Open-Source, SaaS, and Enterprise, Can We Pull It Off?

Last updateD on
December 7, 2023
Countly icon
Onur Alp Soner
All-around Product Guy and CEO of Countly

Back in 2012, we launched Countly Community Edition (CE). Our goal was to provide a free, user-friendly, and open-source mobile analytics platform that anyone could use and host on their own servers. It was one of the first of its kind, attracting businesses big and small worldwide.

While we had plans for an "Enterprise Edition" right from the start, our trajectory toward that goal accelerated faster than anticipated. I can't recall the exact timeline, but within a few months of launching CE, we received many inquiries from large global organizations. Their requirements weren't just limited to advanced functionalities; they also sought a higher level of support than what open-source could offer. This demand led us to create Countly Enterprise (EE) faster than we thought.

Countly Community Edition (CE) and Countly Enterprise Edition (EE) continue to exist to this day, undergoing substantial evolution over the years. These platforms have expanded from focusing exclusively on mobile analytics to supporting analytics for mobile, web, desktop, and IoT devices. Additionally, they boast an extensive array of functionalities centered around analytics. These features include push notifications, user feedback, remote configuration, A/B testing, and crash/performance monitoring, to name just a few.

An interesting and perhaps lesser-known fact is that myCountly isn't our first SaaS offering. Indeed, we introduced Countly Cloud in our early years.

What happened to Countly Cloud?

The concept of Countly Cloud was conceived early in our journey. After launching the Community Edition and the Enterprise Edition, we naturally wondered, "Why not have a cloud version?" This led us to swiftly develop Countly Cloud.

Unlike myCountly, Countly Cloud was a multi-tenant system where all users shared the same underlying resources, such as the application servers and the database. While it provided the same feature set as the rest of the Countly offerings, the inherent advantages of Countly were lost. The flexibility, level of configuration, and customization integral to Countly's charm were simply not achievable in a multi-tenant system.

Moreover, innovating for such a system differed significantly from working on the Community and Enterprise Editions. For Countly Cloud, we had to ensure proper scaling in a multi-tenant environment hosting many users and applications, typically dealing with smaller-scale data. In contrast, our optimization efforts for CE and EE were geared towards improving the platform's maintainability (owing to the self-hosting aspect) and optimizing data ingestion for fewer applications dealing with large-scale data.

Despite Countly Cloud being a revenue-generating product, we perceived it as a diversion of our focus that wasn't required at the time. We were a smaller team then and had to choose between Countly Cloud and Countly Enterprise. In the end, we decided to focus on the Enterprise version, effectively putting an end to Countly Cloud. However, we didn't entirely abandon the concept of SaaS; instead, we decided to put it on hold until we could build something that would fully highlight Countly's strengths, even in a SaaS environment.

Why myCountly?

Roughly speaking, CE is for individuals and small businesses that have the know-how to host and maintain their own analytics server. In contrast, EE is for large companies that need cutting-edge product analytics and can take advantage of working with us directly to shape their analytics strategy. CE is self-hosted, EE is self-hosted or occasionally hosted by us on behalf of our customer. CE and EE have a fundamental feature difference: EE has a secondary database that stores granular data, enabling us to build the advanced functionality of EE, including but not limited to user profiles, cohorts, funnels, formulas, and drills.

If we take a step back and look at both products' go-to-market dynamics, CE is available on Github as an open-source platform and is a popular project, thus garnering organic interest. Most of the time, CE is the entry point to the Countly universe for any user; even if they wouldn’t necessarily choose CE, they find out about Countly via CE. On the other hand, EE is a sales-driven or sales-led offering where the user reaches out via our website to speak with someone from the team to tailor the best possible offering that addresses their pain points.

Inevitably, both of our existing offerings have a barrier to entry. For CE, the barrier is the technical ability to maintain your own Countly server. In contrast, for EE, it is the entry price point that we need to keep the offering at to provide services around our software. Essentially, myCountly bridges the gap between CE and EE and acts as a no-cost/low-cost alternative entry point to CE into the Countly universe.

myCountly → Countly Flex

At this point, it has been publicly known for a while that we have renamed our offerings as Lite, Flex, and Enterprise. Lite is the good old Community Edition, Flex is replacing myCountly, and Enterprise is business as usual.

myCountly was a specifically attention-grabbing name for an offering. We initially chose this name because the aim with myCountly was to make it the place to centrally manage all of our offerings. Think of it as a command center to manage your self-hosted or cloud-hosted Countly instances and the associated services like support, customer success, and professional services. The idea evolved (or was refined) into being a place for cloud Countly instances, and specifically with the ability to configure anything about those servers.

