Typeform: The Barcelona-based startup turning customer interactions into meaningful conversations
n the run-up to the launch of Startup Guide Barcelona, we chatted to the cofounders of Typeform about the challenges and rewards of building a company, the importance of being ambitious and disciplined, and why businesses should strive for meaningful dialogue with their customers.
With reporting by Lester Isaac Simon
Whether helping customers complete their online purchases or fishing for feedback on their products, forms are used by businesses for all manner of things. For the customer, however, filling out a form can be a drab and uninviting process, leading to answers that lack detail and inspiration and, therefore, accuracy.
This is what Typeform, a software-as-a-service company based in Barcelona, is seeking to change. The company’s web platform lets users create surveys and apps that make collecting and sharing information and data conversational and even enjoyable, with no coding knowledge required.
The company’s main product, called typeforms to match the company name, is designed to raise completion rates and improve the overall experience of posing questions to customers and clients.
“The way we see it, a form is essentially an interrogation. What we try to do is make it into a conversation,” says David Okuniev, who cofounded Typeform in 2012 with Robert Muñoz.
By using UX mechanics, Typeform’s platform asks for information using natural, conversational language and feeds questions to the user one at a time, as if to recreate the experience of answering a text message.
The platform also offers businesses tools like images, GIFS and videos to accompany their questions and even gives them the option to customize a welcome screen with a friendly “hola.”
For the founders, every interaction a business has with their audience counts. “That’s why we put design into very functional interactions,” says Robert. “It’s not just about what customers see; it’s also about how you interact with and communicate with them.”
Reinventing online forms
In the days before cofounding Typeform, Robert ran his own digital agency called Pulpolab in Barcelona, which he launched in 2008. He soon discovered, however, that working for clients wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
“You have ups and downs working with clients: Sometimes you have lots of work and sometimes nothing at all,” he says. “I wanted to dedicate the free time I had to think about new ideas and build products for myself.”
David says that both he and Robert were seeking a “shift” in their working lives. “We come from agencies, so we were kind of tired of working for clients. We wanted customers.”
Fortunately, the idea for Typeform seemed to fall into their laps. The cofounders met at a coworking space in Barcelona in 2010 and immediately struck up a rapport based on their mutual interest and expertise in friendly and beautiful design.
We knew we could aspire to something very big, especially when we looked at the competition in the market
The pair, who both have their roots in interaction-design, had been collaborating on projects for some time before Spanish design brand Roca got in touch with them.
“They wanted us to put iMacs in the entrance of their showroom so that when people left, they could leave their personal details,” says David. “So, instead of building a normal HTML form with boxes and all that, we built something that was more in tune with the space. It felt more futuristic and interactive.”
This was a defining moment for David and Robert: they realized how much potential there was to “reinvent online forms” and make the process of exchanging information between businesses and consumers a little more friendly.
After that, they turned the prototype produced for Roca into a product, incorporated the company and named it Typeform.
“We didn’t always have grand aspirations to build a big business but with Typeform the feeling was different,” says Robert. “We knew we could aspire to something very big, especially when we looked at the competition in the market.”
Scaling company culture
At first, launching Typeform fulfilled all of the founders’ wishes: it gave them control and creative freedom over their work, utilized their skills as designers and reflected their belief that interactions with customers should always be meaningful.
It wasn’t surprising, then, that the company achieved early success. Within six months of launching their software in 2014, Typeform stacked up 100,000 users on their platform and, by 2015, had secured $15 million in a Series A round from London-based venture capitalist firm Index Ventures.
“At the beginning, everything was magic,” says Robert. “We had a product that worked really well by itself, the product–market fit was automatic, and everything went so smoothly.”
Like many growing startups, however, Typeform struggled to retain their company culture as their team expanded. At first, David and Robert were freewheeling as CEOs, treating the company more as a project with friends and less like a business.
