Mike Cao, founder and CEO of Umami, started working on the product in 2020 for his own personal site listed with GoDaddy while employed as an engineer for Adobe’s digital marketing platform. With GDPR and other privacy laws dominating headlines, Cao said he started looking for alternatives to Google.
“When I couldn’t find one, I wanted to build something on my own,” he said, “so that’s what I did. »
It only took a few months to launch a minimum viable product for Cao’s own site. He then opened up the tech on GitHub and started picking up uploads after gaining a following via Reddit. Today it has over 100 contributors and millions of downloads.
Despite this, one of the reasons GA has never faced stiff competition in the past is not because the product is exceptional or difficult to build. (Cao did this in his spare time for a few weeks). It’s the fact that Google offers GA for free, which essentially stops the competition from monetizing. Just like with Google’s search engine, because Google Analytics is free, people expect all basic site analytics to be free. Free became the default.
Umami is “still working” on a way to make money, Cao said, that will take it from a popular free tool on GitHub to a viable business.
And there’s already a playbook for open-source monetization. WordPress, for example, is open-source, so anyone can download the code and use it to create their own blog – or they can go to Automattic, the parent company of WordPress, and pay a monthly fee to run the product and run the server. Cao said Umami’s revenue path will be similar, with cloud hosting and managed services in addition to open source technology.
But Cao was able to leave Adobe and jump into Umami full-time in May because, despite the monetization challenge, he began to attract interest from venture capitalists. He struck a deal with Race Capital, which invested $1.5 million for an undisclosed stake earlier this year.
“Google Analytics was in the news back then that it was banned pretty much everywhere in Europe,” Cao said.
Umami also uses local cloud and server providers in Europe, Cao said. Citing the GDPR, data protection authorities in several European countries recently banned Google Analytics for hosting data of European citizens on servers owned by a US company. (The reasoning being that US-owned businesses are subject to US government surveillance and subpoenas.)
Although Umami is small, it has a few other advantages over GA.
Google Analytics is “moving very slowly on their product,” Cao said. GA is also increasingly linked to the overall Google Ads product. Many of the features GA is adding now are aimed at advertisers rather than site operators who want a basic analytics service that works, he said.
Being nimble also helps capture audience from ad blockers. Ad blockers can easily avoid GA because its tag is everywhere, Cao said. Ad blockers simply target the “ga.js” code on a GA customer’s sites. Umami uses umami.js as its base tag, which is also targeted by many ad blocker developers. But when customers install the product, they can simply rename the tag.
“If it’s random, ad blockers won’t target the script,” he said.
But Umami’s main selling point is that it’s not Google, and not just because Google is huge and ad-supported and therefore in the crosshairs of every ad blocker.
According to Cao, people who run their own sites or blogs – the bread and butter of GA’s customer base – are beginning to reconsider the value of ga.
“Now that people are discovering that Google is using this data to track visitors across the web,” he said, “site operators have started looking for other solutions.”