Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi there! My name is Alin Dobra and I’m the CEO and Co-founder of Bunnyshell, a managed cloud automation SaaS solution for applications that need 100% availability and reliability.
I come from a background in software engineering, with about 10 years of experience in building big projects. I started in 2011 and became known for building efficient systems, following defined processes that continue to work as the company scales. That's sort of what led to Bunnyshell.
I’ve always loved to automate things so I was looking for a way to set up servers across different cloud platforms, automate, launch and provision, deploy, monitor, scale, and stay secure. No time wasted, no specialized and expensive sysadmins required, no testing needed, no hidden costs.
I decided to build my own cloud tools once I realized the product I needed didn’t exist.
So I created Bunnyshell, a solution that works for both SMBs that are understaffed or under-capitalized, as well as for enterprises that need agility and speed. Are you a small online retailer? You can launch a shop fast and easy. Are you a salesman working for a Fortune 500 company? You can deploy your own proof-of-concept servers and demo to any client within minutes.
Together with my co-founders, we launched Bunnyshell in March 2018 and got a €750K investment in under 18 months. As of today, we're a team of 15 people, bringing in a revenue of about $12k/month and providing services to corporate clients all over the world.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Surprisingly, it all started after I became the CTO of an outsourcing development company. They were a Magento & Symfony partner and I thought I was going to spend my time deep-diving in the tech aspects of the company.
Turns out there was more to it, including managing the relationship with customers and a team of over 30 people. I was 23 and had no idea what it meant to be a first-time CTO.
Soon, I started gaining more and more responsibilities. And then I found my mantra:
The CTO should have a plan for everything. For everything that happens wrong, it’s his fault.
Let me tell you, it was a really eye-opening experience. I realized it was up to me to make things happen. So I started looking into new areas, where I had no previous experience: HR, sales, account management, development, sysadmin, DevOps, etc.
As the years went by, I kept following my mantra, always with a plan, a side-plan, and even a plan C at times. I worked out how to create teams that flourished together and built great software at the same time. I became a Managing Partner and I learned valuable lessons for the years to come.
But soon I found myself wanting more: I wanted to build products, to find solutions for real use cases and problems, to make a contribution to the rest of the world. I knew it was time to move on from this company.
So I left the company and joined a marketing startup, who was working on a product that improved eCommerce conversion rates through A/B testing, personalization, and popups.
My work there is what inspired Bunnyshell. As we entered our next growth phase, we started facing technical challenges in terms of servers. At one point, we were paying more than $15K/month at AWS, with more than 200k requests/minute. I started looking for solutions.
I reached out to Microsoft and we became a part of their startup program, which landed us more than $100K in credits. The only thing left was to migrate our infrastructure from AWS to Azure in a way that would allow us to operate our infrastructure after the migration in the same way as we did in AWS.
I found that existing tools weren’t developed for automation and weren’t made for process-driven work. I was constantly duct-taping different tools to make something usable and I got to know other businesses that were doing the same.
So I created the tools internally. From provisioning to deployment, monitoring, and alerting. We successfully migrated from AWS to Azure and created our tools to manage the infrastructure. We got it done, but it took about 4 months. That’s when I made the click.
I realized that this type of tool needed to be created. A platform that took care of the exact same things every app needs, everything Sysops related: provisioning, monitoring, alerting, backups, autoscaling & more.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Now that I knew what the problem was, I could get started on the solution. This is where the fun part starts.
I made my exit from the previous startup and got together with Roxana, my DevOps at the time. Together, we started building the DevOps platform of our dreams.
We were working hard at building the MVP but realized we still had to validate the idea, make sure we were creating something people actually wanted and needed. So we started trying to sell the product.
We learned to listen and learn, to have patience, and trust the process. I’ve always thought that it’s about the journey, not the destination. The road itself teaches you the lessons.
For us, it was a time of self-discovery, new challenges, getting started with a dream project, and going all in, full-time, working 16-18h days.
As for challenges, I learned that building a business from scratch isn’t easy when you're married with a 1-year old. I had to rely on my savings, to be able to focus not on the money, but on the journey ahead.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Even though the platform was in its early stages, we started to see some traction from the beginning.
Right from launch, we had clients that showed trust in us - a pharma company, then an eCommerce platform, then an eCommerce store. They all helped us with feedback which we used to improve the platform as time went by.
We took distribution very seriously, even though we didn’t have a media or marketing department. So we relied on good old-fashioned word of mouth.
