Today I’m talking to David Darmanin, CEO of Hotjar, an all-in-one analytics and feedback tool for your website.
Hotjar is a six-product suite I personally use in my own business and recommend to others.
David’s background as an entrepreneur and conversion rate expert with a leading agency in the field gives him a lot to share with us on what works and what doesn’t. He believes that most marketing best practices are pure bull and that you should avoid them at all costs.
But more importantly, he's never afraid to say things as they are... You have been warned.
Listen in to our discussion and some great advice on how to improve your website and marketing.
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David: Today, best practices have become these outputs from blogs, from all these inbound marketers who are trying to get traffic and all these back links. We’ve polluted best practices to the point where I would say scrap best practices!
Louis: Bonjour! Bonjour and welcome to everyonehatesmarketers.com. I’m your host, Louis Grenier. Everyonehatesmarketers.com is a podcast of digital marketers who are sick of shady, aggressive marketing. I interview no-nonsense marketers, who are not afraid to cut through the bullshit and say things as they are. During this show, we learn how to get more visitors, more leads, more customers, more long term profit by using good marketing, by treating people the way we like to be treated.
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If you haven’t listened to the first episode with DHH, have a listen as I give more information about the concepts. In this third episode, I talk to David Darmanin, and he’s the CEO of Hotjar. Hotjar is an all-in-one analytics and feedback tool for your websites.
We actually use Hotjar everyday in our business. We use it to understand how visitors behave on our website, what they think, and what we could improve. It’s actually a suite of six products, if I am not mistaken, that you can set up on your website, such as heat maps, website polls, website recordings; and there are a few others that are very interesting. You can go to hotjar.com if you want to check them out. I actually discovered them on Product Hunt almost two years ago, and the way they launch their product is quite fascinating. We’re going to discuss that during the podcast.
By the way, I need to say that they are not endorsing me in any way. I’m just saying that because it’s the truth. I genuinely love Hotjar, and it’s a pleasure to have David on the show.
Before Hotjar, David actually worked for conversion rate experts, which is one of the biggest conversion rate optimization agency in the world. So here is what you’re going to learn in this third episode of everyonehatesmarketers.com. You’ll learn why his granddad is an inspiration for his endeavors and different projects. You’ll learn how he met his co-founders. You’ll learn why trade secrets are overrated, why you need to spend more time in the real world, why some small decisions you’re taking can change the face of your business for the worst, why you shouldn’t rely on best practices at all.
Then he’s also going to teach us the three most common wins on your websites that are actually very valuable. Those are not hacks or small tactics. Those are things that work - that will always work. Those are very interesting if you want to improve your website conversion rate or website sales. Finally, he’s going to share with us the one book that transformed the way he’s thinking about marketing. Have a listen, and let me know what you think.
Hi David, welcome to the podcast.
David: Thanks for having me.
Louis: You are very welcome. I’ve listened to one of your talks recently, and you’re saying that you studied law. What do you think is better - is it to study law and become a lawyer or is it to launch and run Hotjar as this new business?
David: Oh, that’s the trickiest question ever. I don’t think I would compare the two, but I’d say, to me, because I enjoy doing it, Hotjar is easier. Law is much more difficult. It’s not a surprise, right? But in a different way. But then, from a people point of view and focusing on building a movement, now we’re entering a phase where studying to become a lawyer is like nothing compared to this - mainly from a responsibility point of view.
Louis: You wanted to be a lawyer or did you go to study law just because you didn’t know what you wanted to do?
David: That’s a great question. At the age of 15, 16 in the country I am, and probably not just here, someone typically gives you this weird advice - or at least back then they did. Based on what you’re good at, like what you should be probably doing.
I was good at languages, and here in Malta, if you’re good at languages, “You’re a lawyer.” That’s it. I was quite opinionated, so that strengthened that direction even more. Pity that back then, no one realized if I’m good at languages, maybe I should be studying development, tech. But my passion bubbled through. I’m quite a hard-headed type of guy. Once I started law, then I wanted to finish it. But as many of my fellow students would say, I barely went to most of the lectures. I was busy opening businesses and had three jobs, so I was all over the place.
Louis: What do you mean three jobs?
David: I was sometimes juggling three different jobs, working different roles, part-time and stuff while I was studying law.
Louis: Then you moved on, I believe, your first full-time job as a designer project manager was last century. I don’t want to make you feel bad. It was in 1999, wasn’t it?
David: Yes it was. Thanks for pointing that out.
Louis: You’re very welcome. The transition between becoming potentially a lawyer to designer project manager - how did it happen?
David: That’s why I mentioned the jobs. Back when I was just starting at college and preparing myself for law, six-year doctorate nightmare, I participated in a program which is a European program called Young Enterprise. Basically it’s this idea that you start your own company, build your own company, you have a product, blah blah blah. It was such an exhilarating experience for me.
Back then I was already doing design just to make some money, and I always have been obsessed about somehow turning a profit by doing something. Then all of a sudden, I saw that my visual skills were applicable to business. That’s where it all started.
