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31 Comments

I founded ChartMogul, 50 person profitable SaaS, AMA

Hi IndieHackers!

Nick here, Founder and CEO of ChartMogul (chartmogul.com), the leading subscription analytics platform.

We got started in 2014 and are now a 50 person company. We raised a total of $3.7M (around 4 years ago now), but have been growing the company profitably along with revenues for the past couple of years.

We've been very much a product-led growth company (and product is where my heart is), though are now building up a marketing team for the first time, to help us try and accelerate things.

We have 3 offices (Toronto, Berlin and Seoul – where I'm based) but most of the company is fully remote and not near an office.

Will check in here throughout the next 24 hours to answer any questions.

Excited to see how this goes 🙂

P.s. please follow me on Twitter ;) https://twitter.com/Nick_Franklin

  1. 5

    Everyone says build an audience. Is that something worth doing? Yes i believe that building audience can 10X you first customer acquisition. But when i looked the founders of many startups they were not influencers. Not every founders can be influencers. Is that a hype?
    What is your opinion in this?

    1. 5

      It can't hurt, but it's secondary to building a solid product and acquiring customers and revenues. Having an audience might help with that a bit, but a strong network is probably more valuable in B2B. The majority of the most successful people in business I know personally have few followers (and acquired them after reaching a level of success) ...but that's B2B world. Consumer may well be quite different, though you could always pay folks with an audience to promote your brand in B2C (influencer marketing).

      I only have about 3,000 followers on twitter (and no audience elsewhere really), I expect if I deleted my Twitter it would have no noticeable impact on our numbers honestly.

      Main thing is to build a product or service that people find useful and are willing to pay for, everything else is secondary IMO.

      Being good at being an influencer has nothing to do with being good at making good products. Majority of influencers are basically just attractive people.

      1. 2

        Thanks for your reply. Was thinking the same.!

  2. 2

    What's the biggest regret you had in the early days (or even later on) which cost you either a lot of time and/or a lot of money to rectify?

    1. 6

      I think the biggest mistake I made was about 2 years in I thought we should expand into other market verticals, maybe we can't grow fast enough in purely subscription analytics, and instead we should go into revenue analytics more broadly, e.g. e-commerce analytics, etc.

      This was way too early and we were way to small to be trying to take on two verticals, and my decision probably distracted the team for around 6-9 months before we course corrected, shelved those plans and decided to just focus 100% of our efforts on subscriptions analytics.

      Similarly we also built a RevRec add-on product that, while it made money, was another serious distraction that we added too early.

      I also think we (like many teams) embraced micro-services a bit too soon and too eagerly, and ended up rolling some of the services back into the monolith to simplify things.

      I learned the power and importance of focus and doing "one thing really well" the hard way :)

  3. 2

    Hey, this is just something I am struggling with now, but what made you choose the direction/ industry, were there some patterns that you noticed that proved this is a valuable problem to solve and a good space to be in?

    And do you have any advice for a 20 year old founder to find insights or problems that need to be solved or even which industry to be looking in - or emerging trends to be looking at.

    And speaking of problems, is anything frustrating you currently at your business that perhaps better software could solve? :D

    Sorry if this is a bit much,
    Thanks
    Netram

    1. 2

      what made you choose the direction/ industry, were there some patterns that you noticed that proved this is a valuable problem to solve and a good space to be in?

      So I think selling to startups is a great place to start. I believe Zendesk, Slack, Intercom, Stripe, etc. all started like this, it's a great way to get initial traction because startups love to use the latest tech and make decisions quickly.

      For example we recently purchased Humaans which is an HR/vacation tracking type product, it's been built with remote teams in mind and is very clean and flexible. There are lots of HR software out there, but Humaans found a way to make one that's more appealing to a new generation of companies.

      You sort of have two options when starting a SaaS, you can try to create a new category of product (Intercom, Slack, and I believe ChartMogul is one), or create a better version of an existing category (e.g. Humaans), though it will need to be a lot better.

      For me, we measured things in MRR at Zendesk, I thought there are probably some other companies out there (maybe a few hundred) that do things the same way...it was 2014, so it wasn't obvious then that this was a good business idea, but I went for it and it worked out pretty well as the market has expanded dramatically over the past years since we launched.

