My name is Adriaan van Rossum. I never know how to pronounce it correctly in English, but I think this will do. My company is called Simple Analytics, it's basically Google Analytics, but privacy friendly. In these times, it's super important to care about privacy because a lot of businesses don't, so there's definitely a use here for businesses that do.
I started when I was 14 with programming. I think programming is a great skill if you want to build a SaaS product. I have been interested in privacy since I started programming due to how many things you can do; like you can read the clipboard in Internet Explore, a very old browser, maybe some people know them still, but I think it was Internet Explorer 6, you could read the clipboard of all your visitors online.
And then I felt this is bad. Technology is great, you can do so many things, but you can also read clipboards from people, and that's very privacy invasive. So that's where the starting point basically was for my interest in privacy. Since then I've been working for bosses, I've been having my own businesses. But when it really clicked was when I started working on Simple Analytics and I think that is because my expertise in development was linked together with my passion, which was privacy. So I think it's great to have a motivational force within your product that you can rely on because there are so many times in building a product that you don't really have motivation and it's great if you can get the motivation out of your own passion.
So what the job entails is so many things; it's doing your own sales, it's doing your own marketing strategy, it's building your product. You're building your product in code or no-code, whatever you prefer. And there's so many things that you don't know yet. There's always some kind of a thing that's outside of your comfort zone. For me, it's doing the sales and marketing. I think for a lot of founders that is the problem or the challenge. For a lot of other founders, it's getting the product out there, which is also very, very hard if you are detailed-oriented like me, for example.
So yeah, that's basically what I do. You have to do everything that's inside of your business and you have to make it fun if you don't enjoy it at that time. And usually, if something is difficult to do, you can always convert it to something that's a learning opportunity; like hey, I don't know how to do this yet, let's figure out how we can do this.
For example, at the moment, I'm focusing on sales and marketing way more than I was in the beginning. I was lucky that I got some exposure on Hacker News and stuff like that because I wrote some books, some articles. But I wasn't really approaching businesses and getting businesses into my subscriptions. And now I'm doing that way more, and with tools I developed myself and it's great to see that it works. So especially if something is hard for you and you can make it work, the reward of you're doing it finally and it works out, that's great.
Before Simple Analytics I was working at a business as a developer here in Amsterdam, and it was basically a nine to five job, but only three days a week. I never believed in working full-time. I also had the advantage of being a programmer so I could charge a little bit more and have a little bit more free time.
So I did that and I used those perks as well to travel around the world as I was allowed to work remotely. So I lived in Las Palmas for half a year. That was great. That was all possible within a business. It felt okay, but it also felt like I was missing something, like I wasn't getting to my full potential, I would say. I knew I needed to run my own business and start on something, but I was too comfortable in the situation I was in.
So then I realised, okay, I need to change this. So I quit my job, even before I had another business. And then I started working on my business and then all of a sudden, there was this urge to make this business successful because otherwise, you don't have income. So I worked very hard on Simple Analytics for two months and then launched it and that was how it started, basically. So I was just working for a boss as a front-end developer and working for them three days a week and that was it.
James: That's really cool that you ended up being able to travel while still working at a job that it would give you the time to start setting up for your own business, I guess, if you're only working three days a week. That's an ideal scenario to transition.
Adriaan: Yeah, but the funny part for me was that I didn't really start my own business because I was still feeling comfortable with the situation I was in, and I really started doing my business when all those perks were gone, like I didn't have any income anymore. And then I started working hard on my own business because I wanted to succeed, otherwise, I was always working on the side a little bit. I don't believe in side projects that much, but it's different for everybody, of course. But for me, it works to throw away your old shoes and then buy new ones very quickly.
James: You're right. There's no real incentive like not being able to afford food, is there? You really need to make it work then if you have no other income.
Adriaan: Yeah. Also, I don't have a family. I don't have responsibilities. So that's also something that should be taken into account, right? Not everybody can do that. I could do that because of that.
So when I left my previous role or job, I didn't have any idea what I was doing next. Actually, there's an important factor that I didn't tell you. I also had some freelance gigs as well. So I was starting working on those after my job, but those are limited, right? There's a limitation on amount of jobs you get. You can get more, but then you're in the same situation as comfort and then you don't work anymore on your own business.
