Ask anyone who knows a little bit about the Barcelona tech scene which startup they think is currently the best, the coolest, the most fun to work for, and the answer will almost always be Typeform. When we started asking this question, we were intrigued by the unanimous responses and the rock solid brand awareness that seems to surround Typeform within the tech scene in Barcelona. Just what makes people experience such strong positive emotions, not dissimilar to affection, towards the company behind the popular, conversational data collection tool? To find out, we spoke with Sançar Şahin, Director of Marketing at Typeform, about the concept of human experience, life inside the offices of the coolest startup in Barcelona, how Typeform is so much more than just a survey-builder and how incredibly far their dreams may still take them.
HX, or Human Experience
One of the things that I find very attractive about Typeform is that you address the people who use typeforms as ‘humans’, instead of simply referring to them as ‘users’. I assume that the same approach applies to the people who work at Typeform. Where does this approach come from?
First of all, design and UX were at the center of how this company was born. Typeform was founded by two designers, which is a bit untraditional: generally, if you look at the typical startup founders out there, you’ve got the business guy, and another guy who’s in charge of the creative side of the business. Since we’ve got two very creative founders, design and UX has been running through the veins of this company right from the beginning. In fact, the business side of the business is what has had to be learned.
The founders had their own, separate design agencies, and they got together to work on a collaborative project for Roca, the company that makes toilets, who wanted an interactive form to be used in an exhibition space. So our founders started looking at what was out there, searching for a platform they could use to build something. And they couldn’t find anything! All that existed were boring, paper-based forms. So they set out to create their own platform, and the foundation of that was empathy. What would real people want to fill in? Real people don’t get excited by filling out standard forms. People want to interact, to have a conversation. So that’s how Typeform was born, out of empathy for the end user.
“We asked ourselves: why are we creating this? What’s the pinpoint? How do we expect people to experience this particular thing?”
We’re trying to drive forward a concept called HX, or human experience, which is beyond user experience, it goes one step further. It’s about how you make people feel – not only when they’re using your product, but also when they’re thinking about your product, or even when they are making your product as employees of your company. It’s nothing revolutionary, it’s just treating people like people, empathizing with them and understanding what makes them happy, what excites them, what frustrates them, what surprises them. We try and carry this approach through everything we do: not only the product, but the company as well.
Your office itself reflects this intention.
Barception is a good example – a lot of people might look at the bar we have right here as you step through the entrance and say “Oh, that’s a typical tech startup thing, they’re trying to do something cool.” And there is some truth in that. But this bar was specially designed for us, and the design or HX of this area had the same thought process behind it that a new product feature would. We asked ourselves: why are we creating this? What’s the pinpoint? How do we expect people to experience this particular thing? We were trying to figure out how we can make people who don’t usually cross paths interact with each other. So we created Barception, and it’s working perfectly. People from different departments come down here, have a coffee, talk to people that they’ve never met or don’t know very well, just because there is this central spot that was designed to foster an atmosphere of collaboration.
I think it was Steve Jobs – I know, typical, quoting Steve Jobs! – who had a proposal to only have one toilet in the entire office of Apple. The idea was of course that this way, everyone would have to cross paths eventually. I think it was rejected. He should have asked us for a better idea. (Laughs)
And these interactions are organic, not forced, which makes for a much more positive experience.
If you force people into a situation, you’ll never get the same outcome. We also do something called lunch roulette: we randomly assign two people to have lunch together. This may sound a bit forced, but it’s actually something that you opt into, you don’t have to participate in it. So once a week you’ll get a Slack message saying “Hey, you’ve been assigned to this person”, and it might be someone whose name you didn’t even know, or you may not have an idea which department they work in. And now you’re having lunch together. It’s kind of like a blind date.
Work the Way You Work Best
So how does a typical workday at Typeform differ from other companies that work in more conventional ways?
If you compare us to a more corporate company, there are going to be some very stark differences. We don’t have set working hours, we believe in getting the best of people when they can offer their best. We also have lots of different creative spaces: everything is designed to offer a space that you may need at any particular point in your day. Sometimes you need a quiet zone, and for that, we have a basement downstairs, which is very dark and silent. We’ve also got lots of spaces with just tables and chairs where you can have an impromptu meeting, we have a relax area where you can put your head down for 20 minutes if you want to, and we have lots of comfortable areas. The point is for you to be able to come here and just go with your own rhythm.
It’s a very flexible and collaborative environment: we’ve got a great team of people here, and every one of them has an entrepreneurial spirit. They’re all working on their own personal projects, a website or a product, on the side, and from sharing ideas and talking about personal projects, they actually solve a lot of problems in the business as well. Whether it’s that different from what other startups do? I’d say it’s more or less similar. But I think that’s great, because all those people are fostering a flexible environment and getting the best out of people.
“We always go by these three things: be smart, be humble and be passionate. If you have those traits, then it doesn’t matter where you’re from.”
How diverse is your team?
