Many of us have solutions to problems stored in our heads, maybe even app ideas that can make each other’s lives easier. The problem comes when taking these ideas and then turning them into a reality.
Of course pitching ideas in the conversational route is the first step, but in the digital realm, it really pays to show, not tell. Putting a tangible representation of your idea into people’s hands can be a really powerful way to sell your solution and get people on board. Particularly effective if it’s interactive. This was quite difficult before prototyping tools like Marvel came along, especially if you couldn’t code.
In the video below, Murat, Co-founder at Marvel, shares the story of how Marvel was started to solve this exact problem during his fireside chat with James of GoSquared. Launching back in 2013 to help designers like himself turn static mocks into interactive prototypes, Marvel is now empowering anyone to design – no matter their role or mission.
Check out the video of how Marvel started out, and how it’s democratising design one step at a time:
The above talk was part of GoSquared’s SaaS event in London – check out their post where you can watch videos of the two other speakers at the event, as well as a final Q&A with all three participants.
Here’s the full transcript of Murat’s chat with James for those of you who’d like to read the Marvel story:
Fireside Chat Transcript
[ JAMES ] Hi everyone, so we have the pleasure of being joined by Murat from Marvel now, and we’re going to have a little chat by our “fireside”. Murat, maybe you can just share with the room your kind of – what Marvel’s all about really.
[ MURAT ] Yeah sure, so Marvel is a prototyping and collaboration platform that allows anyone who doesn’t know how to code to turn static designs into interactive touchable and clickable prototypes. You’re then able to share those with your clients, your stakeholders, your friends, and whoever else needs to feedback on it.
[ JAMES ] Cool, cool. Sounds good. Just to clarify, we use it at GoSquared actually, it’s pretty decent. What got you into that? Like, you don’t just wake up thinking “I’m gonna do that” right?
You’d spend all this time on a retina iPhone app design and then you handed it over to someone who would put ClipArt over the top and basically destroy your soul.
[ MURAT ] No, so I’m a designer by trade, and one of the things that I noticed, being in the design industry and working for agencies, is that whenever you used to present your designs, prior to prototyping tools like Marvel, you used to shove them into PowerPoint, or someone would shove them into PowerPoint for you. So you’d spend all this time on a retina iPhone app design and then you handed it over to someone who would put ClipArt over the top and basically destroy your soul.
It ruins any impact in the design and a client would look at it and not understand the full impact of your entire flow or what you’re even trying to pitch. So after going through that process over and over again, I was just like… this is surely something that can be easily solved by getting your design onto an actual device, and being able to play around with it.
“I just really wanted to empower myself. I wanted to be able to show things the way I had them in my head.”
And because I can’t code, I just really wanted to empower myself. I wanted to be able to show things the way I had them in my head.
[ JAMES ] Awesome, awesome. So – actually how did you go from thinking that to actually starting the company, because there’s probably a lot of people here who’ve had those kinds of frustrations, but where do you even start? Like OK I can draw that on a bit of paper maybe, or – but how do you get going with that?
[ MURAT ] So, the first step is to find someone else as bored as you are in the job you’re in, and seeing if they want to do something on the side.
There were two really talented people that I worked with who were on the development team, and just conversations about work inevitably turned into conversations So, the first step is to find someone else as bored as you are in the job you’re in, and seeing if they want to do something on the side. about side-projects and things we could do outside of work. The day-to-day stuff we were doing was just becoming more dull and frustrating.
You end up talking about stuff like “look at this new API that came out,” or “look at the new iOS release” and things like that. And those conversations go – well why don’t we just do something over evenings and weekends?That’s how Marvel kind of started to gain traction – it was like “hey I’ve got this problem at work, I need a tool for myself. Shall we just quickly knock something together so I don’t have to go through this pain with clients any more?”.
We just took some time – evenings and weekends – it took about three months and we just did a really early release. We didn’t really expect anyone to use it so you know… just left it and went back to work.
That was the story behind it – done, cool, now go back to work and get paid.
Then it turned out that other people had the same problem and it gradually built up into something where about six weeks later, we were just like “maybe this should be the thing we’re doing everyday, not this agency stuff”
[ JAMES ] Was there a specific point where that kind of hit?
[ MURAT ] It was when it looked like the people who signed up weren’t just signing up and leaving but that they were actually using it – and I was like “waaerrhh,”.
After about the thousandth person in the space of a month signed up, it was like, oh actually this is probably the most popular thing I’ve done so why not invest some time and go find some angel funding, lets see who would back this?
When you’re working the agency world in London, it’s nothing like the startup world – getting investment and all those things are completely disconnected. You don’t have the right contacts, you don’t know the right people.
Suddenly, you’re just going “hey, I’m looking for some money, does anyone want to talk to me?” and no one did.
