In this edition of Interviews With Brilliant People, we talk to Chris Campbell, co-founder of WuFoo, an online form building company that works with such recognizable clients as Harvard University, Amazon.com, Best Buy, the United States Navy, and many, many more.
WuFoo’s impressive success over their five years of existence recently culminated in an offer to become members of the SurveyMonkey family, which they graciously accepted. Chris and his band of WuFoo-ians are now set to expand their industry-leading services from a new headquarters in Palo Alto, California. If you’re in the market for online form building, talk to WuFoo now because they’re a company with a dream with plans to make C.R.E.A.M.
Q: What was WuFoo’s inspiration and where did the name come from?
Chris Campbell: Ryan Campbell, Kevin Hale, and I (all co-founders) used to constantly talk about how frustrating it was to build these really boring forms and databases for our employers, who failed to appreciate how much tedious work was involved in just creating something as simple as a contact form or an online survey. Out of that frustration grew our initial idea for Wufoo, which was as an ASP content manager with the ability to allow for unlimited inputs and reversible forms. This means they could be used for both backend management and public submission. As we wised up, ASP turned into PHP and we tried to narrow our focus to form building.
The name comes from Kevin really liking the Wu-Tang Clan and Foo Fighters.
Q: How did the company go from a 2006 start-up to the newest addition to the SurveyMonkey Family?
Chris Campbell: One day at a time. It’s important to realize that there was no major turning point or “aha” moment for Wufoo. We focused on a niche, listened to our customers, and worked hard for five years. Although there is nothing sexy about our approach to business, that slow but steady attitude is what created the product that is now happily a part of the SurveyMonkey family.
Q: How did SurveyMonkey become interested in your company, and what have they told you about how they view WuFoo?
Chris Campbell: I’m going to let Anne Raimondi from SurveyMonkey answer this one.
Anne Raimondi: The SurveyMonkey team became interested in WuFoo for several reasons: the Wufoo team had built the best-in-class form tool, the Wufoo business model was the same as SurveyMonkey’s, and WuFoo was deeply committed to delivering amazing customer service. As we got to know Wufoo better, we realized the key reason for Wufoo’s success was the incredible team. We knew then that we wanted to find a way to work together to bring more, and better, options to customers for gathering data to make decisions.
Q: Just from reading your About Us page, it looks like your company is close knit and laid back, but very focused on your mission. Can you describe your business philosophy and how that has helped your success?
Chris Campbell: One of the main reasons we quit our 9-5’s was to work in an environment where we could have fun and get things done. We think bureaucracy and grey cubicles destroy productivity and happiness, and one of our goals from day one was to never work in a place like that again.
We’ve stayed very true to that mission and have always tried to make sure that Infinity Box is a place where people can get stuff done and have fun doing it. We’ve tried to stay away from adding too many rules or layers of bureaucracy, like fixed hours and time off, because people want to be a part of something great and they will work hard as long as they’re challenged, respected, and enjoying their work environment.
A great example of that philosophy in action is our annual “gauntlet,” where we all work extremely hard for three weeks and then go on a weeklong vacation together. Just this last year we pitted two teams against one another with the goal of just creating something awesome and useful to Wufoo. In the end the teams created a bunch of new customer support tools and the framework to an affiliate system. An unbelievable amount of work has been accomplished during past gauntlets, and a trip to Costa Rica or Greece goes a long way to curing burnout and strengthening bonds.
Q: Nearly all of your clients are internationally-known businesses, such as Panasonic, The Washington Post, Sony, Best Buy, and Disney, just to name a few. Other than your obvious high quality product, is there anything else about WuFoo that has captured these businesses’ attention?
Chris Campbell: It’s important to point out that while we mention those high profile clients on our site, the vast majority of our clients are not names that you would know. Wufoo has over 500,000 users, including small businesses, large businesses, educational institutions, and non-profit groups.
As to how we were able to land all those clients, Wufoo pretty much marketed itself, and Wufoo’s growth was almost entirely due to word of mouth. We focused on making a product worth talking about, and that focus resulted in Wufoo naturally spreading itself to clients of all sizes and verticals.
Q: How have you adapted your business to the constantly changing landscape of the Internet and Internet marketing?
Chris Campbell: I don’t know that we really have adapted our business or marketing strategy very much over the past five years. We always stay on top of the newest tools and technology when it comes to the software itself, but our main marketing strategy has always been to give amazing customer support and to create something worth talking about.
Of course we have Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr accounts, but those are only minor tools in the overall goal of acquiring and retaining customers. There are probably a ton of other tools and methods out there to further drive growth, but as boring as it may sound, our primary focus has always been on the product and customers.
Q: What aspects of leadership have had the biggest influence on your company’s rise?
Chris Campbell: It’s been critical that the leaders have been hands on with Wufoo, since we’re such a small company. Whether it’s designing, programming, or supporting our customers, the leadership has had to actively participate and lead by example. We all still meet every Friday, we all still actively develop the product, and we are all still involved in customer support.