A Google engineer who quit to work on Obama's presidential campaign just raised $58M

OptimizelyOptimizely CEO Dan Siroker

In 2007, Dan Siroker was a Google product manager when he got a chance to listen to Barack Obama’s campaign speech at Google’s Mountain View headquarters.

Two weeks later, Siroker left his Google job to join Obama’s presidential campaign as an unpaid volunteer.

“[Obama] talked about how he wanted to take what we were doing at Google and bring that to the government,” Siroker told us. “That inspired me to leave my job [at Google].”

Siroker knew nothing about politics at the time, but he says he simply wanted to make use of the data analytics skills he’d learned at Google and test it on campaign trails.

“The only thing I had when I got there was data,” he said, referring to the data analytics skills he obtained while working at Google, a company notorious for data-based decision-making. “They tasked me with how to use data to help make better decisions.”

His work involved experimenting with Obama’s official website to boost user engagement that would eventually lead to more campaign donations. For example, he discovered that a picture of Obama’s family with a button that said “Learn More” had a 40% higher chance of increasing the number of sign ups than buttons reading “sign up” or “join us now.”

“Ultimately, we look back at that experiment as having driven millions of dollars in incremental donations to the campaign,” Siroker said.

After Obama

Siroker spent about a year on Obama’s campaign team as its director of analytics, before going on to launch his own startup called Optimizely in 2009. His company now offers an easy way for companies to test their products through common techniques such as A/B testing, which ultimately lets them “optimise” their user experience.

Since its founding, Siroker says Optimizely has doubled its sales every year, expanding its user base to go from small startups all the way up to large enterprises, such as CNN, Priceline, and Crate and Barrel.

Its growth has been nothing but impressive, and investors are betting on it big time as well. On Tuesday, it just raised a fresh funding round of $US58 million led by Index Ventures, bringing its total raised to over $US140 million.

Siroker points out that things like A/B testing may sound like a common technique at tech companies in Silicon Valley, but the reality is a lot of companies don’t have the resources to do it in a proper way. He claims Optimizely makes it super easy for even non-technical users to test a variety of options to see how users react to different designs or features.

Now it’s expanding beyond simple user optimization to personalisation, so companies can test more personalised functions, such as recommendations. Siroker wouldn’t disclose the exact financials of the company, but says there’s a lot of room to grow across all types of industries.

“We didn’t invent A/B testing. We just made it easier for everybody to do it,” he said. “Our vision is to enable the world to turn data into action.”

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