We have more than 40 nationalities! We hire from all over the world, and we put a lot of work into sorting out Visas and work permits. We relocate people from the US, from Eastern Europe, Asia, everywhere. In the Marketing team alone, we’ve got people from Canada, the US, Australia, the Dominican Republic, the UK, and so on. We’re very lucky that we’re in Barcelona, because the city does a lot of the selling for us. And ultimately, I think this is also good for Barcelona: if companies are bringing in the best talent, that’s going to have a positive effect on the ecosystem.
Is it easy to manage such a diverse team?
In my experience, it is. In fact, we make sure that we hire people with similar traits. Of course we want diversity in background, cultures, race and religion, but we do want consistency in the type of people we hire. We always go by these three things: be smart, be humble and be passionate. If you have those traits, then it doesn’t matter where you’re from.
And you’re constantly growing your team, right?
Yes, we’re pretty much always hiring. So if anyone is looking for a job, go to typeform.com/careers. We are growing pretty quickly: this time last year we were around 40 people, and now we’re 150.
What part does Typeform play in building the tech and startup community in Barcelona?
The truth is that we’ve still got a lot of work to do in that area. We’ve just recently moved into this office, where we now have the luxury of a space that we can offer to others for events. For example, tonight we’re hosting a meetup run by Google, and we’ll be doing a lot more of this in the future. The Marketing Team runs quarterly events, and all the other departments regularly organize meetups too, so we have one pretty much every week in the office. And of course we invite people from outside of the company too.
Barcelona: a Cross on the Startup Treasure Map
You mentioned that Barcelona is a great place to be, because people are already halfway convinced when you’re trying to hire them. What other advantages do you think the city has for a startup?
I think right now, on a practical level, office space is still relatively cheap, compared to other startup hubs like London, Berlin, and San Francisco, of course. You don’t have to be in the most central area, the city is not big enough for you to ever really get too far. Where we are now, in fact, is not exactly central, but it’s very accessible. On the other hand, there is a great community of startups and entrepreneurs in the city, one that is easy to enter into and not exclusive at all. If you think about San Francisco, there the big players are monopolizing the community, you can’t get into their inner circles and everyone else just fades into the background. If you’re a startup, it’s important that you have the chance to connect with people and tap straight into the community.
Here, the startup world is so small that if you work with a company, you’ll see people that you’ve previously worked with in different startups. Everyone is talking to each other, it’s a very collaborative environment. It’s a small city, it’s got its limitations, so I don’t think it can get so big that it’ll lose this community. Plus, the lifestyle itself is a huge selling point. Even if you don’t have that much funding and you can’t offer huge salaries to attract talent, you can use the city to your advantage and sell the lifestyle.
“Start with a real problem. If you can solve a problem for somebody, then everything will follow.”
What would your advice be for a startup that is trying to get started in Barcelona?
It depends on each individual situation, but what I can tell you in general is that you need to invest in real problems. Try not to create something that just feels like a cool startup product, don’t buy too much into the lifestyle of running a startup. Start with a real problem. If you can solve a problem for somebody, then everything will follow. Eventually you can live that startup lifestyle, be that cool founder of that cool startup, but thinking about that is not a good place to start. Just keep going, work your ass off, keep listening to people, keep getting feedback, and pivot when you need to pivot. The typical mistake that a lot of young startups make is that they’re so set on their idea that they refuse to listen to real feedback. And this kills them in the end. You need to find a product-market fit, and when you find it, just build on it. Don’t let the momentum get away.
Do More with Typeform
What are your plans for the near future, and what is your ultimate dream for Typeform?
Typeform is at a funny stage at the moment, because we’re being unwillingly pushed into a product category that we didn’t really mean to be pushed into. People think that we’re this survey-builder – which is true to some extent, you can build surveys with Typeform – but you can actually do so much more with it. What you can do with Typeform is collect data or information through a variety of use cases: that might be a survey, a feedback form, a quiz, an interactive story or a range of other things. The point is that what you’re doing is collecting information and data, but in a conversational way. So right now we’re trying to take control of the perception of the product and stress the conversational aspect of it. We’ve got some really exciting stuff in the pipeline, like product updates that are going to make it much easier to build typeforms, and the output of those typeforms is going to be much more conversational.
And to answer your questions about dreams and looking far into the future… You should hear the kind of stuff that people talk about in this office. We’re talking getting involved in AI, VR, and much more. Because if you think about it, we’re always going to have to collect information and data from people. The question is how we’re going to be doing that. We won’t always be doing that in a browser, with a form. For example, you’re interviewing me right now, and one day, maybe I could just be giving these answers, and in the background, Typeform would be collecting the answers as I say them, and structuring them into a place where you can find them later on, and maybe automatically transcribe them.
That would be amazing, because this voice recorder app I’m using? It just sucks.
And Typeform wants to be there for you! We want to be in all the places where people are collecting information and data. We want to help make that task easier and more enjoyable, both for the collector and the collectee – if that’s even a word. (Laughs)
And how are you going to go about changing the perception of Typeform?
That’s a tough one. I think we can do it with the help of education, being in the right places, building the right features, writing the right articles, going to the right events, talking to the right people. It’s a process, and it’s not going to happen overnight. We need to add some features to our platform to make it more conversational. We need to give people a reason to create more use cases instead of just surveys. There is so much you can do with Typeform.
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