In this episode, I talk to Adriaan van Rossum, founder of Simple Analytics. Adriaan lives in Amsterdam and works on his privacy-oriented alternative to Google Analytics. In this interview, he shares his story and also talks openly about financials and his marketing strategies.
Check out SimpleAnalytics over at https://referral.simpleanalytics.com/artem-daniliants (affiliate link to support the podcast) and read his blog over at https://blog.simpleanalytics.com/
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Artem: Hi guys, Artem Daniliants here. And welcome to another episode of Daniliants ventures podcast. Today, I have Adrian from simple analytics, and I think it's going to be a really good episode because we have a founder, a startup founder just doing his thing, creating something really interesting, but in very crowded space. So I want to, ask Adrian, why did he decide to create analytics software when there are so many other options and most importantly, for me, how's it been how the company started and so forth, but enough of me, Adrian, thank you very much for being here.
Adrian: Yeah. Thanks for the invite. And yeah, I’m very glad that I’m here.
Artem: Thank you. Thank you very much. So could you tell a little bit about yourself? So you're in Netherlands, right in Amsterdam.
Adrian: Yeah, that's correct. Yeah. So I’m living now in Amsterdam. I like to travel a lot, so as a nomad, but yeah that's not going to happen anytime soon. That is unfortunate, but there's worse things that can happen to your life. So I’m pretty lucky still. And I live here with my girlfriends and I’m pretty happy with the city. There's so much to do and yeah, I’m really in love with where I live.
Artem: Yeah. So are you originally from Amsterdam?
Adrian: No, I’m from the south of the Netherlands from a little village, a village that nobody knows, so I won't name it here. But yeah, that's where I’m originally from. And then when I was like around 18, I thought like, okay, let's get the heck out of here and let's go to the city. So I went to the Hague, Utreht and finally in Amsterdam.
Artem: All right. So how do you like it there in Amsterdam is the startup community good? Do you have likeminded people? Cause I kind of feel like Amsterdam is a startup hub in a way, there is so much interesting stuff going on. I used to travel, good old times have been in Amsterdam, so many coworking offices, like a good vibe I think obviously. I think a lot of people who haven't been in Amsterdam know it for other reasons, especially in north America, when they haven't been exposed to the startup community in Netherlands, but how do you feel city-wise for your startup?
Adrian: Honestly, I think it's lacking. Yeah there are quite some co-working spaces and things are good, but it's like most of the people, like when you travel abroad and you go to like co-working space, then you meet like a lot of people that have the evening off and they just want to like go for a beer or something or enjoy the new conversation sort of making new friends and in the Netherlands, that's not so much the case. Because like everyone lives in the city, so everyone leaves at night. So it's less fun to like or a little bit harder, I think to meet new people in co-working spaces.
Artem: Okay. The coworking space that I’ve been to, I felt maybe like that as well. Everybody's kind of doing their own thing, and then when the evening comes, people leave, but then I thought like, what the heck! There is meetup.com, obviously, meetup.com and some other events geared specifically for startup community. So you can go there and meet people, but, okay, good, good. So, Amsterdam is great, but could be better. Startup wise, community wise.
Adrian: Could be better, but it's like, it's a great city. Like I love it. And it's yeah, you have so many things to do. So if you are bored or you want to have an event, you just go to whatever event is next week. So that's great.
Artem: Yeah. And Amsterdam I think is situated in a good location when you think about Europe in general. So from there, once, the skies are clear, it's not so far away if you want to travel to UK, maybe again, that's a problem since, they exited the EU. So we don't know how that works, but I guess, it's a pretty nice place. The only thing that kind of bothered me about other lands and Amsterdam specifically is just enormous renting costs. Like the living costs there in Amsterdam as a tourist I have experienced on as a tourist. Like one of the most expensive hotels and stuff like that. It's just, I don't know, like living wise, is it expensive to live in Amsterdam? Like if you are like permanently living. Yeah. It depends how you compare it. I think it's equally expensive as maybe Barcelona or something, or it's probably less expensive compared to London or to New York. Also in size it's very small. It's a very small city. But like it's more expensive than the rest of the Netherlands that's for sure. But compared to other cities, like if you go to London or New York, it's probably way more expensive. If you go to like, or places like Asia or other parts of Europe, it's maybe a little bit cheaper. But yeah, it's like, yeah, for me it's affordable as in like I’m used to the Dutch prices, so that's like, yeah, that's your measurement. Yeah. But for me, I live in Helsinki, Finland, and it's pretty expensive city and the country is pretty expensive, but when I traveled to Amsterdam and, look at total price, I’m like, whoa, that's expensive.
Adrian: Luckily the locals don't sleep in hotels.
Artem: Yeah. For sure. For sure. So how about you as a startup founder, so you have an awesome product, simple analytics. And analytics I guess a software as a service product. So you sell it as a software and basically you kind of compete, I wouldn't say maybe head-on, but you compete with many other offerings on the market. So there are like server-side analytics. There are like the big boys, enterprise analytics and there is something like middle ground, like google analytics and maybe like even Yandex metrica and all that stuff. And then boom, you come in with simple analytics. Could you tell me a little bit, and I’m sure the viewers will be interested to know, how did you end up with the idea of creating simple analytics and what was the reasoning behind it?
Adrian: Well the main reason is that I’m not a huge fan of google.
Artem: You're one of those, I think we need people like you, I think we need people like you to create alternatives. Because there are no alternatives. Like everybody knows, google and everybody knows their offering. So if there were more alternative, I think they wouldn't have such a huge market share.
