Steve Hartert increased JotForm’s customer base by 50% during his first 18 months as CMO
JotForm gets 1.1 million organic clicks due to lean, mean content marketing
Credit card expiration reminders keep churn at bay, CMO says
JotForm gave Steve Hartert a juicy chunk of equity to convince him to leave his own marketing consultancy and join the company as the CMO. It’s been bootstrapped ever since it was founded in 2006, and that’s what won him over.
The problem that JotForm solves is that of simplification. Previously, Hartert says, if you wanted to build an online form on your website or landing page, you had to be a programmer. You’d have to know some code to make a form functional in the first place, and then, if you wanted it to look and feel good, you had to be good, too.
Online forms are one of the key conversion points for businesses ranging from agencies to enterprise-level SaaS products, and talented heads are hard at work trying to figure out how to make them better. There are several schools of thought when it comes to how to make online forms more accessible and intuitive.
Typeform, for example, focused its efforts on user experience. Traditional forms can be intimidating and unnatural to fill out—especially if you ask users to fill more than three fields, and if some of them are mandatory. What Typeform did was build a plugin that offers a conversational form experience: instead of listing questions in one exhaustive list, Typeform presents the fields sequentially—with premium features, even conditionally.
JotForm didn’t obsess over the actual interface too much. What they did is make the form easy to set up for the website owner—a big obstacle for someone intimidated by WordPress. Its drag-and-drop interface was the first of its kind. At 57, Hartert knows precisely how embarrassingly difficult doing these simple tasks can be. Our host Nathan Latka sat down with the man to see just how significant the simplification of online forms is.
Customers in 192 Countries Pay JotForm $30 a Month
JotForm is a pure-play freemium SaaS product. Most anyone can integrate JotForm into their platform of choice free of charge. You just pick one of their numerous templates—from application forms to booking forms—customize it to your needs, and pull it up on your website.
Once you start actually using JotForm to generate revenue, you’ll quickly want to switch to one of their premium plans, which start at $25 a month. These will offer more views, more signups, removed JotForm branding and HIPAA compliance. $30 a month is the average amount users pay for the privilege, as most go for the cheapest plan.
JotForm employed 75 people back in 2017, which was a mix of developers, support staff and marketing people. Most of these people were scattered all over the world, Hartert says. Even three years ago, these 75 people generated $45 million in annual recurring revenue, serving over 3,000,000 users in 192 countries.
Hartert’s Content Marketing Delivers 1.1 Million Clicks at Low CPA Monthly
During his first 18 months as the CMO, Hartert managed to reignite the flattening curve of customer acquisition, increasing JotForm’s customer base by 50%. Most of those users, he says, came from organic search engine discoverability.
One of Hartert’s secret recipes is content marketing. JotForm has an extremely well-developed blog, and if you didn’t know better, you’d think that they’re a content-first company.
They write researched, 1,000+ word pieces that answer specific target user questions, like How to get physician referrals to your medical practice or 5 team-building activities for telecommuters. Ahrefs says JotForm.com generates 1.1 million organic search clicks per month, and their top traffic generator is a massive 10,000+ word guide on how to edit PDFs.
This is content marketing at its finest. Many marketing managers are so anxious to promote their own business that they sacrifice any chance at quality content just to bring it closer to the product. Hartert understands that people who themselves search for a PDF editing solution might very well be the people who themselves are looking to add online forms to their website.
But it’s not just a grasping in the dark type of thing. To figure out what to write, Hartert regularly surveys JotForm’s customers, asking them about how they found the company, and what problem they were trying to solve. He then supplements his detective work with some Google Analytics data to build a fuller customer persona.
JotForm Happy to Pay $30 to Get a Customer, But Actual Number Much Lower, CMO Says
For the reason I just mentioned, many marketers struggle to see any return on their content marketing investments. Nobody reads the blogs, and even if they do, they do not convert. Even though Hartert would be content with paying $30 to acquire a customer, he says the actual CAC is nowhere near that number. This goes a long way illustrating how effective their content marketing is.
But the marketing is just to get that freemium signup, Hartert says. Most people come onto the platform as free users, and it’s only 6 to 9 weeks in that they see the value in the actual product that most of them opt for one of the premium plans. Once they do, however, they stay with JotForm for 3 years on average, the CMO proudly says.
JotForm Keeps Churn at 5% By Alerting Credit Card Expiration Dates
While acquisition is soaring, SaaS products like JotForm often struggle with churn. The average user tends to sign up for the monthly deal, build a form they need to build, and then they either get their form fill outs and leave or don’t—and leave. It’s not obvious how the SaaS provider can adapt to these habits.
“We’ve been able to identify some very specific causes what’s driving our churn rate,” the CMO says. One of such causes is that users’ credit cards expire, and they don’t bother to renew their subscription. Hartert’s countermeasure here was to alert users when their payment method was about to expire, and it worked.
Nathan Latka adds that with some products, card expiration dates often account to 60% and even 70% of the churn. So what some companies do is get creative and try to guess when their customers’ credit cards are about to expire and then alert them. Hey—if it works, it ain’t stupid.
JotForms’s Biggest Challenge Is to Keep Users Engaged
Every company has their key activation metric that if they achieve, they know the customer will stick around for months and years on. For JotForm, it’s engagement, Hartert says. They want the users to actually play around with the forms and build multiple forms, instead of just having them build one freemium form on their website and forget it.
“Most of them will come in wanting to create a simple contact form,” the CMO explains. “But when we show them how to create, say, an online form or a payment form or how to create an online survey, or how to create a more extensive form that uses conditional logic—when they start to see the sophistication of the product, that’s when the stickiness factor suddenly comes into play.”
So in simpler terms, Hartert’s main goal is to keep the users playing with JotForm. Their key objective is to avoid the scenario where the user logs on, builds a form and then forgets the product. To do that, they’ll educate the user via email with the Did you know you could do this? type of message.
Nathan Latka’s 5 Questions with JotForm CMO Steve Hartert
- Favorite business book? “Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.”
- Is there a CEO Steve is following or studying? “Probably Tim Cook.”
- Favorite online tool to grow JotForm? “Twitter.”
- How many hours of sleep does Steve get? Married, kids? Age? “About 5. I have a girlfriend. I have 2 boys in their 20s. I am 57 years old.”
- What does Steve wish his 20 year old self knew? “If I spent a little more time paying attention to my finance classes in college, I would’ve saved a whole lot of grief early in my career.”