I continued doing this on multiple jobs, and the business I said I opened during the law doctorate - that was an advertising agency. It was kind of an evolution. By the end of the whole doctorate, when I finished and I went a few times to court, I was like, “This is not going to happen.” That’s where it was great to have the support of my family who said, “You’re a great designer. You have great leadership skills. Just go build, go do whatever you want to do,” basically.
Louis: You never really studied design. You learned it on the side, almost.
David: Correct. I would say a lot, a lot of self-learning. The break for me came after that. I had a few roles after university, but then I saw an ad in the paper. Back then I was trying to build a startup with my cousin, a tiny thing, but it was basically a WordPress back then. WordPress was still being built as well, but we had no chance in hell of succeeding. But I saw this ad in the paper, where the Swedish company Molter said, “We have millions of pageviews. We want someone to optimize this traffic.” I was like, “Ooh, it sounds like the perfect learning experience.” Yeah, that’s the job where I then went on to meet my four co-founders of Hotjar.
Louis: There is something I always want to know about somebody, and do you have any entrepreneurs in your family or are you the first one starting?
David: In today’s age, I’d say probably I’m the first one, but my grandfather is still alive. He’s in his 90s. He’s been quite an entrepreneur to be honest. He’s opened his own clothing shop. He self-taught himself how to become a tailor basically, then self-taught himself everything about running a bar and opened his own bar. A different type of entrepreneurship, but it’s definitely the same spirit, I would say.
Louis: Am I right to say that he might be an inspiration for you?
David: Could be. Actually I’ve never thought about that. I remember myself as a kid looking at him - yeah, I think you’ve just hit onto something there. Well done.
Louis: No, because I saw the two similarities in the sense that you learned this on your own and you crafted that after years of experience. You become very good at it, and seems like your grandfather did the same.
David: Yeah. I think so. I always remember from the very young age, I admired creators. That was for me, the main thing, more than entrepreneurship per se. In fact it took me quite a few years to truly understand the concept of profit and business. I created quite a few businesses, focused too much on the creation aspect and building value, only to then realize that that alone is not enough. You need to monetize.
Louis: Is there any particular event in your life that made you who you are today? Because you’re such a driven guy - you know what you want. You mentioned that you are a little bit of contrarian in a sense, which I am as well. Any particular event that you can pinpoint?
David: That’s a good question. I don’t think there was. At least my parents say that even from a very young age, I’ve always been very opinionated and want to question everything. I think it’s a mix of character, and as you said, it’s a mix of drive and just wanting to get things done. I consider myself to be a very very lucky person, but my character really satisfies my needs in a way, if you know what I mean. It’s like I find balance with myself.
Louis: After this first work experience, you created this advertising agency, you decided to quit law for good, and then you turned into this designer project manager, and you moved on to Conversion Rate Experts, which is a conversion rate optimization agency until two years ago. Then the magic happened, at least for us, because we are using Hotjar every day, and you are not paying me to say that. It’s the truth, and we had fun working with it. It’s not this type of tool where it’s a struggle to use, or you feel like, “Ugh, I need to use Hotjar again.” It’s more in the contrary. It’s like, “Hey, we’re going to have to use Hotjar today.” It’s a good thing.
I think you’ve achieved quite a lot in such a small amount of time, but going back to the very start of Hotjar, can you tell us how you got the very first customers?
David: Good question. We never thought about it that way, like, “How do we get our first customers?” In a way, it’s difficult for me to think back to how we actually did. The short answer to the question is we got our first customers, and we didn’t even realized we had our first customers.
The longer answer to that question is, before Hotjar, I worked in another company. I’m not referring to Conversion Rate Experts. Again, I’m not trying to be negative or point fingers or anything. This was a long time ago. You pointed out indirectly my age, right? But this company was run in the total opposite of the way Hotjar was run. In a way, when I’m speaking at events around the world, I always like to say, “Okay, so here’s this notion, this concept, and to explain it, I’m going to first tell you what is the opposite of it.” I really think that starting with the opposite really helps explain the other end.
In a way, this company that I worked for was kind of the opposite of Hotjar, and it drove us to build Hotjar the way it was. It was very revenue oriented, and everything was kind of hidden, very privately owned. There is the owners, and then there is the employees. We went out and did advertising, and we acquired customers. I had pushed to do a beta, but we were like, “No, beta is going to take us too long to make money.”
In a way with Hotjar, it was one grand experiment of doing nearly the opposite of everything. Which is in my previous company, when we did things that I didn’t believe in and maybe we made mistakes, I felt that our CEO should go out there and say, “We made a mistake, and here’s how we’re going to fix it.” But they never thought that way.
In a way, I wanted to build a company where the CEO would do that. Long answer to that question is from day one, we focused a lot on “Here’s what we’re building, and more importantly how we’re going to build it.” We resonated not only with what we were building, but how we were building it. The way we did the beta, the way we were transparent, the product roadmap. In essence, we had small sites using us, which we had no idea. We’re pet projects of people working in big Fortune 500 companies, who, then a few months down the line, were just so big believers, big fans of Hotjar that they got the customer for us, if you know what I mean.
Louis: That’s probably the best way to grow, isn’t it? For the listeners out there obviously, I will mention that in the show notes, but am I right to say that you have now 160,000 customers, probably more now, at this stage?
