This post is part of Accel’s Secrets to Scaling series, where leaders from across our portfolio share their learnings and advice with the next generation of entrepreneurs and exceptional teams everywhere.
BrowserStack’s founders, Ritesh Arora and Nakul Aggarwal first met as roommates at the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai. They had many differences, but a uniting passion for solving difficult technology challenges. After two failed attempts at getting a startup off the ground, they uncovered a problem yet to be solved: engineers needed to efficiently test their applications across every browser and device.
BrowserStack was born. For six years, Ritesh and Nakul bootstrapped the company without any outside capital. Accel led BrowserStack’s Series A in 2018 as the first investor in the company. In the years since, BrowserStack has grown into a breakout leader in software & application testing. We sat down with Nakul to discuss the following journey and his secrets to scaling.
1) You and Ritesh met in college and launched several startups together before building BrowserStack. Can you walk us through this journey?
Ritesh and I met when we were in college together in Bombay, we were roommates. We are very different but I think we both had a shared passion to solve complex technological challenges. We decided that our mission would be to build something great out of India. We were most inspired by the idea of solving difficult technology challenges. We thought if we could focus our energy on solving difficult technology problems, we could make a business out of it. As computer science graduates, we were extremely passionate about AI. So we built our first startup around sentiment analysis, but the market wasn’t ready. After that, we tried one or two more ideas but they did not work out.
Eventually, we decided to try consulting. We were building our website, and we had an argument over who would do the testing for compatibility across different devices, operating systems, and browsers. It was a painful experience in all our previous startups. We did a quick search to learn how other people were testing their websites & web apps, and to our surprise, we found that everyone struggled with this problem. And that was when we started building BrowserStack.
Looking back, the first few startups we built all started with blind ambition. We were trying to guess what would be useful to theoretical customers. BrowserStack was different. We succeeded because we found a real pain point and followed the path created by that pain point to build our business.
2) Just six months after BrowserStack’s launch, the platform already had over a thousand paying customers. How did you scale so quickly?
Because of our previous experience with startups, we understood the fundamentals of scaling applications. We designed our service-oriented architecture so all components could be scaled independently. That really helped us as the demand scaled. We were able to scale up to 10,000 beta customers and a $2 million revenue with just the two of us working out of coffee shops and random places.
My biggest advice for scaling quickly is to find a way to communicate directly with your customers. We found key places where people were talking about the problem we were trying to solve, like Twitter, Stack Overflow, and the other forums. We went directly to those communities and asked people to try our beta for free and give feedback to us. We got a lot of traction from those places. Some of those people liked it so much that they started posting about it, and that's how we really scaled - by word of mouth.
3) BrowserStack went on to spend its first 6 years as a bootstrapped company. What experience can you share with other bootstrapped companies about how to determine the right investor fit?
Raise funding only if you really need it to operate or scale. BrowserStack was able to build on our own terms without crutching on investors, but, we knew having the right partner could help us scale even faster and gain organizational maturity. We wanted a firm that had supported the journey of other bootstrapped startups – that's when our relationship with Accel started.
Through our relationship with Accel, I learned the importance of finding an investor that is founder-friendly, who shares and respects the founder's vision, and who authentically wants to help. Accel also had experience in the space, and it was important because they can give contextual advice. The respect and seasoned advice have been incredibly helpful.
4) Today you’ve expanded your team globally. What advice do you have for founders planning global expansion?
The most important thing is to know when to scale, not how. Don’t expand to new regions too early, and don't go about opening new offices in different regions unless there is a business reason to do so. You build much stronger relationships when you start small.
Your investors can be helpful partners in making the decision. In our case, BrowserStack’s first office was in Mumbai, and Accel was prepared to support us even if we focused both the brain and muscle in that region. They were unbiased and helped us think critically when we eventually opened offices in Dublin, San Francisco, and New York, without pushing us to do so. When the time does come to open offices in different regions, I would suggest getting a seasoned leader to build that office. As a founder, make sure you can spend time with that one person who understands the company's culture, values, onboarding processes, and work systems, and can replicate those in this new region—this is incredibly helpful.
5) How has the developer tool ecosystem evolved over time?
Developers are shaping the world. Developers and the developer tool ecosystem are critical since most companies today have to be software companies to survive. Developers are core decision-makers, and their ideas and pain points drive incredible development in products and tools.