Indie Bites

Jack Ellis is the co-founder of Fathom Analytics, the simple, privacy focused alternative to Google launched in 2018. In this episode we talk about taking on the behemoth that is Google, joining a project after it's started, how Fathom grew and how Jack built a $150k course.

Show Notes

Jack Ellis is the co-founder of Fathom Analytics, started with Paul Jarvis in 2019. Jack handles the technical side of the business, but isn't afraid to get on the mic on their podcast, Above Board, or send out some spicy tweets. Jack also runs the Serverless Laravel course, which he launched back in 2020. After this conversation Jack has turned into a true friend, speaking with me for several hours after, a genuinely nice chap. You’re going to want the same thing after listening to this pod. Jack talks with great wisdom on how to approach bootstrapping a SaaS company and taking on a huge incumbent.

➡️ Here's my course on starting a podcast in 2 hours or less (use "bites" for $10 off)

What we covered in this episode:
  • What is Fathom Analytics
  • Joining as a co-founder after the company was founded
  • How Fathom started
  • How did they know Fathom was going to work
  • What growth tactics did Fathom use to grow?
  • How did they convince people to pay for analytics?
  • The trade-off of free software
  • How do you compete in a market with a huge incumbent
  • Starting a medium competitor, Pico
  • Benefits of having a co-founder
  • Quitting a job for Jack's first side-project
  • Starting a course (Serverless Laravel) that made $150,000
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What is Indie Bites?

Short, bite-sized conversations with indie hackers that have started small, profitable and bootstrapped businesses. You'll learn how they come up with ideas, what they do to validate, find those first customers and make a sustainable income. Episodes every Tuesday and Friday.

Jack: And at the time the
company was doing the low $1,000.

. And the growth was ridiculously slow,
the other option for Paul was that

he was going to close, fathom down.

Hello.

Um, welcome back to Indy bikes.

The podcast arriving you stories of
fellow indie hackers in 15 minutes or

less today, I'm joined by Jack Ellis, who
is the co-founder of fathom analytics.

The simple privacy focused alternative
to Google analytics launched in 2018.

Now Jack handles the technical side
of the business, but isn't afraid

to get on the mic on their podcast,
aboveboard or send out some spicy tweeze.

JAG also runs a serverless
Laravel course, which he launched

back in 2020 to some success.

After this conversation, Jack
can stand into a true friend.

We speak for several hours after the
podcast, and he's genuinely a nice chap.

Jack talks with great wisdom on
his approach to bootstrapping

a SAS company and taking on
a huge incumbent like Google.

Thank you to my friend, Charlie
from weekend club for sponsoring

this episode with his new project
part-time tech jobs, which is a

fantastic site for finding and posting.

You guessed it.

Part-time tech jobs.

If you're looking to transition for a
full-time role to indie hacking, finding

a part-time role might just be for you.

De-risk in that transition.

And on the other side, if you're
looking to hire great entrepreneurial

talent without breaking the bank,
this is where you should post.

So, if you're looking for a part-time
tech job, head to part-time tech

jobs.co, or if you're looking for tech
talent, use the code indie bites, all

camps for 80% off all featured posts.

Finally a little plug for my new podcast
in core, showing you exactly how to

make a podcast, just like indie bites
in only two hours or less a week.

So if you've been wanting to start
a podcast, but haven't found the

time, head to our podcast and
use the code bites for $10 off.

But that's enough for me.

Let's get into this conversation.

James: Jack.

Welcome to the podcast.

How are you doing?

Jack: I am wonderful.

You are a true professional.

James: I love it.

And I love it when I was speaking
to people that have built, awesome

businesses like you have with fathom.

And when I was looking back into what
Jack Ellis has done in the past is

there's more to you than just running
this privacy focused analytics platform.

But what I'm also happy about is that
I've got a fellow Brit on the mic

which, which is always nice to me.

And we can talk about stuff
like Brexit and fuel prices or,

or whatever else we want to.

talk me through fathom what it is as
brief as you can why Paul and Danny

started it and what made you join?

Because it wasn't something that
you co founded or started yourself.

You joined an existing project.

And for someone like a lot of indie
hackers, when they want to start

their own project, it's usually
their own idea or a group of

people come together with an idea.