David: Not exactly customers. So those would be more…
David: Yeah. It’s actually more sites. Users, we have more than that. It’s complicated because with Hotjar you’ve got an account and then you’ve got organizations and then sites within, and then unlimited users. So it’s very difficult for us to give stats about what’s going on. But we like to use sites.
Our vision for Hotjar is we want to change the way the web is built. We want to become much more empathetic, much more user-driven. We measure ourselves based on sites. Our big, hairy, audacious goal is one day 10 million sites will use Hotjar. That means we’ve changed the way the web is being built. We use sites. Let’s say, we’ve had around 200,000 sites sign up for Hotjar, and I think we have around 160,000 active sites collecting data.
Louis: Such an achievement.
David: Thank you.
Louis: You’re a very transparent guy. That’s also why I wanted to connect with you and talk to you in this podcast, but I’m going to challenge you with this question. Can you share something that you never told anyone about Hotjar?
David: That’s a good question. Probably, not something I’ve never told anyone because I reveal probably way too much. One thing - because I realized I didn’t mention because at least you mentioned customers - we typically don’t mention customers. Actually customers - we have just shy of 10,000 customers, and that’s a metric we don’t share that much purely, because we don’t want anyone to think that we’re showing off or anything.
Something that we don’t say that much about Hotjar - one thing which is important to share, especially for anyone who wants to be an entrepreneur, is when we were starting off and building Hotjar, we honestly, really had no clue what we were doing. We figured out so many things later on, so I want to share this and I don’t get to mention that much on interviews because everyone - typically people interviewing me are focused on trying to make me look good for some reason, but I think it’s more interesting to focus on what have we learned. We really had no clue what we were doing, but I would say, just because we focused on what was important, our users and value creation, things just settled themselves out. [Admire David's transparency? Learn how to be radically transparent.] We figured things out. As opposed to maybe if we try to design success or to force it, then if you fail, then success kind of fails you. I’d say that that’s the biggest takeaway.
Louis: I guess that’s a great tip for people thinking of creating their own business, and I can share the exact same thing to listeners. We still don’t have much of a clue of what we’re doing day to day. It’s true. You probably still don’t. You’ve probably learned a lot, and you’ve made a lot of mistakes and you’ve probably found solutions to those mistakes, but there are so many things we still don’t know. That’s amazing, and that means there’s so much potential to grow, isn’t it?
David: Yeah. Actually when we recruit, it’s something that we really look for. We look for two aspects: one is a mindset of “I know I don’t know” and the second one is a proof record of learning, not experience - that they’ve actually absorbed knowledge or skills relatively quickly. Those are the two things, which are really important to us.
Louis: That makes sense. Talking about transparency a little bit more, for the listeners listening to this podcast and who don’t know much about Hotjar, one thing that blew me away the first time I saw it, is that you guys were sharing your product road map. You’re actually sharing in advance what features or what bugs or what fixes you’re going to work on, and that goes against every Fortune 500 or 5000 or 2000 - most of them vision and values like, “What do you mean? Are you sharing features to the world? But people will copy you. They’re going to clone what you’re doing. You’re going to be fucked.” What do you say to that?
David: That’s part of the “we didn’t know what we’re doing.” No, I’m joking. The thing is, in a way, if you really think about it, if our competitors look at our road map and follow us, that’s exactly where I want them to be. In a way, it’s a kind of - if I may and now following suit, I tend to drop the f-bomb every now and then.
It’s like giving them a brain fuck. It’s like “Here’s what we’re going to do,” and they’re like, “Shit, if this is what they’re going to do…” It’s kind of keeping the team on our toes that we need to move fast because we’ve already told everyone what we’re going to do. We’re not going to succeed based on what we’re going to do, but how we’re going to do it - how we’re going to execute on that. I think in general, the opposite of transparency - the whole trade secrets and business secrets and everything - are really overrated. That’s my opinion, at least.
Louis: I agree.
David: It’s not that mind-blowing to figure out what the company’s going to do next. You know what I mean? When we weighed it out and we saw the value of our users and customers knowing that we’re proactively planning ahead to fix the problems they’re telling us, versus a few competitors knowing what we’re doing but knowing not how we’re going to do it - it’s a no-brainer. That’s our take on it, and we might be wrong. We’ve been wrong many times before.
Louis: Am I right to say that you’re not sharing everything either. You keep a few surprises up your sleeves, right?
David: Yeah. Everyone does. I’d say we’re always careful in the road map to not reveal too much of what is what. We just released incoming feedback, which is a new beta this week, so we have that written on the list for quite a long time. But again, many people had no clue what that was going to be. In a way, we’re not idiots.
Louis: Obviously, it makes complete sense. Moving on to the realm of digital marketing and digital in general, there’s something that completely blows my mind still as of today, is that it seems like you have to remind businesses that they have to care about people: they have to care about their employees, and they have to care about customers. To me, that’s such a crazy idea to tell them that because that’s obvious. If you don’t have customers, you don’t have money. If you don’t have money, you can’t pay yourself. If you can’t pay yourself, your business is nowhere. Why do you think we still today have to repeat the fact that businesses have to listen to customer or at least to care about them.