So what I did, I remember I was working in Tenerife, also one of the Canary Islands. I was working there on a freelance gig and then I realised that I was implementing Google Analytics for some client and I was like, "This is bad." There's no real good alternative to implementing Google Analytics again. And I already developed a little bit of a thing against big data collection companies like Google and Google Analytics.
And then I realised, okay, let's change this. I had this freelance gig and then I also had like more of a feeling like, okay, now I have an idea. I can work it out. Now I can also still do freelance gig. And then I focused on Simple Analytics, but at the same time, I didn't know where to start. So I didn't know what to do, how to stay motivated, all those things. So I was looking for an online community as well and that's, I think, a very important factor. Having a community, build it out in the open worked for me very well. So you get some kind of public accountability to keep going and it worked very well.
So I think, for me, the feeling moving from that freelance gig to my own business, it was feeling like, okay, finally, I'm going to start it and I'm going to do it right. You never know if it's going to be right. The first company usually fails, but I had done so many projects already, so I hoped okay, this is maybe the 10th project and the 10th will probably succeed. That's what they say, right? If you do like a project, the first one is very likely not to succeed and if you do 10, you have maybe one that works. So yeah, that's what I did.
There are a few different aspects that you have to learn as an indie founder and one of the aspects is building your product, and that's something that I already knew, so I learned that before I started my business. But it still is not the full picture of building a product. Something that I really needed to learn is building a product that was okay and not perfect. Something that a lot of founders and, especially, founders with a technical background are very perfectionist, using the latest tools and all that kind of stuff.
So what I needed to learn in my business was to stop at a certain moment, use the tools that I already know, and use those to build my product. So that was one part that I really needed to learn and I learned that by seeing people doing it online and saying, "Okay, I need to validate my product within let's say a few months or a month," and then you know if people are interested in product. So I thought, okay, let's do that as well. Let's focus on getting validated and getting a product out there instead of making it perfect from the start.
So that's what I did for the development and building the part, building the product. And then you also have the sales and marketing. There are so many examples. I'm just looking around and there are so many different tactics, so many different ways to do it. But what made it easier for my business is that I care about privacy. So there's a lot of tactics that already are impossible to do because I don't want to track a user. I don't want to use retention. I don't want to use ads. So there are so many things that I don't want to use, so there's some logical things that are left over, which I can focus on. But then still, you have to choose.
For example, I recently edited a little pop-up on my website where potential customers can say like, "Hey, what is your biggest challenge?" And they can pick four, like 'I don't want a cookie banner' or 'I have to comply with privacy laws' or 'I want an easy-to-use platform'.
So they can pick what they want and then I ask, okay, what other tool do you use? Most of them say Google Analytics. And I ask their website so then they will fill in their website and their email address. And then later, it's all what a customer does or potential visitor or visitor does for you. It's not like data I get from another party or from some smart marketing tool, it's all from a user that is just visiting my website and they don't get into some system that will spam them all the time, it will be just like me responding to that email and saying like, "Hey, we have this product and it might help you because you answered these questions."
So then you have marketing tools that work from a privacy perspective and also from a user perspective, and you maybe get a little bit less amount of customers because of that. But I'm fine with that because my whole business is around privacy and I don't want to have my landing page full with trackers and privacy invasive tools for my visitors, of course, because it's basically the image of my business that gets hurt if I don't do that.
And then learning how to do taxes and how to do all the other stuff like content, basically it's just doing. It's not really going into the books and try to find out how to do it best because there's no one way to do it. There are so many ways, so you just try and what works you keep doing and what doesn't work do you stop doing. I think that's the most important thing is keep doing it.
Even if you have a new idea or you hear a great podcast about how to get more customers, try it and if it works for you, it works and that. If you stay motivated on doing so, please keep doing it. That's basically my advice if you want to do the marketing of your business. Try out so many things and keep trying.
When I was working for a boss, it was very easy for me to say I want to work three days a week and not any more and not any longer. I'll just go home after my eight hours or whatever and I will do my thing at night and meet friends or I don't know, do some hobby.
