Day after day, you feel like nothing’s moving fast enough.
You look at your numbers and you’re never entirely satisfied; you keep wanting more.
I know you do, because we’re all like that: marketers, entrepreneurs, or even content writers. We’re constantly striving for the best, hoping to get better results than the day before.
But you know what, it can help to take a step back.
Take a look at what you’ve accomplished so far and realize that you’ve come a long way after all.
It took us by surprise when we recently learned that we were 58th in the Growth 500 list: the ranking of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies, and not only are we 58th, we are in the $2-5 million revenue category!
It made us stop and realize just how much we grew: 1,302% over the past 5 years. All of this without venture capital funding, which is crazy!
We never really stopped to think about how fast we were going, we were just constantly increasing the speed.
We were so focused on always working better, and going faster, that it never even occurred to us that we were one of the Fastest-Growing Companies in Canada.
This made us wonder, what’s the recipe for success or growth? How did we end up following it?
We stopped for a second to think about all the good and bad decisions that came along the way. Because we must’ve done something different than other startups to get this growth right?
Buckle up. I’m about to tell you the 100% real story of how a small bootstrapped startup ended up on the Growth 500 list. How did we start from nothing, only to end up with more than 18,000 users in 70 different countries? And in a market flooded with companies using VC funding to get a head start, how did we obtain a 1,302% growth without any debt?
This isn’t your conventional tech startup success story: we didn’t take the obvious road to success. It’s not a magical recipe for growth either, it’s just our real life experience.
We thought we’d share it with you, along with some of our wins, fails, and some tips we learned along the way. Who knows, maybe our story could help you avoid the same mistakes, and help you realize that even if you’re outside of Silicon Valley, and don’t have VC funding, that doesn’t mean you can’t compete with the big dogs.
2010 – 2012
Build a solution to a problem you know and understand. Search for the pain to later get the gain.
Our founder Stéphane had a problem. He was working in a marketing agency and creating all his client reports by hand. With excel. Like an animal.
His reports took SUCH a long time to create, and quite frankly, it was boring work. He kept thinking that he could be putting his mind to better use and yet, he was stuck creating reports; all that precious time he was losing.
He did some research in the hopes of finding a solution, but at the time, there was no automated reporting tool on the market to help him.
Since he had a background in computer programming, he decided to create his own solution instead. Sure enough, he realized that he wasn’t the only one with this need.
In 2011, web marketing was still a very young field. Agencies were just starting to ramp up their interest in statistical analysis and data collection. But the only tools available were complex business intelligence tools for data analysts. There was nothing for the average marketer who needed speed and efficiency over complexity.
There was obviously market potential here to be tapped! And since he was precisely the target audience he was aiming for (and he knew exactly what pain his potential clients were going through), Stéphane was in a really good position to offer the best product possible.
The idea behind DashThis was born!
2012 – 2014
Remember to treat your 1,000th customer the same way as your first. And accept that to do this, you might need help. Don’t let your service or product deteriorate because you’re putting it all on yourself.
In 2012, the unthinkable happened… Google wrote a blog post about DashThis!
At the time, DashThis was one man’s operation – a very little startup – and Google was talking about it. This was the biggest win in the history of wins! It was exhilarating! It’s still there by the way if you want to check it out!
The news brought so much new traffic and clients, it was as if it was Christmas and we’d been very good apparently! Having more clients obviously means more revenue and opportunities (yay!), but it also means more requests, more support to give, more questions, and more work overall.
Answering clients’ questions at 3 am can only last for a time. When your business’ number of customers is increasing exponentially, one person alone can’t wear all the hats. You can’t be an account manager, software developer, and CEO all at the same time.
You might end up cutting corners and doing some things wrong.
Unfortunately, providing less customer support is often the first avenue entrepreneur’s take: automating customer relations in order to save time and money. But providing inadequate service for our clients wasn’t an avenue our founder wanted to take.
Customer service has always been our #1 priority, it’s in our DNA.
But to us, customer service isn’t just a matter of answering client questions whenever they arise. DashThis was built, from the get-go, with the constant input and feedback that our clients provided. In order to continue to develop and deliver a product that our clients loved, it was imperative that we take the time to foster relationships with our customers, and continue having real discussions with them at all times.
Therefore, in order to continue to offer the quality of service and tool that Stéphane strived for, we needed more hands.
It was time to hire the very first DashThis employee. It was a big step.
Now, what task was going to be put in the hands of someone else?
Software development is never-ending. When you’re a software as a service company (SaaS), your code is never “done” there are always more features, upgrades, or optimizations to do. So our founder decided to hire a software developer who could take his code even further, so that he could concentrate on the marketing and client-service side of the business.
DashThis hired its first employee!
As your company evolves, some employees, structures, and functions are bound to change. Don’t be afraid to take these major and sometimes painful steps for the good of your company. And when you hire people, hire those who will have the same drive and vision as you, yet who come to you with new and challenging ideas that can make your company go further.
Time traveling to 2015, there were now a couple people working for DashThis! Of course, it was still quite new, and bootstrapped, so we couldn’t be wasting any money. One of the solutions? An entirely remote team!
It seemed like the best idea ever! Who needs an office anyway, it’s 2015, we can work remotely; thanks internet! No lease, no problem.
But it wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies.
Let me tell: what starts off as a great win can become a big fail.
