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Jesper Lindhardt, Trustpilot

Presentation at SlideShare: The details in how hard & persistent you need to work to conquer the world.

October 1, 2015

It’s great to be here. Trustpilot is a review site where consumers can leave reviews on online say buying experiences and the same for companies can also get a lot of insight and data in how their customers feel. There’s a lot of data to be learned in that kind of flow.

We’ve been around since 2007. Peter launched the company in 2007. The current business model is from 2009. So we’ve been around for 6—7 years now with the current business model. Today we are around 500 people. That’s been an interesting growth. I joined here in 2011. We were 15 people. We always talk about this journey thing and that has always been amazing and challenging at the same time as you all know.

Today one of the key measures we like to show about is that every month, the Trustpilot brand is exposed a million times, across say different search engines and everywhere—where we introduce our customers’ and consumers’ data. That is a lot of exposure. Today, roughly a third of our business is US. Roughly one-third in the UK and 10% in Denmark. So that’s where we are.

We’ve got a bit of money as well from different venture front, so around $117 million in total, because this is expensive to run shop like this and during this way.

I like to touch on a couple of drivers for what we do and how we do it. It’s called growth drivers. I think one driver for our business has been that it’s actually pretty simple—what we do. It’s very straight forward, at least on the outside. Behind the scene is not very simple. It’s pretty complex. It’s complex to scale and complex to keep data relevant and trustworthy in there, but beyond that the concept by itself is pretty simple. Most people know what a review is.

The other thing is, when it’s simple, it works everywhere. E-commerce is the same everywhere. We have customers in 70 different countries. It’s the same pain points we talk to—no difference. The difference are in verticals, not on the concept as such. And the same vertical act more or less the same everywhere. So that’s the beauty.

Another growth driver, I think we have been very much on, for the last 4—5 years at least is that there can be only one. It’s a winner takes it all market. I know multiple review sites and that is fantastic, but it all centralizes around a single site sooner or later. You all know probably trip advisor or yelp are dominating that space. We saw a space for a dominating player in e-commerce area. There is no such single player right now and that’s what we are fighting for. That’s why we focus very much country by country. When say winner takes it all, it’s country by country, even vertical by vertical. It’s a segmentation game more than it’s like everywhere. We cannot be everywhere. So even though we have customers in 70 countries, we focus all our effort in a few places. We started with the UK. We are the biggest player in the UK markets today. Then we went to the US. On online reviews like what we do, we are by far the biggest player in the US already. But we’re only scratching the surface of the opportunities.

In a space like this, where it’s kind of simple, where the winner takes it all, it’s all a matter of growing faster than your competitors. So that’s all it’s about—grow—grow—grow—fast—fast—fast and make sure you have enough money to actually do it.

And obviously that’s a lot of change on the road. Always, continuously, constantly. Sometimes it’s good fun. Sometimes it’s less fun. But it’s certainly—you learn a lot.

Another thing which maybe some of you will consider it very—very old fashioned is that one of our key drivers and a way to ignite the engine is good old fashioned sales. We sell. We sell what we deliver. We are not waiting for things to happen or people to pop by their home page or whatever, or do a lot of online advertising. We do, but it is all fueled by we have to ignite the engine, because our concept is basically based on content. Consumers deliver content to our engine. We need that to happen. The only way to get that to happen is we need to work at companies to invite their consumers or their customers to leave a revenue. And that fuels the engine and here we go. Then it becomes more and more valuable for other consumers to go in and check if this is a good place or a bad place to buy this chair or whatever it is.

It’s a lot of hard work, a lot of time on the phone cold calling. Lot of people finding it boring, but it works. And it has been a way for us to get it off the ramp. Today we are 150 and a bit sales rep in the company, just to set that example. It’s not necessarily the only way to do things, but it’s the start fuel for the concept.

On the challenge side, there are a ton of challenges here. I think a big one is that you need to able to focus on priorities. Prioritize what you do, it’s extremely important. These days old fashion business metrics are very much back in fashion. Which is kind of healthy especially for company the size of us and in the evolution path that we are. But I think it’s not out of fashion anymore.

Scaling is hard. Some of you know that very well. Scaling cost-effectively, is much harder. You have to be smart around that and you have a lot of learning in that route, because every time you scale on a software subscription model and software as a service model it has a lot of cost. And when you really scale hard in order to grow, the cost drives deep and your cash pool is not going to hold forever. So we have to find a way to turn that around and actually ignite it into being a profitable company. We are not a profitable company yet, but we’re getting there.