We started talking about Bunnyshell and our plans to anyone and everyone who would listen: friends, ex-colleagues, everyone from the IT community with whom we've ever interacted. We asked our network to introduce us to their network. That helped a lot.
Then came our biggest challenge: Roxana, my co-founder, was hit by a car and needed a few months to recover. She’s doing great now, but it was during that time that I realized I needed to find investment sources.
6 months later we got our first €750K investment for our first seed round, led by Early Game Ventures.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Like I said before, distribution and recommendations were big for us. After a while,
when we launched the Bunnyshell Beta version, we went back to all the people we'd talked to and gave them the opportunity of testing the platform themselves. We used the feedback we received to improve our product.
Working to define and redefine the product after getting feedback hasn’t been easy, but it’s helped a lot. We can now look at the platform and say that we’re proud of what we've done there.
Then we started going to conferences, talking about Bunnyshell and about our mission to democratize the Cloud. That, alongside social media, has been a good place to start and we found that the IT community is generally happy to help.
We also became partners with cloud providers like Microsoft and DigitalOcean. That’s really helped us show our customers that they can trust us, that we’re a reliable option. When you’re talking about your product, you’re talking about your business. So it’s very important to find a trustworthy partner.
Here’s a piece of advice for anyone that wants to start a business: listen to your customers' feedback and improve your product to cover their needs. Remember that you’re building the product for them, not for you.
I’ve found this to be a very tough lesson to learn for entrepreneurs. Switching your mindset to see that you’re building your entire company not for yourself, but for your customer.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
The first phase was to validate the idea, the second phase to validate the product. Right now we’re working to find our product-market-fit.
In the 2 years since we built Bunnyshell, we’ve gone through a lot of feedback, changes, and strategies on our quest to find the perfect market fit. We’re testing out 4 strategies to grow our customer base: 2 for marketing, 2 for sales.
We’re also working on creating a sysadmin robot that works for every server, which we call the Site Reliability Robot or SRR.
For the future, we want to continue innovating. Life is too short to build something mediocre.
Our focus in the near future is to find our product-market fit. To build a product that people want, need, and love. And to enjoy the ride and help those around us.
We have plans to grow, to raise new funding, to scale, to become a standard in the industry.
We’ve introduced features like auto-healing servers or continuous fine-tuning to maximize server performance. What we really want to do is automate all the sysadmin and DevOps tasks and, through that, to help build a new Internet. A better, safer, and faster one.
It’s part of our pledge to help companies whose IT infrastructures have been challenged by the coronavirus crisis. For all the SMEs that have been economically affected by the virus and for the Medical, NGO’s and Educational companies that are active in finding a solution to the COVID-19 virus, we plan on helping their recovery and growth with free cloud migration.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I think one of the most important lessons we’ve learned is that we should have launched the product even faster. We were slow about taking some bold actions and I think it’s slowed us down a bit.
What I mentioned about customer feedback earlier can be a two-sided sword of sorts. We wanted to build a product for everyone and we were so happy that people listened to us and gave their feedback that we forgot to ask ourselves a question: Is this feedback relevant for us, for what we are building?
Feedback is great, but if you listen to the wrong advice, it can end up killing your startup. You may end up building something that you didn’t want to build in the first place.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I actually have my “personal” bookmarks with this type of resource.
For entrepreneurs that are just starting out, resources are important. For books, Start With Why and How to Create an Online Business, The Lean Startup, How to Win Friends and Influence People, From Zero to One.
For articles: The Hotjar Stories (part 1 and 2), How Intercom succeeded, and other growth hacking stories.
You can learn from everywhere, but the most important thing I think is to know how to filter the information. I tried all the time to learn from verified and popular sources. You can learn from tutorials, podcasts, you can learn from youtube. We are lucky to have so much information at our feet and we should take advantage of all the benefits that technology brings.
But most importantly, I learn from other founders and from practice.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Think in use cases, not features. If I could do one thing differently, this would be it. Don’t think about the features you’re putting out, don’t think about the benefits. Think about your product’s use cases.
What are the use cases that you really solve? How can you solve them better than anyone? It’s one of the biggest mistakes a startup can and does make (myself included) - thinking that they need more features to bring more customers. Wrong.
You don’t need to go after all your customers at the same time. Find a use case and go with it. Validate it. Get the first customer and then 10 more like them. Then the next 10. Then the first hundred. Get the next 100 customers, and then go from there.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Not at the moment, no.
Where can we go to learn more?
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