Mike Kao, founder and CEO of Umami, started working on the product in 2020 for his personal website listed on GoDaddy while working as an architect for Adobe’s digital marketing platform. With the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and other privacy laws dominating the headlines, Cao said he has begun looking at alternatives to Google.
“When I could not find one,” he said, “I wanted to build something myself, and that is what I did.”
It only took a few months to launch at least a viable product for Cao’s own website. Then he opened the tech on GitHub and started picking up uploads after getting a following on Reddit. Today it has more than 100 contributors and millions of downloads.
One reason GA hasn’t faced stiff competition in the past, though, isn’t 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 prevents competition from monetizing. Just like with the Google search engine, since Google Analytics is free, people expect all basic site analytics to be free. Free becomes the default.
Kao said Umami is “still working” on a way to make money, which will take it from a popular free tool on GitHub to a viable company.
A guide already for monetization from open source. WordPress, for example, is open source, so anyone can download the code and use it to build 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 as well as open source technology.
But Cao was able to leave Adobe and move to Umami full time in May because, despite the monetization challenge, he was starting to gain interest from venture capitalists. He struck a deal with Race Capital, which invested $1.5 million in an undisclosed stake earlier this year.
“Google Analytics was in the news at the time that it was pretty much banned everywhere in Europe,” Kao said.
Kao said Umami is also using local cloud and server providers in Europe. Citing the General Data Protection Regulation (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 reason for this is that US-owned companies are subject to US government oversight and subpoenas.)
Although Umami is small, it has some other advantages over GA.
Kao said Google Analytics is “moving very slowly in its products.” GA is also increasingly associated with the general Google Ads product. He said many of the features GA is now adding are aimed at advertisers rather than site operators who want a core analytics service that works.
Being smart also helps attract audience from ad blockers. Kao said ad blockers can easily avoid GA because its tag is everywhere. Ad blockers target the “ga.js” code on GA customer sites. Umami uses umami.js as its primary tag, which is also targeted by many ad blocking software developers. But when customers install the product, they can simply rename the tag.
“If it was random, ad blockers wouldn’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, so it’s in the crosshairs of every ad blocker.
According to Cao, people who run their own sites or blogs — the bread and butter for GA clients — are beginning to reconsider the value of ga.
“Now that people are finding out that Google is using this data to track visitors across the web, site operators are starting to look for other solutions,” he said.