Matthew: This is Matthew Wise with FounderLY.com. We empower entrepreneurs to have a voice and share their story with the world, enabling others to learn more about building products and starting companies. I’m really excited today because I’m here with Dan Veltri. He is one of the founders of Weebly.
Weebly is a free service that enables anyone to easily create a website by dragging and dropping content widgets like photos, text, video and other components with a simple click of your mouse.
So Dan, we’d love for you to give our audience a brief bio.
Dan Veltri: Sure. Originally I came from the east coast. Grew up outside Philadelphia, went to Penn State University. That’s where I met my co-founders David and Chris. My background is in finance and a lot on the business side, kind of a wannabe hacker at heart. But I’ve always been entrepreneurial and passionate about starting companies.
Matthew: What is Weebly? What makes it unique? Who is it for and why are you so passionate about it?
Dan: Weebly is just an incredibly simple service that allows people to build websites for themselves, for their business, for their organization. And by easy, I mean that word gets thrown out a lot, we truly mean that’s our number one focus is ease of use.
Why I’m passionate about it is because really there’s so much of a need among people to express themselves online, get a business presence online and that need has always been kind of unsolved for the non-technical user.
That’s what our focus has always been and continues to be, is allowing people to easily create that web presence
Matthew: What are some of the technology and market trends that currently exist and where do you see things developing in the future for your space?
Dan: When Weebly first started the technological trend was towards this Web 2.0 move where things were more interactive and Ajax based. Weebly was kind of at the cusp of that. What that really allowed us to do was to make the interface a lot more interactive and easy than you would find on desktop software or other web applications that are more static based.
That’s kind of the earlier trend on the technological side. I think we’ve seen that today in the market, really, businesses not only need a web presence, they need a whole social media presence. That’s one area that we see as a complement to your website.
As a business you have your website as kind of your home and your social media presence as funnelling in users and interacting with them from your website.
Matthew: Now that we’ve covered your background and an overview of your market, we’d like to dig into the details of your story. What inspired you start Weebly? Was there and ‘Ah ha!’ moment? Did you do a bunch of research that led to the opportunity? What’s the story behind that?
Dan: Weebly was actually born out of a class project originally at Penn State University. David was in this class called IST, I think it was 420. As part of that class he had to create a web application in PHP. So he was part of a group, they were working in groups, and the idea was thrown around to create an e-portfolio creator that would be interactive and done online.
That really struck a chord because e-portfolios at the time were created with FrontPage and no one liked to do it. It was difficult. It was basically like a Word document for the web. I just didn’t hit with students or potential employers.
Dave realized there was a real opportunity there. He gave me call and said, ‘Hey Dan, as part of this class we’ve got to create this web app and I’m thinking of creating this e-portfolio creator.’ Dave, at the time, was working on a different company, it wasn’t going to be his focus.
He was like, ‘You can handle all aspects of the business side. You can focus on selling it to students. Kind of brainstorm and how we expand to other campuses and stuff,’ and just kind of left it at that. Then Dave went back to his group and, actually prior to this he went back to his group all excited about the idea and said, ‘Guys, here’s how we should build it,’ and all this stuff. And they were just like, ‘Nah, I think we should do it a different way.’
So he realized this was going to be an uphill battle. If they do it, if Dave wants to build it and make it into something bigger then he’s going to have to separate the IP and all this stuff. So he just asked the professor if he could do it on his own. That’s where he gave me a call and basically he focused on, that semester, building the prototype of it and showed it to the professor.
Then over that summer, right after, this was back in 2006, fall semester 2006, so he built the prototype and then I became more involved as the prototype was built. Over that summer we worked out a lot of the UI stuff, talked about how we’d launch it, we just kind of iterated and kept improving on the product over that summer.
Then we actually presented it in New York at the New York Tech Meetup. That was kind of the first unveiling of Weebly to the public and it was interesting because the crowd loved it. We were really fresh. We really, this was our first coming out to the web kind of thing, or the public with it. So we got a lot of good feedback, met great people, got a lot of good advice.
