Building a $1M ARR startup through Content
Researching this case study was a pleasure. It's proof that growth doesn't have to be complicated. Master the fundamentals, and you'll go far.
Let's dive into it.
Plausible is an open-source alternative to Google Analytics. You can track how many visitors you get, where they're coming from, and what events they're triggering in a privacy-friendly, GDPR-compliant way.
You can see the product in action on Growth Tips public dashboard.
How did they get their first 1,000 users?
I have to admit: it wasn't an easy ride for Plausible.
But it rarely is for any startup. Specially a bootstrapped one.
It took almost a year to get their first $400 MRR. But a year after that, they reached $10,000 MRR. And two years after that, they reached the almighty $1,000,000 ARR mark. It wasn't linear, at all.
They did four main activities to get started:
- Building in Public: this got them their first Beta users. Posting on Indie Hackers helped find some very early adopters who were willing to test out the product.
- Positioning update: after growth from building in public slowed down, they picked a fight against Google to gain attention. They were now the privacy-friendly alternative to Google Analytics.
- Content: and with this new positioning they took the opportunity to grow using viral content. Article after article, they gained tens of thousands of visitors on their website.
It was a very slow start, but thanks to the nature of their niche they managed to grow steadily after that. More on that below.
How did they scale after that?
While researching Plausible, I detected a nice growth loop. It goes like this:
Let's break down each step:
Content on Hacker News
They got several hit pieces here. When sometimes goes viral here it also gets picked up by other blogs and is talked about on social. They got several articles with more than 10,000 unique visitors reading them. In fact, if you look at their public stats you can see that Hacker News was their third biggest acquisition channel.
The content they posted was always about privacy, open-source projects, how bad Google was, and making a living with their own projects. This is important. Content only goes viral on a platform if it's relevant for said platform. Hacker News is the meeting point for developers and super nerdy tech people, and this is precisely the kind of content they enjoy reading.
These visits turned into signups, subscriptions, and brand awareness.
Conquering their niche
This ignition meant that they got talked about inside their niche: developers and website owners concerned about their privacy. While you might not have heard Plausible, these people have because they're part of the niche. Source: that's why I signed up!
This brand awareness and word of mouth lead to more signups. These signups turned into happy customers, which in turn led to more brand awareness. And with each ignition - each viral Hacker News article - they got more people into their growth loop.
There isn't a fancy growth model. It's simple and it works. This is what happens when you know your audience extremely well.
Besides acquisition, what else do they do to grow?
There were several other activities that helped them reach the one million milestone. Growth doesn't come from one single magical channel that fixes all your issues - it's a great acquisition channel combined with several other pieces often deemed irrelevant.
They're in a privacy-first market. Their users are extremely concern about their data privacy and safety. Highlighting they're open source is the way to prove they're trustworthy. Even if you don't check the code yourself, just declaring that puts you miles ahead in this market.
Great customer support
This was especially powerful because Google is notorious for having shitty customer support. They answer requests on time and with a personal touch. There isn't a dedicated support person, meaning when you have a support request you're talking directly with someone who built the product.
Backlinks and Powered By Marketing
This helped them rank higher on Google and thus get organic traffic. They have an excellent domain rating. Among their backlinks you can find Reddit, Wikipedia, and many of the projects they run analytics for. For each new user they have, they gain the chance to get a powerful backlink and referral traffic from that website.
This was a tricky field. Google Analytics is free. Their competitors where expensive. The market is not used to pay for website analytics. Where's the sweet spot?
They followed the right strategy for setting your pricing mechanism: they identified their value metric - pageviews - and priced according to that.
They don't have a free plan, but you do get a 30-day trial. After that, plans start at 9€/month. For a small business owner or a hobbyist this is extremely affordable. The barrier to entry was low, but price scales as you grow.
Plausible is a great example of how uncomplicated a growth model can be.
When you deal with a well defined niche, and you know it like the palm of your hand, you can speak in their language and quickly become known. Startups often forget that a niche doesn't have to be small. They're often large enough to fuel your company and make it sustainable.
Find your niche and learn how it thinks. Become part of it and watch has more and more people talk about you.