Despite $35 Million In Funding, Invision CEO Is Still A Lean Growth Hacker

invisionappInVision is a prototyping and wireframing tool for designers and product guys to get quick, iterative feedback on products. Based in New York and founded by Ben Nadel and Clark Valberg, they can boast a ton of big name brands as well as 118,443 users.

I caught up with Clark, CEO/Co-founder and head of growth about how InVision have used growth hacking to grow into such a powerhouse in the New York startup world.

Clark ValbergHow Do You Manage Being Chief Growth Hacker While Also Trying To Lead A Startup Team?

The most difficult part is being disciplined. There’s a lot you can do early stage, where you just kinda “Get out there”, it’s like the Wild West. You have an idea, so you want to put up a landing page, or you want to give away t-shirts, do some twitter stuff. And because you can do all those things, you end up doing a load of things. Its very horizontal.

Yet for the main part, you’re going to be very emotional about what’s working and what’s not working. You happen to see some effects of your marketing more visceral, just because you’re the founder. You see a load of tweets, “Great, people are always tweeting about us!”. So you think “oh, this must be working, lets do a ton more twitter”. But its not necessarily translating into active customers, or paying customers.

So i would say the hardest part about being a founder and worrying about growth, is because you’re a founder you’re the kind of person who has a lot of ideas and a lot of anxiety to get those ideas launched as quickly as possible. So you push the team to do it. But because at the same time, you’re spinning a lot of plates, you don’t necessarily commit yourself to having an accurate model for determining which of those ideas are actually working for the long term, and which ones you should be investing in further, and not being biased by the visceral response of one idea over the other.

To look at some specifics, which have been the strongest channels for you guys at InVision?

I’d say right now, about 80% of our traffic comes through word of mouth. So anything that’s a catalyst for that, is good. So some of our twitter stuff comes under the category of word of mouth, also going in and actually building valuable relationships with designers, particular at any live events and meetups. All of our data tracks this sort of stuff, and right now it’s undoubtedly word of mouth that drives the most paying customers.

You raised funding, how much so far?

$2.6 million so far.

And being a funded startup, are you ever tempted to ‘throw money’ at some of the quick-win acquisition channels like pay per click?

Generally speaking, I’m very much against that stuff. I’d rather hold on to the cash and be strategic and creative with new and innovative features and customer acquisition ideas.

Thinking back to the really early days when you were bootstrapping, where did you get your first group of early adopters?

I’d say the most important thing we did was connect with our community.  Getting out there on the ground and meeting our end users was how we built those early relationships. And a ton of twitter, I can’t stress how important twitter is to supplement an early strategy.

I see you guys opted for a Free plan that customers need to outgrow rather than a 30 day free trial like many SaaS companies use. How does that work for your customer lifecycle, from free to paid?

For us, we saw it took around 3 months for a customer to move to a paid account. And we realised that was because ultimately, customers aren’t always at the right posture to buy. They might be exposed to your product, through the free plan, but just aren’t in a company or a project right now that needs the paid product. So you keep in touch with them, through drip marketing and regular tweets, and then when they move to a new project, or product, or company, that’s when they’re ready for purchasing and you have to make sure that you’re  top of their mind at that point. So just keeping in touch with a low-pressure relationship is what works for us. A fixed term free trial would just never work for us, so never assume that just because it’s how your competitors are getting signups that it’s the right method for you.

What has been your most successful growth hack so far?

Honestly, I’d say our Free t-shirts have been a much bigger success than expected. Startup swag is still really hot! We give away 1 a week, and it’s just crazy how much social media buzz and email addresses that gains us each week. And t-shirts are something that every startup, even bedroom bootstrapped startups, can afford. And it’s only one a week, so it’s crazy low cost but massive ROI.

Every email that goes into that competition moves into a fixed drip marketing campaign, and to build that campaign we re-used a ton of awesome content from the blog. So the whole thing was low cost, high ROI.

To roundup, what would be your 3 most important pieces of advice to give to other startup founders who are also responsible for growth hacking?

1. Lead with design. Design is the new language of business, so if your the CEO/growth hacker, you need to grow a set of eyes for design. Find the best designers you can scout, and never lose control of the design process. Make sure you’re part of the process, but without hindering. Thats why we built InVision – the synergy between designers and stakeholders was lacking.

2. Build real relationships with your best customers. Stay in touch with them in a positive way, be anxious to get their feedback, take their criticism and do something about it, and get it back to people so that they can SEE you’re doing something about it. That really emboldens people to not only believe in the product, but to believe in it’s future.

3. Don’t ever assume that what your competitors are doing, is actually working. A lot of people throw a ton of money into PPC or certain display ads, just because they see their competitors doing it. It becomes a game of fools. Its like everyone walks into a  arena, sees everyone else there, and therefore assumes the game is worth playing. Don’t assume that this is the best way to make money – in fact, challenge yourself to try something VERY different than your competitors are doing to see if you can find a more expedient way to get to the dollar sign.

Twitter: @ClarkValberg

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Published by

Liam Gooding

Liam is the cofounder and CEO of Trakio. Previously an engineer, he writes about growing subscription companies using data-driven techniques and inside glimpses to Trakio's own growth journey. He wrote a book, "Growth Pirate!" which discusses data-driven growth strategies for startups.

  • Alex Flom

    Great idea with the T-Shirts. Are you outsourcing the manufacturing and distribution of the T-Shirts? Or you are handling it all by yourself?