Our interview with Chris covers a whole lot: from his relationship with his co-founder (who also happens to be his freshman year college roommate) to the many risks he’s taken over the years to grow to nearly 1 million accounts & tens of thousands of paying customers!
Along the way, Chris has approached growth in an incredibly interesting way. He’s one of the biggest proponents of brand advertising, he takes calculated creative risks other CEOs would avoid, and of recent, he’s raised a debt round to buy out his investors.
Overall, Chris thinks about business in a really unique way and our conversation provides some great insights about how to build a product with a customer in mind, how to take risks, and ways any business can be slightly more creative!
In This Episode You’ll Learn:
1:04 Learn about Wistia’s Business model
7:03 From college roommates to co-founders — how to think about business partnerships
17:34 What led to Wistia feeling like they finally had traction in the market
25:10 The huge brand marketing risks Wistia has taken over the years (including a $111,000 one)
34:15 The Salty Six
DR: Today I’ve got the CEO of Wistia, who is someone that I deeply respect. As I’ve watched from afar, it’s not just that they’ve built a great company but for how they’ve built it.
It seems like, from my perspective, they have built it on their own terms in their own way with a very unique position in the market. And it’s been really really fun to watch, and so, Chris, welcome to the show. I’m excited to learn a lot more here!
CS: Thanks for having me. It’s exciting to be here.
DR: So I guess before we kinda get kicked off, I’d love to just hear from you.
How do you describe Wistia? How long have you guys been around? And kinda where’s the company today?
Wistia’s bright & fun homepage
CS: Yeah, I describe Wistia as a company that’s trying to help businesses use video better. And we do that in a bunch of different ways — we have multiple products,
Wistia being the core product, which is management and analytics for your videos, you can market better with video, understand how videos perform on your site, control the experience of the player, power analytics to see what people are watching,
Soapbox, our second product that we launched about a year and a half ago, which is a Chrome extension that lets you record your webcam and your screen simultaneously, and make videos pretty quickly that we think look pretty professional.
And then actually, the way that most people know us, or the reason that most people know us, is for the content that we make. And so we’ve made a lot of content over the years trying to teach people how to get confident using video.
Video can be so scary from a brand perspective, and one of the things people say is, “Well, if we make a video, this could be really good, but what if it hurts us?”
It’s like, yes, that’s a good question to ask.
A video that looks really crappy can expose — I think, sometimes, the worst parts of the story you’re trying to tell — and the opposite is also true. Like, when done properly, if it’s really authentic, really engaging or interesting — it shows a unique behind-the-scenes look at what you’re doing, it can create a connection that is just so much stronger than almost anything else.
DR: Yeah, I’ve been an entrepreneur for about five years now, and I have built, exclusively through Wistia content, some extremely bad studios but that turn out actually really good looking video.
An early version of Proof’s video studio
Maybe we can put some of those pictures below this feed here. But yeah, you kinda help the DIYers like myself. I’ve never considered myself a videographer or know anything about that. I kinda watch the videos, and that’s how I got introduced to the product, and I think for me,
Wistia is a product that you don’t know you need until you get it as a business, and I think I saw it and was like, “YouTube does this.” And then you get Wistia and you’re like, “Holy crap, YouTube doesn’t do anything I need, “doesn’t give me all the tools and the analytics “and all that stuff,” and so I think once, as a business, you try Wistia, you don’t wanna go back to YouTube for hosting your videos anymore.
CS: The hope and the realization for us is that the business model of the products you use matters.
In our case, YouTube’s business model is to serve ads on things, and they are trying to compete with what was cable television, and it’s a smart move. It’s a huge market. It’s an enormous, enormous market, and so all those little decisions they make are around keeping people watching more content inside their apps.
And I feel like, personally, I use YouTube more on my Apple TV than I ever used to. And it makes sense that how am I gonna get to a website from my Apple TV? I’m not, I’m just gonna go see more content and more videos, so a lot of all these little changes that even YouTube’s made some changes in the last like couple months where you can no longer turn off suggested videos at the end of your video when it’s embedded.
