Sramana Mitra: It’s nothing particularly out of the ordinary. What was your next step to go in that direction? Did you write a software? Did you use other people’s technology and showed them how to use it?
Tobi Andersson: This is also the next lesson here in becoming an entrepreneur. I realized that there is a need in the market for doing this. What I’d like to share with everybody is the best way to be successful is to stay close to the market. Ask them what they need but also be very sober about it. Sometimes the market doesn’t fully understand what they need because they don’t know what can be done. I talked to the customers and then I added my own vision about that. I started to visualize the data.
Initially, I purchased off-the-shelf software. I purchased well-known products like BI tools and reporting tools. I tried to visualize this market research data with off-the-shelf tools. I spent, more or less, three years doing this. Looking back, it was a time when I learned a lot. I went to customers. I asked them, “Do you need some data to be visualized?” I did it with one of the off-the-shelf tools. I came back to the customer and showed them what I did. They said, “This is good, but it’s not good enough. I can’t use it. You need to redo this.”
I did this for three years. I went back and forth. I tried to build something that someone would pay for. At the end of the three years, I was very close to giving up. At that time, I didn’t have any customers and I wasn’t successful at all. This is also something that I need to communicate. If you are really determined that you would like to do something and if you are focused, there will come a day when you do get successful.
Only those who stay and never give up will be the ones to create companies. After the three years, a customer came to me and said, “I see that you’re gaining lots of experience doing all this trial and error with all the different customers in the market. I’m ready to pay for this.” I got my first customer. They loved this. Based on that, we started to take the next step. We developed the software step by step. That was the starting point. It took a long time to get the company started. In 2003, the company started having customers.
Sramana Mitra: In 2003 when you were interacting with these customers, what did the landscape look like? What off-the-shelf tools were you drawing upon to deliver solutions to your customers?
Tobi Andersson: At that time, I used off-the-shelf tools like Cognos and Crystal Reports. None of the tools worked out. What made me really successful at the end of the day was when I decided to develop something on my own.
Sramana Mitra: When you were going back and forth based on the customers asking for iterations, what specifically was missing that gave you the idea that there was an opportunity to build another product in this analytics space?
Tobi Andersson: At this time, we need to remember that the web was quite new. People have started to use the Internet more on a daily basis. At that time, I realized that one day in the future, everyone will be consuming data through web browsers. This was not the case 15 years ago, but I was really determined that this is how it’s going to be. This was the driver behind everything I did. I wanted to create the best-in-class software that delivers data through web. Now more or less, all communications on a daily basis are on a mobile phone. It was just me being involved and understanding technology at that time. That was the vision that I was determined to keep and not change.
Sramana Mitra: I imagine your original interactions with these clients for three years were in a services kind of mode, right? They were paying you for projects that you were doing for them, initially, on third-party software. Gradually, you started to build this other product. Were your contracts set up as a contract software or contract services?
Tobi Andersson: This is also a very interesting phase. We’re entering into the next phase in the company’s history – 2003 to 2007. My contracts were project-based. This means that each customer and each project was customized for their own needs. I asked each customer, “What would you like to have visualized?” At that time, you were able to get quite good revenue from each project. You could easily get $50,000 to $90,000 for each project. People were willing to pay money for this. I made some good money in the first few years from 2003 to 2005. I bootstrapped the company. Step by step, we could see two things that started to challenge us. First of all, in 2007, we ended up having 140 different customized solutions to maintain. Each solution was customized to specific individuals.
Sramana Mitra: How many people did you have?
Tobi Andersson: 15 people.
Sramana Mitra: What kind of revenue numbers were you doing?
Tobi Andersson: At that time, we were at $2 million.
Sramana Mitra: However, it was a very disjointed unwieldy structure of each client having a different code base and solution. You started thinking about how to rationalize all that.
Tobi Andersson: Correct. If they were willing to pay $50,000 for a project in 2003, they were willing to pay $5,000 in 2007 because there were other alternatives and technology had improved.