But this was something you joined a
little bit later, you went 50, 50.

Was it hard to join in a project
that had already started?

And wasn't your own idea?

Jack: Fathom started, it was
Paul's idea on Twitter, right?

He posted a screenshot of it.

Wasn't privacy focused or privacy.

First.

He was just sick to death of how
complex Google was and getting

simple answers from analytics.

You just couldn't do that.

And he had this vision of how
it could be so much better.

And then he worked on an open source
version version of fathom with Danny.

And because Danny had some code from
the past and they sort of, you know,

work together, built this thing,
the source repo was successful.

And then I think Danny and Paul
had a phone call put, they had a

phone call right before me and Paul,
because me and Paul were working on

Pico, which was a medium competitor.

And we had thousands of
people on our waiting list.

Very excited.

They're very excited about that.

That's a, I forgot about Pico until
you mentioned it this morning, but

we were working on Pico and put
what a call with Danny on Skype.

And then we had a call directly
after, and Paul's like, Danny's

saying that he's done with father.

And so when I'm like, oh shit, you know,
that's not good poops, you know, Paul's

not a developer, Paul's a designer.

. And now he's lost his developer.

So we immediately get to talking
about the idea of me coming on board.

And at the time the company
was doing the low $1,000.

. And the growth was ridiculously slow, but
you know, it was still enough to see that

there was clearly product market fit.

So we had this hard decision of do we
keep doing Pico, which has thousands of

people on the waiting list, but doesn't
actually have any revenue or do I come

on board and working it with Paul and
Paul's written about this publicly,

but the other option for Paul was that
he was going to close, fathom down.

So it was a case that we're going to work
together on this, or it's going to be.

And fathom grew very, very slowly
up until we launched version

two, which was a complete redo.

And we launched on product hunt and it
just blew up from there, kept on growing.

We thought, oh, this is
actually becoming something.

James: That's interesting.

And you said it when V2 launch did the
product hunt launch and then it starts,

started to grow quickly from that point.

Can you think back to any of the
inflection points in growth when you

were like, yes, this is really working or
maybe what you were doing apart from just

having a great product for that growth,

Jack: pose.

Audience helped a bit to begin with.

We still get a few people off of
pool, but we were very conscious

that that can't be the only funnel.

Product hunt helped Twitter, but
done a ton of stuff on Twitter.

We're very active on Twitter,
Our content, game's very active.

We're very public about what we do.

You version two was just better.

I know what he said.

Don't just say better software,
but version two was just better.

So you have a better product.

You're going to get people
that actually convert.

It's not just about the traffic
right before we had this dashboard.

Really grossly simple.

We didn't have countries
browsers, that kind of thing.

We didn't have anything like events
or goals where suddenly we've got all

this stuff and people got excited.

James: Well, I'm interested to know
how you've sort of tried to change

people's perception on analytics
and paying for analytics because so

many people are so used to getting
them on a six from free from Google,

I think is a powerful product.

Marketing teams literally run their
whole, content machine based on the

data that Google has given them.

And that is free.

So how did you start to convince
people to pay for something that

they could originally get for free?

Jack: Yeah.

So it's a mixture in our content
and it's a mixture in general

awareness of what's going on.

People have learned that
free is not free.

There's some kind of trade off somewhere.

And so the question is would you
pay $14 a month for a company

that isn't going to screw you?

If your data isn't going to track
your visitors around the web and is

actually going to do the right thing.

we're not under any kind of pressure
from external investors, or we're

not a publicly traded company.

So when Facebook starts doing
various questionable advertising

things, what are they driven by?

They're not driven by being good people.

They're driven by profits.

, you know, once you're publicly traded.

And I talked about this in our
podcast, you have challenges too.

If you start doing the right thing,
but it's not profitable, then you can

be sued by shareholders So I think
it's harder for big tech companies to

do the right thing a lot of the time.

or they're just idiots, like which
one is they're either idiots or.

Choose not to do the right thing,
so fathom, obviously we care about

profits, but we're not under any kind of
pressure to do the wrong thing to think.

Or maybe we can stop what a Google
do, a stupid thing where they think

they fingerprint your browser.

