Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello! I’m Marko Saric and I’m the co-founder of Plausible Analytics. Plausible Analytics is a simple, open-source, lightweight (< 1 KB) and privacy-friendly web analytics alternative to Google Analytics.
The idea with Plausible Analytics is to provide an independent web analytics tool that’s built around respect and privacy. We aim to strike the balance between giving some useful information to the website owner so they understand what their efforts result in but at the same time comply with all the privacy regulations and not be intrusive and invasive in terms of visitor’s privacy.
We’ve built Plausible to be as privacy friendly as it can be. We don’t use any cookies, we don’t collect any personal data such as IP addresses, we don’t have any persistent identifiers, we don’t track people between their devices and between the different sites and/or apps they use, and so on.
We’re working remotely and flexibly. We’re based in the EU and we are a completely independent, self-funded, and bootstrapped startup.
My responsibilities are in the marketing and communication side of things. I take care of the blog content, social media, community engagement, customer support, and things like that.
Our customers are website owners who want a simpler web analytics tool, who want to speed up their websites, who don’t want to bother their visitors with the cookie and/or GDPR prompts, and who want to see Google have less control over the web.
Our business model is based on subscriptions. We’re a privacy-first startup and have nothing to do with surveillance capitalism and the monetization of personal data. Instead of giving our services away for free in exchange for the collection and monetization of data for advertising purposes, we charge a subscription fee. We do have a free trial and if you’d like to continue using our product the subscription plans start at $4/month.
At the time of writing (September 1st), we are at $4,557 MRR and 743 paying subscribers. We’ve grown a lot over the last few months considering that we announced $415 MRR at the start of April this year (about a year after we launched our paid subscriptions).
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
We’re a two-person team at Plausible. Both my co-founder Uku and I have had a similar journey with our opinion on and relationship with Google and their products.
No matter how great your blog post may be, chances are it will be seen only by your co-founder and perhaps your parents too if you don’t try to spread the word about it. So we do go into the relevant niche sites and communities, engage and share our message.
I was a big fan of Google and their products for many years. I constantly used many of their services and was happy to recommend them to my family and friends. Somewhere along the way, Google got too big and it all turned from trying to improve the world into trying to squeeze more money at the cost of the privacy of their users.
So I got more informed (or less ignorant) about the bad sides of Google and how Google affects the health and independence of the web. I started looking into better and more ethical alternatives to Google’s products and started sharing them on my website.
That’s how Uku found me and we got together to work on Plausible Analytics. There’s a need for better alternatives for all product lines where Google dominates. Analytics is just one of the problem areas and this is the one we’ve picked because of our experience in the field. We both worked in tech and decided to work on Plausible full time to try and make it sustainable while living from our savings.
I’ve installed Google Analytics on countless websites over the years and spent many hours looking at its user interface and all the reports. So I’m very familiar with its positives and its negatives too. It is a very confusing product to look at and to understand for many people unfamiliar with marketing and analytics.
If we can get a few thousand websites to remove Google Analytics, if another product could help get a few thousand people to search there rather than on Google search, if another service could get a few thousand people to send emails with them rather than Gmail... all this will make a difference and will create a more independent and more healthy web for us all.
A web that’s less reliant on adtech and the collection and monetization of personal data. Many people are frustrated about the state of the web today. Slow websites, intrusive dark patterns, the feeling of being surveilled and followed, and so on. And all of these (or the vast majority of them) come from the fact that the default business model of the web is surveillance capitalism.
Companies give you something for free but they collect a lot of data about you which needs tons of scripts on every website and then they try to sell your products you don’t need so they need to trick you to buy using all these different intrusive and obnoxious tactics.
Not everyone can pay for products and afford to support the independent web but if more of us who can do support people and businesses we feel are doing the right thing, those projects will grow and scale and will be able to provide a better service than the surveillance capitalists do even to the people who may not be able to pay.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Uku built and designed the product on his own in a couple of months in early 2019. Everything was done in the open as he shared his thought process on the blog and he interacted and engaged with the different communities such as Indie Hackers.
We open-sourced the product, opened the development process, asked for public feedback and feature requests, and made the product roadmap open to the public too. There was no big launch and the product grew organically from the community engagement.
I don’t think that the tech stack matters too much for projects. The best approach is normally to just pick some boring tools that you’re used to and comfortable with and start solving problems real people have.
Even before we had a product ready, we were part of the different communities such as Indie Hackers, sharing, listening, and learning from the feedback. The idea from before Plausible existed was to create something that Google Analytics is not. The idea was never to clone Google Analytics.
We wanted something that’s lightweight and doesn’t affect the website loading time, that’s simple to use and understand, that’s built with privacy and the different privacy regulations in mind and that’s beautiful to look at at the same time.
The idea was that many site owners can get 80% of the benefits of Google Analytics with 20% of the complexity and features that it has. And that’s what Plausible Analytics is.
The pricing structure was kept very simple and as straightforward as possible. There are no premium features, accounts are billed purely for the amount of traffic they get and we keep the prices as affordable as possible to make it possible for even the small sites to be able to get a privacy friendly analytics product.
