This is a follow up story for Plausible Analytics. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published almost 2 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hello! I’m Marko Saric, co-founder of Plausible Analytics. Plausible Analytics is a simple, open-source, lightweight (< 1 KB), and privacy-friendly alternative to Google Analytics.
Plausible is now trusted by 4,500+ paying subscribers to deliver their website and business insights and we’re at $38k MRR. It’s still only the two of us as full-time members, still fully open source, and still not using any paid advertising to promote ourselves.
Here’s our MRR chart to date as taken from our payment processor Paddle:
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
Since we last spoke in September 2020, we have grown from $4k MRR to $38,865 MRR at the time of writing (September 28th, 2021). It’s been an insane year for us. When you invited me to do this follow-up, I had another look at the original feature we did. It was great to be able to see all the progress we’ve made. I’m busy with typical startup things daily so I don’t often have a chance to zoom out and look at our progress so this reminder made me feel good!
The interesting part is that not much has changed in our philosophy and our approach to growth. We’re still bootstrapped and self-funded. We still haven’t spent even $1 on paid advertising or other paid marketing activities. We basically keep it straightforward by putting effort into things that have worked and still work well for us. So I was like “what new and fresh things can I talk to Pat about this time!?”.
One thing that has changed a lot in the last year is our product and infrastructure. Our website stats dashboard may look all the same on the surface but we’re now counting stats on about 25,000 websites and we’re counting more than half a billion page views per month.
This is a completely different scale than we were in September last year so a lot of work needed to be done on the back-end to make sure we still track everything reliably, people can access their dashboards at any time, it all loads fast and smooth, etc.
The product itself has received many new features that make Plausible more powerful and an even more viable Google Analytics alternative to an increasing number of websites including e-commerce and other businesses.
In terms of marketing news, organic traffic is key for us including word of mouth, social media, and search engines. Our top referral sources are pretty similar to those I shared last year, we’re just getting more traffic now:
As time goes on, our strategy of producing blog content that people enjoy reading helps us gain more organic traffic from search engines. Last November, we got 5,000 organic visitors from Google which was our best month yet at the time while these days we consistently get 10,000+ monthly visitors from Google.
You can say that we focus on quality rather than quantity of the content. I have published fewer than 20 posts since we last spoke which may not seem like a lot but for instance, 5 or so of them made it to the front page of Hacker News while many of them now rank high on Google search results for the relevant keywords.
One of the social media highlights was DHH tweeting (out of the blue too!) that Basecamp loves Plausible so that was amazing to see and was a great testimonial for us. Some huge brands use Plausible these days and the top site that we’re installed on is getting 150 million page views per month and this was the biggest name that went out and said it out loud to their audience in public. And considering that I love and recommended their ReWork book in my original interview here, it is something that I really appreciated!
Thinking of this, we haven’t been getting out there and “bothering” our customers asking them to say good words about us in public so perhaps that could be our next “growth hack”. Until now, we prefer to let people be in peace so they can enjoy our product and do their thing. We don’t really put any focus on asking them to recommend us but it could definitely be a useful thing. A lot of our growth until now can be attributed to people that enjoy our product going out there and spreading the word to their network and friends. And we are really grateful to all of them!
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
This is more relevant to other open-source startups but one of the big lessons we’ve learned is that it’s really important to pick the right open source license for your project. We originally had what they call a “permissive” license which meant that some larger companies wanted to take advantage of our work and resell our product to their audience without contributing anything back. This was a serious threat to us and to our hope of making Plausible sustainable and able to pay our bills. We had to change our open source license to prevent this from happening.
People don’t just come to you if you build something. That’s not enough. You need to get out there where the people you want to reach are hanging out and give them a reason to come and check you out.
One cool thing that I’m proud of is the fact that as soon as Plausible became sustainable so we could pay some type of minimum salary to ourselves, we decided to create a little fund and give a bit back. So since the start of this year, we’re giving back 5% of our gross revenue to open source projects and environmental projects to in our little way help others take some steps toward sustainability. In the first 8 months of the year, our donation fund has grown to $10,801 and we’re looking forward to picking some of our favorite projects and giving them back at some point early next year.
It’s funny that when I was researching about us doing this donation, people told me a movie like this is “financially irresponsible”. I love the fact that because we don’t have investors and other shareholders, we can simply do what feels like the right thing to do whether it is financially responsible or not. And it feels great that a small, open-source, and privacy-first project run by two people can manage to allocate $10k in 8 months and give it back.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
We haven’t created any big PowerPoint presentation laying out our global domination ambitions and grand long-term plans. We’re simply taking it one day at a time and one small step at a time. I’m a big fan of small, short-term realistic plans and quick wins rather than long-term, multi-year ambitious goals that just turn out to be guesses or something you say to impress people.
