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Bootstrapping a privacy-first Google Analytics alternative to $4k/mo

Marko and Uku are the co-founders of Plausible, a privacy-friendly and open-source alternative to Google Analytics. They came up with the idea when looking for more ethical alternative tools to Google’s ones. Through content marketing and community engagement, Plausible has grown to +$4k in MRR.

SaaS
Up to 50K

Marko Saric

October 26, 2020

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Hi Marko! Who are you and what are you currently working on?

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.

It’s the two of us in the Plausible team. 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 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.

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

My professional background is in marketing. I have a bachelor in marketing management and have worked in digital marketing from the start of my career. I've worked for large public-listed companies and small venture-funded startups in areas such as affiliate marketing, social media marketing, and content marketing. 

My co-founder Uku started Plausible last year and I joined earlier this year. Our story and experience with Google and its products is similar. A few years ago, I was a big fan, using several of their tools for many hours every day, loving them and recommending them to my family and friends.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve become more aware of Google’s size, its business model, and how their dominance negatively impacts the web that I love. I started looking more into better and more ethical alternative tools, I started blogging about them on my site and that’s how Uku found me and got in touch.

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.

How did you go from idea to product?

Uku built and designed the product on his own in the period of 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. 

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 in order 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.

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Which were your marketing strategies to grow your business?

Our marketing is a bit different and a bit unconventional compared to the normal way of doing things in the startup world. We say no to most of the best marketing practices.

We don’t do any paid advertising, we don’t use pixels and other tracking to do retargeting around the web, we don’t do any experiments on our website visitors, we don’t have an affiliate program and we don’t pay anyone to promote or recommend Plausible.  

What we focus on is content marketing and community engagement. We write and publish regular posts on our blog and we engage on different social media platforms and niche community sites.

I joined Uku in the middle of March this year and I published my first blog post on April 8th with the headline of Why you should stop using Google Analytics on your website. Since then we’ve pretty much published one blog post per week or so.

Our posts are not salesy. They are longer pieces and well-researched pieces on the different topics that are relevant to our product and our audience. We always start with the audience in mind. What questions do they have? What issues are they trying to solve? And we create content trying to do just that.

We got traction immediately as the first post I published did great on communities such as Hacker News and it got a lot of attention. That first post has been read by about 65,000 people until now. You can see here our website traffic since I started. We actually have all of our website stats open to the public so you can take a look at our live demo here and explore and dig deeper.

Plausible's dashboard

How are you doing today and what are your goals for the future?

Our revenue has grown a lot too since that blog post went “viral”. As I’m writing this on September 3rd, we’re on $4,105 in monthly recurring revenue (MRR) and we have 657 paying subscribers. 

Plausible is 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!

Plauible's MRR

It’s still only the two of us and the short-term goal is to continue with what we’ve been doing over the last few months as it’s working. Then we will see where that takes us. We’re bootstrapped and self-funded so we do not just plan to go and hire a big team or change our structure or start spending a lot of money on paid advertising and such. Our focus is on sustainability and on growing responsibly.

We’re an open-source project with a free as in beer self-hosted product too so we have a great community of people interested in what we’re doing. People are sending in their feedback and feature requests, people are building Plausible integrations with their favorite CMS and other website tools, and people are helping us improve the product too.

It’s great to be a part of this project and hopefully, we can keep growing and keep removing surveillance tools from the adtech industry from even more websites and from an even larger part of the web.

Since starting Plausible, what have been your main lessons?

It’s been an amazing 6 months or so since I joined. We’ve done a lot, grown a lot, and made a lot of progress. And we haven’t done any tricks or any hacks to do so. Many times marketing people feel like they’re forced to sell stuff to people that people don’t want and don’t need. And this is completely the opposite. 

We’ve spread the word about Plausible and what makes us different from 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 hopefully end up liking it enough that they choose to permanently remove Google Analytics.

So the lesson 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 and tricks to get some people to sign up as they don’t volunteer to do so of their own free will.

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What were the biggest obstacles you overcame? What were your worst mistakes? If you had the chance to do things differently, what would you do?

We’re still very early in this process and things have been going so well that it’s too early to zoom out and think about what mistakes we’ve made, what we could have done better or differently, or what we should change. 

In general, the big challenge is that Google and the adtech are an ingrained part of the web and how websites are made these days. Pretty much every website has at least one connection to Google and its tools, or to Facebook and other adtech companies. And their tools are all given away to website owners for free.

So we are working against the current norm of the web, against free and against the tech giants and that whole cultural and structural thing takes a bit of time to change.

What tools & resources do you recommend?

About tools:

We try to use open source software as much as possible and we keep things as simple as possible by not using too many tools when it’s not necessary. We also try to support independent companies and projects whenever possible.

Plausible Analytics is a standard Elixir/Phoenix application backed by a PostgreSQL database for general data and a Clickhouse database for stats. 

On the frontend, we use TailwindCSS for styling and React to make the dashboard interactive. We use Netlify CMS for our blog.

We use Paddle as our payment processor as they take care of VAT and sales taxes for us. Our internal chat communication tool is Element. We use GitHub for our feature requests, development, and product roadmap. We use Fastmail for email.

About books:

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 completely opposite of what you see and read in your average business or startup or marketing book. 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 things. 

You don’t really 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.

Where can we go to learn more?

You can take a look at our product and get a free trial here.

We have two official social media profiles that we are active on and you can follow there for the latest updates, latest stats, and other news. Here’s our Twitter and Mastodon.

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