Mike Cao, Umami’s founder and CEO, 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 the headlines, Cao said he started poking around for Google alternatives.
“When I couldn’t find one, I wanted to build something on my own,” he said, “so that’s what I did.”
It took only a couple months to launch a minimum viable product for Cao’s own site. He then open-sourced the tech on GitHub and started picking up downloads after it gained a following via Reddit. Today, it has more than 100 contributors and millions of downloads.
Even so, one of the reasons GA never faced stiff competition in the past is not because the product is exceptional or difficult to build. (Cao did so in his spare time over the course of a few weeks). It’s the fact that Google offers GA for free, which essentially bars the competition from monetizing. Just as with Google’s search engine, because Google Analytics is free people expect all basic site analytics to be free. Free has become 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 already is a playbook for open-source monetization. WordPress, for instance, is open-source, so anyone can download the code and use it to set up their own blog – or they can go to Automattic, WordPress’s parent company, and pay a monthly fee to manage the product and run the server. Cao said Umami’s revenue path will look similar, with cloud hosting and managed services on top of the open-source tech.
But Cao was able to quit Adobe and dive into Umami full-time in May because, despite the monetization challenge, he started to see interest from VC investors. He made a deal with Race Capital, which invested $1.5 million for an undisclosed stake earlier this year.
“Google Analytics was in the news at the time that it was being banned pretty much everywhere in Europe,” Cao said.
Umami also uses homegrown cloud and server providers in Europe, Cao said. Citing GDPR, the data protection authorities in multiple Europe countries recently outlawed Google Analytics for hosting the data of European citizens in servers owned by an American company. (The reasoning there being that US-owned companies are subject to US government surveillance and subpoenas.)
Although Umami is small, it does have a few other few advantages compared with GA.
Google Analytics “moves really slowly on their product,” Cao said. GA is also becoming more and more tied into the overarching Google Ads product. Many of the features GA is adding now are for advertisers rather than site operators who want a basic analytics service that works, he said.
Being nimble also helps to capture the ad-blocker audience. 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 basic tag, which is also targeted by many ad blocker developers. But when clients install the product, they can simply rename the tag.
“If it’s random, the ad blockers won’t target the script,” he said.
But Umami’s main selling point is that it isn’t Google, and not just because Google is huge and ad-supported and therefore is 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 starting to reconsider the GA value prop.
“Now that people are finding out that Google uses that data to track visitors all around the web,” he said, “site operators started looking for other solutions.”