And so it just comes back to what is the goal? If you have videos on your site, usually the goal is trying to get those people to convert and sign up for something, maintain the attention that you’ve earned, and if you have stuff that’s on YouTube, that usually does a lot better for companies when it’s brand-focused.
And you’re okay with the fact that you’re not gonna be able to track people who went from YouTube to your site. So you have to treat it like a social network, and when treated properly as a social network, it could be incredible, but those fundamental differences in business models end up actually making a huge difference over time in terms of what you’re gonna get from a product.
DR: And then with Wistia, do you guys think of that as this is a SaaS business? This is not some social network or distribution, it’s like we build the tool for you to have powerful control of your videos.
CS: Yeah, we only do well if our customers are doing well. Very simple.
If you’re using Wistia and you’re adding videos to your website and they’re not performing and helping you, you’ll just cancel your account. So that’s it. It’s just very simple. And if it’s working for our customers, they’re gonna stick with us, and so every incentive we have is to build tools and features that are gonna help you be more successful.
An example of this is a small thing we launched at the end of last year, which is the ability to create video thumbnails and add text to your thumbnails.
Very simple thing, but we had done a lot of testing ourselves, we’ve worked with some customers that have done a lot of testing and seen that the right video thumbnail and the right text on a thumbnail, simple things can make a pretty big impact in terms of the number of people who click play, the number of people who convert, so we made this change, and so far we’ve seen everyone who’s adopted this is getting better conversions. And if that happens, people stick with us.
But if we’re not continuing to innovate in that way, then our customers will leave. So it’s just a very simple thing, we’re SaaS just trying to help people grow their businesses.
DR: Love it.
And you started in 2008, and you’ve got about 95-ish employees right now. Is that right?
CS: Yeah, we started in 2006 actually, but spent a year with other things, trying to do other things. And yeah, we have about 100 employees.
DR: And do you share how many customers you have, roughly?
CS: We don’t share the exact amount. We obfuscate it obviously. I can tell you we’re pretty close to a million accounts at this point who are using us, and the customers are in the many tens of thousands.
DR: Very cool, yeah, love it. It’s been cool to watch the journey. So before we talk about, I wanna talk about marketing and growth, but I think something that I’ve seen you guys talk about that I wanna learn about is your co-founder relationships.
You and Brenden have been doing this for the whole time. I guess 13, no, 15 years no?
CS: 12 and a half years, yeah.
DR: So doing it for a long time here, and you’re close still, you’re best friends you say.
What has that been like, and what advice do you have for other people around how to have a healthy co-founder relationship? I just have a lot of people wonder about and ask about, and I’ve got two co-founders myself and so I’m always trying to learn there.
Chris & his co-founder Brenden
CS: Yeah, when we started the company, we had known each other for five years already, and so we went to college together and lived in the same freshman hall.
And then have been the same close group of friends and have lived together in different suites at school. We knew that we were good friends, and we knew going into it that a lot of people lose their friendships starting a company, and so we just were really upfront about it.
We’re like, look, we think we have a great friendship. It sounds crazy, but the thing that’s motivating us is not just money, and so let’s put our friendship in front of the business. That has been tested, and it’s usually tested when there are decisions that are really hard to make, and I think the classic example people give is two co-founders want some different strategic direction, they can’t make a call, so they have to figure out how will you make that decision-structure work.
I think that’s often where friendships start to fray, and at least for us, we were living in the same house for the first four years. We were building the company. It was kind of a situation that was like, if we were to let our friendship fray, it would really hurt, obviously, we thought the company would fail, basically, if that happened.
We felt like we needed each other, and so we just worked really hard when there were tough situations. We learned over time that you just get in front of them and you have hard conversations early. That’s like a marriage, right? A marriage takes work, and it takes open honesty about what both people want, where they’re going, what’s working, what’s not working, and when you feel like one person is pulling too much of the weight or whatever, you just have to talk about stuff. It’s like a constant conversation, and so we got pretty good at, Brendan and I got pretty good at talking about what was working, what was not, and the crazy thing is, at this point, is it really is true.
