How to make your way through a crowded market – with Florin Cornianu, co-founder of 123ContactForm

123ContactForm is a company based in Timisoara, Romania, offering a platform for easily creating web forms. We’ve used 123ContactForm for our feedback forms at the 2010 and 2011 How to Web conferences and we were thrilled by the product’s usability.

Developed by Florin Cornianu and Tudor Bastea, 123contactform isn’t exactly swimming in clear waters. With competitors like Google Forms or SurveyMonkey, it’s not easy to develop a new product and gain your share of the market. We believe 123ContactForm’s experience is full of valuable take-aways, so we had a chat with Florin Cornianu about how they made their way through the crowded market of web forms.

So how crowded is this crowded market?

123ContactForm was launched in 2008, a time when Google Forms and Survey Monkey were already on the market. Even Wufoo was launched about the same time as 123ContactForm.  The market for web forms is huge. Take only the fact that at the beginning of last year SurveyMonkey was acquiring WuFoo and other similar businesses after having raised no less than $100mil.

How did this feel back in 2008 for the 123ContactForm founders? Did they start by making an analysis of the market? “We were watching some competitors, but we didn’t create a thorough analysis. The fact that we already had those kinds of competitors didn’t scare us, maybe because we were a bit ignorant. We already had the experience of other software products creating revenue despite being in the same market with big names. In the end, there’s room for everybody“, said Florin.

Further on, let’s go through some steps that helped 123ContactFrom and might be a good idea for you to follow.

#1. Build a community around a need

The 123ContactForm product was mainly built on customer feedback and suggestions. How did it gain a trustworthy share of users and how do they choose which suggestions to follow? Florin says they started their user-base through “marketing with 0 (zero) budget – forums, articles and especially SEO. We were mostly trying to make sure the people we listened to were those who also paid for our services. But seriously speaking, we tried to fulfill a wide variety of clients’ needs. Unfortunately, you can’t help them all. This is a specific of a “form building” service.”

#2. Build the product your community needs

So how do you develop the product and how do you differentiate yourself from the competition?  “We always listened to what our existing customers were saying or asking for. There are a number of features that set us apart from the competition, but the products are way too complex to stress those out. There’s one thing that surely sets us apart: the kangaroo! 🙂“.

Were they tempted to sneak a peek at the competition and copy successful features? “Oh yes, we were tempted. And we did! Sometimes we adopted what seemed interesting and doable. Some features have been implemented throughout the years; some are on their way to implementation in the present“.

#3. Use non-traditional marketing channels

Earlier, Florin told us that they acquired their first users through “marketing with 0(zero) budget – forums, articles and especially SEO“. Asked about the methods of customer acquisition used from that moment on, he said: “Still, we keep on SEO. We try to spread the word through articles and guest posts. In general, Google and Facebook are at top of the list when it comes to visitors sources. For a change, we tried Adwords and BuySellAds – that didn’t work“. Why didn’t they work? “Negative ROI. We didn’t get enough conversions to make it profitable”. That’s one downside of having big competitors. They’ve already taken over and super optimized the traditional marketing channels.

#4. Increase word of mouth

One more thing you can do to boost up your name and get more customers is making sure the existing ones spread the word. How does 123ContactFrom work on this matter? “We keep our customers as happy as possible. A happy and satisfied customer will tell his friends. We have live support chat and we try to solve any support ticket in under an hour.

So there you have it! 123ContactForm’s “recipe” of making it through a crowded market. A recipe that has proven to be very efficient to this day. If you have another take on this matter, please do share!

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