I went through every single investor website and went to the contact form. If you speak to any investor they’ll tell you never to do that because it just goes to someone in the office management team or something like that.
[ JAMES ] It goes to
[ MURAT ] Yeah, no-one tracks it. So after doing that over and over again, I tried something else. I reached out to people who I’d done work for in the past.
[ JAMES ] Sure. So, when you started approaching this and investors, did you have your early co-founders? And what was the breakdown of the roles then?
[ MURAT ] So there’s three of us. I was design and everything else – going out and getting funding, doing things like vision, roadmap, stuff like that. Brendan was on the back-end, so creating all the infrastructure. And the Jonathan was on mobile development, so we also had our iOS app as well. So between the three of us we covered pretty much all areas. And that was enough to get it off the ground and get started.
[ JAMES ] So, that’s awesome. So you then started approaching these investors – what was that experience like, as a complete noob to the whole investment world?
[ MURAT ] It was, uhh, it was pretty bad. I had one investor just stop me midway through a pitch going “I really don’t understand what’s on that slide, can you just clarify that” and you’re completely thrown. I had to really adjust to becoming more of a salesman.
One of the things that you realise as a designer is that you tend to pitch your ideas all the time anyway, so it was like – how do I get the person I’m speaking to as excited about me as I am in this idea. That was a key thing for me – get that person excited so when you leave they’re like “I really want to be part of that thing, whatever it is”.
“Get that person excited so when you leave they are like – I really want to be part of that thing, whatever it is”
We got turned down ten, fifteen times before we got an offer so it takes perseverance and a bit of luck I think. I think definitely those two things helped us.
[ JAMES ] Sure thing. So I guess maybe, fast-forwarding a bit to now and where Marvel’s at today, do you have anything to share about where you guys are at today? Because – you know – a lot of us have probably maybe seen the Marvel name popping up all over the place, and yeah it’d be good to hear.
[ MURAT ] So today we’re at over 1,000,000 users, about 80,000 prototypes get made a month, about 1.3m designs uploaded. So we’re growing really fast, there’s a lot of stuff happening on the platform that is being used for – to create
everything from apps like Deliveroo to schools using it for education purposes and as part of extra curricular and stuff.
[ JAMES ] Yeah, that’s super-interesting. So the kind of growth is almost dragging you into going up the chain. How are you managing that from a product perspective? Because I would imagine a lot of the free users are quite vocal as well as these enterprise clients. It must be a nightmare trying to balance all that stuff off each other, right?
[ MURAT ] Yeah, so the feature requests become really really different. So you go from “can you make this transition go from right to left?” to something like “can you get single sign-on and a certification for security which takes twelve to eighteen months?” and you’re like “umm, right ok how do we do that?”
So those sorts of things are definitely making us approach the roadmap in a differentDesigners – if you try and tell designers to use a tool that they don’t want to use they’d be like “Haha, no, I don’t think so” and then go back to what they like. way, and splitting things out into enterprise versus free and other tiers that we have.
[ MURAT ] Marvel is a product that goes from bottom-up. We don’t tend to get in a conversation with a CEO or a CTO or someone like that who will then mandate and then push it all the way down across the business. Designers – if you try and tell designers to use a tool that they don’t want to use they’d be like “Haha, no, I don’t think so” and then go back to what they like.
So our approach has to be adoption through the design teams, the creative teams, the marketing teams, the scrum masters, the front end developers, and whoever else is using Marvel.
This affects the product teams – it means that we have to mature in the way we build features. We have to go even more detailed into making the right solution and be perfect from end-to-end. You can’t have a crappy rollout of an enterprise feature because you’ve got so many people relying on it who are your biggest customers.
[ JAMES ] Sure. I guess on – we’ll go onto more of the growth stuff in a sec, but also on the product side how do you actually understand, when you’ve rolled a feature out, whether it’s done well or not? Is there ever a case where you guys have rolled something out, maybe worked on it for a bit, and realised it’s just a total piece of junk, or -?
[ MURAT ] Oh yeah, oh yeah, we’ve made so many mistakes. Every six months we look and just think “We need to rip that out because it’s just not performing in the way that we want it to.”
I think the worst thing is just to leave it and hope for the best. I think that if something’s not performing and you give it a few chances and you do a couple of iterations and it’s still not working, you’ve just got to take it out, because it’s just adding complexity to the process.
We have success metrics for every feature we build. So we’ll be like “ok, what’re the top three things we expect when we build this- is it going to increase revenue? Is it going to increase activity?” And then we track against those.
Sometimes it might be this feature is going to get kind of a low adoption, but the people who use it are going to be quite high-paying customers and stuff like that, so that’s another way we look at stuff. So defining those in a discovery stage prior to going into any design or development helps a lot.
