Matthew Wise: Hi 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 about building products and starting companies.
I’m really excited today because I’m here today with Martin Kleppmann, founder of Rapportive. Rapportive shows you everything about your contacts inside your e-mail box, enabling you to see who people are and where they’re based so you can connect and collaborate over shared interests.
So Martin, we’d love for you to give our audience a brief bio.
Martin Kleppmann: Sure, yeah. I’m originally from Germany which explains my weird accent. Then I went to the U.K. for several years to study computer science. That was in Cambridge. After that I started a start-up. It was called Go Test It, we made a tool for automatic cross-browser testing of websites. And that was pretty cool. That was acquired a few years ago.
Then after that I was looking around for something new to do and I, together with two friends, then we started Rapportive and what we do now is to pull photos and job details from LinkedIn, recent Tweets and all of this stuff into Gmail and just show it right there.
Matthew: What makes Rapportive unique? Who is it for and why are you so passionate about it?
Martin: It’s really for people who do a lot of e-mail, particularly e-mailing with people who you don’t really know well. Like if you only ever e-mail with ten different people then you won’t need it. But most of us, particularly start-up founders, are constantly dealing with investors, outside advisors, users e-mailing us, potential customers, potential partners, people on e-mailing lists and all of these people who we vaguely know who they are, but not really.
And actually it’s really important that you build this personal contact with them and get to know them personally. Previously people would go and when they get an e-mail from someone, actually search Google and try and find them, try and find their Twitter account, try and find them on LinkedIn and it just takes a lot of time. We’ve just automated all of that.
The idea is now you can actually respond to people personally and just build up that personal connection. It’s just little things like even if it’s being able to see the photo of someone in your e-mail, which means that firstly, that’s just a deep visceral connection. You kind of connect much more to them then if it’s just a wall of text. And also if you meet them in real life, well you’re much more likely to be able to recognize them.
I think that that just, it makes your e-mail a better place. It’s really excellent.
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?
Martin: I’m not sure about the big trends really. There are lots of things but they’re all very subtle things. For example, people caring a lot about user experience. We take that really seriously. We put ridiculous amounts of effort into just making sure that stuff just works really nicely.
Other things that are happening is that we’re having to deal with more and more people and people expect that you don’t just get an automated stock reply but that people actually engage with you personally. That’s really the future, I think. We’ve already got that in communication, one-to-one communication between individuals but the big trend is that companies as a whole are starting to be more personal with the outside.
They’re no longer just this corporate brand, this cold anonymous thing but people actually expect to be able to see the people behind that brand and be able to engage with them directly and build a relationship. Those relationships are what matter because if you’re just competing on price, anyone will just go somewhere else. But if you can build up a relationship with your customers, that’s really, really powerful.
And so we think that’s what we’re enabling by just giving you that social substrate of your communications.
Matthew: Can you tell us what inspired you to start Rapportive? Was there an ‘Aha!’ moment or did marketing and research lead you to the opportunity? What’s the story behind it?
Martin: It really came from something we wanted ourselves. I think everyone says this. But my previous start-up and my co-founders also had a previous start-up. We were all trying to do a lot of engaging with people personally. Getting out there, learning a lot from people. Really understanding where they were coming from.
And that was so much effort. So I’d keep lists of people in a custom database or in spread sheets or in CRM systems like Highrise and have to keep them up to date by hand. I’d make a lot of notes about people just so that I could remember when I came back to them six months later. Even just for myself, what interactions I’d had with them, what I’d talked about.
But I’d then find that all of this information would go stale. I’d entered someone’s job details and then they changed job. I’m not going to go and re-enter all of this stuff. It’s already out there on the web. Really, software should just do this stuff automatically. There’s no reason why I should have to type this in again.
Then also, why should I always have to change over to another browser tab in order to search something and have five tabs open with different searches for stuff. It’s just ridiculous. This stuff should be in the tool that I use all the time anyway, which is e-mail.
Those are the two premises we started with. We want something that keeps itself up to date automatically from all the data which is already out there. You shouldn’t have to enter anything. And secondly it should be in the work flow of the tool you already use, which for most of us is primarily e-mail. On that premise we just said, ‘What can we build? Oh, well, let’s just stick something on the side in Gmail, see how it works.’ People loved it,
Matthew: Excellent. So, who is your co-founder? How did you meet? What qualities were you looking for in a co-founder and how did you know they’d be a good fit?
Martin: So I have two co-founders. There are three of us, Rahul and Sam. They’re both really excellent people. I’d known them for a while before starting. We, together, were in an office space, in a kind of co-working-like space in Cambridge, U.K. They were working on their previous start-up and I was working on my previous start-up. We worked together a bit. We had lunch together every day and just ended up talking about a lot of things and just found that, partly we thought the same in a lot of ways and partly we also had different, but mostly complementary ways of thinking.
So kind of with a shared culture, but often different perspectives which help us to find the best way of doing stuff. That’s really the basis on which we work. So I think a very strong sense of a culture and making sure we’re working together very well and constantly getting better at what we do.
Matthew: Excellent. And so, from idea to product launch, how long did it take and when did you actually launch?
Martin: It was pretty quick actually. Certainly from first UI mock-ups to launch it was, I think, less than two months. We weren’t really intending to launch actually, to start with. We just put up this little website, we were applying for Y Combinator at the time and we also had some other people who were interested so we wanted to show some potential investors what we were doing. Put up a little website. It wasn’t protected but just at an unknown URL.
Then somehow the press got hold of this and within a day we found ourselves with 10,000 users on our hands because it just went wild through all of the blogs. That was just this totally crazy experience where we thought, ‘Well, yeah, we’ve built this little thing. Let’s give it to ten people and see how it works.’ And suddenly we have this massive load of people coming in.
So we were just working, working very hard. Firstly trying to keep the servers up but fortunately they held up quite nicely. Then also, responding to all of the tweets, responding to all of the e-mails that were coming and lots and lots of stuff happening very quickly. At that point we knew that we were on to something pretty exciting.
Matthew: And then you formally launched when?
Martin: We kind of considered that our launch then, after the fact. We then said, ‘Well, okay, I guess we’ve launched now. Oh well, we’ve launched.’ And then since then we’ve, at times, just launched new features but that original bit of press we regard as our real launch.
Matthew: Are there any unique metrics or social proof about Rapportive that you’d like to share with our audience?
Martin: I think the thing I’ve found most exciting is we always have a Twitter search going on, we have a big screen in the office showing what people are saying about Rapportive on Twitter and there’s just this constant stream of people loving it. I’m really humbled all of the time when I see this.
But, you know, for the most part we just have every hour there’s always stuff coming in of people saying this product has changed their life and that’s just amazing. When people will actually go out of their way to say something like that and we’re not even particularly prompting people. So, yeah, we have hundreds of thousands of users at the moment but the important thing is really how much people care about it.