In this post, we are interviewing Joel Griffith, who currently runs Browserless that provides headless browser automation for developers. As of today, Browserless generates $43,000 MRR. Lots of value in this one, so keep reading.
[Xtartups Interviewer] What does your product or service do?
Headless browser as-a-service.
[Xtartups Interviewer] What's your product's elevator pitch?
Scale and operationalize your browser automation tasks with one line of code.
[Xtartups Interviewer] Tell us a bit about your team.
Currently, just me and a few founders, a total of 4!
[Xtartups Interviewer] What motivated you to work on this product?
Mostly necessity. I needed a way to automate several web-only tasks that didn't have formal APIs for, and apart from testing platforms, nothing existed. After puppeteer came out years ago, I pivoted into making service based solely on productizing web automation. I' haven't regretted it since!
[Xtartups Interviewer] Tell us where you are in this product/company's journey?
We're past the validation and profit stages, as we're fully self-sustaining, and are moving onto the growth of the company. We're building a lot of new stuff into a new product, and are trying to get our first hire to help with support and account management.
Trying to limit my "bus-factor" and grow a much larger sustainable company without the need for outside funding. A challenge, to be sure, but a welcome one.
[Xtartups Interviewer] What has been your biggest learning moment in this journey?
That people will pay to offset risk. Selling SaaS kind of feels like selling some kind of insurance policy in a general sense. Businesses and buyers, especially solo buyers, will buy something only if it offsets the risk of having to build it and carry that liability.
This is obvious to see now, especially when you look at places like Stripe: no one wants to carry the risk of building a payment gateway when you can fairly easily grab on off the shelf. So, in summary, building something that offsets some kind of risk or pain.
[Xtartups Interviewer] What has been your biggest validation for creating this product and taking it to the market?
Knowing that there was already a pain point out there! Before making the full decision to switch over to browserless over this other app, I went over to a few open-source libraries that help orchestrate this kind of automation and sorted by a few dimension (reactions, comments, etc.).
What I found was that there were a lot of others out there that were having troubles getting everything packaged and running in a production-like environment. Since it's a fairly risky thing to get up and running, this validated to me that there was enough pain to merit a purchase for these users.
[Xtartups Interviewer] How did you find your first 10 customers?
I wish I had a more eloquent answer, but if you're someone like myself that doesn't have a huge social following, then you have to get creative here. The easiest ways to do it are ones you've likely heard of: blogging and writing on other blog platforms. This is a great long-term way to attract potential customers, however if your needing to get things going quickly you have to get more creative than that.
So, for me at browserless, this amounted to scouring the web for folks having issues and needing help in general, so places like StackOverflow and Quora were good. Also niche places like sub-reddits and forums are a great place to start getting traction. This won't obviously scale out long term, but can bear some much needed fruit of feedback in the early days, as well as start the word of mouth snowball. One of the hardest things in starting, in my opinion.
[Xtartups Interviewer] If you weren't working on this product, which other product/idea would you be pursuing?
Security is a fascinating topic right now, and doing something in that space would be interesting, however it's such a huge problem since everyone out there is running different software in concert together. This makes automated "one-stop-shop" solutions much harder to build as it can impossible to find a one-size fit for everyone.
I think the crypto space is also interesting and messy, much like the web was back in the 90s, however I'm still quite certain if all the noise has any signal whatsoever. Part of me fears that the major players/investors are going to try and consolidate all the NFT/block-chain stuff into their own "in-house" chains, essentially ruining the very paradigm they were established for. Still too early to tell I think.
[Xtartups Interviewer] Who is your favorite bootstrapped founder? And why?
Mike Perham has been an absolute awesome person, and was a mentor for me in my early days. He's the guy behind Sidekiq, which is hugely successful, and knows how to eloquently frame and think about both software and business problems. Look him up!
[Xtartups Interviewer] What book or podcast has helped you in this journey?
Two mostly: IndieHackers and "How I built this." The former is much more appropriate for tech folks, while the latter is helpful for anyone just trying to get motivated to do something. I've had a lot of "AHA!" moments with both.
[Xtartups Interviewer] What do you wish you knew when you started working on this idea?
I wish I had known to start sooner! The ramp-up from release to profit can be a long trail, and you should look to release early and often enough so that you don't spend a lot of wasted cycles on nothing.
Certain verticals like software, involve an intimidating amount of craftsmanship that can keep you from releasing something.
Remember: in a large enterprise, a software engineers job is to keep things well maintained and running so anyone can do anything with it, but the opposite is almost true for getting started: it just needs to work, and the manner of how it works is a challenge for later down the road.
[Xtartups Interviewer] For someone who is thinking of starting a bootstrapped business, what would be the one thing they should watch out for?
That there isn't anyone else in the space. Many mistakingly see this as low-hanging fruit and an easy opportunity. But it's most likely a sign that there's no opportunity or that the risk isn't worthy enough to buy something to offset the liability of DIY-ing it. Square-wheeled cars aren't around for a reason.
[Xtartups Interviewer] Are you hiring for any positions? If yes, how can people reach out to you?
Definitely! Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org