Adrian: Exactly. Yeah. But that's also how this idea originated. Like I was traveling abroad, I think it was in January. I was staying with my girlfriend and I was complaining about like how I needed to install like this google analytics snippet that you install for many clients. And I was doing like freelance programming work at the time. So I needed to install the snippet all the time and I was like, yeah, but you all giving like all your visitors data to google and google. They use it for their ads. Like it's not a secret or something it's in their policy. So they use it for their ads and for their other products. So yeah, this doesn't feel right for me. And I just was complaining about it to my girlfriend. And then suddenly I felt like, why not make something that doesn't do that? So where the data is actually from the owner and also merged to like a big corporation that makes other ways of money with it. And that's how it was born. Like I then worked for, I think one or two months and build like a very easy prototype. It was just a graph. It was just like a little snippet. And I tested it with a few users, and they liked it. And then I thought like, okay, I think really this can be something. And that's like when the day came that I launched on hacker news, that was like a huge day. Like it was on the homepage for like nine hours, I think. It was on the number one spot for a very long time. So that's how I got like my first customers. And then I really knew like, okay, this is really something that people are actually looking for. And then like I had enough motivation to keep on going and now it's like one and a half year later, I think. But yeah, it's super fun to like have this side project and you started from a certain mindset where you really, really care about privacy. Like not giving your data away, like not having different ways to make money. And yeah, this just felt right. And it feels still very right to do it like this and yeah people like it, it seems.
Artem: Yeah. So if you think about it basically you came up with an idea, you're like, okay, I have to insert a google analytics snippets. So why not create an alternative, do something on my own. And then create an alternative focused on privacy, but obviously you must be a programmer. I mean, it's not, like you just said like, oh, okay, great. Then you went to Upwork, created a requirements file. And you're like, okay, somebody do this for me. So you basically, if you talk maybe a little bit about your background, so basically you were capable of doing it yourself.
Adrian: Yeah. That's true. Yeah, I started programming when I was, I think, 15 or 16 or something. And I learned it from my brothers. They had done it for a few years more because they were older. And so I learned it from them and could ask them questions and build my first website for my school. And yeah, I did little projects and also got to know what was possible. Like in those, this was quite some time ago. But then even like internet explorer that was huge of course, 5 and 6 and stuff. And you can even like read the clipboard data of users visiting your website. Which is pretty bad of course. But as a normal user, you would never think of that. But if you're a developer and you see it's possible, then you know that like what other companies can do with all the data. So I was always quite aware of what is possible with the web and what you can collect from users. And yeah, then I started studying, but studying wasn't really the thing that motivated me. So eventually after more or less nine studies, I think I finished one. But in between, like I was always working like side projects or for a company, like freelancing and part time jobs and stuff. And then eventually I was working, I think like for like, I never worked full time, but like three days a week and I did it for a few years. And then I realized like, yeah, if I stay in this comfort zone of work then I become maybe a little bit of a better programmer, but I don't really care about being a good programmer. I really want to have my own business and make some profits in something that I really care about. And this way I started to, okay. Maybe I should just start my company super analytics at a time as well. And then maybe I need to stop my current job because then I really have the motivation to get started. So that's why I stopped working for my boss and then I started this company and then I needed to deliver something in like no time, because otherwise I wouldn't have any profit and couldn't pay my rent. So that's how it started.
Artem: Good. Good. So basically, you're a programmer, I guess. Would it be fair to say is that you're like more focused on the web or are your like generalist, you do whatever, or are you interested more about the web, in general?
Adrian: Yeah, I like the web more.
Artem: Same here. Same here. I used to do programming in high school, started my first business in high school as well. Used to do some really horrible php programming in high school, but that was good enough. And I always felt that programming is not the most interesting thing. It's actually doing something with it and creating a product and actually looking at people, using it, and I’m sure you obviously evaluate your data. How many signups, what do they do? Which pages are, I guess you use simple analytics, inside simple analytics in a way? To analyze your software, I guess and the way that people behave. But so you started working on the product. How long did it take you before you had something that resembled a working product, something that you could actually ask money for?
Adrian: Yeah, like I think it was two months. So two months before like from building it from scratch to launch date. And it was the moment where I dare to charge money for it. And that was, I think two months maybe I’m wrong.
Artem: It's still not the very long development cycle. Well, what about, other things like copywriting, what about design? Did you do all of that yourself as well?
Adrian: Design. I did not myself. What I like to do is like just building the thing completely and then make sure it works. And then ask a designer like, hey, I built this thing. Maybe you can make it nice. That's what I did this time as well. I knew a friend who was a designer and he has developed or designed a website and that I implemented in a few days and then it was done. So I didn't have to do the design myself.
Artem: What about copywriting, stuff like that.
Adrian: Yeah, that's what I, yeah, that's what I did myself. Like I’m building the whole product and not to forget like the marketing of the product, which is a lot of time as well. Getting it ready for product hunt, getting it ready for hacker news. And make sure that everything is correct for SEO and stuff like that. So making it ready for launch basically.
Artem: So you're, I guess a one-man team, right. You use freelancers and friends, maybe. You can, but you're working alone pretty much. So you'll handle support. If somebody writes to support inbox, it's you who replies and stuff like that.
Adrian: Yeah. I have experimented with external people as well for support and for freelance developments, I still do it. Which is great, I’ve like a great freelancer, web developer, actually two, one that sometimes helps and one that helps me every week. And that's great because then sometimes I can just like chill for a bit and then stuff gets still done. And that's a great feeling like the product moves on, even if I don't work on it. And that's something that I really enjoy because then yeah, you don't have to like have the feeling that you're always, I need to do something. Which is I think common pitfall for makers or entrepreneurs that are like only by themselves, because then you have to do like so much work and that creates so much pressure. So I think it's great to have like some other people around you that help you with that.
Artem: Of course, of course, actually being involved in a few projects and startups, I actually decided at some point that I will never start anything alone anymore. I think it's very hard. A lot of people can make it work, but it's just a lot harder. Combining family, being sick and all that, and then still being able to maintain a business. But how did you fund your business? So, you quit your job and obviously money stopped coming in. You had something, you had to do something. So for two months you basically supported yourself probably using savings. And then, or did you have an investor?
