This is a follow up story for Browserless. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published about 2 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hey there, I’m Joel Griffith, and I run a software service called browserless.io. Browserless is a service where developers (or really anyone that wants to do some programming) can automate tasks normally done manually on a web browser. It can be anything: pictures, PDFs, or even getting data from pages.
We’ve grown quite a bit over the last year, and currently, we average about $50,000 a month(!)
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
It’s been an unprecedented year which I’m sure just about everyone here can appreciate. The users that we have are across pretty much every business vertical you can think of, so we did see a bit of a dip in February/March due to uncertainty with COVID-19. However, a good deal of our customers is in the shipping and 3rd-party logistics space, which means that we also saw a great deal of growth as well.
The last one that stands out to me is communication. It’s a never-ending skill that you have to learn, but always be ready to learn it some more!
I think more than anything we’ve spent quite a bit of time understanding what our biggest users needed from the service, and what more we can do to help. We heard a lot about how the service could be more fault-tolerant, easier to understand what’s going on, and even how to get started. Working on the project day-to-day means we have a really good understanding of how things can work but didn’t do a job of conveying that to our users. It’s a rather sophisticated product and requires users to write code, so establishing a good baseline of “do this and not that” really helped folks get started.
One thing that stood out to us is that a lot of new users came to us from word-of-mouth channels. We don’t do any paid advertising so finding newer users can be challenging since there’s no spend to “buy” new users. Because of that, we spent a lot of time writing more posts and tutorials on how to do certain things with the service. This effectively helped our current user base that wants to get the most out of the service but also helps find new users who’re just in the early phases of doing some kind of automation. It’s a double-win, or 2x multiple, in my opinion.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
Since it’s still just a one-person business, I’ve really had to focus on doing work that had good “multiple” potential. For example, the writing of blog posts helps us out in two ways: it means we get new users aware of browserless, but it also helps our current users. Obviously, not everything you do will benefit your business in this way, but prioritizing work so that it solves multiple problems is a good rubric for “what do I do next?’
Obviously, since COVID hit, we’ve had to refigure out our financials a little bit to ensure we’re stable in times of uncertainty. It’s crazy to think that a lot of businesses out there couldn’t weather a few months of famine, and because of that, we’ve increased our reserves so that we can operate the business for over a year without revenue. I might tweak this over the coming year, but having that reserve has given us quite a bit of peace of mind. Hopefully our users as well!
The last one that stands out to me is communication. It’s a never-ending skill that you have to learn, but always be ready to learn it some more! The best example that comes to mind is reaching out upon cancellation. We don’t require any sort of reason why folks cancel the service, but I always personally reach out and thank those users for giving us a shot, and if they have any feedback we’d love to hear it. You’d be surprised what folks say, and termination is a great place to get raw unfiltered feedback. This is also how I like IPAs.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
The biggest news I can share is that I’m going full-time on browserless, and have quite a bit on the roadmap that I want to get to. The list is pretty long at this point, but I think for me the biggest is no-code automation.
What that means, in simple terms, is that anyone can sign-up on our page and “show” browserless what they want it to do. Behind the scenes we start a browser, render it on their screen, and they can click/type/whatever while browserless records their actions. Afterward, they can tell us how often they want us to do this, and we can email or Slack them the results. This is so powerful because it opens up the doors for practically anyone to be a programmer, without the years it takes to become one. It’s a super exciting feature, and I’ll definitely be using it personally as well.
The other thing that’ll be pretty exciting is hourly-based billing. Currently, we have two flavors of pricing: month-to-month and usage-based. These meet 99% of users out there, however, larger organizations need something in-between without a lot of overhead. It might not be the “sexiest” feature, but it keeps us competitive with how other software services run!
Have you read any good books in the last year?
Between running browserless.io as a side-project, and working full-time with a family, I haven’t had much time to read sadly. When I do it is generally fiction or something else to get me a break away from computers and businesses.
That said, I’m currently working through the Dune series, which is really fascinating, as well as anything that Blake Crouch writes. That guy is super talented, and his books are always interesting in a sci-fi way, so definitely check him out.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
Growth struggles are tough, and especially if you’re bootstrapped it can be a big demotivator. In the early days, I recall growth issues mostly because we were ahead of where the market was. There wasn’t anything like browserless.io when we launched, and it was a big barrier for growth.
If you think you’re in a similar boat (ahead of your audience), I started by framing this issue as “how can we make more users.” For us, personally, this meant writing a lot about how you can do XYZ with browserless, versus other methods. Comparison reviews (your product versus Brand X) can be super helpful since it directly highlights what your users are going to save. It might be time, money, or even both. This also helps feed your SEO rankings, which in turn gets new users etc. In its own way, it’s a double-multiplier.
The other thing you might consider, if it’s been some time, is now might be a good time to pivot. What issues did you face when building your current product? Are they shared elsewhere? If it’s been a while (years) since you’ve had good growth, that’s generally a signal that there isn’t a market-fit for what you’ve done. You shouldn’t feel bad, as you’ve likely got something else that you had to make to build your product, and you should sell that. Slack is a great example, as that team originally started making something else, and decided to make their internal communication tool their product. This is what eventually became Slack, which just acquired for stupid-crazy money.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Not yet! Once I start feeling confident doing this full-time, we’ll definitely be looking to hire out some help. Even contract work as a start (writing posts, making videos, etc). These are incredible outlets for us, but as a solo entrepreneur, requires time which I don’t yet have. Late 2021 is when we’ll likely look to bring on others, so stay tuned.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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