BlogInterviewsWhat the F**K makes you tick? With David Darmanin

What the F**K makes you tick? With David Darmanin

2018 intro:

Welcome back to our repackaged and polished-up WTF interviews, brought all the way here from 2016! This one’s from Dr. David Darmanin, CEO of HotJar.

Have a browse and take some leaves out of David’s business handbook for your own.


Our third instalment in our What the F*ck Makes You Tick? series comes from HotJar founder and CEO Dr. David Darmanin.

In this interview, I am seeking to discover what steered David toward creating a powerhouse tool like HotJar, along with more specifics like his opinions about how a person should best use HotJar and where the future of optimisation is heading. I wanted to use my time wisely to pick David’s brain of every morsel I could get my fingers on. And boy, did he deliver!

David’s insights and observations are more than worth your time, and I feel so many people can benefit from his ideas. I know I have! Read below and let me know if you agree!


John: David is the founder of HotJar, a great user behaviour analytics tool that is currently used by over 60 thousand businesses around the globe. Thank you very much, David, for joining us.

David Darmanin: It’s great to join. Thanks for having me.

J: So, David, you’ve built a career on conversion optimisation, and then decided to build HotJar – building an analytics tool in such a busy landscape with so many tools out there? What drove you to do that?

DD: As you said my background is in conversion optimisation, so I have first-hand experience of working with clients. It became a pattern from early in my career, seeing that clients felt the same way; that the tools were a little bit too disconnected (at least the ones we expected to work together); and the interface and the experience. They were just a little bit frustrating. And at that time, I was working on setting up my own business.

I had a few ideas, which didn’t do that well. And I realised, I should be using my background, because actually I’ve worked in software for a long time, in user interface and what not. So, I should use my background and solve my biggest problem. Right? I’m the typical customer and the typical user, so this is like an ideal opportunity. In a way, we didn’t expect this much to come out of it, but it was quite clear, very early on, that we were scratching an itch that many other people hadn’t.

J: Yeah, absolutely. Especially, because in my personal experience with UX, a lot of the higher end tools were also very expensive and very hard to get a hold of for smaller organizations or individuals.

DD: Sure. And that’s one of the key things we wanted to change. In a way, looking back to my early years in my career, I would’ve had much bigger success then, and improved business far better with better results if I had access to certain technologies, which just not until a few months ago were not available to everyone, right?

So, with HotJar we said “Let’s just take this industry and turn it upside down, and just make it available to everyone. If you’re a student or an agency, it’s very easy to use, very easy to set up, even if your client is a tiny client.” So, we think we all deserve access to this technology.

J: Yeah, I completely agree with you. So, I’m sure that in your career you’ve seen a phenomenal amount of websites undergo conversion optimisation. I hear that a lot of people put off optimising and just tried to increase their traffic generation, even though, all their clients are already generating quite a lot of traffic. Now, how much of a difference do you think that conversion optimisation, or optimising for conversion, can really make in that site’s revenue?

DD: That’s a good question. Conversion optimisation is key because at the end of the day it means you’re making more out of what’s already available, right? That’s critical to any business. The more revenue you can extract out of the assets that are already there, gives you a huge competitive advantage. That’s taking a chance.

Take an example: if I am working with an ecommerce client, and I can improve the number of people that actually engage on the site and actually buy from the site, that means I can go out and buy the advertising, or be more aggressive with my pricing. It would have a huge impact on the role I’d have to play with an industry versus our competitors. But, if done right, conversion optimisation can have a much bigger impact. So I’m a huge advocate of pushing the boundaries of CRO optimisation to go beyond looking at landing pages or button colours or headlines, and to really dig deep into the organisation, right? What’s missing in the product? What’s wrong in the experience? How are we letting down our users and our customers? Because once you really address these big problems, it actually means that in the long run, you’ll also help attract more users and customers to the business beyond just, let’s say, making more of what’s already available. So, if CRO is done right, if you put the user really at the centre of everything, you can have a huge impact on all fronts.

J: Yeah, I’m with you there. At the end of the day, I do still feel that a lot of these people that are not optimising for conversion feel overwhelmed with what’s available; both the educational materials and tools, on how to really do it. So, they think that rather than trying to learn and work all of this out, it will be way easier for me to just generate more traffic. But what they’re actually doing is losing out on a huge segment of people who are already aware of their brand, or already aware of their website (who are ready to buy) right?

DD: Absolutely, and in reality, if you look at, it’s quite interesting. I’ve been at so many events now related to CRO or growth of businesses or online marketing, and it’s constantly, time and time again, stories that are always the same. The emerging winner was always the one that (as we said) optimises what already exists, because that will just make it so much easier to achieve all of your goals once that is in place. So, if we look at it as a curve, if you don’t optimise, your curve will definitely not be the hockey stick, right? It’s going to be a straight line. And if you had to overlap those two lines, and you see the lost opportunity of not addressing these issues, it’s just unbelievable. So, it’s so critical to be very number oriented, and to always be testing these hypotheses.

J: So, if I’m an agency and you’re my potential customer, how can I use a tool like HotJar to convert more people like you to sign up with a deal with somebody like me?

DD: Right. So, that’s a really good question. In fact, we recently published an article on our blog post, where an agency that uses HotJar shared with us an interesting story of how they did that. But, in general, because a lot of the success stories don’t get published, there’s different stages at which HotJar can help.

So, it can help at winning. You mentioned this right – so the saying’s compounded – so winning business, in general. I’d say Hot Jar’s key strength is that it visualises issues, or it visualises opportunities. By making it clear that this is part of the way you’re actually going to deliver value to the client, it helps a lot to show examples how it actually will work. We found that to be quite successful, in general. But I think, beyond that and looking at the core, right? Because the visual stuff is the easy things, the quick wins. But I think the key is, every client wants to hear, “Here was an agency or a consultant who had some kind of methodology,” so like your organiser or structure. It’s not just going to be, “Whatever comes our way and hopefully, we’ll wing it.”

