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I co-founded Crisp with a 2 person team and reached $4M+ ARR. AMA!

Hello,

I'm Valerian, co-founder and CTO at Crisp. Crisp is a customer support SaaS that sells a unified customer support product to customers worldwide (200k+ users!). We provide a chatbox, emailing, an helpdesk, a CRM, as well as a ton of integrations (Messenger, Telegram, Instagram, WhatsApp, etc.).

We started Crisp with Baptiste Jamin in mid-2015, bootstrapped a free product for 1 year before switching to a paid model, with simple unlimited-usage plans ($25/mth or $95/mth).

We mainly serve the startup and small companies market. Our goal is to allow everyone to run a first-class cross-channel customer support.

Given our scale, we've crossed interesting technical challenges over the time, from which we learnt a lot.

We were remote from day one, and never raised a cent of venture money. We quickly grew to ramen-profitability, before scaling our MRR to what it is today. We are now a 14 person team, distributed across the world, with an HQ office in France.

Ask me anything! :)

Note: Baptiste, my co-founder, may step in as well to answer some questions.

https://crisp.chat/

  1. 9

    I use crisp on my site and love it

    How long did it take for you to get your first 1000 users?

    1. 3

      Literally a few weeks! Growth was explosive from the start.

      1. 1

        How did you market, get your product to be known?

        1. 2

          We had a friend of ours at the beginning which got Crisp installed on 100+ small business websites. Then, it kicked of from that, via the "powered by Crisp" link on the chatbox that was on those websites. Aside from that, we were very active on Quora in order to put our name next to more established competitors.

      2. 1

        wow, how feature-rich was your first version?

        1. 2

          We had a chatbox, emails and a Messenger looking like inbox with very basic messaging options. Though, that inbox worked pretty well (fast, good UX).

        1. 2

          That was limited to the French market at first, as we were part of a vibrant startup and SMB ecosystem with a lot of people knowing us all around the country. Then it spread to the world.

          1. 1

            Oh you had some form of audience

            1. 2

              Yes, a little spark to start the chain reaction is always needed IMHO

  2. 3

    At INK, we've been using Intercom before switching to Crisp. We won't go back.

  3. 3

    Really loving Crisp, although I never used it. Once or twice per year I'd look you guys up and be disappointed that you haven't shared much more about your journey.

    I instantly upvoted this when I saw it.

    My question is about Crisp's future. I just organized this AmA with Jason Fried from Basecamp on my community, r/SaaS. Crisp's pricing reminds me of Basecamp, and I think you'll resonate with Jason's answer there.

    And that's really the question: do you resonate with that? Does Crisp intend to keep this pricing structure in the future, and to keep going into SMB SaaS?

    It seems like it works well for Basecamp, so while you guys won't become the TechCrunch darling, it feels to me like you don't even want that.

    P.S: Let me know if you'd like to do something like this on r/SaaS as well :)

    1. 3

      That's exactly our mindset! We have large companies interested though, so we'll work out a custom plan for them, the way Cloudflare did it. Serve SMBs first, but always have a sub-feature for that itch larger businesses have (we are Cloudflare Enterprise users, which made us understand how we can make both co-exist).

      About the Reddit AMA, sure, super interested! We could do that as a pair w/ Baptiste, my co-founder, so that we can cover all aspects of the journey.

      1. 1

        Thx for the answer! What's the best way to reach you?

        1. 1

          This comment was deleted 5 months ago.

          1. 1

            Hi Baptiste! Thanks Valerian as well. You can delete the comment, I've saved the addresses. Expect an email in the next days!

  4. 2

    Hey Valerian,

    Great story.

    Part product and part company strategy question here. How do you balancing simplicity versus expansiveness of product—particularly when thinking about moving upmarket? I saw one of your responses below re Cloudflare approach and the market beyond SMB hence the question.

    One thing I constantly see play out is that as a product grows more complex, it gets better for the most demanding customers (often the long term one but perhaps most often the larger ones and sure sometimes those are the same), but it gets worse for new users with simpler needs.

    À la "The Innovators Dilemma"

    Somewhat related to that, what's your take on some of the open-source tools popping up in this space?

