When Proof launched in 2017, the new adtech company quickly faced one of the best and biggest challenges a new startup can undergo: rapid customer need.
The product took off faster than anticipated and endangered the company of growing too quickly. Fortunately, the Proof team recognized this and redirected resources to make up for lost time in development when they had to slow down to correct course. Now, the company is set for success as it continues to expand. We connected with three leaders from Proof to learn more about their quick rise in the industry and what’s ahead for social-proof internet advertising.
EMPLOYEES: 15 (14 locally)
WHAT THEY DO: Proof brings a human level of detail and interaction to more than 15,000 businesses' websites by integrating social proof and personalization software.
WHERE THEY DO IT: Downtown Austin, E. 6th Street
PROOF IN THE PARK: Once a month, the Proof team and their families gather at Zilker Park for games, coffee, breakfast and camaraderie. This is just one of the ways the company fosters a culture of friendship in the office.
UNLOCKING POTENTIAL: After reading and watching a series of books and videos that relate to Proof’s core values, employees are given $1,250 annually to spend on professional development opportunities.
CRAVING CURIOSITY: Future Proofers should be scrappy, curious, hungry for challenges and customer-obsessed.
Dave Rogenmoser, CEO
Inspired by making the internet delightfully human, CEO Dave Rogenmoser co-founded Proof after growing frustrated with the state of internet marketing and the flat-out lies businesses webbed. This year, he’s leading his team in the rollout of Proof’s new product, Experiences, to help B2B SaaS companies personalize their websites to increase trials and demos.
PAR FOR THE COURSE: Outside of the office, you can find Dave playing a quick 18 at one of Austin’s dreamy golf courses.
Walk us through why you co-founded Proof. How did the idea come about?
At our previous company, Market Results, we were selling online courses in 2016 and so many of our competitors were comfortable lying to their customers about several things, including how many people had bought their courses. We wanted a way to increase transparency with our customers while also increasing our sales.
We had seen live social proof on Booking.com and Airbnb and wanted to show notifications each time someone bought one of our courses. When it didn't exist, we built it ourselves.
What are some of the biggest challenges you faced as a new business?
Our biggest challenge was actually growing too fast in year one. The product really took off and we didn't prepare for that. We had built the product very lean and not built to scale well, so we ended up needing to spend a few months refactoring a lot of the initial code. This slowed down new product development quite a bit and was compounded by the fact that we didn't hire new engineers fast enough. Sure, this is a good problem to have, but it’s still painful and costly. We learned that while it's important to build products lean and scrappy at first, we have to be thoughtful about what needs to happen if quick adoption does happen.
We want to take what happens naturally offline, and bring it online.”
What are you most excited about for the future of your company?
We've got a ballin’ new product we've been working on the last six months that's going to take the industry by storm. It's a tool that personalizes your website based on who is actually viewing it. Our mission at Proof is to make the internet delightfully human and to do that, we have to start treating people as individuals and not as segments or cohorts. We want to take what happens naturally offline and bring it online.
Justin Boyson, Senior Front-End Engineer
Justin and his team of developers regularly seek out ways to challenge and better themselves while working with cutting edge technology. Justin, who has worked for several startups prior to Proof, said he was excited about the rare opportunity to join an already successful startup.
OLD YELLER: A singer, yeller — his words, not ours — and guitarist, Justin plays in a local post-punk band.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced or are facing?
We're striking new ground technologically and doing things that are genuinely hard to do. We've been working past them by iterating quickly and getting something in front of real people for user testing as quickly and as often as possible. It helps keep us moving in the right direction.
In the year you’ve been with Proof, what’s been the biggest surprise to you?
How quickly the team can pivot. I had no idea we were going to be building a brand new product when I started, and here we are with an exciting new tool in a terrifically short period of time.
We're striking new ground technologically and doing things that are genuinely hard to do.”
Tell us more about this new product and what your team is working on currently.
We're currently working on a personalization platform. My team, specifically, is working on the visual editor, and it is presenting some really interesting challenges. We're trying to let our customers do direct DOM manipulation on a live site so they can see what the personalization will look like in real time. There are a ton of security concerns here, so it is intentionally difficult to do. But, we've come up with a pretty clever way of working around it by leveraging some open source tools — and a bit of Proof secret sauce.
Austin Distel, Chief Marketing Officer
Austin is leading Proof’s marketing strategies to grow and engage its community as part of the company’s 2019 goal of achieving product and market fit. His connection to the team precedes that of Proof’s initial launch when he was a client of Proof founders’ previous venture.
ZILKER ACE: Austin loves playing volleyball at Zilker Park, where he is often joined by colleagues from the Proof team on Sunday afternoons.
You’ve been with Proof really since the beginning. How has the company evolved since you first came on?
After being a customer of the founders’ consulting program, I grew deep respect for their business values and intelligence. I moved from Atlanta to Maryland to live and work with them on a new project, which later became Proof. We bootstrapped from $0 to $180,000 per month in revenue in under 12 months, at which point we applied to and then completed the Y Combinator accelerator. After raising a seed round, we moved to Austin to build a new HQ and grow the team.
Can you touch on your experience at Y Combinator? How did you and your team’s experiences with YC help evolve Proof into the company it is today?
Have you ever seen the show “Silicon Valley”? That was our life. Seven of us moved 2,000 miles from friends and family to be a part of something bigger than ourselves — a mission to make the internet delightfully human. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be mentored by the founders and executives at Silicon Valley's top startups.
As valuable as that was, what I value more are the life-long bonds we made as a team living and working together for three consecutive months in an unfamiliar city. From the knowledge gained and raising VC funding to the late nights we drank wine and played games, our experience in Y Combinator set the stage for a team that can make it through anything.
We're working on a platform that humanizes the entire online buying experience.”
How did your company’s early experiences shape the product you offer today? How has customer or market feedback shaped the evolution of your product?
The beauty of our business is we've always been our own best customer. We solve our own problems then package them into products. Before Proof, we had an online training membership teaching traffic and conversion strategies. We discovered that by adding social proof, through testimonials and reviews, to our website that our leads and sales skyrocketed.
We built a software product that showed conversions happening in real time and called it “Proof.” The product went viral quickly, which gave us the runway to dream bigger. Today, we're working on a platform that humanizes the entire online buying experience.