In 2015, Yoni Elbaz and Moran Benisty left their corporate jobs at Sears’ R&D innovation center in Israel to create their own startup. They had noticed a trend in the world of ecommerce, individual entrepreneurs empowered to start online businesses were utilizing platforms like Shopify. In contrast to marketplaces like eBay and Amazon, Shopify would provide merchants more power and creative input into the architecture of their digital stores, while still providing the infrastructure to sell products online.
At this time more visual based social media platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest were gaining significant traction. Yoni and Moran seized the moment by helping merchants gain customers through providing visual user-generated reviews for their Shopify stores. They understood that there was already validation in the market for visual reviews in marketplaces like Amazon and online retail shops like RentTheRunway and ModCloth. They simply wanted to translate this existing strategy to the world of ecommerce SMBs.
Yoni and Moran don’t identify themselves as salespeople. This is part of the reason they decided to bootstrap Loox from the beginning. They preferred to have the value of their product speak for itself, rather than sell the product to investors. “We’re builders… we’re good at looking at graphs, generating hypotheses, conducting experiments, writing and deploying code, and measuring outcomes,” Yoni said. Instead of investing in the creation of a “perfect” initial product, it was easier for Yoni and Moran to put something in their customers’ hands and see what they do with it and afterwards start iterating.
In this spirit, the first thing they did was launch a light-weight product that they built in six weeks. Their initial vision was to help fashion brands on Shopify give their customers a better idea of what they were purchasing as models in product advertisements have a completely different body type than 99% of customers that use the product. Allowing for customer reviews to include images would give customers a better idea of what the piece of clothing might look like on them. This combined with the notoriously low purchase conversion rate of fashion products made it a no-brainer for Loox to differentiate themselves, so they started with this segment under the name “Loox Fashion Reviews.” To further differentiate they also released features tailored for this target audience, such as encouraging customers to answer questions about the item’s fit and design, as well as their own body type and clothing sizes within their reviews.
The additional fashion features weren’t the focus of praise. The images from reviewers were a game changer. The design of the widgets used to display the reviews in their store were eye-catching, and a social media niche developed for “hacking” Loox Fashion Reviews so it could be utilized for non-fashion-related brands. These insights led Yoni and Moran to expand their reach past just fashion reviews and onwards to create a visual reviews widget for Shopify retailers. Yoni’s initial strategy to focus his efforts on a relatively narrow target audience would be validated by many startup gurus, but now they sought to update their vision. On they went to build a product that provides value to virtually all Shopify merchants.
While Yoni takes an extremely data driven approach to his company, when asked how he defines product market fit he leaves out the hard benchmarks and focuses on the soft details. “It’s the difference between when you tell a potential customer what you do and try to persuade him that he needs it and the situation where he nods his head and starts to offer ideas that build on top of your product. The conversation changes from objection handling to building upon the idea together,” Yoni said. Their initial plan was to build a website where people could browse various merchants’ products and they would take a percentage of every sale they helped generate.
“At the beginning, there was no PMF,” said Yoni. “People didn’t understand what or why we were building our product.” Once they started focusing on a B2B review system with an emphasis on the ability to add images, people intuitively knew that they were really onto something. Merchants started suggesting additional features such as adding videos, reminders for customers to upload images, and various design suggestions. That’s when they felt that people really wanted their product.
In the beginning, the majority of Yoni and Moran’s time was divided into two main focal points: development and customer support. Moran, described by Yoni as a “mega coder,” handled the entire development of the product. Yoni’s days were spent interacting with customers through email and mini-interviews. He listened to what wasn’t working for them and aimed to maintain an ongoing dialogue. He avoided having dry Q&A sessions with merchants, instead working with them to understand their problems and discuss alternative solutions that could eventually be integrated into the product.
Yoni and Moran maintained very close quarters, working at the same coworking desk. This supported a focused workflow, where they managed direct feedback from customers for product features, bug fixes, automations, and marketing messaging. Product market fit was not reached by one product update or another. For Loox, it is constantly pursued through many small changes and the occasional big leaps when they discover a widespread pain point that they’re able to address.
