StartUs Presents: Formisimo

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Hate to fill out online forms because you could use the time for something more important? CEO Al Mackin of Formisimo explains more about their approach to save you time and nerves!

Describe Formisimo in 50 words or less.

Formisimo is a crazy powerful analytics for Forms and Checkouts.

Why did you decide to pursue your own dreams rather than someone else’s?

I’m comfortable with the risks of a startup and I enjoy the lack of boundaries and limits. I’m also passionate about the problem that we’re solving, and by taking this forward in my own business it gives me the challenge of making it work. I’m also in charge of shaping my own output and my own hours, which means it’s really important that I work out the best way to get the most out of myself. Finally I get to build a team and have an impact on others, and that’s a pretty cool job as well.

What makes a good startup CEO?

Someone said to me recently that a good CEO is a world class generalist. You have to be on top of so many different areas, and that means my technical, marketing and business knowledge is used every day…and I love that. You also have to adapt to very different situations, and cope with the unknown unknowns. Aside from that you have to keep moving forwards, even when you’re bogged down and it’s tough. Putting one foot in front of the other, even when you’re moving forwards slowly, is still better than standing still.

7 years from now: How did your startup change the world?

Put aside the financial benefits of our product and we’ve created something that saves people time. The average person spends hours every month filling in online forms; it’s essential to buy something, join a website or contact a business.

Formisimo streamlines that process, saving time (and reducing frustration). Formisimo returns that time to individuals, it allows them to get through a form quicker and they can then use that time to do something else. Maybe they’ll spend that time with their family, or friends, or just use it up on the PS4. Whatever they do with that extra time, I’m excited that in seven years time we’ll have saved people billions of hours of form-filling.

In what ways do you measure your success and how do you make sure you don’t lose track?

There’s two very different metrics that any CEO or founder can be measured against – did they win in business, and did they win in life. Business is a much easier one to track; it’s profit, return, and all the usual metrics. Measuring those is incredibly easy.

The metrics for winning in life are less quantifiable; did I make a difference, have I helped others, and can I look back and say I made the right call on decisions that affected other people. There’s no easy KPI for the latter and it’s a measurement over a long period of time. That measurement of success is one that I think about every day, and I adjust the way I deal with things at a similar frequency.

Describe your typical working day from coming to the office to leaving it.

I get in early and respond to the most urgent emails and Slack messages. I’ve then usually got internal or external meetings, calls and demos during the day, and the time in between is about getting through my task list. I leave the office around 6 or 7pm, then carry forward some tasks in to the evening, often exploratory, data or database tasks.

We’ve recently moved offices and one of our meeting rooms has comfy chairs, a hammock and a basketball hoop. I thought this would be good for the team, especially our developers who can end up with melted brains, but I’ve found it really useful too. I can take out half an hour, sit in a hammock and respond to some emails. I really value the different spaces I can operate in each day, and how that affects my productivity.

Already pivoted? Did customers use the analytical service like you imagined it in the beginning?

So we’re building out the product, not pivoting, and that takes us to some pretty cool places. We adjust the experience, from website, to sign-up, to application, on a daily basis based on feedback, but we’re still driving towards the same goal that we had eighteen months ago and with the same principles.

When users started using our product it gave us a lot of insight, and some of that feeds back in to product but also sales and marketing. We haven’t pivoted but we have adjusted what we thought were killer (sales closing) features.

Bootstrapped or financed: What fuels your startup now and what will in the future?

We’ve taken investment but still operate the business in a bootstrapped way. Putting money aside what really fuels us is the environment we work in. I believe that’s why the team come to work, and that’s what gives us an edge on succeeding. As we grow keeping Formisimo a great place to work will take more effort.

The things that really drive the team are small but important successes; turning that lead in to a customer, nailing that change on the product, or just producing something amazing. And food – we’re a business that puts a lot of energy in to great food.

With ferocious competition and a booming trend to build new companies: How do you make sure you don’t get lost in the shuffle?

The key to our survival is innovating off the back of listening – there’s always the challenge of getting your name out there, but that can come naturally when you create something that solves a real pain point. Those pain points shift over time, and opportunities come along based on spotting a new pain that people have. I’ve always said to our stakeholders that the best way to protect this business is to drive the part of it that builds features and products, we can innovate and build faster than a large company.

What do you look for in team members?

I’m looking for someone who has energy, who can show confidence in what they do and who knows they’re on a path rather than believing they’ve “made it”. For some roles it’s good if I feel afraid of them – they’re smarter than I am, or can do things that I can’t do. And we’re looking for team members who are comfortable with the risk of a startup. This isn’t an easy job, and there’s no guarantees.

I remember interviewing the guy who became our CTO in the very early days (pre-investment) and he asked me a technical question about the way we developed the backend. When I responded that we didn’t use that methodology, he let his mouth hang open, he dropped his pen on the floor and looked shocked. It was a small, funny event in that interview that helped me make the decision that he was the right guy for us. I like working with brilliant people who have a sense of humor.

Why would a talent join your team?

We have big challenges that take people out of their comfort zones, and the work that individuals put in is both respected and rewarded. We’ve built a “good” company – we’re open, we make the right decisions and this is a nice place to work…not an easy place to work, but a great group of people who support each other. I guess people who join us just want to do something crazy with their career rather than taking a safe boring option. Every day we fail and we win multiple times over, and that’s just an awesome life.

What was your most memorable moment so far?

Getting in to Seedcamp in 2014. At the time it felt like a great thing, but looking back it was huge. A lot of the great things that have happened to us since then have had some relation to us getting in to Seedcamp. The selection week they run, where around twenty startups get whittled down to five, was just an amazing experience. Where else can you speak to hundreds of founders, investors and experts and they’re all really interested in talking to you?

What advice would you give fellow founders for their startup?

Be brave. Just do the things you want to do, and chase the people you want to sell to, work with or just talk to. The success rate of reaching out for those things that you think are impossible is actually really good, and in the startup space there’s a culture of talking, sharing and learning. And don’t let the No’s get you down – it’s all just a big test, and a big part of running a startup is having a good selective memory. Forget all the things that went wrong as quickly as you can!




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