Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
I’m Julia Draghici and I’m a mum and a co-founder at CPV Lab, a performance marketing tracking platform.
With CPV Lab we help marketers get the right data about all their multi-channel campaigns in one single place. In this way, a marketer can easily see which traffic source is more profitable, which needs to be optimized, and how to optimize it.
If you are not familiar with the terms, traffic sources are Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, Youtube, etc.
Our main users are affiliate marketers for which a conversion tracker is very important to make sure they have the right information about costs (from traffic sources) and sales (the offers they promote) in one place.
Also, marketing agencies, e-commerce sites, and Small businesses (like SaaS) are using CPV Lab to track their organic and paid traffic, test the campaigns, and see all the results in one dashboard.
More so after the iOS 14 updates when conversion attribution on Facebook started having problems, a 3rd party marketing tracker is making a big difference in showing your ads to the right audience.
To be more clear, when a traffic platform (like Meta, TikTok, etc) knows exactly where the conversion is coming from, it can assign it correctly and make sure the ads are shown to the right audience. But if the traffic platform can’t make the attribution correctly (as it happens a lot for Facebook after the iOS14.5 release), then the business needs to pay more for their conversions (the CPA is higher).
In all the latest workshops from Meta, for example, they recommend using a 3rd party ad tracker (like CPV Lab) for better tracking and attribution.
Here you can find more information about how this Facebook CAPI integration works or the one for TikTok.
We grew to $50K in revenue in the first year of launching CPV Lab Pro with just 2 founders working full-time and one part-time colleague. Now, we have more than 1500 users and with nearly 10% growth month-to-month through organic traffic.
What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Well… I joined this project after it already started. We are 2 co-founders in this project now. I believe it is worth mentioning that the other co-founder is also my husband, so it is a family business.
The other co-founder has been doing affiliate marketing since 2011, and together with a partner, they started CPV Lab to simplify their work. It started as a side project.
Soon they discovered the need for such a tool and they planned to develop it further.
They were the original co-founders.
Unfortunately, there were some issues once one of them retired from the project, but soon the project got stable as CPV Lab Pro and that’s the point when I joined as a co-founder in 2018.
So, I’m not one of the original co-founders. I came to the team once the MVP was already launched and the tool already had some users. I was lucky. When I joined the project it was soon after finishing maternity leave.
I didn’t have that much marketing experience in the field at that time, my strong points being on the team management and product growth side.
As for my background, I have a degree in Computer Science and Economics and over 15 years of experience in project and team management for software products (especially on the marketing side) and also in business analysis.
One of my initial jobs once I finished university was to manage the software development team which was building products for marketing analytics. Not exactly a tracker, but analytics. It was back when Flash was a thing and I was still learning about team management and analytics. I worked for 5+ years in that company and I’ve learned a lot.
To go back to CPV Lab, the product was validated when more people doing affiliate marketing started using it and found out how much their campaigns can be improved with the right data.
Because you can’t make performance if you don’t have data.
Currently, 80% of our users are affiliate marketers. We also have small businesses, SaaS, eCommerce, and marketing agencies. But our “micro-niche” is affiliate marketing.
The first users were found on affiliate marketing forums. Afterward, we had a referral program in place for our users and we continued to be active on forums and groups… to be present in the community. That’s kind of important.
Take us through the process of building the first version of your product.
As a startup owner you always have to be ready to pivot in case you discover your initial idea is not useful
The initial product was looking like this:
It was super basic, with no fancy design or anything.
My partner is a super smart developer (I’ve worked with many developers in my career so far and I know what I’m talking about…) and he wanted to simplify his work and stop using excel files for reports about his affiliate marketing campaigns.
The product was initially designed to help track ads on multiple traffic sources, to see the results in one single place, and to stop wasting time (and money) while checking multiple platforms.
Also, the goal was to retrieve information about the sales made and all the metrics needed to optimize campaigns for better performance of their affiliate marketing campaigns.
But, once the product started to be used by others and we started working full time, it quickly evolved.
