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An Interview with Alfonso de la Nuez, CEO of UserZoom

November 23, 2015

Venture capitalists (VCs) are now investing significant funding in applications that help businesses to evaluate, measure, and improve their product user experiences. On October 15, 2015, leading UX research and testing SaaS platform UserZoom received $34 million in venture financing, led by TC Growth Partners, with investments from Trident Capital, and StepStone Group. This momentous event demonstrates how important user experience has become to the success of products and the businesses that make them. This is exciting news for the UX community! So we thought this would be the perfect time to interview Alfonso de la Nuez, CEO of UserZoom, who is shown in Figure 1. (If you’re wondering why Alfonso has a basketball poised on the tip of his finger, he won a full scholarship to play on the Varsity basketball team at San Jose State University and is still passionate about the game.)

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Figure 1—Alfonso de la Nuez, CEO of UserZoom
Alfonso de la Nuez, CEO of UserZoom

The Company

Pabini: Please tell me a little about the history of UserZoom. What prompted you to start UserZoom?

Alfonso: We created UserZoom because we wanted to go beyond the lab. Back in 2007, we thought there had to be a better way to conduct usability testing and gather user feedback than sitting in a lab at just one location, using small samples of five to ten participants, and taking three to four weeks to complete a study. We knew lots of companies would conduct more usability testing if they had a more cost-effective, agile way of going about it. Today, thanks to online, remote testing, more companies do UX research than ever before. We love that!

Pabini: How and when did the company come into being?

Alfonso: The three co-founders—myself, Javier Darriba, and Xavier Mestres—started a UX consulting shop in 2001. We called it Xperience Consulting. We were in the lab all day. We traveled all over the world to conduct international testing. Then, we’d spend a week cleaning up our videos and notes. We’d had it! So, around 2007, we started working on an online research software product that would complement lab testing. Our software would enable UX researchers to do usability testing quickly and at a fraction of the cost by using the cloud and inviting people to participate in studies anytime and anywhere—even at home. Today, UX professionals call this crowd-sourced, in-the-wild, or unmoderated testing.

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The Products

Pabini: What was the first product you released to market?

Alfonso: Actually, our first product was on-premise software rather than SaaS (Software as a Service). We mostly offered online UX research services and conducted studies using our own product. Then, the Director of User Experience at the leading search company on the planet—who’d hired us for a few studies back in 2008—requested something we’ll never forget: He said, “Hey, we love you guys. No offense, but what we really want is your tool.” That motivated us to release an on-demand, SaaS version of our product. So here we are today.

Pabini: How have UserZoom’s product offerings evolved over time?

Alfonso: We first offered task-based surveys for quantitative research. Essentially, you’d use UserZoom to benchmark usability. We knew UX researchers would want to run other types of studies such as card sorting, surveys, and click testing, so we developed all those capabilities for the same research platform.

Soon after, we offered international testing and launched video-recording and mobile-testing capabilities. In parallel, we focused on innovation, data security, customization, flexibility in our product’s look and feel, recruiting options for conducting international research, high-quality UX research services, and hands-on customer service. All of the things our enterprise customers really care about. Today, we see ourselves as the all-in-one, multichannel, UX research platform, and we’re focused on the enterprise market.

Some Factors in UserZoom’s Success

Pabini: How has UserZoom achieved such impressive success in its market without venture funding?

Alfonso: We get asked this question more than any other. There are several factors that have been important in our capital-efficient success story, but the following three are some of the most important ones:

  1. Before expanding to the US and the UK, we launched UserZoom in Barcelona, Spain. We have a really talented R&D (Research and Development) team there. Given the cost of living in the Bay Area, being able to keep R&D running at full speed in Spain has proven to be very cost effective.
  2. We built our product for the power usability professionals who had trusted us from the very beginning. Back in 2009, the Director of User Experience at a top retailer signed a license with us. With his signature came a list of 80 features that we had to get ready for him to renew. A year later, we’d launched 79 of them, so he was happy and renewed their license.
  3. We focused on the enterprise market and those brands that were willing to pay higher prices for a quality product and services. The ROI (Return on Investment) for that market was more than evident.

