Offering Businesses Analytics—and Transparency
If he had to sum it up, Baremetrics founder Josh Pigford says his company’s underlying mission is to help businesses grow. And selling them the Baremetrics subscription analytics platform is just the beginning.
“It’s also about really great customer service,” says Pigford, “whether that’s teaching them how to grow their business, or having phone calls so we can talk through their data. There’s a lot more to a business than just numbers. The more that we can help people make sense of data and what their customers are doing, we kind of feel like we’re doing our job.”
In doing so, they share the lessons Pigford has learned along the way as he built Baremetrics up from a one-man shop in 2013. From documenting the company’s ups and downs on its Founder’s Journey blog to making its own Baremetrics dashboard public, Pigford is committed to transparency.
“Building a business can be really, really lonely, even if you’ve got cofounders,” he says. “There’s still this element of, ‘Our business is doing this. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I have no idea.’” By showing his company’s dashboard—as well as dashboards from a dozen customers that have opted in—he adds, “we can show some insight into another business and demystify some of that stuff.”
A Gap in the Market
Pigford was running a couple of SaaS companies in 2013 when he decided he needed some insights into subscription analytics, like recurring revenue and lifetime value churn. “There wasn’t really anything out there that didn’t require a spreadsheet; it was lots of manually updating and inputting things,” he says. “Or they were just more generic analytics platforms which weren’t really geared towards the more complex calculations that are needed to do a lot of SaaS metrics.”
So he built something for himself to use with his SaaS products, and when he told some friends who were also running companies, they immediately expressed interest in trying it out for themselves. “I decided to throw it out there to see what would happen,” says Pigford, “and it kind of took off. Within six months of launching Baremetrics, I sold off the other companies just because Baremetrics was clearly doing better.”
During those first months, “it was just me doing 100% of everything, design, development, customer support, the whole bit. I know enough engineering to break stuff a lot,” says Pigford with a laugh. “So the first hire [six months in] was an engineer.” By the end of 2014, the company had grown to 6 people, and today there are 8 on staff located all around the world.
When the Baremetrics product was initially built, Pigford used Heroku, which was enough to just get something out the door. But from a cost perspective, it was not a long-term solution. “We were doing this process-intensive stuff, lots of background jobs,” he says. “You need a lot of power, but Heroku’s not built for that without being really expensive.”
Next, they moved to managing their own infrastructure on AWS. Since they didn’t have the luxury of employing full-time system and database administrators, they turned to Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS) for Postgres. But before long, says Baremetrics engineer Scott Robertson, “We basically maxed out what we could do with them. We couldn’t do much more without rewriting a lot of the app to get more performance out of it, which we just didn’t have time to do then.”
The cost was also becoming prohibitive. “We were paying for a huge amount of storage space that we weren’t using,” says Robertson, “because you had to use more storage space to get more performance because of the tiered pricing.”
All the ram that Packet provides is amazing and unbeatable anywhere else. You just can’t match the pricing for that. We managed to get way more than twice the performance for less than half the money.
As the startup grew, so did the code. “We had to focus on adding features that customers wanted and growing the company,” says Robertson. “We just had no choice but to do that. But then it reached a point when we couldn’t keep throwing money at it, and it wasn’t stable either. We had a lot of down time.”
Baremetrics needed a new solution, and the team found it with Packet, which was a provider on the Cloud 66 service that they were already using to deploy on AWS. “We knew that moving over would be quite easy for us,” says Robertson. “In terms of managing everything, it would be exactly the same. Nothing would change for us apart from how we manage the database.”
Baremetrics brought in Database Labs to help manage the migration from RDS, a completely managed database, over to self-managing everything on Packet. The move was made last year with no down time.
Less Down Time, More Features
And since then, the benefits have been clear. “Packet simplified things,” says Pigford. “It gave us the power we needed without needing to have somebody full-time managing servers on our team.”
Plus, Robertson points out: “All the ram that Packet provides is amazing and unbeatable anywhere else. You just can’t match the pricing for that. We managed to get way more than twice the performance for less than half the money. And that’s including us paying Database Labs for managing the whole system for us, which allowed us to scale a huge amount more. In terms of data processing and data storage, we’ve way more than doubled in the last year—which we just wouldn’t have been able to do on AWS.”
For the Baremetrics engineers, it has been like night and day. “Leading up to us deciding to move to Packet, we had days on end when we’d be up all night and just crazy,” says Robertson. “It was a very painful time. Now things are running a lot more smoothly. It allowed us to focus a bit more on making the code better, making the database queries better, which in turn helped a lot as well. So it gave us a lot of breathing space.”
With that breathing space, the company decided to launch a complete rewrite of the back end of the code—something they had wanted to do for a long time. Part of it was about moving away from Postgres, but the main purpose was to expand its metrics beyond the payment provider Stripe, and to become a platform-agnostic system that could integrate with Braintree, Chargify and others, too.
“We just hadn’t been able to do it because we were focusing on infrastructure so much and dealing with downtime,” says Robertson. “But once we’d moved over to Packet, it allowed us to focus on doing that. It was huge. It allowed us to expand into a lot more markets and bring on a lot more customers.”
And those customers are feeling the impact of these changes too. Along with more reliable service and less down time, they are benefitting from Baremetrics’s new Packet-enabled ability to process and update metrics on dashboards every half hour, instead of once a day.
Now that the company has the infrastructure it needs in place, Pigford is looking ahead to how else he can expand on his mission of helping businesses grow. Already Baremetrics has taken off in interesting, and perhaps unexpected, directions. “It made sense when we would see other SaaS companies sign up,” says Pigford. “When we see non-software companies sign up—like gyms or coworking spaces—that’s super interesting. It’s fun getting a feel for different types of businesses.”