As a startup owner you always have to be ready to pivot in case you discover your initial idea is not useful… in our case, we just made sure it can be used by affiliate marketers and entrepreneurs, as it helps them all to different degrees.
Now the product looks like this and it has a lot of stats, reports, optimizations, API integrations, notifications, etc. The user interface was changed, it was made responsive and usable across all devices and the overall UX is much better.
There were many changes done in design and functionality based on our user’s feedback. One piece of advice I can give to startups is: listening to your customers is the most important thing and it is what any business owner should focus on.
Just talk with your customers and you will find out what needs to be done or updated.
Describe the process of launching the business.
As I joined the team after the MVP for CPV Lab, I can talk more about the moment when CPV Lab Pro was launched.
It was when we started working full-time on the product.
It started with some mistakes in communication, and now, looking back, we see that those could have been avoided. We didn’t communicate well with our customers about our management changes and we also asked them for a fee for some updates.
What can I say… looking back now I would have done things differently.
But the important part is to learn from that experience and move forward.
Any mistake is an opportunity to learn and every entrepreneur will learn much more from mistakes than from success.
We created the website with a nice free theme and we created a logo ourselves with a free tool we found online (none of us being a designer back then).
For a while, the team was composed of just us, the 2 co-founders + a part-time colleague.
It was tough! Having a family with small kids and building a product was a big challenge.
And both of us working for the same business full time can be considered risky… Like putting all your eggs in one basket, a thing I am totally against in principle. But it was a risk I took back then and I believe it was worth making.
We bootstrapped all the new developments, marketing… well, everything.
Everything we produced with CPV Lab Pro we invested in the business.
We worked from home all the time and I remember that I liked working while my little one was asleep, as I got to forget about all the mummy stuff and focus on business.
Growing a business is a lot like growing a child: you need to do it in baby steps.
Building a business takes time and energy… and even when I was super tired I never thought to give up… because I discovered that I like it a lot. Like a LOT!
And I believe there is also something important to mention here, as opposed to the startups with external investments, when you bootstrap a company, you are very careful with your money. This is a mindset for a bootstrapped business: to get the most with as little as possible.
Build a product that is helping others, that is where you get the fulfillment in the early stage.
Last year, in 2022, we joined an accelerator program, Commons Accel, in Bucharest where we learned a lot about the startup ecosystem and what external investments involve (and we also won the program.yayy!).
Before the accelerator, I had just a general idea about this startup process, but now things are more clear for me and also I got a mindset to reset you could say.
So, here I would have another piece of advice for startups: always be ready for networking! ** ** In this past year, I discovered how important it is to network and get outside your comfort zone. I’m an introvert by nature… I don’t feel comfortable in the spotlight and I avoided that as much as possible.
But, for a business to grow, as a CEO, I had to learn how to go and talk about our product in public. I’m still learning how to do it…
Also, by networking, we met a great entrepreneur and human being who agreed to be our advisor. We just started this advisory thing at the end of last year, but it has been very insightful and useful so far.
So, again: network! Even if you are shy, or a developer used to staying behind your computer… go out there and network!
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Since launching the Pro version and starting working full-time on it, we have tried a lot of things.
I will mention here some things we’ve learned by doing and that I believe would be useful for other founders out there:
- You don’t need to invest in social media if your audience is not there. The minimum posting with some Canva images is enough.
- Facebook ads are not useful for SaaS products in some niches. You can test them (and track the results with CPV Lab, of course, but don’t insist.
- Working with a marketing agency for branding is important once you get revenue. But ask for references first and never pay for something upfront! You may never recover the money (unfortunately I talk from experience here!).
- Be where your customers are: forums, communities, social media, events, and conferences. Talk with them.
- Build a community around your product – it is useful but it takes a lot of effort and if your users are not used to it, the community will fail.
- Build partnerships with key industry companies. Doing cross-promotions works well. Because once you start helping, the help will return.
- Be friendly and don’t lie to your customers.
- Ask for reviews early on and use dedicated review tools like Tekpon, Capterra, or G2.