David: I think it’s just part of human nature that some people are just maybe a little bit too greedy or a little bit too selfish, but I think what’s made the situation worse is that the whole evolution into digital has forced us in a way to be a little bit blinder. It’s so easy today to launch a digital business, and the interface in a virtual commerce between the business owners or the business and their customers is digital. It’s bits and bytes.
That filter in between - it makes it so easy to become lazy and look only at the numbers and the lines, and we’re guilty of this as well. It’s so easy to have a few weeks where you sit back and you see the lines going up and the numbers going well. You’re like, “Shit! Yeah, things are good.” But it’s so easy to not realize that there might be big cracks opening up that the numbers don’t show. In a way, our vision with Hotjar is actually to build a tool that gives you that empathy that kind of breaks that down.
In fact, it’s kind of ironic that as a software-builder, when I’m out at events, I always remind people, because they are always super energized by this idea. We want to use Hotjar, and we love Hotjar. I tell them, “The most valuable tool you have is your eyes, your ears, your brain. And thank God, no SaaS company has built a model around that yet.” But just because there is no one who built a model and blogging about it and tweeting about it, it doesn’t get the same level of visibility as the rest. I think it’s the whole digital movement has impacted it a lot.
Typically, the companies that are really good about caring are the ones, where the founders have innate character strengths that are related to that. For example, I am very lucky. I did the Strength Finder, which is an awesome book I highly recommend, and one of my strengths is called individualization. Apparently, I see the world from other people’s eyes.
It is a fact even from a psychological or physiological point of view that certain humans are more adept at being more empathetic. In a way, companies that don’t have this in the founding team - bring it in. Find someone, who is empathetic, and then bring that on board. I think the lack of females on board is probably one of the biggest reasons why we have not a lot of empathy, actually.
Louis: I completely agree. I don’t know if it’s connected, and I think it is connected. I’ve read a research somewhere recently that if you have more women than men in your business, at least more 50-50, your business will work better, will innovate better. To me that makes sense. That’s why in our business, we always try to reach at least 50-50, but if we could, we will get more women than men. I know it was not a joke, but I think it makes sense.
David: It makes sense. The way I meant it was not a sexist reference, but more like the fact that if you are a panel of five men selling to men and women, at the outset already you cannot be empathetic. Then there are studies, which actually show maybe not conclusively that women are more empathetic than men, but anyway even if we just take it on the concept of “it’s so easy to build a founding team and surround yourselves with people that see things in a very particular way already” can block your empathy, let alone the digital filter we talked about. If I would say anything, it would be, to founders or budding founders or entrepreneurs is just to spend more time in the real world speaking to customers face-to-face and whatnot.
Louis: You touched on your vision for Hotjar. Can you just repeat it briefly - your vision for Hotjar?
David: Yes. I don’t know if it’s good or bad, but early on, we decided we wouldn’t share our vision that much. We thought our users maybe don’t care that much about our vision; they care more about what we’re building. But our vision is basically we want to change the way the web is built and improved by democratizing user analytics and feedback. In a way, it’s what we just said - by breaking down that filter, that divide.
Louis: Because that’s a question I usually ask, and I always start by stating the fact that internet is quite polluted at the minute. You can see a lot of pop-up ads and a lot of ads that people don’t want to see. People protect themselves with ad blockers. There’s a lot of content - too much content. You don’t know where to look. It seems like a lot of companies are just producing content for the sake of it, and I think people get sicker and sicker of that. But I think you already answered the question I wanted to ask, which is how do you think marketers could make internet a better place? But based on your vision, marketers could make internet a better place by being more empathetic, by listening.
David: I think so. Because it’s interesting. Ask a marketer that does pop-ups on their site, “What type of business do you want to have? Or if you were a taxi company, what type of taxi company do you want to be? Do you want to be the guy on the corner bugging everyone, like at the airport? Those guys that were like, ‘Want a taxi? Want a taxi? Want a taxi?’ Or you want to be the taxi brand that everyone books because they are the safest? Or do you want to be the restaurant on a busy street, bugging everyone that passes by? Or build up a reputation of being a good eatery?”
In most cases, I see them like look back at me in astonishment, like they never thought about it that way. They don’t realize that these small decisions they take are transforming their business. So yeah, I agree with you. I think marketers have such a big responsibility in shaping what the business is going to become because the behavior of the sites is the behavior - like comparing to the brick and mortar, it’s the behavior of the people. It’s the same thing, just converted into digital.
Louis: I’ve been saying that for a while about the pop-ups as an example of the pollution. Some people were coming back to me saying, “Hey. But it works. It just works. You get more subscribers because pop-ups just work.” What I usually say to that, and I think it’s connected to what you’re saying, is the fact that it’s not because you get more of them that they will be more engaged with your brand.
Basically the more you were going to get, the less quality leads you’re going to get out of it. Because you cannot force them for something that they don’t really want, and they are like, “Okay, I’ll just do it,” and then on the long run, those people are not going to be as valuable as the one that actually genuinely want to be part of your family, of your brand, or follow your movements.
