About this episode

This week's episode features an interview with Vlad Magdalin, co-founder of Webflow. For those that may not be aware, Webflow (at its core) is a website building platform, but yet it is so much more. Webflow is a platform that has enabled thousands of designers to act as an design and development agency because Webflow allows anyone to design masterfully, and develop online engagements without any need to know how to code. In fact, just a few weeks ago we had Duncan Hamra, cofounder of Memberstack on The Startup Story. In his episode we discovered that Memberstack was built ontop of Webflow. So the reality is that Webflow is not just a website builder but an entire web and software development platform that is democratizing how web design and development is achieved.

Vlad is an incredible storyteller and you're going to love his full episode. But for me, one of my favourite aspects of his entrepreneurial journey. Is the fact that both he and his brother (who is also his co-founder) are refugees from Russia and who grew up in the Shadows of Silicon Valley. Having immigrated to the US only days before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Vlad knows quite a bit about starting over from scratch.

And aside from overcoming many personal struggles as he adapted his life to try and fit in within the United States. It also took him and his brother four separate tries to get their now two-billion-dollar company up and running.

Vlad’s story is so incredibly relatable because the startup story for many companies is not one continuous thread, sometimes it has many starts and stops and Vlad was no different.

In this episode, you'll hear:

  • Vlad shares how he was born in the USSR and his parents took the massive risk to move him and his siblings to America in 1991.
  • He shares what it was like growing up in American from the age of 9 and how he struggled with his identity and he tried to hide that he was from Russia.
  • When Vlad was looking to go to college his parents said he should do a computer course like his brother. He did this for one term then dropped out to go to art school to do 3D animation as he aspired to work at Pixar.
  • While he was at college Vlad had his first entrepreneurial venture. Vlad was using Quickdot to chat with his friends but the app crashed. So picked up a book on programming and started writing a clone of Quickdot but developed it and started ChatterFox. Here he fell in love with programming.
  • Vlad shares how he first came up with the idea for Webflow when he was an intern at a design agency. He accidentally saw how the company was charging their clients hundreds of thousands of dollars while Vlad was getting paid $7 an hour. This sparked his entrepreneurial flair and he wanted to fix the problem he saw and make it better for everyone involved.
  • Vlad shares how he pushed back starting Webflow for 6 years and experienced many ups and downs with this. He almost gave up until one day he randomly receives a trademark certificate for Webflow, that he applied for it over 5 years ago. He took this as a sign to keep going.
  • How he went viral on Hacker News. In less than 24 hours it was the number 1 post and went viral on Twitter. Vlad shares the posting on hacker news drove over 20,000 sign ups. When Webflow launched only 30 people out of the 20,000 paid to use the software.
  • Vlad shares that with those first 30 customers they started a group chat, to hear direct complaints, suggestions and requests they were making.
  • How they think Webflow hasn’t even scratched the surface yet of what’s to come for the website and with their Series B round completed they are on to developing Webflow.

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Webflow Website: https://webflow.com/
Webflow Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/webflow/
Webflow Twitter: https://twitter.com/webflow
Webflow Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/webflow/

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Episode transcript

Vlad Magdalin: Hi, this is Vlad Magdalin, the co-founder of Webflow. And this is MY startup story.

Every wildfire began with a spark. Every superhero has an origin story. And every single startup has a moment that they point to as their beginning. And every founder has a purpose that drove them in the midst of all obstacles. That is the startup story.

00:29

James McKinney: Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of The Startup Story. Are you new to The Startup Story? Have you only just discovered the show? If so, I am super pumped and so appreciative to have you along for the ride. And I hope you subscribe to the show, as well as follow us if you're on Spotify. You know, we've had some amazing founders this past year, and our upcoming release schedule is not showing any signs of slowing down. So you will definitely not want to miss a single episode, so make sure to hit that subscribe or follow button on your podcast platform of choice. There are some amazing founder tactics coming in your way.

In fact, founder direct tactics are not just shared on The Startup Story, but also within the pages of Grindology. Hold up a second, have you even subscribed to Grindology yet? For those who may not know Grindology is a brand new extension of The Startup Story and it ships a tactical manual every quarter. Within the pages of Grindology we deliver founder direct resources that will help ease your grind and fuel your hustle. Every single issue of Grindology is chock full of real tactics from real business builders, not journalists. Within the pages of Grindology we will be delivering to you tactics and strategies that you can integrate into your business immediately.

Our current issue, the one that is available right now, is focused on automation. Within this issue, you will hear from a founder that shares how he drove 20% revenue growth, automating their email retargeting flows. You're also going to hear how to leverage automation within your hiring process so that you're not hindered during the season of exponential growth. And you will also receive the actual playbook on how Lyft built their marketing automation platform provided directly by the senior engineering manager who built it. I'm telling you, founder direct tactics make all the difference in the world. And that's exactly what you'll find in this issue and in every issue of Grindology, man, like I keep telling you real tactics from real business builders. And I mean it when I say we don't mess around when it comes to aggregating best practices from proven business leaders, not journalists, or thought leaders. Get your digital access to our issues today by visiting grindologymagazine.com and of course, we'll include a link in our show notes for easy access. Alright, let's jump into this week's episode.

My guest this week is Vlad Magdalin, co founder of Webflow. And for those that may not be aware Webflow at its core is a website building platform. But yet it is also so much more. Webflow is a platform that has enabled thousands of designers to act as a design and development agency because Webflow allows anyone to design masterfully and develop online engagement without any need to know how to code. In fact, just a few weeks ago, we had Duncan Hamra, a co founder of Memberstack on The Startup Story. In his episode, we discovered that member stack was built on top of Webflow. So the reality is that Webflow is not just a website builder, but an entire web and software development platform that is democratizing how web design and development is achieved. Vlad is an incredible storyteller, and you're going to love his full episode.

But for me, one of my favorite aspects of his entrepreneurial journey is the fact that both he and his brother, who also happens to be his co founder, are both refugees from Russia and who grew up in the shadows of Silicon Valley, having immigrated to the US only days before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Vlad knows quite a bit about starting over from scratch. And aside from overcoming many personal struggles, as he adapted his life to try to fit in within the United States, It also took he and his brother four separate tries to get there now $2 billion company up and running. Vlad's story is so incredibly relatable because The Startup Story for many companies is not one continuous thread. Sometimes it has many, many, many starts and stops. And Vlad was no different. Well, maybe his start was a little different.

04:12

Vlad Magdalin: I grew up in the USSR, in the very southern tip of Russia, where it was pretty tenuous as the USSR was breaking down and my parents were, you know, pretty normal. Religion here in the United States, kind of Baptist Protestant but in Russia was not something that the government looked well on. And they didn't have the best experience trying to find a job, trying to kind of live in a more kind of communistic society, etc. So they took like this giant risk of picking up their six kids and on a whim… not necessarily on a whim but like without knowing exactly what's waiting for them on the other side, just moved to America as refugees, with nothing, essentially nothing in their pockets. We couldn't sell our home. It was essentially try to pack up as much as many things as we had and head to a different country at a time when that country felt like the enemy according to the USSR, right? Everything about America was, you know, it's this evil empire and the kinds of things you would probably expect somebody in North Korea to think about the United States, given all the propaganda. So that is a huge risk in itself, right.

