When you think about it, building a startup is the process of taking a blank canvass and filling it with your app, with a market that wants your app, and the character and culture of your company.
Along the way, you’re going to need to deal with all sorts of information: What people think of your idea, of your app at as it grows, and all sorts of interactions as your company grows from you to well, a company. You’re going to need among other things a tool gathering, managing and using all that ancillary information. You’re going to need forms, both externally and internally.
There are plenty of basic form tools out starting with Google Forms if you want to slap something together. But what if you want your survey form on your MVP idea to actually be able to collect the best proof you’ve got a hot idea – money? Or you really need to get people on your mailing list to step up and become beta testers? Or you want to take control of your hiring process?
JotForm is a sophisticated survey platform. With it, you can do all of the usual form tasks a startup faces, but you can do them faster, more attractively and engagingly, and with options and integrations that really make the product shine.
Let me focus on “engagingly” for a moment. Companies have been sending out essentially the same old online forms for decades. JotForm just released what it calls Cards.
Instead of boring multi-question multi page forms, your questions show up one by one fullscreen with an attractive background and micro-animations with a progress bar that gives your prospective beta user or customer a sense they’re getting something done.
By asking the respondent one question at a time, people focus on that question. And since JotForm has several very sophisticated question types I’ve not seen offered by other form companies, you can get better and more data.
(An example of a JotForm Card.)
Take questions like, “How do you feel about our product?”, “Was the presentation a good experience?”, “How did you feel about our purchasing process?” These type of emotional questions are hard to answer in conventional formats.
Forms made with JotForm Cards have emoji sliders that are perfect for getting emotional feedback.
(Emoji Sliders gather how people feel.)
Understanding what your customer feels about your product or service is often more important than what they think of it. Just walking into an Apple store you get an entirely [extremely well-designed] different emotional experience than you do walking into any other store. You need the right tool to measure feelings and if you don’t have that tool, how are you going to get the right data?
(By the way, if you’ve never thought about how people feel about your software, you should. And I can think of no better resource than Lou Carbone, whose been helping company after company understand and design the experience their products create.)
Creating Forms (and Cards) in JotForm
So let’s take a form every startup should start with: the MVP Form. The core idea of a Minimum Viable Product Form comes out of Eric Ries’ Lean Startup methodology: Get data, then build. Before you build a product, get some data about whether there’s enough interest in a market before you build it. Before you commit hundreds of hours of engineering time to build a major feature, get some data on whether your customers will even care about that new shiny feature.
If you embrace the Lean Startup Methodology, you’re not going to create a single MVP Form but variations, and iterations as your startup moves forward to a better and better product/market fit. This is important data! And you’re going to want to do it right.
For example, I’ve been working on a book about Microsoft’s VS Code on the Mac. My gut tells me there are lots of open source developers interested in VS Code, but they want solid, 3rd-party information before embracing a new tool. How useful would info on migrating from coding React in Atom to coding React in VS Code be to them? What’s their #1 obstacle to adopting VS Code? And, ahem, would they be interested in purchasing a book about switching to VS Code on the Mac for their js/rails/python/php coding?
But gut instincts/hopes are one thing, actual data is something different. Writing a book is a huge amount of work; getting it known if your self-publishing is another huge pile of work. Is there really an audience out there?
I had thought about doing a survey in one of the usual suspects, but having helped create MVP surveys at a startup in the past, I remember long tedious meetings trying to craft multiple choice questions, trying to make the process of actually doing a survey into anything but a chore most people would skip. A perfect justification for not putting my ego on the line and really finding out if this book idea had legs.
Having recently come across JotForm and its new Cards product, I decided to give it a go and see if I could produce my own MVP form.
I wanted to find out:
- Were developers happy with the code editor they where now using on the Mac?
- Were they interested in VS Code?
- If they were thinking about switching to VS Code, what was holding them back?
- Would an book exclusively on using VS Code on the Mac to write non-Microsoft code be a useful resource?
- And most importantly, would they pay money for such a book?
It’s one thing when you ask if people like your idea, if they think it’s a good idea, if they’d be interested in it. It’s quite another when you ask them to spend their real money on that idea.
Beginning the process in JotForm
So, I opened a free account at JotForm (100 replies, up to 5 forms) and started to build. Building forms in other survey products tends to be boring, slow and tedious work; not so in JotForm’s editor. First you decide if you want to go with a traditional form layout or do it as a series of Cards (you can try out a demo of each, a nice touch). I choose Cards, because I think that format will get me more engagement and more complete responses.
(Picking a form layout.)
I then got a choice of starting with a blank form, using one of the 10,000 (!) form templates JotForm has or even requesting JotForm build me a form. I don’t know of JotForm really has 10k templates, but they have a lot. Unfortunately, I didn’t see by Industry or Form Type Startup forms, and a lot of the forms I did see were just standard forms. I decided to create my own Card form.
Next JotForm gave me a pretty minimalist online environment with the message, “Drag your first question here from the left” and a tab I needed to open to I guess to see potential questions. When I opened that tab, things started getting more interesting: all usual form elements you’d expect (email, address, date picker, boolean question, multiple choice, etc.) and some (actually a lot) more sophisticated and robust widgets for things like file upload and download, digital signatures, taking photos, voice input, emoji sliders, referrer and geolocation info on respondents, appointment slots, and more. And under Payments, there are 24 payment integrations. Plainly, JotForm forms could do a lot more than what I’m used to seeing in a form.
(Building a JotForm Form.)
I wanted to lead off my MVP survey with something not a boring: the emoji slider. Once I dragged a slider to my first card, I replaced the dummy text with my first question: How happy are you with your mac code editor?