David: Agreed. I always try to avoid to generalize. I’m sure that if we spend some time, we could find cases of where some kind of pop-up behavior could help with an experience, even though we both probably disagree about that, but let’s just for the moment not generalize. It all comes down to “What do you want to achieve?” If you’re in it for a two-year job and you just want to get a raise, maybe a pop-up is the way to go. You can impress someone and get a raise. But if you’re building a business that is in it for the long game - I love to call it the long game, like the long term wins. You have a north star, then basing your decisions on that will definitely change the path you take.
Louis: I think it’s much easier to do such a thing when your DNA, your company, your leaders in the company believe in the same thing. I think if you’re an isolated person trying to do good in your company, it might be much tougher. But yeah, to clarify what pop ups, what I really always mean when I say that is talking about aggressive pop-ups.
David: I thought so. The abandonment ones.
Louis: For example, the ones that piss people off. There are some very good ones that could work very well, depending on who the people are and what they’re doing on the website.
I’d like to go a little bit deeper now into actual tactics and things that people can take away from this episode and actually do on their site. I watched a few of your videos, and I kind of know the answer to this question, but listeners probably don’t. What best practices are there in the field of conversion rate optimization or online growth in general you think are plain wrong?
David: All of them. I know that sounds extreme, but we are kind of pretty much completely against the notion of best practices. We make a distinction between best practices and (what I call) quick wins.
Quick wins are the no-brainers. Building up commitment instead of asking someone to fill out a 30-field form. The conversion killers, if we want to call them that. Less noise, more wide space. One could call these best practices, but I’m saying I’m against best practices purely because today, best practices have become this outputs from blogs from all these inbound marketers, who are trying to get traffic and all these back links. We’ve polluted best practices to the point where I would say scrap best practices.
There’s another aspect to it as well, which is we are entering a phase, where competition has never been in the way it is. If we look just at the tech stack of tools in every possible area we can imagine, like starting from marketing tech or ad tech or whatever, there is going to be just so many players out there - so many companies competing with each other, that if you are relying on best practices, you’re already screwed. You need to be different; you need to stand out. If you’re running your marketing on your business based on the playbook that someone else wrote, you’re pretty much fucked because the chances are that you are the only one doing that are quite remote.
At Hotjar, we’ve identified three key enemies that we have as a business because with this vision - again, I told you, I always like to think “define the opposite.” Our three opposites are: leading in front, best practices. We hate that. Second is the hippos. The highest person in the room or the client or whatnot. We like to think that Hotjar gives the proof to marketers and designers to beat the hippo , and then the third is design fads. “Flat design is in or this color is the way to go, and project slick” and all these stuff. I can’t tell you the amount of times I had a client tell me, “We’re working on a big project right now. It’s called Project Slick.” I don’t want to hear about that.
If I had to share tactics and stuff, I’d say, really focus on, one, empathizing with the experience of your site, like literally record yourself using the site. Do it every now and then, or watch other people doing it. Use a testing site. Usually this is every client that I worked with when I was consulting, this was always the biggest opportunity that they don’t truly realize the experience they are putting their users through. Start from there because I guarantee that you’re probably clueless. It even happens to me.
I was just thinking yesterday, “Shit, I haven’t done it in a month,” and I was recording myself using the site and onboarding the tools. I was like, “Oh my god, this is so horrible. We have to fix so many things here.” Because it sheds light on the date I’ve been seeing. Put things into perspective. Focus a lot on that.
Then also within the company, start thinking and investing your time. Think of ways of how you’re going to spend more time with your customers. What are going to be the models, the kind of campaigns, the systems you’re going to put in place to do that? Are you going to have a customer time webinar? Are you going to start doing cold calls? Should you jump on a bus and spend one week every quarter running around meeting customers? Nothing beats the field study approach, if you want to - some of the biggest breakthroughs from scientists did not come from them analyzing past results from other scientists in a lab. They went out there, and they did field studies. They got their hands dirty. It’s the same concept, but obviously I would be pissed off with myself if I didn’t leave you with some tactics. So I have to give you some kind of quick wins.
The things that I like to mention are, definitely - I mentioned them kind of a little bit. The most common win that most conversion agencies or in-house teams always get - typically always wins is removing shit. Just kill stuff from the site or from the page. That’s one of the big values of using like heat maps and recordings. What are people actually using? What are they interested in? Get rid of all the other stuff and just focus. The world is becoming busier, busier, busier. There’s no time. Definitely, at least try and test making things simpler. That’s one.
Two, build up commitment. Again, because time is becoming so much more limited and we’re becoming all so much more impatient, I can drop a little gold nugget here in our polls and surveys that we see with our customers. Time is coming up more and more and more across all industries, across all companies. When we ask people, “Why didn’t you sign up? Why didn’t you buy?” “I don’t have time. I don’t have time. There’s no time.” Build up commitment. Can your process actually be broken down into more steps, as opposed to less steps, because more steps build up commitment - easy, simple steps to build up commitment. Test experiment a lot with different ways of building up commitment. That is definitely a big win.
Then third one that I’ll leave you with is do not underestimate the power of social proof, and experiment with different ways of doing it. Basecamp is a company that does this really well. They’ve experimented with showing photos of their customers and quotes. Now they have this awesome new homepage that is like an endless scroll of thousands of testimonies. Really, really clever. I wonder if they got a big win from that.