They follow you around the web and they
put you in this kind of group to target.

You have adverse, and they think
that that's better, not better.

So they've just got all the, but
they've got these pressures though.

They have to do this
because they've got these.

If they suddenly drop their revenues, then
the CEO is going to get sacked or, you

know, people will start losing their jobs.

We just don't have this.

James: sort of answered my next
question, which was about how do

you go about tackling a product
that has so much market share?

If an indie hacker or an entrepreneur
was thinking of creating a product

that solves a problem where there
is an absolute behemoth What would

they have to do to cut out a little
bit of that market share for them?

Jack: Compete on areas that
our company can't compete on.

So take a look at Derek Roemer.

What he's doing with savvy cow
Calendly, can't provide the

same attention that he can.

You know, innovate on your product.

Again, coming back to savvy, Cal,
I think Savik has a great idea.

He's innovating in areas
that Calendly isn't.

James: Let's move on then from
fathom and talk a little bit about

PK, because that is a product
that I was really excited for.

I medium competitor, fantastic
medium and stipend ads everywhere

and trying to monetize everything.

And I was like, I really liked the
writing style of medium or, or the

writing experience, how it looks.

And this was before I really started
using ghost or knew what ghost

was or or how guys had developed.

But this was your first time working with
Paul Paul Jarvis author of company of

Jack: Oh, no second times
first public time, I suppose.

Well, we built a crypto.

We built a kind of crypto
product before experimenting with

crypto technology beforehand.

That was a joke project.

And we worked on that together and that's
how we kind of enjoyed working together.

James: How did you meet him
and ended up deciding to work

together on, on something?

Jack: So I was in BC for a holiday
and I messaged Paul was always a

part of Paul's course, actually.

And I messaged him saying,
whereabouts are you?

And he's like, he just happened to
be quite close to where I was living.

we met for coffee and we just
clicked on a bunch of stuff.

And then we started Pico
shortly after the Crip.

James: Before working with it with
Paul, you always really wanted a

hundred percent ownership on something.

I understand people that do you
want that a hundred percent?

But what changed and how have you found
the benefits of having a K founder?

Jack: Uh, It keeps you focused,
keeps you grounded someone else to

actually share the responsibility
with being a solo founder sucks I

mean, I'd worked all through the
night till 5:00 AM full of sleep.

Wake up, repeat.

This was on rural Gainesville.

I don't know if we talk about that,
but just repeat and then you'd kind

of get hung up on things for ages.

You've got no one to sanity.

Check you.

Paul sanity checks me all the
time and it always makes me laugh.

People assume that he's not
involved in that the tax stuff.

He was very much involved in the textile.

Paul sanity checks me and helps
me through stuff all the time.

I think you need to work with
someone that compliments your skills.

I mean enough, for example,
Justin Jackson were transistor.

John's an incredibly talented programmer.

Justin's great at marketing so you have
to find a co-founder that compliments you

else just stay solo and just hire people,

James: and so, so you say Pico
is already built ready to go.

You mentioned earlier in the episode about
choosing to go on with fathom instead,

and PK got acquired by ghost, and it's
now a lovely little theme you can use.

Tell me a little bit about how
that acquisition came about.

Jack: Oh, easy.

Paul's friends with John.

They were talking over
text and that was it done?

James: That is one way to sell a company.

Uh, Jack, I'm interested in one
of your first projects, raw gains,

which you quit your job and started.

Jack: I was making 20,000 pounds a year.

I was 20 something years old and I quit
my job to work on this full-time and

I thought that I was going to quit in
June and by January I'd have enough

customers to start making some money.

I thought it was gonna be that simple.

I go, oh, I was bad back then.

I thought I had, you know,
I had all these plans.

I drew out just, I think
analysis paralysis.

Right.

I wasted more time on things that
ultimately just didn't matter.

What I should have been doing is focusing
on a small set of features, shipping it,

getting feedback, getting people excited.

What I did instead was all
I'm going to build the whole

product before I launch it.

I'm going to obsess.

I'm going to spend ages on the design.

I'm going to spend ages planning.

The exact class structure of
this PHP class is wasted time.

