Hit 30k in ARR with Simple Analytics

Simple Analytics just passed the $30k in ARR (annual recurring revenue). It’s a little more than one year old and I would like to take you along the important points of that journey together with where I want to take it next.

From park bench to Hacker News

In September 2018 it saw the light with its launch on Product Hunt. It ended up #3 of the day and later won the #3 of the Privacy Golden Kitten Award. I worked on plenty startups before but this was my first public launch. This first day already felt like a success!

Even more interesting, however, was the day after. When launching on Hacker News (from a bench in Amsterdam with Joshua Voydik) it really hit a nerve. It reached the #1 spot within the first 5 minutes for at least 9 hours. Let the wild ride begin!
Okay, and now what?

The traction was huge. Although initially, not in the ideal way. I offered a paid version from the start, but Pieter Levels suggested via WIP to make it free for a while to get more users. I tried it, but chickened out because I got lots of signups for the free version and none for the paid version.

The Hacker News launch got me my first 30 paying customers and around 800 Twitter followers (before the launch I had around 60). I knew I would be able to get more customers if I knew how to do marketing.

Marketing… what’s that?

For me it’s easy to program and focus on that. But I also knew that my previous startups didn’t make enough money and that wasn’t because of the programming but more the lack of marketing effort.

This time, I set my goal of programming vs marketing to 50/50. In reality it turned out to be more like 75/25, but it’s already way better than 100/0.

Another good thing to realize is that you can build tools to help you with your marketing. That way I built a dashboard with all Twitter mentions of “privacy analytics” “google analytics alternative”, ….

I respond manually to tweets it shows and it helps me in getting my name out there.

An example to gain more customers is through our docs. I put a lot of time and effort in writing our documentation (thanks Minal C for being my grammar nazi) and I see a lot of referrers from our docs when people sign up.

Public dashboards also turned out to be a great marketing feature. Customers can decide to put their stats public and share them publicly. That a first in analytics land and great for exposure of my brand. There are plenty tweets out there sharing their dashboard and at the same time they are sharing Simple Analytics.

Get the basics right

I’m glad I also made some marketing effort at the beginning, even though I didn’t even realize I was doing it at the time. Before launching, I worked on the project for 2 months. This was from first idea to MVP (see this page and scroll down to see the first screenshots). The MVP was quite simple: Show a graph of page views and a list of top pages, referrals, and screen sizes. I got most of my pre-launch feedback from people in WIP.

By sharing my process I realized there was some traction: the first samples of Simple Analytics were introduced to the world. I’m not the best with design, so at that moment I also hired a designer to create some pages for the app. That’s not very MVP like, but I didn’t depend on the money I would lose. The same goes for the promotional video on the homepage (although that was through friends) which was a lot of work – but also a lot of fun. These small steps – sharing the process, having a simple MVP, good video, gather feedback early – very likely played a part in the success of Simple Analytics’ initial launch.

The angles: privacy and simplicity

But hold up. A funny video won’t earn you a place on the market, right? The analytics space is dominated by huge players. So the fact that Simple Analytics became a hit was not expected. I stepped into a niche by picking two angles that mean a lot to me: privacy and simplicity. The first has intrigued me since I started programming at the age of 15, and the latter is something that I got from my dad. They are rooted deeply in me and I think that’s one of the reasons I will always be passionate about my startup.

The fact that those angles would help me this much in comparison with my competitors was something I didn’t expect. For example, Google who started getting a name for being to greedy for data they don’t need was a blessing in disguise. Analytics companies have an urge to collect as much data they can, which usually comes with a horrible interface.

Simple Analytics doesn’t have that problem because it’s only collecting the needed information so we are still able to show it in a nice clean dashboard.

Some people asked about the churn rate. Here are some numbers to give a little more info than the simpleanalytics.com/open page.

Forever feedbacking

To put this success story in perspective: it wasn’t all butterflies and rainbows in the last year. Points of improvement and feedback pop up everywhere. I set up lots of ways to gather feedback:

Added a link in top navigation, manually tweet a welcome tweet, redirect to feedback page on many pages, a live chat – all thanks to Şamil Karahisar, being active on Twitter, a Telegram group with power users, a slack for big features, …

But with all this feedback and feature requests it feels like I’m never done with my startup. There are lots of people building a SaaS startup to find their passive income, but it’s hard work (and probably never ends). For me there is this pressure from my customers to build all those nice things they want, which keeps me focused but also overwhelmed. I didn’t expect this and I’m not sure if I found a way. For now it seems to work to have focus weeks, just focus on one feature/theme and get that done in a week.

This all wasn’t possible without the feedback and motivation I got from the community and my first customers!

  1. 3

    5K+ hits today, lol. Great job!

  2. 3

    This is such a cool simple thing!

    Another good thing to realize is that you can build tools to help you with your marketing. That way I built a dashboard with all Twitter mentions of “privacy analytics” “google analytics alternative”, ….

    I respond manually to tweets it shows and it helps me in getting my name out there.

    1. 1

      It is, especially for developers. You need to do your marketing, one way or the other.

      1. 1

        Agree. And better have an automated way 🤓

  3. 2

    First of all -- Congratulations! You've done really well. Keep going!

