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Welcome to the Ninth episode of Founder's session, where I have a chat with the founders of SaaS companies on their journey building the product & company.
This session's guest is the Founder of a product that is a lead generation, conversion optimization, and website personalization tool that's focused on e-commerce.
Let's meet Sergiu Cazac, Founder & CEO of Personizely.
We will discuss the product in detail and upcoming plans with Sergiu.
Hello Sergiu, Welcome to Founder's Session.
Hi Yusuff, glad to join you for a chat.
Can you explain briefly what is Personizely and what is the problem it solves as a SaaS product for a business?
Personizely is a conversion optimization toolkit that helps marketers and site-owners get the most out of their website using widgets and website personalization.
Our main focus right now is e-commerce but it works well for almost any industry as we have customers across different niches.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your background when it comes to tech and SaaS?
I am initially a self-taught software engineer. I started creating sites and playing with code at the age of 14. At the point at which I understood that I could just create a site from my little town to be available to the whole world, there was no coming back - I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
I’ve done freelance for a while and then worked at two SAAS startups where I built my vision and understanding of this kind of online business. I feel like I always knew that I wanted to build and run a SAAS company.
I always liked working on products, creating experiences, delivering solutions for customers across the globe, so that’s where I am now and I am happy.
What was the primary motivation behind building Personizely? When was the first line of code written?
At the point when the first ideas of the product arose, all the products in the space were either very expensive or had a subpar user experience so we thought that would be an interesting niche to tackle, as we felt that we could bring in something new.
Our focus was always to bring a very smooth experience to our customers so this is accessible to marketers with any level of technical expertise.
The first line of code was written in November 2015, and it was just a side-project initially, so it took a lot of time, but we still launched 3 years later.
I still think that if I was more robust we could’ve been way ahead of a lot of competitors that appeared in the market during that time but I have no regrets as I’ve taken my time to develop my skills and a vision.
What are the primary channels you have promoted & marketed Personizely until now? Are there any plans to expand the growth channels?
Our main channel is Shopify’s app store and a lot of features we built are focused on that audience. But we are also starting to invest in other traditional channels like SEO and PPC.
What is your vision for Personizely as a SaaS product?
My vision and not only for Personizely but for any SAAS product is that it should be solving a real problem and it should be solving it with class.
I am very opinionated on the fact that software should look good and consistent, hence have a good UI and UX design.
Very often, when choosing a software vendor for a certain need I am very inclined to choose the one with better design and I try to build my own products keeping that in mind.
I think the customer should take pleasure using the product and the experience should never create new problems but make them fade away or disappear.
Website personalization is getting huge traction of late and there are very few SaaS tools in the space actively into it with a good and reliable product.
Even the few that exist like Proof Experiences, Mutiny, etc. have mid-market to enterprise companies as their focus. How do you see the potential for such a product in the SMB space?
Website Personalization is indeed getting a lot of traction. There are a lot of factors facilitating that, including the availability of more and more data and with marketers getting more educated on this topic and how to use it in their projects.
I believe that personalization can be used in almost any business size and it can optimize almost any marketing process, the question is how efficient it can be for small businesses and will it break the ROI threshold for them. I think it can still be done but it’s quite a challenge.
Making it available for small and medium-sized businesses is something that we want to do and the biggest challenge is providing enough educational resources to help customers achieve real results with it.
Otherwise, if not used right, by getting subpar results, and not breaking the ROI, people can lose faith in its efficiency. We plan on offering courses and webinars in the future to help our target audience educate themselves on this topic and we want Personizely to be one of the go-to products for implementation.
Can you give a range of the number of customers that use Personizely today?
We currently have around 500 customers.
The product looks to be focused on e-commerce websites & stores. The plan is to keep focusing and go deeper in e-commerce or to branch out to other niches as well?
Our plan is to nail down the e-commerce niche and only to only chase other niches after. We of course have customers in other niches but they come organically as the product is actually built with wide use-cases in mind.
Is it possible to give the split between the revenue coming from widgets and website personalization?
The most popular cases used by our customers are Widget-related because it’s easier to understand and see the benefits of it but we’re planning to educate our current and potential customers better about how Personalization can help them.
Website personalization is something that seems too complicated for beginners and we’re looking to make it look easier and an obvious solution in the future.
Bootstrapped or raised capital? Any plans in the pipeline to raise funds?
We are fully bootstrapped and are looking to keep it that way for now. But we’ll see what the future holds.
What is the major shift in the SaaS industry in your perspective in the past 5 years and how you see it evolve over the next decade?
One of the things that I noticed and one of the many that I think happened is the fact that a lot of products that were only available for enterprise-level companies are now available to companies of all sizes.
A lot of fancy tools (including website personalization as an example) were something only the big players could afford to use, but with the insurgence of a lot of small and robust SAAS startups who target different business sizes and come at reasonable prices - this fancy stuff became available to anyone.
The only issue remaining is educating those audiences to get value out of them and I think that’s something to look up to in the future.
Your favorite SaaS tool apart from yours and why?
There are quite a lot but I really like Crisp. A small team that built an amazing product.
As a SaaS company from Eastern Europe, how is the SaaS landscape over there? Recently, I see a lot of very good SaaS companies from Eastern Europe. How’s the talent pool and some pros when compared to startup capitals like London or Paris?
Here in Eastern Europe, there’s indeed a big pool of very talented people at really accessible rates compared to the major startup hubs. But we here still lack entrepreneurial education and spirit which is incubated in bigger cities.
Another downside of our region is the unavailability of certain instruments which are easily accessible to 1st world countries like the US, UK or France.
For example, Stripe was not available in most of the neighboring countries until now. Venture capital and other financial instruments are also way harder to access for eastern-European entrepreneurs.
This makes the ambitions of most people to fade and this is why the vast majority of the IT industry here is in the software outsourcing industry.
What is the team size currently both on-site and remote, and are there any plans to expand the team in the near future?
We are a dream-team of two, me, and my co-founder, Damian. I am in a technical and executive role while Damian is the CMO, and he handles the marketing and finances now.
We’re actually already looking to fill in a few positions now and we hope to build a solid team of 5-6 people by the end of the year.
Some words of advice for any aspiring entrepreneurs especially in the SaaS? In your experience, what are a few things to do and a few mistakes to avoid at all costs?
I am no expert entrepreneur yet but If I was to recommend one thing to avoid it would be overworking. It may seem strange, as everyone suggests you should hustle hard and work 16 hours per day but this will only make you hate your product/business/job in no time.
It’s ok to have high-workload sprints now and then, and I sometimes work a much more than 8 hours per day when releasing a feature or when it’s an important period but having this as a permanent habit will probably not work long term and will affect your psychological and physical health which may turn out to have an impact on your business too.
So my advice would be to keep a good work/life balance and keep loving the thing you’re working on.
That's some really impressive advice to any entrepreneur Sergiu. Thanks for joining on a really insightful conversation and I will be looking towards the progress of Personizely.
Glad to have joined Yusuff!