I hang out with Brendan all the time. Our families get together and hang out all the time. We’ve kind of figured it out. And I think it has made Wistia a place where there is a lot of friendships, probably more than average, and again, also, it’s interesting ’cause you have people who have worked at Wistia for four or five years, and they’re good friends.
Someone else comes new, and we had someone we hired recently who said, “How am I supposed to navigate this?” And I said, “I promise you, “everyone has hard conversations with each other “about this stuff. “It’s not gonna get in the way. “You just get in there and say what you think “and pretend they don’t exist,” and it’s completely fine. So it’s kind of set this example, you can be friends with someone as long as you are having hard conversations and willing to confront the issues that come up, which, you know, hopefully, it also, it’s just one of those things. You model it and you hope it works, and so far so good.
DR: Love that, and you guys are 50-50 partners? Do you like that? Do you think that’s the way to go?
CS: For us, it’s definitely the way to go. Again, I think the marriage analogy is the right one, but it’s like, you don’t go and get married and say, “Well one of you always has the upper hand.”
DR: Legally, if push comes to shove, one of you has 1% extra.
CS: Yeah, that’s what people will say. In our case, what would happen is, you would have to get other shareholders involved and stuff. But if we have to make a call on something and it’s coming down to that, that’s such an extreme thing that we probably already destroyed the business by then.
We’ve probably just put ourselves into shambles if we’re coming down to trying to rally additional people to help make a call. I will say there’s like, we’re talking now about things that are normally more for partnerships, like what do you do if one of us wants to leave or one of us dies, like estate planning for the business, and it’s interesting talking to lawyers and experts on this stuff because I’ve talked to some companies who they didn’t have this type of thing set up.
They had an equal partnership but didn’t feel like it was equal. And so the business hits a stalemate on a decision, and you literally dissolve the business, which is one of the things that can happen. I think this is a lucky set of problems to have because we found something that is valuable. It just takes, again, having hard conversations early, and then it’s not so bad.
DR: And being real, what have been the challenges or the landmines that you and Brendan have had to walk through?
Are there specific topics that are tough, and anything like that that you kind of come to regularly, or have come to?
CS: I think in the early years it would feel lopsided in terms of who is doing work, or who is having the, quote, “biggest impact.” It would just flip around. In the early days, Brendan’s building everything. I’m not building anything.
So it’s like, whoa, it seems like if Brendan doesn’t do this, we have nothing. Yes, that’s correct. And then there were years when it felt like the biggest thing was actually not the product, it was marketing or sales, and getting initial traction was like, “Well, if Chris goes and gets these customers, “then we’re gonna be good. “If he doesn’t get them, we’re screwed.”
And so it flips around, and a lot of that we just had really open conversations around it, and we both agreed that we wanted to build a balanced company. It was not just gonna be, you don’t just build a product and then people find it and then that’s it. You have to figure out how to market. You have to figure out how to sell. You have to figure out how to price it. You have to figure out how to provide great support. You have to do all these different things, and that’s how you build a great experience for a customer, is it has to be balanced, and so over time, things between use balanced out more because we built up this organization around us, and we built up a lot of experience and realized, oh, we could help guide other people through some of these challenges.
And we kind of know that we both come to things with slightly different approaches, and that’s good. We think that helps us make better decisions.
DR: Love it. No, it’s been a cool relationship to see, and one that, my co-founders and I, we were chattin’ on Slack this morning and we were talking about the interview with you, and one of them said, “You know what? “I think I’d be really proud “if we built a company like Wistia “and had a relationship like those guys.”
So it’s been cool to watch from afar, and inspiring to see people that, I think we’re trying to build a company where our relationship, we’re really tight, we stay friends, we’re raising our families together, we’re just like living life together in every way, and it’s tough. You don’t see a ton of people doing that or thinking about that, or even putting that as a priority. Usually, it’s like, “Cut the friendship if you need to. “Let’s go make some damn money,” And that’s not our thinking or our approach.
CS: I think it’s, I mean that’s great, and I’m glad that our example can hopefully help people just talk about this stuff. Every relationship is different, but the reality is, when we started making this company, we did it because we thought we’d be rich. And then very quickly we realized, wow, that’s not how this works. This is hard. This takes a long time. And at some point, it flipped into being about the journey.
