hotjar ceo

The Strategies That Took the Hotjar Launch From 0 to 1 Million in 6 months

I had the pleasure of interviewing the CEO of Hotjar about the online launch that propelled the product into an avalanche of organic growth taking the company from 0 to 1,000,000 dollars in turnover in 6 short months.

As a digital strategist, my main interest was to understand how such growth can be achieved with a new digital product (and brand). The first thing that struck me was the clarity with which David explained the process. It was obvious from the start that the campaign had been meticulously planned by an experienced professional; David Darmanin himself has over 10 years experience in conversion optimisation and digital marketing. In fact like that of many winning products, the inception of Hotjar sprouted from a problem he was experiencing in his daily life, as a marketeer.

The lean startup was created in early 2015 and the campaign launched in April that year. As a lean start-up, the Hotjar team immediately understood that agility would be the secret to scaling up. This is why the internet is a great place to do business. Scaling up can be fast and exciting if you’re ready for it.


I asked David how the company had achieved such traction in such a short time gaining 60,000 registrations in just 3 months; 20% of which later became Beta Testers. David broke the process down into 2 main winning strategies:


“When you innovate, growth is natural” he explains. By creating something new you are in a position to leverage what David calls the 3 main elements that tip the pivotal point in any online campaign that spreads by word of mouth.

– A message anchored in the self-interest of your ideal client persona.
– The ‘News’ element. Having something new and different to communicate.
– Curiosity; the building of which creates amplification of the first 2 elements above.

Hotjar’s campaign leveraged communities made up of early adopters to begin a process of word of mouth which spread like wildfire and is still spreading. The strategy used (what Daniel Priestley calls) ‘signalling’ or asking to see if you can generate interest before actually creating a product. Once it was obvious that there was interest, the development team hit the ground running.

As an early follower, you felt that you were part of something. In David’s own words “the emphasis was on building the relationship”. This was done by gamifying the initial process of onboarding.

Registrants put themselves on the waiting list for release. Inviting friends and spreading the word caused you to go higher up in the priority list. The more you wanted to be first to see it, the more you spread the word. This is a perfect example of how early adopters – what Seth Godin calls ‘sneezers’, spread the word for you because they want to be associated with innovation because often they are innovators themselves.


This is the difference between people who wait for the latest phone to go on sale on Amazon and the ones that start camping a week before the early release to get the latest iPhone. As soon as the Beta version was out the first sneezers who got access to Hotjar were greeted by the CEO. It was immediately apparent that the Hotjar team was there to listen to its first adopters which made them feel part of the Hotjar Story. In fact, David answered queries personally and continues to do so, because speaking to customers, getting feedback, and acting on it, is and will continue to be a core part of the Hotjar strategy.

The Beta had customer listening built into the interface, creating an immediate personal connection with each user. Daniel Priestley explains this phenomenon in his book ‘oversubscribed’, scientific research proves that the brain actually cannot tell the difference between a real face and a digital depiction of a face. The connection still happens, and of course, the interaction is real which consolidates the relationship.

The tools used to create a strong relationship with the first adopters set the pace for what would become a very transparent relationship. Hotjar still shares the roadmap for product releases. Transparency is retained even when things go wrong, continuing to build loyalty over time. This transparency is also reflected in the way the company is run internally; the Hotjar team had an internal transparency policy from day one. All the members of the team are privy to all the financials, this makes everyone own their roles more and keeps everyone accountable… a recipe for success.! The transparency policy means that relationships get stronger over time and loyalty is retained through thick and thin.


When discussing the great success achieved by Hotjar in terms of marketing, David talks about the fact that eMail marketing played an important part in the launch campaign. He says “this medium highly under-rated in a modern digital world.”

Although Facebook ads played a small part in the initial campaign, David mentions that eMail was the one tool to have a large impact. The main strategies used included using influencers that already had their own communities to spread the word by advertising to their email lists.

The leverage built in the first few months is still paying off. Hotjar is still experiencing 15% month on month growth.

With little or no marketing, Hotjar is now turning to the next natural stage; influencer marketing. Leveraging speaking opportunities and content marketing is a natural progression for a company in the ramp upstage. As CEO this is a personal challenge which David is embracing to further grow the company’s reputation.

If you would like to know all the details of the launch watch the full video of our interview here.