Adrian: No, I didn't have an investor and I probably never want to have any investors. Like a bootstrap business, I’ll just say, yes or no to myself, not to anybody else. And like for the start, like I’m still doing some freelance once in a while. And that's just like the easy money. So you can charge like, as a developer quite a load per hour. So then if I do select one week in one month, in the beginning, that would be enough for like yeah, I think three weeks’ time for working on simple analytics. And I still do that sometimes because then I put
Artem: Yeah, for sure. For sure. And if we go back to the simple analytics, so the core concept, is similar to google analytics in a way that you get a little bit of insight into how people behave on your website, what kind of, how many visitors you have and so forth. But the core, I guess, difference is that it's stored on your servers and you don't share that data anywhere. There is no third parties involved and you don't do any kind of like crunching of the data analysis in order to compile a profile for the website. And then you sell it to some other like Alexa or like whatever. So basically that's like the biggest difference.
Adrian: Yeah. These are our number one promise to our customers is we will never sell your data. And that's for us super important because the data is from our customer. That's also why we have so many ways how you can download your data, get it out of our systems, get it into your systems. Like we don't really want to own the data. Like we don't care about the data because yeah, it's yours and do whatever you want with it. And of course we try to find nice ways to represent the data nicely for our customers, but we will never ask a third party like, hey here's the data and now you can build up a profile or anything else. No, that's not what our customers would expect. And also something that would also be in huge contrast with what I think is important with our analytics business. So yeah, that would be very strange if that ever would happen.
Artem: Yeah. That seems fair. I also worked with a few government officials and to my surprise, they actually denied installing google analytics on, government websites. Cause they said it's against the policy of the government. So it was the first time when actually somebody pushed back and said, no, we don't do that. That's not how we role and then I realized, okay, it kind of makes sense. It's a government website. Then you are giving data to an American company, yeah, kind of makes sense.
Adrian: That doesn't feel right.
Artem: Yeah. It doesn't feel right. Especially with nowadays as a developer, you know yourself how much you can actually scrape, form, submissions, miles, interactions, you can get GPS possibly, whatnot. There's so many ways you can actually scrape the data and build a profile, but in your product, what I think is interesting is that your whole product that hinges on your promise. So you promise there is no reselling of the data. And obviously I believe you, I think reading your blog posts and your interview in the hackers and so forth, it's like your core, I guess value personally as well. So your product just kind of fits within your already existing values. But how do you communicate to your customers that it's not your words. How can you make it more transparent and believable, the policy? Cause nobody knows what happens on your server.
Adrian: Yeah. Yeah. So there's definitely something that is hard to like just promise. Like people need to believe you. So there's a lot of like building your brand and that matches a lot with like building trust and the simple analytics trust is like the most important thing that we have to get from our customers. Otherwise they don't use us. So that's what we also have, like quite some content about building their trust. So recently I also published a blog post about like what you can do as a business to make your business more privacy friendly. With a lot of tips like what you can actually do. And also with like examples also for developers, how they can use this information actually in their servers. And this makes your brands also more trustworthy. Because if we write about it, then there's a huge chance that we will actually did it. So that we actually also implemented these. Yeah. So we now we're talking about it. And then you're building more trust that way by sharing, like what you're doing, how you're doing it, why you're doing it. And also like on twitter, I’m quite active on sharing insights. Also on our open page, like we share or financials public statistics, so that's also contributing to like the whole what those people say is probably true. Maybe not like you never know for sure. But that's how we try to build the trust.
Artem: So basically, but you have something in the contract as well. When people sign up, maybe there is some mention about it, not selling it to third parties.
Adrian: At the moment, I don't think that's the case. Like in the contract it says like, okay, if something happens to your data then yeah, we want to make sure, I’m not sure if that's in the contract, but as one of our rules is that like, we don't want to collect data that is interesting to steal. And of course, sometimes just pay issues can be interesting to steal for, I don't know, a competitor or something. But we try to like collect as little data as possible to still provide value. And that's also an important difference I think with competitors is that if you only collected the parts that are strictly needed, you can drop all the IP addresses. You can drop all the, or you can anonymize the user agents and stuff like that. And then you have like a data set that you can still use and have without any cookie banners or whatever. And at the same time, it's not that bad if something goes wrong. If your employee steals it with your credentials or whatever, it's still data that's like, I don't know, to a certain extent it's not that critical if its lost.
Artem: So basically that's, I think is a very interesting distinction with google analytics by default, they want to track everything or other competitors. I mean like other competing products. By default it's everything. And then there are some settings to restrict that and this, and in google analytics, you can enable IP anonymization, but that requires you to actually change things. By default it's everything, you know, they just gobble the data. So you have an interesting approach. So you try to collect as little as possible while still being useful. So basically you obviously collect some information about, for example, geolocation, but maybe you don't collect IPs. Maybe you get information about I don’t know, like browsers and what type of browsers are being used, but then you don't try to profile people. You don't try to match them and say, hey, this person, this is probably a separate person that does this and this. So basically your data set, yeah, I think it's pretty interesting. I always wondered why in google analytics, when you enable and I’ve inserted that snippet million times myself, I always wonder why you can't choose what they want to collect. So in google analytics, some projects, they just want to know how many visits, that's it, nothing else.
Adrian: Yeah. I think you can do it. But it's very complex to set up. Like it's like, I don’t know, google analytics has a tendency to make everything possible. And at the same time, make it unusable for the end user, because already if you open the dashboard, it's quiet...
Artem: Or too much info.
