How We Went From Problem to Product by Building for Ourselves

Hello! What's your background, and what are you working on?

Hey! My name is Hugo Valente, and I’ve been the Product Owner+ for a startup called Statful since December of 2017. I added that “+” playfully since anyone who has been on a small startup team knows that your responsibilities always venture outside the title (managing daily operations, coordinating marketing, pre-sales, and sales among other tasks). In all I do, my goal is to raise brand awareness and connect those who don’t monitor metrics to our unique tool.

My professional background isn’t directly connected to the startup ecosystem. Before joining Statful, I worked at two companies that implement Oracle enterprise level solutions for retailers. On this path, I started from a Junior Developer/Analyst and, over the course of 10+ years, I ended with a role in Solutions Architecture/Project Management on large scale projects. These experiences allowed me to acquire a mix of technical and soft skills that are key to my work.

Statful is a customized monitoring platform to track any type of metric. It provides you with real-time data in a centralized point-of-view for business, application, and system metrics. It empowers you to instrument however and whatever you want. It is for developers, operations, and business teams who want the flexibility and the power to instrument their systems in a simple way.

Without having made any real investments on marketing or sales, and with no external funding, we have managed to get four customers—from entirely different business areas— reaching an MRR of approximately $22k.

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What motivated you to get started with Statful?

I wasn’t around when the idea to build Statful came up. Statful is a product born in Mindera’s ecosystem (a tech services company based in Porto, Portugal), who had both the objective of adventuring into the creation of products and the need for a monitoring tool that would provide visibility to development teams. Essentially, something that could communicate to both the developers and the businesses what was happening under the hood of the applications they were developing.

There was some hesitation to build this solution ourselves: Why create a tool when there are already a few tools on the market? We found that the available tools were either too expensive and full of pre-built, automated metric collectors/agents (which could be good and bad at the same time) or that they were open-source, which would require dedicated effort to deploy, maintain, and scale. We wanted to have a tool that would give us the flexibility and the power to instrument what we really wanted to monitor, in a simple way.

Working on a product you love goes a long way, but it helps to know your audience.

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The product was initiated in August of 2015 and, at that time, besides Mindera’s internal development team needs, there was already an interested customer for the tool. The first MVP wasn’t glamorous and was built by “gluing” a couple of open source components with some developed ones to validate the idea and value of it.

The product was raised and maintained by a team of under 10 people working from Porto, Portugal, in a rented office space.

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Our core team of developers had all “suffered” from the same problem that we were trying to build a product around, which was immensely helpful in the development process. Having what is essentially our target demographic build the MVP informed what features were important to include.

What went into building the initial product?

We wanted to build something for the mass market, not a single-customer specific product. Since our first deploy, we've been looking at the competition and exploring niches in order to keep our product appealing and ensure we don't fall behind on what most competitors are delivering. One year after we released the MVP, we launched the beta. Since the beta release, we’ve on-boarded three more customers and have opened up our product with a Free plan, which currently has more than 10 registered users.

Our Achilles heel has been around product design. We only had one dedicated designer for our initial release. After that, it was really up to our two key frontend developers to expand on the design, all while managing other responsibilities, and they’ve done a great job! But it was hard to keep up with launching new features, maintaining current functionality, and ensuring a smooth, consistent user experience. Thankfully, we’ve now nailed down a designer to focus solely on our design needs, and it’s already made a big difference in the look and feel of the product.

This was an instance of a larger trend we’ve now come to see, which is that as our product grows and changes, so do our internal needs, and we need to be mindful and responsive to that if we’re going to succeed. Though everyone was working hard, we reached a threshold with the initial core team. As we continue to grow our product, we must also continue to grow our team and the range of skills they bring to the table.

All the funding for developing the product came from Mindera. That funding was exclusively to pay the team costs and infrastructure to sustain the product. We were really comfortable with the demands of the tech stack but not so much with sales and marketing as we had no real experience in that domain and the budget was too tight to acquire external services. Most of our new customers have been through some synergistic sharing with Mindera.