Spend time investing, getting your company onto famous magazines or sites so that you can then use that endorsement and getting your customers to give you testimonials that you can then show on the site. Definitely invest a lot of time into that.
Louis: Before going back into the tactical stuff, I’d like to come back to what you said, and I think it is very important - about the difference between best practices and quick wins. Our way of thinking about this is that ask yourself the question, “When you hear about a best practice, is it going to be true in 10 years?” And if it’s not going to be true in 10 years or if you’re not sure, then it’s a best practice. If it is going to be true still in 10 years, then it’s a quick win. The reason behind that is that people are not going to change. We are animals. Our evolution started billions of years ago; it’s not that in five years, it’s not going to change. The way we think, the way we behave, it’s always going to come from the same thing.
If you’re doing things based on this behavior, based on actual people’s way of thinking (and what motivates human behavior), it’s probably a quick win. It’s probably something that is so deeply rooted in our DNA that it is never going to change. But the caller of a call-to-action based on absolutely nothing else, it’s going to change because probably in 10 years, we’re not going to have websites in the current form. We’re probably not going to have website for most; it’s probably going to have to be live chat, whatever. We’ll talk about that later. But that’s usually how we spill it.
David: I could not have put this in a better way. In fact I remember being impressed a year ago, I had a quote - or I think it was an article or interview with the guys at Amazon, who I’m deeply impressed by, for the business that they’ve built. Basically one thing which was kind of quite pivotal for me to really process - and I think about this quite a lot - which is they said at Amazon, they invest a lot and a lot of their strategy is around, just as you said, the things that don’t change. They believe that winning today and winning in 10 years’ time has nothing to do with the tech, but it’s just investing in the thing. So people will always want fast delivery, people will always want great service, people will always want a lot of choice of products. These are fundamental human needs. Spot on. I like the way you put that. I’m stealing it.
Louis: Actually I’ve learned that from Basecamp, and it’s funny because we have the same people that we follow. I’ve learned it’s called The First Principles in Philosophy, and if I remember well, I think it’s Taoism that’s talking about that a little bit, if I’m not mistaken. The best way to be in the business is by focusing on the first principle, which is things that will never change.
For us, just to give an example, one thing that will never change is that companies will always try to understand people, their customer. It’s not going to change; we’ll always try. However, in 10 years or 20 years, will they care about the design of the websites? You know what? We don’t know because perhaps in 20 years, there won’t be much of a website to build upon. Perhaps, one website is going to be built for one person. It’s going to be artificial intelligence building it for you, creating this connection, and basically everything on the website will be different. Every interaction we have with somebody will be different.
This is the best way to do it. It is by focusing on, as you said, the things that will never change. It’s tough to think about, and actually it’s Elon Musk who’s talking about it as well. He has a very good interview. I don’t know if you watched it. He’s in his factory. He’s talking to this guy who interviews entrepreneurs, and at the end he’s saying the one piece of advice for entrepreneurs and anybody out there is to think about first principles. It’s much tougher to think about first principle rather than analogy, but it actually creates new opportunities because you think about the core of everything instead of comparing yourself.
David: I love that. I haven’t seen that interview, so I just wrote that down actually.
Louis: We’ll show that on the show notes for the listeners out there, who are interested as well. I’ll send you the address. Coming back to the tactics. You actually started to answer a question I wanted to ask you after, which is great. Let’s visualize the fact that we are a digital marketer in a business with a website that is working quite well already with quite a lot of visitors, and you’re tasked to understand why things are not working or why conversion are not there.
You mentioned three things, which we already do, such as doing user testing yourself. Doing user testing or hiring a panel of user tests to do that for you. Then you mentioned number two. I don’t remember now.
David: Using recording technology, like we have in Hotjar, for example. Many other tools have it as well. It’s the ability to pretty much record how HTML is being consumed and recompiling it. You can actually see how your visitors are using the site. That is another form of great empathy.
Louis: Do you have a methodology? Would you give a methodology to those people to use, to fix those issues?
David: To fix the issues that you find throughout its process?
Louis: More like the issue in the business, saying, “Hey, the website is not working.” What methodology will you use to go through this?
David: Oh god, I could spend the whole interview just on that I think. In a nutshell, I’d say the key concept to start with when you’re optimizing is that the big variable in optimization is resource. The big limitation is resource.
If one, you are optimizing the wrong thing, then your chances to success is nil. The most important thing. It’s the thing that most optimizers get wrong the most common - is choosing what to optimize because - sometimes when I speak, I also do this. The average job is five years. Five years is 260 weeks. It’s not a lot. 260 weeks is not a lot. Let’s assume that you can test once every two weeks, and if you can, that’s really fucking lucky. We’re already half. Assume for holidays leave - half again potentially. Assume all the problems, anyway, and then assume the tests that fail - I think I remember that every year, you’re pretty much down to a handful of potential successes. You really need to choose the places where it matters.