We’ve been growing a lot so as we grow, we always need to work on improving our infrastructure to handle the increased load so there will be a lot of effort put into this. And we also always want to make our web analytics dashboard more useful to an increasing number of sites so there will be a lot of effort put into new features too. Every new useful feature that we add, helps us differentiate our product and make it a viable alternative to an increasing number of sites. Our dream and our mission are to remove Google Analytics from as many websites as possible so adding these new features helps us get there.
From the marketing side of things, I’m curious whether we will hit the ceiling with our ethical marketing approach. We don’t pay anyone to recommend us to their audience, we don’t give money to Facebook and Google to do the marketing work for us, we don’t use any growth hacks and tricks, we’ve been growing very well without any of these but I’m always wondering can it last or how long can it last for.
Will we suddenly stop growing as we’ve reached all the websites and people that passionately care about this? Will we need to change our approach to continue growing after that and to reach an even more mainstream site owner? Is it necessary to change our principles just for the sake of continued growth? Should we? All this remains to be seen.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
I haven’t had much time to read too many books or listen to too many podcasts in the last year, unfortunately. There always seems to be an email to respond to or some other thing to do to push Plausible forward and I tend to choose and prioritize those activities more frequently these days.
One book that I would highlight is Messy Middle by Scott Belsky. Most books and online advice focuses on how to find an idea, how to start or how to get investors but most of your time in a startup is spent on this messy middle part. Growing, optimizing, tweaking things, talking with customers, figuring smaller things out as you go along the way. They are not as popular topics to talk about but it’s your day-to-day as a co-founder of a startup after you get the basics such as your product and your first customers under control. I spend all my day most days on tasks like these so I like that there’s at least one book that puts some focus on that.
Another one I read which again is more for those interested in the open-source aspect of things is Working in Public by Nadia Eghbal. I’m fairly new to all the open-source things so it’s a nice introduction into the world of open-source, developers that work on and contribute to open source projects, the GitHub network, sustainability, and so on.
One more that is less on the startup side of things but more in the inspirational and motivational category is Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey. Thought it was a great book and a great optimistic “anything is possible” attitude that is nice to have if you’re in the world of startups.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
I’ve talked about the importance of positioning last time so I won’t repeat it even though it is by far the most important advice I can give and also the biggest mistake I often see startups make.
Also, it’s a benefit these days for founders to have something they believe in and to be about more than just profit. If you believe in something or have a strong opinion, take a stand and be upfront and honest about it. This helps connect with other people. Just look at us. We’re really vocal about the bad things that Google does and how Plausible do those things better. Being anti-Google is a great way to differentiate yourself and attract followers. So like that Basecamp advice, stand for something, pick a fight, take a shot at someone influential and position yourself as an anti.
My other advice is that people don’t just come to you if you build something. That’s not enough. You need to get out there where the people you want to reach are hanging out and give them a reason to come and check you out. And it’s never enough simply to say “I’ve built something”. You need to tell people how it can benefit them, how it can make their lives better, easier, more comfortable than whatever else they might be using at the current time.
I see a lot of developers struggling with this part. They like developing a product but marketing is not something they enjoy so they never put full focus and full effort into the marketing side of things which is what makes their product fail. So perhaps finding a marketing co-founder is a good move in those cases.
My co-founder Uku started developing Plausible and growing it on his own in December 2018. Just over a year into his journey, he decided that he needed some help to make Plausible sustainable and something that can become a viable project.
So he reached out to me and we started working together. Uku could now focus completely on the design and development of the product, while I could take care of the marketing, community management, and customer support.
And with the two of us clearly focused on different but equally important tasks (development and marketing), we were able to make so much more progress than anyone can do on their own.
That doesn’t mean that you do need to find a co-founder for your project or that it is a guarantee for success but it can certainly help you speed up the progress, make a difference and help grow your business. Here’s a nice graphic that shows how well it worked for the two of us at Plausible:
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
One change that we did make in the last year was that we hired our first employee. Robert joined us part-time to help us deal with customer support. He’s in the last year of his computer science degree and our customer support questions are very technical in nature so it’s a good fit for us to have technical people help with customer support.
He gets to learn more about the web and startup side of things and we’re hoping Robert can become a full-time employee after his studies are done. Then he can put more of his focus and time on the actual product development. There are no other plans for hiring at the moment.
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.
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