And in that way, I saw my parents take some big risks, but also, I think what I perceived that as is like a huge sacrifice on behalf of their kids to leave behind everything that they knew, in order to give us a better life. And in the years that went after that, you know, we were on welfare for quite a while, my parents were trying to learn English, that was a challenge. My dad did all kinds of odds and end kind of jobs to try to make ends meet. And through that process, I saw him take more and more sort of entrepreneurial steps where he was just trying to, you know, because he couldn't be employed, nobody would give him a job. Because he didn't speak the language, didn't have any very specific skills, he would try so many different things. And one of those things, you know, could be soldering electrical circuit boards for other people, because he kind of knew how to do that and can make a buck on the side. Eventually worked its way up to him trying to do like a little import/export operation to sell, to buy, you know, PVC pipes in the US and sell them in the USSR or in Russia at the time. It wasn't ever, like a full time business. But, you know, I saw my dad constantly trying to make ends meet and try creative things to provide for the family, though, that's for sure.

While at the same time seeing how risk averse my parents were right? So they didn't want to every dollar that they made, right, it was so precious, and just meant, you know, more safety for our family. So it's not like they… they didn't permit themselves or us to have like any fun with it. It's just it was always this kind of clinging to survival in the early days. So both, you know, risky in a sense by necessity, but also this sort of like scarcity mindset as well.

07:31

James McKinney: That's incredible. You know, I love the immigrant story. Oh, how old were you when they came to the US?

07:36

Vlad Magdalin: I was nine. So this is '91.

07:39

James McKinney: So you were you were fully aware of everything.

07:41

Vlad Magdalin: Oh yeah.

07:42

James McKinney: I mean, this wasn't somebody you're two or three years old, like you were you were well aware of it right. And so you, even you had some idea of what the US was. And so there's maybe some trepidation on your part. But where did your family land in the US when they got here?

07:53

Vlad Magdalin: We went through New York, then San Francisco and pretty much settled right away in Sacramento, which is where our sponsoring family, because you had to as a refugee find a sponsor. It was a pretty growing Russian refugee community there. And lived there all through high school, right before heading off to college. That was home.

08:16

James McKinney: So now one of the things that I love about the immigrant story is just the perspective that one has when they're not born here, right? Like, I mean, again, I use the analogy of pickling, right? If we're in the brine all the time, we don't know what it's like outside of the brine. So for a lot of US entrepreneurs, the idea of opportunity, and I really, I mean, I'm going to say for entrepreneurs, but really, for Americans in general, the idea of opportunity is commonplace. Like, we don't know anything else, but your parents certainly did. And therefore you certainly did at nine years old. So when you think of your high school years, and the years coming at the end of high school and seeing your dad just absolutely hustle to provide for family, was the narrative at home, "you will have a great life because you will go to college," or was there a different leaning for the family?

09:07

Vlad Magdalin: I think it was so fast paced, in that my parents were constantly trying to do things to provide for the family that the kids were, and the way that I grew up in Russia was a little more kids are labor in a sense. It was sustenance farming, you had to provide for yourself and like every new kid is more help on the farm, so to say. So you didn't really… it wasn't normalized to have like, close relationships with your parents, right? It was like a little more transactional. So I think that's how most of my childhood went. Parents just assumed that kids would take care of their own school. They almost never participated A because of the language barrier, but B just because they had so many other things to do to try to kind of make ends meet.

So I think it was just growing that I think that helped grow my independence of parents not really being super involved in school. A lot of times that felt like I was a different kid, right, everybody's parents would show up to like open school night or whatever, whatever it was. And my parents were always missing, but that like built sort of resilience with me. I just knew I had to kind of fend for myself. And that's what I remember from the high school days, just getting more and more independent. And, honestly, what feels like a lack of opportunity in Russia, let's say becomes almost, you know, I can understand why so many people have this mindset is because the more time you spend with opportunity around you, the more you become, it just kind of becomes commonplace. And you just kind of take it for granted. And I kind of became the same way. I sort of became what my mom calls like, Americanized, right? Where she would constantly remind me like, hey, in Russia, like we had it this way, and here, you kind of have everything provided for you, etc, you should be thankful for, like the kind of life you have here, etc.

But I do remember, the high school years being pretty formative in the sense that I was trying to come to terms with my identity, right, like not being at first, I was really embarrassed of being Russian, and having this kind of like "othering" identity where I had a pretty, you know, my full name is Vladimir. And that was what I was called in high school and kind of started going by Vlad in a kind of bid to be a little more normal, right, but then at some point towards the end of high school became really, you know, aware and proud of my identity, right. And you have started to really elevate that, and saw that there's a lot of a lot of awesomeness to being a little bit different, and having a different perspective and a different background.

12:00

James McKinney: I love that, you know, when you come to the end of your high school years, what did you think you wanted for your future?

12:07

Vlad Magdalin: I thought that I would become some sort of… you know, I'm not sure honestly. I think I was kind of a little bit into design. I was dabbling in 3D animation, you know, start to like model our house when we would do like home projects, because I wanted to plan everything out. And at some point, I wanted to study fine art and it just didn't really… I don't think I could commit to anything. And then my brother, my older brother, who's a year older, ended up going to Cal Poly to study computer science. And once that happened, my parents were just kind of by default, they're like, well, no matter what school you get into, that's where we're going to, that's we're going to drive you. So I sort of followed his footsteps and just did the computer science thing. And after a year, just figured out I really, really didn't like it.

And then ended up dropping out and going to art school to study 3D animation here in San Francisco, because that's where I was drawn to, from what I thought I wanted to do in high school. But in high school, I was doing things like yearbook, you know, taking pictures and trying to be creative with, you know, like magazines and layouts. I think it's way more on the creative side, kind of what you see with Webflow today, much more so than anything technical.

13:32

James McKinney: So when you went to towards 3D animation, when you went to San Francisco for the finish your schooling, what did you think you wanted to do with that?

13:41

Vlad Magdalin: Work at Pixar, that was a dream. You know, I saw these incredible movies that people were creating. And that seemed like the dream job. You'd hear all these stories, how, you know, if you work at Pixar, you have your own like little home or studio, and everything's different, and you can be yourself and you can be super creative. And that was a dream. So didn't pan out like that because to get into Pixar, you have to be an incredible animator starting from like when you're three years old, essentially. And of all things, I actually fell in love with programming while I was going to art school. And that happened accidentally, not because I started learning programming, but because a product I was using that was a startup and the dotcom sort of like rise of all these startups happening.

I was using the startup called Quick Dot with all my friends to communicate. It was almost like this asynchronous communication thing like WhatsApp. But it crashed. And I was like, Huh, I have no way to communicate with my friends anymore. So I picked up a book on programming and started writing almost like a clone of that of that service. And that ended up being my first like startup, it was called Chatter Fox, and I learned how to… I essentially wasn't trying to learn how to program But I learned how to build something that other people were using. And through that process, I realized, wow, actually, like the power of code is not just that you can create something small, you can actually create something that you can put on the internet that changes a ton of people's lives. And that got me interested in programming again, not because I liked the skill, but because I was like, Whoa, this is actually making a difference in so many people's lives. I want to go back to doing this and like focus on this and learn how to do this better.

15:27

James McKinney: What was, let's put a year on that, what year was that?

15:30

Vlad Magdalin: That was, so I went dropped of Cal Poly in 2001. Did art school from 2001 to 2003, that would have been 2002-ish that I started working on it. And throughout kind of mid 2003 is when I decided to try to do that more full time. And actually dropped out of art school and went back to Cal Poly to keep studying programming because I thought that that was more relevant to the thing I was building then.

16:01

James McKinney: So you went to finish your programming degree. But again, you're wired from the creative side of this, right? And so when the two come together, I have to think that there's this inherent leaning towards user experience, right?