    1. 2

      The way Cloudflare does it — and how we want to do it, is that once you hit some super-high limit we'll request you to move to a higher plan because it's not fair anymore to pay for the regular Unlimited plan based on your usage. As well, we'll sell super specific features for very particular needs only large ones have (think like Cloudflare Spectrum but for customer support).

      Those features will be sold on our website, not on our app, so we won't announce them to other users, that way it doesn't bother everyone. Enterprise leads can contact us from that website page selling the feature and get a price, after which we enable the feature on their account which then appears on their app.

      That's how Cloudflare did it and IMHO it's the best way to make both SMB and Enterprise co-exist without bothering SMBs with Enterprise upsells through the product.

      That way, the product stays simple for 99% of users.

      On the open-source tools popping up in our market, I think it's a good thing. Some users may want to self-host their customer support, they couldn't do that before and now they can. Though, I believe most of them would prefer paying for a SaaS as it's way simpler to manage. OSS tools I've seen are neatly done, don't recall their names though but I was surprised by their high quality.

      1. 1

        @valeriansaliou Appreciate the depth of your response there. I saw an interview with Des Traynor at Intercom where he alluded to some of the challenges they've encountered as they've expanded. So it's interesting to hear your take on it the upmarket piece.

        Even though Crisp is serving a different market to Intercom, you might enjoy that interview. You can catch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d1xE9UobgdQ

      2. 1

        @valeriansaliou Wondering, what is the threshold for 'super-high limit' in Crisp?

  5. 2

    I had no idea that Crisp was bootstrapped! Congrats on your journey so far, amazing job!

  6. 2

    Congrats on reaching $4M ARR :) Crisp chat is one of my favourite business tool I use as a SaaS founder.

    The free tier is actually super useful and great overall user experience.

  7. 2

    Congrats Valerian for this amazing achievement!

  8. 2

    Why didn't you charge money for the first year and only introduced payed versions later?

    1. 3

      Because building the more advanced features people would pay for take so much time and effort. We wanted to get messaging right first, and then build the paid features. Plus, handling all the billing, VAT, company structure required once you start charging was really a de-focus, while all we needed was to build a great messaging-first product. We've always built iteratively, improving day by day and releasing huge features every 6 months.

  9. 2

    Hi Valerian,

    • With so many other companies in the space, how did you differentiate your product?
    • You mentioned technical challenges, what was the biggest and how did you overcome it?

    Thanks :)

    1. 5

      Hi,

      • We differentiate mainly through our attention to details (having an Apple-grade product, making sure it loads fast everywhere in the world - for instance I was on the other side of the Atlantic not long ago, and Crisp felt as fast as in Europe, even if our core servers are located in Europe). As well, we serve the SMB market that's been left over by our main competitors which went up-market and charge outrageous prices.

      • Biggest technical challenges were due to our API, and chatbox. On the API side, we receive 1B+ HTTP requests every month on it, as it's used by our integrations but also users through our apps for messaging purposes. We built a dedicated caching system that greatly reduces calls to the API workers: https://github.com/valeriansaliou/bloom ; on the chatbox side, since 1% of websites using us bring a TON of traffic, we made sure to implement a wide range of automatic safety limits that put the chatbox into high-traffic mode for those websites (it's a spectrum, there are multiple high-traffic modes depending on how big the website is). It disables automatic WebSocket connections for instance, gradually and for all as the website brings more and more load, while only establishing WS connections on user interaction. Things like that, there's much more to it obviously. That means a lot of code logic in all our systems dedicated to handling those special cases.

      1. 1

        Thanks so much for your replies.

        • Do you think that focusing on SMBs in an industry where the big players have gone up-market is a repeatable approach that other indie hackers could use to find success?
        • What were some of the key reasons for rolling your own caching system rather than using an existing system like Varnish?
        • How were you able to offer the tool for free in the first year? I imagine the running costs were significant.

        Thanks

        1. 3

          Sure!