Adrian: Yeah. Right. So it's hard for a new user at least to understand what's going on, on their dashboard. And I think it's the same for their features. Like you can implement almost everything like you can do server-side tracking, all that stuff, which is pretty amazing. Like you can all do it, but like it's not like the defaults. And that's like what is, I think, super important for all those privacy debates out there. And all the companies doing like I don't know, Facebook, for example, they say a lot from like something like, oh, there's this setting. And if you go to your settings and if you have like 15 clicks later, you can disable it, so everyone can disable it. And then the European union is like, oh yeah, that's nice. But it's not like, it's about a default. Like if the defaults are to track everybody and then maybe 1% toggles the buttons to something like less privacy in Facebook, it isn't going to change the world, we need to have to default. And that's why the simple analytics, I really care about the defaults and the defaults are super privacy friendly. And we also prevent people from abusing our system if they want to use it privacy unfriendly, for example, the events, events you cannot like have a product id with it, stuff like that. So people cannot abuse the system to track people.
Artem: So, profiling is harder in your system. If you want to do it, you basically can't.
Adrian: You cannot, or you have like a huge margin of error.
Artem: Okay. Okay. That's interesting. That's interesting. So yeah, but the people are still combating, like for example, because companies are so bad when it comes to privacy, now there is a lot of tools, that people and communities use themselves. So for example, if you look at ad block and many different variations of it then we have things like do not track. And then again, I’ve kind of feel that companies still don't obey doing a track I guess setting in your browser. So for example, does simple analytics obey do not track?
Adrian: Yeah. By default it does. It's a funny one because like we don't track users ever. But it still feels like visitors should be able to disable it. So that's why we enable or block visits from people with do not track.
Artem: Yeah. So if person has do not track in his browser and for those who don't know, there is a new setting that has been there maybe for like a year or two now in some browsers and most browsers, I think you can set so that other websites will be able to see that you don't wish to be tracked. But again, it doesn't really work. There is like, I think still you get tracked by google and they have terms of agreements where it says like, yeah, if you set this setting then maybe we don't do this, but everything else we still do, and there is no transparency. So you cannot really check. You basically have to trust the websites. But how do you feel about the people just getting sick of the whole tracker thing and going, especially developers and tech savvy people just going to, like an additional add on to their browser that blocks everything just like completely removes the whole tracking system from the internet, do you think that's the right way?
Adrian: Yeah, the right way is a difficult one. I don't have permission to say that. I don't know, like, I think user, end user on the website in a browser, it's like the open web, they should be able to block whatever they want. So they are the one in power and they should be in power because they are browsing the web and they are not choosing whatever tracker they run on their website or whatever, so they should be empowered. So I think it's very good to have a blockers and block whatever you want. That being said, or that having said, there's also something like the good side of the trackers. Like simple analytics doesn't track people. And they're just collecting statistics, page views basically. So it doesn't harm anything. If you related to like do not track movement or whatever, or that setting. But it's very to, I don't know, like, it's very hard to make your case I think, then you need some kind of like or then the blockers need a community where the community says like, yeah, some are good, and some are not so good. That's already happening. You have like certain lists with like friendly trackers or trackers that obey to do not track setting.
Artem: Is simple analytics on the list?
Adrian: Yeah, for sure. Yeah. On that list, I don't know actually. But we are on the list of normal track blockers.
Artem: Oh, okay. But I mean, like in the white list, like where it's kind of allowed, because as you mentioned, there's community that creates lists of good trackers and I was wondering, you would definitely want to be on that list. Cause simple analytics kind of feels, as a good fit.
Adrian: Yeah, I should check that actually. I don’t know from the top of my head.
Artem: You see it's already useful, the interview is already useful. But you were saying, sorry.
Adrian: Yeah, so the power should be, oh yeah and the community they are then all of a sudden responsible for checking who is good, who is not good. And for them it's way easier to just block every third-party tracker or whatever from their website. And yeah, that's too bad for companies like us. But yeah, that's part of the deal. So also that's basically why we started making a local bypass which actually bypasses the ad blockers and still gives website owners the ability to see their page views. And that's also an interesting selling point because like google analytics is blocked a lot, like in major, by default they're blocked. And also like more and more browsers are going to enable booking google analytics. And for example, Firefox focus on mobile and stuff like that. So then customers of simple analytics are interested like, okay, what's the difference between google analytics and simple analytics? So then they can actually measure how many visits that are blocked, and it can be from 5% to 25% of a difference depending on what your target audience is of course. But yeah, that's an interesting topic.
Artem: What you mentioned and it kind of piqued my attention. You mentioned that you have an ad blocker bypass. So basically if I use ad blocker and I want to block all the bad guys, you are still able to get analytics from that view and from that visit as well. So you penetrate the ad blocker in a way I’m just interested.
Adrian: But you can still block the individual websites, but it just gets a little harder. Because like the major block lists don't have like all the little websites on them. That's an interesting topic. Like it started with like the conversation with the ad block people like, I had an issue on the broker list and I just saw like, okay, there's no way they are ever going to allow anything like simple analytics. So then I have to build my own feature to fight this issue. And I don't know if it's super important, like in the beginning when I started simple analytics, I thought it was super important to have this feature. At the moment I’m not so sure. I also see customers changing back from the bypass feature to just a regular feature. So the regular collection script. So yeah, I’m not really a hundred percent sure what is the best way here, what do you think?
