Alin is a 29-yeard-old entrepreneur who has built Bunnyshell, a PaaS that automates all the manual & repetitive tasks required for provisioning, deployment, and maintaining software stacks. In March 2018, they got €750K; nowadays they are providing services to clients all over the world while making $12k/mo.
Hi Alin! What's your background, and what are you currently working on?
Aloha! I’m Alin Dobra (29) and I’m the CEO & Founder of Bunnyshell, a SaaS startup for applications that really need near 100% availability and reliability. I have more than 10 years of experience in building big projects and I love to automate things. I am very passionate about everything about technology, marketing, sales, and psychology.
I started working in software engineering in 2011, became the CTO and then CIO of a conversion marketing company and decided to build my own cloud tools once I realized the product I needed didn’t exist.
So I created Bunnyshell, with a seductive proposition: set up your servers across different cloud platforms in just a few clicks. 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. No headaches, just cloud.
We launched Bunnyshell in March 2018, got a €750K investment in under 18 months, and today we provide services to corporate clients all over the world.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
When I was 23, I was promoted to CTO at an outsourcing development company, a Magento & Symfony partner, and I had to manage the relationship with customers and a team of over 30 people. Basically, I was a child with a lot of responsibilities.
I didn’t know what my attributes were, so I started reading about it. What it really meant to be a first-time CTO. And from this research, I found something very interesting and valuable. Something truly WOW that guided me in the next few years:
“The CTO should have a plan for everything. For everything that happens wrong, it’s his fault.”
So I started to learn and do whatever it took to make things happen: recruitment, HR, retention, sales, account management, development, sysadmin, DevOps, etc.
In the next few years, I learned and tested a lot of things in real-life, and I kept following the same motto: that I needed a plan (which sometimes involved plans A, B & C) for everything. It’s this attitude that helped me become a Managing Partner at that great company.
After I worked out how to create teams and build software, 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.
So I left the company and joined a startup in the marketing space, a product designed for eCommerce, which improved conversion rates through A/B testing, personalizations, and popups. This was also the first time I’d ever heard of anything related to A/B testing, user personas, conversion rates, micro conversions, funnels, and a lot more terms and acronyms widely used in the marketing industry. It was a challenge that I wanted and was ready for.
Once the business started growing, it also became challenging from a technical perspective: more than 200k requests/minute, more than $15K/month at AWS. So I reached out to Microsoft and we became a part of their startup program, which landed us some credits (some, as in more than $100K - so thank you, Microsoft!)
We only needed to migrate our infrastructure from AWS to Azure to start saving $15K/month. So I started looking for a way of doing this that would allow us to operate our infrastructure after the migration in the same way as we did in AWS.
And I was very intrigued to find that this type of platform didn’t exist.
Since I wasn’t having any luck and because I really didn’t like having to depend on other people (remember - I was the guy with the plans) and I love automation, 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 - but this migration took 4 months!
You could call this my A-ha moment: when 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, etc.
Who doesn't need backup or security or uptime? We all want the benefits of automation - not to automate again and again and again. Why reinvent the wheel over and over again?
How did you build Bunnyshell?
I made my exit from the previous startup and got together with Roxana, my DevOps at the time (who has become my amazing co-founder and whom I’d like to thank for being part of this journey). Together, we started building the DevOps platform of our dreams.
While we were working hard at building the MVP, we were also trying to sell it to customers (a sell-it-while-you-build-it strategy). It was very important to us to validate the idea, make sure we weren’t creating something that nobody wanted or needed. Plus, bootstrapping, developing on the customer's money is always better.
I really enjoyed the process of getting started, it was challenging for me and it was (and still is) a journey about self-discovery. I wanted (and still want) to do so many things (outreach, social selling, quizzes, infographics, conferences, workshops, content, academy, etc.) but we’re only so many people.
We’ve learned a lot and we’ve listened even more. This entire process has confirmed that patience is the key that brought us here.
I love beginnings because they’re full of ideas, optimism, motivation, and trust. I’ve always thought that it’s about the journey, not the destination. The road itself teaches you the lessons.
Which were your marketing strategies to grow your business?
