BrowserStack founders Ritesh Arora and Nakul Aggarwal are united by a passion for solving difficult technological challenges. After two failed attempts at getting a startup off the ground, they came across the problem that would lead them to create BrowserStack: how could they help engineers efficiently test their applications across all browsers and devices?
For six years, Ritesh and Nakul bootstrapped their company without any outside capital. Then, in 2018, Accel led BrowserStack’s Series A as their first investor. In the years since, they’ve grown into a breakout leader in software & application testing.
“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.”
We sat down with Nakul to discuss his background, how to scale quickly, and when to think about bringing on investors.
You and Ritesh met in college and launched several startups together before building BrowserStack. Can you walk us through this journey?
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.
Just six months after launch, your platform already had over a thousand paying customers. How did you scale so quickly?
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. 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.
BrowserStack spent its first 6 years as a bootstrapped company. What experience can you share with other bootstrapped companies about determining 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.
Today you’ve expanded your team globally. What advice do you have for founders planning global expansion?
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.
“The most important thing is to know when to scale, not how.”
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.
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.