16:14

Vlad Magdalin: Absolutely.

16:15

James McKinney: And maybe it's maybe in 2002 or 2003 that wasn't really a category at that time. I don't, maybe I'm wrong. I feel like that became a buzzword in the late, you know, I want to say 2010 era, but maybe I'm completely off on when that became a thing. I just remember, you know, what websites looked like in the year 2000 and '99. Where's websites I was creating were just like, if I had a pyramid of buttons. I mean, I have 20 buttons on a screen. And yeah, it was-

16:44

Vlad Magdalin: And remember those flash intros?

16:47

James McKinney: Yes, and it was the coolest thing to like, be able to hover your mouse over and like a shape would change completely. Oh man, the whole Dreamweaver world was-

16:53

Vlad Magdalin: The early days.

16:54

James McKinney: It was unreal. But again, I don't remember user experience being part of my thought process when it came to online navigation or journey or anything, it was about just finding information. So when you think of the way you were wired, and you go back to programming, looking back now, were you drawn to it because of what could be from a user experience? Like your Chatter Fox experience, when you think of Quick Dot and I don't know Quick Dot as a product, my assumption is based on messaging apps back in the day, it was pretty gray box with some text streams. It wasn't the most aesthetically pleasing of environments.

17:38

Vlad Magdalin: Actually it was it was already starting to get into like the web 2.0 era, you know, when these like rounded corners, and a lot of different, you know, colorful shapes. This was, there was already starting to be like a respect for not just function but form. Yeah, so were the days, there was a lot less respect for, let's say, accessibility. You just kind of like, as long as it looked good, didn't have to be well structured, or searchable, or whatever. It was just like, you know, present pretty things on a screen. But there was already a lot of, you know, you could tell that creatives and designers were wanting to express themselves on the web. But the techniques to do that were very limited, right? You can only do that with like images and backgrounds, you couldn't really do anything the same kind of way that you could design in magazines, nothing like that existed on the web, right? You had to like really hack a lot of things and it wasn't cross browser compatible.

So a lot of people tended to move towards like really basic things. But, you know, it does look very simplistic compared to if you were to look at it today. It just like everything was bigger, like fonts were bigger, more way more rounded corners, way more spacing, kind of like the early Twitter days, if you look at the web archive or early Facebook, you know, compared to today, it was much more, just seemed less mature than where we are today.

19:05

James McKinney: Yeah, no kidding. So obviously, you go to college, finish your programming degree Chatter Fox is part of your really your first startup, but you're doing it to solve a need for yourself, other people are using it. What happened to Chatter Fox?

19:19

Vlad Magdalin: Very, very slowly started dying, because of things like MySpace and Facebook. Before social networking, that we had to have services like Quick Dot, which I think at this point, nobody remembers. But when social networking really became a thing, you know, Friendster, MySpace, Facebook or whatever, then that was the new way. Like, everything about Chatter Fox was private. So you could have like a friend group and a classroom group, etc. Whereas Facebook and other social media really made things, elevated them publicly, and that was just a lot more fun. So that kind of slowly petered out. I think I kind of maintained it for a couple years into something like 2004, 2005. But I ended up having to, you know, I realized that it wasn't going to be the next big thing. And ended up focusing my energy a lot more on A just finishing my studies, which was sort of kind of disconnecting from. I wasn't like super into computer science.

But I ended up getting a kind of an internship slash side job in a web design agency, which was like, definitely what I needed at the time, because it combined like this creative piece of 3D animation. And I got to be a programmer there to like, convert some of these like really creative things into code. And that was a perfect marriage for me of like working with really creative people, being creative myself, and then like actually implementing it, making it work in a browser. In fact, that was the original, like inspiration for Webflow. Like why are these things I just came from a creative background, working with 3D animators who didn't need to rely on developers, like they just pressed the button and went to the render server, boom, you got like Toy Story Two or whatever. Whereas in this creative agency, where we have such creative people, and we're putting this big barrier in the middle and saying, like, oh, whatever you design, just give me a Photoshop file. I'll do the rest, I'll make it real. And then here's all the ways that I can't do that. And that initial spark came from like, well, what if web design was just like 3D animation, you didn't have a person in the middle will telling you what can be translated, what can't be translated? And then my focus switched to that, like, how do I how do I make that real? And eventually led to what Webflow is today, but like that took many, many different iterations of course.

21:41

James McKinney: Of course, before we jumped to the Webflow chapter, though, let's talk about that question that you had lingering on like, why can't it be like this? Right? I mean, what year were you at this agency?

21:53

Vlad Magdalin: This was 2004-2005.

21:56

James McKinney: 2004, 2005 right.

21:58

Vlad Magdalin: So Dreamweaver era for sure.

21:59

James McKinney: Yeah. WordPress was around.

22:01

Vlad Magdalin: Just starting to be, yep.

22:03

Vlad Magdalin: Yeah. So and from a CMS perspective, I guess, Geocities or Geosites was…

22:09

Vlad Magdalin: There were so many. There was something called Web Paint, there was something I mean Blogger was huge in terms of like some people were customizing it. MySpace… But Dreamweaver was still the Big Kahuna, right? But it was also kind of the time when a lot of people started losing faith in it. Because the way that you would build in Dreamweaver would just create a bunch of broken code and developers didn't know what to do with it, it wasn't really clean. So it was like this disenchantment period where people were like, Oh, we had this experiment of trying to put kind of creative people in control of web design. And the developers revolted and said, like, this is not the right way to do it. And then you know, everyone's kind of resigned to doing it, the old way of like, designers create something then developers go make it real with code.

23:03

James McKinney: So when you have this idea for what could be, how do we get to the point where you actually decide you know what I'm going to move forward on this idea, because I think there's some real traction here. And I asked this question, because earlier this year, we had Matt Mullenweg on the show, the creator of WordPress, and I think now they say they power 40% of the internet, which is crazy to me from a metric standpoint.

23:27

Vlad Magdalin: Impressive, yeah.

23:28

James McKinney: And so the reason I say, again, I'm teeing all this up, because ultimately, the question becomes, you know, what was happening in the space that you thought and you went I can make a dent in this universe?

23:39

Vlad Magdalin: Yeah, I think it wasn't, it wasn't anything really gradual. So for me, it was one specific spark that made me realize that there's a lot of opportunity there. So and I'll explain what that was. As a reminder, I was working like there's a whole creative team, all these designers like super power designers, some of the best in the world working at this agency, we're working with big clients like Apple, and they're handing out and I'm an intern there, right, like being paid minimum wage, taking their designs and converting them to this like the CMS system, right? And every design would take me you know, a few days to convert HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, etc. And, you know, that seemed like the normal world to me. Sure, I had these thoughts of like, it could be more efficient if you know there was like tooling in place that help designers do it themselves, etc.

But it didn't really click until one time I wasn't supposed to see this. It was like on one of the creative directors desks, one of the invoices for one of the clients that I did some of the implementation work for. And for each of those different line items of like take one design or one they call them like data objects where you know, for Apple, they were like visits and products and like each of the things that would be maybe like a CMS collection item or a database table. It took me like three or four days of work to create the form for and create the design, create like the database setup or whatever manually. And then I saw the line item for how much it was worth, how much the agency was billing the client. And it was like $100,000 per object.

25:16

James McKinney: Oh my goodness!

