Jack Ellis — Taking on Google as a Bootstrapper

Reading Time: 38 minutes

Arvid Kahl 0:00
Today, I’m talking to Jack Ellis, the co-founder of Fathom Analytics, a privacy conscious web analytics business that I personally use for a lot of my web properties. The company that Jack co-founded with Paul Jarvis competes directly with Google, under linchpin advertising product. That’s a pretty tall order. And we will chat about Jack’s role in a growing successful software business and just how much he hesitates to go from coder to manager at this very point. We dive into choosing reliable dependencies to power and always on SaaS business with high expectations and how to deal with migrating customers from Google to Fathom. But before we dive in, let me thank the sponsor for this show. Imagine this, you’re a founder who’s built a solid SaaS product, acquired customers and it’s generating consistent monthly revenue. The problem is that you’re not growing for whatever reason, lack of focus or lack of skill or just plain lack of interest and you feel stuck. So what should you do? Well, the story I would like to hear now is that you buckled down and somehow reignited the fire. You got past yourself and the cliches and started to work on the business rather than just in the business. You started building an audience and moved out of your comfort zone and sales and marketing. And in six months, you’ve tripled your revenue, that would be a great story. But the reality is not as simple. Situations may be different for every founder facing this particular kind of challenge. But too many times, the story ends up being one of inaction and stagnation until that business becomes less valuable or worse, worthless. If you find yourself here or you think your story is likely headed down a similar road, I offer you a third option. Consider selling your business on acquire.com. Capitalizing on the value of your time is a smart move and acquire.com is free to list. They have helped hundreds of founders already. So you would be in good company. Go to acquire.com and see for yourself if this is the right option for you. And now, here’s a deep dive into a successful technical SaaS business. Here’s Jack Ellis.

In building Fathom Analytics, you’ve chosen to directly compete with Google on one of their linchpin products for their whole advertising empire. And I think that’s a bold move. I was always very impressed that you went for that. And I wonder like for you, as a business, a co-founder and an engineer. How do you feel about that? How do you feel about the fact that you’re doing the engineering work of a whole Google division with a very, very small team? How is that going for you?

Jack Ellis 2:37
Oh, great question. Yeah, okay, cool. So it’s going good. But we’re obviously running into the point where we’ve got a huge amount of customers. And there are different segments within our customer base and one segment is happy with everything as is and they maybe want a few tweaks. You’ve then got other segments that just want more and you sort of have to decide what you want to go for. And when each each feature you add and I’ve said this before publicly, but each feature you add, it unlocks this new potential that you didn’t know existed. People get hooked in on that feature. And then suddenly, you have this roadmap that one developer cannot do. And so we have started hiring. We have one full time engineer. We have a part time senior engineer, who is about to get into our code base. He is already handling EU Isolation for us. And honestly, this is very topical because I can’t do everything anymore. And that’s kind of that’s, I guess not. And that’s not something I’m used to because I’m used to just sitting in coding and I can ship like crazy. But now, you know, we’ve got these enterprise deals that are coming in and we’re saying, okay, we should at least explore these. And maybe we don’t pursue them but we should explore them. They’re coming in for multi billion dollar companies. And so I’m handling that and dealing with the you know, whatever it may be and sure, we could outsource it, but there isn’t enough to outsource them. My engineering time’s going there. And then I’ve suddenly got 30 pull requests that I’ve got to review. And I’m thinking at what point do I get to sit down and do some code. And so I’m very much and this has been completely transparent with you. I’m very much transitioning into more of a manager CTO role and we are planning on hiring more. We’re very careful with how we hire. We don’t predict growth and say, oh, we’re gonna grow this amount so we can afford to hire. We’re very careful. We make sure we’ve got the money by a longshot before we start hiring, so that’s how it’s going. It started off, you know, indie hacker, you know how it is. You built your own SaaS. You can sit down and hack, but you definitely know about the fires that happened. That fire can take a lot of energy and that big feature you wanted to focus on, you haven’t got the energy or the focus or the time for that because you’re putting out a fire. And I know you can relate to this because I’ve read your stuff. So that’s how it’s going. I think I have to let my ego go a little bit because I do take a lot of pride in the fact that you know, I like coding and it’s absolutely fine. So that’s how it is going. We are going to grow. We’re not going to grow into Google. But we’re going to grow in a way that we can keep up with customer demand and expectations and that sort of thing. So

Arvid Kahl 5:08
It’s interesting that you have to shift your perspective a little because I do remember on the podcast that you have with Paul, Paul Jarvis. You were talking about staying in the job you like and not promoting yourself out of your job. That was something that you elaborate on because that was a topic that you had, right? In reflecting on where you’ve come from and where you are right now. So this seems to sound like you’re just shifting your perspective a little into what needs to be done to keep the business growing.

Jack Ellis 5:36
You’ve done your research, Arvid. Yeah. Okay. So you’re absolutely right. That was my view before, is I want to stay at, you know, I like programming, that’s my job. Ultimately, I care more about our customers being happy. And I genuinely we have awesome customers. And I’ve said before, like sure that the ones that, you know, IBM or whoever else, they don’t talk to us. They talk to us a little bit. But it’s not the same interaction as we have perhaps with you as a customer or someone else and you got that really nice relationship, that gives me a kick. And so if we can make our customers happier and we get more people away from Google and we can, you know, fill in those gaps that people say, oh, I really want this feature. And to do that means that I need to take a management role. My top priority is the customer is not, oh, am I coding? Because like, I can live without coding. And occasionally, I will code. I’ll still code like today, I’m going to code some SSL stuff. But it’s like, my full time job isn’t coding. And so I have to realize that, like, if I want to make customers happy, that’s a transition I need to make. Alternatively, me and Paul have spoken about this. And you know, Paul’s not who knows his stuff, but it’s a case of okay, then well, if you want to code all the time, that’s absolutely fine. We’ll bring someone in to take over your responsibilities. And I don’t like that, like I like being involved in the direction. I like being involved in the management. And I realized, oh, actually do a hybrid role where you’re coding way less or maybe none some weeks, but you’re able to steer the business and be involved in everything else. So yeah, my opinions changing all the time and I’m changing my perspective a lot, keeping an open mind. And I’m seeing how it feels because, you know, I don’t know what it’s gonna feel like. I’m only just starting to do that. So honestly, we’ll see. And thank you for pointing out how it’s changed because that’s very interesting to me as well.