Google has taught people that the price of web analytics (and any other product) should be free and that you should be the product instead of paying with your privacy and your data and the data of your customers and we’re trying to change that.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Initially, there was no big launch. Uku is not a marketer so he posted a bit on the blog, Indie Hackers, and Twitter and got the ball rolling one user at a time.
When I joined in March this year, I thought we needed a bit of a change so we did an overhaul of the copy on the website, the positioning of the product, and our communication too. We were under $400 MRR and with less than 100 paying subscribers.
The first actionable step I took was to address the home page and the positioning of the product. You need to work hard on figuring out what makes you stand out in the crowded market. What makes you different from the other products in your industry. The best way to position your startup is against something that many people are aware of.
Here’s our original home page design. In our old copy, we didn’t focus on the fact that Google Analytics exists and that most of the people who may want to consider Plausible Analytics have at least some experience using Google Analytics. Google Analytics is installed on the majority of websites after all.
We made a change to our website and positioned ourselves directly and clearly against Google Analytics on the aspects where we think they’re not doing as well and where we think we might have a better solution for some site owners:
- Plausible Analytics is 45 times lighter than Google Analytics so site owners can have a speedy and lightweight website
- Plausible Analytics is an independent, open-source and has nothing to do with the surveillance capitalism
- Plausible Analytics puts all our metrics on one simple to understand page while Google Analytics has hundreds of reports within hundreds of different menus
We improved the design too and included a large image close to the top that showcased the product. We’ve done the same with pricing where we added additional tiers to make the product more affordable and introduced a yearly billing with a 33% discount too.
Our new home page looks like this:
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
We are a bit unconventional in the way we do startup marketing. We say no to the majority of best marketing practices. We don’t do any paid advertising, no pixels and other tracking scripts are installed on our site, we don’t do affiliate marketing, no growth hacks and other experiments on our audience and so on.
We are active on a couple of social media platforms (Twitter and Mastodon) and the majority of our marketing efforts are spent on creating and publishing content. We publish the best possible content that we can think of on our blog and other relevant communities around the web.
Content marketing is what caused our sudden growth in April as we published a post on reasons why you should remove Google Analytics from your site. It was the first Plausible blog post that I published. What a way to start!
I shared it on Hacker News shortly after posting it and the community there enjoyed it, upvoted it, and had a large discussion about Google and the issues surrounding Google Analytics. That post alone has been visited by 65,000 people by now. Here’s a look at our website traffic since I joined on March 16th:
We’ve published one blog post per week since I joined. None of these posts were sales and promotional. They were all about specific topics people were interested in. All the posts are long, well researched, and feature answers to questions real people have. Every post starts looking at a specific question people have or a specific issue people are dealing with that’s relevant to what we’re doing.
Then we try to create the best possible post to answer and solve issues for people. If we do that and people discover and enjoy the post, indirectly they will get introduced to Plausible Analytics and the idea behind our product.
As we don’t do any paid advertising, we need to go out there and tell the world about the content we publish. Here’s a look at our top referral sources of traffic in the same period:
Blog and prayer don’t work. No matter how great your blog post may be, chances are it will be seen only by your co-founder and perhaps your parents too if you don’t try to spread the word about it. So we do go into the relevant niche sites and communities, engage and share our message.
And the results can be seen in our referrer sources. Hacker News, Twitter, Indie Hackers, Reddit, and Dev.to are all in the top 10 of our referrals. They’re all tech communities where you can hang out, engage, and even spread the message about your content when you have something interesting and relevant to share.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
I joined Uku in mid-March this year to focus on the marketing, content, and communication side of things. We’ve grown very fast since then in every metric possible.
We posted our first tweet on May 18th, have been engaging and interacting daily since then, and are now up on more than 1,100 followers.
In February this year, the month before I started, we got almost 1,700 unique visitors and 33 trial signups while this August we got more than 35,000 unique visitors and 592 trials.
We have a bit of a hockey stick growth in terms of MRR:
- May 14, 2019: First subscriber
- April 2, 2020: $415 MRR (reached it in 324 days)
- May 27: $1,000 MRR (55 days)
- July 6: $2,000 MRR (40 days)
- August 7: $3,000 MRR (32 days)
- August 31: $4,051 MRR (24 days)
Similar story for our paying subscribers:
- May 14, 2019: First subscriber
- May 12, 2020: 100 subscribers (took us 364 days)
- June 11: 200 subscribers (30 days)
- July 6: 300 subscribers (25 days)
- July 27: 400 subscribers (21 days)
- August 11: 500 subscribers (15 days)
- August 25: 600 subscribers (14 days)
This is the current MRR chart from our payment processor Paddle:
The goal is to continue doing what we’ve been doing as it seems to be working, continue making the product more useful and competitive while at the same time continue finding ways to reach new website owners.
Our mission is to remove Google Analytics from as many websites as possible and make the web a little bit more independent and a little bit less reliant on the surveillance capitalist tools so every website counts.