It’s like wow, we’re trying to build these products that are helping other people, and we get to build a culture that hopefully can set a different example for the type of culture where you can work, and I think I’ve been fortunate that I know some people who have had a lot of money, and they’re not happy. Money doesn’t bring you happiness. It’s kinda that simple. And so only optimizing for that, you’re missing out on everything else.
Life is short. I think you gotta respect the people you work with, and for me, I wanna work on really creative problems. That’s the same exact thing that Brendan wants, and we see Wistia as our opportunity to work on hard problems and to try to come up with creative solutions. That’s basically what building a business is for us. And so we just feel very fortunate that we have that opportunity to do it every day.
And we also feel fortunate that it actually took us some time to get traction, so by the time we’re getting traction we had felt like we’d figured out this piece. Everybody’s different. Some people want the most revenue, and that’s the yardstick they use to compare themselves to other people.
That’s not the one we use. It’s obviously great to have a business that’s thriving. Don’t get me wrong, that’s amazing. But it can’t be just that.
DR: Yeah, I think it’s so important that people pick the goal that they’re optimizing for, the few goals, and just have some conviction in that, not looking at everybody else’s business. I feel like, you don’t even know what’s going on in their business, or what they care about, if they’re happy, or if they even wanna be doing this. So I think it’s been important for us to develop. When we first started it was like just make some money, and now we kinda get over a little bit of a hump. We can kinda say what do we really wanna do here? And I think that’s important.
CS: You’re hitting a topic that I feel like people don’t, it’s almost like sacrilegious to discuss in startup-land, so there’s a lot there, but we can–
DR: We’ll come back and unpack that in another episode here. I wanna dig into some of the growth and some of the traction and kind of hear some of the growth story and what’s really worked there. I think you guys have unique marketing, unique branding, unique content.
What was the first time that you really felt like you were getting traction? What caused that, what was around that, and how did that happen?
CS: That’s a great question. There have been lots of little moments, and one of the things I’ve learned over the years is that usually you can see things qualitatively first, and you don’t see them quantitatively.
It’s pretty rare that you turn on a spigot of something and it’s like suddenly you’re getting tons of customers. And you can track where they’re coming from, but there was a moment when we, it was a few years in, we turned on some brand advertising. I don’t really know what brand advertising meant, but it was ads that just said Wistia, and there was like a funny little thing that said, “Share video like a boss.”
That’s all it said. And we put it on this network, this ad network called The Deck network that existed for a while, and it was only on like 10 blogs. The 37signals blog, and Daring Fireball, and a few other things.
There was one ad per page. It was very simple. Very quickly I saw something, which was people started searching for Wistia more, and the people who were searching for Wistia and coming in, they were signing up and they were trying the product and they were buying. But they weren’t clicking on the ad. And a couple of things happened.
One, people were signing up for the product. Two, the feedback we were getting was very different. The product feedback that we started to get in that month from customers was noticeably different. These people had no connection to us whatsoever.
Most of the people before that, we always got an introduction to somebody, we had some connection to them, and they weren’t really telling us the honest truth with what they thought our product was missing or what they expected from the product.
And suddenly this faucet turned on, of feedback, that really helped us figure out how to build the product. And so we were getting more people to try the product, and figuring out how to build the product, and within, I would say four to six months of that we were starting to launch things. And each time we launched a new feature it felt like it was resonating more, and that was really exciting, but we couldn’t scale it.
It was only one Deck network thing. It was like $6k/month we were spending, which was about how much money we were making. But I looked for things like it and I couldn’t find anything like it. It was like a group of early-adopters who cared about product and design, and there was no other group like that at the time.
We were trying a lot of different things and we’re getting a little frustrated because we couldn’t find anything that would scale. But along the way I think we had six people in the team, we decide to update our team page. And before this we had four people in the company, one team page, it had four people’s names on it. Brendan and I, and then the two other early employees we had, and everyone’s title looked like a big title. It was like VP of marketing and VP of sales. Executive vice president and head of operations. Just shit to make you look like you’re a big company.