Arvid Kahl 7:25
Honestly, just listening to your podcasts, I’ve been doing this for a long while. I mean, ever since we had the puppy and that’s now a good year or so, I’ve been walking a lot. Before I was just sitting in my office. But now I’m just out for an hour a day just walking around with this beast that sniffs everything and will try to eat it. So while that happens, I’m just ingesting the stories and journeys of other people and yours is one of them. I mean, if you were to release more episodes, please, then it would be more regular. But you know, it’s

Jack Ellis 7:59
Trust me, we talked about this back on it.

Arvid Kahl 8:01
Good. Don’t pressure, I mean, you still have a business to run, right? I’m always talking to people who are thinking they want to build in public. The building is an important part of the building in public part, not just the in public part, right? Talking about something, you have to do something to be able to talk about it. So please do interesting stuf so you can have interesting stories then afterwards. But what I’m trying to get to is over the the time that I’ve been listening to the podcast and your stories, you can see how perspectives change. And that is, I guess, the prerogative of a founder. You just have to adapt and adopt new perspectives whenever you need to change. But the perspective on what you want it to be probably is still the same, like do you still consider even though you’re now going into more managerial work, do you still consider this a lifestyle business for yourself?

Jack Ellis 8:49
Oh, absolutely. Yeah, you should see the conversations behind the scenes. So like the enterprise stuff, Paul doesn’t want to even explore that. Like he’s doesn’t want to put any time into that. For me, it’s a case of let’s explore it and see what it’s really like. And so we have this balance of we do explore things. We’re not afraid to explore things and see how they affect our life. If we land you say an enterprise deal that I’m currently working on, which is don’t want to say it’s I wouldn’t call it working on. It’s just happening. If it happens and it turns out to be good, well, there’s a lesson learned. We can actually cope with doing that because there’s substantial amount of revenue from one customer. And if it doesn’t work, then we course correct and we’re always course correcting. And it’s not just us anymore. So we’re obsessed with the people who work for us having a good life. We have flexible hours, they can work whenever they want. We just had full time customer support hired. He can work wherever he wants, just get the work done. So the lifestyle extends across the entire company and it’s very much a lifestyle business and no one should be getting burned out or stressed or any of that. And that comes before anything and we’re healthy company. Why do we want to ruin everyone’s lives and try and chase these ridiculous goals because we haven’t got investment? And that’s a nice thing, we’re not chasing these ridiculous goals or we’re stressing and agonizing about hitting them. Some people like that. And I’m not saying, you just got to be aware of what works for your lifestyle. Because for some people a lifestyle business would be, I need to grind in order to feel complete in order to feel like I’m fulfilled. And that’s like, I don’t know, talk with your psychiatrist if you’ve got problems with that, if that’s fine for you. And be aware of the limits of that is what I always think. But I always come back to what’s the lifestyle for me and Paul and then it’s like, what’s the lifestyle for the people that work for us. And that’s where we, that leads us really.

Arvid Kahl 10:35
Yeah, I guess not having investors makes this very easy to put this value at the core of your business and not in investor returns or anything like this, right?

Jack Ellis 10:43
Yeah, exactly. It’s a big thing.

Arvid Kahl 10:45
I’m glad. I’m glad you do this. But one thing that comes to mind immediately when you talk about being bootstrapped, but also having enterprise customers, you have to guarantee a lot of stuff, right? You need an always running service at that point. And you are on a bootstrap budget still, right? You don’t have these gigantic investor millions just laying around. How do you do this? Let’s maybe dive a bit more in the technical side at this point because I’m just super excited as an ex developers kind of what I would call myself because I rarely get to code. Just like you, I moved into the managerial position of my own life. Now, I kind of outsource these things to other people because I have a media business that I’m taking care of so, very little coding, sadly to be done for me. But I’m still excited about this stuff. And you’ve been both in what your courses are doing and what you’re constantly sharing on Twitter and just how good Fathom is as a product. I’m excited to know, how do you keep this always running servers on a budget? What’s the tech buy in that?

Jack Ellis 11:44
Yeah, that’s a good question. A lot of engineers will self host things and they’ll build it themselves. And they’ll manage it do the updates, that sort of thing. From the beginning, I was very aware of my limitations and aware of what I wanted to spend my time on. I have no doubt in my mind that engineers at these hosting companies like originally it was Heroku. Now it’s AWS. And I think it’s a mixture of things. But those engineers are better than me, those DevOps engineers, whatever you call them, the people that update the servers, all of that stuff, they’re better than me. And I’m not going to be able to compete with their level of knowledge. So we actually pay a premium for the most highly available services. So we pay, people would laugh at this, we pay so each page view that comes in, it goes through a lambda request because for us, it’s this beautiful managed service. And, sure, you can use containers and stuff, but it’s just not something we’ve got into. And maybe that’s the future. But for now, we’re using lambda. So Amazon Web Services, basically maintains that for us and keeps it up to date and make sure that we’re good to run. And it’s auto scaling and blah, blah, blah. And then we use a enterprise grade database, which we’ve got a lot of support from their team as well, where this database can scale to millions of requests per second. It’s used by one of the biggest banks in the US that handle transactions. It’s a big deal, this database and we just, it’s highly available. And so the only other thing we have is EU isolation for GDPR compliance, where we have Hetzner running servers. We have someone called Lucas who manages that. And Lucas is like a top tier DevOps engineer who were just lucky to, I’m lucky to know him and to have that relationship where we could actually bring him on part time. And so Lucas manages that. And he is the same level as Amazon Web Services engineers. So that was about me knowing my limitations and we want to pay a premium for the best possible uptime. We don’t want you losing your analytics. And that’s a really big point where we stand out. Our competitors can’t match us. You see their downtime, right? I don’t, we don’t have downtime, like, actually you can’t say we don’t have downtime, but we’ve reduced the likelihood of downtime significantly by investing in a premium service basically.

