Business Not 101

Talking customer polling research as a service with John Li Co-Founder of PickFU

May 08, 2023 Olivier Bousette Season 4 Episode 35
Business Not 101
Talking customer polling research as a service with John Li Co-Founder of PickFU
Show Notes Transcript


John Li is the co-founder of PickFu, a polling platform anyone can use to get fast, reliable feedback from real people. From solopreneurs to Fortune 100 giants, companies of all sizes trust PickFu to help them make smarter, faster data-driven decisions. With degrees in Computer Science and a strong product background, John is passionate about building systems that help others succeed. 

Fun Fact, when not building PickFu, John shuttles his kids around in his dream car (a minivan).

Links PickFu:

Request feedback on just about anything related to your business, marketing material, product designs, product packaging, almost anything.  Respondents submit written comments with every pic Fu poll. And now you can use the coupon code, NOT101 for a free 15 person

Outro: Pitch deck in 60 seconds.  We want to thank our sponsor Pitch 2.0 a fully automated pitch creation and monitoring system, so you can focus on your product and not on your deck. Found at

S4E35 John Li (PickFU)

Olivier B: [00:00:00] Welcome to Business Not 1 0 1, a podcast that explores the uncommon side of business, goes beyond the conventional teachings, delves into the practical real world strategies and insights from successful founders, entrepreneurs, industry experts that understand what drives growth and how to achieve success in an ever-changing business landscape.

So join us and let's go beyond the basics. Hi, John. How you doing?

John L: Pretty good, Oliver. Thanks for having me on.

Olivier B: thanks. It's a pleasure. Thanks for joining us on Business Now 1 0 1. So let's get right into it. Please introduce yourself and give us your 60 second business pitch.

John L: Sure thing. My name is John Lee. I'm a co-founder of Pic Fu. Pic Fu is a self-service consumer research platform that anyone can use to get fast, reliable feedback from your target. Customer. You don't need to be a market research expert or even hire one to use pic fu. It's self-service. All you have to do is create a poll, choose your audience, and in minutes you'll get results in getting feedback on [00:01:00] anything like text, images, gifts, videos, and audio files.

So Pic FU can be used for any business person on almost any aspect of your business, whether you are pre-launch and developing product or post-launch and honing your marketing material.

Olivier B: What was the aha moment behind this project? What. The light.

John L: My co-founder and I built Pic Fu as a tool for ourselves. So my co-founder, Justin and I have been building businesses for over a dozen years, and along the way, while we were working on a different project, We built Pic Fu as a side project to help us get unbiased feedback from individuals quickly and privately.

We b basically built it as engineers. We basically built it in lieu of going to a coffee shop and asked, talking to a bunch of strangers. Instead, we put a pole out to strangers on the internet.

Olivier B: That's really interesting. So this product was the outcome of a previous roadblock from your other startup.

John L: Exactly. We built it we built [00:02:00] it to help unblock our own decisions because as two co-founders, we often butted heads on various things like design decisions, headlines, marketing copy, and so on. And since we were equal partners, you know, we were just debating also, we always asked friends and family for feedback, but at a certain point, friends and families get tired of of giving you unbiased feedback.

And often they're always just gonna say, yeah. And that sounds great, right.

Olivier B: Yeah, that's a hundred percent true. And sort of asking the a hundred person interview is not always easy to do. And so when you decided to launch this business, what were some initial roadblocks that now you've sort of pivoted from your previous business and you said, ah, this is a great project, great opportunity, let's move forward.

What new roadblocks arise from.

John L: Yeah, so the actual pivoting from our main project to Pic Fu took a number of years. We actually put it on the side. We put a PayPal button on it and put it on the side for a handful of years while we focused on our main project. Every once in a while we would come back and see that it was [00:03:00] growing organically within certain industries and verticals and in certain corporations.

