Applause is a global titan in the digital experience space. It’s raised a total of US$115 million in funding; counts brands like Google, Amazon, and BMW as clients; and works with a community of over 250,000 software testers to constantly improve its product.
The startup’s strength lies in helping developers understand how their apps might be perceived by real users. It takes the focus away from laboratory settings and plugs them into the real world, allowing companies to uncover bugs and improve design based on user feedback.
Applause may now have the financial muscle to attract some of the best and brightest in the world. But its origins were far more modest – co-founders Roy Solomon and Doron Reuveni started up in a small apartment, bootstrapping until they were able to convince investors to take a bet on them.
Roy explains the creative spark behind the idea came after “frustration with the status quo.” He’s a former product executive, responsible for quality assurance but wasn’t convinced that existing systems were improving the likelihood of a seamless digital experience.
“I came up with a crowdsourced model to see how the digital product is experienced by customers and test it with them,” he adds. “I realized how valuable other companies would find it to have assurance that their apps and websites would be successful in the hands of real users, not just in a testing lab.”
Focusing on users
In the early days, the startup concentrated mostly on customer development. Roy and team were attentive to what early users had to say about the product, a judicious approach that helped them reap significant rewards. Customer feedback was incorporated into the model early on with pivots as and when necessary.
“Listening to our customers is why we have grown at the rate since we launched in 2008 and why the world’s biggest brands work with us now,” affirms Roy.
Things got slightly easier for Applause after it managed to lock in a seed round. Roy hints the team was full of great salespeople; they managed to get 20 companies to commit to using the platform even before it was totally ready.
The founders used this momentum to convince investors of their grand vision to shake up several verticals. Another defining moment in their journey was after they snared Google, impressed them with their work, and never looked back.
“Digital experiences are the gateway to brands. If someone has a bad digital experience, they’re off to your competitor – often with no switching cost at all,” says Roy. “We’re helping companies understand how those experiences play out and how your users will actually engage with them.”
Applause may have started with just websites and mobile apps, but now it’s also delving into wearables, internet-connected devices, and smart cars. In a recent collaboration with BMW, the startup helped the iconic German car manufacturer bridge the gap between the needs of its technology engineers and usability requirements.
“Having someone to look at these apps who has never used them before, that was really something new,” says Christian Schmid, senior advanced technology engineer at BMW.
The startup raised a US$35 million series F round led by Credit Suisse and Accenture last month, but Roy is tight-lipped on the valuation figure. He does, however, claim that they’re the largest player in the crowdtesting space and they’ve doubled in size since last year in European markets.
What’s the secret sauce?
So what advice does he have for other budding entrepreneurs, raring to quit their jobs and work on killer ideas?
“Focus on building customer relationships. If you listen carefully, they will tell you exactly what they need and how they can consume it,” he explains. “Don’t fall in love with your ideas – fall in love with the right idea to solve what you hear from your customers is their problem.”
At the same time, Roy believes it’s important for founders to build and support their vision. To grow a company into one that lasts, it’s critical to pay attention to the details – such as hiring smartly and understanding where the market is headed.
Striking a balance between the big picture and the small steps needed to get there is pivotal, he affirms. It’s an approach that can help smaller companies capitalize on huge opportunities.
“By not remaining blind while listening to only your own opinions, you can find the secret sauce that works for you and can turn your casual customers into raving fans and ambassadors of your brand.”
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