Design with the end-user in mind: Too often, brands forget to put customers at the center of their development process. It seems straightforward, but in the race to deliver apps quickly, brands may make assumptions about their customers that aren’t accurate, or they might misunderstand the varied behaviors of their customers.
Doron Reuveni is the Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of Applause. Since founding Applause (formerly uTest) in 2007, Doron has led the creation of the crowd testing market and solidified Applause’s position as the market leader. Doron’s leadership has made him an internationally-recognized expert in software development, testing, and entrepreneurship.
Although the idea of “in-the-wild” software testing through a crowdsourcing model was a radical notion when Applause was founded, today, it has become an integral part of the software development process for thousands of companies worldwide. Under Doron’s leadership, Applause has evolved into an enterprise-grade solution, meeting the complex requirements of the world’s most influential brands. Doron’s vision has transformed Applause into the digital quality leader through expanded product offerings, investment in its SaaS platform and growth in our global community of vetted, digital experts.
Doron earned a degree in Computer Science and Information Systems Engineering from the Technion University in Israel. Doron is an avid runner and cyclist, competing in the Boston Marathon more than 10 times and regularly competing in triathlons across the USA.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Myjourney started in Israel, where I grew up. When you finish high school in Israel, you go straight to the army. Once there, I joined a special program where I could earn my degree at the same time as serving in the military. I spent about five years in the military, in the intelligence forces. The thing about serving in the military right out of high school is that you are getting significant amounts of responsibility at a relatively young age. At the age of 18 or 19, you have tremendous responsibility not only from a budget perspective but more importantly from a decision-making perspective. You grow up really quickly.
At that point in time, I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur once I left the army. And I had computer science experience from my time in the special program while I was earning my degree. I think, as a CEO and founder, having a solid technical foundation is important because all companies today are based on technology in one way or another.
After the military, I worked for a startup called Enigma, where I ran the engineering organization. After spending two years as the VP of Engineering at Enigma, I decided I wanted to move to a different role where I could be closer to customers and learn more about the different aspects of the business outside of engineering. There was an opportunity to move out to Boston and start the company’s Go-to-Market plan where I could do some branding and marketing and hire a sales team for the startup. It was a completely new experience that helped me learn in a hands-on way about the pieces a company needs to be successful.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
I decided to leave Enigma after a while with the intention of starting my own company. I did some consulting, primarily to VCs in Israel. During this time I met my co-founder, Roy Solomon. Roy came from the software testing space, and he kept finding that no matter how much time or money he spent on testing, there were still more issues that were found once the software made its way to the hands of real users. With a background in engineering, I could relate to this problem.
So our idea to solve this problem was to build a crowdsourced community of people that could test software “in the wild.” Essentially, our global community of testers would find the bugs that you could only find once you get outside the confines of a testing lab and into real-world environments and devices.
You have to remember that this was 2007 — before crowdsourcing or gig economy really existed. There was no Uber, no Kickstarter, not even the iPhone or App Store was live then. So it was something really revolutionary and addressed a real need in the market.
I introduced the idea of about ten engineering executive friends I had, and they all had a similar response. They said that if something like that existed they would give it a try. That’s when I started to believe. So much so that I actually made agreements with them that once we built the global community, these ten businesses would be our first customers. The fact that they were willing to sign these agreements on day one without the company being built yet told us that we had something worth building. With this knowledge and confidence, we got started and originally launched the company in 2007 under the name uTest.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
One of the toughest things when you’re first starting out as an entrepreneur is a process of raising money. I got probably a hundred people saying “no” to me. For six months, it was just a string of people saying “no” to me and it’s very hard to keep moving through all of that. But I stayed persistent because I believed in the company. And more specifically, I saw the pain and need for this type of solution firsthand, and I saw the capability of Roy and I make this happen. I never stopped believing in the company even though all the people saying “no” to our idea.
Eventually, we got a term sheet in 2008. It was the culmination of a lot of work. One thing Roy said to me after we closed the funding that I’ll always remember: “It doesn’t matter what happens now, we are real entrepreneurs forever.”