Yoni emphasizes that these changes, whether small or big, most often follow from some pattern observed from customer interactions. At first, the Loox widget was located at the bottom of the page of every Shopify store, so as not to interfere with anything else on the website. After manually helping merchant after merchant move the widget to a location that looked better in their store, they implemented a different widget location for each Shopify store template. Now, merchants hardly ever ask for the widget to be moved, saving time for both them and the customer.
A big leap for Loox came when they received feedback from customers about the different workarounds they were using to get more buyer reviews on their online stores. Yoni heard again and again from support conversations that many merchants who were sourcing their products from Aliexpress were gathering the reviews that their supplier already had with their approval, manually adding them to a CSV file, and finally uploading them to Loox . In an effort to improve such a tedious process, Loox built the first Aliexpress review importer where merchants could migrate all reviews from their supplier to their website in one click. “We just posted the ugliest, stupidest Youtube video showing this… with no narration, nothing. Just a demo. And it got tens of thousands of views without us promoting it at all because people just loved it and it’s exactly what they needed,” Yoni said. This was a huge part of their success in 2017. They went on to create features that bumped them forward based purely on the insights they gathered from talking to their customers.
Overtime, Yoni began to see the greater value that Loox was providing to their customers: The ability to help fashion brands increase conversion rate with visual reviews was one niche use case. “The problem was bigger. It was building trust because people didn’t trust textual reviews. They thought that they were copied, bought, and just fake… We can intuitively process visuals really quick and with photos you have a better feel whether it’s authentic or fake,” Yoni said. Shopify merchants were craving solutions to build trust with potential customers fast. Loox would address this pain by providing a means to collect powerful ‘social proof’ and as written on their website, “turn your customers into your best marketers.”
One of the main differentiators of Loox from the beginning was their focus on design. Shopify merchants put a lot of effort and resources into making their store stand out from the rest. Loox was the first to display reviews with large photos, one on top of the other in a Pinterest-like grid. Until now, no one offered reviews this way and it quickly became synonymous with Loox and merchants loved them for it. However, customer sentiments are fickle, or so Yoni learned as their opinions proved to changeover time. “Today we have the complete opposite problem. We ‘succeeded too much’ to the point where people are saying ‘oh you shouldn’t use Loox because everyone uses Loox and you don’t want your store to look like everyone else’s,” Yoni said. As it turned out, what started as a huge advantage became somewhat of a disadvantage. Yoni’s team is now reinventing the way they present reviews because the current design is no longer “cool,” according to customer feedback.
Through thousands of customer interactions over a short period of time, Yoni is able to gather a wealth of information. When asked how he translates this data into features and changes on the platform, he expresses its difficulty without much clarity to a specific methodology. “It’s difficult to choose what to do and then not do all the rest. It’s not always easy to pinpoint an exact ROI for each feature. Some people want this to be green. Why? They want it to be green. Am I going to acquire more users because of it? Are they going to stay longer? Pay more? It’s hard to say. But it came up so many times that you just implement it which inevitably takes time away from another feature like a reminder email that collects more reviews,” Yoni said.
Yoni understands that one of his more critical challenges is to balance all the input Loox receives with their limited resources, especially as a bootstrapped company. “That’s the job of a product manager,” Yoni said. “To get all those signals and eventually make a decision.” Yoni never asks a product manager to project how much any particular feature will increase any particular benchmark. As far as he is concerned, the benchmark is the current status of the product and the goal is to simply improve on that. This was especially true for their MVP. “At the beginning it’s 0 to 1,” Yoni said, “There is no benchmark. We had no idea how well our emails would convert. If we said 15% and it was 5% it was not a failure, it’s a starting point,” Yoni said. According to Yoni, product market fit isn’t something that you reach and it’s over. It’s something that you need to constantly reach for by continuing conversations with customers, fulfilling your visions, and keeping track of competition.