Plausible is currently installed on 3,638 websites and we've counted 59,351,293 pageviews in the last month. That's 60 million pageviews fewer going to surveillance capitalism!
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
So I’ve been working on this for just under 6 months now and most of the things I’ve tried have come out great and better than expected so it’s too early for me to zoom out and consider any missed opportunities and other things we could have done differently or better.
Luck always plays a part when you’re doing organic marketing. If you’re doing paid marketing with a big budget, you can pretty much calculate and predict the results you expect to achieve. With content marketing, you can spend a lot of time and prepare the greatest blog post in the world, but if nobody clicks on it in their news feeds or nobody upvotes in on the different aggregators, it may not be read by anyone.
So I’m happy that we had a little bit of luck that the first blog post that I published and on the first try that I submitted it on Hacker News, that it blew up and the community liked it, upvoted it, and gave us the traction to grow. It could have been a little bit of a different (and much slower) growth story if that first post got completely ignored.
In general, many times marketing people feel like they’re forced to sell stuff to people that people don’t want and don’t need. And my feeling with Plausible is completely the opposite. We haven’t done any tricks or any hacks to grow.
We’ve spread the word about Plausible and what makes us different to Google Analytics and a decent percentage of people that hear about us connect to that message as it resonates with them and they try out the product and some end up liking it enough that they choose to permanently remove Google Analytics.
So the lesson I’ve learned is basically to always start by creating a great product that people enjoy. Without a great product, the marketing and the growth job becomes so much more difficult and that’s when you get into situations where you need to use hacks, tricks and stalk people around the web to get some of them to sign up as they don’t volunteer to do so of their own free will.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We try to use independent tools disconnected from the world of surveillance capitalism as much as possible. We also use open-source tools where it’s possible.
- We use TailwindCSS for styling our website
- We use Netlify CMS for our blog
- Fastmail for emails and customer support
- Element for our internal chat
- For video calls, we switch between Jitsi and Whereby
- We use GitHub for all of our product development, feature requests, and product roadmap
- We use Paddle as our payment processor
- We use Postmark for transactional emails
As you see there are not too many tools and we try to keep it as simple and as streamlined as possible.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
My favorite startup book is Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson from Basecamp. I love their philosophy and the way they view startups, growth, business, and life in general.
Most of the lessons they share in the book are very unconventional and opposite of what you see and read in your average business or startup or marketing book.
This book was valuable because it has helped me have the right mindset needed to do well at startups. It has helped me be more comfortable about looking at common advice critically, judging it, and being happy to say no to most of the things.
You don’t need to follow all the best practices and do all the things every book or blog post recommends. Do what you feel is right for your situation and focus on a few selected things that you believe can make a difference for your startup.
These few things then you can try to become very good at instead of spreading yourself too thin trying to tick all the boxes that the books and famous startup founders recommend.
A more recent book that I read a couple of weeks ago and that’s quickly becoming a favorite is a bit more traditional marketing book called This Is Marketing by Seth Godin who is a legend in the marketing world.
It talks about how the world has changed and how it’s no longer enough to shout at people or to spam them with marketing messages like marketers used to do (and some still try to do).
You need to truly understand the people you’re trying to reach instead, make a real and honest connection and work together in changing the little part of the world that you’re focused on.
I would recommend this book to all the people interested in doing marketing in the new world and also to all the marketers still trying to spam and trick their way to growth. It speaks to me in the way that I think about marketing too.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
This is something I’ve talked about a few times and I do believe it’s one of the biggest issues for those starting. You need to create a great product that works and that solves a specific issue or a pain point. Without that part, nothing else is easy.
But an issue I see and I felt was a bit of a problem for Plausible as well when I joined was the positioning. Pretending that a popular competitor and a market leader doesn’t exist is something I’ve noticed many startups do. It’s a big mistake in my opinion.
Many times I enter a website of a startup and I immediately understand what they’re about and who they’re up against but this is nowhere to be seen on their site. In my head, I’m already comparing them to what I know about the other products on the market but they don’t try to help me in this process.
There’s no mention of that competitor at all and no clear positioning against the competitor. They’re not trying to help me figure out what differentiates them and what makes them better from the product that I’m already familiar with.
I believe that clear and upfront positioning of your product is the key if you want to grow in the early days. You need to tell your story straight away on your home page. You need to be honest and direct about how you compare to the big players in your market.
Your audience knows the big players and when they enter your site for the first time, they compare you against them in their heads. So help them make their decision easier by letting them know what you stand for, what you are against, and how you’re different from the products they already know.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We’re not looking to hire anyone at this point. We’re independent, bootstrapped, and self-funded. We’re still in the early stages where we’re very focused on improving the product and growing our subscription business to the point where we reach sustainability. When we achieve that, we will consider how to proceed.
Where can we go to learn more?
- You can discover more about Plausible Analytics on our website where we also have a live demo that features our website stats.
- We publish new content on all the topics from privacy to startup growth regularly on our blog.
- Our source code, the roadmap, and all the product development can be followed on our GitHub.
- And finally, we also share all our latest progress and new features on our social media profiles on Twitter and Mastodon.