And so after some time we realized that the real opportunity. In growing pic fu because we saw that it was already getting a life of its own. So that was about four years ago where we pivoted and started scaling the product and the team. Now since then, I think the initial roadblocks were helping people understand the right way to ask their questions.

A pic fu poll is as simple as ch as putting in one question, choosing your audience, and launching the. And after you launch the poll, you start getting feedback. The big question is that you need to formulate the question properly, to avoid bias, to avoid asking too many things question stuffing in one question.

And so that was one of the initial roadblocks we had as we were trying to scale out the product.

Olivier B: That's really interesting and it's something I didn't think of because now you're creating something that's sort of very unique for you guys, but it's just sitting there on the side and now it, you saw it grow in value. 

So this leads into my next question is, [00:04:00] you know, as entrepreneurs we wear many hats. And clearly for you, you seem like, have a lot of projects on the go. You know, what is one position you feel that you could, that you should outsource right away to an to somebody else, a new employee, or, you know, a freelancer?

John L: Hmm. That's a good, that's a really good question. Yeah, my background and my co-founder's background were we're both trained in computer science and head professional backgrounds in software development and product management. We did a lot of that as we were building the product, and as you said, we've worn many, many hats over the years.

I think the one thing that we should have outsourced sooner is actually operations, day-to-day operations, sort of the small menial tasks hiring a VA or someone to take care of that, that would've freed us freed up a lot more time for us to really focus on sort of the larger, bigger picture things.

Olivier B: Yeah, I agree. That is, I think business operations and sort of setting up your company properly to run, you know, with without you in day-to-day, it's super important.[00:05:00] 

So I don't know how much input you have on their marketing, but at the beginning when you were first launching PickFu, what was sort of the way you guys, once you saw that it was getting some traction on its own organically, what were the ways that you suddenly took it from organic to now manually pushing it out through social

John L: Yeah, I mean I think that's still a work in progress for us. We pr as product people, we pride ourselves on having something that is easy to use and delivers a lot of value very quickly. What some of the things we did to lean into that are, excuse me, like adding something, like a referral program.

So we added that fairly early on. Person user to user referral program. Another thing we've, that has worked for us is actually working with notables and influencers in the verticals. That we see a lot of usage in, to be able to connect with them, show them the value of our tool, and if they see value in it for their audiences, then they're able to promote to their audiences.

And so [00:06:00] that way we're able to get our name out there faster.

Olivier B: That's really interesting. Sort of you guys right away jumped into influencers or was it something you were sort of gradually moved over to?

John L: It, it was gradual. It was definitely gradual.

Olivier B: Okay. And when you built your first community, your first network around it, did you pull from the original people or, or users and customers that had pre-purchase before you jumped and pivoted a hundred percent on PickFu did you get a lot of feedback from them in your process as setting up your marketing and as well sort of adjusting your product now to, for the Market?

John L: Absolutely. And I mean, I would say that we are. The evolution of PickFu as a product has def been heavily driven by our customer and being talking with our customer and being attuned to their needs and their requests. Almost every feature that we've built has been based on customer requests as we've gone along.

And so that's being, having a continual conversation with our key customers has sort of [00:07:00] helped us evolve the product over time. And then now that we've brought on other partners, Like our affiliates, like our influencers. And now we've also started working more with agencies in, in the verticals that we occupy.

We, we feel that having an ongoing dialogue with all of these, we see them as stakeholders, right? As part of the business that, so having an ongoing dialogue with all these different partners is key to us informing our decisions and how we how we approach marketing and everything else moving forward.

Olivier B: , that's a great point. And in terms not just from the marketing point, but as the sales point. What's the sort of sales cycle look like for you guys?

John L: So, PickFu is, we've worked really hard to make Pfu self-service, so anyone can go onto pic, create a free account, and then start a poll often within 10 minutes of signing up. And since our lowest price, we charge per response. And since lowest price we, you can choose as little as 15 responses.

