Deep Dive

Building the alternative to Google Analytics

Published on
September 22, 2023
Contributors:
Matthew Gira
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One July 1st, 2023, Google Analytics made a significant shift. No more Universal Analytics. Anyone using Google Analytics had to switch to a similar, but also different product by Google: Google Analytics 4.

That caused a lot of founders to look around for other solutions this past summer and one of those solutions was Fathom Analytics.

For me personally, it was a little odd using a Fathom product given that my last startup’s name was also Fathom, but this Fathom is a much better product 🤪

Fathom Analytics is a small company led by Paul Jarvis, who wrote the book, Company of One. Fathom has never raised any capital and as Paul puts it, has revenue between “a million and a billion”.

I had the opportunity to chat with Paul for 30 minutes and deep dive into how Fathom Analytics started, how it’s grown, and why it exists.

Want $10 off to try Fathom Analytics? Use this link!

Here’s my deep dive conversation with Paul Jarvis, the co-founder of Fathom Analytics:

Note: These answers from Paul are cleaned up from the interview, so they’re not exact quotes per se. This is cleaned up so you can read it easily! Also, some links are affiliate links and I do receive some credit if you sign up or purchase anything.

What were you doing before Fathom Analytics?

I've been an entrepreneur for 25 years, so I've always been kind of doing things for myself. Before Fathom I was writing books podcasting and designing, I've always just done things for myself since the jump.

It's always just been me doing work for other people or me. It started with me doing work for other companies. Where I was doing design consulting, and then I transitioned from that to writing books and courses and podcasting.

It was kind of me doing stuff for a higher volume of people, basically. I was always making websites. That's kind of the common thread. I made a lot of websites.

What made you start Fathom Analytics?

How Fathom came about was my default stack, which is a stack for basically all web designers, forever, was you set up a server, you install, you like write some code or get some code, and then you put Google Analytics on it and...

Google Analytics sucks. I don't remember how I had this idea, but it's just like I installed it and I was just like, oh, I wish I didn't have to install this. It just sucks. Like it's bloated. It's shitty software. It is basically from a company that has no problems invading privacy of the entire internet and giving something away for free when it's not really free because we're paying with our data instead of our money.

It was just frustration. Like one day I was just frustrated. And I was like, why isn't there just like a simple analytics solution? Like there, there was a long time ago, something called Mint. Shaun Inman created it, and this was before SaaS.

I basically wanted a one page of analytics because I don't even care that, like I care enough about analytics that I need to know what the stats are, but I don't care enough to look into a thousand reports or build all of these custom. Like I'm not a, I'm not a data analytics person, I'm a designer and a writer.

How did you get your first traction with Fathom Analytics?

I just opened up Photoshop 'cause that's what designers used at the time. This is back a few years. I designed what I thought an analytics product should look like and at the time I had a pretty big audience on Twitter and a newsletter. I just shared it was and was like, “wouldn't it be cool if analytics look like this?”

It was just kind of like a throwaway tweet, oh, whatever. I want this. Maybe somebody's just gonna go and make this. Then that tweet went viral and everybody wanted it, and there was like the 🍟, take my money. And I guess if nobody's going to make this, I can begrudgingly make this.

That's kind of how it all started. I didn't want to start an analytics company nor have an analytics product. But just from a single tweet, it seemed like the market also felt the same way that I did about Google Analytics.

What was the main driver for actually building Fathom Analytics? You wanting this to exist or the fact that people were saying “take my money” on Twitter for this?

It was both. It has to be both, right? For a business to work long term because I have lots of things that I'm super interested in that nobody's going to give me money for, that are great hobbies. I do them all day every day when I'm not working.

For business to work, it has to be more than just an itch that you're scratching or a need that you have. And I wouldn't start something unless I was certain that other people wanted the same thing or felt the same way or had the same pain or that sort of thing. So honestly, it was kind like, it was like a 50/50.

I couldn't pick one. It was both.

What were the first few steps of starting Fathom after all of the interest from potential customers?

At the same time I had a pretty popular newsletter that I would send out weekly emails to and that's where I launched products. That was where the initial push for Fathom to kind of grow started from. I just shared what I'm working on with my mailing list.

Because I'm not a good developer, I had to find a developer partner who at the time wasn't Jack (now co-founder). Jack came on I think about a year into it, I basically started Fathom with a developer.

