Validate, Build, Communicate: a Chat with Vouchery’s Ewelina Robaczek
I’m Evelyn, or in Polish Ewelina. I’ve been living in Berlin for about 10 years, but was born in Poland. I started Vouchery in 2017 and we have been bootstrapping up until now. Vouchery is an API-based marketing platform helping businesses automate time-triggered, personalized e-commerce promotions, like coupons and discounts. Vouchery allows marketers to synchronize coupon redemptions across a multichannel customer journey, both online and in store.
Hey Ewelina. Before starting Vouchery you were a Marketer yourself. What problems were you encountering that suggested the need for this product?
Before starting Vouchery I worked for a company called Rocket Internet, where I was working on a similar customer data personalization platform. I discovered that, although we were aggregating data to create incredibly customized marketing campaigns, it was very hard to restrict the coupon redemption on the other side.
Because of that, we experienced a huge amount of coupon fraud and abuse.
Our coupons were actually training bad customer behaviour and people were abusing the system. For example, one company was offering a 20% discount if a customer left the site before completing their purchase. Customers quickly learnt that they could repeat this behaviour, in order to receive more offers.
How quickly were you able to spot this problem and realize you could build a solution?
I was convinced that someone must be solving this problem already, but they weren’t! When I left Rocket Internet I started speaking with other companies such as Amazon, Deliveroo, Uber who were also facing the issue of coupon fraud.
At the time I was interviewing for Marketing Director positions. One of the biggest requirements I kept being asked to solve was to fix this issue of increased customer reliance on vouchers and special promotions.
These two things convinced me that there was a problem on the market and I was going to solve it.
You mention you spoke to Amazon, Deliveroo and Uber to prove your product market fit, but for how long were you researching before building your first product?
It took me between six to eight months. During that time I didn’t just want to prove that there was a problem, but I wanted to prove that companies really cared about solving it because it was negatively affecting their bottom line.
For example, I discussed feature ideas with Amazon who acknowledged that, yes there were certain problems such as customers creating multiple accounts to get discounts that weren’t a priority. So it’s very important for founders to make sure that they’re solving a big enough problem that people will be happy to pay for a solution.
Tell me about funding your product build, and how you found your first paying customers.
Back in 2019 we won a contract and partnered with Deutsche Bahn, a national railway in Germany. They sponsored the build of the first iteration of the product. That provided the financial kick that we needed to start building.
I was also consulting at the time, implementing customer loyalty and engagement strategies. I really leveraged this in terms of gaining our first customers. It’s much easier to convince customers to buy your product when they already trust and work with you in terms of strategy and consulting! So really, my professional network and experience was invaluable when finding our first clients.
What advice would you give founders who don’t have the advantage of having a professional network they can harness?
Well, that’s actually a great point because in reality I didn’t have a large personal network. I knew lots of companies from my previous role, but I really had to prove that this problem existed beyond the network that I already knew.
Before I even began developing my product, I created our Vouchery website. What worked well for me was writing a lot of articles around the problem we were solving. I posted these everywhere; Linkedin, Medium on our website blog.
Our website provided me with a platform from which I could share my thought-leadership and allow people to reach out to me through a contact form and online chatbot.
Through the conversations that were generated around my content, I gathered so much extra knowledge. I had people reaching out to me asking a huge amount of questions and asking for more information about the product that I was building. In my opinion, it really is the best way to become an advocate of the solution that you’re trying to build.
And did those insights shape your MVP in any unexpected ways?
So, first of all, for me there’s no such thing as an MVP in B2B. It’s about a minimum sellable product. Even if you don’t have your product fully built, if there’s anything that you’re able to sell, you can start negotiating a price with your clients. We did this with a large customer of ours. We built something for them before they decided to buy and that worked really well for us.
In terms of the MVP, it didn’t look that differently from what I had imagined. This was partly due to my approach, thinking of milestone features and getting companies to comment on what they were most interested in. It was so important that we listened to our customers from the very beginning and were flexible enough to prioritize our features according to their needs.
Why did you decide to outsource your product build?
After trying to find a great internal tech team unsuccessfully, I outsourced our build to a brilliant agency that I had already worked with in Poland. I trusted them, knew the products that they had previously built, and could vouch for their expertise.
I’ve had a good experience working with a technology partner because it’s enabled me to reuse parts of platforms that they built for other clients, and implement them as modules in our platform. They also opened up a community of fellow founders to me, who I communicated with a lot and shared numerous costs. At the end of the day, we’re like a small family.
The agency is also super flexible. They’ve got a host of experts that I would never be able to afford in terms of mobile, development and security, for example. I would never have time to find that talent on my own, manage their contracts and payroll etc. So that definitely helped a lot.
I understand the founders who say that at some point you have to start building your own tech team, however I feel like if you work closely with your outsourced agency you are able to build a team that are dedicated to the build of your product. I’m planning on sharing some of the ownership of my product with my agency’s team, making them responsible for the growth of the product. This feeds back into the family structure that people usually create within their own company – I’ve just created it with my technology partner!
Outsourcing to a new agency can be risky so what advice would you give a founder who is looking for their next technology partner?
I totally agree, it can be risky. My best advice is to rely on recommendations. Post your tech-requests in any founder-related groups that you might be part of and learn from their experiences. If not, there are loads of referral sites such as Clutch and Manifest, that offer good reviews and advice that is worth taking into account.
What’s next for Vouchery?
Growth, for sure! I would definitely like to explore the US market, since we get a lot of indication that there is a need for our product there.
I also want to return to the fundraising process towards the end of the year when things are more stable. We’re looking to be entering 2022 with a much bigger team!
What has been the biggest lesson that you’ve learnt in building your product?
Well, I think for me the biggest learning has been that it’s not only about building your product, but having the ability to communicate what you are building. Not only in terms of marketing campaigns, but also have a strong product marketing strategy in place so that from the start you are building a community with your users and your customers.
What I see working well is definitely enabling users to chat with the team and also amongst each other. I see a lot of young companies, including us, starting Slack communities and Facebook groups for their users. This means that customers can easily reach out and share their experiences which is important, not only in B2B, but also in B2C.
- Attract interest with great content. Let your knowledge shine through and establish yourself as a go-to authority in the areas you operate in.
- Finding the right external technology partner is essential. Take the time to ask your network for personal recommendations and explore review sites online.
- Build an online user community as soon as you can. Their insights will be invaluable in providing feedback you can use to make your product stronger.