If you’re competing in today’s world, you need data on your side. Data is the only way companies can truly understand their customers’ wants and offer them a memorable experience. The numbers don’t lie: 86 percent of buyers are willing to pay more for a great customer experience.
But those mountains of data can easily become overwhelming, especially for marketers trying to glean insights and put them into practice. All that time monitoring the metrics and sifting through it leaves less time to build their brand. DashThis puts all the marketing data in one automated report to help marketers save hours of work and spend more time on high-impact tasks.
Based in Quebec, Canada, their platform is used in more than 122 countries by 18,000 users in the digital marketing industry (including agencies, brands, enterprise companies, and freelancers) tracking more than 500,000 KPIs. DashThis has proudly bootstrapped for the past eleven years and they just hit $5 million in annual recurring revenue.
Having What It Takes to Be a Serial Entrepreneur
Stéphane Guérin, the founder and president of DashThis, graduated with a degree in computer science, followed by an MBA, and has been working on web projects since 1995. In 1998, he started a dating website that became the third biggest in French-speaking countries. He sold that website in 2000 and today it’s part of Match.com.
At the same time as the dating site, Stéphane started a toolbox for webmasters called WebD (for web developers). Both had around 100,000 users after two years, and he sold it along with the dating website.
“After that, I started another dating site. However, by that time the industry had become saturated with thousands of other websites with a category for everything you could imagine (pet lovers, Christians, cowboys, etcetera). I sold it, but not for as much as the first time around because there was so much competition.”
“Then, I started a live chat sales and support tool. It worked well, but we forgot to put energy into sales so we ran out of cash. After that came Percute, which was Google Analytics before Google Analytics. While it did its job, it was hard to maintain and compete against Google Analytics,” he says.
However, Percute led to customers wanting that specific type of expertise and service, so Stephane started a digital marketing agency. He was doing manual client reporting. “It was a boring, tedious recurring task where we copy-pasted from platforms like Facebook and Google. At some point, they opened up APIs so I saw an opportunity to solve my problem. I sold my share of the agency and started working on DashThis.”
“While all of my previous projects had some degree of success, I really nailed it with my current company. We will be celebrating our 11th anniversary in May,” Stéphane says.
The Struggle With Reporting Is Real
Reporting can be a real pain for marketers. No matter how well your campaign has performed, when it comes to creating a meaningful report for your boss or client, it can be hard to convey the story.
Here’s how it usually goes: You gather information from all the different data sources into an Excel spreadsheet, manually copy-pasting the data, and then create the graphs and comments sections. This can take hours and the result isn’t always a compelling marketing report.
DashThis automates whatever needs to be done quickly and efficiently, allowing marketing to do it in minutes rather than hours. Their platform automatically connects to data sources so there’s no copy-pasting. From there, anyone can create visual reports that help them make informed decisions about marketing and sales strategies.
And if companies don’t know where to start, they’ll find templates for search engine marketing (SEM), search engine optimization (SEO), paid-per-click (PPC), social media, ecommerce, advertising, email, and everything in between. These preset dashboards each include all the widgets that make the most sense in that context, including the most relevant KPIs and metrics.
While there are a variety of reporting solutions on the market, DashThis stands out because of its tool’s simplicity and amazing client service. Stéphane says, “It’s hard to be the best at everything, especially when the competition is well funded, so DashThis focuses on having the happiest clients.”
A Startup Born Out of the Basement
Stéphane started DashThis alone with his computer in the basement. He was the CEO, developer, marketer, tech support, customer success, you name it! After a year of working on the company alone, he brought on his first employee.
“One of my friends, a developer, wanted a new challenge. He was willing to accept lower pay to get the opportunity to make a bigger impact, so he came on board. Soon after, I took a leap of faith by hiring two more people. I wasn’t even sure I would be able to pay them after a couple of months – but in retrospect, I made the right bet,” Stéphane says.