We built an open source version first. 'Cause I still was like, I don't know if this is a business, like people just want this thing, let's build it. I'm busy doing other things. This is before I released my last book, which took up like a lot of my life and time. And so it was just like, let's just make this little thing, throw it out, forget about it, be done with it.

I think it got downloaded over a million times. It was good for nerds who knew how to run and set up servers, but it was not good for people who just wanted the software, right? So it again, begrudgingly it was like, okay, I guess this should be a business because we're getting more people who want to pay us for the hosted version of it.

We weren't getting issues on the GitHub repo. We were getting more people like. "Hey, like, how can I just have this running for me?"

What levers or methods of growth have you used from the early days until now? How has Fathom Analytics grown?

Slowly... I don't remember the exact timeframe, but I think it took the same amount of time to go from $0K to $10K MRR as it did to go from $10K to a $100K MRR and that's a that's a big difference, right? But it feels like it was the same amount of time.

And this happened a while back, so I don't know if I'm remembering it correctly, but like to go to the first $100K, a lot of that was compounding, right? So in 10 months we would make a $100K but at the same time, our churn is very low.

Once we get a customer, we tend to not lose them. Which is something that I really focus on in the business is we don't want to just keep getting new customers. We wanna keep the customer like equally important or possibly more important because it's cheaper to keep the customers we have by having good software, good support being, like being available to folks and that sort of thing.

But I think as far as like the mechanics of getting to there, a lot of it was my audience in the beginning. I killed off my internet presence several years into it. So, I used to be online, I used to have Twitter and an email list and a personal brand and all of that.

I killed all of that off, but at the time, in the beginning, that really did give people exposure to the brand and to the product. And then once Jack came on board, he's a hype machine, so he's really good at using Twitter. He's really good at making connections with people.

Just getting involved in the things that we get involved with. We sponsor podcasts sometimes, he's spoken at conferences and we're just like, we're really passionate about the tech stack that we use. So like in the Laravel world, everybody uses Fathom, or almost everybody uses Fathom, right?

Because like we know these people. We built relationships with these people. We use their software, they use our software, and there's like little pockets and niches of that where it's hard to go out and say oh, I want to promote my product to the internet. Like how do you do that?

I don't know how to do that. But I know how to if you parse it down small enough, I know how to interact and engage with a small group of people and see what they want, what they like, what they don't like, and listen. So in the beginning that was the main thing.

We also have an affiliate program which does pretty well. We built that I think probably about a year and a half into Fathom. We pay commissions for life. So if somebody signs up with your affiliate program code, then as long as they're a customer, we pay you every single month.

That's been really helpful to be honest, because people love to talk about Fathom anyways, so giving them a little financial incentive there has been pretty awesome.

Would you describe your growth methods as methodical or random? Why grow Fathom Analytics the way you do?

We don't need to have insane growth numbers to be successful, right? We've grown at a steady pace and we've never had a negative growth month, but it's never been crazy rocket ship to the moon kind of thing.

It's just been slow and steady and I guess we are pretty systematic and methodical in the way that we do it because we are always taking care of our existing customers. Number one, if we always do that then we're not gonna have high churn. That's just the way that it goes.

People are happy with their product once they sign up, so they tend to stick around. Our product becomes more valuable the longer you use it. So, when thinking about starting a business, thinking about that I think is really helpful because analytics for one day isn't that useful, right?

But analytics for 10 years, super useful. The more somebody stays a customer, the more value they get out of the product because they're able to see the trends in their data.

The way that we market is education and features. So constantly, we're always trying to educate people. We're always working on our documentation. Our documentation on our website probably gets more updates than anything else on our site because we're always looking at what's going on in support.

We have full-time support and they're always telling us, “this is where people are struggling, this is what can be improved”. The support section is pretty lively. Also just try to take care of customers. If a customer has a problem with something, like we're gonna try to fix it.

We don't have to get like our answered number of tickets down to this number of minutes. If a customer has a problem, help 'em fix it. When that's done, there's another ticket. So that's kind of the constant is we were always been very customer focused because they're basically our investors. 'Cause we don't have any like institutional investors.

The other thing is where we can kind of ratchet growth up is when we have big features, right? So like we launched the Google Analytics importer this summer. That was probably three or four weeks of our highest growth since we started the company.

And we knew that was gonna happen because we knew, because we listened to our customers, that was the thing that everybody wanted because Google killed off Universal Analytics for some reason, because they hate small businesses, and Google Analytics 4 is just horrible. They didn't wanna lose all of that historical data and they didn't wanna use Google Analytics 4, so we're like, we can help with that.