      And do you have any advice for a 20 year old founder to find insights or problems that need to be solved

      The reality is most SaaS founders from the past few years are former employees of SaaS companies who identify some gap during their time at a SaaS company...so if you don't know where to start then getting a job for a couple of years in an established SaaS company could be a good way to learn about the industry before you jump in and go it alone.

      And speaking of problems, is anything frustrating you currently at your business that perhaps better software could solve? :D

      Not off top of my head :) most frustrations for me are things like how to hire all the people we need this quarter.

  4. 2

    Hey Nick! Love your product & thank you immensely for making it FREE for less than $10K in MRR! That’s huge for little guys like us that are just focusing on growing.

    Curious to know — what made you want to start CM & what’s helped you the most with marketing? I see so many Twitter users post their MRR pics from a chart mogul dashboard. Is that your main source of traffic?

    1. 2

      Thanks for your questions and glad to hear you're enjoying using ChartMogul :)

      So posting pics of MRR from ChartMogul is a fairly new phenomenon (perhaps the last year or so really), I'm not entirely sure of it's impact, but it's certainly not the main source of traffic....though it is very cool and I'm sure has helped in some way.

      Most of our signups come from word of mouth from users of our product telling others about it.

      Aside from that it's a mix of SEO, content, partnerships, SEM, etc.

      In terms of why start ChartMogul, mostly I wanted to get back to building products again (after a 5 year break at Zendesk where I was on the commercial side), and also I wanted to see if I can launch a successful startup and run a business. The idea came from my experience at Zendesk, we did some custom reporting of SaaS metrics, but there weren't any product around for just doing subscription analytics, so I decided to build one...of course I had a lot of help to get the product where it is today :)

      1. 1

        Appreciate the reply and insights! The product looks absolutely amazing so far. Excited to see how you grow it. Definitely seeing myself as being a long-term user. Makes quarterly reports a breeze as well as help me paint a better narrative for stakeholders. Let me know it you ever do an internship in the future! Would love to work alongside your team & see how you guys operate.

        1. 1

          Thanks a lot :)

          Sure, keep an eye on https://jobs.chartmogul.com/ for all open positions. Engineering is (typically) where we struggle to fill all open positions as quickly as we'd like.

  5. 2

    What are you planning to focus on in marketing? Content, Paid, ...? What does the team that you plan building look like?

    1. 2

      So we've already made four hires in Marketing this year, and will make another two this quarter. So far we hired two Product Marketing and Partnerships managers, demand gen leader and an analyst (data journalist).

      The focus will be on content, partnerships, paid SEM, and basically anything else we think of that might help to drive interest and get the word out there.

      1. 1

        Thanks Nick.
        Partnerships is also something we've been looking into. Would you mind elaborating how you see this contributing to overal marketing goals? I know you integrate with a bunch of other parties, is it the goal to integrate with more, promote the current integration better?

        1. 1

          So usually (but not always) these take the form of working with a partner we have an integration with, for example Chargebee or Recurly. Over the past years we've build good relations with our partners so if we think of some good idea for a piece of content, webinar or something that we think would be useful for our customers and their customers then we'll pitch the idea to our counterparts there. Or sometimes the idea comes from them.

          For example this Webinar we did recently was between a shared customer (SignEasy), Chargebee and ChartMogul:
          https://app.livestorm.co/chargebee-inc/1669503941825558

          Or this was with a customer (Teamwork) and a product we use (Spendesk):

          And this one was with a customer (Slidebean) - where we sponsored one of their YouTube videos:
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DceOkRXHqf8

          We also work a lot with https://www.saasync.com/ who have built a suite of integrations for ChartMogul that we ourselves decided not to build in-house.

          So when I say 'partnerships' I really mean working with any company where there is some opportunity for marketing collaboration that is win:win for all.

          1. 2

            Love this, thanks Nick!

  6. 2

    Thanks for the AMA. I am curious about your offices. Do some of your people prefer coming into an office? Would it be cheaper to simply offer them a co-working allowance?