And it said management, and then implied that there are employees who are not important enough to be on the site. We’re trying to be professional and look like a big company. In hindsight, obviously, if you went to it, I don’t think we looked like we were a big company. We were trying to fake it ’til you make it, basically. We had hired two more people and were feeling really bad that they weren’t on the website. We were feeling pretty crappy about that, and we decided no one’s going on our website, really. Not that many people.
We should probably update that team page so they can be on there, so at the very least, they can show their parents. Like, “Hey mom and dad, I’m working at a company. “It’s real, look, see, I’m on the website.” We updated the team page to the picture of the six of us standing in front of a whiteboard, ’cause that seemed, quote, “businessy.” And Brendan realized, when he was building the page, that he could just make it switch between two of the photos and it would look like we’re dancing. Just dumb dancing, super silly. Just like slight movement.
Wistia’s new about page has a drum machine mode. Rock on!
And he did that and he made an Easter egg, basically, for us, which was if you typed “dance” on the website when you got to that page, it would start randomly switching between the photos and it would play Girl Talk music. And he did this because this guy Jeff on our team, it was his birthday the day this went up there, so it was like his birthday present to Jeff. So we put it on there and we shared this on Twitter. I probably had a hundred people following me at this time, or less, and they were all my friends.
Normally, I put something on Twitter, nothing happens. And this time, we shared this thing, and it went viral. And it got submitted to Hacker News, and it got the front page of Hacker News. And so suddenly we’re getting a ton of traffic to the website, the first time we’ve ever gotten a ton of traffic, all come to this team page. And then we had a two week trial in those days, and two weeks later, a ton of new customers. I’d been doing content marketing at this point, but it was all like, “Eight reasons you should use professional video hosting,” and stuff like that, and that was obviously doing nothing.
That was just doing less than nothing. And then this team page, which had nothing to do with explaining our product, actually got people to discover the product.
And then we had the same exact thing happen with a behind-the-scenes video that we made basically just for fun. Put it up there, literally put it on our about-page, shared it on Twitter, it went viral, it went on the front page of Hacker News, we got a ton of traffic again, two weeks later, we got a bunch of customers, and this realization started to click, like oh, people aren’t seeing behind-the-scenes of companies. We’ve gone from trying to fake it until we make it to being authentic about how big we are and what we’re doing, and we’re also talking about things that really don’t have that much to do with our product, and yet it’s working.
And it was kind of like the first inklings of brand and what a brand is, and that, combined with the advertising we had done, gave us more confidence of like, “Hey, what if we were teaching people “about things in videos and in blog posts “that really had nothing to do with our product, “but we did authentically,” probably, if some of this stuff could take off, we would get customers coming in.
It just might not be easy to see. Like we now had like three different things showing us that evidence, and that’s what we started to do. And the qualitative thing was like I would go to conferences and people would know who I was, even though we were having like 300 views on a video.
People were seeing stuff, and I remember the first time I went to a conference and someone came up to me and gave me a hug, and they’re like, “Thank you so much “for helping us figure out how to light our conference room. “It’s totally changed everything.”
People were showing up with gear that we talked about, and then it grew and grew and grew, and you can look back on it years later and that’s the moment that our brand-traffic started to go up, our direct-traffic started to go up, our organic traffic started to go up, but in those months, you can’t even see it. For the next like three to six months, we were seeing an incredibly small increase. But the trajectory-change occurred, and it’s continued. That’s the same stuff that we do now.
We did “One, Ten, One Hundred” last year, which is a four-part documentary series where we followed Sandwich Video in LA, who would give them a budget to make three different ads for Soapbox. One at $1,000, one at 10,000, one at 100,000. It’s the same continuation. It’s just going bigger on the same stuff.
