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A "Headless" Automation Tool Making $93,000 MRR

How community engagement and posting content turned his simple tool to a million-dollar business

What is the business and who’s behind it?

browserless is a “headless” automation software founded by Joel Griffiths that allows users to automate tasks on a web browser, such as taking screenshots, perusing the internet for data, or even generating PDFs of a cool dashboard etc. 

The term “headless” refers to a way to run a web browser without any sort of graphical interface. This has quite a number of usages including web scraping, testing websites, generating screenshots, and printing PDFs. browserless makes it trivial to do all of these things without spending a lot of time on getting Chrome set up properly.

How was the business started?

Joel Griffith's journey into the creation of browserless is a testament to the entrepreneurial spirit fueled by both necessity and innovation.

The genesis of browserless was not a premeditated venture but rather an organic response to challenges faced in Joel's initial project—an app centered around wishlists.

Initially engrossed in developing a wishlist application, Joel encountered a significant roadblock when attempting to extract information from a single-page app. Traditional scraping methods failed due to the absence of content in the initial HTML of a well-known brand's website. This obstacle became a pivotal moment, forcing Joel to explore alternative solutions.

Around the same time, Google Chrome released a headless mode, a feature that allows the browser to operate without a graphical interface. Leveraging this development, Joel crafted an open-source library called navalia to address the limitations of his wishlist project. This library gained traction on GitHub and drew attention from projects like chromeless and puppeteer.

Actively engaging with these projects, Joel discerned a common frustration among developers struggling to deploy headless Chrome in production environments. This realization laid the groundwork for the inception of browserless. The idea was not born out of a grand plan but rather from the genuine need to fill a void in the market for a reliable headless-browser service.

The catalyst for turning this realization into action occurred during a conversation with Matthew Mueller, founder of StandUp Jack. Matthew's straightforward suggestion, "Why don't you just make a headless service that does this?" served as the proverbial lightbulb moment. This casual yet profound suggestion propelled Joel to embark on the journey of bringing browserless to life.

Recognizing the constraints of time and budget, he decided against learning new technologies for the project and stuck to his expertise in JavaScript, given his background as a front-end developer. This decision allowed him to move swiftly, focusing on functionality rather than perfection—a mindset that proved crucial in the early stages of development.

The initial phase of browserless involved utilizing familiar tools and platforms: Stripe for payment processing, DigitalOcean for hardware needs, GitHub for version control, and Docker for hosting images and builds. The biggest challenges Joel faced were not in technology but in time management. Juggling a full-time job, family responsibilities, and the demands of a solo entrepreneurial effort required exceptional scrappiness. Joel's commitment to the project was evident in instances where he found himself waking up on his laptop after falling asleep while working on browserless—an unsustainable yet telling testament to his dedication.

What are some of the marketing strategies used?

Joel Griffith's journey with browserless reflects a strategic and adaptive approach to marketing in a niche domain. Despite the challenges posed by the specialized nature of his product, Joel devised an array of effective marketing strategies to foster growth and attract users.

1. Leveraging Developer Networks: The initial user base of browserless was strategically cultivated from Joel's existing connections within the developer community. Collaborations on projects like puppeteer, chromeless, and navalia provided a ready pool of developers who were already familiar with the challenges of headless browsers. These connections not only validated the soundness of Joel's idea but also served as the initial user group, contributing to early feedback and refinement.

2. Platform Launch and Community Engagement: Joel strategically launched browserless on prominent platforms such as Hacker News, Reddit, and GitHub. However, due to the specialized nature of the service, traditional platforms yielded limited visibility. Undeterred, Joel found success in engaging with the community by actively participating in discussions on StackOverflow and GitHub. By providing valuable insights and solutions to common problems faced by developers, he not only built credibility but also generated backlinks that contributed to search engine optimization (SEO).

3. Content-Centric Strategy: Recognizing the challenges of gaining attention in a niche market, Joel adopted a content-centric marketing strategy. He began sharing insights and tutorials on Medium, a platform known for its developer-friendly content. These articles not only demonstrated the capabilities of headless Chrome but also highlighted how browserless simplified complex tasks. This content-driven approach not only served as a form of documentation but also played a crucial role in attracting users through organic searches.

4. Word-of-Mouth and Customer Success Stories: Joel acknowledged the power of word-of-mouth in a niche market. By ensuring a positive user experience and addressing user queries promptly, he initiated a process where satisfied users became advocates for browserless. This was particularly evident in the first few customers who not only subscribed to the service but also spread the word within their professional networks. Customer success stories and testimonials became a valuable asset in the marketing arsenal.

5. Limited Advertising with a Focus on Value: While Joel experimented briefly with advertising, he recognized the importance of aligning the cost of advertising with the value generated. Traditional advertising channels proved to be expensive compared to the returns, prompting a shift in focus. Instead, he concentrated on providing value through community engagement, content creation, and delivering a highly polished product that spoke for itself.

6. Future-Forward Marketing: Looking ahead, Joel emphasized the importance of continuous innovation and foresight. He identified upcoming features that would enhance user onboarding and developer ergonomics, anticipating that these improvements would contribute to positive user experiences and organic growth.

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How does the business make money?

Browserless adopts a monetization model inspired by successful projects like Ghost and Sidekiq. The revenue streams are twofold:

  1. Corporate Licenses: Users can purchase licenses to deploy browserless on their infrastructure, providing flexibility and control.

  2. Hosted Plans: The majority of income is generated through various tiers of hosted plans. Recognizing that most developers seek a quick solution without extensive setup, Joel streamlined the onboarding process. Hosted plans, automated through DigitalOcean, offer a hassle-free experience, making browserless accessible within minutes.

While hosted plans yield smaller margins due to infrastructure leasing costs, this approach ensures scalability and availability. Joel emphasizes the value of understanding the niche market, recognizing that success doesn't necessarily hinge on a massive user base but on addressing specific pain points effectively.

As of data from browserless’s Stripe account, the business is currently making $93,000 MRR.

Where can we go to learn more about this business?

Here are some links you can learn more:

That’s a wrap! 🌯

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