That means that you can get started for 15 bucks. We've leaned hard towards [00:08:00] that self-service motion that. So most of our audience is self-service, and then what we do is that we identify we work with users who seem to be getting a lot of benefit and value from Pic Fu and we reach out and have communi communicate with them and see how we can support them.

So we have a wonderful customer success team that helps elevate existing customers, supports them, and helps them sort of understand how else PickFu could benefit their businesses.

Olivier B: You know, that, that makes me think. Do, do you actively reach out to your user base and poll them on their experiences, is this a, like a continuous action you guys would take, or is it like a one time after somebody signs up, or is it only for paid customers?

John L: So generally only for paid customers. We have systems set up to continually ping them about their nps, right, their net promoter score, how happy they are with Pic fu. For everyone who has[00:09:00] a less than, less than happy, less than stellar experience, we definitely follow up with them. And then for those who have stellar experiences, we follow up with them as well, like in, in order to understand what make, what made it good, what could make it better.

And so we always have the, we have these automated systems set up to constantly reach out to our customer base and take a pulse of how they how they feel our service is doing.

Olivier B: That's a great thing because I think a lot of businesses sort of, you know, once they capture the audience and they capture their customers and their user base, they tend just to leave them. Until they see a decrease in use or in, in, you know, people not ascribing to the service. And I think it's so important to constantly poll your, your customers and, and your sort of, your team to be able to do that.

So I think that's brilliant. And how are some of the ways that you guys have taken your customers from the free service side to the paid service side? So, so one of the things you can walk us through one of the, the features to get people to go onto the paid side.

John L: Yeah, so that we're kind of different than a lot of other sort of SaaS services because[00:10:00] because we're tapping into a pa we're built on top of con enterprise grade consumer research panels, and we pay those panelists as stipend. When they answer our customer's polls. So there's a cost to us, which means that most of the time our customers pay us first and then we pay, you know, they pay us to run a poll and then we pay we pay our panelists pass that through to our panelists.

We don't have a great free version, although we are exploring ways to allow our leads and customers to experience that. What we do offer our coupons for Good customers who have a potentially good fit with Pic Fu and will offer those depending on if you, maybe they represent like a large organization or something, or we've spoken with them at a conference, then we'll definitely offer free credits for them to try out the platform, make sure that they're able to see the value that PickFu can bring to their business. 

Olivier B: What's the percentage of your customers that are gonna be large enterprises versus small teams, or let's say under 10 people or,

John L: So the, [00:11:00] yeah, I mean, right now the vast majority are small teams. Our mission is to basically, I hate the word, democratize it. I think it's overused, but it really is to democratize market research. We're trying to put those consumer insights in the hands of the people actually doing the work, instead of leaving it in sort of the ivory tower of a consumer insights team somewhere in some organization.

That's our mission. And so that mission resonates with a lot of small entrepreneurs like solo entrepreneurs, small teams, new businesses who really don't have the time or budget to get to go through the traditional market research route, but they could absolutely benefit from direct, unbiased feedback from their target costume.

So because of that, because that message really resonates with with the smb we have the majority of our customers are SMBs using pic fu in place of sort of a traditional market research agency.

Olivier B: And that's what I felt that your market was aimed at, and I just wanted to double check, but that's, that's brilliant [00:12:00] because I do so agree that it's such a difficult thing for small companies and small teams to be able to afford proper market risk. Search today, it's so costly and time consuming to even be able to take all that data afterwards.

So that's my sort of like follow up question. Is on your platform, I'm assuming they, they're able to get sort of analytics on the data they're collecting of the questions, or is it only the poll responses? Just

John L: yeah. So every, so as I mentioned before, a PickFu poll is, is a single question with up to eight options. Like, let's say you're, you're a new business and you're trying to compare logo design. So you can put up, up to eight different logo designs, ask a question, choose your target audience so you can micro-target by all the standard age, gender, income, all that stuff.