Arvid Kahl 13:55
I love that. That’s my perspective, too, particularly as a small business, not building things that other companies have hold divisions for, it’s just a smarter move. I remember when we built Feedback Panda, we had a similar choice, like we could host a database ourselves somewhere, right? MongoHQ, or whatnot. And we had it just locally on a Hetzner server being a German company living in Germany, that was quite a reasonable choice at that point. But we didn’t. We actually got a database as a service, which was, yeah, compose something which was MongoHQ before but like a database as a service, essentially, right? They run it, they maintain it, they update it, they secure it. And that was the largest part of our expenses for the longest time, right? Like, yeah, a couple of Docker containers that run the application on the Google Cloud too just auto scaling as well, should we need it but the database was where the value was because we had a product that people were using in a shared capacity, right? They would share the feedback templates that they put in there. Well, I’m gonna explain it to you. It doesn’t really matter. But we had a system where people shared stuff and that data was the most crucial part of why we should even exist. So we treated that as the prime citizen of our business. And that data needed to be secure and reliable and attainable and all that. So I think when we sold the company, I don’t really have the, I’m not sure if I’m even allowed to say these numbers at this point. But I think we paid like $4,000 a month to that company that hosted our database. And that was probably over 50% of our expenses at that time.

Jack Ellis 15:26
You had some serious traffic, then. I mean, that’s

Arvid Kahl 15:30
We had a lot of data. I mean, you should know everything about a lot of data was gonna ask you, because our couple of 100 gigabytes of text data probably pale in comparison to what you’re working with on a daily basis. But, you know, it was just a managed service that was quite expensive but also very reliable. And we were like, even these $4,000 that we would pay every month, that’s still cheaper than paying for, you know, a couple of servers somewhere and all the tools and the engineer to deal with it that can only work eight hours a day.

Jack Ellis 16:03
Sure. What year was this? What year was this, that you would have been paying this?

Arvid Kahl 16:08
Probably 17 to 19

Jack Ellis 16:10
Okay so, I mean, that was in database. Well, that’s, you know, 100,000 years ago for databases. So you’re in a time where you, I’m more privileged because I’ve got all these databases available. You’re in a time where, like, we aren’t where we are now. That’s this. So was that six years ago? So that would have been harder to find something as well, but now

Arvid Kahl 16:30
I’m just figuring out that is actually six years ago, holy.

Jack Ellis 16:33
Yeah. And that’s a lifetime for database.

Arvid Kahl 16:35
Yeah, that’s true.

Jack Ellis 16:36
That’s expensive, but it’s worth it because it powers your business.

Arvid Kahl 16:40
I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a single store before you talk to the Twitter world about it. Recently, I guess, right? And back then I don’t think, it didn’t even exist in 2017

Jack Ellis 16:52
So it existed as mem sequel. And then I had a big customer. I don’t know if this is public. So I’m not I guess I shouldn’t say but they had a big customer who is vital. Everyone was using this customer. And they wanted to do analytics. And they were already doing it in memory stuff. And then they branched into analytics. And then the rest is history. So now you’ve got this database, where you have the OLTP and the OLAP. All in one, all in the same table type, which is just unheard of. So yeah

Arvid Kahl 17:18
Yeah, we didn’t necessarily need that kind of feature as being just a crud app really, right? Like people would write data into the system, they would pull it out and sometimes deal with it, edit it and save it back. That was it. So we were a Postgres shop, essentially. So our little SQL database was just sitting in there, but well maintained by somebody else. And that was totally worth it for us. So it wasn’t as expensive in the beginning, right? Obviously, we started with a couple 100 bucks a month. And that was when it started. But I think it’s honestly, one of the best choices that I have made in my developer career or software of business developer career is to outsource these parts that when they break, everything breaks. I’m glad I didn’t have to deal with that. Is there anything like that, that you also put into third parties instead of building it yourself? Like what were the choices that you made in your past, in the beginning of the business where yeah, we could build this ourselves? Or should we or should we not?

Jack Ellis 18:17
Yeah, so I know that we do. So for example, when you share your dashboard publicly, we have a image, you know, the OG image on to Twitter. We have that built externally because I don’t want to build a bunch of PHP GD stuff. Oh, crikey, you’re really testing my brain here. There’s so many things going on and things that are active in my brain. So we default to looking for third party providers when there’s not personal data being passed around. And because it will save us time and then that’s great. And a lot of the times that social issue, the one downside you really have is that if there are issues with that provider or if there are things you want changed and you’re not paying them that much money. You don’t have as much sway. Whereas if you have it in house, you can change it. And so it’s nuanced. SoBut we do default to it. But it’s nuanced. That’s all I’ll say. And we do try to do it where possible, I just can’t think of where else we do it off the top of my head because we can’t do things like IP spam checks because we’re not going to pass that IP to a third party provider. And we do that all on our server. Now, I can’t think of much to be honest, but we do default, it’s just my brain here.

Arvid Kahl 19:27
Yeah, I was actually wondering because like since Fathom is so focused on privacy and also serving essentially a global community of businesses that have their own local laws, you know, about what data businesses have to or should never collect from their customers or from their users. How do you juggle with this, like the potential conflict of these privacy and law data collection implications?

