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Customer Empathy In Overdrive: Rewind’s 3 Principles For A Successful App Business

customer-empathy-in-overdrive:-rewind’s-3-principles-for-a-successful-app-business

If a Shopify merchant’s store goes down, be it from a cat on a keyboard to an employee error to a malicious attack, that can mean lost sales and revenue, missed opportunities, and a nightmare to attempt to restore, especially when they have hundreds or even thousands of items in their product catalog.

It’s a merchant’s responsibility to protect and restore their data, but too often it’s an unpleasant surprise they learn when it’s already too late. And that’s when the sinking feeling in the pit of their stomach just gets worse. That’s why it’s critical that merchants back up their data before the need arises.

Mike Potter knows this all too well. As the cofounder and CEO of Rewind, he has always been a “big backups guy.” 

With two hard drives mirroring each other on his home office floor and a paid subscription to Backblaze cloud backup service for his personal computer, it’s no wonder he has built a successful company dedicated to backing up, protecting, and restoring business owners’ critical data. 

“I have a backup service to my backup service. That’s the kind of guy I am,” he says.

But it wasn’t solely a passion for backups that propelled Rewind to success on the Shopify App Store and beyond to the Shopify Plus Certified App Program (PCAP). It was a dedication to building a great product at a fair price, while delivering excellent customer service. 

We sat down with the Rewind team to learn more about how they leveraged their three core values to build a company that thousands of merchants turn to on their most stressful day in business.

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When a passion meets a business need

Potter and fellow Rewind cofounder and CTO James Ciesielski got together to build an app in 2015. It started out as a side project, a hobby. And the Ottawa, Canada-based duo had just one goal in mind: to get noticed and hired by Shopify.

“I’ve always felt that if you want to work somewhere, just make your own job. Get into the community,” Potter says. “We never had any big plans when we first started the business. We thought, let’s build it, do our best, and see what we can do.”

We never had any big plans when we first started the business. We thought, let’s build it, do our best, and see what we can do.

Potter and Ciesielski were both employed full-time and so balanced their side project with their family responsibilities, often working late into the night for months.

The pair explored two different ideas before pursuing Rewind as a viable app and business. Ciesielski says he needed some convincing at first when Potter pitched his backups app idea. He wasn’t confident that there was a clear merchant need for such a service.

But after a full walkthrough of how a data backups and restoration app could simplify the data recovery process for Shopify merchants, Ciesielski says he agreed to build the app with Potter.

“Within a week, Mike found a merchant who said they were willing to pay for this service,” Ciesielski says. “Within three weeks we had an early version of the system running.”

Validating their app idea in real time

Potter and Ciesielski quietly launched Rewind as a free app on the Shopify App Store in June 2015 without any marketing.

“We just wanted to see if people had the problem,” Potter says. 

They had read a few merchant complaints in various community forums about the challenges of data backups and restoration, but beyond Potter’s conviction that backups was a viable app idea, they didn’t have more than a handful of use cases that validated their idea. 

But they would quickly learn they had tapped into an urgent merchant need that was more of a quiet niche than a popular topic of discussion.

More than a hobby project: The pivotal incident

Potter and Ciesielski continued to build and iterate Rewind as a side hustle, offering it free to users as they quickly built up a customer base of hundreds of Shopify merchants within the first six months of launching Rewind on the Shopify App Store.

“We rewrote Rewind about three times between June and September 2015 before we got to a point where it became the foundation of what Rewind is,” Ciesielski says.

Despite the growing number of installs, they weren’t yet convinced that Rewind could be a sustainable business.

“There’s a question every app developer needs to ask themselves: ‘Is this a hobby or is this something that you want to try and grow and evolve into a business?’ In those early, early days, we labelled Rewind as a hobby,” Ciesielski says. “And we did that on purpose because we had very distinct rules of engagement for ourselves. Our families came first, our day jobs came second. They’re what paid the bills. Rewind did not pay the bills.” 

There’s a question every app developer needs to ask themselves: ‘Is this a hobby or is this something that you want to try and grow and evolve into a business?’

Their first opportunity to prove that Rewind could deliver on the peace of mind it offered merchants happened just a few weeks before Christmas 2015: a third-party app integration wiped out a Shopify merchant’s entire store. 