25:18

Vlad Magdalin: And I'm like wait a second, $7 an hour, times three days, the value of what like the combination of what this designer was also probably being paid, you know, maybe $20 bucks an hour. And me and the value that we're creating together is like this massive thing, to these huge companies, there's got to be a better way, right? Like we can make this more efficient that it doesn't require, A it doesn't require some company to pay $100,000 to get that kind of functionality, or B how do we put this power into the hands of way more designers? Because I'm sure, you know, there might be individual folks who want to build similar solutions for Apple, let's say, and would be able to do a better job, maybe at like, a tenth of the price if they had the right tools. So that was the original inspiration of like, and honestly, the original inspiration was like, how can I build something secretly in the background, and then sell it to this agency, to like have these designers skip me as like the translation layer? But maybe I can license it to them and like more agencies like them, so it was like this kind of business centric, how would I make money more efficiently.

And then that got my mind spinning and then eventually led to I had this requirement to do a senior project as part of my computer science program. Most people were doing like these kind of research things, and, you know, like more computer science related subjects. And I almost felt like I was cheating at the time. I was like, what if I take this idea of converting designs, or like having designers build something that's closer to running on the web, or building full on applications visually? How would I turn that into not a research paper, but just an idea, or something that I could explore, and convince my professor to make that my research project. It felt like a cheat, because it was something I was really passionate about. And I kind of like use this like passion project as the answer to an assignment. But working on that, and I still have that, you know, research project, I've like shared it with the world at this point was like, the early ideas of what would happen if the power of software engineering were put into the hands of more people. And that sort of started the journey of Okay, obviously, there's a better way here. And since then it's kind of been, you know, in different parts of my life, either, like a really strong sense of, I really need to work on this, to after working on it for a year and not like really seeing any traction, kind of giving up for a while, going to do different things. And then via various ways, coming back to the idea, being inspired again, and doing that roller coaster, like three or four different times, until it finally stuck.

28:17

James McKinney: So let's now let's talk about Webflow, because we're here. So when would you say is the origin date of Webflow? Like, when did when did the business begin, if you will?

28:27

James McKinney: Honestly, I don't know. It's like four different times because the senior project that I wrote was called Webflow. Like I already thought of a name for it, I maxed out my one credit card I had the time to buy the domain name. It just magically happened to be available. I did this whole not available on you know, unregistered, but like somebody was selling it a few thousand dollars. And so I got the domain. So I already had started thinking, Okay, this could be a business. But then I had to go to school still. So and I had to keep working at this agency. So it was just moonlighting right, and couldn't really build the product fast enough. So I decided, Okay, what would happen if I started to take on some clients just for regular web design work, and then use those as a way to like battle test whether I can build things manually, but like, automate more and more things over time, very similar to what Matt did with WordPress was sort of applying this form software to solving like some web design use cases. And then like, over time, shifting more towards content management.

And that started working a little bit, I had a few clients started, started making some money. But then, you know, life took over, I had to graduate. I fell in love, got engaged. You know, we're planning to get married, and at that point, it's sort of like, got to get a real job. And if you can't just work on moonlighting things. So started, you know, went and got a job at Intuit. And then like that idea kind of died off. So Webflow, whatever I wrote, whatever I made work at the time just kind of sat on a bookshelf or in whatever the proverbial inside of my file system. And then at Intuit actually met a couple buddies that were also fresh out of college and knew at Intuit. And we started working on something internally that was a little bit more entrepreneurial on the side, they had this kind of like 10% program where you can work on anything. So we really liked working together. And then like, in our nights and weekends, kind of started talking about like, what would it take to start a business.

And then there was another version of like, a true incorporation of Webflow with like two co founders. We got a corp formed, we started pitching investors, we got like these lawyers to set up a business. So I would say like, that's the first like, full official that's around 2007 official, like another instantiation of Webflow. Long story short, that also burnt out. We had like a whole trademark dispute. We couldn't even though we had the domain, we couldn't use the name because we filed. Once we incorporated, this other company did like a trademark infringement sort of thing. And we spent so much money on that. And again, we were like all kind of new kids out of college, working new jobs, nobody really had money. That it just flamed out, right, like people kind of got demotivated. I had started focusing more on my day job because that paid the bills. Yeah, so that flamed out. And then a year later, I tried again, just by myself. I incorporated as an LLC while knowing like, okay, I can't do this full time. So I started doing this bit of, kind of anytime I had time, in the evenings I would work on it was officially a company, but more like an agency where I would find like small time clients where I could like very, very slowly try to build things for them on this budding kind of platform, I was creating a set of like, frameworks that I was creating, to make things easier for myself, then automate it more and more.

But then again, life took over, I had two kids that started being, that took more and more of my time. And then like, the day job got more intense. And eventually, that started to peter out. But in that process, one of the things that set up for later success is that I started working with my younger brother, Sergei, who's a really the best designer I know. He was still in college. So because I didn't have that much time for kind of designing websites through that LLC, kind of that side gig, I would farm that out to him. And like give him a cut of what clients are paying me. He would do the design. And then I would convert it into like this framework that I was building, sometimes even like building a bit on like WordPress and Joomla and other things, just to where the Webflow code just wasn't powerful.

33:13

But that over time, so we kind of created this close working collaboration with each other. But again, that also sort of flamed out slowly, because it just gets really tedious, right? Because you're constantly working on tight deadlines for clients while having a day job, while wanting to spend more time with kids and family, etc. So over time that interest waned, and at around the same time, like Wix and Weebly, were really taking off. So part of my mind at the time was kind of convincing myself that it was like alright, the opportunity is over. Just keep focusing on the day job at Intuit and see where that leads.

But then the final, final spark that led to where, you know, us sitting here today, happened in late 2011. Out of nowhere, like I had moved multiple times since kind of the early Intuit days when we tried to start Webflow with a couple co founders and have that trademark dispute. And so like five plus years have passed, and winter 2011 in our home arrives a trademark certificate from the US trademark office, saying, "Congratulations Webflow owns the trademark for Webflow," for like building websites or whatever. And honestly, I took that as a sign of like, Okay, this, like literally brought it to my wife, like how can this be possible? We were like officially rejected five years ago. So I don't know what happened there. Maybe that company went out of business, maybe you know, the trademark lapsed or something. And that started the process of like, okay, now we're in a better place, we have a little bit of savings, maybe we can start to arrange moving back to the Bay Area to really take this seriously and try to apply to things like Y Combinator.

So we had lightly been planning that, like, let's see what happens. And I was still planning to do it on my own. And then in early 2012, I saw this video called Inventing on Principle. I think every single creative person or every entrepreneur should see this video, just Google Inventing on Principle by Brett Victor. And saw this video and it was so perfectly presented. A, it had some ideas around direct manipulation and kind of like the type of tool that Webflow became. But also, the main question he asked was like, why are you doing the work that you're doing? Like, what is the purpose behind the work that you do? And literally, the morning after, I called my boss at Intuit, and put in my notice, and started. I was like, Alright, Webflow needs to exist, it needs to exist like in the original vision, I need to start working on it. I called my brother, I was like, let's work on this together. And the rest is history.

36:14

James McKinney: That's incredible.

36:15

Vlad Magdalin: It was a long, long series of ups and downs.