Regarding technologies, our product is hosted in the cloud, which ensures that our customers don’t need to worry about infrastructure demands, and the underlying key piece is a time-series database. This allows us to deliver on our real-time data promise, as well as collect vast amounts of data. We also connect to third-party services to provide alert notifications. All of the other components, from backend to frontend, have been developed by us on top of state-of-the-art technologies while applying software development best practices.

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How have you attracted users and grown Statful?

As mentioned earlier, the path to launch wasn’t exactly straightforward, but we did it and had the backing of one client to boot. We weren't in bad shape, but we did need to start gaining traction.

We started by pitching the product to our existing clients. Utilizing our network to land these first clients was an easy way to get valuable feedback, but we knew we needed to expand our outreach avenues if we were going to deviate from the “single-point product” idea and appeal to a larger market. We posted Statful to social media but didn’t get the response we were hoping for. While we got some subscription sign-ups, it didn’t bring us any new clients.

We were sure that once people got a taste of what Statful could do, it would be easy to rope them in. But we realized that we needed some outside intervention to grease the wheels, so we hired a small company to help us build a social media strategy, gain exposure, and spread the word.

In concert with our social media strategy, we developed a Free Plan that would allow users to get a feel for the platform and, hopefully, move on to the Pro Plan. This got us a few subscriptions, but nothing substantial. The marketing team that we hired helped us produce a few webinars, which did kick off some engagement, but we struggled to keep users between one episode and the next.

At this point, we’re considering taking a step back to reevaluate and focus on developing good content, strengthening our documentation details, and building up starter kits/accelerators to help first-time users. This may not dramatically affect the inflow of new users, but hopefully, it will help us keep the ones we get and encourage them to spread the word more organically.

Something that did help, which others have mentioned in their interviews, was taking advantage of platforms like Product Hunt, AngelList, and Indie Hackers.

What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?

We have a monthly/annual recurring subscription model, which is our Pro plan. The pricing per customer is based on how much they use the product, which is measured by the average data points received per second in a month. Our threshold starts at $50 per month and grows as usage increases. We currently have an MRR of $22k coming in from four customers. Until we find a better way to get market attention or exposure, we are limited to finding clients through Mindera’s customer base.

We started to pull in revenue as soon as the product launched since we already had a client. As mentioned earlier, we acquired subsequent customers by collaborating with Mindera to tap into their existing customer base.

We started out with a rather complex, confusing pricing model. Initially, the usage was tracked by two variables: the rate of ingestion and storage occupancy. We came to realize that this approach wasn’t optimal, worked through a few iterations to fine tune the model, and finally landed on a single-variable tracking model.

It’s important to think through your pricing model before putting it out there. Validate and run multiple simulations on the concepts and math behind your pricing structure, and make sure that whatever model you define works well for not just your current situation, but for future iterations of your product and business as you (hopefully) continue to grow and scale.

Our current expenses are essentially: team, infrastructure, and some minimal investment in marketing to try to validate some approaches. We aren’t in a comfortable position yet, which is tied to the fact we haven’t been able to find the best way to get the attention of potential customers.

Year Revenue
Jan ‘16 7500
Jan ‘17 12000
Jan ‘18 15000
Nov ‘18 22000

What are your goals for the future?

We are aggressively exploring possible niches in the market, we want companies of all sizes to have access to our powerful monitoring tools. Besides creating the Free plan to encourage clients to take the product for a spin, we’ve launched a proposal for a plan specifically designed for startups.

In an effort to ensure that we are constantly bringing added value to our customers, we also want to move from a classic monitoring and alert approach to providing business intelligence as well. The hope is that Statful won’t just help you to be on top of your business, but will grant you the means to do simulations that will predict your future. Make sure you follow us for more news on this front!