Artem: What I think, well, I think that if you create a bypass for ad block, I’m interested in how it works, because I think that's interesting from the technical perspective, but again, and maybe you have a cool blog post about it, or maybe that's a good idea for the next blog post. Like ad blocking, should we abate, or should we try to bypass it? But I guess we should always respect the will of the customer and the user. So if the person has chosen to add an AdBlock that blocks all the trackers, I think it would make sense to kind of obey that and not try to cheat your way and still try to get something. Obviously in simple analytics, since you don't track, there is not much harm. Basically the person will be able to see that, hey, there is one more visitor view or there is one more page view. It doesn't matter. But I think if somebody goes out of their way and installs additional, add on because something pieces them off, I think it makes sense to kind of respect that decision and say, okay, this guy, okay forget him, we're not going to get any data out of him, let's say, but what actually scares me a little bit, if you can do it and you're obviously a very talented developer, but you are just one person, why doesn't google bypass ad block or does google already bypass ad block with google analytics, google tag manager? What do you think, is there some evidence of them doing something like that?
Adrian: I'm not sure if google does that actually. Like it doesn't seem like they are fighting at blockers this way. They do fight brokers in a money way. As in paying a lot of money to ad blockers, to bypass their ad blocking on google ads and not so much analytics. I think analytics, I think are still will still be blocked. But yeah, I don't know actually what google, I think they don't fight it actively. It's also like also, yeah, cat and mouse game. So yeah, you fix it and you have to find another way to bypass ad blocker, to very shortly have a technical explanation about it. It's just like, it's basically a sub domain. So a customer has a sub domain, they can link the sub domain to our server. So we have like a specific server for this feature. And then we make sure the SSL certificates are already generated. And then we just showed the proxy. So it basically proxies the public script and proxies API calls to our main server. And that's it.
Artem: Basically the ad blocker doesn't block it because it's not served from your domain.
Adrian: Exactly. So it's served from a different domain.
Artem: Most likely customer domain, right? Like a c name or something, customer just ads and that's it, done with, oh, okay, that's pretty smart because then obviously blocker will not be able to list all of those small websites and it's just too tedious obviously. I thought it was going to be something, I’m disappointed a little bit, but not in a bad way. I thought, like maybe you hijack like DOM object, then you are like, you're looking for ad block maybe in some way in a string and then you do something fancy, like dynamic loading, but okay.
Speaker 2 Well we like to keep things simple. Yeah, it's in the name.
Artem: It's much, much simpler and way more efficient and it obviously works. That's pretty interesting. I kind of also read a lot about google kind of make it harder for ad blocking extensions to live within chrome environment. There has been some, maybe a little bit of a pushback and I think google developing chrome is kind of scary as well.
Adrian: Oh yeah. It's super scary.
Artem: Yeah, because it's kind of, it's like, because browser is slowly moving towards an operating system. So you do, if you have things like google stadia, you can play in the browser, you have office in the browser, you have whatever you want pretty much nowadays in the browser, video, sound. So, chrome is basically like an operating system and there is even like chrome books. So basically you have a computer with just chrome, which makes it an operating system in a way, but them developing it and us not really knowing what's going on behind the scenes, not as much, even though it's an open source software. But there is still google juice, a little bit in it that we don't see that they put in the chrome browser, but not in the open source version of chromium. So I always kind of feel, I moved away from chrome many, many times. First it was Firefox, I think after that it was Opera. And now I will be trying again, I guess, edge, since now it's powered by chromium. So a guy like you, obviously very interested technology-wise and ethics wise in the privacy, what browser do you use?
Artem: Firefox. What's the reason for it? And like what is your setup? How do you remain private online?
Adrian: Yeah, that's a good question. Yeah, I really like Firefox because it's an independent and yeah, it's kind of independent. Like they still get money from google. But they're like more independent than like, for example, google with their whole operating system and their phones and whatever they have, like way more. So it's nice to have like a smaller player in the field that they're still building and focusing on the browser and there's also like a very strong force for privacy. Which is great, like their mobile browser, Firefox focus is amazing. Like it's just like one-tab browser, and you can just browse whatever you want, you hit on, throw it away and you have a new screen and that's like how you work. And so then you don't have like all the advertisements and all the things, all trackers are built in and stuff like that. So Firefox is really doing a great job in the mobile landscape as well. And that's also why I like them. And as in how I stay private online well, first of all, you can't, so it's a lie if people say you can. But you can try to keep yourself more private or more secure. For example, if I work like in a coffee place, I will use a VPN just because the coffee place cannot read my data. Yeah, service provides somewhere can, of course, because I’m hosting my server somewhere. So it's not like a privacy issue. It's more like a security issue, I would say. And on the web, it's very important to have like all those ad blockers and it https everywhere. There's an extension that converts http addresses to https. And I think that's one of the most important things you can do. And also privacy wise, you can give the data that you want, right. So you can agree to use iCloud or not. Or you can use your real name, or you can use like a burner email address. Like I’m big fan of onlineservice service, it's called www.burnermaill.io. And they have like this very simple product. It's just like, you have your own domain name and you can put every email address in there you want, and then you get those emails forwarded to your main inbox. So you have some kind of filter mechanism, but you still have like, yeah, it's kind of like spam filter on steroids. Which is great and all those kinds of tools like together, I think they will make your life a little bit more privacy friendly, but like, to a certain extent. Like your IP address, the VPN still ends up somewhere. There's always some other side of the corn that always happens with using certain tools.
Artem: Yeah. And I think you said it really, really well when you said, it's really all about the default. I mean, like you're a technical guy and you can install https everywhere. You can install ad blocker, even though those are not very hard, but then VPN, using VPN, then using like burner emails. So that traditional grandma, that will be like rocket science. She's like burner email. I'm not selling weed, bro. I just want to see my daughter's pictures and there is a check box, do you agree? And she agrees to everything and god bless her soul, it's not her fault that she is not going to read 45 pages, privacy document that basically outlines that, hey, we can track you, we can do this and this and this, and we don't have to tell you much. So I think it's definitely about the defaults and I think it would be awesome if browsers like fire fox had, these are when you first opened the browser and there was a dedicated space for privacy and it asked the customer, hey, like how important privacy to you is. And here are some defaults I suggest for you. And then maybe it could enable certain features. So for example, if you're very privacy conscious, maybe block third party cookies, maybe block trackers, set do not track. So I think, changing the defaults, I think that has the biggest impact maybe, and that people vote with their money. Right. If they use Firefox and Firefox is number one, google will be like, okay, well we'll have to do something about our privacy as well.