Jack Ellis 20:00
Yeah, I mean, so we have our target audience, right? And, you know, North America, Europe. It’s worldwide, sure. But we’re not trying to comply with laws in China, where they want us to collect data. So anything that compromises our values, we won’t do. So if like, if a government says, we want you to collect this, so we’re not gonna do that. And so then it’s just okay, we’re not gonna be compliant in that country. We’re very focused on the EU and North America, that’s our primary customer base and the UK, obviously, as well, the EU and the UK. So we just follow, we have a privacy officer who is, so our privacy officer is one of the smartest people in the world on this topic. I’m not even joking. She is incredible. And so she is just, you know, finger on the pulse constantly keeps us updated. And if there are things we have to do, like, California, they had some privacy law changes. And then, you know, we’ve got can’t say who, but a big media company emailing us in the state saying, you know, can you adjust your DPA to accommodate this. So if we’re missing something, the lawyers from other companies will tell us and we’ll add it in and then we’ll evolve. But we do have the privacy officer in place and we have, you know, our legal team and that sort of thing. I’m not personally worrying about that constantly. It’s not something I’m thinking about, it’s really a case of say, they say, oh, the EU, US privacy shields invalidated. And that’s the legal stuff. So now, we can’t use Amazon Web Services for EU traffic if you’re going for radical GDPR compliance. GDPR compliance is like a spectrum, right? No one’s perfect. Or maybe someone’s perfect, but most people aren’t perfect. And it’s very hard to be perfect. So if you’ve got customers in Germany and I feel like you know this, they want that radical compliance because they know they are under scrutiny and their DPA doesn’t mess around. And they will enforce the law. And so they’ll come to us and they’ll want that EU isolation that we offer. And so they know about that and they won’t compromise. Yeah, that’s just thinking. I’m just going through like, it’s an EU isolation comes, oh, we have to build that. So from a technical perspective, I’m involved in it. Okay. So now, EU-US privacy shows invalidated. What do we do? And that’s where I have to think of a solution. And in our case, we put a proxy layer on Hetzner that completely hashes up removes the IP address all of that stuff to protect it from us surveillance, which is the issue in this scenario with the GDPR. And that some people, US customers will not necessarily care about that. And that’s fine. It doesn’t matter. They have that anyway for the EU customers. So it’s one less risk for their business. But I come into play when the law changes that affects our business in that way, if that makes sense. I’m not looking at every little change that’s happening. Our Privacy Officer helps us with them.

Arvid Kahl 22:40
How often do you have to update the products? Like how often do these things come in, like changes in the laws that you need to comply with?

Jack Ellis 22:48
Set a flashback there. Yeah, so not too often, where it’s so major. The UE US Privacy Shield was substantial. The shrimps too rolling, substantial. It shows it was a marketing opportunity for us because we were building this in anticipation. And you know, you talk about luck in business. We were building this and it just happened that we’d built it. And no one else had built this. And then because they either some people were going EU only. We went oh no, we don’t just want EU only. What about American visitors or American customers? We go through the EU or the US depending on location to make it faster. And so that was a huge change. But how often do we have to change it? Not that often, to be honest with you.

Arvid Kahl 23:30
That’s good to know because that would, you know, I remember I had to integrate certain changes into our browser extension for the business that we had that were unannounced and fairly common, like on a weekly basis. The thing that we tried to integrate with change and nobody would tell us that it was gonna happen. So you know, there’s a certain cadence to having to deal with things you didn’t expect. And I’m glad it’s not that much for you. Because that just makes the product less brittle, right? You don’t want a product that is constantly being pulled back and forth between laws and certain integrations. One thing that I found extremely interesting that you were talking about. You were talking about a couple months or years ago, was the migration from Google into your product. And I always wondered, how was that? How was how much fun was it to build a migration from such a violator of privacy laws into a very privacy first product? What did you struggle with? And you know, did you enjoy that process? Or was it a chore?

Jack Ellis 24:33
So are we talking about the Google Analytics importer here?

Arvid Kahl 24:36

Jack Ellis 24:37
Yeah, yeah. So that hasn’t even shipped yet. That’s about to, that’s shipping soon, I should say. That was a complex process because Google samples data. And so a lot of people just say, okay, we’ll just grab this and then you can’t really do anything on the data because it’s Google’s data. We went the extra mile and this is why it’s taken so long and why it’s more sophisticated. You can actually filter on the old data. If they’ve sampled it and we haven’t got the data, we can’t do anything about that. But the cool thing is when you’ve got the data, you can filter on it still. And it’s a very sophisticated import. And then the Google API is good enough, it’s a bit kind of tricky to understand what the limits because it’s all over the place. But, you know, it was a good project. Our full time engineer actually built the majority of that. So I can’t take too much credit for that. But it’s coming along nice. And that’s the next big thing was shipping ahead of Universal Analytics being destroyed. And there’s a few other pieces that make it the most sophisticated solution on the market. But I’m not allowed to talk about them because Paul will shoot me. So

Arvid Kahl 25:44
Did Google make it hard to export that data?

Jack Ellis 25:46
Oh, good question. You know, I wouldn’t say it was hard to export the data. It’s really how the data is. The fact that it’s sampled is an absolute joke. But I get why they did that because of the scale. And it’s a free, you can’t see that free product. So I wouldn’t say they made it hard to export the data via the API as such. The limits are a little bit confusing, but I’m not going to we’ve also done something there which will be interesting to a lot of people when it drops. But I wouldn’t say they made it hard. I thought they made that unnecessarily complex with like the approval process for an application. But no, there’s no evil play there that I can comment on.

Arvid Kahl 26:30
Good. Yeah. I mean, it’s always like, with these kinds of entrenched businesses, right? It’s hard to, you know, make a case for why you would even want to share the data that you have. So where do you see the analytics industry going? Because I see that your business is very much focused on privacy. And I love that being a European at heart, even though I live in Canada, which is also a great place. But the GDPR thing was something that was very welcomed by a lot of people in the European IT industry and beyond as well. So I see that there are the legal limits to what you can do. But do you see also from the customer side that people are becoming more aware of the necessity of privacy? Is that something you see in the future?

