Startup Advice

How Sydney startup Paperform acquired more than 4000 users in five months

Dinushi Dias /

Paper Form co-founders Diony and Dean McPherson

Paper Form co-founders Diony and Dean McPherson

A Sydney startup developing a global platform to easily build interactive online forms has attracted more than 4000 users in the space of five months by making the most of partnerships.

Paperform, founded by former Google project manager Diony McPherson and tech developer Dean McPherson, allows users to create interactive branded online forms and product pages with embedded photos or video.

The McPhersons say the platform’s key aim is to give users the ability to “create a form that is engaging and beautiful and represents their brand”.

“There’s nothing else in the market that allows you to embed media the way we do,” the McPhersons tell StartupSmart.

The idea is simple but the technology is not, they say.

The market Paperform is embarking on isn’t small either.

According to Mark Tanner, co-founder of interactive document platform Qwilr, which closed a $1.5 million investment round this month, the global market for document software is worth more than $25 billion.

“We would love to be in ten years’ time an established global business based in Australia [and] to be supporting Australian employees,” the McPhersons say.

Acquiring customers fast

One of the key reasons Paperform acquired a high number of users early on is the McPhersons decided to run a promotion on AppSumo back in November 2016.

AppSumo, which approached Paperform first, specialises in running new product and app deals. Paperform was still in beta at the time but the McPhersons offered users a lifetime subscription to the platform for a one-off fee of $US39 ($52).

This led to 3000 new platform subscribers and some early funding to help the McPhersons improve the product. The platform has been built with $50,000 of the McPhersons’ own money and sales through AppSumo.

“We really started out with a raw MVP [minimum viable product],” they say.

The power of partnerships

Partnerships have also played a key role in Paperform’s traction to date, they say.

Recently, the startup was invited to be one of the sponsors for New York University’s InnoVention competition, which began this January and ends in May.

“That was really exciting as an opportunity to give back really early on,” they say.

Agreeing to offer subscriptions to competitors enabled Paperform to gain exposure alongside tech brands like Trello, which was recently acquired by Atlassian for $577 million.

Two weeks ago, Paperform also listed on global app directory Zapier, opening up the tiny startup to a worldwide audience of 1.5 million users a month.

The McPhersons say their partnerships and opportunities to date have come from speaking directly to the platform’s users and developing real human connections with customers.

“Opportunity creates opportunity … it’s all about showing up and being in the right place,” they say.

Connecting with users on a human level

The McPhersons believe new founders should strongly consider putting early versions of their products on sites like Betalist to gauge the demand and interest in what’s being built before money and time is wasted on it.

“Get your product out as fast as you can, don’t wait for it to be perfect,” they say.

“If you build something that is filling a genuine need, they will respond to it and then you build it from there.

“The next most important thing, which is now the most important thing [for us], is talking to users.”

In line with this, the McPhersons encourage introverted founders and developers to “force” themselves to get out there and talk to people.

Prioritising human connections and actively listening to customers has helped the McPhersons build a “small army of champions”.

“We’ve had 4000 conversations [with customers and] a good 10 percent have said they love us,” they say.

Unlike big tech companies on the market, the McPhersons are keen to keep Paperform’s customers connected to the platform through human interactions as the startup grows.

“We want to be another organisation that brings humanity into the business,” they say.

“We want our customers to have a face when we’re speaking to them, not just another user that we can churn.”

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Dinushi Dias

Dinushi Dias is a freelance journalist and a former StartupSmart reporter and multimedia content producer. She is the co-founder of Melbourne-based production house Dinushi & Power.

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