And so I did everything wrong and I
ended up shipping it late 2014, just to

say that I shipped it, but it was crap.

It was no, it wasn't.

It was, the technology was
incredible, but it doesn't matter

because no one was excited about it.

No one really cared.

I didn't do the white stuff.

I did the opposite of everything I do now.

So if I was doing war games
again, I would have, like I say,

built small bits of it shipped.

It got people, excited, got
people involved, all kinds of

things, but I didn't do that.

And I failed and I made
no money and I \cried.

James: did You go back to,
to get a job after that?

Jack: No, no, no.

From that point on, I was
doing full-time consulting

James: Was that up until the point
in which she started Pico and father.

Jack: Yeah.

So the transition I'm a full-time
consulting was when I launched my

course, the course did like a stupid
amount on the first day, of course

it's done $150,000 since March, 2020,
but it was that income that helped pad

things for me and was like, oh, okay.

Cause father, like I
was making good money.

Right.

And leaving it for fathom, for
fathom to pay the same money

that I was making was hard.

James: you've mentioned this again
a couple of times, and it's really

impressive what you did with your
course, because after switching the

entire fathom code base and go to PHB
and two months, you thought you put

all of this accumulated knowledge.

Into your course serverless Laravel.

what was your thinking behind
putting all this work into a course?

Jack: I was tweeting
about what we were doing.

People were into.

I was getting questions.

I was getting emails and I
just thought, you know what?

People are actually
interested in this knowledge.

I spent more time than anyone else
run into more problems because

of our scale than anyone else.

I've got all this knowledge.

I'm going to put it into a course.

And I, at the beginning, I remember
writing out my goals and all the goals

were things I could control the goal
was it doesn't matter if I don't sell.

Courses, what matters is that, I mean,
the eight you're going to learn a

ton from this and I'll be ready for
another course or for something else.

And I'll actually get to help
people, so it was serverless.

Laravel that sold me.

I need to make a course.

I made, I started a course, got a waiting
list on that, I shared tips publicly.

I shared what I was working on.

I kept on storytelling
because I share what I do.

Like my goal on Twitter is to try,
obviously I do a few shit posts

here and there, but my goal on
Twitter is to help people is to

help them improve their lives.

And I can't help everyone.

People are, no people are smarter
than me and everything else, but

I can help a group of people.

And that's all I did.

And then more hype got people up for
the course on, cause it was good.

It was a good course.

And then people bought it.

James: did he make the course?

was it just loom videos?

Jack: Oh, I can't even
remember what I used.

I used that one that all people use.

What's it?

James: ScreenFlow.

Jack: or ScreenFlow that said, yeah,
I use ScreenFlow and then I just kept

on promoting it throughout the year.

And like I said, it's done
$150,000, which is stupid.

James: Jack.

This has been an absolutely
marvelous conversation.

We've covered a lot of ground,
but at the end of every episode,

I asked for three recommendations.

A book a podcast and an
Indiana co-publisher follow

or that you're inspired by

Jack: the book that really shook me was
seven habits of highly effective people.

Huberman lab is a really good podcast
as a neurology, Stanford, and what, it

just gives all the content for free.

And then you say indie hacker.

None.

I don't care about indie hackers.

I don't have heroes.

I don't have groups that
I have alliances with.

I look at individual traits and
I try to take traits that I like

and implement them in my life.

So James you, for example, I
very much admire how particularly

organized you worked for this episode.

I haven't seen prep like that before,
so I don't say, oh, James is amazing.

I say, oh, well, this thing
that James does is amazing.

So like, I respect you for that.

James: Data.

I really appreciate that.

And throughout the episode,
we've had a few people mentioned

too, who were doing good things.

So, appreciate the honesty.

The apps that you
wonderful recommendations.

Thank you jack for
joining me on indie bites

Jack: Thank you.

Thank you for listening to this episode
with Jack Ellis, the co-founder of fathom

analytics, all the links to everything
we discussed in this episode will be

in the show notes or a bites diaphragm.

If you'd like to support me on
my journey, becoming a full-time

indie hacker, you're doing exactly
that by listening to this pod.

But I'd love it.

If you just checked out my
new course, just to give me

feedback so I can make it better.

But that's all for me.

See you next week.