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Joining a startup as a co-founder

Joining a startup as a co-founder

Today's interview is with Iron Brands (he's Dutch, that is his actual name), who joined a privacy analytics startups as a co-founder after it had already launched. We talked about how he met the original founder of Simple Analytics, how they negotiated the new ownership structure, the benefits of ditching Google Analytics and how to grow a bootstrapped startup.

Can you tell us what Simple Analytics is? 

Sure! Simple Analytics is a privacy-friendly Google Analytics alternative. It gives you the insights you need in a straightforward dashboard. We don’t use any trackers or cookies.

We have two advantages over Google Analytics: simplicity and privacy. Google Analytics is free, but your website data is not yours. They own your website data, and they earn a shit ton of money by selling this to advertisers. 

Also, Google Analytics is complex. They welcome you with 50 custom dashboards and make it very complex to navigate. For regular people, 95% of the functionality is unnecessary clutter and clunky. So, Adriaan, the original founder, decided there should be an alternative option. 

An analytics tool that looks slick, is easy to use, and respects your visitors’ privacy. At Simple Analytics, your website data is yours. We store it safely in the EU and don’t sell it to third parties. This also means we are not free and ask a small fee for our service.

But… there is a free plan incoming (you can sign up for the waitlist here)! So stay tuned!

What are some achievements of Simple Analytics?

It’s probably good to mention that I joined Simple Analytics after it was founded. Adriaan started it 5 years ago. An indie hacker that was fed up with Google and decided to built something better. I joined only 2 years ago. Now we’re with the two of us and looking to assemble a small team. Currently, Dries (engineer) and Carlo (copywriter) are working part-time for us as well.

These are our MRR numbers for the past 5 years:

We are also an “open startup,” which means that we share our numbers publicly. You can see our numbers here. We currently have 1240 paying customers. Our website traffic is open as well. You can check those here. As you can see from the graph above, we are growing faster now but it's still very much steady growth. 

There is also this misconception when building businesses. Everyone sees these AI wrapper startups going from zero to 50K MRR overnight. However, these are the outliers; most businesses don’t even reach 1K MRR, and then the founder gives up. 

You need to stay in the game. Show up every day and do the little boring stuff that improves your business. It’s little steps. Putting up with this is our biggest achievement. 

Why should people ditch Google Analytics? 

If you don’t want to support a money-grabbing tech monopolist that earns billions selling your data, then that’s one reason. From a product standpoint: GA4 just sucks. We built a easy to use alternative that gives you the insights you need. 

Overall, we believe the internet should be independent and friendly towards website visitors. If this resonates with you, feel free to give us a try

How did you meet the founder Adriaan and get working at Simple Analytics? 

This is quite an interesting story. I was working on my first startup with my two best friends at University. It’s called Fiks, and it connects students with internships in The Netherlands. It’s still operating and doing 100K ARR. 

Back then, I was getting myself into a burnout. I was responsible for our customers, and in this niche, it was just cold outreach and doing sales calls. Our product-market fit was not super strong, so I needed a lot of calls to get new customers. I calculated it last year, and in two and a half years, I did around 1600 sales calls, repeating the same story and not getting a lot of conversions. 

I was working my ass off, but the business was not growing as fast as I would want it to. This is a recipe for burning out. So I started looking around and found my way into the Indie Hacker community in Amsterdam. 

At one of these Indie Meetups (we call it Internet Friends, and it's still going on), I bumped into Adriaan. He told me he built Simple Analytics and was doing 100K ARR by himself. 

Six months after this conversation, I felt like I really needed to get myself into something new. I still remember my conversation with Adriaan and called him to ask if he was open to working together. To my surprise, Adriaan remembered me as well and was open to partnering up (also since MRR was stalling a bit and). We started off with me just working for Adriaan, but soon enough, we concluded we should partner up. 

I told him I’d work for free to see if we liked working together. But if he decided he wanted to parter up with me, I wanted a big share of the equity pie. Adriaan agreed and I started working for free. Adriaan could cut me off at any time, but that was a risk I was happy to take.

After a couple of months, we decided it worked really well and became partners. I’m now also co-owner of Simple Analytics. We negotiated how big my share of the pie should be and created a vesting schedule to build up my equity in five years. 

Iron Brands
Iron Brands

Any advice on joining an existing startup as a marketing lead?