36:17

James McKinney: I love that my listeners got to hear that journey. Because that path, that six years ups and downs, and pauses and restarts like that isn't uncommon. It's just that it doesn't get told a lot. Right, we hear the headlines of so-and-so had an idea. And they raised, you know, an initial $2 million seed round, which again, years ago, a seed round would have been a couple hundred thousand, now, it's like a couple million, you know, but it's like, and that's the headline people get. And so hearing what your journey is, it's so encouraging for so many other entrepreneurs that find themselves in this up and down roller coaster, when it comes to am I starting, am I not starting. Oh, I'm having a kid, I've got to pump the brakes, I've got to provide for family, back and forth, whatever the case may be. And then this doubt starts to creep in like, well, maybe I'm just not supposed to do this. And that's not always the case. That's possible that you're not supposed to do that. But it doesn't mean by default, the fact that you just can't go all in right now immediately that it means you're not supposed to do it. Sometimes there's just a season for everything. And I love that you shared that with us.

But for my audience that may not know what Webflow is, and, and real quick just to spoiler alert this, if you've engaged with thestartupstory.co in any way, shape, or form, you have interacted with a Webflow product. We are built on Webflow. I am a non technical person, it is incredible what I've been able to accomplish with the help of some great design friends, because I'm also not the most creative, but I know a good user experience when I have one. But thestartupstory.co is built on Webflow. So for my audience can you share what Webflow is if case they're hearing this name for the first time?

37:57

Vlad Magdalin: Absolutely. At the core Webflow is a really powerful website builder. We empower folks to create the kinds of things that engineers are typically creating. So when you think of a website builder, historically, you might think of like Squarespace, where you pick a template and you make some changes. And it's really easy. Webflow is all about you can create any kind of website and you're doing it visually. You don't need to write code. We were one of the early pioneers in the no code space of like, trying to figure out how can you bring the power of software creation and programming into the hands of creative people who don't have either the energy, or the desire, or just the time to learn to learn how to code. So Webflow really empowers folks to create really, really powerful websites, marketing sites, prototypes, portfolio sites, anything that you can really imagine, whenever you're visiting any dotcom, like it's something that that Webflow can build.

39:01

James McKinney: You know, and it's crazy, because if for those who have listened to The Startup Story for I'm going to say the last, I don't know, five weeks, you heard us unpack Duncan Hamra's has startup story episode.

39:13

Vlad Magdalin: Also built on Webflow.

39:14

James McKinney: Exactly the co founder members that built on Webflow. And he said a lot of his early clients were Webflow users as well because of the need. So again, when I think of Webflow, and I want you to correct my thinking, but I think I see it as so much more than a website builder. I feel like there's this entire economy that can solely be wrapped up around Webflow almost like, and again, this is probably super hyperbole, but like almost like the app store was for the iPhone.

39:46

Vlad Magdalin: Absolutely. And I only use the term website builder because most people understand that. But really what Webflow is underneath the hood is an abstraction for building for the internet. Right and building for the internet is all around it's not just like pretty things on a website, right? It requires storing a bunch of data, requires transactions, requires payments, requires users. And Webflow is really bringing a lot of that functionality from developer land into the hands of designers, visual people who are more oriented around direct manipulation, something that you can point and click or see visually. And it started as a website builder, right, but you can see it going so, so much further. People have created entire products, and services that are launched on Product Hunt all the time, where you wouldn't know that it was created without code, it just looks and feels like any other product.

And we're moving in direction where, and this is already happening, people are creating things like versions of Airbnb for something else, or like a Yelp for a different type of community. And that's where we're headed, where you can create more and more, because right now, one of the things that sucks about the web is how inaccessible creation for it is. Like you can open up Twitter and post a tweet, and open up Facebook and post something, or add like a YouTube comment or YouTube video. But for all intents and purposes, the people building those actual services like Twitter, Facebook, Airbnb, etc, are like the few of the few, right? The people who know how to code are like one quarter of 1% of the entire world's population. So we have a lot of people consuming, not a lot of people creating.

And when you create, you get so much more of the economic opportunity. Because when you create a service that you can monetize, that you can make a living off of that, we can really democratize the act of using the internet for commerce, for making living, for presenting a service or solving some real world problem that you see in the world. And software is such a powerful tool to do that. But traditionally, it's been locked up in the hands of a few or you have to do like this 10 year journey to learn how to code to access that power. And even if you did, it's becoming more and more complex, because there's just so many more pieces to software creation that's like pretty overwhelming. So yes, definitely Webflow is going much further beyond website creation into all of no code creation, where it's just harnessing the power of what developers do traditionally in code and bringing that to way more people like an order, if not two orders of magnitude more people.

42:34

James McKinney: I love it. You know, and I love that there are designers out there that have just become almost full blown agencies on the back of Webflow. I mean, really Webflow is their solution, but they become this entire agency from that. I mean, it's remarkable what these types of platforms can create. I mean, again, it really has created an economy in and of itself, on top of that. And again, and let's just also to for those listening Webflow what we see now is a very mature product. And from a business perspective, you've gone through a few rounds of funding too, am I correct?

43:09

Vlad Magdalin: Yep.

43:10

James McKinney: What have you just… your seed round recently?

43:12

Vlad Magdalin: We just did our B round in January.

43:17

James McKinney: B round. Now each round is intentional and with purpose, because obviously there's a milestone you want to get to So what was the purpose for this most recent round? What is it you want to see Webflow evolve to?

43:29

Vlad Magdalin: Yeah, great question. You said Webflow is mature. We actually see where we are right now as just barely scratching the surface.

43:38

James McKinney: Oh, wow.

43:39

Vlad Magdalin: So this investment is all about, like those deep, deep investments into building Webflow into a true platform. Because right now, there is an economy around Webflow but it's probably 1% of what it can be. There's not a lot of ways that external developers can build like a true business on top of Webflow. There's not a lot of ways that we can facilitate transactions between businesses that need a Webflow expert, and Webflow experts that are looking for more business, so more businesses to serve. And in order to build features into Webflow, so if you think of things like, you know, let's say on Startup Story you wanted to build kind of a membership portion where only people that are members in some program have access to special content, right? Maybe you have like some versions of that that are gated to like paying members that have a recurring subscription that have like private access to special programs that you're doing. It's really hard to do that. I mean, you could kind of mix Memberstack and a couple other tools and Zapier.

44:45

James McKinney: That's exactly how we did it.

44:46

Vlad Magdalin: Yeah. But over time, what you'll see is tools like Webflow, and other tools like making that more and more seamless, more and more integrated, where you don't have to be like this whiz kid of a no code developer that understands 13 different services and knows how to link all the API's together. It's going to become more and more obvious how you can do that all in one place. And that's where we want to invest. That's where we're building like those core foundations to make it possible to bring all these things together.

And one example of that is like, I'm sure you're familiar with Webflow, CMS, which is essentially where you store a bunch of content. And traditionally, what people have done is they have like a database of content, and then they have to write code to pull that content out. And Webflow like marries those two things together, you just drag content out into your canvas, and then you design around it. And once that content changes, like your UI reloads, right. And it's that combination of data and UI that is like more than the sum of its parts, right? And that's what we're going to keep investing into is how do we bring more of that integration.

So when you can imagine a product that you want to build, let's say you wanted to build like one of my all time favorite stories about what Webflow enabled in the early days is, is this charity called New Story Charity. It was a few designers that had become designers and other folks, non engineers, after the last earthquake in Haiti, the one that displaced hundreds of thousands of people, they went there and they saw just the devastation that that caused. And they wanted to finance a bunch of like micro homes for folks to be able to move into a permanent home so they don't have to live on the streets or in like these tent towns. And but they weren't engineers, they didn't know like, there was no crowdfunding platform for that this is well before GoFundMe. So they created this Kickstarter like way to fund specific families on Webflow, that look like Kickstarter, for all intents and purposes. It was like an application. And they were able to fund three initially that convinced them to and you know, they were working at a design studio, where they couldn't do it full time.

