Typeform’s viral growth – and its disruption?

May 23, 2023

Typeform, the maker of people-friendly forms and surveys, perhaps needs no introduction. Founded in 2012, Typeform was an early pioneer in product-led growth. A few stats:

  • Serves 125,000+ paying customers and more than 500 million digital interactions
  • Reportedly reached $70 million ARR in 2021 as they announced a $135 million Series C
  • Grows organically with 80% of new customers signing up from word-of-mouth or product virality

And the business isn’t showing signs of slowing down.

The company just announced formless by Typeform, a generative AI-powered tool for creating form experiences through a conversational interface. This is just the latest act of creative self-destruction powered by Typeform Labs, Typeform’s self-described part incubator, part playground focused on the application of AI.

I caught up with Typeform co-founder David Okuniev at Point Nine’s Founder Summit in Spain. David served as co-CEO until 2018 and now leads Typeform Labs. He opined on how Typeform attracted its first 1,000 users, the role of product-led growth (PLG) in the company’s early days, and his innovation process (or lack thereof) for rapidly building new products at Typeform Labs.

The early days: An overnight hit, multiple years in the making

One thing you should know about David: he’s a designer at his core.

In fact, the very idea for Typeform came out of his time running a design agency in Barcelona. While working on a project for a client that wanted a digital form in their stores, David and co-founder Robert Munoz got inspired by the 1983 film WarGames where Matthew Broderick hacks into a military central computer computer. (To be honest, the computer is giving ChatGPT vibes, only with much worse hardware 🤣)

David believed that forms could be delightful, like they appeared in the film, and not just an abstraction of a database. His stated goal was to “turn forms into a conversation.”

The pair spent a year bootstrapping and developing the Typeform beta in their spare time. As they were gearing up for launch, they created a teaser video of the front end interactions of people playing with Typeform.

The video spread like wildfire. In the process, Typeform was able to generate a few thousand registrations for their beta, released in October 2012 on BetaList.

“At the time, nobody had ever seen anything like that before. It was a fun, beautiful, interactive form,” he told me.

The BetaList launch revealed the true viral potential of Typeform. The company’s early growth model was pretty simple. Beta users created Typeforms and then shared those Typeforms with their communities. Each form had a “Powered by Typeform” button and the viral loop scaled from there.

“We didn’t do anything else really,” admitted David. “We hit other levers later in time, but that’s what launched Typeform.”

The beta ran through February 2014. By then Typeform had generated 50,000 sign-ups. They had also attracted a seed investment from the folks at Point Nine.

Screencap of Typeform's beta.

An early look at Typeform’s beta circa 2011

Looking at the organic traction of the product, David had a strong intuition that they should start charging for the product when it hit general availability. “I don’t think there was any science to it, I just think it was the right time. We’ve tested this, and people are liking it. And so we put in the PRO plan where we had some really essential features.”

How did they come up with the early pricing, I asked?

“Probably very naively. We didn’t talk to ProfitWell,” David joked.

Typeform looked closely at how competitors were pricing. They figured that the initial use case was relatively simplistic and not highly valued. David recalls that pricing was only $25 per month at the time. To sweeten the deal, Typeform offered a 50% discount for anyone upgrading to a yearly plan (it only cost $120 for the first year!).

In the first month, Typeform had 1,000 paying customers. They were off to the races.

As a fun aside: Typeform also launched with a PRO Solo plan, which let people unlock unlimited data from the PRO features but only for one Typeform. It cost $10 per survey credit. While I’m a fan of usage-based pricing, it’s usually better to charge based on a usage metric that aligns with outcomes (ex: number of survey responses) rather than inputs (ex: number of surveys).

Launch: Powered by Typeform powers viral growth

Typeform then went into scaling mode. Initially, the growth motion was anchored on virality and no sales.

The company began investing heavily in content marketing, specifically thought pieces and writing on the Typeform blog. There was inbound from bigger customers as well, although Typeform wasn’t well set-up to serve all of that demand at the time.

The viral loop kept bringing more and more people in. “The amount of people who still hit our site is very impressive, I don’t know how that many people can still keep on coming. It’s in the hundreds of thousands. It’s a huge top of the funnel, then trying to bring people through that funnel, convert them, and keep them.”

Since the product had such low barriers to entry, Typeform attracted a wide number of use cases. Some of those use cases were “quite leaky” – low-value or campaign-based. Typeform started focusing on customers that wanted to put Typeform in their process or their workflow, which is where Typeform would work best.