Now I'm working for my own business and it's way harder because you have all the freedom that you do, but you're also responsible for those next customers and for doing the customer support. You get an email from a customer, you want to reply to it. You get an alert on your system and you want to look what's going on. There are so many things that you are now responsible for and if you are working for a business you are usually responsible for one or two things. In my job, I was responsible for the front-end code, so if that's on production and there's a bug, yeah, I will fix it and if it's after office hours, of course, I will fix it. But that's maybe an hour work and then I will never have that for a few months because it doesn't happen often.
But it's very hard to do that as a solo founder because you feel responsible for everything that you're doing. It's a good question, I think.
Recently, I'm starting to force myself more into things that I enjoy, so I started to do kitesurfing quite a bit and it feels great. But I really have to make me myself do it. So I challenged myself to do this every week and then during the week. So not on the weekends, but an advantage of a solo founder is you can do it right in the middle of the week if you don't have any other things that are super required for that certain days. So if you don't have meetings or appointments, you can just go kitesurfing.
So that's something that I do now and it feels great because then you're just out on the water, it's like almost nobody is there. You come home and you're completely tired, but tired in a different way than then you will be tired from working, right? So yeah, it's good to keep doing stuff that you really like to do because it is possible and if you don't do it now, you're probably not going to do it later as well. So keep on doing the fun stuff.
If I have to describe my high point in my business career, I would say it feels just great to have a business that can sustain myself and it's something that you work for, like you work towards something that, okay, I can live from my own business. Once you have this certain threshold or this certain milestone... I realise I'm super lucky with this position. I don't have to do freelance work. I don't have to have a part-time job. I can just live from a business that I really enjoy.
And obviously, you don't enjoy it, all of it. You also have to do the taxes or you have to do some things you don't like, but most of it is just like everything that I do is for my own business and that feels great and that's definitely a great achievement in what I think a business should be. It's also a feeling that you are independent now. Maybe it's the same feeling then when you were living at your parents and then you finally go leave the house and you go live by yourself. I think there's a similar feeling. You're then doing it on your own and that's a great feeling.
My average day at work looks a bit like I'm all over the place. How my life usually works is I do something in a certain way and I do it a few times, then I realise I don't want to do it like that and then I change it to something else. So what I'm saying now is probably not so relevant in a few months, but this is how I do it at the moment.
When I wake up, my girlfriend is already awake. She starts working in the living room and then I'm waking up slightly later. And then I go to my coworking space. I have a coworking space here in Amsterdam and I really love to have some workspace where you meet other people so you are not by yourself alone or always with the same person. It's good to have a workplace. Even in the house, you have a different room where you work or something like that.
So that's how I start my day. I just bike to my workplace, my coworking space, and get some coffee. Usually, I plan some calls in the morning, basically, at nine o'clock or 10 o'clock, so I have the motivation to be in the office on time because otherwise, I might be a little bit later in the office, like 11 or 12. So it's great to have this motivation to set a goal, set an appointment at 9 or 10, and then I'm in the office.
And then I just start working on something that I put in my calendar before. So usually, I have my calendar, there's time slots and I just move time around during the week where they seem to fit best. Usually, after a call, I will do something that's not intensive for the brain, so just some little coding or something. And if I have the first timeslot of the day totally free, then I will write some content or something that's for my brain a little bit tougher.
So that's how I fill my days. Then I tried to stop working around 6pm or 7pm. I bike home and start relaxing at home or doing some renovating the apartment, stuff like that, just like entertainment and something that's not a digital hobby. Basically, doing something with wood or doing something to entertain myself without the bits and the bytes.
I would say stop studying and start working on your own business. I spent too much time finishing some degree that you don't really need and eventually, I finished a non-related programming course. Basically, in the Netherlands, it works like this; if you study, you get a certain loan and if you finish your study, the loan will become a gift, but if you don't finish the study, you have to pay back the loan. That's how it worked like a few years ago when I studied. So I spent a little time finishing that study and I switched a few studies and whatever.