But they generated enough momentum and enough like personal conviction that this could work, that they took that even further. Then they funded 100 families, and now they funded like thousands of families in four different countries. And that combination of different tools made it possible for them, because they didn't have to figure out how do I, A, hire an engineering team, or B tie a bunch of things together to make this possible. They were really focused on how do I make this real. I already know what this product, where this experience should look and feel like and how it should function. And we're so early in giving people the tools to do that in a really intuitive way that like where we are today, and where we will be five years from now in the entire no code space and with Webflow is going to be night and day. It's going to be that difference, like right now still feels like the Space Jam days of the web right? 1999, where everything was just buttons or whatever, I think 5 or 10 years from now it's going to be people are going to look at software development almost as like a skill that you have the same way that you have a skill of like using a spreadsheet. It's just going to be a lot more intuitive, a lot more integrated. And a lot more table stakes, where more people will have access to create these kinds of solutions. And that's really what we're trying to do. And that's why you need a lot of funding to get there because you need to… those core foundations to build them correctly just takes a lot of engineering, a lot of thought, a lot of design, etc.

48:43

James McKinney: You know, let me ask that, a quick question that's forward thinking right for let's say for my younger audience that might be a freshman at USC getting a computer science degree. Is it something that becomes obsolete at some point?

48:58

Vlad Magdalin: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. It's like a paradox, right? At first, I thought that building more tools that that help non programmers do things that programmers do it was going to harm programmers in some way. It actually paradoxically creates more demand for programmers. Like right now there's such a deep deficit of needing coders because you need to build more complex things than what no code tools can build. A, you need programmers to build no code tools, right? But when every single piece of software that's created, let's say that New Story Charity example, the things that they can do in a visual way, in a declarative way, are always going to be behind the ball on what you can do with custom code, right? You're always going to have exceptions. And inevitably, you need to bring in developers to augment those things and to build the truly sophisticated things that are so unique, that it just doesn't make sense to build visual abstractions around because not that many people need to solve that problem.

But it's kind of paradoxical. You might have like one company that needs 10 developers. But now you empower 100 people to create without developers. But those 100 people now start 100 businesses, maybe 30 of them work out and need to hire two or three developers, you've actually now created more demand for developers than the original scenario where very few people can start software companies. So it was something that it used to be afraid of. But looking at the statistics, the deficit of how many developer jobs there are open, and how many developers actually exist are being trained, we're not going to catch up to that. So we'll always need more developers is actually going to become a more critical skill set, especially as the things that the problems you need to solve become more and more specific and harder to solve. They're like more algorithmic, more specific to a kind of business process or something that can't easily be automated. So I'm not worried at all. It's like a rising tide lifts all boats kind of situation.

51:04

James McKinney: Oh, I love it. Love it. You know, there's a couple questions about your early days, I want to ask because you talked about when you receive that trademark certificate, I think you said you know, Wix, and Weebly were coming up on the rise. And so from a user acquisition perspective, when you were building Webflow, and you were you were looking to really get users beyond the people that you knew, if you will, like we'll say user number 100 to 1000, what was your user acquisition strategy? Because you obviously, you would want to position yourself differently than everything else out there. Were you solely focused on designers? Were you looking for the non technical? Like, what was your strategy for the first we'll say, again, user 100 to 1000?

51:53

Vlad Magdalin: Oh, I think I have to roll back a little and tell a little bit of a story before I give you that answer, because that answer would not be satisfying by itself, because it's not repeatable. So again 2012, we officially started working on Webflow, quit my job, you know, had no income. And our strategy then was okay, we're going to build this product in three months, we're going to make a Kickstarter video, we're going to put it up on Kickstarter, and target a bunch of designers, go to like Digg at the time, which was popular. Reddit was starting to be a thing, try to find like design subreddits. They weren't really huge design communities. But that that was the plan of like, make this make this Kickstarter video, build a product or at least hint towards the product, and then somehow reach out to the design community.

So long story short, we put almost all of our money, all of our savings into this Kickstarter video. It not only did we not finish it, but when we tried to upload… Well, we didn't finish it, because when we tried to upload like a test version, Kickstarter was like, nope, we don't take SAS services, you should have read the Terms of Service. So that like, totally, you know, wasted money, wasted time. And the whole video took a lot of money to record, we had to get like a place to rent this, like huge Airbnb, and it was all like, "Hey, Kickstarter," you couldn't just like redo it and say, "Hey, Indiegogo," or whatever. And so that was a, that was a major fail.

And then, at this point, like, I was personally out of money, Sergei had moved into my place. You know, in our tiny little condo with two young kids, my daughters were one and three at the time. So it started to get like more and more, you know, hey, we thought we're going to get like $300K from this fundraising campaign, and everything was going to be great. And a couple months later, we're like $30K in the hole, and like credit card debt, and everyone's kind of like on edge because money is really tight, and you'd still have like family expenses. And then December of that year, one of my daughter's got really sick. And we had catastrophic health insurance, where it was one of those things where it's like a $10,000 deductible. And we're already deep in the hole kind of writing these cash advance checks to ourselves, just to make ends meet. And the way that this is like, the way the health insurance system works here, you do like $10,000 almost worth of tests, and then it rolls over to January one, and then the deductible rolls over again, and you have to do the actual surgery.

Thankfully, my daughter's fine now, but like, we got to a place where it was like, holy crap, we don't have a product. We're nowhere close to being able to even put it in front of anyone. We tried to apply to YC and they rejected us because we didn't have any traction in like late November. So then Sergei and I were just like, alright, we kind of have to go back to our jobs. Because everything we've tried, everybody we tried to talk to, everybody we like user tested it with either the product isn't ready yet or we just don't know where to go reach out for users. So we gave ourselves a deadline of another month of like okay, how do we build like a demo, at least something that people can see that we can at least share on Twitter? Or hopefully it can post something that at least from then on, we can go back to our jobs and at least get some trickle of users and keep building the product in the background.

So we gave ourselves a deadline end of February. We finished it, it's actually still live exactly in its early form at playground.webflow.com if you're curious. It wasn't a product, it was just an idea for what the product was going to become because that's all we can build by that time. And we posted it everywhere. Like designer news, like Reddit, Digg didn't take off anywhere. Like every designer we talked to they're like, kind of snooze, okay, great, tell me when the product is ready. And then as a last ditch attempt, we were already, by the way, making plans to go back to our jobs. I had already talked to my boss, my wife and I were making plans to go back to Sacramento because it's much cheaper there. And as a last ditch attempt, we posted on Hacker News, which is a developer sort of hangout. It's where a lot of developers and programmers hang out. And again, this is just like pure luck, right place, right time. I don't know how it worked, but it just took off. It was the number one post of the day. We had, like 20,000 people sign up for like updates. It went viral on Twitter.

56:20

You know, it was bizarre that we were able to get developers to care about it. Ultimately, none of them really signed up for the product. But it was like generated enough hype, that it gave us just enough conviction to keep working on it. And just enough traction to get into YC the next round. And actually, that I think it worked up to like 25,000 people on our waitlist. I kid you not when we actually released the product, and try to get people to convert to pay for it, like less than 30 actually started paying, that's how limited the product was.

