Ep. 6: Building a WordPress Killer With Craig Fitzpatrick
SaaS Marketing Insights, Episode 6: Craig Fitzpatrick, PageCloud
As the Founder and CEO of visual website builder PageCloud, Craig Fitzpatrick is on a mission to make building a website a truly joyous experience that anyone can do. But is a superior product enough to beat off the likes of SquareSpace, Weebly and Wix? How can PageCloud scale and own the growing ‘I hate WordPress’ segment?
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Episode 6 Transcript
Paul: On today’s show I have an interview with Craig Fitzpatrick, founder and CEO of drag-and-drop website builder: PageCloud.
I’m pleased to have with me today here at SaaS North: Craig Fitzpatrick CEO of PageCloud.
Founder and CEO?
Craig: Founder and CEO, yeah.
Paul: Excellent, but this is not your first business?
Craig: No, I’m a lifer, I was a child nerd, started writing code when I was about nine years old and knew
at a young age that I wanted to do this professionally and quit school, not that I think everyone should do that but that’s what I did and I started working professionally when I was 19.
Now fast forward a bunch of years, I won’t tell you exactly how many but PageCloud is the seventh startup that I’ve been a part of. Second time as a founder, the first five I would consider my apprentice years
where I worked for the founders and learned the ropes before deciding to start my own.
Paul: So you learnt on someone else’s money?
Craig: Exactly yeah.
Paul: Great and PageCloud is relatively new I guess right? You’ve been going since 2014?
Craig: Yeah September 1st 2014 we opened our doors, the first year was R&D so we’ve been in market with a product for just a hair over two years now I think.
Paul: Wow, so tell me what the genesis of PageCloud is, what problem were you looking to solve that
other people weren’t already solving? Because you’re in a crowded space right?
Craig: I know exactly, it was the problem that I affectionately refer to as the ‘I hate WordPress problem’, Which is that WordPress obviously was a miracle in its day, it’s probably a 10 or 15 year old product now and it powers a good chunk of the internet I think we all know that but it can be a frustrating experience.
It’s one that unfortunately is out of reach of a lot of people, you have to be pretty technical to do it yourself or you have to hire someone which can be expensive and time prohibitive and so I was like everybody using a WordPress site to run another small business and every time I wanted to make a small change like moving an image one inch to the right I wanted to shoot myself.
So I thought there had to be a better way. It started very organically as a hobby I went home and I drew a red box in a browser because I was a technical guy and I thought I wonder how it feels if I could just write some code and make me drag it in one inch to the right and so I did that and I said that felt really good, I wonder if I can just type and make a text object and that felt really good too. It just kept going, evenings and weekends I put this little prototype together and started showing it to people around the time I was winding down another company and they started losing their minds and I thought okay here we go again there’s another startup.
Paul: You scratched another inch that you had and you found a lot of other people had it too.
Craig: A lot of other people, I think we were in the midst of, not the midst, probably the beginning still
of a very big sea change from putting stuff on the web being the domain of experts and professionals, agencies and so forth and programmers to what I will call the do-it-yourself era. Which is very much like desktop publishing went through, you remember back in the day. You know I used to marvel at dot matrix printers and programs like Paint, Shop Pro and people would just love printing out their own happy
birthday cards or whatever and they were.
The power of it, you felt like god and it was awesome and I think that we just live in a different time now where the web is truly the greatest medium that we’ve ever known. It’s replaced paper, essentially it’s
just a new medium but the tools to create and publish online, I would call them almost like printing presses, a lot of work to get them set up to print out, to build a page. It really should just be drag and drop and so we’re gonna usher that in.
Paul: Cool, I’m glad someone is.
So, you’ve got Wicks and Squarespace you compete with those guys?
Craig: Yeah absolutely, I would say you know Wicks, Squarespace, WordPress are probably the top three, there’s a few others in there like Weebly which has a pretty good user base but more specifically, it’s really just us and Wix I think right now that are the serious product contenders in what I will call the visual design category.
Everyone else like your WordPress, your Squarespace, Weebly etc are very much template driven, they’re very CMS database driven and so you start with a template you fill in the blanks, you feel really good right up until that point where you want to change something and then you get very frustrated and so between us and Wix we both let you do this. You know, Wix is a very large company, they’re a public company, they’re probably pushing 10 years old or 12 years old now and we have the advantage of a fresh set of
eyes so we’re the new kids on the block.
Paul: You’re the underdogs, you gotta root for the underdog right?
Craig: Exactly and we have the luxury of starting over and so we asked ourselves, ok so there’s some tech out there and it kind of works but if we start it over with a blank sheet of paper, what is the tool of our dreams and that’s what we started building.
Paul: Wow! So you build your dream. Build it and they will come right?
Craig: Yeah, well you got to figure out how to market it too, but yeah.
