Meet the Maker Paul Jarvis
from Fathom Analytics

19/01/22 | Interview by Stuart Goulden

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                    Paul Jarvis
Paul Jarvis is the co-founder of Fathom, a privacy-focused analytics tool. The popular Google Analytics alternative has a cult following for its ease-of-use as much as its higher calling. We discuss all things digital privacy with customers becoming more data-aware by the day. Paul also shares how minimalism shapes every decision at Fathom, from data collection to UI design and even how he wants it to grow. It’s a much read for anybody starting to question the hold big tech has on their customers and wanting to take the leap themselves.

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  1. Hi Paul, please introduce yourself and Jack and your backgrounds…

    So Jack and I are the cofounders of Fathom. Jack is a developer, and I’m a designer and writer. Combining our skillsets has been quite an excellent mix for starting and running a SaaS company (so far).

    Fathom started back in April 2018 with a different technical cofounder. He quit shortly after, and Jack came on board. When Jack started, Fathom really began to take off and go from a side project to a full-time job for both of us.

    Since we never took any funding or outside capital, we’ve been able to run things the way we want and just focus on ensuring our customers have the best product possible.

  1. Why take on Google Analytics?

    Why not?!

    I didn’t really think about it at the start, that 85% of websites online use Google Analytics, and Google itself is one of the largest companies on the planet.

    (It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t think too much about that.)

    Really, when Fathom started, we just wanted to make something easy to use and privacy-focused. For 15 years, I built websites for clients, and I’d always install GA. But it was confusing to use and hard to dig into the data that really mattered. I’d have to spend hours learning how to do it, then more hours teaching every single client how to run specific reports. So one day, I was extra unhappy at GA, so I designed a mockup of what I thought website analytics could look like—and when I started that on Twitter, it spread like wildfire (lots of those Fry from Futurama “TAKE MY MONEY” gifs, etc.).

    Our goal has never been to take over as the dominant player in the space and usurp GA. Instead, we just want to run our company for the folks who care about simplicity and privacy. And since we’ve been profitable for ages (note: profitability includes our full-time salaries; otherwise, it’s not true profitability), we don’t need to grow insanely fast; we just need to stay sustainable and in the black.

"Our goal has never been to take over as the dominant player in the space and usurp GA. Instead, we just want to run our company for the folks who care about simplicity and privacy."

- Paul Jarvis
  1. I feel more of us are concerned with how our personal data is collected and used. Why is it so important to you?

    To be honest, I’m not sure why this isn’t important to everyone who uses the internet.

    We all have to live with this crappier version of the internet than we should have because we all have to live with the fact that our data is collected, sold and then used against us all the time. And that data is not just used for innocuous things like shoe ads, but it’s used in ways that can influence how we think and what we think about.

    I remember the day we launched v1 on ProductHunt was the day Mark Zuckerberg was testifying in front of the US Congress (April 11, 2018) about Facebook continuing to violate its user’s privacy. We didn’t time it that way, but it definitely worked out that something we cared about (digital privacy) was starting to take centre stage in the consciousness of the more general population of internet users.

    Laws are also starting to catch up with the misdeeds of Big Tech, and laws like GDPR are growing bigger teeth as more and more case law, especially in the EU, is resulting in large fines and complaints.

    Just last week, the Austrian DPA ruled that using Google Analytics is illegal! I wouldn’t have guessed that could have happened a few years ago, but we saw the writing on the wall for it (after the Schrems II ruling), and it’s why we created our EU Isolation feature last year, to make sure our customers were covered.

  2. As a Fathom user myself, its simplicity is a major draw. Can you share your UI philosophy or ideals?

    Yup, it’s pretty straightforward: we (Jack and I) want to do all the heavy lifting and thinking for our customers, so they can focus on what they pay us for: their analytics data.

    This is why our dashboard is a single page and ridiculously easy to use. Jack and I spend our time ensuring every single feature, every single click, every single thing possible is done in a way that makes sense and happens quickly.

    Since I started designing websites and web applications in the 90s, I’ve always had a very minimal style—not just because the aesthetic is pleasing, but because I honestly think design needs to be informed by the problems it’s being used to solve, otherwise, it’d just be “art.” Art looks pretty; design solves problems.

    We end up moving relatively slowly (compared to the “most quickly and break things” Big Tech ideals) because we’re intentional and want our customers to actually enjoy using our software.

    We’d rather move slowly and break as little as possible.

  3. I’ve been surprised to catch you on support tickets. What have been your biggest learnings dealing with users directly?

    Jack and I both handle support - he takes on the very technical tickets, and I take care of the rest. We both love doing support and will continue until it no longer makes sense (and even then, still do some support).

