14. August 2012–
We spoke to Shai Wininger, founder of quirky social marketplace Fiverr on the importance of guerilla marketing, why Germans worry too much about tax and the weirdest things people will do for $5
Day 2 of the LIL conference sees us at a hillside bar overlooking Haifa Bay for a chat with the founder one of the most newsworthy success stories to come from Israel of late – Fiverr.
"I will feed your message to my goat for $5"
Billed as a "social marketplace", Fiverr lets enterprising individuals post up tasks that they are willing to carry out for $5. These range from the practical – logo creation, personalised messages, IT support – through to the utterly bizarre. A short browse reveals the following offers: "I will sing Happy birthday to you in Welsh, wearing only a thong and woolly hat for $5", "I will make headphones out of marshmallows for $5" and, our favourite: "I will feed your message or business to my goat for $5".
But what at first seems to be no more then a quirky novelty site belies a laser-guided marketing strategy and impressive financial backing: Fiverr raised $15 million Series B funding from Accel Partners and Bessemer Venture Partners in May this year, raising total funding to $20m.
Since its launch in 2009, Fiverr has become one of the top 150 sites in the US, nestling somewhere between Disney and TechCrunch. It's used in over 200 countries (the US, UK and Australia yielding the most users) and now hosts over 1 million "gigs" online, easily searchable by category, subject-matter and rating.
It has grown a massive 600 per cent since its Series A funding in 2011 and now has 48 employees and is on the verge of opening a full-scale operation in the US.
"Sometimes the stars align in a certain way..."
Wininger is both philosophical and pragmatic about the trajectory of his company: "We [Wininger and co-founder Micha Kaufman] always had a plan in mind. I'm a pessimistic sort of guy, so I wouldn't say I expected this level of success so quickly, but we always knew where we wanted to go, and we were always aiming big."
When asked if the economic downturn was a blessing for Fiverr as homespun entrepreneurship and creative ways to make money became more prevalent, he smiles:
"We were creating a company in the economic downturn, an apocalyptic atmosphere. But sometimes when you create a company the stars align in a certain way – it has a lot to do with luck, it has a lot to do with the atmophere at that time and it has a lot to do with how you bind your idea to this to create something for people that will make a shine in their eyes."
Branding and guerilla marketing over product and SEO
Again, this belies the amount of finely-tuned marketing nous Kaufman and Wininger brought to Fiverr. The whole story of the site was planned out before the product was brought to life: "I think a lot of startups are looking at the technology before even looking at the product, at the story. At Fiverr we invested most of our initial time, not in creating the product, but in creating a story around it that would make sense for everyone."
This strategy can be seen in the way Wininger (whose background in design and branding) and his team set about raising public awareness of the Fiverr. Instead of spending on SEO or PR, they approached viral YouTube stars to make them aware that they could make money from their talents on their platform.
The quirky, often hilariously bizarre "gigs" that people posted also screamed shareability, and were also a gift for news pieces – the company got covered on US national TV just two weeks after launch. "And that's the sort of marketing that you just can't buy," Wininger says.
Global expansion – "Israelis don't know how to sell and Germans are worried about tax issues"
This year is all about global expansion for Fiverr. The company is setting up offices in New York's financial district and looking to hire the best talent from the global marketplace giants.
"It's essential for us to move. As we scale, we need to get people who understand product on a really large scale, who understand work driven by metrics. Who can say 'In eBay, Etsy, Airbnb we did it like this'."
Interestingly, Fiverr looked at starting up offices in Berlin but "couldn't find the right people or support". Also, as the site launches localised versions in different languages, perhaps unsurprisingly, the biggest worry for the German market was what the tax issues would be: "It was funny – nearly all our queries were about how this would be filled in on their tax declaration," Wininger laughs.
But the branding strategy doesn't end there. In January this year, Fiverr launched a kind of gamification to the mix: "Levels" is a reputation-based system for more serious entrepreneurs to establish themselves. After ten successful, user-rated transactions, users can charge more for their services. Wininger says that now over 30 per cent of Fiverr transactions are greater than $5, with 14 per cent of users listing Fiverr as their primary income.
Indeed, the other plans for the latest funding include development of this professional aspect. So can we expect a new site? "You will have to see," says Wininger, smiling tellingly. But surely a professional site would need completely different branding, a different story? Another grin: "You'll just have to wait and see... It will be this year. Our aim has always been to be the global leader, to be the eBay of online services..."
It looks as is Fiverr is about to break out of the Welshmen in thongs and goat-advertising market into something wholly more formidable...