INTERVIEW | David Darmanin: Understanding internet user behaviour

David Darmanin is the founder and CEO of Hotjar, a business which helps website owners understand user behaviour and optimise conversions. He is the winner of EY Malta Entrepreneur of the Year™ Award 2019. In June, he will travel to Monaco to represent Malta and compete in EY’s World Entrepreneur of the Year™ award together with business leaders from more than 60 countries

EY Malta Entrepreneur of the Year David Darmanin and Ron Attard, EY Malta Managing Partner
EY Malta Entrepreneur of the Year David Darmanin and Ron Attard, EY Malta Managing Partner

How did you start out in the IT sector and where you trained locally or abroad?

I am actually self-taught. I started off in graphic design, and from there moved on to learn user experience design, marketing and copywriting.

What gave you the idea to create Hotjar and how did it grow and develop since its inception?

For six  years I worked in a software company where we struggled to find the right tools we needed to improve the experience and improve our conversion rates.

After that experience I spent two years consulting some of the biggest digital brands in the world.

During this time, I realised that these companies were also struggling with the same challenges I had faced earlier in my career: they needed multiple tools that were expensive and complicated.

We built Hotjar to be a simple, affordable all-in-one solution. We launched a beta late in 2014 that lasted until mid-2015.

During this time Hotjar was tested on over 20,000 sites. Since then we’ve focused on improving Hotjar based on the feedback from our users and customers.

In what ways does Hotjar help website owners and what does it offer over and above its competitors?

Hotjar helps website owners to understand how people are really using their site – it aids them to make sense of the numbers they see in their analytics tools.

We call this “behavior analytics” and includes seeing where people click, how far they scroll and recreating their experience.

Over and beyond this Hotjar also allows website owners to understand why their users behave the way they do by using “user feedback” tools.

Hotjar is different in that we combine this feedback with behavioural analytics (at the “hip”).

We also don’t have a “sales team” you need to speak to before you can use and test out the platform. We’re very much “self-serve” and anyone can just create an account and start using Hotjar.

How many businesses make use of Hotjar’s services?

Over 400,000 sites use Hotjar to collect and analyse data about their site. Hotjar offers a free plan as well as a premium paid plan for businesses. We currently have 23,000 paying customers.

Do you have an international market-base, and do you count any big names amongst your clients?

Hotjar has customers in over 150 countries around the world. The biggest market is the US, followed by Europe and the UK.

Hotjar is used by some of the highest traffic sites and biggest brands in the world including Ryanair, AirCanada, Hubspot and Box.

As the winner of this year’s EY Malta Entrepreneur of the Year Award, you’ll now be representing Malta at the World Entrepreneur event in Monaco. What was it like to win this award, and what are you expecting from Monaco?

I’m not a big fan of awards as I prefer to keep a low profile and just focus on delivering value to our customers.

However, it was wonderful for Hotjar and myself to receive local recognition for what our amazing team has achieved.

I look forward to participating in Monaco – mainly because I look forward to meeting other entrepreneurs and be inspired by their stories.

Looking at the situation in Malta, would you say the country in general is keeping up with developments when it comes to IT and internet technologies, or does it lag behind?

We are definitely keeping up with developments. Internet and connectivity is good for an island our size. eGovernment services have improved – but still have some way to go to become simpler and easier to use.

The biggest challenge in Malta is the choice of banking and financial partners available.

Because of this we’ve been faced with many challenges in terms of getting access to services, platforms and tools that do not work with companies in Malta.

Hotjar is based in Malta - does the island, in your view, offer a good platform for IT-related companies to establish themselves on its shores?

Malta has quite good technical infrastructure. The biggest challenge in Malta is finding the talent needed to build and scale a team.

Besides the small size of our islands, local entrepreneurs also have to deal with what is an unfair playing ground.

Foreign companies/shareholders are heavily subsidised with tax refunds, while we are not eligible to tax refunds.

In fact, I have firsthand experience of the challenges of hiring in Malta. I had worked remotely for a UK firm before starting Hotjar and as an avid traveler I wanted to create a company which offers its team members the flexibility and freedom to work from wherever they want.

For this reason, Hotjar is 100% remote. Today we have 75 team members spread across 18 countries.

In Malta we have 15 employees. Each team member (based in Malta or otherwise) has budgets and allowances in place that allows them to create a home office and cover the expenses of working from home, as well as having a co-working membership, work from a cafe and travel to meet other team members.

Does Malta offer enough training opportunities for young people who want to enter and progress in the IT sector?

I think so. There are loads of opportunities. However, it is still a challenge to find engineers, designers etc. This is not just a local challenge.

Looking forward, do you see your company expanding, and in what ways?

Definitely. Our vision is to “Give businesses of all sizes the insights they need to create digital experiences their users love.”
In that sense we still have a very long way to go.

As we continue to grow revenue we will continue to invest in improving the Hotjar platform, the service we offer and reaching more customers around the world (eventually expanding east into Asia).

More in People