The tale of Bazaarvoice, as told through the shirts on our backs (2005-2007)

Every startup has their t-shirts, and we were no different at Bazaarvoice. But you can tell a lot about a company by the t-shirts they produce. And so I would like to take you through our history - and our culture - with probably the most complete collection of Bazaarvoice t-shirts with the possible exception of my co-founder, Brant Barton.

This will be a series of post, and this first post covers our first two years in business - 2005-2007.

The first t-shirt we made was the coveted Bazaarvoice Community One 2005 t-shirt. There are very few of these. The point that I was making was that we were part of a very special community - those that joined in the first year of business (Brant and I founded Bazaarvoice in May of 2005).

As you can see from the back, the paw-prints marked the launch of our third client, Petco. Petco trademarked this paw-print as they believed customer reviews would be valuable to their community of customers. They were right - the results they drove were very significant, from increasing their sales to decreasing their product returns. This paw-print got people talking around Austin. What did it mean? When we launched Petco, there were probably fewer than ten retailers in the U.S. that had customer reviews. So this was an important milestone and to our knowledge at that time the first retailer that chose to not use stars but instead to create their own mark around customer reviews.

The second t-shirt we made was to celebrate our first year in business and to begin two traditions - our annual lake party and our annual t-shirt to celebrate another great year in business. Austin is an absolutely beautiful place with lakes running through downtown and on the edges of the city. One of our clients that visited from London once told me that it reminds him of the Mediterranean. Here is the Loop 360 bridge that crosses over one of the lakes - this is the drive that many take to the Bazaarvoice Austin office today:

We made our first lake party epic to set the tone - and that doesn't mean expensive. As I'll talk about in a later post on capital efficiency (in this Lucky7 post I talked about our comparative capital efficiency to other companies going public but I didn't talk about how we did it), we shared hotel rooms for our first five years in business and set the tone that every dollar counts. Our first lake party included jet skis, a big party boat, games, and, most importantly, some really cool people to celebrate with.

To celebrate this milestone, we highlighted some of our clients on the back as well as our win as one of Red Herring's Top 100 Startups.

The next t-shirt may be our third or fourth, I cannot remember. And it wasn't made for the entire company - only for those on the sales team, and specifically those on theinside sales team. Inside sales is a tough job. You are constantly calling prospects and figuring out how to get them to call you back. It requires great creativity as the regular approach of brute force doesn't work. And there should be no shame in it - unless you don't believe in the benefits of what you are selling. Zach Hotchkiss, one of our best and who still works at Bazaarvoice today, led this team. He and Michael Osborne, who is now the President of a new startup Handshakez but was our original head of global sales, were superb at being creative but also in creating a strong sales culture. The movie 300 had come out around this time and there was a lot of buzz about Sparta. Zach and Osborne used this energy and Zach created this t-shirt:

The back referred to their quarterly quota at that time and included the perhaps controversial, "life's a pitch". If you were one of those prospects, perhaps you are annoyed to see this now. But I will tell you that this team loved Bazaarvoice and theyreally believed in what they were selling and - most importantly - the goods were there. Our solution delivered significant results for our clients time and time again.

Our second annual t-shirt was one that Patrick Barrett and I worked on. After six years at Bazaarvoice, Patrick is now the co-founder of Greater Good Labs, along with the awesome Andrew Chen, who also worked with us for six years at Bazaarvoice. Patrick is one of the most talented designers and UI gurus I know. The vision for this t-shirt was a concert tour. The Bazaarvoice bus was rolling into your town and it would change the world of commerce as we knew it. The energy at this point in our company was pretty incredible. We were blowing away our goals and were one of the fastest growing early-stage SaaS businesses in history. I unveiled this shirt with Quiet Riot's Bang Your Head blaring at the Alamo Drafthouse, which became our regular spot for quarterly All-Hands meetings. The Alamo was the perfect spot, and I look forward to writing about how to have an effective All-Hands in a later post.

As the back details in the image below, we had also achieved a very important milestone - cashflow breakeven (this is what we mean by "profitability" on the t-shirt, GAAP profitability is different and mostly an accounting convention - startups care mostly about cashflow). This allowed us to use very little capital from this point on. We got to cashflow breakeven on about $2 million of our original $3.5 million in funding. Again, refer to this Lucky7 post and I'll detail more about how we did it later. The point here is that we were in control of our destiny by achieving this milestone.

But there were many more milestones that were important on the back, as you can see. With the launch of SyndicateVoice, we began to realize the power of syndicating content and forming a network effect around our business model. We came out of stealth mode with strength (I write about the benefits and tradeoffs of stealth mode inthis Lucky7 post). We were named Petco's Vendor of the Year at their Annual Summit. We were named ClickZ's Marketing Innovation of the Year. We won Wal-Mart and began our march to win the Fortune 500 (as of our last quarterly earnings call, we serve over 20% of the Fortune 500 and over 33% of the Fortune 100). We opened our London office and began our march to be international (as of last count, we were in 27 international languages today). As I'll write about in a later post, this decision to go international early was very important. The Fortune 500 want to be sold globally but serviced locally. This allowed us to start to win bigger initial deals as well as cross-sell a Fortune 500 in all major locales. And we also launched our next user-generated content (or online word of mouth content) product - Ask & Answer. The market was about much more than customer reviews. It was about all forms of customer-generated content, or simply - word of mouth. Today, Ask & Answer helps to form the foundation of Bazaarvoice Connections (if you haven't seen this video, it is worth watching to see what Connections is all about).

Finally, we were nomads at Bazaarvoice and there was one move we made in October 2007 called the Big Move. This was the first time we were stepping into a pretty large space (I believe it was 12,000 square feet). We had already moved five times. We were inventing a new market and we wanted to be as conservative as possible on how quickly we would grow our team count. And that included our philosophy of "just-in-time" office space.

The icons we are carrying are Ratings & Reviews, Ask & Answer, and SyndicateVoice - our products at that time.