Dean & Diony McPherson of Paperform

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Paperform is founded by Dean and Diony McPherson, a couple based in Sydney, Australia. Dean is a web developer and has been part of the startup community for a few years. He loves making great software for real people. Diony has a background in culture and web content. She comes from a project management position with Google and is passionate about great admin, even better processes, and people.

Diony and Dean met as neighbours in students housing, both completing arts degrees – Diony has a Bachelor of Ancient History and Archaeology, and Dean a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Philosophy and Music. One thing led to another and they were soon married, with Dean working as a self-taught dev, and Diony in the culture-tech space working for Google. Their non-tech starts has given them a unique perspective on startups. They have always admired each others achievements, so starting a business together was the obvious next step forward.

What was it that made you decide to take the plunge and make your idea happen?

As we both worked in tech, we had a number of friends and colleagues asking us to create bespoke forms for events and products that could take payments. We realised that there was nothing on the market for both mobile and desktop that was easy to use, beautiful, and customizable.

The friends who were approaching us already had strong local brands in place and were really looking for something that could let their brand shine through and be fed to their audience as they saw fit. They wanted to take control but needed help doing it. So, we started thinking about how we could make a form builder that’s ‘bespoke for everyone’, and Paperform was born.

Paperform is all about easily creating forms that embody your project or business, sharing those with your community, and taking payments without fuss. We want to empower people to create forms that are truly theirs. While our forms are very versatile, we find people especially love to use them for a form-landing page hybrid.

Could you explain your business model to us? 

This is a fairly straight up SaaS business. We provide our product for a monthly fee across three tiers:


$15/month Starter

$39/month Pro

$99/month Agency (5+ users additional cost)

  • NPO/Charity: Pay what you can Pro ($1 minimum/month) & 50% off Agency
  • All plans have two months free with annual billing
  • We have a referral program where you earn 10% off cumulative for every referral (so 10 referrals is a free account)

We ran a promotion with AppSumo to get ourselves off the ground where we sold lifetime access to Paperform for a once off flat fee of $39 USD.

We would consider funding, but our main approach has been gaining steady traction and working towards profitability as soon as possible. We have been meeting our goals for MRR – so far so good!

What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next year?

Paperform is off to a fantastic start so we are putting all of our efforts into this business. We have a wonderfully hectic schedule of features planned to further enhance the builder, particularly to provide more customisation options and more powerful dashboard. So, things like HTML/CSS formatting and analytics for results. You can see everything we’ve got planned for product dev here.

We’re also working on providing more content that helps our users create the most engaging and result-driven forms and pages for their industry. We’ll be publishing increasingly more content on our blog, and also creating Paperform kits for industries. These include templates, articles, video tutes, and content specific to that industry. We currently have our first kit available for Real Estate, and we’ll be releasing one on Fitness in the coming weeks.

Partnerships have been pivotal in helping us grow Paperform. Since launching in Dec 2016 we have partnered with AppSumo, NYU, and now  Zapier. We’re prioritising giving back – we’ve sponsored NYU’s InnoVention comp (other sponsors include Trello and MixMax), which culminates on May 3rd. We’re now the most upvoted form builder on Product Hunt (ahead of Typeform and Jotform), so we were very grateful to the PH community. There are some more partnerships coming up in the near future 😉

So, we are very excited to shape Paperform into a stronger product and brand, and also to collaborate with and learn from established businesses.

How do you make your ideas happen?

We have become really good at spotting problems in everyday life that can be solved with tech. Empathy is key. Necessity is the mother of all invention, but empathy is your Cerebro to endless business opportunities. We bounce ideas off of each other all the time and foster an environment at home and at work of encouragement.

We make ideas happen by not dreaming about it too long. It’s never just a vague idea, we push each other to see how something could be implemented. So one person might say it would be cool if there was X tool, and the other person will start asking questions about what the platform would look like, function, how you would monetize, all those sorts of things, but within a 15-minute period. It’s like a 15 minute verbal Lean Canvas – we can do this anywhere, driving, at dinner, walking the dog.

We will move on an idea super fast if we have good answers to core questions like these. Dean usually has a beta built in a matter of days, and I’ll have a landing page done a day later. At the end of the day, you have to train yourself to start thinking creatively but also to know when you should just get it built and see how it turns out.

