How using the tools that you already know helped Simple Analytics grow to $5.7K MRR
Hello! What's your background and what are you currently working on?
Hi, my name is Adriaan and I’m the founder of Simple Analytics. I started programming when I was 16, I was making some websites for my school (an online windsurfing gear shop), after that I started building a Wix/Squarespace like service for the NL with a friend. It was fun but we didn't get to the user base we were hoping for.
I signed up at university for 9 different curriculums and it took me 9 years to complete only one of them. Studying was boring for me and I didn't enjoy it. At the same time I started to work, first as a sysadmin and later as a programmer. But all I wanted was to enjoy life so I came up with a plan to check if I could work remotely, so I can travel at the same time. I asked my boss but she didn't agree.
I started looking for another job that would agree to these terms. I found another company that agreed. I started to work 3 days per week for that company, and at the same time I traveled.
After a few years like that I decided I wanted to do something new. So far I had some side projects and had some freelance projects, but at that point I thought about focusing on one thing so I could make it great. I started to do it full time and quit my job. Until then I wasn't pulling too hard because I had the comfort of the job. but now I had to make it work.
What motivated you to start Simple Analytics?
I thought about Simple Analytics the first time on a holiday in Tenerife with my girlfriend and I was complaining about Google Analytics privacy concerns. At that point I thought I should create something with privacy in mind.
I’ve built Simple Analytics in 2 months and after launch, it gained some traffic. I’ve never launched anything on ProductHunt before so it was exciting to see it gain some attraction. To gain extra traction I created a fun little intro video with my friends for Simple Analytics which I present on the homepage.
The next day I put it on HN and then I realized I struck a nerve, the response was amazing as I got lots of traffic.
I’ve also encountered some funny issues on the launch day, some people tried to mess around with it using spam referrals, which I dealt with by whitelisting certain websites.
I got 30 customers on the first days of launching and was super happy! The maker community was super thrilled about this as well. There is always some anxiety in getting new customers, but in the end, it worked out and now I've more than 400 customers and this number increases all the time.
I’m super proud of it :)
How did you build the initial product?
I'm a big fan of using the stuff that you already know. Don't grab a new set of tools. It can break or make your launch. You just have to start working on it. You need to find a way to develop your product in a short time before getting out of motivation.
If I build anything, I will first use the tools I know, which are Node.js and PostgreSQL. That’s what I exactly did for Simple Analytics. The beauty is that PostgreSQL is a very robust database and it can work great for analytics. Some people tried to tell me to use Elasticsearch, but now with millions of views per month, it works great, so I can’t complain. The only problem is that you have to develop your database structure and you need to know what you want to develop beforehand.
Now I realize that PostgreSQL is great for the basic database but as I’ve come to develop more complicated use cases I can start considering Elasticsearch. With that I can solve new problems that growth presents to me. This strategy helps me prevent learning new and shiny tools before they are required. I probably wouldn't have launched at all if I would’ve started with Elasticsearch.
The only issue is that I’m not that familiar with Elasticsearch. And when something like this happens it’s good to ask for help. That’s why I’ve been in touch with James from Leave Me Alone, he would help me get started with Elasticsearch, as he got some incredible knowledge about it, so I will probably take it from there and expand it.
It’s always good advice to start with what you know. If you hit a ceiling you can always change, if I would've started with Elasticsearch, I would never finish this project.
Which marketing strategies did you use?
After launch I mainly tried to get my name out there, I wasn't a known company. I started blogging and tried to get people to comment on that and read. I successfully hit the front page quite often, I guess it was because I tried to write content that I thought people would like to read. For example one thing that I think is very important is to do your research. If your content is a little bit better than others, it can take you very far.
For example the article “Why we moved our servers to Iceland'' was very successful, because we want to improve the privacy-first agenda we provide our customers. Later we realized it wasn't the best choice, since the Icelandic government decided to not pass a law that keeps server data private and out of reach of governments. Another reason to blog.
I’ve also been posting monthly updates on my twitter (recently) that shows what features are new, and monthly updates.
I’ve been in contact with DuckDuckGo to cooperate, but they realized I was just at the beginning of my startup so they didn't see the value for them at the time and decided not to proceed. But at least they saw the value of my product.
One of the biggest things that helped me was making dashboards a public option. Once people share their dashboard it's like an ad for me, but it’s also a way for people to share this information, if they want. This way it provides value for both. We recently replaced the signup links on public dashboards with referral links if customers would have that. This way they will profit from sharing their dashboard as well.
Why did you decide to operate as an Open Startup?
Pieter Levels inspired me with his /open pages. Before him, I didn't know it was even a thing.
While building Simple Analytics people asked me often how is it going and then I decided I would build in the open, for several reasons:
First - Being a transparent business would make people trust the brand more. I try to show people they have a choice, either to have their data be resold or give their data to a privacy respecting company. I try to be transparent about everything, so people can trust me and believe in us more. We build trust by sharing and being honest with our customers, as an open startup.
Second - it's a marketing tactic. I have something to share. It creates content constantly and I can share this with people, like a feedback loop. You can share interesting numbers like MRR, new customers, etc.
How did Corona affect your startup?
When corona started hitting Europe I created a tool with a volunteering group to view how many people were affected by corona, they needed analytics and I added it for free with a link back to Simple Analytics. I started to offer organizations that dealt with Corona a free tool to view Corona analytics in exchange for a link to Simple Analytics. Some companies decided to follow and one of the biggest ones is called corona-data.ch, it is quite interesting that we received more traffic from corona-data than from any other referrer, just from a simple link back.
We got some more customers through it. So by providing value and asking for a simple link back we could grow our user base a little. This way it provides value for both sides.
What were the biggest challenges you've faced and the obstacles you've overcome?
The marketing part was quite a challenge for me. I don't like the marketing part. I’m a programmer and I love working on code, I like to make people happy with new features. Marketing, like writing content, is hard for me.
Seeing the results of my efforts and doing it in ways that make it fun for myself while overcoming the hurdles makes it feeling great. My conclusion from that experience is - don't focus too much on the product. If you have more customers, than yes, you can focus more on the product, but before that you need to be active in twitter, Reddit, or wherever your target audience is.
I’m happy I’ve overcome the hurdle of writing. Now that I’ve more customers I can also focus on building new features. I’m happy I was able to overcome it. And get to a point where I’ve enough customers.
What's your advice for makers who are just starting?
Don't work more than 2-3 months on a project before launching. If you work more than 3 months on a project you’re likely to not launch it. Split your time between marketing and product. 50-50 is a good balance and worked out for me. I’m talking from experience and made those mistakes before. Before Simple Analytics, I had many projects that I did not launch after working on for a few months. Let people use your product as soon as possible.
Another piece of advice I already shared but I love to repeat it here. Just learn the stuff you need right now. You mustn’t start with technology you're new to, like an unknown framework. Just use what seems the easiest, not the most advanced. People don't care what tech stack and tools you’re using. If the customer doesn't care, why should you care?
Where can we go to learn more?
I post monthly updates about Simple Analytics on my twitter account and we keep our /open page up to date. Feel free to check it out!