All of us have items in our homes that make us think “I wonder how much is it worth?”. In fact, PBS has its own hit show Antique Roadshow where a collector can get an item like an ivory brooch heirloom or a rare oil painting appraised by antique experts to determine if it’s trash or an invaluable treasure worth millions.
Since 2007, WorthPoint’s Internet of Stuff™ is a treasure trove where collectors of all levels can identify, research and value antiques, art and vintage collectibles using their Worthopedia, WorthPoint library and maps, and their newest product, WorthPoint Vault that’s set to be launched next quarter.
After serving as CFO and COO to several tech companies for over 25 years, Will Seippel launched WorthPoint in 2007 where he impressively turned it into a profitable company with 1B images, 500M web pages, 400M unique visitors/month, and over 15k paid users with users spending over 10 minutes on their site and fewer than 1% chargebacks.
However, this amazing story isn’t without its ups and downs. I had the pleasure to talk to Will Seippel, CEO and founder of WorthPoint Corporation to hear about his company’s journey toward subscriptions and what inevitably led them to Zuora.
Lana Lee: In 2007 when you started WorthPoint, online subscription billing wasn’t very common. How did you get started with subscriptions?
Will Seippel: We were ahead of our time in 2007 with our vision and technology - we even developed our own billing system by enlisting a brilliant developer who had worked at CERN. We knew at the start that we had to have subscriptions, but back then, only dating and adult sites used recurring billing. I had to see how they advertise and how they present the bill and the only way for me to learn about it was to sign up - so I did! I remember talking to my finance guy, a long time friend, coming into my office asking me why I was signing up for those sites with the company account (chuckles). After that, we rewrote our product to focus on subscriptions and decided to use a third-party company for billing.
LL: What factors came into play with your decision on which billing company to use?
WS: It came down to Zuora and another company. We knew that Zuora was a better product, but inevitably we chose the other company since we were tight on cash and Zuora was new in a new industry. I really wish we had gone with Zuora in the first place because that wrong decision cost us dearly.
LL: Oh no! What happened and what inevitably brought you to us?
WS: The first company we chose lied to us. For example, WorthPoint’s name was supposed to be on the bill and it wasn’t, they offered refunds that were more than what they should be, and their dynamic database made it impossible to reconcile a billing period because numbers always changed. The list of problems was endless, not to mention the experience was a complete disaster. We lost 40% of our business in the first month, almost went out of business and it cost me over $1M out of my own pocket - and all this happened right after we went cash flow positive. There was never a worse decision in the history of WorthPoint.
In 2014, we had enough and went to Zuora. Let me just say that Zuora is a wonderful product - everything they said that it would do, it did...and more. For example, most of reporting is pretty easy and it offers so many things to do.
LL: What sets Zuora apart from other companies you’ve looked into?
WS: Zuora is an excellently run company with a product that does more than it’s supposed to with the flexibility that anyone would need and everyone at Zuora knows what they’re doing. For example, this past September, my CFO Neal McAtee noticed that our bill runs were noticeably lower - close to $9300 below their monthly average. We got on a call with one of your Global Support team members, Viktor Vajda, who discovered a bill run had been inadvertently configured to filter out "Recurring" charges when created, preventing our invoices from going out. It was a quick fix that put $9,000 in the bank for us, and we are doing great!
LL: That’s awesome! Sounds like you’re well-versed in Zuora. Normally, one wouldn’t think a CEO uses Zuora, but you do. How do you use the product?
WS: As someone who’s not a programmer, Zuora is easy to use. I can find anything in regard to customer revenue, take my daily sales summaries, start computing billing stats like failure rates and see the average revenue per bill; it helps that I love numbers!
Zuora also helped us discover that we’re undercounting revenue. Our CFO is now reconciling things with Zuora to find out why we have so much cash compared to what one would think with revenue. Zuora takes us immediately to GAAP, which is a cool solution and I’ve encouraged our CFO to work with your teams to help beef up our finance side.
LL: Undercounted revenue...that’s a unique “problem” to have and puts you in a strategic position for growth. What’s next for WorthPoint?
WS: I’m really excited about the upcoming year! Now that the world has caught up with us, we’re flying off the charts with sales. This December, we’ll be cash flow positive so we’re now trying to keep up with what’s needed as a company versus cash regeneration.
But things at WorthPoint are about to become complex very quickly with our fourth consumer product, WorthPoint Vault, will be launched at the end of the first quarter. It will make our marketing messaging much more complicated than it has in the past. Not only will we be pricing and explaining a new product for consumers, but we’ll also revamp our website with a new taxonomy to accommodate the high volume of traffic we get. We’ll be growing and evolving so quickly that it’s going to change the way we’ll be making decisions, which is very exciting.
LL: Thanks for sharing your story with me. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
WS: I don’t go out and share my story for many companies - I neither have the time nor the desire. But with billing decisions, it’s so fundamentally important to get it right. Look at what happened to us - I wish we had better advice on what was a good thing to do, and it’s important to share our good and bad decisions with others.
The wrong decision cost me 4 years and a lot of money. WorthPoint is lucky because, for most internet businesses, you’re dead if you lose 4 years. But because we were so ahead of the vision - we survived. That’s why I’m sharing my story. I want to help other people.
One of my mentors in Atlanta told me that every successful startup company he knows, went through one major wrong decision and only the good ones come out of it. If we had been venture-owned, we wouldn't have had the chance to turn around. But on the other hand, if we had venture funding, we would’ve had better input and financing, and bought the best product out there which would’ve been Zuora. Still, one always has to look at the goodness in everything - I wouldn’t have met Tien and I wouldn’t have been able to turn around my own company.
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