Adrian: Yeah. And I also think like funny way to measure if a browser is privacy friendly is getting the numbers behind its revenue from the browser. So I think a few months ago there were some new numbers about like ads on different browsers and the ads in safari declined in price quite a bit. Because safari is getting more privacy friendly and more stricter on their cookies on third party domains by default, which is great because then you can actually measure like, oh, expertise, don't really like this browser anymore because they cannot target their audience that well anymore. And yeah that's quite a funny way to see if a browser, I’m not sure it's probably not accurate, but it's funny way to see if your browser is a little bit biased.
Artem: There is some correlation. I think that's very interesting. I never thought about it, but yeah. And maybe in some browsers it's easier to install ad blocks and in some browsers, maybe it's a bit harder, but yeah, that's actually pretty interesting, very good point. One thing that I wanted to talk to you about is obviously you being very open with your financials, here in Finland, we're very open about our financials as well. You can walk to the tax office and you can ask how much the president makes and you will receive his tax return and you can go to a tax office and ask how much a company makes and see their financial information. But many startup founders, they aim for the great success for that gazillion dollars that will someday just drop from the sky and bless their life with luxury. But you are bootstrapping obviously, you're not looking for investors. You will not accept, somebodies money and will give away 50% of your company. Cause I kind of feel your business is your lifestyle, your livelihood, and also a way for you to make your mark on the world in a way, that makes sense for you. But why are you open with your financials? And since you are open about your financials can you tell me how much you make currently and what attributed to the growth?
Adrian: Yeah. So first why I’m open about financials? It has like, I think two main reasons or three reasons I would say. One reason is if you want to build trust, you need to have some transparency on how you work, maybe on things that other companies are not transparent on. And for me that was important. So I also saw like a result or examples of other companies doing that. I was like, hey, that's cool. So you share your data in an open way with a lot of people. So it was also just cool to do something like that. And it's also great because if you share your data open, it works marketing wise as well. So people start talking about it, you can talk about it to others. I do this monthly update with update on the numbers, things that I did last month, new features and stuff like that. So then you have all of a sudden content you can share with others, which is also definitely a part of why I do it. And what was your second question?
Artem: How much do you earn now and what contributed to that? If you want to share the screen, you can do that as well in zoom. Or if you just want to tell the numbers, I’m not that much interested in, are you rich or not? Cause I know you are still scaling up and all that, I’m not really, like, I just, I am interested what you were able to achieve bootstrapping, and what kind of things attribute it to that growth. Because I think that's the most interesting. I'm almost sure how-to percent that you will be very profitable. And if you continue down this path, there is obviously a demand for your product. But I’m really interested in about you not wanting to take any money and doing everything out of your own pockets. So what you were able to achieve is really interesting.
Adrian: Yeah. So I started the open page, I think from the beginning or almost the beginning, but I didn't add my profit to it from the beginning. So in October 2019, I started adding the profit to it, but not only the profit, but also like, what is the hosting, what are the services, what are the freelancers costing and stuff like that. So then you have like on the slash open page on simple analytics, you have this chart basically with like all those information per month. So every month I will update it and then people can see like, oh, you are paying a lot for freelancing now. And you have more customers coming in or less customers coming in. So people can actually ask you questions about it. There's actually, yeah, I liked it about having a business because then you can also learn from others and you can also show others like, oh, this dude from the Netherlands, he just built his company and it works, like he makes profit with it. So it's also a little bit for inspiration to others, like really believe in sharing your knowledge or sharing your information to help others. And at the moment I have like 471 paying customers. And I started with the launch date, it was like 30. So this is like already a number where like, I would never have believed that I would have this number this time. So it was, yeah, it was super exciting to see that number grow. And also like, it never stops really growing. So it's always had like a very sustainable growth which I also like really like, because then you don't have like all the issues with that you would need to think about like, oh, if everybody, if there's like a whole new group from a certain, I don't know sorts of, yeah, that they won't like certain feature set. And if they would start, like in the beginning of my company, I would maybe I know changed something for them and then wouldn't be great for the others. And now I build it like quite slowly. And that makes it also way better than you think about what you're going to do. What are you going to add, how are you going to do things? So that's also what I like about like this kind of growth. And what contributes the most, I think is, yeah, it's very lame to say, but it's like being out there, like sharing your content, sharing what you're doing, let people know that you're doing what you're doing and why you're doing it. And also like certain like growth hacks, like, I don't really like the term growth hacker.
Artem: But it's popular.
Adrian: It is popular, but like, it feels like you're, I don't know, you're tricking people into selling something and that's what I don't like about it. So, but you have so like, within simple analytics, we have like the feature we had from the start where people can make their dashboard public. So then everyone can visit your dashboard if you link it somewhere or you can tweet about it and people can actually go through your dashboard.
Artem: So that's a growth hack.
Adrian: That's basically a growth.
Artem: I guess let's say growth hacking if we consider it a bit now, now then I guess it wasn't effective marketing strategy, to kind of loop back, like link back to your product and say like, hey, like you can see this dashboard, people see the dashboard, but they're like, oh, cool, what was used to make this dashboard? And there somewhere in the bottom, you have powered by simple analytics that brings you a lot more visibility. Maybe it brings you a little bit of link juice, stuff like that.
