How We Started a
Simple Web Analytics Service
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello! My co-founders and I started Counter, a free and open-source web analytics service. It’s a dashboard that shows the usage statistics of your website. Like Google Analytics but less convoluted.
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
I built a simple dashboard with data around COVID-19 cases in Germany. After it went online I thought: well, that is nice, but are people actually using this? I really just wanted to know if I had any visitors at all. The solution was web analytics.
After googling and researching quite a lot and also looking into the market leader – Google Analytics – I became frustrated with the existing solutions.
There were some nice products in this area but I had to register for a trial and look into different plans and I did not find Google Analytics user friendly. All I wanted is really just that tracking code you put into the website and some statistics. In the end I built a simple visitor counter myself.
During the implementation I found this an interesting technical challenge and realized why web analytics was until now a paid service or only sustainable by monetizing on its users data: handling all tracking data in the most obvious manner does imply relatively high hosting costs that web analytics providers had to pass to their customers.
I took making something that can be served to many users with less load on the hosting side as a challenge and built a prototype. This first prototype validated the idea and now I am working on the more polished and professional product with my co-founders.
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
When I started alone my biggest challenge was my specialization. The backend part was really good but everything user facing looked like a website straight from the 90’s. I tried to learn some design basics and rely on building blocks like Bootstrap or purchased templates. But in the end you have to accept that you don’t need to be an expert in everything. This is where Bogdan comes in place, who really delivered all you can see when you go to counter.dev.
In the beginning it was also challenging to get user input. Now with more users that faded away, as we get emails where exactly written what users think and what they want.
Of course I spend a lot of time with the mentioned optimization needed to offer the service for free. But in my mind that was the most fun part.
Who is your target market?
Every person or organization that has a website. We really have all kinds of users. Universities, personal blogs, startups, the kind of nonsense you only find on the internet, online shops, civil right activism sites, of course adult content and a Corona test station.
We have users from all continents. Having grown up in Brazil I am especially happy about users from there. For us it’s important to build a product that is accessible and understandable by everyone.
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
On Hacker News we landed on the front page with our fourth or so submission. For Hacker News you have to find out which topics are hot right now and it’s not so easy to get to the front page but having seen the result of it two times I can tell that this really brings the whole project to the next level.
An advice for Hacker News is to post in the morning of your timezone so you are able to scale up in order to handle the traffic for the case this becomes necessary. You should also have a plan to convert or involve visitors.
At the moment we do get quite a lot of organic tweets. I have no idea about twitter and prefer to put the time I have in a good product. But we are searching for a co-founder that can take over our online marketing efforts.
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
I have to confess that until now we have not done anything trying to retain customers. Our “churn” is relatively high as websites come and go. In these cases we can just hope the webmasters remember us for their next project. But actually just writing emails to customers asking why they left the platform is a typical first step. I would think that we just did not see the need to prioritize this yet.
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
At the moment it’s a mix of our different personalities. We have a professional but also a non-professional relationship and work effectively with each other. Maybe as the company grows and more people join some other culture will crystalize and foster.
I would say we are quite respectful to the other person’s area of expertise and also forgiving to each other. Open communication is of course important. For neither of us, this is the first job and somehow everybody knows what to do.
Culture is definitely an important topic that you have to get right when it’s still possible to do so. But it is too easy to not prioritize this correctly during daily business.
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
Being still small we want to leverage very lightweight tools and processes. We use Telegram for chat. Then Trello and a few shared documents and Excel sheets in the Google ecosystem. The fewer tools we need to make it work the better.
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
It is important to not take work too seriously all the time and relax. Things like eating lunch in front of the computer, talking about work while having lunch or regularly working too much outside office hours are not healthy at all. For a previous startup I ignored older friends which is something I regret later.
Another important thing is to talk about shares and what that exactly means and set this up in an adequate structure. This sounds trivial but is very important.
Last but not least you have of course to work with prototypes, validate and iterate. In a way software is a service and for a great service you need to listen to your users (and say no sometimes).
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
I like to start with a blank page. But to elaborate: my driving teacher used to tell me that I am not the first person in the world driving and should just stick to the established rules without overthinking. When doing my own project I like that being at least a little big headed and trying to challenge the status quo can be a trait.
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Depending on what exactly you are doing it can feel like being on a roller coaster which for me personally is exhausting. Especially in the beginning it can happen that you don’t know if what you are doing is just crazy or something really good. And probably sometimes it’s just luck that makes one of these two options reality.
It can also be daunting to have kind of a lot hanging in the air and it can happen that plainly speaking you just lose everything. I also never really enjoyed meeting and socializing with fellow entrepreneurs as of course at the end of the day these are only superfluous interactions.
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
Thinking about it I only read about technical topics. To mention one blog I used to read: joelonsoftware.com
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
I can only speak for myself at this specific point in time: the required means and strategies are derived from the goal and do not stand for itself.
What I want to say is that I don’t see growing and renting an office as a goal but more like a liability. Our longer term focus is building a great product and how it can help our users.