When employees leave tech companies and move on to new opportunities, they often reminisce about the internal tools they left behind. Some are even inspired to create new solutions based on the internal tools they were most fond of. That is what Jon Gaulding did. While working at Google, Gaulding enjoyed using go links, an internal tool that shortens URLs. These URLs were easy to remember, efficient and aligned with Google’s culture of sharing information. Instead of https://sites.google.com/a/google.com/people/benefits-84mslg92d, a go link could be go/benefits. After leaving Google and setting up go links again while at Optimizely, Gaulding decided to turn go links into a SaaS solution.
Internally facing software is commonplace in Silicon Valley and beyond, and for good reason. Many tech companies use internal tooling to make processes more efficient. These tools also often save the business money and can help increase productivity. That’s why they have been popular at companies such as Google, Twitter, Microsoft and Netflix. When you have a bunch of developers in a room, chances are they will figure out a better way to do a task. Oftentimes this evolves into a new internal tool. Developers have built CRMs, approval and inventory apps, dashboards and more in-house. For example, Stripe’s team built Home, a company-wide platform featuring events and calendars. Google has countless internal tools including Monarch, a globally distributed monitoring system; Issue Tracker, a tool used to identify bugs and feature requests during product development; and Blaze, a tool to build and test software.
By 2010, everyone at Google was using go links. Unlike Bitly where the shortened URLs use random characters, go links are created using memorable terms or phrases. Even though go links were a wildly popular tool at Google, Gaulding pointed out, “It was a solid decade after Googlers first used go links that they were turned into a SaaS solution. That was especially surprising given that there are plenty of Googlers and Xooglers who are looking for startup ideas and you had this idea sitting right in front of you. And there was proof that people wanted it, since a bunch of other companies copied it.”
Gaulding created Trotto, an open-source go links solution, to enable other organizations to leverage these intuitive truncated URLs in-house. Gaulding shared an example of how Trotto is used. He explained, “One of our customers created a go link called go/interviews, so anyone within the company can type go/interviews into their browser’s address bar and access all of the company’s resources for interviewing job candidates. Anybody within the company can use the go link, but no one outside of the company can use that go link to reach that company’s resources.” As Gaulding alluded to, go links are private to the company and the URL destination is specific to each company. This means that every company using Trotto could have their own go/interviews go link and navigate to their own interviewing resources page.
A closer look at Trotto
There are four ways to set up Trotto go links:
- With internal DNS servers
- Via a Trotto browser extension
- Using search domains
- With a configuration file that maps to an IP address
Gaulding mentioned that the first option, using internal DNS servers, is “often used by larger companies. That’s how Google did it. But if you aren’t connected to the company’s VPN, it doesn’t work.” It also requires a more complex setup process. Because of this, this method isn’t widely used by Trotto users. He noted that the most popular approach for implementing Trotto go links is browser extensions, adding, “It’s certainly the simplest way to do it. If it spreads organically throughout the organization, then I can install the Trotto browser extension and then tell you about it, then you can install it. It’s also not uncommon for companies to have ways to install browser extensions across all managed devices in their organization. Then they can roll it out to everybody’s browser at once.” This implementation method makes sense for many of Trotto’s customers.
When using Trotto, there are four different tiers for companies to choose from. The first is to self-host the open-source application for free. The second is a free beginner option with unlimited go links and redirects, quick searches and basic single sign on (SSO) capabilities. It’s available for unlimited users. This option is ideal for small teams. Gaulding explained, “Go links aren’t widely understood, even within the tech industry. And there is nothing as good for the propagation of go links as people trying it within a company. So the more people who can use it and spread it within their company, the larger the market for this product will be over time. Because of this, I felt it was important to offer the two free tiers– beginner and self-hosting the open-source application.”
The third tier is designed for bigger teams that use go links extensively. This option features email support, admin features and a 99.9% uptime service-level agreement (SLA) in addition to the offerings of the beginner tier. Gaulding noted that when developing his business model, it was important to him that the first tier of the paid plan was affordable for teams.
The final option is a custom enterprise tier. It includes phone support, custom integrations, managed deployments, a 99.99% uptime SLA, and advanced single sign on (SSO).
Funding, scaling and other advice for early-stage founders?
When looking to found a SaaS business, one key consideration early on is the path you will take – will you go the venture-backed or bootstrapped route? Gaulding shared, “Do I want to go down the more complex, higher stakes, higher risk, higher reward path, or the bootstrapper path? If I do it right, the latter will have a higher probability of changing my life sooner. I think I felt that I would be able to realize my goals within a reasonable timeframe going bootstrapped. The goalpost for success is much further out and much less certain with venture-backed and I didn’t feel it was right for me at the time.”
Gaulding recommended considering what your goal is at the end of the day. Then make your decision accordingly. He noted, “Going bootstrapped can give you more agency and potentially allows you to build a great team over time and then you can use that engine to create other things and experiment. As you grow, you can keep bootstrapping, or take on venture, or spin out a product as a venture-backed company like Fog Creek did with Trello.”
Gaulding also talked about how it’s essential to be patient with yourself in the early days of founding a SaaS company. It will take time for all the components of your business to run like a well-oiled machine. He explained, “If your product isn’t there yet or your marketing isn’t where you want it to be, that’s alright. There are many pieces to realizing value, which is part of what is challenging about entrepreneurship. There are a lot of challenges. Most people aren’t very skilled at everything.” It helps to take a step back and reflect on how long it takes you to complete certain tasks. It might make sense to outsource work that requires a skill set you do not have. For example, if creating designs is not your forte, you might look into hiring someone with this expertise to develop a logo for your site.
Scaling your business is important, but timing your business’s growth right is critical. Gaulding talked about premature optimization. He explained, “You don’t need to automate payments if you don’t have many paying customers. No need to jump too far ahead.” He added that you know it’s time to scale when you have repeat customers willing to pay for your service. At that point, there are steps you can take to minimize surprises and reduce the support burden. Gaulding noted, “I’ve made sure that Trotto is stable and well-tested. There is definite psychological relief when I know I have many guardrails to ensure things don’t break.” Because of this, Gaulding can focus on other aspects of the business.
Trotto is evolving. Gaulding shared that there is a large market that hasn’t been captured yet – including people who are familiar with go links and those who would be open to trying them. Right now, Gaulding is focused on honing his marketing and sales skills and getting in front of the right audience. This will enable him to grow Trotto and expand the use of go links.