One of the things that separates ActivTrak from other SaaS products is our bootstrapped nature. We’ve financed ourselves ever since we launched in 2012, making us a part of the 90% of startups who choose the same route. This method has motivated us to work hard and grow quickly. Inc. 5000 has recognized our efforts, and ranked ActivTrak #1,491 on the 37th annual Inc. 5000.
If you are self-financing your business or are considering it, you will still have investors: Your Users. This presents a challenge to companies like us. Instead of one or two investors dictating us to go specific directions, we answer to thousands of people, all with their own unique reasons for using ActivTrak.
And though self-financing offers lots of freedom, it must be used very wisely to be successful. In our case, we had to learn to be agile, short feedback loops and sales cycles being just one example.
To do that, we cut down on the time it took for a person to discover ActivTrak, research it, and then buy it. And since each sale is ultimately a commitment to your mission, it’s important to build a relationship immediately and show that you value that commitment. That’s why establishing a short customer feedback loop is so essential.
I’ve learned that the best way to meet the needs of thousands of different accounts is to take regular assessments of who our customers are. As we understand who uses our software, we understand their pain points and why they use ActivTrak.
We recently did a study digging into the thousands of paid and free subscriptions we’ve had since the beginning. We discovered the needs of ActivTrak users are very diverse! Looking back, we see distinct shifts in types of users that form eras in our history, which also mirror the changes in the use cases for the tool.
Era 1 of Development – ActivTrak’s SMB Investors
When you launch a product without any initial backers, you have to know what that initial pain point is. What is something that a business would agree to sign up for immediately because it solved a major problem?
We found that small business owners with teams of around 10 often had one or two employees who’re frequently off task. There was a need to handle situations when an employee was wasting time.There were several employee monitoring solutions back then, but these small organizations were unable to justify the cost of their aggressive pricing. Why spend thousands of dollars and weeks of setup time just to find one or two employees? It didn’t make sense, so small teams were left without an option.
ActivTrak arrived as the first cloud-based employee monitoring software. In the beginning, our focus wasn’t on paid subscriptions. We launched (and still operate) as a freemium product. We were more concerned with helping these smaller organizations enter the software market. Our “Free Forever for Three Users” concept model gives you the chance to enjoy the benefits of ActivTrak, knowing that we don’t ever force you to buy it. You only buy it if you have a need.
Because the software is cloud-based and easy to install, the buyer can begin seeing real-time, relevant usage data in minutes. With a widely sought-after solution finally accessible, ActivTrak quickly became very appealing to small businesses.
We marketed ActivTrak to the decision makers of these organizations as a form of “Employee Monitoring.” The buyer is usually wearing several hats like CEO, Owner, and IT Manager. And since they were willing to try ActivTrak to find those problem employees we knew our message resonated with them.
The Wind Beneath Our Wings
I like to think of this era as the Wright Brothers era. We had this program that needed help getting lifted off the ground. But instead of air, our help came in the form of these small businesses. Our commitment to helping people resulted in hundreds of thousands of users around the world and we achieved the original goal we set out to complete: ease the pain points of small businesses.
But Employee Monitoring was a use case that we knew wouldn’t keep the company afloat for very long. Aside from the “1984” stigma of Big Brother always watching, weeding out a problem employee is usually a short-term issue. The manager would resolve the problem, leave good feedback for us, and sometimes stick around for a few months on the monthly plan. But once management addressed the employees, there’s no longer any value for them to keep ActivTrak around.
Though some of those small businesses moved on, it’s only because of them that we were able to build on to ActivTrak. As the program collected more and more data, we took the opportunity to learn about and develop data-driven use cases using ActivTrak. We knew there were other benefits for businesses we weren’t reaching yet. To really take ActivTrak to the next level, we made it possible for each organization to access the massive amounts of behavioral data the Agent collects.
The ever-increasing large pool of users led to an influx of massive amounts of usage data. To handle their data securely, efficiently, and effectively, we had to work hard and fast to build the best platform. The opportunity to develop a high-quality utility was exactly what we needed to be ready for the larger companies that would soon come our way.