You see, while it might remove a big overhead cost to have no office, the more employees you have, the more it can cause a hell of a lot of other problems:
Remote work is all about trust. And if an employee betrays that trust by working less efficiently than (s)he should, it’s a lot harder to see it and act on it quickly. Unfortunately, we experienced this situation firsthand, with some employees working about 50% of what they said they were. When a situation like this continues for months, it’s a lot of wasted money, especially for a bootstrapped startup. It’s also quite hard on your overall morale to be honest, because you start doubting everyone and everything.
Mind you, some business do strive with a model based on remote work, like Ahrefs, Help Scout or Basecamp. They can accomplish incredible things with an all-remote team. But for us, it simply wasn’t an efficient way to run our business.
DashThis was growing, and we needed a team that could take things further. We needed people who really understood DashThis’ vision, were able to scale it up exponentially, and who had a knack for bringing teams together and making sure that everyone is paddling in the same direction.
So DashThis got two brand new partners! With Philip and Antoine handling the management and growth of the business, Stéphane could concentrate more on the tool itself. Together, they pushed each other to see bigger and to go bigger. Thanks to this newly gained expertise, DashThis grew exponentially into a world-leading product.
In no time at all, they determined that some changes in the team and structure of the company were inevitable.
Different times mean different needs. And the type of team and players you need to get an idea off the ground aren’t always the same ones you need to make that idea grow on an international scale.
And that’s normal.
For DashThis, we needed more structure, and we needed players that had the drive and were willing to put in the extra mile to bring our vision to life. There were a lot of changes: employees were laid off, others were hired, new positions and teams were created while others weren’t needed anymore. It wasn’t easy, but it was necessary.
2016 – 2018
Being bootstrapped not only means being frugal; it means going the extra mile every step of the way, being flexible, and making quick but thought-out decisions whenever you need to flip on a dime. Be prepared to work harder than ever before and think through every single decision like your life depends on it. But don’t dawdle; when you’ve made a decision, stick with it and go all-in.
2016 was a pioneer year for DashThis: we created entirely new departments, like our Account Management team and our Marketing team. We brought everything in-house that had previously been given to external agencies and built our own internal marketing agency. But the more employees we had, the more we needed to be able to discuss and challenge each other on a daily basis.
Being together was going to help a lot!
It was time for DashThis to rent an office space. The lease was signed: a brand new, high ceiling, concrete floor, luminous, open space… just like in the movies! But just before we started moving in, the landlords decided to rent the space to another, bigger company. We had to improvise QUICK!
We flipped on a dime and ended up renting the first place we could find that fit our needs. It wasn’t at all the dream office we were all waiting for, more like the corporate, 80’s beige walls office you see everywhere.
But, that dream office we so desperately wanted couldn’t hold more than 20 employees, and it was a 10 year contract. At that time, it seemed perfect since there were about 8 of us. We never even thought of being close to 20 employees back then. Little did we know that 6 months later, we were already 20. And now, just 2 years later, we’re 32 and counting.
So, how did we get the money to grow our team like that? Simple. Instead of putting all our profits into our pockets, we decided to always invest in the company. Every single extra buck goes to the improvement of the tool, the team, and our business strategies. We’ve always budgeted very closely and even to this day, every cent spent is an important investment.
Speaking of investment, every employee hired was a very thought-out process; these types of decisions aren’t made lightly at DashThis. We needed to hire people that we trusted would stay for a long time, people who had very particular skills that the company needed, but also, people who would be willing to put their time and energy fighting relentlessly for the company; people who would drive the business instead of slowing it down. Basically, we needed incredibly passionate people.
Nothing is more important than to be surrounded by the right people. People who can help you manage a business, who can find new ways to save and make money in your particular niche, with new strategies, tax credits, investments, and any other way possible. We’ve surrounded ourselves with experts who’ve helped us tremendously through time.
Being bootstrapped obviously means having less money to start with, but it also has the distinct advantage of meaning that you have no debts. Which makes it a lot easier to invest directly in your company and grow the way you want to.
Honestly, getting VC funding was always tempting, and we were constantly challenging whether or not we should get that extra boost. However, we always ended up agreeing that we preferred to stay 100% in control of the direction of the company and our decisions.
No one’s telling us what to do, and that kind of freedom is simply priceless.
Now that we’re one of the fastest-growing companies in Canada, the sky’s the limit, and we’re all super excited about what’s coming next! But what exactly IS coming next?
Getting to the top 10 fastest growing companies perhaps?
We keep on asking ourselves a thousand questions: How can we get to the next milestone? And most importantly, how do we stay relevant in this ever-changing and highly competitive market?
We’re constantly trying to find new ways to improve our tool, by challenging our ideas, our features, our strategies, and making sure we’re on the right path. We never really know if the next move is going to be a win or a grandiose fail; every single decision is a calculated leap of faith. Eventually, you have to stop asking questions and just make a decision. It’s the only way to go forward, and grow.
Every decision we make is for our clients. We’re always trying to keep our “little shop” feel. And making sure we preserve our friendly client service while growing exponentially.
The last thing we want is a cold service provided by robots just to keep up the pace.
There’s nothing more powerful in a company than the feeling of working together towards the same goal. Which is why we need to keep our family vibe, and our team spirit, while we grow our business.
Work together, as a team, have fun, be friends with your clients, celebrate your wins and constantly challenge everything you do. That’s how we do things at DashThis, and that’s what we think helped us grow so fast.
Take it or leave it, but it’s a hell of a lot more fun to do it this way!
The entire team at DashThis
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