“We have a really strong culture, and we promote a lot of freedom and happiness. It’s a really human company,” says David. “But, at some point, when you start growing and you’re at one hundred or a hundred and fifty people, keeping those values starts to become very problematic.”
Robert adds: “We created a sense of family at the beginning. It works when you are very small but at some point you need to upgrade processes.”
Typeform are embarking on a professionalization of the company that the cofounders describe as “taking what we have as a culture and scaling it.” Part of this involves Robert and David stepping down from their co-CEO roles and ushering in a new leadership team.
“We needed to step out and make a few tough decisions,” says Robert. “Right now, we’re putting the right leadership in place based on our core values.”
David says that passing on the CEO baton is also an opportunity to get back to doing what he loves: “I wanted to get back to being close to the product, getting into the weeds.”
We created a sense of family at the beginning. It works when you are very small but at some point you need to upgrade processes
These decisions boil down to what building Typeform has meant for the cofounders. The company is valued at €127–191 million but David and Robert are less concerned these days about making the company bigger and better.
“I still remember when we created the first prototype and started dreaming. We started saying things like, ‘This has the potential of being very big and mainstream,’ and we were just a designer and a web developer at that point,” Robert says.
“But now, it’s not about us; it's about the opportunity of bringing a product like this to the market,” he adds. “In that sense, we’re not very egocentric. We didn't want to hold all the power.”
Combining innovation with process
With eight years behind them of running a company, Robert and David are aware that while ideas and ambitions are the lifeblood of any business, they have to be anchored in reality.
Reflecting on what they’ve learned during their entrepreneurial journey, David says the pair didn’t put “enough structure around their idealistic ideas.”
Robert agrees: “Initially, we didn’t acknowledge how hard this would all be and therefore postponed difficult conversations and didn’t bring the right people on board with the required experience at every stage.”
When asked what advice they’d give to early-stage entrepreneurs, David says it’s crucial to select a founding team with the right range of skills.
“You have to have a designer as a founder who really has a clear vision of the product and can build it so it’s beautiful and easy to use, and so it connects people, which is most essential,” he says. “You also want to have an engineering mindset so that what you build is scalable and will last a long time.”
Ultimately, David suggests finding people who are “committed to the product” and prepared to “sweat every detail.”
“My advice is the same,” says Robert. “I’d also say you need to build discipline. It’s not a sexy word in startups because it’s all about innovation and ideas, but discipline is very important. It’s crucial to have a good balance between innovation and processes.”
Being well-situated for growth
Fortunately, Typeform is in a city that inspires innovation. Barcelona was awarded third place as a European tech hub in a 2019 report by Mobile World Capital Barcelona and has produced trailblazing companies like Travelperk and Glovo.
In addition to beautiful weather, exquisite cuisine and the architectural marvels of Antoni Gaudi, the Catalonian capital also has a sprawling talent pool of developers and tech innovators, with specialities from gaming to health and life sciences. Investment levels are also on the rise (investments in startups grew from €453 million to €871 million between 2017 and 2018).
According to David and Robert, companies thinking about launching in the Catalonian capital are guaranteed to recruit excellent talent, foster new ideas and create connections with neighboring startup hubs in Spain and beyond.
“Obviously, the city of Barcelona is amazing; we don’t need to sell this part,” says Robert. “More and more big companies are coming here, which is very good for the ecosystem. We need bigger and better companies here, so we can rotate talent.”
But while being in and amongst a lively and internationally diverse ecosystem that supports growth is essential for any startup, having the tenacity to achieve your goals is perhaps most important.
For David, choosing to go full steam ahead with their idea for Typeform was the best decision he and Robert ever made: “We believed in it. We just really went for it. We didn't hold anything back.
To read a full interview with Typeform’s cofounders, you can purchase a copy of Startup Guide Barcelona via our online store, here.
Don’t forget: As part of our partnership with One Tree Planted, the purchase of this guidebook contributes toward the planting of a tree.