Plus we have a lot of targeting for. E-commerce and gaming related verticals. So if you're launching if you're launching a gaming startup or something on something on Shopify, you can you can target, say dog owners and whatnot. Once you launch it, responses start coming in immediately.

Everyone will, all the panelists will choose the option that they [00:13:00] prefer, and they'll also give a written explanation as to why they chose what they chose. So now we have this rich set of written, unbiased feedback from every single person that you've requested along with demographic demographic breakdown of everyone who answered your poll.

Olivier B: That's a huge amount of information. That's perfect.

John L: Yeah.

Olivier B: Now I'm sort of going to pivot a little bit here, but one of the questions I always like to ask people if they can, if you could leave yourself a 30 or 60 second voicemail to your past self. Saying, Hey, you know what, this was, should have done this, or I shouldn't have done that.

What would it, what would it be and why?

John L: I would tell myself to outsource the daily the daily operations of the business as soon as possible. And the reason I would do that is that there's way too much. It is way too easy for small business owners to obsess over the small details of the day-to-day, and that's a trade off in time.

They just don't realize it. But that's a trade off in time of doing the small stuff while not being able to take a, you know stick your head up, [00:14:00] look at things from, like, take a bigger picture, view of things, and be able to plan for the future.

Olivier B: Yeah, that's such, such a good point. You had mentioned that before. So looking yourself as a founder, because obviously now you've, I'm assuming you've done more than just the two business we spoke about today. Right. Having a lot of experience as a business owner and as a founder what is one trait you feel that entrepreneurs and small business owners should and need to have to be successful in your opinion?

John L: Stubbornness and a thick skin, I would. Yeah, I think, I think the path of every entrepreneur is gonna be different, but I, one thing that's guaranteed is that it's not gonna go as smoothly as you would ever expect. So to be ready for setbacks to be ready to jump up and bounce back from those setbacks and be able to be flexible enough to change courses and understand sort of where where the winds are blowing and what course you want to get, like what your destination is.

Yeah, I think that's super important. I think that every entrepreneur is gonna get knocked down. And so it's more about how quickly you're able to [00:15:00] get up and stay focused on your goals.

Olivier B: Such great points. Now looking at you as an entrepreneur, how do you stay focused, but also how does your team stay focused? Some of the tips you can give people saying this is how our team stays focused and on on schedule.

John L: A lot of repetition. So our team we do not have we're a fully remote team. Yeah, we're a fully remote team, have been, have been so the entire time of since we've been scaling the team. And so we find that asynchronous communication and sort of rep like raw repetition. Of our goals, of our targets, of our schedule is really necessary to help get everyone marching in the same direction.

Olivier B: Do you use slack or notions? 

John L: All of 'em, slack notion, Asana murro. Yeah, a whole bunch of things.

Olivier B: Do you feel like it sort of gets overwhelming all those platforms? This is one of the questions that I sort of never ask, but at the same time I get a lot of entrepreneurs come on and they're small teams, or even some of them have larger teams and they start naming all these services they use to stay [00:16:00] with the remote team and also local in, in office or in-house teams.

And I find it's it's overwhelming. It seems like there's 80 things to be checking all the time. Do you think that's good or, or do you think it's overwhelming at the same?

John L: I think it's overwhelming and horrible. I think it's I, I, I think it's the the paradox of choice as they call it. Right. And so even though we have access, and we do have we do have team accounts on a lot of different things. We try to keep it to Notion and Asana in terms of notion as a knowledge base asana for our project management.

Olivier B: Yeah, I, I use Notion a lot. And I was on a project I was helping out and they were using Notion and they were using slack as well, and they were starting, it was getting overwhelming and the sort of information was lost. I find these platforms are great, but you almost need somebody there to manage that platform only for the rest of the team.

That's, that's how I feel

John L: No, I totally, I totally feel the same way. Yeah. It's easy to get lost.

