Welcome to another in our One on One series of conversations with some of the most thought-provoking entrepreneurs, authors and experts in business today. Dan Siroker, CEO and Co-Founder of Optimizely and formerly Director of Analytics for the Obama presidential campaign, spoke with Brent Leary in this interview, which has been edited for publication. To hear audio of the full interview, page down to the loudspeaker icon at the end of the post.
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Small Business Trends: Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
Dan Siroker: I used to work as a product manager at Google, where I worked on Google Chrome. I left in 2008 to join the Obama campaign as the director of analytics. That experience was the spark for Optimizely, a product to do really easy A/B testing and website optimization.
Small Business Trends: What are some of the things you learned [during the campaign] that helped you cofound Optimizely?
Dan Siroker: We learned that the biggest opportunity for improvement – be it on website optimization or a compelling new program – was to question the core assumptions. To say, “Maybe we don’t know what’s the most effective splash page for BarackObama.com. Let’s run an experiment to find out.” That core lesson is what we have taken to Optimizely, enabling people to run those experiments and answer those questions themselves.
Small Business Trends: You cofounded Optimizely with another ex-Googler, Pete Koomen. Why did you start Optimizely when you did?
Dan Siroker: We started Optimizely because of the pain we felt during the campaign. Our goal was to make it easy to do an experiment, but also to get results in real time to make quick decisions. Our goal is to make it dramatically easier to improve your website through A/B testing. It’s self-serve; anyone can come to our website at www.Optimizely.com and get started. Even if they are not technical, they can create a variation of their website and see what impact those changes have on engagement, signups and sales.
Small Business Trends: Can you explain what A/B testing is and how a service like yours makes it easier?
Dan Siroker: A/B testing is a technique used by marketers to test the effectiveness of different content. The technique was originally pioneered through direct mail. Companies would send different mail content to different addresses and then measure which content had the highest response rate. A/B testing online is the same idea. Optimizely enables you to create variations to your website easily and run an A/B test. Optimizely [runs the statistics] and tells you which variation wins.
Small Business Trends: What were some things you took from your role as Director of Analytics that would apply to a small or midsized company that’s just starting to analyze how impactful their website is?
Dan Siroker: First, define quantifiable success metrics. Very early in the [Obama] campaign, we identified what we were trying to optimize. We looked at things like average dollar per page view on our donation sites, or dollars per recipient of our [outbound] e-mails. Defining and measuring enabled us to know whether we were going in the right direction as we made changes. Without a quantifiable sense of what your goals are, it is very easy to optimize for the wrong thing.
Small Business Trends: Does Optimizely integrate with Google Analytics?
Dan Siroker: Optimizely is directly integrated with Google Analytics with just one click. You can get all of your Optimizely data to show up in Google Analytics, [slice] and dice the variations you [create with] Optimizely, and see the impact they have on things you are measuring with Google Analytics.
Small Business Trends: Optimizely works on traditional Web pages, but can you also use it on pages running within Facebook?
Dan Siroker: Yes. Recently the Democratic National Committee created an application called the Commit to Vote Facebook app. It used Optimizely to dramatically improve the virility of the app so more people would share it. Optimizely works on any website where you can add a one-line Java Script snippet.
Small Business Trends: You’ve been working on Optimizely for about a year, and you just announced getting financing. Was that a difficult process?
Dan Siroker: We went through the process with the hope of finding people who could add value to the company beyond just dollars. Our angel investors include Ron Conway, an early investor in Google, Facebook and Twitter, and Paul Buchheit, who created Gmail and was the guy behind AdSense. We looked for people who were previously entrepreneurs, but also understood the space and could appreciate what we were trying to do. Our vision is to enable businesses to make better data-driven decisions. We see A/B testing as the first of many products that can help do that.
Small Business Trends: Any advice for folks that are just starting a new business?
Dan Siroker: Scratch your own itch. Build a product that you wish you had. We are building the product that I wish we had [during the campaign].
Small Business Trends: Where can folks learn more about you and the company?
Dan Siroker: Go to www.Optimizely.com and get started today. You don’t have to create an account; you can just enter your website URL on our homepage and get started A/B testing.
This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.