I was happy to interview Adriaan van Rossum, who makes Simple Analytics, a privacy-focused analytics tool which doesn't track the personal data of people visiting your website. I use Simple Analytics for this site and so it was great to hear about how he learned to code with no degree, hacking his school exam system and taking on Google.
So I love Simple Analytics! How exactly did you go about making it?
I have been coding since I was 15 . It was the time where you could actually steal the clipboards of users of Internet Explorer and save it to your own database. As a developer you are more aware of what you can do with a browser than regular internet users. That’s also when I started to develop an interest in privacy.
A year ago I was with my girlfriend in Tenerife, Spain. I was freelancing there remotely for a client. As you can’t work 8 hours straight you need some breaks and in those breaks I usually have lots of ideas on new products. This time I was rambling about the huge data collections Google has with their analytics scripts. I almost get angry when I realize most of the people are just blindly adding that script to their websites. I vented to my girlfriend and said that this could be a good start to attack the Big Brother that is Google. It’s been my dream for years to beat Google Search, but I also know I should start with something more niche.
I remember Pieter Levels predicting in the WIP Telegram group that Simple Analytics would blow up. Is this what you expected when you started it?
I also remember Pieter Levels saying that. He said it could be the biggest thing out of WIP. I would be honoured if that will be the case. Until then I will make sure I do everything in my power to create an amazing business. It’s also funny to notice it’s more of a numbers game than a goal. I think that never ends, but my first biggest goal will be $70,000 ARR (resulting in €2,500 a month after taxes). It’s the amount where I can comfortably live my life without worrying about the next freelance gig.
I know you don't have a CS degree. What's your background?
If you ask my friends they will laugh if you ask about my studies. I had a very hard time finding the right course to study. When I started my first degree, Industrial Product Design, I moved to The Hague where I lived for 2 years. After this course I did Communication Multimedia Design, Information and Multimedia Management, and Media Information and Communication. Technically I did way more courses, but this was to get free public transport and a loan from the government. If you do part-time studies you don’t get these perks, but a second course is free. So I did study part-time studies combined with full-time studies.
While I was studying I did build a lot of websites, started a few companies and tried to pass my exams with as little as effort possible. Usually studying for a night until the exam would work best. You forget everything you learned the day after, but it’s good enough to pass your exam.
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How exactly did you start coding and why?
As I’ve been programming since I was 15 years old, I didn’t need to learn any programming at school or university to be effective. One of my first websites was a site for my classmates in high school. Every time we had an exam there was a test hand-out to everybody in the class. There where multiple classes getting the same exam. The class that had the exam the first would upload the exam to my site and the other classes could learn the answers of that specific exam. After a few months I had to explain myself to the board of the school and take down the website.
How have you learned to code without a CS degree? Have you used Udemy or any other course providers or just searched online for answers to your problems?
I started in 2004, there was no such thing as Udemy or anything like it. It was the time where you create the website footers and headers with iframes. I used the PHP docs and the knowledge of my brothers who were into computer programming as well. I only learned what I needed at that moment. I remember my brother saying: “You should learn about arrays”, something that I’m now very familiar with, but back in those days it was the next step to learn. Just figure out what you need to build and learn the things to accomplish that (it doesn’t have to be coding).
So obviously The Netherlands has a few really successful makers who don't have a CS degree like Pieter Levels of Nomad List, Marc Kohlbrugge of Beta List and WIP as well as yourself! Why do you think your country is good at producing self-taught indiemakers or is it just random?
I could say something about how our culture allows us to make mistakes. But I don’t think it would be fair or realistic whatever I say here. I can only say something relevant about my own background where my parents always said that I should do what I liked. They never pushed my towards a study or job. They let me decide for myself and for me this was the best way to explore my entreprenorial side.
Do you still do contracting as well as working on Simple Analytics?
As long as I didn’t reach my $70.000 ARR yet I will need to do some contracting. For now 1 day a week is enough and this will become less and less. So there is enough time to focus on Simple Analytics and make it the best and most privacy friendly analytics tool for website owners.