Era 2 of Development – ActivTrak’s Medium Sized Business Investors
It wasn’t long before word about ActivTrak began to spread. Software with a completely free option drew lots of interest, and the owners of each account were happy to share how ActivTrak helped solve problems. The success goes both ways, though. The thousands of free plans generated a challenge for us and inspired increased development of the backend.
The hard work spent on development paid off. We became the only activity tracking software capable of processing hundreds of thousands of reports and we found ourselves way ahead of the competition.
Our capabilities and reputation attracted the interest of medium-sized businesses.
Different from small businesses, these teams usually have a director of IT in addition to the CEO. Now the decision-maker was the CEO half the time and IT manager the other half.
Also, the CEO of a small business usually has a clear understanding of what’s going on in the office. But when they see better than expected growth in their company, all of a sudden they have hundreds of employees and don’t have the time or resources to gain an understanding of how work gets done.
Old Questions, New Answers
As these organizations adopted ActivTrak, an “a+b=c” equation developed: Our Ability to Process Data + Their Analytical Questions = The Development and Growth of ActivTrak. Managers loved the analytical part of ActivTrak and were uncovering answers to their questions. The decision-maker, perhaps skeptical at first, eventually saw the benefit of comparing trends with the data collected.
Though SQL data and custom integrations weren’t the most widely used features at the time, the leaders did understand the insights they could learn year over year and month over month. How did our productivity compare in March of 2018 to March of 2017? Have we improved? Who is visiting dangerous websites and how often?
Our ability to process data made it much faster for them to get a better picture of how their organization operates. That picture revealed they now had a need to act. So we asked, “How can ActivTrak meet that need?”
Here’s the “C” part of the equation. As teams increase, the necessity of cybersecurity increases. We developed features effective in the detection and prevention of Insider Threats. Website blocking, USB detection, and alarms gave smaller companies an affordable option for cybersecurity. For larger companies, these tools complemented their existing security systems.
The CEOs and IT managers concluded that paid plans work great for 50 or 100 workstations. And knowing that they’d be comparing trends year over year, it actually made more sense to buy the annual plans over monthly. So the number of monthly plans peaked and were surpassed by the number of annual plans, a milestone that defines this era.
Business became much more reliable. The annual plans organizations bought afforded us stability, something we needed to develop ActivTrak further and to continue exploring new use cases based on what we learned from the usage data.
Era 3 of Development – ActivTrak’s Enterprise Investors
We know our customers like us because of our ability to run and process data from tens of thousands of workstations. We also know how valuable our product is. Every day, hundreds of accounts are created organically, without tricking the buyer into purchasing something they don’t want. ActivTrak is the largest freemium solution on the market and we are the only company able to provide the data and framework these businesses need.
For the first two years of ActivTrak’s existence, 100% of sales were self-serve, and transactions were all online. We made no calls to pursue customers. But once mid-market companies began buying ActivTrak in era 2, we saw the need for a new team. ActivTrak isn’t a one-size-fits-all software, so an on-boarding team was created to help interested company administrators buy exactly what they need.
At first, the team existed mainly to support the self-serve buyers who would call with questions. But even with an inbound team, 75% of our sales are still self-serve to this day because ActivTrak is so simple to buy and easy to use. With a dedicated team closely monitoring the inbound sales, we started seeing organizations of 500+ users choose ActivTrak as their solution. As of this writing, our largest business account monitors 20,000 workstations!
You might be surprised to know that many self-serve purchases are made by large enterprise businesses. VPs and Directors of enterprise businesses have a super clear idea of what they want to do with ActivTrak and what they want to measure. So, they try our free plans to see if we provide what they need. If we do, they make the full purchase with minimal impact from our team.
New Use Cases Emerge
We do have people who still need help making a decision. The process usually involves a few VPs and consists of demos, PowerPoint decks, and training sessions. Because there are so many people and parts involved, it can last for several months. But thankfully, in Era 3 of ActivTrak, we became adept at providing a team solely dedicated to helping an organization through the process. And as we showed executives how ActivTrak works, we discovered a few things. The biggest revelation was that while they enjoyed the functionality to zero in, review screenshots, and see who uses Facebook too much, they were much more interested in recognizing trends and data.