          • Definitely yes. Going up-market requires so much workforce. If you bootstrap, definitely target the small and if you succeed, go up-market progressively. You cannot go up-market without prior resources as it requires a lot of hire and human time spent dealing with those customers, and it requires an existing high-quality product. Unless your industry is 100% enterprise, I'd suggest going first for the SMBs. Much easier.
          • Bloom: we looked at Varnish but needed fine-grained bucketing and cache control. Varnish was built to provide caching websites like Reddit and so, not REST API providing multi-user messaging in a team.
          • We were students and driving revenue from working part-time at other companies. We woke up crazy early in the morning, worked on Crisp, then went to work in the day, got back home early and coded til 11pm :) Its part of the hustle, having time constraints at the start is really a good thing because you only have so much time to execute on your startup every day, so you have to spend that time wisely in contrast to having 24h a day.
  10. 2

    Love your product and have used it since day 1 at https://versoly.com/ (it is a huge competitive advantage)

    I'm sure you get offered VC money all the time or think about going "bigger", how do you handle that?

    1. 1

      We get offered VC money all the time yes :) We have sufficient profit left to re-invest a big chunk of what we charge customers into product improvements and growth, as well as employing more people over the time as needed. We don't need VC money at this stage, as we can 100% self-fund further development with our own revenue.

      1. 1

        Another question if I may haha.

        Do you think you will continue to grow forever or do you have an employee cap in mind?

        1. 1

          Can't say just yet, we'll try to grow forever but of course there will be a time where the pie won't grow anymore :) For now, the pie is growing for everyone in that market, so it's pretty comfortable and there's room of a lot of competition.

          1. 2

            Okay so you don't mind growing but you want it to be "healthy" with tons of margin?

            1. 2

              Exact. We don't feel comfortable with the "always be in the negative" way to manage our business growth. We're probably missing quite a bit of growth there, but at the end we built what we're confortable dealing with. It's just a personal matter :)

  11. 1

    Awesome achievement, congrats! How much was your initial investment in both time and cost?

    1. 3
      • Cost = zero (our MacBook Pro, an Internet connection and DO free credits at the start)
      • Time = 80h/week, all the time
  12. 1

    How did you position yourself in this crowded market?

    1. 1

      We serve the SMB market, and we integrated literally with anything. We have fast Web and mobile apps, and spent a lot of time on UX and UI. Crisp users always tell they love Crisp for that :)

  13. 1

    Super encouraging🚀
    What did your MVP look like?🤔
    And How did you validate your assumptions?

  14. 1

    Congrats on such a successful business! 🥂
    What was your biggest marketing channel to gain the first (large) amount of traction? How did that change over time as the business grew in MMR and switched over to a more paid setup?

  15. 1

    We use Crisp at Kern.al and absolutely love it!

    My question for you: what 3 daily habits served as your north star to ensure you ended up meeting your end goals.

    1. 2

      Great question:

      1. Keep a strict daily routine, wake up at the same time every day, go to bed at the same time. Say no to alcohol, moderate coffee. Ensure you get enough sleep every night, for me that's 7h (wake up 6am, go to sleep 11pm — I start my day coding before shower & breakfast, then go get breakfast at 9am; this keeps my energy levels super high).
      2. When starting Crisp, I built a minimalistic life outside of it. Our brains tend to be drawn to useless possessions and activities that have no impact on our success whatsoever. This was the only way I could ensure I kept a clear mind for Crisp. Not so much a daily habit, rather a part of my early mindset where I'll avoid all physical and virtual possessions.
      3. Say no, a lot. And set yourself unrealistic milestone goals. Time is your most precious asset, and it's super-limited. There's so many ways to waste it nowadays.
  16. 1

    @valeriansaliou can you speak to your growth/marketing plan?

    There are a LOT of people on Indie Hackers that have great products but need that SPARK as you mentioned it.

    Can you share how your first customers?

    • 0 to 1
    • 1 to 100
    • 100+

    Also, this might be more difficult, but how important is engineered marketing with Crisp? (ie. powered by Crisp, etc.)

    Lastly, I run Median Cobrowse and would love to talk about integrating our platforms if you are open to it.

    Any chance we can hop on a call?

  17. 1

    Aside from price, how have you differentiated and competed against Intercom?

    1. 1

      We don't address the same market anymore, they tend to go up-market, we handle the SMB market segment. We're diverging as well in the features we build, and tend to see ourselves as a platform now (eg. like Slack, allowing external developers to build apps on the top of Crisp and offering our users to install those apps on their Crisp team).