    1. 2

      Thanks for your question :)

      So our offices are all WeWorks, and this is a perk that's currently only available for folks in Seoul, Berlin and Toronto. I think most people who live near an office like to use it at least a couple of times a week, it's nice to get out of the house and also take advantage of the free coffee 😀

      We haven't rolled this out as a universal benefit for truly remote folk, many of whom already have pretty impressive home office setups...but, it's something that occasionally comes up. We're usually favor just paying more if it makes sense than adding extra perks, as that creates extra work to administer.

      1. 1

        Hey nick, thanks a lot for your insights and time! With your team distributed all over the world and many people often working remotely, what are you doing to keep people connected? Are there downsides in having such a distributed team, compared to everyone being at the same place?

        1. 1

          It's a bit tough with covid, we used to do offsites, conferences, travel around, etc. the last 18 months has been tougher...but we're trying to keep the energy going and people are slowly starting to move around more now.

          1. 1

            thanks for the reply! I can imagine, connecting such a distributed team seems like quite the challenge during covid. In (semi-)retrospective, do you believe information silos became a bigger problem during this time?

            1. 2

              I think information silos might be better, because the setup forces everyone to write everything down...and not rely on in-person meetings as much.

              I think the biggest problem is isolation and not enough camaraderie when we can't meetup in person.

              1. 1

                Thanks, Nick for the insights! So do you have enough space in the offices for everyone to work/meet there at the same time? Or do you plan in that there are always some people working remotely and rely on planned events for everyone to meet up?

                1. 2

                  There's enough space for everyone in a given city to work in the office if they wanted. e.g. in Seoul we're quite far over capacity with just 5 people here with an 11 person office, good for social distancing. But we'll also probably fill it up here over the next months.

  7. 2

    Hey Nick! Glad to see you on here. What was the journey like to getting your first 100 users for ChartMogul and how'd you decide what to launch with pricing-wise?

    1. 2

      Thanks for your questions @xaviablaza :)

      So we got our first 100 users in late 2014 (pre-revenue) mostly from a mix of my personal network (asking folks to try it out) and then launching on ProductHunt, BetaList, etc. We also had some luck getting on HN front page a couple of times.

      Our initial pricing was that we had a very cheap plan, just $12 per year, this was to try and gain market share, and then a price of $59 per 1,000 subscribers tracked. This turned out to be a bad idea because some very large customers only paid $59, while some much smaller customers (with a lot of subscribers) were quoted thousands of $$. We've since moved to revenue based pricing (instead of subscriber volume based) and scrapped our $1 MRR plan in favor of a free plan. So now ChartMogul is free below $10K MRR. This is simpler because it means we don't need to collect very small amounts of revenue, and aligns expectations around the level of support we can offer.

  8. 1

    Hey Nick,

    Thanks for the AMA.

    1. How did you initially validated your idea?
    2. How were your initial startup days like - did you used to program yourself? How about marketing & sales?
    1. 1

      OK last question :)

      1. I didn't really validate my idea...I just thought it might be a good idea and started building.
      2. Yes I did do some coding on backend and frontend, as we hired more engineers I moved away from backend to pure frontend, then eventually to just CSS...now I don't commit code at all (except the occasional text change).

      One of the first hires was a content marketing person, but I've never stopped working on marketing to some degree.

      With Sales, I had to be the first sales person for ChartMogul until we hired dedicated sales. Some years ago I stopped doing sales at all, though may very occasionally get involved if it's a large deal and the team asks me to.

  9. 1

    Well done on the impressive growth! Lovely looking product. I use something similar for my Shopify Apps by Baremetrics (I assume you know of them!) That may be a good integration channel for you as I could t see it.

    My question: If you had to get traction for a new MVP (soft launched today!), specifically this one -> https://www.growlist.com/ how might that look? Hope this kind of question is ok! 😊

    1. 2

      Yes we're considering Shopify Apps integration, we get this request fairly often.

      Don't think I can suggest anything very helpful here. It looks like you're targeting influencers mostly (folks with an audience they want to monetize). So I think you sort of need to figure out how to get in front of those people. If you have some budget you could try running some ads on instagram for example.

      For B2B, I still think personal network, product hunt, partnerships, content, etc. is the way to go...but your business might be more targeting individuals (who are themselves a business).

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