“We were able to recover the store exactly the way it was before the problem happened. And when I talked to that store owner, that was when I knew we had a pretty good business on our hands,” Potter says. “We basically saved his store a couple of weeks before Christmas.”

Within just a few hours, Potter and Ciesielski had restored the merchant’s large catalog of hundreds of products, allowing him to continue selling during the busy holiday season.

“That was sort of that ‘aha moment’ that there’s something here. That it’s more than just a hobby project,” Ciesielski says.

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Making the leap: The business begins

Potter and Ciesielski started charging for their app in January 2016, transitioning from hobby project to a true business, where they started to invest even more time.

“We essentially spent 18 months working two jobs,” Potter says. 

Potter and Ciesielski would work at their full-time jobs, each put their children to bed at 8PM, work on Rewind until 1AM, and start a new day at 6AM.

The two additional developers they hired in January 2016 did the same, and the new foursome worked on Rewind part-time until they made the leap in early 2017 to build Rewind as their primary business.

“The first few years were really spent building scale into the business, into the technology, getting ready to be able to grow and then to be able to handle it,” Potter says.

The first few years were really spent building scale into the business, into the technology, getting ready to be able to grow and then to be able to handle it.

Experimenting with a fair price led to exponential growth

Charging a fair price for a great product are two of Rewind’s core values, which also helped their revenue to grow quickly. They earned $30,000 in their first year and experienced 10X growth in their second year. 

By the end of their third year in business, revenue hit $1.2 million. And they have been able to keep that growth engine going ever since. By 2020, Rewind was recognized for its three-year revenue growth of 1,113 percent.

“The customers who really understood the problem had experienced it in some way, shape, or form in their past,” Ciesielki says. 

Those customers were the ones who embraced the new pricing structure as it evolved, since they had first-hand knowledge of the value that data backup and recovery provides beyond peace of mind. That encouraged Potter and Ciesielski to continue to fine-tune what customers would deem a fair price.

We’ve never been afraid to run pricing experiments. And the experiments have always shown that we were sort of undervaluing the service we offered.

“We’ve never been afraid to run pricing experiments. And the experiments have always shown that we were sort of undervaluing the service we offered,” Ciesielski adds.

As they continued to evolve their pricing structure over time, they added new service tiers, and attracted new audiences, including many Shopify Plus merchants, such as Crossrope, MVMT Watches, Knix, and Pampers.

But Potter and Ciesielski didn’t think it was enough to simply offer a great product at a fair price. They say what set them apart from their competitors, despite their lack of marketing, was a commitment to excellent customer service.

Differentiating experience through customer service

“We recognize and appreciate that the service we’re providing is always at a time of heightened stress. We had telephone support almost from day one to make sure that customers had a voice that they could talk to,” Ciesielski says. 

In the early days, Potter was the one answering the support line. That served two purposes:

  1. It gave customers the reassurance that somebody was always there to help them
  2. It gave Potter the necessary insights to be able to talk to customers from both a product and a challenge point of view, learning from customers in the process

Now, more than six years later, it’s a process they have embedded into the core of the company, from a full customer success team to engineering to product management.

Customer service is an attitude, not a department. We’ll go out of our way to try and help a customer if it means making a difference in the way that they run their business.

“Customer service is an attitude, not a department,” Ciesielski says. “We’ll go out of our way to try and help a customer if it means making a difference in the way that they run their business.”

You might also like: 9 Pro Tips to Create a Stellar App Customer Experience.

Sustained growth enables product and platform expansion

More than six years after Rewind’s initial launch on the app store, the company’s growth has hit impressive new heights. Rewind raised a $15 million USD Series A investment round in November 2020, a $65 million USD Series B investment round in September 2021, launched numerous other apps, including Rewind Copy, hired over 100 employees, and attracted 100,000 businesses who now trust Rewind to back up their combined 30 billion data points.

The app business that started as a Shopify side project has expanded to additional Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) markets, including platforms such as QuickBooks, Trello, and GitHub.

“I think part of what has enabled us to be successful is being obsessed with talking to as many customers as possible,” says Maura Woodman, a Rewind product manager.

Rewind continues to serve the majority of its Shopify customers as its teams improve its data backup, protection, and recovery capabilities.

“We’ve got a lot going on,” Woodman adds. “We want to do our backup expansion, but we also want to bring new ways to protect their stores, and enhance their protection beyond just backups. We take our role as a security provider really seriously and we expect to receive SOC 2, Type II compliance by the end of 2021. We do it to protect these stores.”