[ JAMES ] Cool. Yeah yeah. Awesome. This stuff’s so hard, it’s really interesting hearing from you guys, because you’re product experts, right.
[ MURAT ] I was going to ask how you do it.
[ JAMES ] Uhh yeah I don’t have a clue. Um, yeah, err – on the, err… moving on.
Yeah, on the growth side of things, my impression is that you guys focus a lot on content. And you have a blog that I think a lot of us in this room read on a regular basis. How’s that come about? Was that a planned-out strategy from the start or was it “let’s throw out a blog and see what happens”?
[ MURAT ] Yes and no, it didn’t start off that way.
It started off with me thinking I could write a blog post every week, and just finding out after a few months that that’s not possible. I think there’s a post on our blog which says “I’m going to write every single part of this journey! I’m going to give you full transparency!” I got really inspired by Buffer and I was like “I want to be just like Buffer!” And then after about three posts I was like “uhh, this is really tiring.”
So it went from me writing about Marvel to “I’m just going to write about feature releases” and we just started doing that. And then you look back on the blog and it’s just feature releases and nothing really that interesting. Then it was like “right, ok, let’s hire some freelancers, they’re going to write about design and it’s going to be cool and we’re going to get some traffic and it’s going to be great” and then you hire them but they don’t actually understand the market you’re trying to target.
They’re trying to talk like they’re designers when they’re not, it doesn’t really resonate – people aren’t reading it and it’s not getting shared. I read a post by Intercom about their evergreen content strategy and it really hit home about how writing really good posts, or just creating really good posts in the long term will have a compounding effect on your blog because they will never go out of date.
After we read that we started to look at what could scale, and realised the most scalable thing would be speaking to our users and asking them to write a blog post for us. We have a platform which is going to give them tons of great exposure, probably a lot bigger than their Medium follower list. We have a million people that can read their post and we’ll put it in the newsletter and it goes out every week.
That’s what we want to do with our community – we want to make sure that they get to tell their stories to the world.
[JAMES] But yeah, I guess another part of the growth side of things is: as you go up-market how do you try and – I think you were saying you’re moving into having multiple parts of the product – how’re you thinking about aligning the marketing, sales, and product development across the whole company?
[ MURAT ] I think that’s another thing which we’re figuring out at the moment. In the past it was kind of ad-hoc. It was like “ok, we’ve built a feature” and a couple of days later it was like “has anyone written a blog post for it? No. Has anyone told people on Facebook? No.” Now we’re getting into a process of syncing up all the teams and identifying who’s responsible for what on the launch. And not just “ok that feature’s launched” but actually how you carry it through for the next few months.
Just because you launched it on day one doesn’t mean you can’t be telling people about it six weeks later. You can still remind them.
[ JAMES ] Yeah people are so worried about “oh we’ve already told them about it, we don’t want to bombard them”
[ MURAT ] Yeah, you’d be surprised about how many people just don’t notice or don’t pay attention to that stuff. Making sure that the right people see that message first and doing things like beta programs or trial programs means that behind the scenes we’re engaging all of our users months before anything goes out.
Just by saying “we’ve got this really exciting feature coming, we’d love you to be a part of it and help us make it better” so by the time it gets out, there’s already thousands of people you can talk to about it or will share it because they got early access.
[ JAMES ] Awesome. Got one question on investment and then one more after that. Yeah, you’ve raised quite a bit of money now, right?
[ MURAT ] We have, yeah, about £8m total
[ JAMES ] Eight million? Bloody hell.
[ MURAT ] I know, it sounds like a ton of money, and it is, but it was spread over a period of time. And I guess it’s one of the things where – I think you’ll know this as well – where let’s say you raise a million and everyone around you, all your friends, are like “you raised a million! What’re you going to do with it? Can I have some? Can you buy me a Ferrari?” but when
you start breaking it down into salaries and things like office space – it does whittle down quite quickly
We raised the Series A because we began to identify new areas where we could get into, which came about by looking at our users and speaking to them – also looking at the market and where it’s going. So wanting to attack those areas, we needed funding to do it and to grow the team.
[ JAMES ] I guess that takes us nicely onto my final question, Murat, which is: where next for Marvel? What’s up next?
“We want to empower individuals as well as teams – across an entire business, from product to marketing…”
[ MURAT ] So, right now we are building two to three new segments of the product which we want to go into different areas of the market we’ve identified. And the next step is really fulfilling the vision of the product, which is to help democratise design.
We want to empower individuals as well as teams – across an entire business, from product to marketing and not just the designers -to be able to bring their ideas to life in one dynamic collaborative space. So that’s kind of the focus now and we’re just working towards getting there.
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