Founding a startup is one of the bravest things someone can do. Growing it to over 2 millions free users and over 20,000 paying customers, and turning into a successful, profitable and growing business is an even greater challenge.
Over the past 3 weeks we’ve explored our views on marketing, growth, SEO and social media. In this post we’ll go through Piktochart’s history and milestones, and the actual marketing strategies that drove most of our growth from 2011 to this day.
Let’s start with a quick overview.
July 2011: the idea was born in Penang, Malaysia. Ching and Andrea decided to give it a try.
October 2011: the minimum viable product is done. The China Accelerator starts.
March 2012: the first paid product is finished. 3 paying customers in the first day.
June 2012: the hockey-stick curve starts after an AppSumo promotion.
November 2012: the real growth starts. 170,000 users & 9 full-time members.
May 2013: 300,000 users.
Aug 2013: 400,000 users.
New Year 2014/January 2015: 1,906,000 users and over 20,000 paying customers.
The First Step: Discovering if Users Wanted Piktochart
Piktochart started as an idea in Penang, Malaysia, in July 2011. It’s an exotic island with great food, and beautiful places. The first version of Piktochart was coded by Andrea, one of Piktochart’s co-founders, and took approximately four months.
It was a simple web app with one purpose: anyone should be able to create or design beautiful infographics in no time. It was built to discover as fast as possible if there was a market need for an infographic-building tool. For that, we needed as few core features as possible:
- A large selection of infographics themes using Piktochart as the platform.
- A drag-and-drop design tool, built around simplicity so non-designers could use it.
- A library of icons from an open source database.
This is what our product looked like back then and we have to admit that we cringed at our first prototype.
But this first MVP and the initial traction got us a spot in one of Asia’s most prominent accelerator programs: China Accelerator.
On March 2012, after a productive three-month process at the China Accelerator, we launched the first paid version of the product.
The first day it was live, 3 users become paying customers. A guy named Stephen said: ‘I’ll start my subscription as soon as you’re ready to take payments. This service is exactly what I’ve been waiting for’. That offered some sort of validation that Piktochart was something people wanted, but we still needed to get it in the hands of as many potential users as possible.
As a team of two with a marketing budget of $0, Ai Ching had to hustle. Some of the things she did were:
- Networking online and offline extensively, talking to everyone who was willing to listen about Piktochart.
- Getting involved in online communities where infographics fans frequented. She identified blogs read by infographic designers and marketers, and left thoughtful comments on their blogposts, always adding value to the conversation.
- Cold-emailing owners of blogs and forums that are relevant to our users. The goal was to get them to cover Piktochart because every time they did, a new stream of paying customers arrived. Two great examples are this Techcrunch article on creating search-friendly infographics, or this blogpost on how easy it is to create classroom material with Piktochart.
- Attending tech events around the region. e.g. TechInAsia, Echelon, and pitching at many of them in order to attract more coverage. As an example, Piktochart was mentioned one of the top 10 startups at Open Web Asia in 2012.
At this time, Ching started building on the foundation for the blog you are reading right now. She started thinking long-term about a search engine optimization strategy and blogging frequently.
All the work from those months were the basis for the first paid product and customers.
The Trigger: AppSumo
In June 2012, Ching received an email that would be one of the biggest deal-makers for Piktochart. AppSumo, who around that time was focusing on daily deals for entrepreneurs and marketers, contacted her. We thought having a Piktochart deal for their users would be beneficial for both parties.
As a result, the product kept growing at an impressive rate: on May 2013 Piktochart hit 300,000 users and 3 months later, on August 2013, that number passed the 400,000 mark.
The New Era: 2014 and Beyond
2014 to present day
On New Years Eve 2014, Piktochart reached 1,906,000 users and more than 25 team members were working full-time on the product. This was a direct effort of the marketing team’s work, led by Marta, in three main areas:
1- Content strategy
As mentioned in the SEO post published a few weeks ago, content is our bloodline. Most of our marketing efforts are geared around content. To start with, it helps us strengthen our brand in the online community and around our users. But what’s even more important, content helps us reach more people by improving our search rankings on Google and driving more targeted traffic every month. Over 60% of our new users come from search engine traffic.
