Dennis Just, CEO of Smallpdf is making PDF easy as the demand for document solutions increases with remote work
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Dennis Just: You know, thanks for asking! Luckily, I can say that everybody is healthy. But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been an intense time. For every family, it’s been that way. And it’s still tough sometimes as well, but we’ve managed it and gotten used to it.
Tell us about you, your career, how you joined Smallpdf.
Dennis Just: Well, I started out gaming, and I lucked out when I built a large website for Call of Duty. That website was actually my first venture. And, after that, I just felt very drawn to entrepreneurship. I was stuck on it. I wanted to do something for others and provide something special that met real needs, so I continued that path.
It wasn’t all roses. I tried different ideas out after my first venture, and whenever they didn’t work out, I learned a lot from those experiences. When I started out, I was actually working with physical products. Later on, I started a company called Numbers in the finance niche. And that was when I crossed over into SaaS. And then, about 2½ years ago, I first started working with Smallpdf during a strategy revamp phase.
Since that time, we’ve done a lot of different things, but something that’s been great to watch is our shift from being a web utility tool towards being a multi-platform document solution.
How does Smallpdf innovate?
Dennis Just: We take innovation very seriously, and we look to foster innovation at multiple levels at the same time. For us, we approach it in the areas of research, tech, and product. So, for example, with research, we are examining user interviews, market studies, and ODI research. In terms of tech, we’re looking at major trends, e.g., work shifting to browser, web assembly, etc., and then with a product, we’re looking at category-based initiatives (table stakes v. spoiler v. differentiator).
How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your business, and how are you coping?
Dennis Just: Well, we’re fortunate since we are in a digital business. Demand increased for our document solutions throughout the pandemic, and that’s because more people started working from home. That led to companies shifting partially or entirely to remote work. And this meant that there were new needs that had to be met, and we were able to meet those needs. In turn, it’s brought some new pressures as well because our customers’ expectations around our current offerings and for new offerings has increased. But it’s a good kind of pressure.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Dennis Just: Honestly, at the moment, we see so many opportunities that our biggest challenge right now is prioritizing the right initiative, or maybe I should say the “most right” initiative. At the same time, we are scaling our organization, and we’re working to ensure the consistency of our culture and the health of our organization throughout that scaling process.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Smallpdf in the future?
Dennis Just: I think one thing I can tell you is that informed decisions help reduce uncertainty. There’s that saying, “you can’t win them all.” That’s the other thing. You have to remind yourself that you can’t influence everything and push everything toward possible success. You have to accept that the market, demand, and external factors might break your hypotheses.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Dennis Just: Right now, money is coming into our market from VCs and PE. And a lot of IPOs have happened in the last 2 years. That says a lot about our niche, what is happening in it right now, and where it will go. As for competitors: look at the likes of PDFtron, Foxit, Nitro, and PandaDoc.
What can you tell us about your eSign tool?
Dennis Just: Well, we’ve put a lot of hard work into our digital signature tool, and it’s competing well in the marketplace. It goes without saying that it is also very useful for our customers because electronic signatures and digital signatures are both legally binding (although I should note we always advise people to check on their local laws about regulations). At the same time, our eSign tool meets standards for the eIDAS, ZertES, and AATL (Adobe Approved Trust list) when people verify their email, and we’re very proud of that. It means that it’s more useful for end-users, and on top of that, we’ve focused a lot on security to make sure their documents are always safe. We like it a lot, and we see great potential in developing our eSign tool even further.