November 15, 2014 was the hardest day of my career as an entrepreneur.
After about three years in business, we bet the company on an acquisition that the acquiring company pulled out of at the last minute. We were left with $1,000 in our bank account, and the 10+ people working at Privy had to leave to go find new jobs that could actually pay them.
It still stings to talk about.
But it also ended up being the best thing to ever happen to us, because it was the beginning of Privy 2.0 and the story we’re still writing today.
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Three of us decided to stay on (myself and two engineers) -- and that “decision” was actually because we didn’t really have a choice. We were all basically unemployable at another company, so we said screw it and decided to stick it out and start over. We had the codebase. We had a product. We had customers. So we started by calling out to every customer and asking:
• Why did you buy Privy?
• Why do you continue to pay for Privy?
• What major problems does Privy solve for your business?
• What new features would you like us to build?
• And would you consider paying up front for the year in exchange for a discount?
Those five questions ended up changing the course of our business forever. We were able to fund our salaries with those annual payments, and in December 2014 we started to build Privy 2.0, a project we called “Phoenix” internally. How fitting. Because at that point the company was at an all-time low and we knew we had to rise from the ashes.
While on those early customer calls, we kept hearing two things over and over that went something like this:
1. “In all my years trying, we've never grown our email list so quickly.”
2. “By using Privy, I don't need to depend on my agency, or IT any more.”
So we made the decision to switch up the whole business model to focus on freemium, allowing customers to “self-serve” and install Privy on their own, and from there, the rest is history.
^ OK OK. I’m clearly skipping over A LOT of detail here, and I wish it was as simple as it sounds above. But I think that’s OK for the purpose of telling you this story today. The specifics will live forever on our internal company Wiki, and if you ever come work with us, you can get the full rundown. But basically what happened was this: we were able to take the existing Privy product and pivot the business away from brick and mortar businesses to focus 100% on ecommerce, which was an industry that was exploding at the time, and is growing even faster today. Everything we built in the early days of Privy fit perfectly with helping small businesses and entrepreneurs build customer relationships and grow their online sales -- and we made a decision to put a big focus on helping Shopify store owners specifically, given that there are over 500,000 Shopify merchants today (we also built integrations for Shopify Plus, Big Commerce, Klaviyo, Magento, Wix, WooCommerce, and 60+ other platforms).
Fast forward to today -- 5 years, 2 months, and 8 days from having $1,000 left in our bank account -- and Privy is now used by more than 400,000 online stores across 180 countries. And they’re not just using Privy to capture emails like they did back in 2014. They are using Privy to drive online sales. To date Privy has helped ecommerce entrepreneurs generate $2.8 billion in revenue.
We’ve taken a small base of 40 customers back in 2014 and turned that into a business that resonates at a global scale with a roster of kickass brands you’re most likely buying from today, including customers like Figs, Leesa Mattress, Tecovas, Hubble Contacts, and Love Your Melon.
And we’ve been growing too: in 2019 we grew revenue from $4 million to $8 million, and our team grew from 30 to 60 people at our headquarters in Boston.
The growth has been incredible, but the thing that I am most proud of is our brand. Privy has become the leader in ecommerce marketing for entrepreneurs, and that’s because of the people here behind the scenes. In a world where most of the technology companies that service small businesses and entrepreneurs automate support or don’t even provide it at all, you can get help from one of the real (and awesome) people on our customer team via email and live chat seven days a week -- even if you’re on our free plan. Our mission is to provide the tools, education, and support small ecommerce brands need to grow their online stores and build thriving businesses, and that’s why we’ve made it a priority to be there.
It’s been a heck of a bumpy ride to get here, but I can honestly say that we are just getting started, and I’m more excited about Privy today than I’ve ever been. In order to continue to lead the way, we have to be the brand that entrepreneurs turn to to learn about marketing and how Privy can help them grow their business -- and that’s why we’re bringing Dave Gerhardt on as our new Chief Marketing Officer.
Frankly, there’s no one out there who’s better at (and more passionate about) marketing, storytelling and brand building than Dave. I know this from firsthand experience -- I’ve known Dave for years now both personally and professionally. And to make this whole thing come full circle, he actually had a stint at Privy several years ago in the Privy 1.0 era and went on to work at other Boston hypergrowth startups HubSpot and Drift. His marketing playbook helped Drift become one of the fastest growing B2B SaaS companies of all time, and his work has inspired thousands of other marketers through content, his social media presence (you’ll want to follow him if you don’t already), and his bestselling book Conversational Marketing.
We know without question that Dave will help up-level our brand globally. But bringing him on is about so much more than what he can offer to us internally. He’ll also add tremendous value in helping our customers become better marketers. Dave represents the fusion we’re bringing together at Privy: a mix of entrepreneurship, tech experience, and the startup grit that kept us going in our darkest days and continues to push us today.
Working at Privy isn’t just about startup perks (although we do have some sweet ones). It’s really about making an impact and driving value for our customers. Privy people are mission driven and in it together, internally and with the ecommerce entrepreneurs we are working to serve around the globe. If you get excited about ecommerce and helping entrepreneurs build thriving businesses, now’s the the time to come join us and be part of the Privy 2.0 story. We’re hiring and we’d love to hear from you if you’re interested.
P.S. If you have an online store and want to join the 400,000+ entrepreneurs using Privy today, you can start a free trial today right here (we don’t even ask for a credit card).