The road to startup success is paved with hope, impatience and frustration altogether
For our new article in the “Startups we would love to work for” category, we met with Razvan Girmacea, CEO at Monitor Backlinks, a Romanian startup that’s beginning to know worldwide recognition. Monitor Backlinks is, as its name shows, a tool for backlink checking.
Aside from presenting us the app in detail, Razvan told us the story of his business. His struggles were the regular ones of a startup owner, as were the hurdles before achieving self-sustenance.
Monitor Backlinks is a tool for SEO and marketing professionals, that helps identifying backlinks and recovering from Google algorithmic penalties, by simply connecting to one’s Google’s Analytics account.
The first steps to Monitor Backlinks, the tool for backlink checking
Razvan is not a newbie in the game. His first business experience was with Edukid, an online shop selling educational toys for children. After reading Remote, by the founders of 37Signals, he felt so compelled to start something unique and globally scalable, that he embarked on the online product journey.
The first version of Monitor Backlinks was basic: the user could manually add all the inbound links of their website, while the app would let them know about the status of the links (NoFollow). Any change occurring within the status of the link was automatically transmitted to the user via email.
The first version of Monitor Backlinks mostly benefitted those who did link exchange on a daily basis, as it allowed them to assess their work performance better.
The short journey from Freemium to Trial
“If you offer a free product from the very beginning, people will expect it to be free until the end and this won’t be too profitable for you in the long run. There have been cases of profitable Freemium models, but hey, not everyone is Dropbox!”
The Freemium stage in the life of a startup is a necessary one. Most companies need to start out by offering their tool for free, but a clear initial notification of the limited usage timeframe is imperative. Moreover, the fact that a product comes at a cost from the very beginning has been proven to have a positive impact on the perception of its quality.
Razvan chose a compromise solution: he switched from the Freemium version to the 30-day Trial. This increased retention radically: users were able to focus on testing the tool intensively during those 30 days, which ultimately led them to maintaining their account in paid version as well.
The Link Disavowal Tool and the personalized customer support – a safe key to user retention
After Google’s Penguin 2.0 algorithm, webmasters desperately seeked solutions for disavowing their web links. Monitor Backlinks offered them the proper solution at the right moment – and this almost tripled their traffic in 2013.
Another key element to Monitor Backlinks’ success was Razvan’s determination to personally handle all customer issues. People are generally reticent towards telling a product owner what bothers them, and this is a problem that all startups face. Therefore, knowing how to identify a bug, without having someone point it out to you can be a big challenge.
Users just move on to another tool, instead of writing emails to customer support. However, some of the users sometimes send emails on such occasions and it’s thanks to those helpful few that Razvan managed to improve some of the tool features.
The future is in the enterprise
Monitor Backlinks plans on going big. This means tackling corporations that are using or planning on using SEO tools to better manage their online marketing efforts. Customizable reports, white-labelling and multi-user function are among the main features that such an endeavor requires from Monitor Backlinks – all of which are work in progress.
Marketing happens exclusively online
Email marketing can work for small startups, Razvan believes. The only problem with it is that it eats up a lot of resources that could be used for different purposes. As most users are already 60% down the buyer funnel when they come in contact with a certain tool, all marketing efforts need to be directed towards increasing engagement.
In that direction, guest post blogging and SEO optimization for all pages of the website were extremely useful.
What does competition look like for Monitor Backlinks?
Most competitors come from the SEO world, obviously. Some of them offer more complex tools – such as Cognitive SEO and Raven Tools, that mostly tackle SEO and marketing agencies. Others are centered on a single, specialized feature: Ahrefs and Majestic focus on detecting backlinks on request.
By finding a way to differentiate from the competition, Monitor Backlinks has managed to acquire a lot of clients that use this tool in conjunction with competitor tools. However, as the tool develops, it starts to encompass several features, thus determining users to give up on some of the competitor options.
The secret to startup success?
Reinventing yourself and the products you use.
“You can never expect people to use your tool continuously. Nor can you expect that your competitors will just sit there, watching you grow, without bringing more appealing alternatives to market. What’s essential is that you find that breach into consumers’ needs – that breach that helps you come up with something new and unique and that solves important problems they may be facing.” (Razvan Girmacea, CEO of Monitor Backlinks)
We couldn’t agree more. We would only add consistent research to the mix. Plus intuition. And, of course, guts.
[Photo Credits: Alice Popkorn, Easa Shamih, David Blaine]