First of all, it needs to feel right. There are a lot of people that I really like, but that I couldn’t work together with. People have different ideas, have a different way of working or it just doesn’t click. You really need to make sure it feels right with your partner. That’s why I worked with Adriaan for three months before we decided to partner up. 

We got to know each other, and we had a very good feeling whether it would work out. It’s a risk I took, because Adriaan could cut me off any moment. However, if you are joining a startup with traction, you need to make an offer as well. Adriaan did the hard part from 0 to 1. 

Also, if everything feels good, make sure you have a contract in place. These are just standard agreements, but just make sure this checks out. Make sure you have an exit plan as well as a vesting plan for your shares. It would be ridiculous if I got my equity share all at once with the ability to walk away with that next year. Just think it through really well and put it in writing. 

One last thing I want to point out is the equity sharing. There will be a point where you negotiate. “What is the equity split going to be like” etc. Normally, you negotiate to get the best deal, but this doesn’t work between founders. You need to make sure everybody is happy. 

If I am a good negotiator and get a better deal than Adriaan, this would bite us down the line. Maybe even in a couple of years, but it would create friction. So make sure you get the best deal for both of you. 

What’s been the best marketing channel for Simple Analytics? 

Word of mouth has been great from the start, but since I joined, we’ve been focusing a lot on SEO, which has paid off. 

Simple Analytics dashboard

I wrote all my growth tactics down here. I’m toying with the idea to make this in some sort of free course/guide. Just me explaining what worked for Simple Analytics. If you (and your audience) would like it, I might start building it. 

This year, Adriaan and I decided to start focusing on building our “Flywheel." We see that many of our users share their analytics or tell others about Simple Analytics, but we “only” have 1200 users. What if we could 10x or 100x this? That’s why we will launch a free plan soon. In addition, we want to improve our onboarding, affiliate deal, and other “product-related” aspects to improve our flywheel. 

What marketing tips do you have for SaaS founders?

Basically, everything that has worked for us you can find here, but more generally I very much believe in the following approach:

There are two phases when growing a business: 

Traction: Going from 0 to 1

Scale: Going from 1 to 10 

You need to employ a different focus for both stages. The first phase is all about getting traction. Be scrappy, do things that don’t scale, and be out there. 

Go where your potential users hang out. Go on Reddit and answer questions. Drop links to your product on Twitter. Cold DM people on Linkedin, etc. 

For the second phase, you must focus on finding a scalable growth channel. For us, this was SEO. It costs a lot of time, hard work, and patience, but it will provide you with a sustainable source of traffic and users. Another one is creating a “flywheel”. It’s a more product-led approach. Focus on creating viral loops that bring in new users. 

For example, we are going to launch a free plan. My intention is not that I want to convert people from the free plan to a paid plan. I want the free users to become my little marketers. I want them to show their dashboards and talk about us to other people working in businesses that want to pay for it. 

What are some good and bad things about entrepreneurship

Let’s start with the bad stuff for once. First of all, everything rarely works out the way you want. In my first startup, I worked myself into a burnout while not earning any money or seeing my business grow. 

My mind was constantly on. “How can I make this work?” I had problems with sleeping because my head would just keep on spinning. I sometimes have this still when stuff at Simple Analytics doesn’t go as I want it to. 

You really need to train yourself to relax, take time off, and spend time with the people you want. Entrepreneurship is addictive, but don’t let it turn into an addiction. 

Now, the good stuff. I would not trade it for anything else in the world. It feels like playing a game (although on hard-mode). 

  • It’s great to make your own choices. Think about strategy. Build & grow your own product.  
  • There is no better feeling that when something just clicks. It’s yours and you are constantly looking how to improve it. 
  • Work wherever you want whenever you want. Although, you can fall into the trap of switching from working 9 to 5 to working 24/7. 

But being able to decide to book tickets to Bali and spend a month in a villa with your partners is something magical. 

Can you talk about what tools you use for Simple Analytics?

For programming ,you need to Adriaan. It’s mostly NodeJS, but according to Dries (our engineer), Adriaan has build his own framework over the years, haha.

My marketing stack:

  • Semrush (for SEO)
  • Search Console (for SEO)
  • Typefully (for tweeting)

That’s mainly it. Have tried a view tools here and there, but nothing really stuck. We also use Mailgun for emails and I have a LinkedIn and X premium account. Obviously, we use Simple Analytics to track our website stats. 

Where can people find out more about you and Simple Analytics?

This is Simple Analytics and this is me on X. I mainly Tweet about the stuff I just talked about. 

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