Google didn't build a way to import your data from Universal Analytics to Google Analytics 4, and we're like, we can do that. We did that. If we wanna ratchet up our growth, it's okay, let's build and release some features, right?

And then we know those features are gonna do well because we hear from our customers easily a thousand people ask us for a Google Analytics importer. It was easy for us to know. We didn't know, it would increase our revenue by X amount, but we knew there's going to be a net positive if we do this thing on this day, and then probably for a while after.

We didn't expect what happened to happen. We had billions of page views imported and the first couple days of launching that, I was just like, "Are we big data now?". This is so much data. Things like that we can kind of control our growth for that and it wouldn't make sense to grow super fast either, right? Because we're not a huge company. We're not just gonna go out and hire like 16 people tomorrow. So it wouldn't make sense for us to do something like that every week because then we would grow too fast. We're so slow with internal growth because we don't want things to just balloon out.

The easiest way to solve a lot of problems when your business is doing well is just to add more to the mix, right? Harder is to think, okay is adding more to the mix better? Sometimes it is 100%. Sometimes it's no, we could streamline support, we could upgrade documentation, we could make video documentation or just things like that, right?

We're always trying to think about what's the best way to do this thing better given that things are doing well for us.

Fast forward a bit to today, how much revenue are you making?

It's between a million and a billion. I don't know what value knowing somebody else's revenue serves other than like entrepreneurial porn, which I mean, I'll listen to that kind of stuff.

We're not public with our revenue numbers because we don't feel like it matters and we don't feel like it benefits our customers. Like we are successful, we have thousands of customers. We've been doing this for I guess four or five years now.

To customers, they can trust that like we know what we're doing and we're not going anywhere. According to Jack on Twitter, I think we make $180 million a month or something. I don't know. He's always troll tweeting people our revenue.

What’s the impact that you hope Fathom Analytics has on the world?

That analytics doesn't have to suck. That's why Fathom exists. The part of that too though is something that I've been working on for my entire career is that I want people to understand the value of simplicity.

I want people to understand not that simple's easy because it's not. Things don't have to be complicated. A lot of times, especially in bigger companies, things get complicated because people need to justify a role that exists or people need to justify like the schooling that they have or that they're smart, but it doesn't have to be.

People can provide value without making things complicated. The second thing is that people should value digital privacy. And that if you're not paying for the product you should probably worry, especially when it's a billion dollar mega corporation giving you something for free.

Want $10 off to try Fathom Analytics? Use this link!

Key Takeaways from Fathom Analytics

1. It’s okay to not see the long vision at first

One of the words Paul used a few times was “begrudgingly” when he talked about the very beginnings of Fathom Analytics. It wasn’t this rosy and exciting start to Fathom Analytics for Paul. There was no grand vision. It was “Hi everyone, I have this annoying problem, do you have it too?”.

It ended up being that a lot of people said “Me too”. Today, even more people are saying “Me too” as Google Analytics 4 has been rolled out.

As you’re working on new ideas, it’s okay to just post “throwaway tweets”. Those tweets or posts might turn into something you least expect. As you listen to people in your communities, eventually you’re going to hear “Me too” to your posts.

2. You have control on how fast you want to grow…kind of

Paul and the Fathom Analytics team don’t want to grow fast. They don’t want the rocketship growth. They want steady, long term growth.

They don’t have to have hiring sprees and just because they’re growing, it doesn’t mean they have to pour gas on the fire.

In an interview with Justin Jackson, the founder of Transistor.fm, Paul talked about how it was more important to perfect what they have rather than build new features.

I loved that because it was customer centric. Make the experience great and as Paul talked about a bit in this interview, that has to help with customer churn. They’re making the features that customers use Fathom for even better rather than trying to expand their potential customer base all the time.

3. Simplicity is not easy, but needed

Building a business and making it simple is so hard. There’s so much feedback, so many different ideas, and a million different ways your product or service can impact your customers.

The reality is that we don’t have to solve every single problem for our customers. We only need to solve one or a few to really make it worth it for them. Stay true to solving those major problems and continue to solve the minor problems within that.

Most of the time, people don’t need that extra minor feature. They just need to simplify how they’re working or their own problem. That minor feature becomes a band-aid a lot of the time rather than the screw that truly solves the problem.

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