Arif Tukiman on niches, international audiences, and customers vs competitors
Arif Tukiman is CEO of Cool Code and back in January 2017, their team released RunCloud, which is a cloud server panel. It helps you set up, configure, manage, and monitor your VPSes on cloud hosting providers, and is specifically for PHP applications. Arif lives in Johor Bahru, Malaysia.
Why did you decide to drill down on a really specific niche for RunCloud and what have been the benefits of doing that?
We built RunCloud to help our own web developers and the issues they faced during development, deployment, and maintenance. Based on their response, we saw the potential to productize the software — we just knew it could help other developers dealing with the same problems.
The story really begins two years ago. My partner, Fikri, took the idea and thought that perhaps we could develop a tool for web hosting providers, but we didn’t have a ready and stable product at the time. We soon realized that the market was very competitive in that area with the presence of established players like WHM, CPanel, and Plesk.
So in early 2016, we pivoted our solution to cater more narrowly to PHP developers and freelance web designers. It’s a market closer to our hearts, given that we ourselves are PHP developers.
We validated the idea for this narrower product by taking a look at the market and checking out competitors. There were indeed competitors, but no major players like CPanel or Plesk. The businesses in our space were also just about 2-3 years in age at the time. And checking out their features, we believed we could offer the market something better.
My partners and I are computer science graduates. Amir and I were more into mobile app development. My other partner, Fikri, has more experience in security and web. Previously, Fikri had also created a VPN service that he’d sold subscriptions for.
To build RunCloud as a business, I had to take on the role of CEO. Amir assumed the role of COO and led our marketing efforts, while Fikri, the brains behind the RunCloud architecture, became the CTO.
When we started working on the product, we were just college kids fresh out of our master’s degree. We had no work experience. So to be honest, money-wise, there was not a lot to spare.
Fortunately, we were also single college kids who didn’t require much to survive on.
What are the challenges associated with targeting an international market? How have you dealt with those challenges?
We started charging from day one. We knew we had a good product by comparing ourselves to competitors who were charging way more for less features. Our packages are simple. A free account and a $10 per month account for an unlimited number of servers. That was the only way we knew we could make money then. (Of course, things have since changed.)
We use Braintree to charge our customers. This is the easiest solution for us, a Malaysian company, to be able to charge customers that come from all over the world.
So far, we’ve reached about 5,700 users from more than 25 countries worldwide. From current conversion to paid user, our MRR has been steadily growing at 24-29% from month to month.
I think this is in line with a lesson we learned from legendary Jay Abraham when it comes to growing revenue. There are generally only three ways to go about it:
- More customers
- Bigger purchases per customer
- More frequent purchases (from customers who come back)
As a SaaS business, we’re already doing #3. And we are always working to acquire more customers, so that covers #1. And now, at last, we have #2.
With the Backup Service, we are adding something else that customers can pay us for. To be honest, this wasn’t the original intention. We’d received a lot of feedback asking for a backup feature, so we implemented it. While we did have other plans and priorities a few months ago, we decided to listen to our customers’ needs instead. And I think that has already paid off very well.
Along those lines is a gem from Dane Maxwell that I’d like to share: “In business, you will make a lot of mistakes and you will do alright if you do this one thing right — listen to your customers.” Great advice.
Honestly, when it comes to our own survival, RunCloud does not provide enough to cover our own wages yet. We still take in custom mobile and web application work. At times, we provide training related to programming. What we earn from RunCloud will most probably go back into the business. Earning in USD while living in Malaysia does help with living expenses, as they are low compared to USA or Europe.
What’s the balance between building for customers vs competitors?
Pay constant attention to your customers; don’t become so preoccupied with the activities of your competitors that you forget about your own business. Focus on improving your own business and ensuring that everyone who is associated with it has a great customer experience.
I think Jeff Bezos said it best: “Obsess about customers, not competitors.”