I will say, too, that there was one other significant time that was very difficult for us. It also involved raising money as we were trying to secure our B round funding. The B round process is much different than A round because you need to bring proof. With an A round, it’s a leap of faith. The investors believe in you and they believe in your idea. B rounds, on the other hand, you have to bring some customers to the table, you have to show your market fit.
For us, the B round was especially tough because we were trying to raise money in 2009 when the market had just completely tanked and investors were very hesitant to spend. I did manage to close a five million dollar round from an investor in Boston. As he was signing the document, he said to me, “You are the last entrepreneur we are ever going to fund.”
That, of course, turned out not to be true, but it is representative of the feelings of investors and how hard it was to raise money in 2009.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Although 2009 was a tough year to raise money, it also led to one of the biggest moments in our company history. The tough market conditions had enterprises looking for different ways of doing things and new ways to innovate.
That’s when Google called. They had a problem where they had the Blackberry app they were launching in 64 countries, but they didn’t have testers in 64 countries and they needed us to use our global community to test and provide feedback in these areas. It was still early days but we made it happen and delivered value to Google. That was my “Aha moment” where I saw Google — a company with unlimited resources and one that could use any vendor they wanted — turn to us to deliver value in ways they couldn’t in-house or with other companies.
Google is still a customer to this day. In fact, Applause has become a go-to resource for next-generation enterprises like Airbnb, Uber, and eBay as they improve their digital quality and testing processes.
As a company, we continue to grow year-over-year. We have over 400 employees and our main offices are in California, Berlin, and Israel, along with our headquarters outside of Boston.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Earlier, I said that we founded our company in 2007 under the name uTest…but that’s not exactly true. To take you back to 2007 for a minute, the top songs of the year featured Beyonce, Jay-Z, Akon, Fergie, and T-Pain, just to name a few. Hip-hop was dominating the charts and we wanted to be part of it. So the original name of our company was actually YoTest in a nod to what was popular the year we were founded.
One of the very first things we did once we closed our first round of funding was to change our company name from YoTest to uTest. And a few years later, of course, we changed our name to Applause.
The lesson I would give here is to not date yourself. The company name should be catchy, but you also want it to be descriptive and relevant for years to come.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our approach is so different from the more traditional testing companies. Our real-world testing enables companies to see where things are breaking — whether that’s in the digital world, the physical world, or somewhere in between.
For example, we worked with Shake Shack when they were launching a new app that had mobile ordering capabilities. The Applause test community was tasked with an array of duties, from testing the app’s ordering and payment features to ensuring both the app and in-store user experience lived up to the high standard of quality Shake Shack customers have come to expect. This meant testers had to order food items via the app and then go through the entire pickup experience — noting bugs and user experience issues along the way. The team also spent time in the field to train Shake Shack employees on how to deal with the new mobile order workflows. Over the course of two months, the team successfully fulfilled more than 775 mobile orders in 12 test runs across 10 locations. The rigorous testing uncovered an array of valuable feedback, both technical and user-oriented.
Another aspect of our gig economy approach that is different from others is our commitment to our community of testers. We actually provide training to our community to help them become better testers. This is something unique from any other gig economy company. Our Academy program takes community members through the basics of testing all the way through expert evaluations. This way they are improving their testing skills to ultimately help their careers in the long term.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
It’s important to dedicate time to get away from work and focus on your hobbies. Having a consistent balance between work and life is a must. We all know that, but unless you actually schedule the time to make it happen, it can fall by the wayside.
Personally, exercise is very important to me. I’m an avid cyclist and runner. I’ve run the Boston Marathon ten times and I now compete in Ironman competitions — which combine a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a marathon.
Sports and athletics give me a balance between work, family, and hobbies. There are also unexpected benefits from unplugging and enjoying your favorite activities. One of those benefits I’ve found is I often come up with my best ideas when I’m disconnected from work when I’m just on the bike or training.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
This one is an easy one; it’s my wife who believed in me in difficult times and always supported me. When I first tried to raise money and received over 100 no’s, I was almost ready to give up and find a job. However, she believed in me and my passion, and she supported my continued effort until finally I was successful in raising my first round of funding and started my entrepreneurial journey.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?