(Unhappy users = a market.)
Previewing it, I liked what I saw, but it was still kind of plain. going back to editor, clicking the background brought up a new icon: Form Designer, with lots of attractive color combinations, available background images, and video backgrounds.
With a couple of clicks, I changed the background to my VSCode Mac background, but ran into a definite glitch. While I could pick from a variety of different color themes, and upload the background, the colors I picked did not carry over to setting the colors when I used my custom background. Not a big deal since I could just grab the hex values with ColorSnapper and enter them myself, but a definite rough edge.
Here’s what my first 3 questions looked like in JotForm:
(My form is starting to shape up.)
And I could see it in portrait or landscape, phone or tablet:
(Looking good for mobile.)
For my next and most important question, I wanted to see if the people I sent the form to would actually buy the beta version of the book. I choose Stripe as my payment integration and got a nice Oauth form:
(Authenticating and connecting to Stripe.com.)
I’ve integrated Stripe for three different startups in Rails and React.js. JotForm’s integration with my favorite payment processor was very slick, full featured (I could create products, coupons, and set very nuanced settings), and easy to use.
Best of all, JotForm created a great user experience:
(Buying the book.)
(A secure Stripe form.)
And the [test] sale appeared in my Stripe dashboard. Awesome.
But I wanted more awesome out of my JotForm: was there a way when people answered yes or no to buying the book I could conditionally show a different card after that? If they did buy the book, I wanted to show them a confirmation message – if they didn’t choose to buy, I’d like to try and get them to give me their email (in exchange for 25% off) for my release email list.
Another small issue – from what I could tell, there’s no way to get to the support menu with its links to an FAQ, User Guide, Forum and a blog except by exiting the form. Not a biggie, but it would be nice. Once I did that I found what I was looking for very quickly: JotForm supports several different kinds of conditional actions in a form.
As is usually the case, I realized I needed two more conditionals: if they’re not interested in a book about VS Code on the Mac now, they should skip down to the email field. And if they do buy the book, I need to thank them and let them know they would be getting a beta book shortly.
After fiddling around a bit, I got the logic working just the way I wanted it to:
(The logic behind my form.)
Let me recap here: in less time that it takes to tell, I built out a MVP survey that could actually accept people’s money – the real proof of whether you have a viable product idea. And I added handling three conditional cases:
- If they’re not interested in a VS Code book, hide showing them the buy cards, but hey, they may reconsider when the book comes out so offer a 25% discount if they sign up on my email release list.
- If they are interested in a VS Code book, but not interested in buying now, show the email sign up card.
- If they do buy the book, don’t show them the email release card – they’re already a customer.
That’s a lot of logic to pack into an 7-question survey. Here’s the actual survey.
Once you start getting responses, what does JotForm do with them? Pretty much anything you want it to:
- As a default, you get each response emailed to you,
- The data is available in an Excel-like grid. You can rearrange grid columns and resize, then export in Excel, CSV or PDF formats.
- JotForm integrates with numerous other SaaS applications (SalesForce, InfusionSoft, Highrise, Insightly, etc.) directly or was one of the top 100 apps Zapier integrates with, opening the way for all sorts of other integrations.
There’s another integration definitely worth mentioning: if you or your team use Trello as your Agile work organizer in your startup, there’s a Trello Power-Up so you can integrate a JotForm with Trello. I remember when while working at a small startup we each presented the results of our prototype survey of a feature – a feature that lived in our Trello Scrum Board. Lots of switching between apps and different screens getting in the way of understanding the data.
Now, we could have collaboratively built out each prototype survey, applied our startup’s theme to it, and seen the results – right from the Trello card.
And finally, if you really need to dig deep into your data, there’s an JotForm API for reading your data.
Two more things
Two more things worth considering: what does JotForm cost and how good is it’s mobile experience?
Pricing: JotForm’s free account will handle 5 forms and 100 submissions but limit you to 1 actual payment through any of its payment integrations. Personally, I’d like to see more payments. On the other hand, I’d happily upgrade to the Bronze plan.
The Bronze plan gives you 1,000 submissions across 25 forms for $19/month and ten payments. And of course there’s Silver and Gold plans available. A nice touch is that non-profits and students can get JotForm for half off.
Mobile Experience: As you build a JotForm form there’s always available phone and tablet preview, either in portrait or landscape mode. I tried this out on my trusty iPhone 7+ and found it to be the best mobile form I’d ever dealt with. I don’t have an iPad, but I suspect the experience would be very close to what I see in Chrome Developer Tools and equally as good.
As I worked with JotForm, I kept thinking of other ways I could use it:
- I could automate letting buyers of my book download it from a conditionally protected card,
- I could create a full blown landing page for a SaaS project,
- I could send new readers onboarding checklists if they were coming from Atom or from Sublime Text.
- I could let users pick a sample chapter to download, and only send 1 chapter to any one email.
- I could get a handle on where my prospective users are by getting location information, referrer info, browser info and more,
- For beta testers, I can use the Terms & Conditions form widget to embed their agreement right into the form,
And that’s just the external uses – I can see using JotForm the way many of its 3.3 million registered users do: for all the internal forms an enterprise, company, firm, non-profit or club does. Think everything from expense and vacation forms to digitally-signed agreements to polling your club’s members on the next hike they want to take.
Finally, JotForm’s new Card format is worth a hearty shout out. They’ve spent the time to really think about the form/questionnaire experience and have come up with a more engaging, more lively, more attractive way to gather info online. Between Cards, a great mobile experience, too many templates to count and conditional logic, JotForm is a very powerful tool for your startup.