This is going to be an analogy interview. Just like a surgeon, that you go in because you have problems, he’s not going to look at the veins in your fingers. He’s going to look at arteries with big flow. One of the key things as optimizers to understand - where are the big levers of success? Which part of the site? Which step in the flow is the one where I need to focus on first?
We typically suggest that you start by looking at where are the biggest drop off points. If there is a funnel, the classical funnel, where is it that we have the biggest flow and the biggest drop off of that? So that is your biggest opportunity. That allows you to then anchor your empathy.
I then actually tell our users, our customers at Hotjar - I tell them, “Don’t look at recordings of people abandoning at that point though, because that’s the mistake most people do. Because then you’re seeing the result, you’re not understanding the reason.” Then I like to look at 200 recordings. I know that sounds like a lot of work, but that’s how you succeed, with hard work. You watch 200 recordings of people converting, but observe their behavior at that point, which is your biggest drop off point. Where are they hesitating? What are they doing? And then ask a question at that point and ask a question at the very end.
Asking at that point, quick question, “If you decided not to sign up by blah blah blah, what was it that stopped you?” And then ask at the end, to the ones that did convert, “What was it that nearly stopped you from converting or buying or signing up?” It’s these data points, which we call the big picture at Hotjar, which give you this holistic empathy, and that’s really where you start to connect the dots and say, “Shit! This is what we need to fix.” That’s the methodology. It is very qualitative, but I am a big believer in the qualitative approach.
Louis: You produced a diagram that I think you summarized it quite well. We’d show that on the show notes as well. But that’s actually really valuable, and I think a lot of digital marketers, they attend to look at numbers maybe too much as we mentioned before instead of being a little bit more empathetic towards actual people. Because emotions are very difficult to quantify, but when you talk to five customer who are already pissed off about a particular page on your website, that’s going to stick to you. That might actually help convincing your boss to change things much more than a spreadsheet full of numbers.
David: There’s an interesting point there, which is the qualitative side - the empathy is kind of like a torch or spectacles that allow you to interpret the numbers then. I can’t mention to you the endless amount of times that I’ve worked with clients and even at Hotjar, where because I’m empathetic and I’ve spoken to customers, they were looking at Google Analytics or some kind of events tracking. I see the team - they’re coming up with theories, so “This drop off there or people are doing this because we think that this is happening.”
I was like, “Guys, I spoke to 10 customers yesterday, and they were all confused by that. That’s why they’re adding it to the cart 10 times. It’s not because they want 10 of them.” It sheds light. It allows you to then understand the numbers. Without that, you really are looking at the numbers in the dark.
Louis: It goes back to what we talked about. What do we know that would still be true in 10 years? I know what would still be true in 10 years is that people connect with stories.
Louis: Our brain is geared towards listening to stories and caring when stories are being told because that’s how we evolved in hundreds of thousands of years. I think it goes to the next question I wanted to ask, which is how do you actually convince the C-suites, managers, and leaders in a company to actually start caring about people? We already started to answer that I think - telling the story of the user instead of the numbers could be a start.
David: That’s a very good way of putting it. We noticed, for example - this is less internal and more in a client environment - that clients are much more persuaded and really enjoy visually seeing what their users and customers are doing. We all engage with that. As you said, it’s just the ability to see the experience, the story. We all love seeing a story.
I think, yeah, visual proof is definitely kind of our take at Hotjar. We always try and think “How do we visualize this? How do we make it really easy to grasp or sell to others?” So I definitely agree with that. Then though there is a cultural piece, which is some C-level people just don’t connect the dots between: when you do something that people care about, it actually impacts the business. Honestly from the bottom of my heart, if you work in a company, where you don’t see the opportunity to change that and you see that is happening, just quit. Move to another company where they do. Time is the most important resource of all, so don’t waste your time with companies that don’t think that way.
Louis: For a leader that doesn’t think this way but wants to change, how would you try to convince this person?
David: That’s a good question. It’s like trying to bring the horse to the water thing. I’ll try to convince him by getting his team to quit. That’s going to be my approach. It’s difficult. It’s very difficult to persuade someone, who does not have a user-oriented mindset, to see the light [Want to learn psychological principles to persuade customers to buy? Read this or this]. It is very difficult, so I will not pretend to have the answers on this. I don’t think I know the answer to that question.
I think the best example is to show examples of companies that have failed because of it and others that have succeeded because of it, but my gut feeling of knowing some people, who are like this, is that that might not be enough. Some of us just need to go through the journey of seeing that that doesn’t work, unfortunately.
Louis: That makes sense. Moving on to the future, I think we talked about the future a little bit, but what do you think marketers should learn today that will help them in 5 years or 10 years?
David: I think the key skillset for a marketer, more important than anything else, is copy. It’s mastery of words. Secondary to that is how to visually present the words, and I say “secondly” because visual is the interface of today. But it might not be the interface of tomorrow. But words and language are the universal kind of interface. I see so many marketers and businesses and founders, entrepreneurs - it’s nearly universal - that have great idea, have great execution but just fail to have what I call “salesmanship in web.” It’s the ability to communicate your ideas to an audience and explain why they should be buying from you - why they should come to you.