So and then it started this whole, you know, thankfully, we were able to get a little funding at that point. And it was a combination of trying to go to other design hangouts, trying to like trying to write for design magazines trying to do a few talks here and there. And but what it really came down to was like those first 30, 40, and then 50 users, it's just being obsessed over like making their life great. And everything they told us to like build, we'd try to build really quickly. And that's what kept us going of just like really seeing that, even though from a wide swath of people only very few really saw enough value to pay for it. That there was enough "there" there that for some people, it was really powerful. It was something that they would spend 8 or 10 hours a day, and so we really doubled down on those folks. We created like a forum in a community where all those folks can like get to know each other, we could be there, we can take all of their requests and have conversations with them. And then it was like a very slow trickle to increase that number over time.

And we tried so many different acquisition channels, and nothing really stuck that was like a slam dunk. It was just this slow process of one on one conversations, word of mouth, supporting folks, helping them build sites and unblock them, because otherwise they probably would have left. So a lot of manual kind of engagement to help folks along. And eventually that kind of compounded. And then it became more of a okay, how do we, you know, then we're able to afford doing like a conference talk where there's a lot more people and it's distributed on YouTube, etc. But it's still, it's still a journey, right? Most of the way that people find out about Webflow today is purely organic, like people just tell other people and we still don't know a slam dunk way of like, they go talk to a bunch of designers, or people who need to build websites, because it's so hard to find the one place that they all hang out.

58:59

James McKinney: You know, it's just it's interesting that you blew up on Hacker News, again, developer centric, you know, and yet now you have someone like myself, who is a user of it for my own product. You have some who are agencies, you have some people who have built businesses on top of Webflow. And maybe you don't have this answer, but if you were to have this picture, this chart as a pie, what percentage of users are in various categories? What percentage of users are creating just for themselves like I am? What percentage of users have an agency built upon it? I mean, what does your user catalog look like?

59:37

Vlad Magdalin: Yeah, it's roughly half and half between what we call service providers. So these could be individual freelancers that are building for a lot of small businesses. And the other half being businesses themselves across solo founders and entrepreneurs, to very large companies that are building a lot of sites. So that's roughly kind of the breakdown. And originally, we were almost 100% freelancers, like people who weren't necessarily building for themselves, they were building for others. Because the product was so limited that you could only really do landing pages, most people were finding ways to, like sell that to clients that would do like ads or single page type of things. But over time, it's sort of like evened out, and that more or less 50/50 split.

60:25

James McKinney: Interesting. Now, last year, when we had our first Startup Story Live, it was supposed to be a live event, it pivoted to a live stream event. We had one of your incredible designers record a video for us that was 30 minutes from websites, design to launch. It was super fast. In fact, let me rephrase that. I think it was an ecommerce solution. So it was even loaded up like three different products within like a 30 minute window. This question stems from just again, back to the idea of trying to find the path of least amount of friction. And ecommerce is definitely not that path. Like ecommerce is challenging from an infrastructure perspective. And then too, you have Shopify in the world. Like what was your thought process in trying to take and going that path in bringing that into Webflow, versus staying away from it because of the 800 pound gorilla?

61:22

Vlad Magdalin: Well, A, just the loud voice from the community of like, hey, even though I can build with Shopify, it just requires a lot of code to make it truly custom. But B, the more important thing for us is not to truly go after Shopify, I think that is a really, really tough challenge. But to build this foundation for payments and commerce in general, because payments is not just retail commerce. You need, like payments are such a critical part. Like the New Story Charity example I gave, they were trying to fundraise to find homes, right? So you might have, you might be building a website or experience or an app where, I have a Donate button. And then that has to be attributed to a specific campaign. And that's super custom.

Like you don't you, you either have a vertical product, like GoFundMe, which is very one size fits all, or you have to have what developers have essentially API's that they use like building blocks. They have like Stripe as an API, they have Twilio to send messages as an API, they have HTML and CSS as a way to build a UIs as an API, they might have a database, or like React as a way to build sort of bring everything together. And Webflow sort of similar in that sense, where we want to offer these what we call foundational capabilities and payments is one of those, so that you can tie it together with whether you're building a maybe a unique membership experience, or Startup Story where you want to like gate certain content based on a paid membership. That requires a payment that's very similar to a retail checkout flow, right, because you have to like submit your credit card, etc.

So that was our inspiration for building Commerce. Commerce is one instantiation of payments, right and the most obvious one, and we build it as a use case. A, it's something a lot of websites need, like if you're adding like a merge store, to your marketing site, or a lot of like the augmentation where you might not be running like a full on retail experience where that's like your main business. So that was important, but it really is like a stepping stone to leveling up payments as a really core foundational principle, because that is necessary to build way more things than just ecommerce or retail experiences. You need it in so many different parts of the software creation journey.

63:39

James McKinney: Oh man, I love it. I mean, I could fanboy about Webflow for a whole other hour. But that-

63:44

Vlad Magdalin: Me too, by the way. We have that in common.

63:48

James McKinney: Excellent. You know, but I want to honor our listeners time, I want to honor your time because you've been so gracious. But before we get to our final three questions I want to ask if we were have a where are they now episode? Let's say five years from now, what are all the things that Webflow will be able to accomplish?

64:06

Vlad Magdalin: Hmm, five years? Well, that stat you mentioned about WordPress, about powering 40% of the internet, that doesn't look like a bad goal to hit. And not to replace WordPress, per se, but to empower so many more people to build the same way that people build Webflow today. But I also think we're going to go so much deeper into what's possible. So from really complex websites, we're going to be moving into more and more functionality that starts to make a website feel more like an application. So if you were to build something that starts presentational, where you're mostly showing content, but then you have ideas around how do I make this interactive? How do I bring users into this? How do I bring commerce and payments and subscriptions into this? How do I add more logic into what actually happens when users take certain action and have a very visual way to express that? I think that's where we're headed of building really, really powerful things for the web. Because the internet is like this. It's not websites anymore. It's not just websites where you're just marketing something, there's so much more interactivity to it that really defines what most people do on the web most of the time. And we want to put that power into a lot more people's hands.

65:27

James McKinney: I love it, you know, with being that you have this platform that so many entrepreneurs leverage for their business I'm really curious about your feedback on this question. Do you think anyone can be an entrepreneur? Or is there a certain makeup for it?

65:44

Vlad Magdalin: Well, first of all, I think there's just so much privilege involved. And I don't any longer believe in this mindset that anybody can pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Like, I used to believe that. But there's so many systemic forces that make things easier for some people over others. Depending on where you live, depending on your identity, depending on the systems you grew up in, the kind of education that you had, there's just so many things that it kind of annoys me sometimes to have people claim that they are solely responsible for their success. So when there's so many systemic forces making that possible for them, that just make it easier than it is for many others.

So I do think that creating tools like Webflow levels more of that playing field, but I also believe that there's just other things we have to do as societally, systematically to address some of those inequities, to figure out how we can first acknowledge that that actually happens and that it exists, and that it's not a fully playing field than a true meritocracy across the board. Because I saw the other day, you know, proud that Webflow was one of the top YC companies of all time.

67:01

James McKinney: Wow.

67:02

Vlad Magdalin: But then I looked at the entire list up to number 50. Not a single one of the companies, including our own, had a female co founder.

67:12

James McKinney: Oh wow.

67:14

Vlad Magdalin: And you can't just claim that that's like a merit thing, when half of small businesses in the US are run by women. Right? So that has to be a systemic issue where, you know, the only 3% of venture dollars have gone to fund women founded companies. How can you claim that's not a systemic thing? Right? Not enough is being done to level that playing field, so I don't know how to answer that question outside of like-

67:47

James McKinney: No, I love that you mentioned women, female founders, because we've had Christina Stembel on the show numerous times. She's the founder of Farmgirl Flowers, and she has pitched over 100 VCs, and they've all said no. And she's now almost, I mean, this year, she'll probably hit $85 million in sales, and hopefully next year, over $100 million, and she's bootstrapped the whole thing because she keeps getting no. But there's been so many competitors in her industry, in her market with a similar solution technically, that have been male founded that hundreds of millions of dollars has gone into, and they've all fallen to the wayside, but she's still standing.