Olivier B: Yeah. So this is a, my next question's a fun question. If you could meet any entrepreneur for coffee to pick their brains for an hour, who would it be and why?

John L: Bezos for sure.[00:17:00] So PickFu one of the reasons that PickFu scaled is because we help a lot of Amazon sellers mom and Pop, and even the largest, like top 15 Amazon sellers. We basically help them get market research on their products and their listings before launching on Amazon and. Over the years, I've learned a lot about the Amazon business and sort of the, the ecosystem that Jeff Bezos has built up with a third party sale, with the third party seller marketplace.

And I think it's just brilliant. And so the more I hear it read about Amazon and how they set up AWS on the tech side, third party marketplace on the front end and so on. I mean, I think there's just a ton of brilliance there. And I would love to pick the brain of someone who thinks that way.

Olivier B: , a few people have brought up Jeff Bezos and I think he's one of those unique entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, that sort of, you could take it either way cuz he is brilliant, but he's also built this huge business. And then you wonder like, you know, day to day his activities, you know, how did he get his mind from his little initial $300,000 investment into what it is today?

So [00:18:00] yeah, it'd be a fun guest to have on my podcast too,

John L: I know.

Olivier B: What is one newsletter or podcast that in your field, for your business that you listen to, to stay up on trends?

John L: I listen to a lot of podcasts. I, I think the one, this is a little more generic, but I find it really interesting is the invest like the best with Patrick Hansey. I'm not sure if you've heard of that one. He I think it's more from like an investment perspective, but he interviews a lot of really.

Great thought leaders in different fields, and I enjoy listening. He has a great interview style and I enjoy listening to him pick the brain of these thought lit leaders from different fields. And that helps sort of expand my thinking to be able to see how leaders in other spaces approach their problems.

Olivier B: Yeah. I've listened to a couple of his podcasts, so I think he's quite brilliant as. Somebody who can interview. He has a, he has a, he's very natural, I find, and I'm sure he is. It's taken so many years to practice that and sort of hone his skill that's, what I'm gonna tell myself anyways, but I think he's a, he's a brilliant interviewer.

[00:19:00] And I, I agree with podcasts. I think listening to podcasts really helps businesses because it, there's so much, even if you take little bits and pieces from each of the podcasts, only in business world, you get a lot of little bits of information that you wouldn't have thought of on your own. I, I find it, I listen to a lot of them myself as.

John L: I think one thing, one thing someone's told me or I read somewhere that stuck with me is that you are you're kind of the average of the five people that you spend the most time with. And I kind of see podcasts as ways to spend more time, you know, spend that time with people who are very thoughtful and, and.

Leaders in their field, and so that kind of hopefully helps things percolate a little bit.

Olivier B: Yes. Jeff Dumas of Entrepreneurs on Fire says that all the time. At the beginning

John L: Mm,

Olivier B: you are the combination of five people, the, the, do you hang around the most. I remember before I started my podcast, I was sort of, Him in a hing because I felt like, you know what, I'm not very good at this.

And at that time, COVID was hitting and we were all on the, that new application of oh, I forget the name of it where everybody would just start [00:20:00] their own channel and talk audio House I think it is, or

John L: Clubhouse.

Olivier B: Clubhouse.

John L: Yes. Yes.

Olivier B: And he was hosting or he was a guest on one, on a podcast channel.

And you could raise your hand and ask a question and it. I just raised my, and I remember asking, yeah, hey, how you know? How did you get so good? Because you, and he's like, oh, don't go back 200 episodes. Like, don't listen to me then, cuz you, you really, you have to build it up. And I think that's exactly how people should look at everything they do is just sort of building it up in little steps.

So, yeah. And but I think it's brilliant. Anyways, that's my story with Jeff

John L: That's really cool. That's awesome.

Olivier B: All right. Where do you see your business in your type of business in five years? Moving forward, you know, with everything that changes in ai.