But we really weren’t done yet. We weren’t ready to launch. We kind of went back building and we had a mutual friend, Chris Fanini, who became our third co-founder at that point. We brought him on board and joined Y Combinator. The interview for Y Combinator was at the tail end of that year and we went up to Boston, the three of us in a rental car, for the interview.
We woke up in the hotel that morning for the interview and realized that we were featured on TechCrunch. So that was huge because we were just struggling to get press and whatnot. And we made a demo video and that demo video was spread on TechCruch, my voice and that was pretty cool that morning.
We went into the interview and we were like, ‘Sorry, our servers are running a little slow. We’re on TechCrunch.’ So we were in pretty good shape for the interview, still nervous, got accepted and then moved out right at the end of the first semester of senior, after the first semester of senior year. So it was January of 2007. We hadn’t graduated yet.
So we kind of figured it out. Dave and I figured we could graduate online, kind of remotely. I was actually planning to study abroad so I put that on hold, took all my credits that I was going to take there, finished them online and actually graduated from out in San Francisco.
So that’s kind of how it got started.
Matthew: That’s a great story thank you for sharing. Are there any unique metrics or social proof [sounds like] about Weebly that you’d like to share with the audience?
Dan: Yeah, sure. Yeah, Weebly we’ve been out and launched now for a bit over four years. It’s not been this huge hit overnight, it’s been like a long, steady linear growth pattern but it’s all been fuelled primarily through word of mouth.
In terms of metrics, Weebly, the Weebly network now ranks as one of the 100 largest online, according to QuadCast [sounds like]. We’re approaching 7 million registered users, have about that many websites as well. We ran a statistic which was interesting, apparently according to one of the research firms there’s about 255 million websites out there, so if you look at it that way Weebly makes up close to 2% of the websites on the internet which is pretty sweet.
Then another metric that comes to mind is, and this one you don’t really hear about much, but we did a survey of our user base and asked them the stereotypical net promoter score question which is, ‘How likely are you to recommend Weebly to a friend or colleague?’ and it’s a range of 1 to 10.
If you answer 9 or 10 and you take the percentage of people that answered 9 or 10 and then you subtract the percentage of people that answer 1 through 6 and the people who answer 7 or 8 don’t count. So even if someone rates you an 8 it sounds pretty good but they don’t even count towards your score.
Apple, for instance, has a net promoter score in the United States of 77. So we ran the numbers and were expecting to come in maybe in the 60s or something. Well, Weebly was 80. So we were like, ‘Wow. We have a product that people really like and really want to share.’ We knew that before but it was just never put into those kinds of numbers.
I think those are the metrics and it’s how we spread, just word of mouth. People like the product.
Matthew: That’s great. That’s amazing. Thank you for sharing. We know founders face unique challenges when they decide to start a company. What was the hardest part about starting Weebly and how did you overcome this obstacle?
Dan: I think the hardest part for us was getting traction, I think. In the beginning, we launched and there was a big spike and then it kind of crashed. People just didn’t stick around that much in the beginning. So it was like a long uphill battle to iterate on the product, try to get more users and then it picked up but we kind of had to get that product market fit.
We found that that took some time. I would say it’s easy to become discouraged after that initial launch and people aren’t really excited the way you would like them to be. It takes some time to really find how your product fits into the space.
Matthew: Since you’ve been in operation, what have you learned about your business and users that you didn’t know before your launch?
Dan: Let’s see. In terms of the users I think it’s been surprising how passionate people truly are when they like your product. Even if you have bugs and even if you mess up they are willing to see past that and forgive you if you had some down time or if you messed up their photo gallery or whatnot.
As long as you’re responsive to their issues, and users really appreciate the core value of the product, they are still passionate about it and still gladly recommend you to friends and stuff like that.