Applause supports thousands of the world’s top brands, helping them launch flawless digital experiences all across the globe. Forty-five percent of Fortune 100 companies have worked with Applause, along with seven of the top ten US-based retailers.
Our crowdsourced community of testers is made of half a million highly vetted QA professionals, UX experts and digital natives located all across the globe. The skill and breadth of the community allow clients to segment in unique ways that no other company can deliver.
Here are the three main steps we’ve taken to build such a large client base:
- Addressing Real Client Needs: Any brand that is putting digital experiences in front of customers on a consistent basis needs to ensure these experiences are functioning properly and are valuable regardless of what device they are using or what location they are in. Crowdtesting is unique in that it takes testing into the real world because that’s where you find the issues that affect real customers — it’s why the world’s three most-visited websites all turn to Applause for their testing needs.
- No brand can truly appreciate their customer’s digital experience until that customer tells them about it. This is why crowd testing is the only model that allows curated teams of real users to be stood up for testing, instantly, worldwide. We leverage the world’s largest, most diverse expert community to create real-world testing teams for fast, authentic results. Calibrated to specific client needs, our teams mimic ideal end customers — testing in real-time, on all devices, in any language, worldwide.
- Speed and Flexibility: We extend our clients’ coverage to increase the number and velocity of their releases, with the assurance of quality. According to an independent third-party study, working with us has led to a 150% average increase in releases per year across our client base. Clients can rapidly access teams of experts who are already trained and on-call, ready to be deployed as needed within hours, rather than days, weeks or months. Because we can stand up testing teams instantly, 24/7 worldwide, and can test during nights and weekends, we deliver unprecedented turnaround — testing engagements signed in the morning often result in client reports by day’s end.
- Constant Innovation:Since pioneering the crowd testing category in 2007 we have continually invested in innovation in order to further our position as the leader in the market.
This investment in innovation comes in a few forms. First, we are constantly improving our existing solutions portfolio enabled by our scalable SaaS platform. The second way is through dedicating resources to R&D. That’s why we launched a new innovation engine, called Applause Labs, focused solely on R&D and new initiatives. This group ideates, prototypes and delivers new features and functionality that is outside of our current solution portfolio.
What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?
We use a subscription model to sell our testing solutions. Most enterprise engagements start with a paid pilot project. This enables us to demonstrate our capabilities and helps clients understand the breadth and depth of our services.
Our engagement model focuses on establishing annual and multi-year subscriptions with our clients. Given that clients are developing and releasing faster, they are looking for a long-term testing partnership, rather than a short-term problem fix. Through our model, we customize entitlements that align with each client’s testing needs and help them achieve scale and coverage across each of our offerings.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful app or a SAAS? Please share a story or an example for each.
As a testing partner for next-generation enterprises, we see a lot of apps and digital experiences. Five things you should know in order to build a successful app are:
- Design with the end-user in mind: Too often, brands forget to put customers at the center of their development process. It seems straightforward, but in the race to deliver apps quickly, brands may make assumptions about their customers that aren’t accurate, or they might misunderstand the varied behaviors of their customers.
- Ensure a consistent experience, regardless of the device: Customers won’t always have the latest technology or software update, but digital experiences still need to work for them. That’s why it is essential to test across all relevant devices and operating system combinations to ensure all customers can use the app.
- Understand in-market requirements: It’s essential to ensure that your app will work in real-world locations — that means ensuring that the app loads quickly and does what it’s supposed to, even in parts of the world where service might be less-than-ideal.
- Simple is better: The easier the experience, the more likely an app will be used on a consistent basis. This is fundamentally understood by brands, yet many companies still aren’t providing intuitive experiences. To make actions as easy and straightforward as possible, companies need to understand the UX of their app from the customer’s perspective.
- Don’t overextend: Remember that you can’t be everything to everyone. You should understand what your app does best, the pain your app solves and the value users get from it. Once you understand these points, prioritize the important aspects and stay focused on them.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
That’s a good question. My passion is truly around sports and a healthy way of living. There are already many movements in that area, so I am not sure if I can contribute anything new but I will definitely support any movement that helps people live a healthier, happier, stress-free life.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can follow Applause on LinkedIn here and our Twitter handle is @applause. You can also follow me personally through my Twitter handle @doronr.