DR: Yeah, so I wanted to ask about that because I think this theme I’ve seen from you guys, and I didn’t know about kinda how it started with that page is like you take these marketing risks. Each year there are a few creative risks that you stop and you think, “That’s unique. “I wanna see what this is.” Like it’s not just direct response, “I’m just gonna drive ads to a landing page,” et cetera. Harder to track, hard to kind of know hey, what’s the ROI of this, but it seems like you guys are really really comfortable with that, and then we thought it was really cool when you kind of released this campaign where you spent, it was $111,000 on three different videos. Video was $1,000, $10,000, $100,000. Tell me about how did that come up.
What was that like? What were maybe the results of that, because I thought that was a really fascinating example.
CS: Well, so, you’re right. Each year we try to take some bigger creative risks, and we’re trying to make the risks bigger and bigger.
And I will say one aside on that, which is like, we’re profitable. We also have not been profitable, and we learned the lesson that we couldn’t really take those risks when we weren’t profitable.
For us, with our approach and our strategy, the way for us to grow, we kinda need to be profitable ’cause that let’s us do longterm things where you launch something and it’s like, like many people have asked me about “One, Ten, One Hundred,” how do you know if it’s working, what are the results you’re looking for, blah-blah-blah.
Well, I knew it was a good idea and I had no idea how we would know if it was working, to be totally transparent. But because we were profitable, we don’t need it to give us more sales this month or next month. That’s trying to change the brand-perception and help people have a connection with us longterm, and it’s the same exact idea, but the way it came up was we’ve known the folks at Sandwich Video for a while.
And Sandwich Video, if you don’t know, they made the launch-video for Slack. They made the launch-video for Square. They made the launch-video for Warby Parker. They’re incredibly good at making commercials for products, betting on those products, explaining them really simply, making them funny, and just really compelling.
And so we’d always aspired to work with Sandwich. I tried to hire them like five years ago, and the budget at the time for an ad was $17,000. I was like, “I can’t spend this.” This is just losing. “I can’t spend this on one video.” But we had them come to our conference, and on stage I tried to convince the founder of Sandwich Video to honor that price, and he’s like, “Well, I won’t honor that price, “but I’ll make you a video for free “if you let me do it in my backyard,” which is how he made his first Slack commercial video. And I honestly didn’t hear the “backyard” part. My brain just didn’t hear it.
So I just followed up, I’m like, “You wanna make it for free? “You wanna make it for free? “Make a free video? “And we’ll make content about it?” And he’s like, “Uh, that’s not exactly what I said. “It’s not exactly what I said, “but we could do something together.” And it sparked this idea of giving them the budget of $111,000 and having them make three different ads for Soapbox with different budgets as if it was an internal team making the videos. It’s not what you would charge someone for these videos, but if you had $1,000 worth of gear-and-people budget, what would you do? If you had $10,000 worth of gear-and-people budget, what would you do? And 100,000. We thought the creative team will probably learn a lot from them.
We thought the Soapbox ads could work, and if they worked, we’d get a benefit from helping Soapbox. We thought the behind-the-scenes, we thought that both other things could fail, but the behind-the-scenes could be compelling because we didn’t have a lot of content about how the creative process works. And we also thought that there might be, even if it all totally failed, we could still write content about how it all totally failed, and then maybe that content would do well.
So there was like four or five different things that we thought could be beneficial from it, and that’s kinda how we decided to go ahead and say yes to it. And then the team went and shot the first-week shoot where they shot the $1,000 video and the $10,000 video and they came back, and they’re like, “Chris, this is not a blog post. “This is not a 10-minute guide. “This is a bigger thing. “This is more like a real documentary, “and for us to do justice for it “we have to do it like that.”
And we’re like, “Okay, let’s go.” And so they went back again, they went back a few times, and yeah, we ended up with something that’s four parts. It’s like an hour and 42 minutes long, and really feels like something you could watch on Netflix. It’s on Amazon Prime now. And yeah, it’s been crazy how well it’s done, actually.
DR: By the way, Austin, our head of marketing over here is just nodding his head, saying, “I love this thing,” as you were talking about you watching this thing on Netflix, so he’s into it.
DR: It’s crazy.
AD: I watched it on Amazon Prime. It was awesome
DR: He watched it on Amazon Prime.