As a client, I’m now on the other end. I’ve spent years working as a consultant, as an agency, and now I’m on the other end, so now we’re starting to engage consultants instead. You’re always looking for that. You’re looking for, “okay, these have the right methodology, which means that they have a process in place. They have the tools in place. And these are past examples of how they’ve used this process and these tools to get wins.” I think that is probably the biggest leverage you can get with a tool like HotJar.

J: Right, and I think that that is something that a lot of consultants and agencies are still not fully using or exploiting for its full potential. Because I’ve read that blog post, and I’m going to link to it because I think it’s great: Interview with Steve James. These guys were able to utilise Hot Jar before even submitting a proposal. So, they literally said, “Hey, we would like to first learn about your users before we even make any suggestions of how we can help you,” and I think that that is the right approach.

DD: I think that was extremely clever of them. They said, “Here, just deploy this script and we’ll come back to you with some quick wins and a strategy based on the data we collect.” So that was super genius.

J: For somebody who doesn’t run a large agency, where they have usability experts and people who have studied this for a long time, (maybe for somebody who runs as an individual or as a web designer) what would you say are some of the quick wins that somebody could draw from HotJar’s analytics?

DD: That’s an excellent question, because actually a lot of our users and customers are (especially on the agency side) are small teams – very small teams. We really embrace that. We love the fact that (especially since HotJar is free to start off with) we’re making that possible. But I’d say if you’re a small team, I’d say HotJar is (in a way) built more for that rather than for huge teams, and an example is the ability to actually ask questions and combine that with heat maps.

So here’s a quick example on our end. Obviously one of our key pages that we want to improve at Hot Jar is our pricing page, where we explain the different heat maps. Now, traditionally with all the tools we deploy – tracking, heat maps, and all the stuff – but the reality is that it’s very difficult to understand why people are behaving the way they are. So, what we did in our case, we asked the question using a poll. What’s missing on this page? Or what’s confusing? Or what can we do a better job of explaining? And then combine that with the heat map and some recordings, so replaying what people are doing. We call this process ‘connecting the dots.’

So, very quickly, you can see that people are seeing something, but are behaving in a particular way. This gives you empathy, so certainly, you can think, “Okay. So if this is the problem they’re having, and this is how they’re behaving, what if we changed the way the page worked? Or if we presented an angle in a different way to solve this obstacle.” So, all of the sudden, your hypotheses are more centred around what the user is actually telling you. That’s important for one simple reason. The chances of success when you’re building your hypotheses and your test ideas around what the user is telling you, obviously increases your chances of success drastically, as opposed to reading someone’s blog post of what you should do to improve a pricing page. And we see this mistake happen more and more. So, small teams can quickly deploy questions, and then look at behaviour. You can run surveys with past customers: there’s actually so many quick ways. In fact, I’d say if anything, one interesting thing that any team (especially if you’re new to this kind of game or new to kind of how to deliver results to clients) we’ve built a nine-step action plan, which is built into the tool. And we give tips on how to execute it, which basically takes you through these nine-steps of what you should be doing with HotJar to uncover these opportunities for growth.

J: Wow. So essentially, the way that I understand that, is with a tool like HotJar you’re moving very quickly away from pure quantitative data to really highly qualitative data, because all of the sudden you have this quality of understanding every user individually, while having an overview of all your users. That’s got to be really powerful for when trying to optimise for conversion.

DD: Agreed. In fact, what we typically recommend is start with a funnel, right? We offer a funnel visualisation. Identify where your biggest opportunity of issue is. Where are you losing most of your visitors? And then, zero-in on that point. That’s where you want to start asking questions, looking at their behaviour, seeing how you can leverage that biggest artery, where you have the biggest blockage.

J: So, the last question I have for you is that, I think that 2015 we’ve seen a massive change in the online field with the way that people are developing their websites and the way that people are trying to optimise for conversion. I think that we’ve gone very much into the space of less-is-more. We’ve gone from very flashy sites to very, very simple, flat designed sites. And I think that consumers are now still getting bombarded massively with calls-to-actions, offers, and content everywhere they go. What do you think is going to be the most important optimisation category for the coming year? Where are we moving?

DD: That’s a good question. If (even though it might not be next year) I think we’re going to be moving more and more into the predictives here. So, starting to look at what are the things that are most likely causing something else to happen. If people are converting, what are the attributes or events that are leading to that happening? Or conversely, if people or customers are returning, what are the things that are leading to that to happen. I think, as we start more into this sphere kind of machine learning and automating of stuff, I think that that’s going to be quite interesting.

In a way, though, I think it’s a pity because it’s all this attractive analytical stuff that tends to take away the focus from the qualitative stuff. From my experience (I’ve done hundreds, if not thousands of tests for loads of companies) at the end of the day, the biggest wins are always on the qualitative side. So, I’d say, I think what’s going to be interesting maybe (even if it’s not going to be next year or over the next two to three years) is bridging the gap between this ever-increasing intelligence with what people really think and their feedback. I say that’s going to be really, really interesting.

J: I do agree with that. I think that we’re already slowly but steadily moving into that from a marketing point of view, because we used to just be able to put products out there and market them really aggressively and people would buy them, right? And now we’ve moved into a space where we need to tell a story, and then the product comes second. We need to find people on social media and know what they’re after first, and then offer them that product secondary. And I think that that is really massive trend that is going on. I think that as our tools become smarter (and our algorithms) that we have to rank for stuff, become smarter, I completely agree with you that we’re going to be going into a different space of how we have to optimize for people to still find what we want them to find.

DD: Couldn’t agree more.

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