David Chen – CEO of Strikingly

[quote style=”boxed”]I’d focus more of my time on improving the product and talking to users. It’s easy to get carried away by things like networking, fundraising, and marketing. I realize now that nothing is more fun and effective than building a product that actually improves people’s lives.[/quote]

Born and raised in China, David Chen studied at the University of Chicago and is now the CEO of Strikingly, a platform that helps anyone set up a mobile-optimized website in just minutes. David manages the company’s day-to-day business, including marketing and customer relations.

Where did the idea for Strikingly come from?

We started it because we needed it ourselves! When I was in college, I needed websites for almost everything I was working on: student groups, nonprofit organizations, campaigns, student governments. Every time I needed to develop a Web presence, I’d go to Teng, my co-founder, for help. It was a frustrating experience for both of us; it took up a lot of his time, and I had to wait for his availability. I was always wondering if there was a low-cost, time-efficient tool I could just use myself.

And this wasn’t just my problem. I was the student government VP at the University of Chicago, and I was responsible for the funding committee. Besides foods for different events, website building was the most requested item for funding. Since I didn’t have solutions for the organizational leaders who applied for funding, I usually had to give them thousands of dollars each to build their sites. Because this was an expensive and ineffective situation, we started working on a solution we could all use. Although the Internet’s been around for a long time, the average user still can’t create his own Web identity easily. That’s why we started Strikingly.

What is your business model?

It’s a freemium subscription model. You can get started building a website for free. If you like what you’ve built and want to link a custom domain to Strikingly, remove the Strikingly branding, or use other premium features, the price is dependent upon the plan you choose — but our goal is to always make it affordable for the average user.

What does your typical day look like?

I usually start the day with a brief standup meeting with the whole team to go over what we did yesterday and what we’re doing today. Then, I spend the morning replying to users’ email and cleaning up my inbox. After lunch, I start monitoring and analyzing data on the product and create a list of improvements. The afternoon is also my meeting time. At night, I create content for marketing and also spend time learning new growth hacking techniques.

How do you bring ideas to life?

The process is a series of trial and error. For Strikingly, we rolled out the landing page without actually having written a line of code. This helped us test the market to gauge whether anyone was interested. Then, we released Version 1.0 in a month, and nobody liked it. We went back to develop Version 2.0; only one person used it. After collecting all the feedback from users who’d already tried Strikingly, we rolled out Version 3.0 by completely redesigning the user experience and user interface. That’s when we saw real usage.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

The trend of mobile-first design really excites me. The smaller mobile screen is forcing design to be simpler and more user-friendly. These mobile designs are quickly taking over the Web, including desktop views. The design is simplifying everything. Single-page websites and flat design are just some examples of this big trend of mobile-first, Web-second design.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

I don’t think any job is bad, since you learn something from everything — sometimes, especially, with tough experiences. One of the toughest jobs I had was working for an investment bank in Hong Kong. I learned two things from that job: 1) I don’t fit into the banking world, and 2) I love to create something for the average consumer, not just big corporations.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I’d focus more of my time on improving the product and talking to users. It’s easy to get carried away by things like networking, fundraising, and marketing. I realize now that nothing is more fun and effective than building a product that actually improves people’s lives.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I recommend talking to, understanding, and becoming friends with your users. I sincerely believe that having 100 people who love you is better than having 1 million people who sort of like you. It’s the best use of my time to understand users’ needs and learn how we can provide an even better solution.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Create super fans, not customers. For more than a year, we didn’t do any marketing for Strikingly, but we managed to grow the company 40 percent, month over month, for that entire period. It was all organic traffic via word-of-mouth marketing. It’s because we not only want to satisfy our users, but we also want to deliver happiness.

What is one business idea you’re willing to give away to our readers?

A lot of our users, including an 11-year old, created their website-building businesses with Strikingly. A lot of them are students helping local businesses create websites. Some other users have already created businesses, such as social media marketing firms and college application programs. Find a platform or technology that you can build off of!

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?

Right now, the problem I’m thinking about solving every day is how to deliver a legitimate and beautiful online identity to every Internet user. Creating a website is one of the most fundamental problems on the Internet, and there’s still no solution for the average Internet user. We want to empower everyone to become a creator, rather than just a consumer of the Web. This is the problem I’m passionate about solving.

Tell us something about you that very few people know.

I lost 40 pounds in a month during my junior year of high school.

What are your three favorite online tools, software, or resources and what do you love about them?

Wufoo, Google Docs, and Google Calendar are my three favorite tools. These three are the tools I use most, except for Strikingly. They allow me to schedule my daily routing, collaborate with people, and collect information. I’m not a coder, and they’re all non-tech-friendly.

What is the one book you recommend our community should read and why?

I’d recommend “Rework” by 37signals. Unlike other books, this is an easy read and very practical. You can finish it in a morning and start applying a lot of what it says by the afternoon. It’s a very good guide for anyone wanting to be more effective.

List three experts who have helped you as an entrepreneur and why?

Paul Graham — He helps us think big and determine what’s important and what’s not.


Edith Yeung — She helped us get into Y Combinator and developed our marketing strategy.


Kevin Hale — He taught us how to build a team and form an A-player culture.

What did you have for breakfast?

I had some Chinese buns.


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