Martin Kleppmann – Rapportive 2 of 2

“Clearly communicating and sharing intuitions is critical for founders.” Rapportive shows you everything about your contacts right inside your email inbox.

Matthew: We know founders face unique challenges when they start a company. What was the hardest part about launching or starting Rapportive and how did you overcome this obstacle?

Martin: So we had a bit of a frustrating phase over the last summer where we were like we were working very, very hard and there was lots going on. But our product was making very little visible progress because we were spending all of our time with firefighting, scaling our data base which is like just had so much stuff coming in, but, had to do a lot of work there to the architecture. We’re building a lot of ground work for features that are just coming out now. But the technical groundwork that often is, there’s months of stuff which is just invisible. 

We’re a moving country because we’re all coming from the UK moving to San Francisco and we’re fighting with US immigration. Spending a lot of time also on support, which is good, it’s really valuable because we learn a lot about, like the problems that people have. But again, it’s very time consuming. So with all of those things it’s all like useful stuff, there’s nothing really wasteful there. 

But on the other side, but on the other hand our product wasn’t making progress and like people were starting to ask, well, yeah, so you’ve been around for like six months now, nine months now, and you’ve not really released any exciting new features, what’s going on? And we were just saying, yeah, we’re trying to get to it, we’re doing what we can.

And then I was so happy when towards the end of 2010 we then got over this big hump of stuff and now we’re pushing our features again and there’s much more, like, visible progress and so. That was a fairly hard phase to go through, but I’m really glad we got over it. In the end you just have to work through it, you just have to not give up. Just keep on going, keep on going and if it’s going, tough.

Matthew: Since you’ve been in operation what have you learned about your business and your users that you didn’t realize before you launched?

Martin: So when we first launched I was kind of a bit cautious. I was wondering are people going to be really freaked out by seeing how much information is actually publicly available about them on the web. And, you know when you think about it rationally it’s obvious. Like, you can just search for someone on Google and for most people you’ll actually get a pretty good at who this person is just by looking at the search results there. Which has kind of taken a step there of automating an and making it more convenient by putting it in e-mail. And so I was expecting that there’d be a lot of people who would go, oh my god, no, privacy is dead. 

But we tried to manage that process very carefully and just say, look, whenever anyone was concerned, listen to them and also respond to any concerns very quickly and explain, just explain what we’re doing and why we’re doing it and why we think it’s absolutely fine. So we’re all really privacy conscious and we make that very clear as well. Like, we don’t mess around with people’s private data. We only show information which people actually want to be public. And that’s I think something I found surprising that, like, just how quickly we could diffuse any situation there. 

Like, if anyone was upset we’d just talk to them quietly, patiently and explain what’s going on. If there was any problem fix it quickly. And all the problems suddenly go away. And that’s really encouraging because it just means we seem to actually be doing the right thing. Just pushing the envelope a bit, but, yeah, it works.

Matthew: What is it that you make looks easy? What skill or talent comes easy or intuitive for you and what has been difficult and how have you managed that?

Martin: So I’d say what we as a team are particularly good at is product design. And so just making something which is very neat, stays out of your way, but is still powerful. Which does exactly the stuff you need, not more, not less, and just kind of behaves the way people expect it to behave without kind of running into a weird corner where you don’t know what to do. And that is actually really hard to achieve. 

Like the amount of time we spend on optimizing the workflows of different users depending on which starting state they’re coming from, which screens they have to go through, exactly what button we can show in which place, exactly what copy we use, what words we use to describe things, then taking them through the flow. And then to the user all it looks like is, oh, I clicked a button, a pop up appeared, I clicked another button and it worked. And that’s something we really enjoy making that look easy, but a lot of work goes into that. In the end people just appreciate it as a product which is really nicely designed, which just works, and which gives them a kind of warm, fuzzy feeling.

Matthew: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned since launching Rapportive?

Marin: The most important lesson, not really great at them in a particular priority. I’d say just off the top of my head I think caring about this experience and caring about users we thought from the start was really important and that’s really been validated. So, people really appreciate us for firstly having a product which simply works nicely and has the little detail thought out. People appreciate that we get back to them quickly, that we’re like always very friendly when responding to things that, we try to be personal where we can with that.