We took distribution very seriously, right from the beginning. Even if we did not have a specialized department when we started, we tried to use the power of word of mouth.
We started talking about Bunnyshell and our plans to anyone who would listen: our friends, our ex-colleagues, everyone from the IT community with whom we've ever interacted. Asking our network about their network helped us a lot.
We created partnerships with cloud providers like Microsoft and DigitalOcean and that really helped us with the trust factor that we needed to show to our customers. When you’re talking about your production, you’re talking about your business. So it’s very important to find a trustworthy partner.
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. We received lots of feedback and found that the IT community is generally happy to help.
Then we started to go to conferences, talk about Bunnyshell, and about our mission to democratize the Cloud. That, alongside social media, has been a good place to start.
We started to see traction from the beginning and we’ve had some pretty big, important clients that showed trust in us even though the platform was in its early stages. Our first clients were a pharma company, then an eCommerce platform, then an eCommerce store. They helped us with feedback and we improved day-by-day.
It’s been almost 2 years since we started Bunnyshell. It might not seem like a lot, but it was a very intense period for all of us, with all the feedback and changes and strategies adopted to find the perfect market fit.
We’re now testing 4 different strategies to grow our customer base: 2 strategies for marketing, 2 for sales. The first phase was to validate the idea, the second phase to validate the product. Now we are working to find out our product-market-fit.
Even if, in the beginning, it seemed hard to define and redefine the product after getting feedback, it helped a lot. We can now look at the platform and say that we’re proud of what we've done there.
So, my piece of advice for anyone that wants to start a business: nothing is possible without listening to your customers' feedback and improving your product to cover their needs. You build the product for them, not for you.
This is a very tough lesson for entrepreneurs. You build your entire company not for yourself, but for your customer. If you cover their needs - then they will give you their money and attention.
What are your goals for the future?
We’re working on creating a sysadmin robot for every server. We call it the Site Reliability Robot (SRR).
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. That’s why we introduced features like auto-healing servers or continuous fine-tuning to maximize server performance.
We have plans to grow, to raise new funding, to scale, to become a standard in the industry. I think that’s what all startups strive towards, right? But it all depends on our results.
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.
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.
Life is too short to build something mediocre.
On a personal level, I want to spend time with my wife and 3-year-old son, playing chess and enjoy life.
What were the biggest challenges you faced and the obstacles you overcame?
It’s not easy to build a startup when you're married, have a 1-year-old, a family to think of and debts to pay :) But luckily, I had some resources in my bank account which allowed me not to focus on the money, but on the journey ahead.
The biggest challenge we faced was when Roxana, my co-founder, was hit by a car and needed a few months to recover (she’s doing great now, in perfect shape). This was the trigger to go out to find sources of investment.
6 months later we got €750K in our bank accounts for our first seed round, led by Early Game Ventures.
Which are your greatest disadvantages? What were your worst mistakes?
I think we should have launched the product even faster. We were slow about taking some bold actions. 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?
What’s the real use case? Is it a relevant opinion? Feedback is great, but if you listen to the wrong advice, it can end up killing your startup. Or you’ll build something that you don’t want to build. Create a company neither for yourself nor for your customers. And then you yourself will kill your startup.
If you had the chance to do things differently, what would you do?
I would think in use cases. Not features. Not benefits. Use cases.
What are the use cases that you really solve? How can you solve them better than anyone? The biggest mistake most startups make is that we (myself included) think that we need more features to bring more customers. Wrong. Completely wrong.
You don’t need to go after all customers at the same time. Find a use case. Go after it. Validate it. Get the first customer. Get the first 10 customers on the same use case. Get the next 100 customers, and then go from there.
What are some sources for learning you would recommend for entrepreneurs who are just starting?
- “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek
- “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries
- “How to win Friends & Influence People” by Dale Carnegie
- “Zero to One” by Peter Thiel
I made a list of books that helped me to better understand the business, marketing, and everything that involves a company. For me it was very useful, I found lots of answers to my questions. I remember that this list was one of the first posts on the Bunnyshell Facebook page.
Read articles on growth hacking stories like:
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.
I actually have my “personal” bookmarks with this type of resource.
But most importantly, I learn from other founders and from practice.