Forbes reports that most businesses need two to three years to earn a profit. But certain startups can defy those averages. Removaly launched only three months ago and was profitable from the get-go. The company has already acquired more than 150 paid customers and generated over $20,000 in ARR with a profit margin of around 85 percent.
Today, privacy is the name of the internet game. Consumers are becoming more aware of (and frightened by) how much personal data is out there for the world to see. Just search your name in Google. You’d be surprised how much of your information is floating around the internet for anyone to find and exploit.
Privacy advocates and laws like the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) are helping consumers retake control of their data. However, while you have the legal right to remove your personal information from the internet, the process can be extremely time-consuming and tedious. This is where Removaly comes in, taking the manual work out of personal data removal and data monitoring.
A Hustler at Heart
Kyle Krzeski, the co-founder of Removaly, has always been a builder with the spirit of a hustler. He says, “I’ve been an entrepreneur for as long as I remember, creating my first site when I was 14.” Since then, Kyle has built everything from websites hosting online games to membership sites where people sign up for subscription content.
A couple of years ago, he built an Instagram analytics tool that returns the most engaging content from a username or hashtag. This tool is used to research competitors, find viral content, and repost highly engaging content to one’s own Instagram account. It was the first SaaS Kyle built from the ground up and he bootstrapped it to 5,000 customers.
He then sold that business on MicroAcquire to a technology investment company in August of 2020. “I’m always looking for opportunities and risks that I can take,” Kyle says. “I ended up selling because I saw the potential of Removaly and wanted to devote as much time to it as possible. It felt like I had learned what I needed to learn from building the tool and it was time to move onto something that I felt would be worth ten times more.”
Solving Real-Life Problems
Kyle met his co-founder John Bourscheid seven years ago in an online marketing forum. They were both higher-ranking members in the group and got to know each other over the years. “At some point, John began facing persistent harassment from a forum moderator (with no justifiable reason). The moderator, through past conversations, knew his name and quickly found other personal information including his phone number. This harasser was threatening John, his livelihood, and his job.”
Kyle and John were scouring the internet to try to get all his personal information deleted. By just Googling their names, they found phone numbers, email addresses, and home addresses. Not only did they discover that there was all this information online about them, but also that it was difficult to get it removed. “Even though we have the right to remove it, it’s rather complicated and time-consuming. That’s what sparked the idea for Removaly,” says Kyle.
A year and a half ago, they started working on the software that would remove people’s information from the internet automatically. That both founders had full-time jobs didn’t stop them from pursuing their passion project. In June 2021, they launched Removaly.
Here’s how Removaly works: You sign up and share some personal information, including your name, age, and address. Then their tool scrapes the internet for that information and removes your data where it finds it. While that sounds fairly straightforward, it becomes more complicated when dealing with data brokers.
Data brokers are companies that buy and sell people’s information – similar to a stockbroker, but they’re trading your data. Removaly’s paid plan includes outreach to the 50 biggest data brokers in the U.S. (they’re adding new ones each week) and the subsequent removal of customers’ information from their databases. They also monitor people’s data daily, unlike competitors who scan monthly, every two months, or quarterly, to make sure that personal information stays off the internet.
The Soft Launch Strategy
Instead of tinkering with the software until it was perfect, the founders opted for a soft launch. Kyle says their strategy was simple: “Let’s get people signing up and see what they think about Removaly. We just wanted to get it out there, get feedback and then improve it as we go. I would say we’ve been rolling out the product instead of ‘launching’ it.”
Kyle and John listen to their customers’ feedback and welcome anyone who wants to connect with them. “So far, it’s been a great learning experience. We’ve had some really good insights from our customers. It has also opened the door to some cool partnership opportunities, like helping out Twitch streamers, YouTubers, and content creators with their data privacy,” says Kyle.
The rollout included launching on Product Hunt, where they got #1 Product of the Day. This was, in part, because they have built rapport with the startup community and those in the data privacy space who have supported them. “It’s been great for us so far to shape our vision and to see that others are also excited for our journey,” Kyle says.
And their efforts have translated into results. During Removaly’s first month since launch, they did a little over $4,500. The second month saw a big boost to $10,000 due to their ranking on Product Hunt.
Content also plays a critical role in Removaly’s marketing strategy. “I’m the tech guy; I write all the code. John is the marketing guy. He’s big into content marketing,” Kyle says. John concentrates on producing high-quality content about data privacy, including free opt-out guides that show people how to get their information off the internet.
Removaly even offers a free plan where you get a scan that lists all the data brokers that have your information. With that knowledge, you can reach out to data brokers yourself to have it removed.
“Our strategy is very much focused on advocacy of online privacy and raising awareness about the steps you can take to protect yourself. Whether it’s by paying us to fix it or having people do it themselves, either way is fine with us! We’ve created a lot of content, shared a lot on social media, and have been active in online communities to get the word out.”
Fun fact: Kyle and John have never actually met in person before. They just had their first Zoom call ever last week to work on a pitch. “We handle everything via Slack and it’s working out great,” Kyle says. “The lesson here is to find out what works best for you. It might be unconventional, but if you’re able to do it with greater output and transparency, run with it.”
Outplaying The Competition
While Removaly is bootstrapped, its competitors aren’t. Their biggest competitor, Delete Me, has raised around $6.5 million. When asked about the challenges of bootstrapping, Kyle says, “This might be naive to say, so forgive me, but I feel like there aren’t a whole lot of challenges besides how quickly those other companies can scale.”
“But it actually works to our advantage that we are a lot smaller. People reach out to us and are surprised when they get a response from a real person, let alone from the founders themselves. When it comes to data privacy, people want to know that they can trust the company that’s going to handle all of their data.”
Unlike their competitors, Removaly does not blow a lot of money on paid advertising. They haven’t spent a dime on paid ads so far. “We spend zero dollars on paid ads, whereas our competitors are spending out the wazoo. Anytime you search for specific data brokers, you see our competitors come up.”
Yet Removaly’s business is continuously growing. Content marketing attracts people through organic search every month. With the focus on building a superior product, producing valuable content, and staying active on social media and in relevant online communities, Removaly has been profitable since launch – without the help of a big advertising budget.
Kyle’s closing advice: “It goes to show that with enough sweat equity you can build a profitable startup without giving away your actual equity.”
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