Interview with Peter Mühlmann, Founder & CEO of Trustpilot – one of the world’s leading review platforms

Peter-Muhlmann-Trustpilot

Founded by Peter Mühlmann in 2007, Trustpilot is a European Internet success story and one of the world’s leading review platforms – free and open to all. With more than 45 million reviews of over 220,000 companies, Trustpilot gives people a place to share and discover reviews of businesses, while giving every business the tools to turn consumer feedback into business results. Trustpilot’s mission is to bring consumers and companies together to create ever improving experiences for everyone. Today, Trustpilot employs almost 700 people in seven offices around the globe. Most recently, the company announced a new brand identity; a good opportunity to catch up with the Trustpilot story and the future plans of the company’s founder and CEO Peter Mühlmann. Enjoy the interview:

You founded Trustpilot 11 years ago when you were studying. How has Trustpilot developed since then?

In 2007 I saw an opportunity to help shoppers online. My mother wanted to make an online purchase, but she felt she needed more information to make the best buying decision. That experience helped spark the idea for Trustpilot with the mission of creating ever-improving experiences for everyone. Now eleven years later, we’ve created one of the world’s most powerful review platforms, free and open to all. To date, we have more than 45 million reviews of over 220,000 businesses globally and around 680 employees in seven offices in the U.S., Europe and Australia.

You recently announced an entirely new brand identity. As a globally operating European scale-up, what kind of challenges did you encounter when rebranding?

Our refreshed brand identity marks a significant new milestone for Trustpilot. We’ve managed to take the difficult step of being a startup with an office in a basement using duct tape to secure cables on the floor to a global scaleup with the best talent out there. Obviously, we’ve had to mature as a company over the years. If you don’t, your business will die. You need clear processes in place for how you serve your customers and develop the product. That’s all very different today compared to 10 years ago. But at the same time, we cherish the entrepreneurial spirit we started with. If we can secure the startup-feeling with a scale-up mentality, I’d be thrilled.

When we started a decade ago, it wasn’t always easy to explain to businesses why they should care about online reviews. Today, it’s the most critical feedback mechanism out there for companies. With fake news and other incidents, it’s even more important than ever to create trust and transparency for consumers. Our refreshed brand identity makes it clear that more than just a rating, Trustpilot stars signify to the world that a company has nothing to hide, loves its customers, and shares our mission of creating ever-improving experiences for everyone.

Having to revamp our brand after such a long time turned out to be tougher than expected. They always say: kill your darlings. One thing we’ve learned is that the way we perceive our brand and the way the public sees it are remarkably different. As it turned out, both consumers and companies associated Trustpilot with the green stars, not with our previous logo. We turned that insight into an opportunity which is why the green star has become our new symbol.

What did you learn from these challenges and what would you do differently from today’s perspective?

It’s always tricky to find the right balance between sticking to a winning formula while having the audacity to take a step back and think deeply about what needs to change to really move forward. That can sometimes lead to a bit of hesitation which is something that we’ve learned from.

Can you exemplify what it means in terms of day to day operations if you’re undergoing a process like this?

Rebranding is resource-heavy if you want to do it right. We had to put other projects on hold as every single department was involved in the rebranding process. But significant gains often require substantial investments, and I’m so happy that we managed to launch our refreshed brand. It wasn’t easy, and many employees went the extra mile to get it done, but we made it.

How important is marketing when you are rebranding, and which kind of marketing channels work best for you?

It’s critical for our success that both consumers and companies understand who we are and what we do, and marketing plays a crucial role in rolling out our refreshed brand.

Communicating our refreshed brand identity to consumers and customers is happening through a range of channels. The most crucial of these are our “TrustBoxes,” which feed reviews to thousands of our customers’ websites in real time. They have more than 2.5 billion impressions every month. With that kind of reach it was vital to us that these widgets kept being as effective as they’ve been in the past – with the aim of being even better.

Our customers also leverage the value of our brand by using both our logo and the reviews themselves in their own marketing campaigns. The refreshed brand is acting as a catalyst for more companies to shout about how they love their customers by being able to display our logo and talking about their reviews in their ad campaigns.

How do you make sure that all your ~700 employees, in every office, are aligned with the new brand identity?

The most important brand asset you have is your employees. Everything should start with them. So, we tried to make our rebranding process as inclusive as possible with internal steering committees, multiple interviews and workshops. We held internal brand launch events for all our seven global offices. Not just to present our new brand internally but also to take all the employees through the insights that helped shape our new brand identity to ensure that everyone could unite behind the core idea.

We’re currently building a brand guardianship process to drive consistent application of our brand across all internal and external touch-points. We’re also developing a company-wide brand induction training and running various workshops to ensure our employees and new hires have a clear understanding of what our brand is, why it matters and how it relates to their role within the company.

To conclude, what kind of tips can you give other startups and scaleups when they’re considering a new brand identity?

I’ll say it’s a process that shouldn’t be underestimated. Take your time, also to have everyone – customers, employees, and other stakeholders – on board. Don’t forget to look at your strong points in the brand as it is. If hadn’t done that, we wouldn’t have used our iconic green star as the main brand symbol. It’s also not a process that ends when you have a new visual identity. That’s when the real work starts and you have to maintain your brand to ensure everyone understands what you’re trying to achieve with the company.

What is next for Trustpilot and where do you see the company in 4 years from now?

We know that people – both businesses and consumers – want to shape and improve their world. There is a real need for more trust and transparency in our society. This means two things: Firstly, in the future ratings will not only be used to look good. Instead, ratings will be used as a transparent feedback mechanism that businesses who want to stay ahead of the curve will use to show that they have nothing to hide, love their customers, and want to create ever-improving experiences. Secondly, somehow humans got lost in digitization. Successful businesses of tomorrow acknowledge that their customers are humans, not just CTR-generators. Our new brand identity sets the direction for our next decade, and I’m confident we can play a part in upgrading the world.