So eventually I finished that and it's good from a money perspective and it saves you a few thousand euros, not that much, but it's bad for entrepreneurial standpoint, I would say. I would, I would have been happier, I think, if I didn't do this studying, but I was working on my own business and I was always doing side projects next to my study and I enjoyed it way more. But if I had found a community within Amsterdam or within the Netherlands where I could work on my own project and online businesses and I got motivation from other people around me, then I would definitely be way younger and already have a successful business, I would say, and that would have made me happier at the time, I think.
I also believe that the time when you study is also important, like it's a certain age. You meet new people and you have a lot of time to meet new people, which is also great. So it's not like that that whole time, like it's something that's bad in my life, but I would say if I could replace the studying with building an actual business, that would have been way better for me.
Yeah, I have a few resources, I think, that helped me work on my business. One that I read when I started creating my business was a book from James Watt. He is the founder, or one of the founders, of the BrewDog company. They have great IPAs. The Punk IPA is one of their famous beers. And he writes about starting a business. His is a physical business, like he's selling actual bee, so it's not like a SaaS business or something. He talks about his marketing strategy and he is really thinking outside of the box and it's a very nice way of writing that really appealed to me.
For example he bought a big old army tank, drove it in London square and said we're got to change things around here. Well, it's obviously very illegal to do stuff like that, but it put them in the spotlight directly in the whole town of London and outside of it. But it was a very smart technique too to get into the picture.
He describes building a brand like this: you need to find an audience that can believe in something. So you need to sell, he has better wording for it than I do, but sell a mission, sell something that people can jump on like "we're going to fight this or we're going to do this. We got to change this in the world."
And my mission is to change the world into a more privacy-friendly place. And if you can have people jump on the train and believe in your mission, then they are also likely to believe in your brand and be loyal to your mission and your brand. So he's not selling beers, but he's selling the idea that we are going to change the world with good beers and we're going to take over all the old breweries that are just brewing shitty beer. We're going to change the world. And of course, changing the world is just tiny bit of the world, but I really enjoyed reading the book. So that was definitely a great inspiration for starting my business.
And another inspiration that I still check regularly is Marketing Examples. Harry [Dry] has some great examples and he always writes them very clearly, like this is the right way, this is the wrong way, you see the difference? Okay, point across. So it's super clear how he communicates his examples. That's also a great source of content that you can check regularly. Subscribe to his newsletter. It's really good. Yeah, that's basically the two things that really helped me running my business.
I'm really excited about what's next for Simple Analytics. There are a few things, but I will name the first thing and maybe I'll hint to the next one.
But the first thing: what is important for so many businesses is that you know how good a page is, the quality of a page. And within the analytics tools, there are so many analytics tools, it's not really clear what the quality of a page is. You can see how many visits the page got, for example, you can see this page about this certain blog post. It got like thousand views last week. So it's a really good blog post, but you don't really know that. Maybe someone shared it on LinkedIn or on Twitter and that's because you got those thousand views. It doesn't say anything about the blog post itself.
So what we are building at the moment is having an indicator next to your page view list that shows this blog post or this page is good content, or this is worst content. It doesn't use any data points like page views or anything like that. It uses like two data points, basically; 1) how far someone scrolled on your page. So if you have a long blog post, it measures they scrolled to half of it. Well, then they probably didn't see the whole blog post, so it's probably not a quality reader or quality read. And 2) how long someone is on the page; so if someone is reading your blog posts for five minutes and they scroll all the way down to the last word, it's probably good blog post and if a lot of people are doing this, it will probably amount to okay, this blog post is really good.
So in that way you can calculate how well your content is doing instead of how well your content is doing traffic wise. So I think this will be like a major difference in analytics for a lot of content creators for article writers. If you have content on your website, it's super relevant to know whether people like this page more than my other page. So you, all of a sudden, start having a different metric that you didn't have before. So that's something I'm really excited about and I know a lot of customers will be really happy with this new feature. And there's also somewhere in the future, we are going to do something with alerts, but that's all I'm going to say about it.
My Twitter handle is @AdriaanvRossum. Everything that I do online I usually post on Twitter, I don't really have other channels. I have a technical blog, but that's super technical, so if I think something's interesting for people, I will share it on Twitter.