Jason Lander is the CEO of Hively, a survey company that realizes you hate surveys. Its greatest weapon? Keeping things absurdly simple. Where another app might force you through a dozen pages of aimless questions, Hively will often let you get away with an action as simple as clicking on a smiley face. Hively will release an update this month that helps companies broadcast when their customers are satisfied.
FAST COMPANY: I refuse to do any Internet surveys—I find them annoying. Was Hively made with me in mind?
JASON LANDER: Absolutely. The reason everybody hates surveys is that companies are constantly sending them out. They need to get feedback, but it becomes oversaturated, and most companies ruin it. They send surveys too often, or they ask too many questions. We built Hively to flip that on its head.
Hively is extremely simple: For example, users can give feedback on an interaction with a business by just clicking a green happy face, a yellow neutral face, or a red frowny face. Did it actually take a bit of bravery to go that simple?
We got a lot of feedback early on: "That’s not a product—that’s a feature." And we largely ignored it. A lot of those people—investors or other tech companies—are looking for the next Salesforce, the next Facebook. But most apps I use on a daily basis are very simple and singularly focused. They do one thing very well. I have no problem cobbling together a bunch of micro-apps to get the day-to-day done.
You do have other features—after clicking on the faces, users can fill out more info, and you have features that allow employers to reward employees who get good feedback. Was there a temptation to add feature after feature?
This is a very simple app, but it’s valuable. If we added features we could ruin the product very quickly. My business partner and I, this is our second startup. Our first startup, we had the exact opposite mindset. We built scheduling software for hospitals, and every time a customer asked for a feature we built it. We went from a very simple application to just adding feature after feature. One day we woke up and realized that it took anywhere from two to six months to implement our application, required weeks if not months of training, and that it took a whole team of people to support the application.
So you shouldn’t listen to your customers when they ask for features?
You have to find the right customers to listen to. Here’s another example: We would build features that customers would request, and then they wouldn’t even implement them. We had raised a lot of outside capital and had money to burn, so in the beginning, we’d have customers say, "Hey, we want this feature," take six months to build it, show it to the customers, and they’d say, "Oh, we don’t want it now." Now that we’re bootstrapping, we can’t go on these sprees of listening to every feature request. You should listen to your customers, but don’t necessarily do everything they always say.
Which ones should you listen to?
The ones who sign up for products in beta tend to be more innovative, more forward-thinking. Their ideas are very valuable. Also, customers who have really bought in, really love the product and use it all the time, and really get value out of it.
Emoji is really hot right now. Is Hively capitalizing on that trend?
It’s funny. September was the 30th anniversary of the emoticon. I never thought about it in those terms really. We did a lot of work in health care staffing, and they always use the pain scale, which used those faces. I thought it was just brilliant and simple—very much a universal language. With three smiley faces, no matter what language, everybody knows what they mean.
Are you a big emoticon user?
I probably overuse emoticons and exclamation points. I think the reason why is I email all the time, and I found things can come across the wrong way. The reader interprets according to whatever current mood they’re in.
Why is emoji having a big moment right now?
I don’t know. I just really like that it’s so simple. Everybody understands it. There’s no subjective interpretation.
[Image: Flickr user Holger Eilhard]