One Year In, a Really Dynamic Business

Our code base is over a year old and I thought it was a good time to think & write about where Chargify is and where we’re headed.

Overall, people seem to like Chargify.

I’ve never been part of a more dynamic business. I’m amazed and inspired because most customers are start-ups or small businesses, which is a nice bit of news against the backdrop of recession. There are developers who give back to the community in the form of sample code. And some of them also offer consulting services to other customers.

We’re of course delighted that so many businesses and developers put their trust in us. There are challenges, of course, but so far we seem to be keeping up with them reasonably well, even with the occasional glitch.

Chargify Team

Chargify started in early 2009 with a core team of one person: Michael, a former IBM chip designer turned Ruby on Rails developer working at our parent company, Grasshopper Group. Michael was the sole developer, but he was not alone… things like Marketing, PR, HR, & Finance are done by our excellent “extended team” in Boston.

Over the last 7 months, our core team has grown to five people: 2 developers, 1 sysadmin/developer, and 2 full-time founders.

We aim to keep our core team relatively lean, so we try to write code with few bugs and good testing, and we try to document things well. When we do these things well, we produce a better experience for customers and a lower cost structure.

Customer Growth & Development Priorities

As our customer count has accelerated past 1,800 merchants, our support ticket load, while it has grown, has grown at a much lower rate than new sign-ups. Don’t get me wrong… we enjoy and learn from interaction with customers, but if too many need tech support, then we’re doing something wrong.

During the first half of 2010, we spent a lot of development time adding new functions, such as metered-usage billing & discount coupons. And we added a number of payment gateways to support merchants in various countries.

Growth really took off in Q1, and we could see the need to shift our focus to what we call the “unsexy, but very necessary” things… things that no one cares about unless they stop working.

I’d like to say that we were well ahead of needs, but we were simply in line with needs. We were discussing potential changes when we were forced to act because of high levels of activity and slow system responsiveness. We solved the problem quickly and took the whole thing as a shot across our bow.

The long-term solution is a set of changes that are rolling out in July & August. These changes will give us capacity to handle larger growth, as well as suppliers that are focused on banking & finance.

Natural Customer Shift

And that nicely supports a type of customer that’s coming to Chargify these days: the established small business. These businesses typically have thousands of paying customers, so their concerns reflect that fact… they ask what we charge for an SLA and perhaps 24/7 priority support, among other things. This follows the growth curve I’ve seen at previous businesses, including Engine Yard… early customers grow, and as our reputation solidifies, established businesses give us a try.

As Chargify grows, we’ll add people and services to match these needs. As part of this evolution, our pricing will probably increase, but we’ll keep an eye on affordability for bootstrapped startups, too.

Later 2010 & Long-Term

Once we complete the infrastructure projects of summer, we’ll put more development time into new functionality. We listen to customers, giving priority to functions that are core to billing and that help the largest number of customers.

Long-term, our goal is to make recurring billing services easy to use and robust enough to meet the needs of typical small businesses. This includes topics across a wide spectrum, from merchant accounts & payment gateways, to discount coupons & control over dunning, to invoice generation & tax calculations.

We won’t accomplish everything overnight, but we seem to be matching the needs of our customers as they grow and evolve. If you have any thoughts about how we can make Chargify better, please let us know.