  18. 1

    I love crisp and love your stories of building it self funded. Did you gone for paid advertisement? If Yes which channel was most profitable in terms of customer acquisition?

    1. 3

      Early on we used Quora as an acquisition channel. We've added a bit of paid ads in the mix (Google + Facebook), unfortunately I don't have any data to share on that end. We also built our own affiliates system for people to refer customers to Crisp and make money, which has proven effective as well.

      Today, we don't have one single acquisition channel, but rather many smaller ones put together.

      1. 1

        Is the affiliate system today still the most effective acquisition channel? Or are they all smaller (<25%) and spread out.

        1. 1

          It's still small in comparison to the rest.

      2. 1

        Good to hear that. Thanks you for the reply. Wishing all the best for your future plans.

  19. 1

    Just wanted to say that your product rocks, and the free tier for solo apps is wonderful!

  20. 1

    Do you have outbound sales warriors in you team?

    1. 2

      Our marketing guy, Antoine, handles that, aside from SEO, website and ads :)

  21. 1

    Hey Valerian! Hey Baptiste! I have read you story and answers in comments. And you guys are absolutely killing it!

    What an awesome journey. What a coll ARR! Congrats with success and have a good growth! Thank you for sharing it. 🤘🙂🚀

  22. 1

    Has your french SARL status influenced your company building in any way? (we're also an SARL ;))

    1. 2

      Not in any way, although as founders we are not traditional employees thanks to the SARL status; rather TNS, which means we enjoy lower social taxes (for instance, we do not contribute to the unemployment fund).

  23. 1

    I know that you store a ton of information, like pagevisits, events, messages and more for each connected website.

    1. What kind of database solution do you use?

    2. Do you keep data forever, or do you delete them periodically?

    3. Do you have large users that cost you more than $95 to maintain?

    1. 1

      Hey!

      1. We use different databases, for what they're best at. MySQL, MongoDB, Redis, SSDB, Memcached, and some RocksDB implementation as well.
      2. We do keep data forever, until you as the user deletes them, which make it vanish forever.
      3. We had in the past, but that was due to eg. external translation API costs for our LiveTranslate feature. Quotas have been put into place to address that.
    2. 1

      This comment was deleted 5 months ago.

  24. 1

    Hey , great app !
    Can you share please on what cloud the app running ?
    What stack , and what tech you are using to run all of this?

    1. 2

      We run on DigitalOcean + use Cloudflare.

      We're running this as a microservices architecture, NodeJS + Golang all interconnected via RabbitMQ and Redis.

      Everything is monitored using https://github.com/valeriansaliou/vigil which you can see on https://status.crisp.chat

      1. 1

        Thanks!
        can you share how much of the MMR you are paying for the hosting + Cloudflare?

        1. 1

          All that put together is below 10k EUR / mth, though it's growing fast with our growth. Our costs are pretty standard in comparison to other software companies with a similar MRR, in different markets than us.

  25. 1

    Hello Valerian,

    Thanks for your time and congrats on your success.

    How did you acquire customers? In other words, what strategies did you adopt to reach out to prospective customers?

    Regards,
    Debo

    1. 3

      Hello!

      I'm Baptiste, Valerian's cofounder.

      Initially, we had a very small community of initial users (around 10).

      In 2015, we started by having a strong emphasis on those 10 initial users, by building a product around them. Thanks to that, we started to get more and more users, because those initial users started to recommend Crisp.

      Then we got featured in Dec. 2015 on Product Hunt and we went from 100 to 1000 in a single day, and since the growth has been impressive so far.

      What we figured out is that when doing something good, people are recommending your product a lot.

      In fact when doing SaaS software, retention and onboarding is crucial. More that acquisition.

      1. 2

        Thank You Baptiste for sharing such fresh, insightful strategies.

    2. 3

      Chatbox + emails "powered by Crisp" link + Quora + word-to-mouth at the start. Zero ads.

      1. 1

        Thanks Valerian. Appreciate the insights.

  26. 2

    This comment was deleted 4 months ago.

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