I was kind of lucky back in the day. I actually used to do some parties as well, so amongst many other jobs, I still organize events. We had a community, a big following, and I used to send SMSs every week and emails. This was my opportunity to experiment with wording and text that worked and being more authentic. It’s really important for marketers to learn what wording and the importance especially today of authenticity, and not this old style copy of writing in a technical way. Honestly, if you cannot master this as a marketer, you’re just going to be a shitty marketer basically.
Louis: So it’s how to communicate with other people - how to convince other people. I like that. The copy, visualization, and the authenticity - I think that’s a good mix of things that people should start learning today. I know it’s a difficult exercise to ask you, but technology is changing so much at the minute, what do you think the internet is going to look like in 10 years?
David: I wish I knew the answer to that question. I can answer the question of where we see it evolving to, right? The internet is pretty much been shit to date. It’s crap. It’s like a collection of HTML files and horrible technologies that just don’t work together, and it just feels like finally, we’re starting to fix that in typical humanity fashion. We’re starting to do that at the point, where competition is incredible and there’s reaching saturation points, and there’s nowhere else to go.
I think the internet is going to become more about the relationship. It’s going to become more about the interaction, and it’s going to become personal. The interface of that is difficult to imagine, but I imagine an experience, which nearly transcends the internet, which is nearly irrelevant of it.
I think in 10 years’ time - because 10 years is a long time. I don’t even want to think about how I was using resources 10 years ago. But my gut feeling at the accelerated rate that we’re moving is that the experience is going to be more personal. It’s going to be much more contextual and intelligent. We will need to make less effort to get to the tools and the resources we need based on the context of the day or location or whatnot. That’s based on the technology already available. It’s just going to be a no-brainer, so we said personal, contextual, and definitely - it feels like we’re on the same page - it’s going to be much less visual.
Voice, so the whole verbal thing - I’m really big on that. I really believe in it. Just because we might be doing it in the wrong way now, might mean that it might not be available in 10 years’ time, but God knows. Yeah, I would say contextual, personal, and more human; so that’s why verbal is where I would put my chips - I’d put my chips on that box.
Louis: Right. Two questions before we wrap up. What are the top three resources you would recommend digital marketers to read or view or watch or consume?
David: There is one book that has transformed my idea of marketing completely and basically made me realize that, again, the world we live in today has made marketing mean more about reach and more about channel, but marketing really has nothing to do with that, in my opinion. It’s called The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing. The title can be misleading, right?
In every book, there is the good and the bad, but what I love about this book is it focuses a lot about the concept of positioning. The main concept in the book is that marketing is a battle of the mind; it’s not a battle of products. I really love - this completely changed the way I think about marketing. All of a sudden, after reading this book, looking at Google Analytics or how the ads are doing or whatnot does not interest me anymore. It’s still important. Someone is looking at them, but for me, as a marketer, I see myself more as a general overseeing the battle of the minds. How are we going to be perceived and what moves are we making next to generate demand for us? That is definitely one resource.
Number two is - we mentioned copy already, right? You’ll notice I’m a big believer in books. I read blogs, but I think they’re not even close to the deep reading and on topics you get from books. Reading about copy, in general, I think is really important. Anything related to the work by John Caples, (there are many copywriters out there), Dan Kennedy - go out there and discover what was the beginning of advertising. What did they learn writing copy and getting people to act 20, 30, 40 years ago? Getting to the roots of how this whole movement started is so important.
The third is, I would say, train yourselves in UX. Go out there - the minimum would be, if had to mention a book it would be, Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug, who’s awesome. Maybe go out there, get a course, use tools. Become the closest you can be to a UX person. Because essentially marketing is becoming (we talked about in 10 years’ time where we’re going) more and more the experience. If you don’t understand how the experience is designed and measured, then you’re going to become an irrelevant marketer very quickly.
Louis: Who do you think I should interview next?
David: If there were no limits - and this is more from a marketer's point of view, Steve Krug would be one hell of a person to interview. I’ve send him a few cold emails, but he hasn’t replied to me yet, but I will manage. Maybe he hears this interview. Just send me an email, Steve. Man, I’m waiting. And Jay Simons from Atlassian. He’s the man.
Louis: I’ll use that as an excuse to send them a cold email.
David: That’s a good way of doing it.
Louis: Or we could go at it together.
David: That’s a good one.
Louis: Alright, David, you’ve been absolutely awesome. Where can listeners connect with you and learn from you more?
David: They can find me on Twitter. Unfortunately, I don’t have exactly the easiest surname but it’s @daviddarmanin. But if you just search Twitter David Hotjar, you’re going to find me. Basically, yeah. I don’t interact as much as I should, but if you ask me a question, I always reply. I love to interact in that way. We are a big believer that the whole company does support, so if you are a user of Hotjar or you’re a customer and you ask questions on chat, it will get redirected to me, and I do answer questions. So that’s the best way to get in touch with me.
Louis: Super. David, thanks again for all of your time. We’ll share the notes of this podcast and all the stuff we talked about as soon as it’s published.
David: Thanks for having me. I’m really impressed by the movement you’re creating. Really clever questions, and I honestly really enjoyed this debate, man. Well done.
Louis: Thank you very much.
David: Thank you for having me.