In the beginning, DashThis was a stripped-down MVP. “Today, that would be embarrassing! I did the design myself, even though I’m not a designer at all,” the founder shares. “But it worked and I was able to put it in the hands of potential clients and gather feedback. That helped me a lot to improve and iterate on the tool, as well as solve problems for my would-be first clients.”
As for getting those first clients, Stéphane didn’t have much of a budget. He relied on targeted cold emails to prospects and created relevant content to get SEO traction. “Getting the first couple of paying clients for your startup is quite something. They needed to trust me to deliver so that they can deliver their own work to their clients. Those clients stayed on month after month with a great level of satisfaction, which was a huge success for us in the beginning. It still is, actually,” he says.
Growing a Business Can Get Messy
Although DashThis is a tech company, their biggest challenge wasn’t related to the product, but the business side. “Like the company structure, management, roles, leadership, responsibilities, human resources, and so on. The product and marketing are the easy parts – at least for me,” Stéphane says.
Stéphane admits that growing DashThis was a mess. “It was a good problem to have because that meant the product had traction and the sales were increasing. But the risk was an implosion because there was no professional management structure in place. When we reached a team of ten, our amateur structure was clearly not working anymore.”
“There was no real boss (I never considered myself a boss) and no processes in place – it was more like a garage startup than a professional company. Basically, if I died, the company most likely wouldn’t have survived. Today, if I die, nobody would even notice,” Stéphane says laughing.
So, how did the founder ensure that DashThis had a solid foundational structure? Stéphane was aware of his limitations and sought out two new partners who were better at managing than he was. One of them is no longer with the company, but the other, Antoine Paré, is currently running the business as the CEO. This way Stéphane can focus on what he does best, aka creating and developing tools, instead of trying to operate DashThis.
While it was a smart move for Stéphane to call in outside help to run the business’s day-to-day, he also learned an important lesson. He says, “Beware of bad people who are trying to get a piece of your success. I had to go through some negative experiences when I added a new partner to my company.”
“I trusted the wrong person. So my best piece of advice for other entrepreneurs is this: Know the value of what you have built and don’t give it up just because someone is nice. And if you want to onboard a new partner, take your time, review the deal with a lawyer, and make sure your shareholder agreement is rock solid.”
Bootstrapping Comes With Pros and Cons
DashThis has been bootstrapped since the very beginning, almost 11 years ago. Stéphane says that cash flow is critical to successfully building a business without outside funding. “We have to be very cautious about every expense. Fancy offices and a nice car for the CEO are not possible in the early stages, that’s for sure. Even when it came to my salary, it took about six years to get a comfortable paycheck. I was the last one to eat!”
He says, “We have to be creative and do as much as possible with as little as possible. But the most important part is taking great care of our clients because, in the end, it’s them who will fund our business. No clients, no business.”
And that strategy has paid off, with DashThis’ revenue growing from $6,000 in 2011 to $2 million in 2016 to $5 million today. When it comes to growth, the company makes sure they hit at least the rule of 40 each year, i.e. 40 percent in growth and profitability combined.
If DashThis had received funding from the outset, Stéphane may have approached things slightly differently. He says, “I would have probably put more effort into parts of the business where I cut corners. Design, for instance. The website and the app looked crappy for the first three to four years.”
“And maybe I would have hired a little faster to allow me to focus on parts of the business where I could provide the most value. However, I wouldn’t have gone too fast because there’s a big learning curve when it comes to discovering product-market fit. I’m not sure you can speed up that process, it just takes time to figure out.”
While a tight budget may have stood in the way of some things, bootstrapping the business gave Stéphane the space for creativity and freedom. He says, “Building something the way I envision it without anyone telling me what to do and how to do it…I wouldn’t change that for any other job.”
DashThis is expecting to close this year with $6 million in ARR, with a team of 32 (and counting) and clients all over the world. Stéphane says, “All of this from the French-speaking city of Quebec, Canada. No need to be in Silicon Valley or New York to be successful!”
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