Matthew: Martin, what bit of advice do you wish you would have known before starting Rapportive?

Martin: I think what’s really interesting is that in a start up it’s, everything is magnified. And so if you have any issue early on that will just continue, continue and get bigger and bigger. So if you have any issue early on then actually you fix it early on. And I think we’ve generally done a pretty good job of that. But it’s worth doing that really consciously. And that means that certain things are really hard but you need to get really good at them. And so for example, communicating and sharing intuitions, that’s a topic that I’ve been thinking about a lot because we find that since we’re three co-founders we often the same ideas about things and then often find that they differ in subtle ways. And really what we want to do is combine our three intuitions into one so that together like we have a really good broad but also deep insight to what people want. 

And that requires that you find ways of explaining to the others not just what you think but why you think it. And that’s really hard to learn and we’ve been gradually getting better at that. But I think that’s, if you go about things just be conscious of the fact that it’s going to take a lot of effort and time even just to learn to speak the same language. You know, you think you all speak English but actually then you find you, of course you make up all of your own words as part of the domain of what you’re working in. 

And a lot of things are just completely not obvious. You get a lot of really conflicting advice from outside mentors, and we have a lot of really good investors, advisors, mentors, and often they say completely contradictory things. And that’s fine but you just need to learn to absorb those things into your own intuitions and within the team workout how you can share those intuitions and then have a coherent vision altogether for what you’re going to build and why it’s important, how you’re going to go forward.

Matthew: What bit of advice would you like to share with our audience about launching a startup? If you have to distill it, what are the key elements?

Martin: So one thing which worked in our favor but is not particularly replicable necessary is that if your product works well for journalists then journalists will write about it quite a lot. Which I think we didn’t realize initially but that happened to be a factor for us. Well, actually Rapportive works very well with people who deal with a lot of incoming weird stuff from lots of people they don’t know, and they very quickly need to assess whether the sources are reliable and well that’s pretty much what journalists do really. 

And it also, it was also the case that when we started Rapportive a lot of the data we had about people was not particularly great. But bloggers tend to be the kind of people, they’re very present on social media sites, and we had really great data from them. And so that worked really in our favor. But now since then we’ve got a lot better with everyone else and now we’ve got a pretty high coverage rate for everyone. But for that initial thing just working well for reporters and bloggers was pretty good. But of course like you can’t really choose your startup based on the fact that it’s going to be useful for bloggers, so. So that’s not very useful advice. 

I’m still not sure because there are lots of different schools of thought for launching and they all come to make sense. There’s the launch small and make sure you’re continuously learning school. And that makes a lot of sense. And then there’s also that school which observes, that, well if you can get a lot of very quick press that generates a lot of excitement, a lot of buzz, that’s also valuable. And in the end with these things there’s never a right answer. You just have to take in all of the bits of advice you hear and make your own personal conglomerate out of what makes sense. 

Matthew: Before we close I would love to give our audience your vision of Rapportive and how you hope it will change the world.

Martin: I’ve got a lot of really exciting things coming. I don’t want to talk about them in too much detail but to give a rough outline. I think firstly the inbox is a really, really interesting place because that’s where all of your communications come together and e-mail is the primary one, we use it the most. I don’t know, maybe it’ll be Facebook mail in two years time. But that doesn’t really matter, that’s kind of beside the point. The point there is that people are really, really opinionated about which tool they want to use and getting people to change things is really, really hard. 

So we’re building Rapportive in the philosophy that we don’t want people to change behavior. We just want people to continue doing what they’re doing, usually. But just make it better. Just add those little magic touches. Add little things which either save your time or which just make something which was previously laborious and required switching to other browser types and required reentering of data, just make all of that go away. Just make it be there and make the kind of common tasks which we have to do all of the time feel natural.

So that’s the philosophy with which we’re going about things, and that seems to be working pretty well.

Matthew: Excellent. Well, Martin it’s been a pleasure having you as a guest on FounderLY. We’re rooting for your success at Rapportive. For those in our audience who’d like to learn more you can visit their website at and register to become a user and join their community. This is Matthew Wise with FounderLY. Thanks so much Martin.

Martin: Thank you Matthew.


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