Jack Ellis 27:20
Oh, absolutely. I mean, things like Cambridge Analytica, all the scandals that are happening. When people are using Google Analytics and that is what you meant by privacy first analytics for Fathom. I always say, go on to your search engine and type in Google Privacy scandals and just read the reports and read the Wikipedia page and everything else. People are becoming more aware. Yeah, they’re becoming sick of companies like Facebook and the invasive spy pixel tracking. I said spy pix, but is like a big sort of follows you around the web, that sort of thing. What Google is using the data for, how they’ve used it in the past, what they would do if they weren’t regulated. That’s another thing about privacy laws. Unfortunately, people are affected by cookie banners if they’re not using Fathom. And that’s annoying and it is ridiculous. And I do feel people’s pain on that. But the laws are in place for a reason. It’s a stop companies like Facebook, who would just the things they do if they weren’t regulated. And I’m not a big fan of unbelievable regulation. The regulation should be calm and balanced. But this did need regulating. And I do think that GDPR is a relatively positive thing. And people get angry at the GDPR. There’s a lot of flexibility. There are multiple lawful basis for processing. It’s not just throwing up the cookie banner. The cookie banners often for the E privacy directive, pecker in the UK. So it’s not just the GDPR. So people are becoming more aware, that’s a huge thing. People are using browsers that have ad blockers, not necessarily ad blockers, but ad blockers, but also, like Brave, for example, shows the trackers on the page. If I’m seeing Google there, that’s immediately changing my view on you as a company. And I thought, oh, that’s just a me thing. People care about this stuff. People don’t like it and not everyone cares about it. And that’s fine. We all care about different things. But not more and more people are understanding and caring, oh, they try to send my data to Facebook. I get really bothered by that. I don’t send my data to Facebook. I don’t have a Facebook account. Don’t try and track me on Facebook. It bothers me. And so things say, oh, we use an ad blocker. Okay, that’s great. That’s great for me. I’m in tech, it’s great for you. You know what ad blocker is. What about our parents who don’t necessarily know what an ad blocker is, who are being tracked? I remember my mom went on a website and she was so concerned by the fact that it said hello, and then her name on a random website. And it was linked to her Facebook that really bothered her. And so people are even even she was becoming more aware of what was going on. And so people expect privacy. Some people don’t and that’s fine. Like, you know, everyone’s got a different opinion. One thing I will say though, it I call it I call privacy, the political equalizer, because both sides care. I mean, we’ve had political parties and we’ve not worked at any of them, or political parties. Contact us because we have that privacy thing. So it’s a political equalizer, which is also interesting, I think. And I think people, the awareness will continue to grow, especially with Facebook behaving bad. People are sick of their data being sold, you know, and if you’re not, then you won’t use fathom, and you won’t, you won’t pay attention. And that’s fine, too. I’m not trying to persuade anyone, like we get people come to us, because they already know what Facebook’s been doing. They already know what Google has been doing. We don’t have to persuade them about that. That’s why we that’s why we’ve grown like we’ve grown. People know what Google’s up to.

Arvid Kahl 30:32
Yeah, that’s a growing awareness. I think I see that not only in websites, and, you know, Cookie tracking, and that stuff. I see it in emails too, like particularly sending out newsletters to 1000s of people, right, the number of people who block all email tracking is climbing significantly. And thanks to I guess, services, like hey, hey, com, right, who automatically blog all tracking and then show you right? That’s one of the benefits of you seeing who is trying to trick you out.

Jack Ellis 31:02
And I think I’m still working, always working on my thoughts. But I think I disagree with David on the old tracking spat. So where I go with this, you remember superhuman when it came out? They were tracking where you were when you opened it, that was bad. And that really played into what he was doing, which which was great, because that is not, okay? And I know they changed some things. And I’m not having a go at superhuman that I’ve read, I could not believe that. And then you’ve got for those of us going back years, what was it? Was it HubSpot used to better track who opened your email, and when they opened it, I really don’t like that like that. That grosses me out. And a lot of people don’t like people knowing when they’re reading their emails, or where they’re reading it from. And so I’m okay with. I have 100 people open my email, but I don’t know who they are. I don’t know where they were, there’s no IP address log in that sort of thing. I think that my thought is I’m okay with that. And we thought about that with our product, should we have some kind of open tracking, but it’s limited. And then you can get an idea for advertisers or sponsors, because you’d like that’s useful. But you never get to the level where you’re actually tracking who it is. That’s opening the email. So you immediately say, oh, well, how do I know who to delete from my list when they’re not engaging? Well, that that metrics now, as you’ve hinted to, is becoming useless because everyone’s blocking it anyway. So you can’t use that. Okay, then well, can we just, and this is where you get to, can we come to an agreement with the email clients that someone’s, you know, allowed to be in it, and I don’t know, it’s not really something I focused on, I just don’t have the same issues with aggregate data, as I do with individual data, like I’ve sent an email to Arvid, I can see that he’s doing this, this and this. And if you do this, and they’ll find a way to, unfortunately, people will find a way to work around it, and they’ll send you like, this is a pixel that represents all of it. This means all of its opened, and it just, it’s a tricky, it’s a tricky area. Email very rarely is

Arvid Kahl 32:52
the ones right? No privacy, privacy is not an all or nothing, I guess it’s it’s mostly about agencies. So that’s kind of that’s what I feel like my agency to determine what I want to give to whom, that’s kind of where my privacy begins and ends right on both sides of the spectrum. And I would love to be able to give this one author of that newsletter, the permission to see that I read the newsletter, maybe not see which links I clicked on. Because those are, that was my choice to explore the content without showing that I actually visited it, but just the open the read, that will be fine. So the fine grained nature of permission, that’s something that technology really doesn’t allow for because it’s not built into the system, right?