For this, we don’t limit ourselves to writing, but we create all sorts of content. This covers regular blog posts, ebooks, infographics & video tutorials that help our users with a specific problem. Our aim is to provide value to our users when they need it the most. For instance, we created this Marketing Series to help users distribute their infographics more successfully beyond the regular channels like Facebook and Twitter.
2 – Engaging users
As a business, we try to engage with our users in a friendly and helping manner at as many touch points as possible. The goal is to become a valuable part of our users’ life, and always be top of mind when they are looking for design & marketing help, inspiration or just building an infographic.
We do this by providing real, tangible value to them for free. On our 3rd anniversary as a company, we decided to celebrate with the Education Giveaway – it consisted of giving away a free 1-year Pro Subscription to any teacher and their students who recorded and uploaded a short video telling us why they’d love to get Piktochart free for 12 months.
Another great example of user engagement is the Instagram contest we created a few months ago. ‘My Visual Story’ consisted of uploading a photo to Instagram with the hashtag ‘#myvisualstory’ that pictured your own life story in one simple image, but instead of just giving away a Piktochart subscription, the winner got an iPad.
3 – Reducing churn
Churn can be described as the rate in which resources are lost in a given period of time. In startups, more specifically SaaS businesses like Piktochart, that resource is customers. For instance, if your churn rate is 4%, that means each month 4% of your customers are cancelling their account and going elsewhere.
When growing, you need to make sure that your growth rate surpasses your churn rate. The marketing team at Piktochart discovered that the best way of keeping users from leaving is to start by offering a phenomenal product that solves a real pain point in our users life. If our product isn’t valuable for users, chances are they will churn. To make sure customers get the most out of Piktochart, we’ve created an email drip sequence full of tips, tutorials and advice that is triggered based on the actions they’ve done in our editor. This helps us deliver the right advice at the right time so customers can create successful infographics and get real value from our product.
Behind The Curtain: Why Did it Work?
Thousands of startups die every year because they can’t get enough users or paying customers. Most people attribute startup growth to luck, but according to Ai Ching, all marketing efforts success were successful for three very specific reasons. Let’s take a look at what the three growth keys were:
1 – Customer development
Since the beginning we’ve made a conscious effort to listen to users and put them in the centre of all the campaigns that we are running. Customer development and building user personas is such an important task at Piktochart that, as mentioned in this post, we’ve hired Eureka, our full-time UX research assistant. Until this day, we still involve management level in handling customer support tickets a few times per week. We strongly believe that this is the foundation for all our marketing efforts, design decisions, communication style and prioritizing product features.
2 – Constant experimentation
When looking for growth channels, we tried and tested dozens of different tactics. Most of them failed completely but every now and then, we find one channel that brings a huge stream of users and double down on it. We don’t always know where the next batch of growth is going to come from, but we’ve learned to keep pushing until we find the next step.
3 – Focus on data and analytics
Among some of the things we do not talk about, we monitor retention rates of our free and paying users. We have not done enough in this respect but we currently monitor users by cohort analysis (paying users), number of active users, number of sessions (how many times they log in), number of infographics created, where they come from and how these numbers correspond to the efforts that were created. We also actively test copy on the site and engage in A/B testing.
The Next Steps
As a tech startup, we are always striving for growth and innovation. In the future, we’ll keep improving our product for our users, anticipating their needs as accurately as we can and sharing great and valuable content in our blog. Have you got any thoughts on growing a startup? We’d love to hear from you. 🙂
This post is part of Piktochart’s Marketing Series. Stay updated with new and relevant posts about all your infographing needs and more by subscribing to our blog. Don’t forget to comment, like and share this post with your peers.