So really focus on what matters. Make sure you mesh on it. Make sure you have some objective measures to use. Back to data, everybody talks about data today. Data is crucial here. Track it, share it, make sure your organization is involved in that. And maybe an important one that’s not always easy as a smaller company, sometimes you have to learn to say no. Not always, but you have to learn to say no. And you will make mistakes on this. We have done a ton of them. Good learning.

Another thing is, I call it HR, but it could be called a lot of things. HR is also a concept for how you and we and everybody else develop products. But I think we try to use it across organization. It’s not a development concept alone. It’s more of an organizational concept. For us, it’s all about, we realized a certain time that we could have a lot of plans and think about big things we’d like to design and code and deliver down the road, but that was not actually always very good, because you never know what you really need until you get started. And that is not only development, it could be anything in the company. If we take a lot of smaller steps. If we try a lot of things constantly, we ought to fail obviously, but we learn a lot continuously and we kind of get to the right place at the end of the day with a lot of small steps rather than a few giant steps. Because you are potentially up for failure and that’ll cost with the giant steps.

So we don’t try to predict a lot of stuff. We have an idea of the direction. We have data for it and then we try it, experiment and we get there. And we do it across organization. Works well for us.

Going global is great. This is a fantastic country by all means, but as a market at least for us, it’s way too small. You have to go abroad. It’s a little bit sad to say sometimes we run dry from the talent pool. You are probably experiencing that sometimes, especially on certain types of talent. We have a lot of developmental talent which is good, but there might be other talent, commercial more specifically can be a little bit scarce. If you want to address the world from Copenhagen or Denmark, you may need to get out soon and find somewhere else to find talent as well.

I think the global mindset is key for us at least. We have 40 different nationalities on board today. We went abroad in 2011 to go to the UK, not with an office but served it from Copenhagen initially. We launched the office in UK in 2014. What I would say and what I’ve tried before is a little bit you try the country next door or you go for a smaller—say whoever knocks on the door, that sounds like an idea we could try. We kind of say, let’s take a big market, because we have to be there and we have to prove ourselves. And there were not enough competitors in our area, at least not back then, so why not. And we have succeeded extremely well in the UK. Probably we had a good mix of hard work and luck and what we did. And we are doing well in that respect. So going somewhere big should not scare anyone. It’s not that difficult. It’s not that difficult.

I think what you also need to be ready for is that when you do that there’s a lot of differences on how people are, culture, but the basic stuff is exactly the same everywhere. And the good thing is that Denmark is pretty well respected everywhere with a few hiccups. But we haven’t seen anywhere where we are not being embraced as being great. We are not a stranger anymore. As long as you don’t act as a stranger you are not a stranger. So just be confident and go out there.

Finally, I think we’ve spent some time on company culture. And especially that ladder where the team grows and the changes—that’s a lot of requirements. We have grown a lot as you can see and we need to be ready for change, and the CEO and the founder team needs to be very much ready for change. Totally agree on that. But you also need to be ready that things will change and it’s good. It’s not necessarily bad. It’ll be different. Less cowboy styled over time hopefully, but also not too professional. I think we have managed to do a good balance there where we stay startup style to a certain extent and we grow more professionally. We depend more and more on data and less and less on gut-feeling, but we still do a little bit of both. And sometimes we still do some good gut feeling as we can experiment in small steps. But I think the change is good as long as you are ready for it.

The other thing is that now we have offices in 5 different countries and the good thing is go to Trustpilot in London, New York, Melbourne or Berlin, it’s still the same Trustpilot. It’s still the same core values we base it on, but it’s with a twist. It’s with a local version. And a lot of those local good things we actually take back, also back to Copenhagen, because we learn a lot from that. We don’t know everything here, but we can be inspired to learn good stuff from other countries, which is great, but we never compromise on the values.

The other thing which I think is key for our culture is that how do we drive culture? Is it something we do deliberately, is it something we plan for, is it something we have a guideline for, not at all. I think it happens because we have some good values, we have a great founder who has managed to be the personal agent of our culture. Also in the other offices, I think it’s very important. But basically we are open for change in that respect. So we embrace those changes and especially when hiring. It’s probably the key part of culture here, is that you need to hire well and hire for value not for copies or anything like that. You should not hire copies. You need to hire somebody who are eventually smarter than yourself. Be brave enough to hire somebody who is smarter than yourself, because then you’ll actually learn something. Then you’ll grow your company. Otherwise you’ll just create a copy and maybe that copy is not right and therefore it could go wrong. So make sure you hire good and smart people. We are only as good as the sum of all the smart brains we have on board and we try to live like that every day.