Jack Ellis 33:39
It’s all or nothing. No, you’re right, yeah, either block it or don’t block it, which is such a shame, but it’s evolving, and things are changing. And we’ll see what we get with this, Hey, decided to completely block all pixels completely. And as a big marketing piece for them. Is that better than having people know where you are and who you are the opening email? I think it’s better personally, that and that’s where I don’t agree completely. But I think given the the technology, given the technology, that’s probably a good choice for now. And we’ll see what happens in the future because people need analytical data, reasonable analytical data to make decisions, like meet my writing. I would never be writing if I didn’t know that my content was getting traffic because at the time I wasn’t big on emojis, you can call my big on Twitter, but I have 15,000 followers, which is more than I had back in the day, I’d write an article I didn’t get likes and retweets. But because I was seeing in fathom that I’m getting traffic to that page. Oh, people are interested in technical writing. Maybe I should wait some more. And now it’s just like 10s of 1000s of views every article and it’s like SEO, all that stuff. And now I know it’s worth doing so we need analytics. And so the email I love that

Arvid Kahl 34:46
people honest honestly, I love that perspective. Because I think like you writing is just like the stepping stone towards you creating the courses that you have created, right as a as a developer teaching other developers how to use serverless slow roll and single store forever. I want to talk about that too, because I love the sight of you being a business owner in the analytics space. But I equally adore your the effort and energy that you put into educating people around the technology that makes it happen. So let’s talk about your courses. Because I thought that the latest one, you released the single store one, that that is an exciting one, because I did not know anything about it. But just reading about how you even found single store and this back and forth between vapor and single store and you know, like that, but you wrote a blog post on it. And then when the blog post was out, like a month later, it all changed again, that was super exciting. Can you regale me with the story at this point?

Jack Ellis 35:44
Yeah, so I mean, this is a whole process. I mean, yeah, I’ve got two courses, the serverless one and the single store one. So we we were originally on Heroku, right? And Heroku was great. And it was hilarious because we couldn’t even we couldn’t justify a few $100 For our database. And it’s so funny thinking back to the early days, but we didn’t want to spend loads of money, like do we want high availability to pull we need high availability? Because from the start, we care about all of this. And then it was a case of what happens when we get bursts of traffic. How do we scale to handle that? Oh, well, Heroku has an option, but you have to pay $500 minimum per dyno, and then you lose the high availability, because you can’t have two dinos. And so this all was happening. And then Taylor Otwell from Laravel, dropped Laravel vapor and I’m like, this is insane. So we were like Project eight or something, we got super early access to it. And I Taylor builds good software, so I knew it was gonna be good from the get go. And sure, there were some teething pains, things that nuance things such as reading, reading secrets into the environment, and having a limit on the API from Amazon, like these these kinds of things, which we might run into, because we were doing such big scale, eventually. And so we move to low vapor, and I’m tweeting about it. And because I’m sharing this, I want to share our journey because I think it helps people. And then I’m getting just emails, and I’m getting questions about it. And it’s more than I can handle and more than I can spend my time answering all of these. And I think well, okay, I want to help people, I can probably make some money from this. And I think we just bought a house at the time. And so all of my cash that I had gone up in that pretty much and I was thinking, okay, so I can make some money from this, and I can help people, okay, let’s set the goal, the goal is going to be to, even if I help 10 people, 10 sales, that’s, that’s a win. And I tried to change, you know, the metrics to be, I want to help people. And they just when I launched, it just went crazy. And people were really interested in it, and people still buy it. And people are now you know, I’ve got a thriving community on Discord. And I love it. I really love the community side of things. And we all everyone in there helps each other. And you’ve got some of the best minds in Laravel and serverless in there, which is just wonderful. That’s great. And then after that we’re using MySQL, right? MySQL is not good for a lot of things is especially not good for analytics. And if you’re using RDS for MySQL, you run into issues with the I ops and you have to pay for extra storage to get more i ops. And that caused huge issues. Once I funnily enough a company in Germany, they ran a universal basic income scheme or campaign. And guess what that was quite popular, as you might imagine. And that went viral. And yeah, we can say that it went really viral. And that really made me look at the i ops and the database and the how fragile it was, you know. And so I was at oh, and then also, we were doing high cardinality aggregation. So what I mean by that is we had a customer like J S fiddle, for example. And so they had, you know, JSP that was similar to the code patterns, those sorts of things. Each snippet had a unique path name, we were storing the path name and we were doing a some group by path name. And can you imagine the cardinality that Jas video had they there’s like one of the most popular websites for developers and doing doing snippets and we couldn’t deliver their dashboard. Their dashboard just crushed every single time. And it was it was embarrassing. And the owner Jas Fiddle is the most he’s like the nicest guy ever honest to god, he’s just is wonderful. And he was very patient. And I was aware it was broken. I’m trying to think, you know, fix it with background jobs, that cron jobs that would pre calculate it, and then we’d read the pre calculated data. And then the German client had even more unique path names because they had a unique path for each step of the universal basic income registration process. And their dash and they were using father more than the Jas fiddle guy was because they’d seen any luck on the dashboard and the dashboards not loading. And it was embarrassing. And so we had to build some custom things there. And I was also doing a bunch of rolling up and I was like, the data was split up and it was being queued and it was just a mess. I never dreamed that I could actually write page views to the database and not even roll them up just one page view equals one database row. And then now we’ve got billions and billions of rows. But we can sum across all of these billions of rows. And it’s just not an issue. I can perform a sum on our entire database in like, a few seconds to sum our data every 10 seconds. And this is a big database. But yeah, that’s not so then we moved to single store, got a lot of value out of that completely changed everything, we were able to then offer filter by path name, filter by referrer, that sort of thing. And it just unlocked a lot of things for us. And people were asking me about because I wrote about it. And then I hear from people that they were already working on moving to single store based on my story. And I think a lot of people move to single store because of that, because if we’re using it, and we’re doing the traffic, they’re going to be just fine on it. And then to lots of people. And it’s funny, because this course wasn’t financially motivated. It was really just a case of I can’t help everyone, I’m going to put my knowledge into a course. And I did. And it’s done. Well, it’s more of a niche course. But it’s still done really well. And now it’s out there for the world. And I’ve done on courses because they’re hard work as well. You’ve written books, books are harder than courses. But if you feel course, you need to build a course you’ve built your Twitter course. Courses are hard work, though. Yeah, I haven’t I haven’t got the time. So

Arvid Kahl 41:16
yeah. And that’s that’s kind of what I what I wanted to ask you to because you’re a full time founder, right? And you even like moving into management now because you can handle the load of the actual network anymore. Do you still want to keep teaching in another capacity, obviously, of course, is a lot of work as a block, but you want to keep the communities running or you want to find other ways to teach?