We used to ask for reviews via email and afterward publish some of them on our website. But we got complaints on the support that the reviews may be fake 🙄
So we just started last year to ask for reviews on dedicated platforms. We should have done that earlier!
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Right now the platform is stable and we are growing.
Last month we had a $7.5K MRR. We didn’t reach the target we wanted for last year… but that was also because there were many issues with the war and stuff.
What is worth mentioning though is that last year we had a $0 investment in marketing.
I will repeat myself regarding being a bootstrapped company and being scrappy with your finances.
This past year, we put a lot of effort into having CPV One launched. It is the cloud version of the CPV Lab marketing tracker.
We are now the only affiliate marketing tracker having both self-hosted and cloud-hosted versions with unlimited events tracked.
So, in this last year all our customers came from organic traffic or partnerships with different key industry players.
Regarding our team, we started the year with 4 people in the team (2 full-time and 2 part-time) and we are now 6 talented people.
The future looks good. More and more companies are moving their business online and the trend is to be present everywhere… so, omnichannel marketing is a must-have for an online business. Meaning that tracking all the multi-channel marketing campaigns is necessary for marketing performance. We just need to make sure we transmit the message in the right way.
In 2023 we want to get an investment to help us finish faster some of the things requested by our customers and to invest also in marketing. We are looking to find a strategic partner though… somebody that could help us in the marketing industry and if they have connections in the affiliate marketing industry, that’s even better.
And afterward, our goal is to be the best tool used to track and optimize marketing performance for affiliate marketing in the US.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Initially, as a CEO of an early-stage business you are wearing multiple hats… sometimes you wear the marketing hat, then the customer support one… and so on. Mainly you have to learn your business inside out so that when a new team member comes in you know what to ask and what to expect.
That’s something I didn’t know when I joined as a co-founder and I learned a lot from multiple areas just by doing. I’m not an expert in customer support or sales for example, but now I have a lot more knowledge and experience in those areas.
Also, as I’m a very private person, one hard lesson was to get out of my cave and network.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
My favorite tool is CPV Lab Pro, of course.
I love to go at the beginning of each day and check the traffic to our website from the previous day or the conversions from a specific day.
Instead of going to Google Analytics, Meta business manager, Google Ads, Microsoft Ads, etc… you just log into CPV Lab and see how each of them is doing.
For emails, we used to use MailChimp. It is useful when you start because it has a free plan (remember my advice: do the most with as little as possible!).
Now we are using Active Campaign to send emails and it works fine so far.
Also, we use Slack to communicate with the team and I like Notion and Google Docs for documents and such things.
Ah! Another useful tool is tawk.to for customer support. It is free and it works great!
Another very useful tool that I’ve been using for more than 10 years now is Snagit. I love it! It helps me create images for development specs and to answer questions from our customers very easily.
And now we are exploring using Eyelet for the onboarding process. They are a startup and their tool looks promising so far.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
The book I liked the most last year was “Running Lean” by Ash Maurya.
It is very useful to learn about the lean mindset and how to better approach it.
As for podcasts, I follow the podcast of some marketing experts and some for SaaS GTM and growth, like TKander. Also, lately, I started listening to the Tekpon podcast, they have very nice guests there and useful information for SaaS growth. And a little while ago I started “The Game” and found some useful advice there:)
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Just get started! Baby steps.
I believe that talking with prospects is what is scary for most entrepreneurs out there… but you need to know that they are humans too! And once you do it a few times, things will be much easier.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask for advice and to bring advisors around you. Usually, they come with a big network that can help you move forward.
And one thing that I believe is the most important, build a product that is helping others, that is where you get the fulfillment in the early stage.
If you think only about money… it will be a struggle and most entrepreneurs that think mostly about the financial aspects instead of the people using the product, will fail. My personal opinion.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are looking for a CMO, with experience in SaaS and ideally in affiliate marketing, and also who is willing to become a co-founder after a few months.
We don’t ask much, right?
Smart, funny, willing to learn, and go “skin in the game”!
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Founder of CPV Lab Pro
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