Insider Threat Detection
Now we were dealing with enterprise businesses with use cases that could be broken down into three main pipelines. When a VP of IT approaches us, the company typically wants our help with network security and User Behavior Analytics. They need a real-time picture of every event performed on the company’s machines. ActivTrak helps them understand in real time if someone was able to find their way around other security layers.
Trends in behavior become easier to spot. Actions like using a USB drive, visiting LinkedIn, and working after-hours in SalesForce, are innocent enough on their own. But ActivTrak is a tool that can connect the dots. Suddenly we notice that one employee inserts a USB drive, spends time in the Jobs section of LinkedIn, spends hours navigating through several accounts in SalesForce, and then writes data to a USB drive. You can see what the underlying motivation behind that sequence of events would be.
There’s also the VP of Operations. Their goal is to understand their business processes and find ways to improve and scale them. They aren’t interested in how much time one employee spends on YouTube. Instead, they’re zeroing in on the actions taken for SalesForce opportunities over $50k. They want to know who’s closing the most sales and what they’re doing to create that success.
And when it comes to application usage, VPs of Operations need to know how the choice of tools affect different team’s productivity, and if all the licenses bought are even being used!
Finally, for a VP of HR, they need Activtrak to measure productivity and engagement and need the metrics for employee career development. Many of these managers that approach us are tired of employee engagement surveys. At first, the surveys are usually effective. But over time they become repetitive and unreliable, creating a disconnect from the survey results and the true engagement and morale levels.
To find a solution, they turn to ActivTrak. The various reports inform them of trends in productivity, risks of disengagement for each individual, and the possibility to react in real time when red flags are raised. The precise data that ActivTrak provides is all about understanding people and not about finding an excuse for firing them.
We continue to work with our customers and research these pipelines more. As we do, we are discovering what tools these organizations need to be more successful, and how we can develop our platform to help them.
Era 4 of Development – Current and Future Makeup of ActivTrak’s Investors
It’s a very exciting time for ActivTrak. Although at first, they were skeptical, we are seeing more and more enterprise companies coming our way. Every month, we get dozens of sign-ups from companies with more than 500 employees in the U.S. and the U.K. There’s consistent, inbound interest from large enterprise Fortune 2000 companies. And though most use cases fit into a standard pipeline, each company is different. We are now at a point where we can develop custom solutions for each organization so they can solve their own, unique problems.
To give you an idea of the diversity of our customer base, Johnson & Johnson, Ogilvy, and several Allstate agencies have successfully implemented ActivTrak. Each organization uses ActivTrak for different reasons, but the outcome for each is the same – they have the data they need to analyze how work gets done on a daily basis. And even though every business is unique, they have one thing in common: People. No matter the company, the most influential factor in their success is the people. That’s what a company is, and that’s why ActivTrak exists.
As a bootstrapped business, everything we earn, we immediately invest in building a better tool. Our roadmap for the next few years is exciting, including localizing ActivTrak in other countries. We’re building a multi-use system that we know will solve problems for the businesses who need help. We listen to them and use our own product to understand them better.
The Circle of ActivTrak
The growth of ActivTrak was a series of small steps. We didn’t have a grandiose plan from the beginning, but all of the customers dictated how the infrastructure grew. It evolved based on our conversations with them.
Every small business dreams of being something bigger. When SMBs come in on the small plans, they are free to scale up as they grow. Then, they learn from the collected data. Seeing those businesses grow is one of the many things I love about ActivTrak. And those organizations still benefit from the ever-developing product they helped develop initially. It’s circular. When we improve ActivTrak for the organizations of 1000+ users, the small businesses benefit from those upgrades. You’re buying a subscription to an ever-updating piece of content.
We’re confident in what we offer because we’ve spent the last six years consistently improving the data collecting process. We know how to collect it, slice it, store it, and deliver it in forms of reporting as quickly as possible. This constant fine-tuning is what made our system capable of super-fast reporting on a large scale. We deliver what is necessary for large organizations. An enterprise company can run a report on thousands of users. They’ll get those results in seconds, not 30 or 40 minutes.
Through each era, all sizes of companies have been and will continue to be equally important to us. I believe that every single business can use ActivTrak in some way. ActivTrak proves to be an incredibly horizontal solution.
Measuring activity is significant, and it is a rising trend in all companies, no matter the size. I’m thrilled to be part of, and to support, this growing trend.