Adrian: Yeah. And also like people can embed the graph also on their own website. So it's easy to get your data on your own open page for example. Which is also that contributes to the same things as people getting back to the platform. And also, it's also important that to notice that like, if people do that also reward them for it. So what we did is, you have this affiliate program, so people can just like create their own affiliate link. And then if people go through their link and they will get like a month for free and the customer itself he'll get like a month off reward. So it just in us dollars. And then also like if they share their public page, people don't know about if they have a referral link or not. So what we do is like, we replace, like the sign-up button we have on the open page for those customers, if there are referral links so that people can actually get money for it.
Artem: They're motivated to share it. And you kind of reward them for that.
Adrian: Yeah. Yeah. So it works a little bit of both ways and those things contribute to growth. But I think what works like short term blocking works very well. But now we also see like a lot of traffic comes through google. So that's a big source for us. But yeah, it's like a huge combination of all different things.
Artem: Yeah. So I obviously heard about you the first time when I read the interview in indie hackers, even though I sent you an email that you considered very impersonal, which was really funny. Cause I actually, and I don't mind at all. It was wonderful. It's just that, I actually researched your company and then I sent you an email and you're like, well, that's not personally and it was true because I used the template in Gmail and I was like, damn Artem, you spend all this time and now it's always that so I’m really glad you actually replied and said like, hey, what's up.
Adrian: Your second email was great. Like, it was great.
Artem: I took the time and actually learned about the company. But for me personally, it was really interesting what kind of spoke to me in a way, is that in the interview that you had you mentioned like many different things that you did. Like product hunt you launched on product hunt. You talked about hacker news. Being there for like, I think nine hours you mentioned. That's all great. I also read about you having a free account, like free version of the product and you scrape that pretty quick.
Adrian: Yeah. I chickened out.
Artem: Yeah, you chickened out. But again I think maybe for a good reason. I think nowadays kind of everybody is premium. So I think it makes a lot more sense when you actually have a free maybe trial to a paid version. I think maybe that makes sense. When person has already inserted his credentials into stripe, and then you offer him like a seven-day trial so he can see how it works and then make a decision to stay or not. But again, you've tried many things, but what is interesting to me is that your product is so easy to market, so easy to market, but maybe it will go against your philosophy. If you go to, for example, ad words or in Facebook marketing and you just choose, people who like google analytics and then just target those and say like, hey, why not stop giving your data to the big guys? Why not, take ownership of your data. So have you considered paid advertising or using tools which utilize profiling is kind of against your, I guess moral compass, would it be?
Adrian: Yeah, that's an interesting question. I thought about it, especially in the beginning. I'm still happy I didn't do it. Like, I don't really like paid advertising. Because it contributes to this whole, I don't know... So it would feel wrong to like at the same time, say like, tracking is bad and in the same time also using it.
Artem: Then your monthly report, it will say like AdWords costs, like 4,000 euro and people would be like, come on, dude.
Adrian: Yeah. So I have tested it on the go because that's the one search engine that doesn't track you. And also their ads are just surfed based on keywords that you type in. So it's not like privacy invasive, so I have tested it and that didn't really work. Like I didn't get like a lot of customers through that. So I stopped doing that and focus more on like the long-term investments as in like, get your name out there in SEO wise as well. And then you'll get organic traffic, which is free and way better because people like organic traffic more than the crap on top.
Artem: Yeah. It converts the best. I mean, it converts probably the best. If somebody finds you through a blog post about privacy and then they're like, okay, this guy is obviously, or this company is obviously like a thought leader in a way, maybe in privacy. So let's see what they got and so forth and they are a lot more trustworthy. But going back to your financials, what is your revenue now, if you don't mind me asking since it's all, public anyway.
Adrian: Yeah. It's all public. So I’m just reading it from the screen. So the yearly recurring revenue is or annual is 80k in the moment. And then divide that by 12 and you get a monthly of 6.7 k per month.
Artem: Yeah. So if you think about it, to what point do you need to get money-wise? So I wouldn't, again, I hate the whole idea of, creating unicorns and, having a billion-dollar company, I, myself don't even identify with that. I kind of feel it's stressful and it's just after a certain point, money-wise, what another million going to do to you. But I think a lot of people are like, you, they just want to do what they love with people that they care about and make enough money so that they can support their dreams, their ambitions, can give a little bit to charity and support kids and stuff basically. And I think you kind of fall into that camp, right. I mean, if your product will be a huge success, you will not be against it, but at what point would you be happy like money-wise, at what point you will be like, okay, I can take a breather and maybe go on a holiday?
Adrian: Yeah, I can already basically. Because I’m happy with the revenue I get now. The only thing is that I pay quite some of it to my freelance web developer. And I also care about our long-term relationships. So I love to keep him on board for a long time. So what would happen with more revenue is that he can work more days and I can work less. What I’m doing now is, I’m working now two days a week on simple analytics. Because I have some freelance project at the moment which I also work two days on. I've got still one day of free time and then the weekends, of course. And when I started doing that like a few weeks ago, it felt so great to just like have time off and stop working, stop thinking about your business. Because if you're working only on your own business, you just get like, your head is just like half is your business and half is maybe the rest of it. That's not a healthy mind. So even, yeah, after this freelance project is done, I will not go, I’m not going to work like five days a week. I will work three days a week because my customers don't really know the difference. Like I’m still building features. My developer is still building features. I'm still focusing on marketing, why not do it in three days. Like, it is this possible, right? You have your own business. You have all the freedom you'll have. So I’d rather work three days and getting this next million on my bank account.
Artem: That's actually wonderful. For me personally, I also have an ecommerce business, and I try to grow passive streams of income where I will be able to choose how much I work, because I guess you're also a person who wouldn't want to just chill seven days a week. You still want to stimulate your mind, right?
Adrian: Oh yeah. For sure.
Artem: Read, maybe, write blogs, and solve challenges that you have technical or otherwise. But at some point, I don't know how old you are, and I don't know if I can ask you, but how old are you?
