Can you get away with zero marketing?

Lines of computer code on a screen
Browser Stack builds code testing infrastructure
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Boredom is underappreciated. No one wants to be bored today. Life should be a constant flow from one interesting thing to the next. If we’re not scrolling through our mobile phones, we should be binge-watching a new streaming series. Or catching a blockbuster at the movie theater. Shopping. Going on trips. Or clicking a selfie against a monument.  We’re trying to maximise the stimulation in our lives. And you know what happens then? You get bored with being excited all the time. If that does not sound logical, it’s because it is. 

Back in 2011, the founders of Browser Stack were bored, consulting for clients and looking for product ideas to work on. Since inspiration eluded them, they thought they would scale the consulting business to land more clients. The website to attract prospects was built in a couple of days but testing it would take four. In 2011, Internet Explorer was still the dominant browser with a 60% market share and most of their clients worked in the Microsoft environment. Then they realised the consistent problem they had faced in every startup. Testing in different browsers to see if the product worked as expected. They wondered if the problem was widespread enough. There was only one way to find out.

Twitter as a market research tool

Rants and complaints are product feedback
Photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash

When they checked, there were over a hundred tweets a day badmouthing Internet Explorer. If developers were so upset with the browser, maybe there was a real need for a testing tool. The first version of Browser Stack took four months to build and offered just one browser environment – IE, of course. They reached out to the same people on Twitter who complained, offering it for free.  They got a boost when they requested the founder of Jquery to take a look. He responded by saying that the biggest problem Jquery developers faced was testing in browsers and told them they were adopting the right approach. He also tweeted about the product to his followers, conferring legitimacy on their effort. Within a few weeks, they had acquired over 10,000 beta users. 

A significant number of developers asked for the paid version – which confirmed the need for the product. It took a few years but they now have over 2.5 million developers who have used the products, and 45,000 paying customers from 135 countries, And this was the bootstrapped phase when they were yet to raise any money at all. For almost a couple of years, the founders operated out of a coffee shop and had no plans of building an organisation. Until they tried recruiting people and found that employees had no interest in following their lead and working from a coffee shop!

Building a testbed of products

Expanding the scope of testing
Pic: Venture Beat

Extending the test environment to different browsers. operating systems and mobile was the next logical step. They followed a simple path to prioritize development – build the most requested feature from their users. Automated testing was followed by testing in the mobile environment. That development phase lasted three years and gave them insights into how the market for testing would develop.

As long as the market was dominated by an OS, it was relatively simple. But as the infrastructure of the internet expanded and different devices, platforms and technologies came together, testing became fiendishly complex. It was one thing to provision for a single operating system or systems. It was quite another problem when solutions to traffic spikes, multiple user and app environments had to be tested in parallel. Being able to simulate usage conditions so that developers could solve problems is a bit like building a road and predicting what happens when traffic and vehicles will spike on that route a few years later.

The testing infrastructure for the internet

Imagining the future of testing in a networked world
Photo by Carlos de Toro on Unsplash

Browser Stack has an audacious goal – to become the biggest provider of testing products and solutions on the internet. They have already provisioned for 6000 mobile devices to be tested and will expand that to 10000 by 2020. And as the market expands, so does their potential. When the cloud was launched, no one predicted how fast it could grow. Testing used to be a department to ensure that the product met the required specifications. That is no longer true. With the staggering number of devices, websites, browsers and technologies, there is no way manual testing can keep pace. 

Browser Stack has a headstart of a few years in understanding the market. That equates to an advantage of a few decades while competitors try and catch up. They have had the advantage of customers showing them the way ahead. Getting developers who are already comfortable on a platform to switch sides is next to impossible. Samsung and Huawei knew for years that relying on Google for the Android OS would always be the chink in their armor. But developing an alternative has been next to impossible. In recent days, news reports of Facebook developing its own OS has made the rounds. But there’s one thing for sure. None of this can be launched without testing.

When can you get away without marketing?

How Browser Stack was built

Browser Stack is setting up a marketing department 8 years after it launched. They didn’t have to promote their product because it answered a deep-felt need. But it wasn’t evident to everyone. As engineers, they solved a problem they had frequently faced. And discovered that the solution was desperately needed by millions of others. No developer tests a beta product unless it saves them time, effort or money. As far as offering to pay for it, how many products are customers eager to pay for?

This happens only in nascent markets where the pace of development is so rapid that huge gaps open up to be filled by companies who are in the eye of the storm. By bootstrapping themselves and finding out the true extent of demand, they were able to get that dream combination. A product-market fit with the possibility of exponential growth. in 2019, Browser Stack raised $50 million in its first round of funding, the highest in India.

As the internet rolls out to various parts of the world, it is not a smooth process. Bandwidth and speeds are not consistent across locations or devices. Companies need to ensure that their apps perform across all kinds of networks, fast, slow and erratic. And deploying testing infrastructure across multiple geographical locations is prohibitively expensive. So a company that can simulate a host of usage scenarios for a low fee and prove that the tests replicate on-ground conditions is the best alternative. Browser Stack can hope to keep its marketing spends low for the foreseeable future, as long as a competitor doesn’t make rapid strides and erase the advantage they have.

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Author short bio: I head Ideascape, an agency that I started in 2004. I have over 35 years of experience building brands in businesses as diverse as payroll services, software, cycles, HR services, hospitals, hospitality and project management.

We’re a boutique creative agency but we provide the full range of branding services in partnership with several associates in digital marketing, web development, and event management. This blog is a collection of my experiences and my point of view on marketing and advertising