CS: That’s awesome. I didn’t even realize that just the concept of the ads would do so well. We put the three ads on Twitter, and before anything else just said, “We made this ad. “This is what a $1,000 version looks like. “This is what a $10,000 version looks like. “This is what a $100,000 version looks like.”
And then those went viral. And so day one, a month before we released the trailer for the documentary, the ads were getting a ton of people talking, and people were spending six minutes learning about Soapbox. So it was kind of a remarkable thing. I would say, in terms of how it’s done, it’s done really well, like better than we ever could have imagined.
And one of the things that are really interesting is the amount of time that people spent with the brand. Because if you watch it, you’re spending so many hours with the brand. It’s just so rare to do that, that that’s had a huge halo. And so, grand scheme of things, it had not hit 100,000 views, but it’s as if it’s millions and millions and millions of views of like a normal, one minute video. I think, and the trailer’s been seen millions of times. Like six million times or something, which is just ludicrous.
DR: Last question on this. In my mind, these things seem fairly risky, right? I would assume if you did 10 of these you might look back and eight of them kind of flopped and two went really well, but because no one’s doing it, I don’t even know if that’s the case.
Like, in your experience, these creative risks, how well do they typically go, and are they as big a risk as somebody that maybe thinks more direct-response really would think?
CS: It is a great question. I would guess for us because most people are to taking these types of risks yet if you can find a way to take a risk that no one else is taking, usually, the likelihood of success goes up a lot.
Like I don’t think it’s like 10% success. I think it could be more like 80%. If you can find the right angle and the right thing that no one else is doing. It’s, for us, it’s that same thing of we’re willing to invest in brand, and we’re willing to invest in longterm, and everything about Wistia is set up for that.
We did our buyback, where we raised debt to buy out our investors, and part of that was really setting us up to build this company for the longterm, and to be able to take the longterm risks. It feels scary to me if we’re not doing that stuff. We A/B test things on the site and we tweak lifecycle, email flows, and we do all the things that you should do if you have a bunch of traffic.
But a lot of that stuff, you’re just constantly locally optimizing, and the big creative risks for us are the things that are the global optimizations. They’re the things that can help you really take a huge step forward, and I mentioned this earlier but one of the things we’re also comfortable with is if we have a massive failure, we will still talk about it. And if you’re willing to talk about a massive failure, for me it reduces a lot of the risk because people like learning about massive failures.
DR: Have you ever had a failure that’s actually gone better than the success just because it failed?
CS: I think you could make the argument that we twisted the story of us over-investing in growth and running at a loss as a pretty massive failure in terms of waste of resources. You could kind of say it’s like burning $6 million or something. Just like lighting a flame and leaving it, and I think telling that story and doing the buyback has been massively huge for us, and so that doesn’t read like a failure, but there are definitely some moments where it felt like a failure.
I think it’s just your willingness to be open and share with others. In marketing, in particular, it usually does pretty well.
The Salty Six
DR: Very cool. Well, we’ve gotta wrap up here, and so to wrap up I’ve got what I call the salty six. Six rapid-fire questions to just get to know you a little bit more. You ready?
DR: All right, salty six number one.
Outside of work, what do you do for fun?
CS: I have two kids, so I hang out with them a lot. I like to rock-climb a lot, indoors mostly, to protect my life, but sometimes outdoors.
DR: What do you do for a morning routine, if anything?
CS: My morning routine is get up with my daughters at like 6:30, make breakfast, hang out, read books, take my older one to school, hop to the gym, come back to my house, and then head in. So I’m usually in the office like 9:30 or 10.
If I don’t work out, I lose my mind, and if I work out, I am a calmer, happier person. It’s like one of those things you realize like, if you can’t make time to do that then you’re not delegating properly or you’re not working on the right problems.
I’ve learned over the years, as has my wife, that if I have not worked out, she’s like, “You should probably go to the gym.” I’m like, “Uh-huh.”
DR: That’s awesome. Okay, as CEO, you’ve got a lot of stuff coming at you during the day.
How do you focus and dial it in?
CS: I have amazing people that I work with. I used to wonder a lot about productivity and really believe in productivity, and there are certain productivity tools that I love, like Superhuman. Fantastic tool.