    Support is a direct line to our customers. It’s a direct line to hearing them talk about a problem they’re trying to solve with our software. So it’s the best place to build our roadmap and the best place to market Fathom (if our support is fantastic, our customers tell the folks they’re connected with).

    We also prioritize support because retention is cheaper than acquisition. Meaning if we just ensure our customers know how to use our software and are happy with it, they don’t leave, and we, therefore, need fewer new customers at all times to stay profitable.

    More details about how we approach support as a small SaaS company can be found here:

"Support is a direct line to our customers. It’s a direct line to hearing them talk about a problem they’re trying to solve with our software."

- Paul Jarvis
  1. Outside of Fathom, your book, Company of One, extols the virtues of staying small in business. How do you know when enough is enough?

    The book’s thesis is actually that a business owner should question growth, not that they need to stay small. Although most of the time, you are correct, staying on the smaller side makes the most sense in terms of profitability and sustainability.

    As far as “enough” goes, our first goal was to have enough revenue to pay Jack and me a typical salary. We hit that a few years ago, and now we have different “enough” goals (building an amazing small team, having more brand awareness, and adding some key features we feel our software needs).

    I can’t fathom (bad pun, I know) ever being a massive business because Fathom doesn’t need to be. Support is very manageable; our software is well built and uses redundant, serverless architecture (no need to hire SysOps); and once we finish building out those key features, we can turn our attention to refining what we’ve got. Our sales/marketing is pretty much product-led, and so we don’t need a team of sales folks out there hyping up our product to land customers.

    We’d never try to limit growth in any way artificially, but our attention is rarely on growth as a top priority. Instead, we focus on those other areas I mentioned above, and growth is just a knock-on effect to that focus.

  2. Do you think side-projects are a help or a hindrance in this regard?

    At the start, Jack and I needed to treat Fathom as a side-project because it wasn’t profitable (as in, it made money, but not enough to pay us salaries).

    Once Fathom was truly profitable, we started to wind down our other work and focus entirely on Fathom. Both Jack and I have worked for ourselves for a long time, so we still have a few minor things on the go outside of Fathom, but nothing that requires much attention or time since Fathom is pretty much all-encompassing at the moment.

  3. Back to Fathom, how have you evolved and grown to date? Many growth tools or techniques (e.g. targeted ads) aren’t exactly privacy-led.

    My experience with previous work has always focused on audience, awareness and product, leading to growth. So with Fathom, that’s how things worked out.

    We started by using my own audience (when I had one) to promote Fathom. Once that stopped being a primary driver of new customers, we had our own audience and awareness happening through things like our podcast, our writing on our blog, our company Twitter account, our affiliate program, and really just lots of awesome customers talking to their audiences about our product.

  4. You must also field a lot of investment enquiries. How easy is it to stick to your ‘grow on your own terms’ principles?

    Yup, we get at least one email from VC companies a week offering to invest or buy us outright.

    Of course, it’s flattering, but we don’t waste our time with any of them beyond politely declining.

    There’s never been a reason to take funding, so it’s a pretty straightforward “NO” from us.

    At the start, we were lucky enough to make a decent living from our other work to spend some of our time building Fathom. And now, Fathom is profitable enough to easily pay our salaries (and the folks who work for Fathom in various ways). We grow at an incredible rate, but more importantly, our churn is super low, so we’re infinitely sustainable.

    Jack and I have talked about this, and neither of us can ever come up with a compelling enough reason for Fathom to take funding. It wouldn’t help us, it wouldn’t help our customers, and it wouldn’t help our sustainability. So it’s effortless to stick to our principles here because they’ve paid off so well for us so far.

    I know this isn’t the case for everyone, and I have no problems with others taking on VCs or funding; it just doesn’t make sense for us specifically, based on how we’ve built and grown Fathom.

"Yup, we get at least one email from VC companies a week offering to invest or buy us outright. Of course, it’s flattering, but we don’t waste our time with any of them beyond politely declining."

- Paul Jarvis
  1. What’s next for you and Fathom?

    World domination and rocket ships to Mars! 🤣

    In reality, it’s pretty dull. We plan to keep adding features our customers ask for, ensuring our customers are happy enough to stick around and tell their friends and enjoy what we do daily.

  2. And finally, what are your top 3 marketing tools you’d recommend to others? Bonus points if they’re privacy-based.

    We don’t rely on many specific tools for marketing, so nothing specifically comes to mind.

    Instead, if I had to describe Fathom’s marketing strategy in 3 steps, it’d be:

    1. Talk to your customers via support and listen to what problems they’re trying to solve with your product.
    2. Build brand awareness by telling great stories through your content (not just boring marketing-ese or SEO-stuffed blog posts).
    3. Continue adding value to your product by focusing on what you can do to impact the most number of your customers.

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