How We Started a
No-Code Analytics Platform
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hey there! I’m Shanif, one of the co-founders of Apteo. We’re building a no-code analytics platform that helps any team easily connect, analyze, and predict their data, even if they don’t have a data science background.
With our web-based analytics platform, you can easily find what’s driving your KPIs (for example, why are your users churning), build data-driven dashboards without needing to write a line of code, and collaborate with your team members to make better data-driven decisions.
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
I’ve been in software engineering and statistics/machine learning for most of my career. Before Apteo, I helped start a company called TapCommerce, which was a large ad tech platform that handled a million ads a second. We were very fortunate and sold that company to Twitter, where I worked for a few years as a data scientist and engineer.
My co-founders and I actually started Apteo as a side project where we were attempting to use some of the latest techniques in machine learning to analyze stocks. We had built up a large neural network that could analyze millions of articles, analyst opinions, and quantitative metrics with the goal of predicting stock performance. We built up that software and after a while, we decided there was something there, so we went to work on it full time.
Ultimately, after a lot of user interviews and discussions, we saw a much bigger opportunity to build a more generalizable analytics platform that could be used across all industries, so we decided to broaden our scope and build what Apteo is today.
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
We know that there’s a need in the market around better data and analytics, but because there are so many industries with so many pressing issues, we spent a lot of time trying to narrow down where we wanted to focus. The data landscape is huge because there are so many issues around infrastructure and storage, analytics, A.I., and application-specific problems.
We knew that we had a strength in machine learning, but it wasn’t always immediately clear how we should apply that strength into an application that could help people with their day-to-day jobs. After a lot of experimentation, sales calls, marketing, and talking to users, we started to hone in on the idea of self-service analytics and predictive insights for non-professional technical users as a key problem.
We’re also balancing the need to move quickly with the need to produce a great product. I believe that startups can really compete on speed, and it’s one of the few things they have that can really give them a competitive advantage, but sometimes moving quickly comes at the expense of breaking things, which means we have to be relentlessly focused on the key tasks and outcomes we want to accomplish.
Who is your target market?
We’re targeting analytically-minded folks without a background in software or data science, primarily in small and medium-sized companies. We do well with heads of analytics, business analysts, marketing managers and analysts, and similar people who have access to data and whose job it is to make key decisions.
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
We launched out of beta back in March and started seeing some encouraging usage growth, so we built our payments system back in May and started seeing users go through our 14-day free trial. We charge $47 monthly per person and we have small and medium-sized teams on our product and are in the process of closing large multi-seat deals.
Always experimenting with different ideas, we use a few key tactics to get most of our users: Keyword search, written content, social, and organic search work pretty well for us. With that said, we’re also trying things like webinars, podcasts, a social interview series, launching on Product Hunt, signing up for listing sites, etc. We try to move quickly and see what works so that we can double down on our most impactful strategies.
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
We’re providing a few new capabilities that our clients haven’t seen before. We give anyone the ability to use A.I. to identify the key drivers of their KPIs, and to automatically train and use their own A.I. models.
Our clients appreciate this ability to dive deeper into their problems with some of these newer techniques without having to hire a lot of data scientists. Our predictive models are also useful for anyone to both analyze new data and also to plug into our API so they can automate some processes within their own apps.
We also work with our clients to provide them with guidance and help when structuring and transforming their data, and they appreciate the ability to get quick answers from us based on all of the work we’ve done in the past.
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
I’m big on respect and transparency, and we emphasize that a lot in our day-to-day. I have individual meetings with everyone to keep them updated on the progress of the company, and we also have a weekly all-hands where we allocate time for anyone to recognize an accomplishment on the team by anyone else.
We also work hard and believe in moving fast and experimenting quickly. You see that in our products, marketing, and sales. If something isn’t working, people are encouraged to figure out why and to try something new. The ability to do that comes from seeing everyone be tolerant of failure as long as it was in the spirit of experimentation. One of my favorite sayings is that “done is better than perfect.”
Outside of that, we try to keep everyone connected and spend some time doing an activity every week or two that’s not work-related. Happy hours were a big thing before Covid, they’ve died down a bit since then, but we’ve also done virtual game nights and hangout sessions.