The biggest roadblock that lies ahead is the limitations on team capacity. We are constantly trying to prioritize between delivering feature X, which will move us forward with our main goals, and paying attention to our customer requests and/or tech-debt or architectural issue that we need to nail. Despite these challenges, we’re confident that we’re headed towards success. We know we’ve got a great piece of tech and are diligent to always keep our end-goal in mind, with the knowledge that some road bumps and detours can’t be avoided.

Failure is always a possibility, but don’t let that scare you off. Every failure is an opportunity to learn and grow, so it’s never a total loss.

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This year, we’ve also decided to start exploring the possibility of outside funding. This decision was not taken lightly, we wanted to ensure that we had tried everything possible on our own, but time is of the essence. Considering the limitations we’re working with and our long-term objectives for Statful, we’re convinced that this is the path we need to follow.

In terms of investment, we are looking for a mix of two types of investments. Go-to-Market investment—since we know about our tech, we are looking for an investor with a structure to potentiate our sales and marketing strategies. And investment for engineering costs to support team growth, development of market-value features (such as mobile, AI), and infrastructure development to follow the customer wallet increase.

What are the biggest challenges you've faced and the obstacles you've overcome? If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

When we first built Statful, we felt empowered by the idea of having a tool that we could use to monitor whatever we wanted, whether it be the development process or the business itself. We wanted to share this "power" with everyone else. However, we didn't predict that folks might not actually know what they want to measure. It’s possible that this is why it’s been so hard to reach the market. A few of our subscriptions would join and then never return to the platform. Maybe it wasn’t for them, or maybe they decided they needed to start measuring something, signed up, and then realized they weren’t quite sure what they wanted to look at or otherwise got overwhelmed.

That's why we figured it would be good to equip our tool with starter kits or accelerators. We hope to help users get a feeling of what they can accomplish with Statful while still maintaining the flexibility to add custom metrics so that they stick around for the long-term.

The other lesson to learn here is that, while it's true that working on a product you love goes a long way, it helps to know your audience. Building a product by betting on the requisites of a small pool of clients can result in skewed feedback and poor product validation. It would've helped if we had gotten a community of possible beta users to raise validation straight away.

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Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

The most significant advantage has been that we built the product for ourselves. Developing a product for your own needs creates a huge incentive to build something of the utmost quality. And the rush of excitement that hits when you know you have something really good on your hands is a great motivator to get it out in the market and share the goodness with others. Our excitement and eagerness to share drove us to take Statful to tech events like TechDay Los Angeles and Web Summit, where we were able to talk to a bunch of people from different backgrounds who expressed interest in the product and gave us valuable feedback. We wrote about some of our reflections and takeaways from these events on our blog.

Having Mindera as our "big-bro" company has also been a great help since they’re always available to give us advice, share insights, and sometimes even help us push through pain points.

What's your advice for indie hackers who are just starting out?

Building a great product is, without a doubt, a challenging endeavor. We are still making the journey ourselves and learning how to deal with growing pains. The ethos we carry with us throughout every day is: try. Take risks, do a little something every day, and don't be afraid to share it with friends, and then to people in your target market. Failure is always a possibility, but don’t let that scare you off. Every failure is an opportunity to learn and grow, so it’s never a total loss.

Also, really focus on validation! Be it for a new feature, or to build your business model, get as much as feedback as possible. You can find a lot of resources on the internet, from opening your MVP or product to beta testers to portals or listings where you can share what you’re building.

Two books I recommend:

Where can we go to learn more?

Our platform is available at www.statful.com. If you feel like giving Statful a go, subscribe there for a free plan and check out our growing community on GitHub.

We are also present in social media through the usual channels on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter @statfulhq. For our insights and content pieces, join us on Medium and Youtube.

Thank you for making it this far, we would love to hear from you! Leave a comment or question below, and we'll get back to you :)

Also, thanks to Indie Hackers for the interview!

Hugo Valente , Founder of Statful

Want to build your own business like Statful?

You should join the Indie Hackers community! 🤗

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Not ready to get started on your product yet? No problem. The community is a great place to meet people, learn, and get your feet wet. Feel free to just browse!

Courtland Allen , Indie Hackers founder

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