    Secondly -- so happy to hear you're taking feedback very seriously. While it can be overwhelming in the beginning, gathering feedback as a necessary process will help you move forward much faster.

    Quick question -- do you have a way to categorize those feature requests?

    Something like:
    core request (core to the product)
    high priority (not core but would add lots of value)
    low priority (features that would be good to have but offer low value)

    Tagging requests this way will help you keep your sanity. It will also give you the right features to focus on that will move the needle forward much faster and with less energy.

    1. 1

      This is great advise, thank you.

      I don't categorize feature requests at the moment, that's probably why it's so overwhelming. Customers can add their own via votomojo on simpleanalytics.com/vote, I add some via WIP on simpleanalytics.com/roadmap which I collect elsewhere and I have some private lists of tasks.

      Time for some project management software.

  4. 2

    I was just checking my google analytics after reading your post and thought "why should I let google use my data though"?
    That's possibly the main scenario when people go and switch to your product, isn't it 😃

    1. 3

      There is a mix of customers I would say:

      • People that care about the privacy of their visitors
      • People that want a simple interface without all the BS
      • People that are required by law to find other solutions for insights
      • People that come for innovative features like ad blocker bypassing
      • People that love to support fellow indie hackers

      And most of the times it's a mix between those, I think.

  5. 2

    Congrats Adriaan! Awesome milestone, wish you all the best on the way to 100k ARR😊

  6. 1

    Congrats @adriaanvanrossum! I see you don't offer a free tier for your service. Any insight or details you can share on how this affected your user acquisition? I'm debating between starting with a free tier or all paid with free trial in the developer tools market.

    1. 2

      I wish I started a free plan with very limited features. Exposure is useful.

  7. 1

    Thank you for sharing and good job so far! My Achilles heal is marketing (and also that english is not my native language) and I am still thinking of solutions to this. I am considering doing like you and put 50/50 effort into it but on the other hand I am also considering to perhaps outsource the marketing so I can focus on the product 100%... Anyone that have any experience with outsourcing marketing?

    1. 1

      Outsource marketing seems like a very bad idea to me. It's the most important part of your business, so either get a partner that does it or do it yourself. It's not possible to run your business with outsourcing your marketing. Marketing is not a sauce you put on your product, it's part of your product. If it's not you're going to fail. Do it!

      1. 1

        Yeah, maybe I wasn't clear what I meant. I mean more to help me put up ad campaigns, create ad material etc. It's more so I don't have to learn everything about setting up campaigns in all the different platforms. I would've loved to have a marketing partner but unfortunately my network isn't that strong in that area and the one's I do know already have their own projects going. But I guess it might be better for me to just dig into it and start out by doing it myself at the beginning.

  8. 1

    simple and clean and private i love it

  9. 1

    YOOOOO ADRIAAN!!!! congratulations !!!! ;) so happy for you

  10. 1

    Well done! I can only hope to do something similar when we're ready :)

  11. 1

    Can remember your first post on HN :) congratulations

    How many servers do you have? Have you had issues with scaling your stack? It will be great to hear about backend stack you are using.

    1. 1

      One server that received the data (in case the main server goes down), main server with data + processing scripts + app, monitoring server with tests running if everything goes to plan. All Node.js + PostgreSQL

  12. 1

    Congrats man, well deserved!

    1. 1

      By the way, I feel you about the customer feature request flood. It can really get to you. I've been adding things to the Doka roadmap for ages and find it super difficult to explicitly not pick up features. In the end customers want the perfect thing for their situation but that means you're building custom software. Maybe a product simply can't be perfect for everyone but it being good enough for everyone is fine.

      1. 1

        Thanks, yes I agree some issues are for some people only. Will tag them as less important.

      2. 1

        FWIW, I find it helpful to avoid talking in features and talk more about problems/pain points so you end up building what customers need instead of what they ask for. If you ask “why” enough times, the problems/pain points converge into themes that you can build features to address more broadly, in my experience.

        1. 1

          I think this is good advise. You don't always have time and most of the time it is clear what problem it solves. But it's good to keep this in mind.

  13. 1

    Wow, congratulations and great product! Should posting on HackerNews or ProductHunt be the first step when launching?

    1. 1

      Post everywhere, you never know where it sticks. But make effort in posting it. Every platform has different users, so keep that in mind.

  14. 1

    Way to go, Adriaan!

  15. 1

    All I can say is congrats dude, great write up and keep growing.

  16. 1

    Excellently designed and well executed tool, will keep in mind for use in the future. Congrats!

  17. 1

    Yup, beware of feature creep!

  18. 1

    congratulations @adriaanvanrossum, this is awesome!

  19. 1

    Congrats! I've been using SimpleAnalytics for a while now and really happy with it.

  20. 1

    That is amazing, Adriaan! I really love the simplicity of your product! Let me know if you ever need design help, I'd be delighted to give a hand 🤘

    1. 1

      Thanks, I have a great designer now, but I know where to find you 🙌

  21. 1

    Congrats Adriaan! I love Simple Analytics. The struggle to spend enough time on marketing is very recognizable to me, good idea to decide on a time split. I'm going to try that next week.

    1. 1

      Yeah! It's finding the right way for yourself. And for my it also changes from time to time. Staying on focus will always be a challenge I think 😉

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