So I agree with what you're saying completely. Especially on the female founder side. There are things that just boggle my mind, on why people like her have a hard time getting funding. I just can't, I cannot understand it. Because when you hear a lot of times that you know VCs, they're "betting on the jockey" is the phrase that they say, right? I mean, man, you want to talk about an execution story, like my goodness, hers is unreal. Like I have not come across a story like that before. It is remarkable. So I love sharing it. I thank you for sharing that as well.

But one of the things you did say that I want to piggyback into our next question is just the idea of our surrounding, our environment, the privilege that we have in some cases. And so one of the narratives about entrepreneurship is that it's this Lone Ranger journey. That it's this idea that it's just us pounding away at code on our buddy's couch until somehow we raise $100 million, and can get an apartment of our own, if you will. And this is not true, right? I mean, you've been so vulnerable in this show to talk about your ups and downs, and the various moments of your life where there's been a point of validation that kind of picked you back up and you kept going again. So when you look back on your entire life's journey, who are the people that you look back on with such immense gratitude for their contribution to where you are today? Because like you said, we don't get here on our own.

69:41

Vlad Magdalin: Right, right. I mean, obviously, my parents, I wouldn't be here, even in this country, without their sacrifice and the risk that they took. So much of my extended family has always supported me in the hard times. There are many times where the journey has felt very lonely. Sometimes you can't share with anybody what's going on in your mind, right. And there, it's been really, really helpful to find more entrepreneurs that are going through similar things and sort of commiserate and support each other. And there's quite a few folks who have been along that journey with me.

And of course, of course, my wife and kids like that's… I think, without their support it, there's so many tenuous moments where we could have given up, and my wife kept encouraging me with like, "Hey, this has always been your dream, I know, this is hard." And sure, there were many conversations were like does it make sense to keep doing this, but reminding me around, like, why this work is so important, and how it serves so many people out in the world, and makes lives better. I couldn't do without that.

And I have a couple really, really close friends that, you know, we hang out every week. Now with the pandemic it's much harder. We've always been distributed, because we live in different parts of the country. And just that level of support, just knowing that you're, despite everything going on, knowing that you're loved, accepted, cared for, is I think what everybody needs more of.

71:22

James McKinney: Awesome.

71:23

Vlad Magdalin: And of course, though, the entire workflow team. It gets harder and harder as you start to scale. And knowing that you're actually tackling these challenges with really smart and kind people who care for the same thing that you care for and have similar values, it just makes it easier. You're just like in the foxhole together, so to say. I'm sure I'm missing a ton here, I am so grateful to the people. I mean, I have a coach, I have a therapist, I have, like all these folks who are kind of in the background, that helped take a lot of the emotional labor and like try to process it, that make life easier, and just the entrepreneurial journey a little more smooth. But yeah, it's all about other people. There's no way… I think if I was trying to do this by myself, it would have failed like the first three times.

72:19

James McKinney: It will break a person. I mean, it's just, you know, someone said it a while back, and I've kind of adopted it. But the entrepreneurial journey is lonely. But it doesn't have to be as lonely as we make it. If we're at a point of failure, we don't want to talk about it. And so instead of living life without just speaking to that negative area of our life, we just kind of isolate ourselves, like I don't want to talk about that so I'm going to avoid people. And man, what you mentioned about your wife, like there have been so many times I thought, you know, I bet there is an amazing podcast idea to interview spouses of founders, because like their story is I mean, my wife story alone is amazing to hear. And I'm sure your wife's story is amazing to hear as well on what it's like to go through some of these challenges.

73:09

Vlad Magdalin: For sure.

73:10

James McKinney: Because it is a family affair if we are married and have kids. And so, you know, our final question together, as much as I would love to afford a chance for all of my listeners to connect with you directly and to learn from your experience and ask their specific questions it's just not possible. And so it's not the most creative way but I've tried to reverse engineer it, where I create this moment for you to speak directly to them. And maybe it's the entrepreneur that continues to just hit their head against the wall as to why their product or their solution or their service is not getting the traction that they're hoping for, similar to what your journey was where you would just kind of pop into all these communities and no one was biting, no one was taking. Maybe that's where they're at today. What would you say to them as they're ready to just kind of hang up the hat thinking maybe entrepreneurship is not for me, maybe this product solution is not for me, maybe no one wants this. What would you say to them to encourage them along the road?

74:09

Vlad Magdalin: I'd say a couple things, because I've told myself those same things at least three four different times. Like in major ways when I would describe Webflow as like really failed and I stepped away from it and kind of gave up. I would say it's totally normal, and just to hang in there. But I would also say that when it comes to prioritizing your health and your family's well being that could be the right choice to step back from it for a while. There's such… I know our time here on earth is finite. But there will be another shot that you can take. Your entrepreneurship journey should not destroy your like deep, deep relationships, the things that matter the most to you. Because many times like the things that I describe as my success story are also hopefully you hear are just like a product of luck sometimes. Right place, right time where, you know, I could claim survivorship bias.

Just because it worked for me doesn't mean that it's going to work for other folks. For the times where I gave up had I kept pushing, maybe that could have destroyed my family. I don't know. You have to go with what your heart is fully telling you of what you can handle, what your relationships can handle. And, like to me that mantra to just to keep trying, and find that inspiration again in the future, and to keep working hard, but in a way that doesn't destroy you and doesn't burn you out completely. There's some balance there. Life isn't just about launching something. Life is about finding some sense of purpose and, and helping others along the way and serving others. And that doesn't always have to mean that you've created a giant business that means a lot to you.

76:05

James McKinney: Once you've had a few moments to process all the value Vlad Magdalin brought us in this week's episode, please hit me up on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram and share with me your thoughts on this episode. And if you've been around The Startup Story for any length of time, then you know how much emphasis I put on the idea that entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs. So with that in mind, visit webflow.com and start creating now. There's no cost to start creating so visit webflow.com and even follow Webflow on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. They can be found on Webflow on all of them. The Instagram is @Webflow, Twitter @Webflow, Facebook @Webflow. In fact, if you have a site or app built on Webflow, slide into my DMS on LinkedIn and share it with me and if you do that I will share with my LinkedIn audience. Entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs, and that means you as well. And speaking of support, I have a personal ask.

The Startup Story community has been so incredible about sharing our podcast with others, but we have more stories to tell and more people to reach. We too are a startup and word of mouth is everything, so please follow us on Facebook and Instagram @TheStartupStory or on Twitter @StartupStory_. If you're on LinkedIn, please search for The Startup Story and follow our company page. LinkedIn is a really powerful way to raise awareness of the show. But the most impactful way you can help us grow our audience is to leave a review on Apple Podcast. Or if you listen to the show via Spotify, then please simply share the podcast directly from your Spotify app or wherever you listen to the show.

These simple actions can make a huge impact in getting these amazing founder stories out to the masses. And please make sure to tag or mention The Startup Story when you do share so that we can connect with you and say thank you directly. I'm so incredibly appreciative of the fact that you listen to the show each and every week, and I look forward to sharing these amazing stories with you every Tuesday with hopes of encouraging and inspiring you to start your story.

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August 31 2021
Vlad Magdalin, co-founder of Webflow

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