1000 staff. 

...when something isn’t quite right, don’t hang onto it – change it. 

Gemma Hurst, co-founder, PageProof

When running a lean team, you can’t manage everything yourself. Early on we identified those who could give us expert advice across all aspects of the business. We sought intellectual property advice from AJ Park; Callaghan Innovation helped us develop our technology; and NZTE has provided excellent advice on export markets, as well as introducing us to Search Republic, experts in SEO and Google Adwords. Seeking support within your industry is also important. We belong to ‘The Flounders Club’, an 
Auckland-based community of software founders who meet regularly to share their learnings.

With software, it’s about focusing on what you do best, so it’s critical to know your limits and integrate other world-class products into your own. We’ve connected with platforms like Intercom and Mixpanel. Microsoft’s BizSpark programme also offers startups free use of products such as Microsoft Office, credits for Azure and development tools, which can make a huge different when you have a fabulous idea, but bringing it to life comes with a whole lot of costs.

The past year has thrown up many valuable learnings. A recent market-validation trip to San Francisco revealed that we needed to tweak the language we used to describe our product to US customers. We also learnt that when something isn’t quite right, don’t hang onto it – change it. We recently reworked the design of one of our features that was prompting many support calls. While we thought it worked well, clearly our customers didn’t. After we changed it, the support calls fell to almost zero. The learning: if your customers don’t like something, let it go.

Gemma’s top 3 tips

  • Focus on what you do best – know your limits.
  • Seek expert advice – you can’t manage everything yourself.
  • If your customers don’t like something – let it go.

Gemma Hurst is the co-founder of PageProof, the world’s first fully encrypted cloud proofing and approval system.

This story was originally published in NBR.