Scale: Adding sales and customer success motions

The team tested different ways to accelerate virality.

At the beginning, they just had a Powered by Typeform button at the bottom of forms. They later added an end screen in the free plan where they’d serve up a Typeform ad to get people to try it. They also tested sending people directly from the Powered by Typeform button to the website versus directly to the sign-up form.

One learning: a lot of the viral loop wasn’t immediately trackable and instead showed up as direct traffic or traffic from organic search. Many people would do keyword searches for Typeform because they had either seen Typeform in the wild or heard about it, then went to search for it.

(For more on product virality, check out my newsletter featuring Calendly and Loom.)

Typeform brought on a customer success team from the early days. It started as a tiny team and today has scaled to roughly 50 people.

Sales came later. Typeform went through multiple iterations of sales beginning around 2019. With Typeform’s new CRO, Kristen Habacht, David is bullish about the impact that sales will have for Typeform’s future growth.

“Like any company, we can grow so much organically and with our viral loop. But we need to grow with bigger customers to have a better retention curve. We are definitely looking at moving upmarket.”

Innovate: Launching four new products in only three years

David now focuses his time on incubating and building new innovations under the Typeform umbrella. Typeform Labs is extremely lean—it’s just David and two others—and their mandate is to experiment with new ideas. Labs has been going for three years and has already launched four new products.

They landed on a hit, VideoAsk, relatively quickly.

“It started out with the idea of let’s experiment with what Typeform would look like if it were video-based,” David recalled. The team built a first app only on iOS, then added the web app. David stayed with the team for almost two years, bringing the product to north of $1 million in revenue in its first year, before handing it over to the product team.

From there he pivoted to Relayed, which is now being sunsetted.

The team had wanted to explore audio and async communication. Their aim was to be the first tool to seamlessly stitch async and live communication on one timeline. Ultimately, the market changed very quickly and it was hard to get people out of Slack and out of Zoom.

Now David is working on formless, which he says is how he would’ve built Typeform if he went back in time and had the technologies we have today.

With formless, the form creator doesn’t create any questions or any logic. They simply say “I want to have a conversation about this and here are the requirements” – and formless just produces the rest with AI logic.

Screenshot of the current version of formless by Typeform.

What’s his secret innovation process?

“I have no process,” David stressed.

David designs and he codes. His two team members are strong product people and engineers. Since it’s a small team, they communicate really easily. They have a kanban board with the tasks they need to do, and simply work through them.

“We only have two to three weeks of visibility into what we do, and we just work through it. We don’t have meetings. We just have a continuous loop of creation, creation, creation. We work really fast and make decisions in a second. User testing happens once we put stuff out. It doesn’t happen before because we’re busy building. And we just iterate, iterate, iterate.”

David admitted that the team will make plenty of mistakes, but because they’re moving at such a frantic pace, everything improves really quickly. To put this in perspective, it only took eight weeks for David’s team to be able to have an AI-powered form that collects structured data. David expects to launch the beta as soon as they can scale with GPT-4.

How does he measure product-market fit?

“There’s obviously validation in terms of revenue,” David told me. “When we were at $1 million in revenue with VideoAsk, we knew we had something that really fits and people are willing to pay for it. But you can also get strong intuitions from the beginning.”

While it’s anecdotal, intuition has an important role to play to measuring product-market fit. David sees that with formless as people are getting excited about it and they’re talking about it externally. He noticed that people were explaining the product back to him without him even needing to explain it to them. “When you see those tell-tale signs, you know you have something strong,” he emphasized.

Closing: Advice for aspiring PLG founders

David had clear advice for aspiring PLG founders: user experience is everything now.

With AI accelerating development cycles, people can build things now that used to require a lot of logic and customization. If you look at ProductHunt, AI tools are exploding every day and people are creating very quickly, but the user experience is usually not on par. David believes that we’re going to see many more smaller teams working on bigger problems.

His closing tips for entrepreneurs:

  1. Invest in making sure you’re not just leveraging AI, but you’re using really good user experience to get the best out of it.
  2. Sweat the details. A well-polished product will help you stand above your competition. If you don’t, it’ll be hard to break through.

The TL;DR: great design powers great PLG products that users love.

Kyle Poyar

Partner at OpenView

Kyle helps OpenView’s portfolio companies accelerate top-line growth through segmentation, value proposition, packaging & pricing, customer insights, channel partner programs, new market entry and go-to-market strategy.