But I got some really good advice once from Ben Chestnut who’s the CEO of MailChimp, and I was like, “What do you do? “How do you manage your schedule? “Tell me about everything.” He’s like, “It’s not a scheduling problem, man, “it’s a people problem.” “What are you talking about?” He was like, “Oh, well it sounds like “either you’re not delegating enough to those around you, “or you don’t have the people you can delegate to.”
And that is what stops people from getting the time to think, and that is what stops people from working on the right stuff. And it hit me like a ton of bricks because I realized there was a lot of things that I thought I needed to be in the thick of that, actually, I did not. And at this point, it’s like, we have an incredible chief of staff, incredible senior management team, great GM’s, great product managers.
The team is really strong, and I’ve learned that the way for me to get time to think is to really give the ownership of the problems to the people around me. And if you don’t think you can give the ownership of a problem to somebody, then they’re probably not the right person.
DR: Love it.
What’s a book that has deeply impacted you over the last couple of years?
CS: There’s been a lot of books at different moments that have been really important. I just reread “The Advantage” by Patrick Lencioni which is a great book on teamwork. And “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” is another one. One of my favorite though, is this book “Masters of Doom, and it’s about, have you read it?
CS: It’s about the founders of “Doom” who then went on to create “Quake” and all this stuff. This incredible rocket ship of business and a lot of it is about this co-founder relationship and a small group of people working together really well, and the impact that they can have, and then when it doesn’t work well. I’m always fascinated by people who recognize their strengths and superpowers and can figure out how to get the most out of them.
DR: Love it. Number five, what’s the best purchase you’ve made recently under 150 bucks?
CS: The thing that pops to my mind to ridiculous, which is I just got this thing called the Awair, which lets you measure the air quality in your home, and I know that sounds absolutely absurd, like why would you get that? But I went to California over Thanksgiving when the–
Awair air monitor
CS: The air quality was horrific, and I lost my voice for like five weeks because of that, and really, it shook me up. It was very bizarre. I had no voice.
And at that moment, the advice there was don’t go outside, but then I was reading all the stuff about air quality inside is often very terrible, and so I got this thing, and it is remarkable to see that when you’re cooking dinner and the stove is one, you can get this particulate matter in the air, and you get all these chemicals and shit, and you can start to feel lethargic.
And my wife and I have been talking about this, that like feeling so dead-tired at the end of the day. It was like, oh actually if you open the windows, even in the winter, right after you’ve cooked or as you’re cooking, you don’t feel that way, at least in our case, because the wrong stuff’s in the air, so that’s been really interesting. We’ve got an air purifier and all that stuff now.
DR: I’m gonna go buy that thing right after this. That sounds cool.
CS: Yeah, getawair, A-W-A-I-R, .com. It’s a beautiful little device, really lovely.
DR: Very cool, love it. Okay, last question.
What trait or characteristic do you have that you think has led to the success that you have today?
CS: I am an optimist and have always been, and I think I’m pretty good at getting people excited about new opportunities, and over the years, when I think about all the hard moments when you wanna quit, it’s often my default setting that puts me back to that that I think can help myself and the people around me get excited about what’s next and get excited about challenges, so probably that.
DR: Very cool. Awesome, man. Well, Chris, thank you so much for joining us. I learned a ton about brand-marketing or co-founder relationship, I found my new little gadget I’m gonna buy in Awair, and yeah man, if people wanna learn more about what you’re doing and kinda see some of this behind-the-scenes stuff, what’s the best place for them to find you and find that?
CS: Yeah, I’m on Twitter @csavage.
I write about the behind-the-scenes of Wistia probably about once a month at savagethoughts.com, and of course, you can check out Wistia, and that’s where “One, Ten, One Hundred” is and all that other stuff we talked about.
DR: Beautiful, awesome. Well, thank you so much, man. Thank you for watching. Look forward to our next episode. Find it on YouTube. Find it on the podcast app wherever you listen to your shows. We’ll see you guys in the next one!
This interview has been edited and condensed.