Optimizely was founded by two former Google product managers in 2010. Dan Siroker, the company's cofounder and CEO, got the idea for it while working on President Obama's campaign in 2008. Today, Optimizely is the most adopted A/B testing platform in the world, according to Siroker, with more than 7,000 customers around the world.
In November 2007, Siroker listened to Barack Obama give a talk at Google. The then-presidential candidate talked about how he wanted to bring Google's data-driven strategies to campaigning, to harness the power of information for his own political engine. Two weeks later, Siroker quit his job and flew to Chicago to work at Obama's campaign headquarters.
Eventually, Siroker became the campaign's director of analytics, tasked with figuring out how Team Obama should use data to better draw in supporters using A/B testing. He quickly grew frustrated using the existing testing and optimization platforms, so, like any good Silicon Valley veteran, he decided to build his own.
The program Siroker helped build measured whether, by fluctuating different aspects of the Obama campaign's web presence, they could get more people to sign up for the campaign's email list, register to vote, volunteer, and donate.
"I think probably the most high-profile impact was on donations," Siroker says. "A/B testing directly led to tens of millions of dollars in incremental donations that the campaign would not have raised otherwise in 2008."
That year, Siroker conducted an experiment with a variety of splash pages—a page that shows up before navigating to the homepage—down to the text of the email sign-up button. The campaign tested four buttons: "Join us now," "Learn more," "Sign up now," and simply "Sign up." They also tested six media: three photos and three videos.
"It's the scientific method, but for the masses," Siroker said.
The winning splash page featured a black-and-white photo of the Obama family accompanied by the "Learn more" button, which had a 40.6 percent improvement over the original homepage's email sign-up rate.
It may seem trivial to focus on which slight variation led to the most positive user feedback, but the results speak for themselves.
"Roughly 10 million people signed up on the splash page during the campaign. If we hadn't run this experiment and just stuck with the original page, that number would be closer to 7,120,000 sign-ups. That's a difference of 2,880,000 email addresses," Siroker wrote in 2010. "The additional 2,880,000 email addresses on our email list translated into an additional $60 million in donations."
The Obama campaign enlisted Siroker's services again in 2012. So did Mitt Romney's campaign. Zac Moffatt, who was Romney's 2012 digital director, had his doubts about signing up for a service created by a former Obama campaign operative. Moffatt once said that signing up for Optimizely was the hardest decision he had to make on the campaign, but ultimately it paid off.