Daniel Sim, Rewind’s General Manager for Shopify, agrees. “Merchants work hard to build their businesses. We’re honoured when they trust Rewind to give them the peace of mind that their hard work is safe.”

Showing the growth, then telling the story

After more than two years without a concrete marketing strategy or investment, Rewind’s first marketing hire didn’t come until September 2017, Potter recalls. This was a careful strategy, he explains, as the team was focused on building a stable, scalable product for its existing customers.

“If we had put money into marketing, I don’t know if the system would’ve been able to hold up,” Potter says. 

It’s a playbook strategy that might seem uncommon in the current Shopify App Store, which now offers more than 6,000 apps to millions of merchants, and allows developers to advertise their apps via ads. The Rewind team is keenly aware they launched their first app in a different time with different competition, but says setting the right technical and customer service foundations are what truly make the difference.

Marketing with intent: Getting the foundations right first

Henry Brown joined Rewind in 2018 as a digital marketing manager, helping to propel Rewind forward and seek out new avenues for growth. 

“It was such an exciting time to join the company because the market clearly had an appetite for our product and we hadn’t even scratched the surface to get a better understanding of the levers we could pull to drive growth,” Brown says. 

“Ads, analytics, automation, and SEO were all in their infancy,” he adds. “This may seem like a bit of a daunting situation, but I thought of it as a huge opportunity that could be tackled through rapid testing and proper prioritization.”

But before he got started exploring marketing channels, he stressed that their Shopify App Store listing was the foundation of their marketing engine.

They made sure to have Google Analytics configured so they could track Add app button clicks, and then get to work uncovering the actual keywords that merchants used to find their app in the app store. 

“There are plenty of rich insights to be gained from this data that can inform both app listing and marketing copy,” he says.

Screenshot of Rewind's app listing on the Shopify App Store with a short description and an explainer video.
A well-written listing page with Google Analytics tracking conversion metrics provided Rewind with ample marketing insights.

With the basics securely in place, Brown and his team explored paid channels such as Facebook or Instagram ads, and even channels that were a little more niche, like sponsoring answers on Quora, all while driving traffic to their listing. They monitored how that traffic responded to their efforts in Google Analytics.

Some of the best and most natural ad copy can be sitting right under your nose thanks to merchant reviews!

“If you’re struggling with how to actually ‘market’ and talk about the problem your app solves, dig into your app reviews,” Brown recommends. “Some of the best and most natural ad copy can be sitting right under your nose thanks to merchant reviews!”

Just as Rewind experimented with pricing, they also tested different opportunities and channels, especially when in-person events were cancelled or postponed during 2020. So they pivoted their marketing efforts to virtual sponsorships of online events.

“If you want to be seen and become known, you need to be able to adapt to wherever merchants are spending their time,” he adds. “The takeaway here is to be flexible to new possibilities.”

Brown says they also began investing in Shopify App Store Search Ads when they launched, which have given a “nice boost” to their bottom line, allowing them to continue to experiment with new keywords and make use of deep insights related to campaign ROI.

A key to our success was building with Shopify first because we have benefited from all of Shopify’s success with merchants.

“A key to our success was building with Shopify first because we have benefited from all of Shopify’s success with merchants,” Woodman says. “We got our start in this super active and vibrant ecosystem, and we were able to learn really quickly how to serve our markets well. I’m convinced that if we started on a different platform, we wouldn’t have had the same success we have now.” 

You might also like: How to Market an App: 11 Expert Tips.

A true passion: All in on the business of backups

Rewind’s exponential growth over the past several years can largely be attributed to staying true to Potter and Ciesielski’s three original business goals and core principles:

  1. Building a great product
  2. Providing great customer service 
  3. Charging a fair price for that service 

These days, Potter has a new kind of satisfaction in his work, particularly around the customer-centric company culture they have developed. Hearing from employees that they enjoy being there for merchants on what can be one of their most stressful days in business makes the self-identified “big backups guy” emphasize that when it comes to Rewind, he’s all in—there is no backup plan.

“Rewind, and the people who work here, get me up and going every day,” he says. “I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing than what I’m doing right now.”

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This article originally appeared on the Shopify Web Design and Development blog and is made available here to educate and cast a wider net of discovery.
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