We didn’t discard the “command center” idea just yet, but given what the offering is for at this point, Countly Community, myCountly, Countly Enterprise didn’t really feel right as the trio of Countly offerings. We started thinking about what to rename myCountly to, and Flex represented a pretty definitive thing about what it is: Flexibility in every aspect, your server with features & configurations you choose.

While at it, we renamed Community to Lite :) Because we see the entire Countly user base as our community, and naming an offering Community didn’t seem right anymore. We are now calling it Countly Lite, given it’s the lightest version into the Countly universe, and it clearly encapsulates the spirit behind our aim to provide an easily maintainable but lightweight in functionality self-hosted product analytics.

Who are we targeting with Flex?

Countly Flex is strategically designed to bridge the gap between our Lite and Enterprise editions, catering to a diverse and unique segment of our user base. Our target audience for Flex includes:

  • Mid-Sized Businesses: Companies that have outgrown Lite but are not yet ready for the full suite of Enterprise features. These businesses need more power and flexibility than Lite offers but with a lower entry point compared to Enterprise.
  • Startups: Startups that require robust analytics capabilities as they grow, but still need the agility and cost-effectiveness of a SaaS solution. Flex provides the right balance of functionality and scalability.
  • Tech-Savvy SMEs: Small and medium-sized enterprises with some technical expertise that seek more customization and control over their analytics tools than typical SaaS offerings, but without the complexity of an enterprise solution.
  • Organizations Prioritizing Agility: Companies that value flexibility in scaling their analytics capabilities up or down based on their evolving needs. Flex's adaptable nature makes it ideal for such dynamic environments.
  • Enterprises Seeking Pilot Solutions: Larger organizations looking to test the waters before committing to a full-scale enterprise solution. Flex allows them to experiment with advanced features on a smaller scale.
  • Innovators and Early Adopters: Businesses and teams that are keen on leveraging the latest analytics trends and features offered by Countly. Flex serves as an accessible platform for these innovators to harness powerful analytics without the overhead of an enterprise system.

In essence, Countly Flex is a bridge, filling the gap between Lite and Enterprise. It's a strategic entry point for those who seek advanced capabilities without the full commitment of an Enterprise solution. Flex embodies our commitment to adaptability and growth, catering to a market segment that demands both the sophistication of enterprise-grade solutions and the agility of cloud-based services.

As we continue to build and refine Flex, our focus remains on delivering product analytics that not only meets the current demands of this target market but also anticipates and evolves with their future needs. This approach ensures that Countly remains a leader in the analytics space, providing solutions that are as dynamic and varied as the markets we serve.

Can we pull this off?

I wasn’t particularly sure whether to write this part or not, but since the Product-Led Story is about being unfiltered, I thought I definitely needed to.

Open-source. SaaS. Enterprise. A single, relatively small company attempting to do all three. Are you out of your mind?

The above is indeed a common viewpoint that I can’t really argue against. Especially since we've been working with open-source and enterprise for the past 10 years, I know how challenging it is to manage just the 'enterprise' part of it. But here's my take: I don’t believe it's healthy to generalize everything in business (and in life, I guess). There's no one-size-fits-all formula for success; you achieve it by overcoming your own challenges in your own unique ways. Any business book or story of success or failure is just an additional consideration in your journey, not a definitive roadmap.

Have we perfected our enterprise side of the business to leap into SaaS? We're not even close. However, we had previously decided to shut down our SaaS operations to focus on enterprise. I can’t say whether it was the right decision at the time, but it certainly felt like it. Now, we're exploring SaaS not because we want to complicate our already complex operations, but because we need this fresh perspective on everything. When we discontinued Countly Cloud, our focus was on concentration. Now, it's on the inevitability of having a SaaS and our team being ready enough to tackle this challenge.

We don’t yet have a fully functioning marketing and sales machine; we're learning and adapting new strategies in our customer success and support initiatives with each new enterprise client. However, despite constantly trying new things, our perspective has remained singularly enterprise-focused. It’s not necessarily known for being exciting, but it certainly is lucrative. Yet, when it’s the only thing you do for a long time, you can start to lose the initial passion you had when starting out – the startup spirit, or whatever you want to call it, that gives startups their magical edge over larger organizations.

At Countly, we aim to be here for many more tens of years, and to achieve that, we don’t just need a cash infusion; we need an infusion of spirit, hence Flex.

Countly’s Product-Led Story

In my next post, I hope to talk about the impact of Countly Flex on our product so far – from user onboarding to acquainting users with features and helping them make the most of Countly. Stay tuned!

Please join us on our journey as we share unfiltered behind-the-scenes insights, lessons learned, the challenges that test us, and the victories that make it all worthwhile as we continue to build a product-led SaaS.

P.S: If you're interested in becoming an early user of Countly Flex please sign up here.