Paul: Yeah so that’s the key. So how are you going to tackle a business like Wix? I don’t know whether you’ll win customers from them or is the market big enough, there’s plenty of people coming into it so you’ll just find your your segment, how is your value prop different from theirs?
Craig: So there’s few questions in there, from a market point of view it’s an absolutely massive market, Wix I’ve read a study a year ago or something, I think they were saying they had between four and six percent market share so they’re still kind of the baby too.
We live in a WordPress world so far and it’s us all trying to be the next WordPress right, even maybe Squarespace doesn’t say that because they’re probably sort of comparable but I think Wix and us would say that. It’s a massively growing market too there’s still only half the world’s businesses that are on the web and so you’d think that everybody who needs a website already has one, that’s not the case. We’ve partnered with domain guys like Tucows and they tell us that their data shows that the consumption of new domain names is not only increasing, linearly but it’s accelerating so we’re still in this growth phase of putting content on the web. It is a big world and we could build a very large billion-dollar business just pulling in new customers that have never had a website.
Now as it turns out, of course companies do get displaced and we get a bunch of our customers, I think 40% of our customers actually come from WordPress so these are people who have tried it got frustrated with this CMS experience and wanted to have a visual design experience. We also pull some customers from Squarespace and from Wix of course. At the end of the day it’s all about, technically we all do
the same thing, we all put things on the internet for you but it’s about what is the experience going to be like for you as a user. While doing that and what we obsess over is making that a joyous experience, free to be creative.
That’s our secret sauce, that’s what we focus on.
Paul: Yeah so WordPress, I’ve been using WordPress since 2007 and I still can’t believe that it hasn’t changed that much in that time, I know they’ve got this Project Gutenberg that they’re working on, it sounds like they’re hinting about making it more drag-and-drop but they’ve got quite a lot of legacy there that they just can’t reinvent themselves in the same way that a new player can.
Craig: Right and so that’s the challenge, when you become successful you create your own legacy and that’s a double-edged sword and as I said, we have the benefit of starting from a blank sheet of paper and so we just get to imagine what it should be like.
Paul: Great, thanks for filling me in or bringing me up speed on PageCloud, I knew a little bit about it but I think I have to probably get my feet wet.
Craig: It’s one of those things you literally have to try it.
It’s totally experiential, people ask me all the time how are you different, so for example, what I usually tell them is you’ll see, just try it, there’s a free trial there. It’s one of those things that you just feel. I use all sorts of analogies like cars for example. Technically all cars do the same thing, four wheels, a trunk, they’ll get you from point A to point B. Some car companies sell on specs so they’ll sell on gas mileage or performance but at the end of the day what most people make a purchase decision on is how that car makes them feel, is this the one I want to own? Is this the one I want to drive every day?
Paul: That’s great I hadn’t thought about it like that. Can I ask you something, so you said about
the free trial how long is your free trial in terms of what duration?
Craig: It’s two weeks.
Paul: Yeah okay, did you try different time scales because I speak to a lot of businesses and work with SaaS businesses and it’s always like well what’s the ideal length, you know everybody seems to do 14/15 days but nobody seems to talk about the science behind that.
Craig: Yeah I assume there is a whole science behind it, we haven’t experimented on that yet, we experiment on a lot of different things, we’re a very metrics driven company and we look at those metrics as our scorecard to tell us how good are we at making this tool that our customers absolutely love. It’s funny, I was just at a talk earlier today, at the conference here about the difference between a start-up and a scale-up and the different things you focus on and there’s a sort of order to it. So before you were so much about optimizing little things like boost the price a dollar or take it down a dollar or take your trial from two weeks to three weeks to four weeks or whatever. You really want to make sure that you’ve got the core experience right and then you start tweaking.
Paul: So the product has to achieve product market fit, the products got to be right, it’s got to deliver on the promise and then the rest is conversion rate optimization.
Craig: Exactly, so that’s not to say that we haven’t done a bunch of that. We’ve had our marketing programs running for the last two years and we A/B test messaging and graphics and audience building and all sorts of things but there’s still things left to do, price testing and trial testing a whole bunch of other things so it’s a never-ending journey.
Paul: Yeah, it’s just iteration. So, on that journey of changing things, have you come across something in there in the course of your marketing experiments that bombed terribly or work fantastically and then you dug a bit deeper into that?
Craig: Good question, we have certainly tried a bunch of things that we haven’t been able to make work yet. Our history is that we entered the market doing a lot of advertising paid digital, Facebook, Google etc. A lot of startups they go right in for content, organic marketing which can be a great channel and what I find most people don’t realize and I have a very strong opinion on this, is that, it isn’t necessarily that one channel is better than the other it’s that they act and behave differently.