Artem: 31. Oh my god, I’m so much older than you.
Adrian: How old are you?
Artem: I'm I think 36 or 37, I’m not sure. Because I always tell my wife, there was a funny story. I actually told my wife that I’m so old and I said to her that I’m 36. And she said that, no, no, no, you're actually 35. And I’m like, no, no, no, I’m 36. And then she showed me, and, made me believe that I’m 35. At that point, I felt like, whoa, I got an extra year. Like I can do all this stuff. There is so much opportunity for undone work. But anyway, yeah so for me personally, I guess the balance work and life balance is so important, especially when get away from twenties, and you start relationships and you get to meet awesome people, you get to travel, see friends and you realize, wow! For me, I think it's not like for example, with already like 3,000, 4,000 euros, even if you live in Europe, you can live a modest but good life and if you work two, three days a week, you most likely will be overall happier compared to somebody who, for example, works seven days a week, gets like 20 million, but then always running, always stressing. So it's really good to see that you are, but again, let's say if your turnover or revenue monthly will be like let's say 20k, 30k, maybe you will have some staff working for you, maybe support person, a developer full time. And maybe you will devote more time to kind of like privacy, advocacy and research and maybe, take on like, do you want to take on maybe another challenge or is simple analytics your only thing for foreseeable future?
Adrian: Well I wish, I’ve plenty of ideas in the privacy landscape. So there's so much to do. There are so many areas that are not covered with privacy friendly tools. So I’m definitely going to do that at some point. Like I don't know when, maybe in a few months, maybe in two years. So I’m definitely working on something like that as well. But yeah, also funny about your age though, I had also for one year that I said it wrong. So I know how you feel.
Artem: Yeah, yeah. But your number is not as scary as mine. Well, I guess mine is...
Adrian: It is five years difference.
Artem: Yeah, but if you think about it, also what I wanted to ask you and we're finishing up, it's been a really, really good hour, one of my favorite interviews, but like, how are you planning to scale? What I’m just thinking that as a programmer, I guess, want to be programmer nowadays, a little bit of python here and there. It doesn't maybe count.
Adrian: It counts.
Artem: Yeah. Okay. Thank you. Thank you. I feel better now, but anyway so what I’m trying to say is that the more views you will have, the more people will use your software, you will have to have more capacity. So are you keep on new technologies, like lambda and serverless, technologies that, for example, amazon offers, or are you like old school in terms of infrastructure? Cause I think one of the very important parts of your software is the data center, right? Because even if you say that we don't sell, but if there is like DMC take down or if there is some infringement, whatever, I don't know. And you know, cops walk in and grab the server, there is no much you can do.
Adrian: If they do it, then they're pretty stupid because the servers are encrypted.
Artem: You do encrypt your data.
Adrian: Yeah. So the servers are encrypted as long as they are running, I mean they're unencrypted of course. So if the cops come in, they should keep the servers running and then they can maybe, get some data out of the memory, I think. There are even companies that are like gluing, like the memory to the motherboards and stuff like that to prevent this kind of behavior, but there's like, yeah, it's kind of, there are some limits on what you can do. Like I cannot walk into the data center and do something like that. But I can like get my own server. So I have like bare metal servers fully encrypted. Leaseweb in the Netherlands.
Artem: Okay. I am familiar with Leaseweb, they're pretty good and pretty affordable, right?
Adrian: Yeah. Like they're not super cheap, but they're like affordable indeed. And their service is pretty great. Like I had some issues with it, and they were yeah, pretty fast with responding and technical help. So that was important for me. I also had like my service in Iceland, I would not recommend it to other companies that want to be privacy friendly. Because it's, the servers there were not like as up to date as the servers here. And also, the companies were not that big. So I was hosted, or I hosted with the biggest company in Iceland. And they still were running hard drives and stuff like that instead of SSDs. So it was just like, yeah, I’m not going to going to stay here. And I also asked my customers, you want to vote on if you are okay, if we move our servers out of Iceland and move them back to the Netherlands and they all said, yes, they are just fine and go for it. Because that's very important to us like where is the data, where is it hosted, who has access to it? So that's also why we ask our customers about it. And yeah, we were very happy with Leaseweb. And one thing to say about like using the latest technology and stuff, I’m personally a big fan of using stuff that's out there for some time. So for example, nodes we use like the long-term surface versions, same for ubuntu and stuff like that. And also little bit programming wise, we don't want the latest, newest hippest reacts or stuff like that. We use like few now a little bit here and there. But we don't really care about like, what is like hot right now. We care more about like, what will bring or help us further. Like for example we were running into issues with postgres a little bit for our analytics. So now we're working on an elastic search engine that will have the data way faster than we had before and before it wasn't needed. Like we didn't have like this relationship between like certain elements of our analytics. And now we have, and now we want to add it to our dashboard. So now we are going to do it, but we were already around for like one and a half year. So I think it's great for developers that are going to start something and work on something or building a company, use the tools that you know, and then see if you get traction, if you get traction great, then you can do whatever you want, but start with what you know, otherwise you will probably not finish your project at all.
Adrian: Yeah, thanks for having me. I really liked the conversation. You had great questions. And I started to think about like, yeah about, for example, a book list for do not track companies and stuff like that. Yeah, I will do some of that as well, so thanks also for your good questions.
Artem: Thank you very much. And one thing, if I would do, if I were you, as a marketer, I think like a podcast about privacy on the web, that could be really cool. That could be really cool. Because people who are interested in it, you could get a lot of back links, from iTunes, from google directory and like in general, like what's happening, and the field is changing so quickly. There is always something going on. There is something to talk about and since you're already invested in the field and you're motivated, I think you'll be a good person to have something like that. So it's maybe something to consider as your next growth hack. All right. Thank you very much again Adrian. It's been a blast. Thank you.