One of the things we enjoy about working together is that we are quite similar in a lot of ways and often come to the same conclusions when addressing a problem or question, but we process things quite differently, so the mental journey is quite different. We’re a very complimentary team with a unique XP and knowledge-base.

What role have mentors played in your business life?

A huge role. Not really in terms of skills, but attitudes and behaviour. Our mentors aren’t big names in the tech industry, they are people we’ve worked closely with and influenced in everyday life. The most important values they have taught us are generosity and humility. Generosity is underrated in business, but it’s key to motivating your employees, strengthening partnerships and relationships in general, and creating a brand that intends to do some good in this world. Without humility, your team will suffer, especially relationships with your co-founders. So, the people we look up to the most in business have lived out these attitudes and have made us who we are.

What does your typical day look like?

4am – up and at’em (the main market is in the USA, so need to be awake to support!).

4-5/6am Support for an hour or so – we prioritise support and talk directly to our users as this is invaluable for product dev and conversion.

6am – 11am coffee, breakfast, and whatever we respectively have scheduled for that day.

11am usually a 20-minute lunch break, or take a bit longer and hit a local cafe and work from there.

12:30pm – 5pm more work!

5pm dinner, relax (Netflix or catching up with family/friends)

8pm bed (yep, on weekdays it’s a strict 8pm bedtime!)

We plan what we’re doing at our weekly sync. Each day is different in terms of the work we do. Dean spends about 80% of his time developing, and a lot of this is on product. Diony spends her time divided between content creation, social, book-keeping, business & marketing strategy. We both make time to see our legal and financial advisor together, and work on partnerships together. We’re getting into a great rhythm.

What challenges have you faced when starting your business in Australia?

Local support and attention is hard to garner. It’s often each man for himself. We think this is because Australia just doesn’t have the infrastructure and network of tech startups that the USA does, and then that translates into a lack of ‘pay-it-forward’ culture in general. So, in the USA what we have seen is that a number of bigger player (like Zapier, AppSumo, etc.) have directly approached us keen to collaborate and support us, but radio-silence in Australia. It seems Americans are quick to spot potential. We need to get better.

Our expectation was that we would have to pursue support and partnerships heavily, so it was a nice surprise to be approached, but at the same time, it highlighted the differences between tech-culture in the USA and AU. That’s why we love Product Hoist, Innovabiz, and online community groups for AU startups, they are bolstering our community and paying it forward. We would like to do the same as we grow.

 What organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia at the moment?

In terms of form building, no one that we know of. In general for SaaS, Canva, Campaign Monitor and Atlassian are obviously awesome, but there doesn’t really seem to be a whole lot of new kids on the block. I really like the look of what influx are up to as well.

What about internationally?

There are so many fantastic organisations in the form space and in SaaS. We have lots of respect for Typeform, and are pretty impressed with Leadformly.

What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?

A very big role. Businesses build a brand and identity that takes on a life of its own. Customers often look to these brands to guide them in shaping their business but are also influenced by their attitudes and actions.

It’s not just the obvious support and generosity either – the not-for-profit pricing and giving to charity – it’s also the way they treat their customers. One of the reasons we try to make every conversation with our users a priority is because we are concerned that online businesses have used the virtual distance as an excuse to stop treating their customers like humans. Customers are solely referred to as ‘users’ and are charged extra just for asking for help with using the product. It’s ridiculous. Businesses can effect change by demonstrating how humans can interact with each other online with dignity and respect. It also means that people who are struggling and feeling alone don’t get even more marginalised. You might be the first human interaction someone has had in a long time, even if it is a business transaction, you need to be aware as a business owner that your interaction is powerful not just for conversion, but more importantly for making society a better place.

Is there a particular charity or social enterprise you support?

Yes, we support ActionAid , and we are looking into supporting an Australian suicide support organisation, and Thorn. We also offer pay what you can plan for registered Not-For-Profits in the USA, Canada, Australia, UK.

Name 3 Australians we should follow on Twitter.

Do you have opportunities for people to get involved with your idea?

Yes, we’re actually looking for interns to assist with designing a large amount of new templates, and potentially creating content for our blog.

We’re aiming to build a community of Australian idea makers helping each other. If you could have one question answered about startups, what would it be?

How did you find your best acquisition channels?

What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?

That’s tough living in the inner west!

Everyday cafe: West Juliett, Roastville, Two Chaps

Special occasions: Bridgeroom, Glebe Point Diner


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