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
We use a combination of startup tools to get the job done.For marketing, we use Google AdWords, Facebook, Mailchimp, Optimonk, and HelloBar, among others. For accounting and bookkeeping, we use Quickbooks and Stripe.
We use a lot of Google tools for productivity (mail, docs, etc), as well as for product (i.e. Google Optimize has been helpful for us to run A/B tests, and Google Analytics is useful for understanding conversions).
Trello is really helpful for tracking tasks and staying coordinated. We’re adopting it across all of our teams now.
We are huge Slack users, especially since Coronavirus. We are constantly chatting back and forth, sharing audio and video clips of new ideas, digesting data from integrations and more. It’s truly the heart of our business.
For product metrics, we use a combination of Mixpanel and our own platform to track and analyze performance data. It’s pretty cool getting to use your own software to solve a real, personal business problem. Sometimes we’ll write code to get one piece of software to talk to others, other times we’ll just log in to all of these different systems separately to get the job done.
We’re also using our own product to integrate data and metrics from different sources and centralize them into our own Apteo team workspace. For example, we can bring in data from Google Sheets, our own database, BigQuery, Mailchimp, and soon, Salesforce into a single team workspace and then visualize and mesh that data altogether to make better use of it within Apteo itself.
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
I think most founders ultimately end up making a lot of mistakes, especially if they’re first-time founders. But the best ones can fix their mistakes quickly, and move forward. At Apteo, we’ve made a lot of them. We prioritized things that didn’t matter, we focused on cool technology over solving a real problem, we hired the wrong people for the job, we didn’t know what job we actually needed to get done.
But throughout it all, we’ve been able to course-correct very quickly, and if there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that grit and perseverance make a world of difference. It’s rare to get things right the first time, or the second, or third or fourth, etc, but if you keep going, the chances of you figuring things out go up dramatically and eventually you’ll make things happen.
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
In general, I’m the kind of person who gets bored very easily, but that just doesn’t happen in startup life. In fact, if anything, I’ve been more aware, more alert, and yes, even more stressed and more anxious than ever before. There’s no way to get bored. There’s always something keeping you on your toes, and for me, that’s a very fulfilling feeling and something that I’m really thankful for.
I’m also the kind of person that wants to make a bigger impact on the world than I have thus far, and being an entrepreneur allows me to work towards that. The idea and vision of creating something that can make other people’s lives easier, even in a roundabout way, is very appealing to me and it’s something that keeps me going.
I also love the thought that everything I’m doing is making an impact within my business. There have been times at bigger companies where I’ve been on projects that didn’t go anywhere, or I had to spend time on things that didn’t matter, and I always hated that. Here, I know that whatever I’m spending time on will move the needle, and that my team and I have a lot of control over the final outcome.
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
I’ll frequently tell people this is the hardest and most stressful job they’ll ever have. There’s always some problem that needs fixing, you’re constantly anxious and worried, there are days where you just end up completely dejected and alone and you have no idea how to get around it. These sorts of struggles can be hard to handle, and they really test your mettle.
The feelings that you deal with when things are going south are extremely difficult and unpleasant and it’s easy to become so focused on the things that are going wrong that you can’t think of anything else. For me, it’s a challenge, and I love challenges, so I’m always thinking about how to best deal with the mental aspect, but it’s not always easy.
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
I’m a huge fan of books that propose moving quickly and trying things out in an iterative fashion. The Lean Startup and Zero to One do a good job of that. I also like Talking to Humans because of its focus on getting out there and solving a real problem.
I don’t listen to many podcasts but for a while I was pretty tuned in to the Y-Combinator series. They have some good insights there.
Outside of that, I’m subscribed to more email newsletters than I can count. Every now and then there are some really good pieces that come through and I try to learn from as many of them as I can.
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
From a product perspective, we anticipate having been able to build a big suite of foundational analytical tools and verticalized solutions on top of them, that are designed to help solve a variety of problems. We’re looking to get to an ARR that can help us raise a Series A round and really pour gas on the fire at that point. If we do our job right, this means we’ll see that hockey stick growth in revenue and we’ll have doubled or tripled our headcount.