Google Analytics is the most popular website analytics tool. It also happens to belong to the largest adtech company in the world. It’s used by 56 percent of all websites, and enjoys a staggering market share of 86 percent. But just because most people use it, does that mean it’s the best solution?
Despite its popularity, Google Analytics is infamous for being clunky and slow. Google is also well-known for offering free products in return for mining customer data. Marko Saric and Uku Taht built Plausible Analytics as a lightweight, open-source, and privacy-friendly alternative that doesn’t come from the adtech world.
In just two years, and with only a four-person team, Plausible Analytics has grown to 6,200 customers, helps monitor over 37,000 websites, and generates more than $68,000 in monthly recurring revenue (MRR).
Does the World Need an Alternative to Google Analytics?
The arrival of the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) in the EU four years ago put online privacy on the minds of every business and consumer. Many went from being Google’s biggest fan to becoming wary of how much data it collects and what it does with it. According to Plausible Analytics’ founders, “Web analytics went from a simple, fun and useful practice for site owners to a data grabbing machine for surveillance capitalism.”
“Five years ago, I was recommending Google products to my family and friends, including Google Photos, Gmail, and so on,” says Marko. “I went from sharing these tips to thinking that maybe not everything Google does is good, as providing great experiences for their users has now become a second priority to them.
Google’s goal is to collect as much information as possible from people visiting as many sites as possible – and using Google Analytics directly helps them do that. “Google provides most of its products for free and then they mine the data they collect for behavior insights and sell it to companies who want to advertise to that target group. Google loves to devour all the personal data it can get access to,” Marko says.
Plausible Analytics does not have any interest in that type of business model. Instead, the founders charge their subscribers a monthly fee, which allows them to run the service and continue product development – without taking any data in return.
Plausible Analytics is built for privacy-conscious site owners. It allows them to get valuable and actionable statistics, without infringing on their visitors’ privacy. Unlike Google, Plausible Analytics doesn’t track anything that isn’t necessary to improve the customer experience.
For example, Google engages in cross-site profiling and cross-device tracking. Marko says, “We don’t do that, because why does a business need to know what a visitor does on other websites besides their own and other devices? We just want to provide the business owner with the insights they need to run their business in a better way.” Plausible Analytics also doesn’t store any long-term identifiers, like cookies, in a visitor’s browser.
As a result, Plausible Analytics can offer a much simpler and lightweight product. Its analytics tool is less than one kilobyte, 45 times smaller than Google Analytics. As a result, a website can run faster and provide a better experience, while being much more privacy-friendly.
Finding a Cofounder Could Be the Cure For Your Startup
Plausible Analytics is the first time Marko and Uku have been in the role of founder rather than employee, so they’re learning on the job. Uku is the technical cofounder, focusing on design and development, while Marko is the non-technical cofounder who focuses on marketing and communication.
Uku started developing Plausible Analytics in December 2018. It took him about six months to finish the product that he released in April 2019. But the reception was poor. Marko says, “He’s a developer and not that experienced with the marketing side of things. In early 2020, Uku found some of the blog posts that I had written and he reached out to me for help. I immediately thought, ‘I’m doing this!’”
Marko is a marketer by trade. He wrote content about how to build websites with an alternative to Google Analytics. Uku had created one of those alternatives and thought Marko was the right person to help him improve the tool and market it to the world.
In March of 2020, Marko officially joined Uku as a Plausible Analytics cofounder, bringing their complementary skills together. Both had extensive experience with Google Analytics, but they each approached it from different sides, Uku on development and Marko on marketing.
Initially, the company had less than 50 paying subscribers and was making only $409 in monthly recurring revenue after its first year. The founders had to use their savings to keep the business running – but soon after they paired up, Plausible started taking off.
An Ethical Product Needs to Be Marketed Differently
Since the founders built their company on ethics and transparency, they applied the same principles to their product marketing. Marko says, “In the past, I’ve used paid advertising, affiliate advertising, and influencers for marketing purposes. But with Plausible positioned as an ethical alternative to Google Analytics, I felt that we should not be using those same tools to promote ourselves. That just doesn’t resonate with me and I’m sure many people would see right through it,” Marko says.
Instead of using paid ads on Facebook, Instagram, or Google to increase sales, their main marketing strategy is content marketing. They write quality content that readers find interesting and useful, using social channels and relevant groups to distribute it organically.
Marko adds, “There’s nothing inherently wrong with paid advertising if people have given proper consent. We just don’t do it. And I’m not saying that this is the right approach for every other startup, but it’s the right approach for a company that wants to be ethical and privacy-first. We stand for a better, friendlier web. ”
The founders do not want to be pushy with their sales messages. Instead, prospects come to them when they’re interested in what Plausible Analytics has to offer. The founders have grown the business to $68,000 in MRR with zero marketing spend and have stuck with their approach since day one. “Then what happens is that people spread the word for us. A large percentage of our growth can be attributed to website and business owners who love to use Plausible Analytics and decide to share their experience with the world,” Marko says.
The Elusive Art of Creating a Viral Blog Post
Marko’s priority when he joined was updating the website with product and landing pages. Then in early April, he wrote his first blog post for Plausible Analytics titled, Why You Should Stop Using Google Analytics on Your Website. Such a contrary opinion was bound to make waves and the blog post went viral after Hacker News shared it.
They attracted 50,000 visitors within a couple of days, more than the previous two years combined. “If you make it on the front page of Hacker News, you stand to get more than 30,000 visitors that day. And that then spills over to other channels too. We got shares on Twitter, upvotes on Reddit, and it all accumulated,” Marko says. That, in turn, attracted new free-trial customers and things kept growing.
It also meant that people resonated with Plausible Analytics’s opinion: that it was time for a privacy-friendly alternative to Google Analytics. And the stats prove it. From April 2020, when Marko’s post was published, to now, Plausible Analytics grew from 50 to over 6,000 paying subscribers, and from 200 different websites to almost 40,000, with more than 1 billion page views per month combined.
“We’re just a small startup. We don’t even have the budget for marketing. This is purely from word of mouth and organic marketing. If we can grow that much in two years, there’s a big market for it. There’s a growing interest from a bigger percentage of website owners out there looking for alternatives to Google Analytics,” Marko says.
Build It and Investors Will Come
When asked about obstacles, Marko says, “We’ve grown so much in two years, that it feels a bit weird for me to talk about obstacles. But like any startup, limited resources will always be a challenge for us. Last week, we hired our second part-time employee, so now we are a team of four in total. But we’re still a tiny team, with limited development resources, limited marketing resources, and limited customer support resources. Even if we want to grow much faster, we just don’t have the capacity.”
He adds, “While that is an obstacle, it’s self-imposed because we want to take it slow, without the help of outside investors.” But Marko and Uku now both receive emails daily asking whether they’re looking for investment. And investors are offering money with little to no restrictions on how the founders can use the funds.
Even though they want to remain bootstrapped, the founders learned an important entrepreneurial lesson: “If you’re starting a business and want to get funding, don’t go looking for it. The best thing you can do is to start building your product, start marketing, start building your customer base. Instead of spending months working on investor presentations, spend that time growing your company.”
Marko says, “Once your business plan has traction, investors will naturally come to you because they want to be a part of what you’re building. And when that time comes, they’ll be offering you money and you’ll be the one in control. If you start a business and your first goal is to get funding, you’ll have to convince investors to believe in a mere idea – and you’ll have to deal with a lot of restrictions and little freedom.”
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