John L: Yeah, I mean, if anything, I think ai just helps us you know, we're kind of at this Shift. I mean, I, for lack of a better term, you know, like, I wouldn't say it's an inflection point or anything else, but there's definitely gonna be a before and after the introduction of ai as, as a service that [00:21:00] prides itself on connecting business owners to real.

Human feedback, high quality human feedback. I think there's always gonna be a place for that. We look at AI as a really effective tool to help our customers help us do our processes better, and then also to help our customers understand the humans that they're connecting with better. So, for example, we actually just launched last week AI summaries for our.

Because on Pic Fu, when you run a poll, you can choose anywhere between 15 to 500 people. Now we'll get you 500 high quality responses, but that might take you along. You know, it might take a day for us to get you 500 responses, but it also might take a day for you to read through 500 responses, right?

Especially if they're highly detailed, like the ones that our panelists do. So we're actually using AI to be able to take all those human responses, summarize them, and give you an executive summary. Of everything that your Paula said. And so now you can, you can basically get, get the results, get the insights, and get [00:22:00] back to action sooner.

So that's kind of one example of how we feel AI is just gonna help us go faster with our mission. Now, looking ahead, let's say five years, I think we still have a long way to go in terms of our mission. We have a lot more product to build. We have a lot more businesses to reach. We think that we are building the.

Fastest, simplest and best way to tap into target audiences for any business any consumer facing business. And we definitely want to keep, we definitely have a long way to go to sort of keep building out our marketing channels, our verticals, our industries, and then also our integrations into like larger organizations.

Olivier B: That's brilliant. That's great. Sorry, my mute button got

John L: Yeah, no worries.

Olivier B: I was like, Wait, why am we so mute? No, that's a great answer and I love that. I love that. And I, I honestly think that AI is gonna be incorporated in so many new SaaS's I think people are just looking at how to do it. And that's a brilliant idea of putting a summary together for people because I agree there's, [00:23:00] people tend to skim over the answers what they're gonna get, even the feedbacks and whether you do interview.

I feel that a lot of them just sort of go fast. They don't want to spend the time they really need to. Cause it's just, it's a huge amount of

John L: They want the cliff notes. Yeah,

Olivier B: Yeah, they just wanna like, tell me yes or no. And that's what I want to know. Yeah. That's great. All right, so my last closing question for you is what is one business book that you would suggest our re our listeners to read or listen to if it's audio book that changed your business journey?

John L: Kind of an old classic crossing the Chas. It's not the easiest read, but I thought it was a really insightful one. Sort of talking about I think, I think it's really important for entrepreneurs to read books like that, or something along that line to basically normalize the trough of sorrow for for new technology and new new businesses, right?

Because a lot of entrepreneurs, they. It is very easy to get excited about launching a new idea or a new product, but then [00:24:00] inevitably you're gonna hit a wall of disappointment, cuz not everything is gonna go perfectly as you go. And so, sort of understanding technology adoption cycles and, and how, and like paradigm shifts in industries is really important to understand.

Okay, well, you know, things take. You know, through technology adoption or whatever adoption. And so it just put, provided a really good framework for me to think about things as we were building out our stuff.

Olivier B: That's, that's really great cuz I've never heard of that book, so I'll definitely check it out.

John L: Okay, cool.

Olivier B: Well, I wanna thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us and give us this amazing conversation and all this great

John L: it.

Olivier B: And we are gonna add the, that book and how to reach out to you on our contact notes on our podcast.

So thank you again

John L: Thanks for having me on. It's been great.

Olivier B: Business Not 101 is hosted and written by me, Olivier Bousette and produced and edited by our talented podcast team to listen to Business not 1 1. You'll find us in all your favorite podcast apps as well as YouTube. We hope you've enjoyed this interview and it's given you some [00:25:00] valuable insights and helped you along your business journey.

And if you have any comments or questions, please reach out to us. Thank you for joining us and listening to this episode of Business not 1 0 1.