Jack Ellis 41:39
Yeah, yeah, something’s happening. Something’s in the works. But yeah, so I thought something’s in the works. Yeah, I can’t necessarily, I won’t talk about it yet. Because still early days, but some things in the works, a lower impact version, teaching high, high, high value stuff, really high value stuff. With a friend who people who know me are gonna guess who I’m doing it with. But yeah, something’s going to happen. But it can’t be me sitting down and making courses and spending hours a day, doing the videos, writing the scripts, the editing, this time, I was clever about it. So anyone making a course, do not do your videos, and then edit them at the end because it’s such a grind, because you have to go back through and then get your context of where you are, and edit them. What I did this time was each time I recorded the video, I edited it. And then I said that videos done as written off, I’m not coming back to it. That made it so much easier. During the edit on the first course coming back and doing the Edit killed me that actually, that was the most exhausting thing. Everything else was fun. That exhausted me. And that actually gave me I’m not going to say PTSD because that’s ridiculous. But that gave me that feeling in your stomach. Really, oh my god, this is just absolutely nuts. Whereas the second course, I learned my lesson, I like tic tic tic and it was much easier. So yeah, that that went well. And that’s what that’s what happened. I’m only sharing what I’ve done. I’m not like a thought leader. I’m not. I just am sharing my experience and what I’ve done to try and help people. And I know it’s helped people and 1000s of people bought serverless Laravel. And single store Florida has only been out for not long at all. And like bloated people have bought that. And they’re moving and they’re solving their business problems, like CTOs everyone. And I’m, I’m really happy about that. So my measurement on that is how many people are benefiting from it and lots of people benefiting from it, and I’m happy.

Arvid Kahl 43:26
Yeah, I guess it makes a very different kind. Of course, if it’s not financially motivated, if you really want to have an impact, and not just sell the course, but actually impact the lives of the people with it. And that is your motivation. It’s nice to still make money. Let’s not forget that I feel the same way about my Twitter course, right? We sold our business and I’m fine with that. Like, I don’t need this course to be expensive to kind of sustain my cool lifestyle of sitting in my office all day. But, you know, it’s nice to see some validation coming in by people opening their wallets, which is one of the best valid kind of validation, what kinds of validation that a founder could ever wish for, right? It’s very, very direct. But I love that both your courses that you’ve put out are just a consequence of you actually having learned something that is worth teaching to people. This just I love that that is so specific in terms of what you offer. You’re not offering the intro to software engineering course. I could you probably could do a try. You could try to teach it would be weird because you are such a such a specifically, I guess, capable engineer that you have so much more to say about these super specific interesting things than the generic things that I guess Chat GPT could do to that, right? Like, what do you would compete? What were you competing with at this point? It’s just a

Jack Ellis 44:48
storyteller. I’m a storyteller. I like I talk about my experiences and former stories. You know, that’s one of the things I might have been as a writer of some kind if I hadn’t gone into software engineering and SAS I’ve always written and it was Paul that unlocked the confidence to write because I always thought it had to be I fight with perfectionism a lot, right? And so with my writing, I’m thinking, oh, it has to be perfectly laid out. And I can’t have any nuance can’t miss bits as to be covered in every way. There’s got to be, it’s got to be perfect, basically. And then I sort of just wrote something one day, and Paul edited it and had a few changes. And he’s like, oh, that’s great. I’m like, well, and I put Paul’s hugely successful newsletter, by published author sold stupid amount of books all over the world. And he is fine. Okay, was like that was the validation I needed. And that post went viral. And this was back in 2018. And from that point on, I just write in my voice. I’ve been I grew up on forums I grew up on, you know, all these things I can write, I can tweet. So now I just write blog posts in my normal voice. And I find it excessively easy. And you can edit it, make a mistake, editing, have someone who can edit it for you. But right in your voice, that’s what changed it. And only to tell you, you’ve written more than more than me, but you write in your voice. And that’s the key to unlock it. But you’ve got to have a voice in the first place. I think and maybe because I’m think people can learn to write, I really do. Everyone has a voice. Just write how you talk. It works. Obviously, you don’t put the ORS in the arms, but write how you talk and then edit it. And then suddenly, you’ve got something. That’s really how I approach writing

Arvid Kahl 46:28
100% i 100%. Agree with us, because that’s how I started writing to like, and it’s nice that you phrased it this way, like, right, you find your voice, heavy voice, just use your hands you already hate, right, you already talked when you talk, you don’t need to change anything about it. And if you can, if you can get somebody’s attention for more than 20 seconds by talking about something you care about, then you can write, like, that’s really what it is because you just need to take these words that you say and put them on a page. It’s really, and I very much agree I write the same way I just whatever comes out, I rarely edit I edit for grammar, you know, that’s English is a second language to me. So there’s there’s certainly the potential for me to you know, make a little mistakes. But that’s what Grammarly takes care of, for me, I tool this stuff away, I essentially just fix fix what I say into something that resembles correct grammar. And then I just publish it to like I never do I ever read the thing again and go through it and restructure. It’s not worth it. If it’s a manuscript for a book may be different. But then I involve other people just like you’d have a poll, which is great. Like you had somebody who’s actually a capable improvement writer, look at your thing and say, Yeah, sure, it couldn’t, couldn’t get any better, right? That’s just the best kind of validation you could get. But for book, I would always get a copy editor and a proofreader. But for blog posts, particularly as fluid as they are, you could just edit it and fix it later. If somebody tells you that something is not working, right. It’s just not a physical artifact that you hand out to people like you would with a book blog post is a blog post. Even even a podcast is a 10 minute recording. Like if you ever make so many mistakes in a podcast recording, at least for me, right? Like not this one. This is a an hour recording, I guess at this point, but at the things that I do the second episode, every week that I put out, it’s just like 10-15 minutes of me thinking about something that came up in this conversation. So that is quickly recorded if there ever is a problem. So the effort is fairly low. I love it. I love your writing. And I love you that your approach to just talking it out, which is also what you do in the podcast. And I I always wanted to ask you one thing because you have a podcast with Paul, that is a podcast between friends, a podcast between business partners, and podcasts between dudes at the same time like this. There’s many different levels. Does it ever get weird? Like do you ever feel? I mean, this isn’t the best of ways. Do you ever feel like you have something that you want to talk about? But you can’t? Because it’s private? And not personal? Because you can talk about personal things all the time on podcasts, but private things stay private, you don’t put them into the public conversation. Do you ever run into this this kind of difference between personal and private in those conversations football?