Venture Funding

Pabini: Recently, UserZoom received a significant amount of venture capital. How did you bring that about?

Alfonso: Because we’d been able to bootstrap the business, we’d raised very little money before 2015. Yet, we’d been able to grow consistently over the past five years. But building a profitable business is easier said than done! Our company has been financially stable and managed to keep growing organically, using our own resources.

Additionally, the UX market has taken off in the past two years. Our investors are a bunch of smart people who quickly figured out that there is a huge market opportunity in UX research. User experience is now linked to business and financial success. For us, the timing was perfect. We’d received offers of venture funding in the past, but had never felt ready to take the step and partner with an investor. Then, this year, we set higher expectations than ever as the market heated up, so we decided to engage in some conversations with VCs. In TC Growth, we found the right partner to help us through this next stage of our business.

Pabini: What do you think are the implications of the venture capital industry’s rising interest in User Experience?

Alfonso: VCs understand industry trends, market sizes, and opportunities. In the past few years, they’ve made a large number of investments the Customer Experience (CX), User Experience, and consumer insights spaces. What this means is that User Experience is finally getting the attention it deserves and, most importantly, businesses are appreciating the value that User Experience provides. In part, this is because C-level leaders now associate good design with financial results. So the implications of VC’s taking a big interest in User Experience will be better, more user-friendly products.

Pabini: What does this mean for companies creating software for UX professionals?

Alfonso: A big market opportunity!

The Future

Pabini: What’s your vision for the future of UserZoom?

Alfonso: The consumer is king. The online marketplace is more competitive than ever. It’s easier to build an app or any type of digital property than ever before. The thirst and demand for actionable consumer insights is bigger than ever. Both B2C (Business to Consumer) and B2B (Business to Business) enterprises must soon offer truly exceptional multichannel experiences.

There are many ways to test and measure user experiences. UserZoom empowers companies to get closer to consumers by easily and cost-effectively testing and measuring the quality of the digital experiences they deliver to their customers. UserZoom offers an all-in-one platform for agile UX research and usability testing. We offer both quantitative and qualitative, both desktop and mobile crowd-sourced research solutions that we’ve aimed at data-driven enterprises.

Pabini: Thanks, Alfonso, for sharing your excitement about the future of User Experience and UserZoom. And congratulations on achieving this huge funding milestone! These are, indeed exciting times for User Experience! 

Founder and Principal Consultant at Strategic UX

Founder, Publisher, and Editor in Chief of UXmatters

Silicon Valley, California, USA

Pabini Gabriel-PetitWith more than 20 years working in User Experience at companies such as Google, Cisco, WebEx, Apple, and many startups, Pabini now provides UX strategy and design consulting services through her Silicon Valley company, Strategic UX. Her past UX leadership roles include Head of UX for Sales & Marketing IT at Intel, Senior Director of UX and Design at Apttus, Principal UX Architect at BMC Software, VP of User Experience at scanR, and Manager of User Experience at WebEx. Pabini has led UX strategy, design, and user research for Web, mobile, and desktop applications for consumers, small businesses, and enterprises, in diverse product domains. Working collaboratively with business executives, multidisciplinary product teams, and UX teams, she has envisioned and realized holistic UX design solutions for innovative, award-winning products that delighted users, achieved success in the marketplace, and delivered business value. As a UX leader, she has facilitated conceptual modeling and ideation sessions; written user stories; prioritized product and usability requirements; established corporate design frameworks, standards, and guidelines; and integrated lean UX activities into agile development processes. Pabini is a strategic thinker, and the diversity of her experience enables her to synthesize innovative solutions for challenging strategy and design problems. She is passionate about creating great user experiences that meet users’ needs and get business results. A thought leader in the UX community, Pabini was a Founding Director of the Interaction Design Association (IxDA).  Read More

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