We chose paid advertising to pull us into the market because of its rapid gestation period, so we can wake up at nine o’clock in the morning and run an experiment. Then by 9:00a.m. the next day we know if it worked.
Did we get the creative right? Did we send it to the right people? Etc, etc and we pay for that knowledge and you do that like a hundred times before you start to figure things out. Then as you’re starting to transition into the scale phase company, well then you’re looking at unit economics like how much does it
cost me to acquire each customer and so forth and so other channels can be better, content marketing for example tends to be a channel where it’s a heavier push up front to get going, it’s the gift that keeps on giving once you get it going. You can build an audience and that can sustain you but because we knew that we had a lot to figure out, we wanted that rapid turnaround, now that we’re on more sure footing we’re starting to feel pretty good about what our customers are telling us.
We’ve got a stable base, we’re starting to shift gears now and diversify from paid acquisition to
organic acquisition and the Holy Grail of course is you get your product experience so good that customers start pulling you in to the market.
Paul: Yeah, it’s just brand awareness then, they find you because they already know about you. That’s
great and that’s not a typical path that I hear about.
So are you guys bootstraped or?
Craig: No, we’re venture funded and we’ve done a few small rounds leading up to a series A last summer so about a year and half ago.
Paul: Okay so that’s how you paid for the ads?
Craig: Yeah, exactly, well we also had a gangbusters presale campaign and this is something else that not a lot of companies do but I think SaaS is one of those businesses that’s ideally suited for this.
When I say presale campaign what I mean is basically a Kickstarter where you have a demo of a product you have a vision, you know that when you launch you’re going to be able to come come up with some sort of perks or gifts or something to reward these people who are essentially getting this founder status kind of thing. So we did one of those because we were finalists at a show called TechCrunch which you’ve probably heard of and so that got us this kind of Big Bang moment.
The funny thing about big traditional, not that their traditional media, but media blitz, is that you’re famous for 24 hours and then nothing. So sustaining it is up to you but we used that to push out a pre-sale campaign and we offered a two-thirds discount to people who signed up early. Six months early in fact because we were going to launch six months from then and we said we’ll give you two-thirds off if you buy now, we’ll give you early access to new upgrades and so forth and a few other perks.
We pre-sold, I forget how many customers it was but it was around $1.6 million Canadian at a $99 price point. So when we opened our doors on launch day, or not launch day but when the product was finally done, we were in revenue, we had figured out at least a good chunk of our marketing game.
Paul: Why don’t more people do it, it’s ballsy though.
Craig: Yeah it is, it forces you to think through some important things like I believe you should start marketing six months before you put out a product because if you wait until the day the products ready, now you’ve got a six month lag time to figure that out and you’re a sitting duck. You’re probably burning cash, people who are watching you after the big launch and expecting things to blow up they think you’re failing and it’s not that you’re failing, it’s that it takes six months to ramp so time it so that you ramp six months in advance.
Paul: Now that is a great marketing insight.
One more question for you, this time around personal growth insights. So you’ve been a founder, started many businesses, you’ve learned a lot on your journey, I just wondered if there was a habit or something you do to make sure that you don’t let it all get on top of you because it’s really easy to just be responding to emails at 3:00 a.m. and all that crazy shit. So what’s your way of coping, how do you make sure that you keep work-life balance and a good mental and physical state?
Craig: I don’t know if there’s one silver bullet but there’s a few that come to mind as you ask that question and i’ve definitely learned some things about how to keep going because it is hard and it can swallow you whole.
One thing for example is, I feel, from what I’ve read I feel like it’s a little bit like being a stock car driver,
apparently these guys have to be in peak physical condition because driving a car at 200 miles an hour around a track is very physically demanding, I’ve never tried it personally but I’ve read about it. So making sure you get the right amount of sleep, that you workout, treat your body right, watch your diet, all these things just to literally stay healthy.
That’s one thing that’s foundational, the other thing I find is that as you get so busy especially as the company starts to grow and you’ve got a bunch of employees and high stakes and everything I don’t know what they call this, I’m sure there’s a term for it but you tend to feel guilty. If you’re not sort of running, ticking things off the to-do list every single day for as many hours of the day as you can and what I found is that’s a trap.
Especially if you’re a leader, if you’re a CEO/founder. You have to carve out chunks of time to just think and because you’re getting all this sensory input from all different directions, you don’t have enough time to process it. You cannot and so it’s a danger that you can run really really fast in the wrong direction if you don’t pause for a moment put your head up look around and say am I even going in the right direction.
So that would be another one and then maybe a third one would be a single person doesn’t scale so you
have to choose your generals very carefully. The people that you’re going to delegate to and trusts your crown jewels with essentially.
Paul: Craig, thank you very much for coming on the show.
For more info on page cloud please visit www.pagecloud.com