Jack Ellis 49:05
Yeah, so not on the podcast. I mean, me and Paul talk about anything and everything. Like there’s no there’s literally no limits. I taught I’d tell him about everything that’s going on in my life. If I if I want to be very good friends on the podcast, I’m not going to talk about the fact that my way I might know it. I do. Actually there are some personal things I talk about. I probably will mention that my dogs in a cone right now because you said like removal of some tumors. I’d probably talk about that. Or the fact that I’ve got a cat that gets onto the podcast. I don’t know. I mean, we, though we had we had this is this was actually just me and Sherry Walling, Rob wallings wife, very accomplished clinical psychologist had her on the podcast. I talked about some things from my past I think shaped me. And there’s no there’s obviously limits, but we’ll talk about stuff. We’ll talk about whatever we want to be able to be honest. I don’t know. I mean, I guess we don’t share every single detail. We don’t share our Mo publicly because I think that that’s I don’t respect that I really don’t know Um, for us, people do what they do and what I don’t care what people do, but I don’t. So I shouldn’t say just don’t respect. I don’t respect that. But I think more The point is, that’s not something we’re interested in doing going, Oh, blah, blah. So we don’t share that. But we talk about everything. For the most part, there are very few limits on what we’ll talk about. And we’ll get into politics. We talked about communism versus capitalism, the limits of capitalism, because he has a limit on capitalism, to talk about anything to be honest, Arvid.

Arvid Kahl 50:27
I love that. I’ve just wondered, like, are there things that we don’t get to hear because obviously, podcasts are edited? And it’s fine to to also talk about everything as well, right. There are so many different ways of communicating in public. That there’s a spectrum. I was talking to Michelle Hanson and Colin Jannatul. Right, both of them separately, though. And I think I asked him both about how they determine what to talk about and what not talk to talk about on the podcast. And they have different kinds of heuristics to approach it as well, which is interesting. Some people think, yeah, if it’s, if it serves the audience, I’ll talk about it. And other people think, well, if it serves me, I’ll talk about it. That’s how different you can be.

Jack Ellis 51:05
No, that’s Okay. That’s good. Okay, fine. So we are changing our podcast where we are focused more on the value for the audience. Because, you know, you’re listening to you’re hearing Paul and Jack and the journey. And that’s fun. But we want to be able to help people too. And so we are focusing on structuring our podcasts slightly differently. So it’s interesting, you brought that up, where it isn’t just kind of an ego thing for us to just talk. I’m not saying I don’t even know anyone that does that. But it’s not. We do we are we’re especially now starting to think more about what we’re talking about. We had an episode on wealth, we had an episode on, you know, my course we had episode and how we did our marketing in the beginning, we want that value to go to other founders because we want I mean, yeah, we really want other founders to succeed. I care about the founders, I really died. I talked to them when I when I can. My audience isn’t really software, SaaS founders as such, it’s more engineers, a lot of engineers not knowing the first thing about marketing, which I always feel bad for them, because they’re genius engineers. But my audience is very different. We’re not very different. But it’s different from yours, because you have a lot of business focused followers where I don’t have as many if I tweet about SaaS people like yeah, whereas if you do it, people are there for that. So it’s a mixture, we get a lot of technical questions on the podcast, you’ll hear me talk about the deep dive stuff. But why do we do care about founders, and we get, you know, being misled, and blah, blah, blah, and we care about founders?

Arvid Kahl 52:28
Well, there’s an interesting intersection overlap between these audiences, right, and you can, you will serve both if you’re talking about things that concern both and sometimes you will expand the horizon of those whose topics you don’t talk about. So I think it’s perfectly fine to go explore because it’s also it’s your podcast, you’re gonna talk about whatever you want. That’s about dogs and cones. Sure, go ahead. It’s nice to be a human being as well. And that makes people really interested not just in the business, but also in you and your your accomplishments. And that brings me to the final question of this fine show. Where would you like people to go to follow you your journey, your dog’s journey? And you know, all the other things that might interest people who are both engineers, founders, or any which of those?

Jack Ellis 53:12
Yeah, so use fathom.com as a newsletter. That’s a pretty good place. And then Twitter, Jack Ellis on Twitter. I think that’s it, to be honest, Twitter and newsletter. That’s all I’ve got.

Arvid Kahl 53:24
That sounds great. I think I already follow you on both. So I highly recommend that. Thanks so much, Jack, for being on today and sharing your knowledge and your insights. That was really cool. Thank you.

And that’s it for today. Thank you for listening to The Bootstrapped Founder. You can find me on Twitter @arvidkahl. You’ll find my books and my Twitter course as well. If you want to support me and the show, please subscribe to my YouTube channel, get the podcast in your podcast player of choice and leave a rating and a review by going to (http://ratethispodcast.com/founder). Any of this will really help the show. So thank you very much for listening and have a wonderful day. Bye bye

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