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How to survive in a highly competitive market. Startup of the day #1. GanttPRO.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The market of the work planning and team management tools is pretty warmed up today. There are thousands of the task planners; surviving in this red ocean and winning the leading position is challenging. But the GanttPRO team manages to have regular revenues, constantly improve and develop the product, sell their solution to Amazon, Sony, Salesforce and NASA. Company’s CEO Dmitry Dudin and Marketing manager Elena Barkovskaya share their insights and success secrets with us.

Startup Jedi

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What is GanttPRO

GanttPRO is a tool developed for managers to handy plan personal and team tasks on a timeline. These are the well-known and time-tested Gantt charts designed in modern manner. They are really universal. Some of the clients even say that having purchased business plans they use the charts for personal purposes as well: like repairs, dacha development or wedding organization. It’s simple and very convenient.
GanttPRO has been operating for 4 years so far, our clients come from 176 countries (the whole world almost). We have more than 500k registered users, most of them are from USA, Russia, Canada and Australia.

We are focused on small and medium business with the teams of up to 20 people. Our service is easy-to-use. Many users claim that this is one of the main reasons they eventually choose GanttPRO. Major competitors sell trainings and workshops to teach the team members how to use their soft efficiently (and these educational programs usually last for about a month!) Gladly we don’t have to work with the clients this way. All the features we have are intuitively understandable, so anyone can learn how to use our service in just no time.

We didn’t limit our positioning to any specific business domains, but developing a customer’s portrait we found out that the greatest niche for us were software developers. Despite the fact that agile is super trendy today, cascading planning turns out to be still very relevant and highly-demanded. It’s a common practice when customers purchase GanttPRO to optimize their communications with the clients: when it comes to discussing deadlines, areas of responsibility and the time each and every task will take. Gantt chart helps to visualize these issues.

Apart from the IT teams, there are many people from the construction industry, marketing agencies, design studios, charity organizations and real production (ranging from backpackages to photo equipment) among our clients. We did our best creating useable templates for all major industries.

Our team is as small, as an average one of our clients’ — 15 people. We started our way as a 2-members startup within an IT outsourcing company XB Software. Now we are a self-sufficient team with our own fancy office.


How to survive in a red ocean?

Our ocean is a red one, it’s true (total market size is around $5bln as at 2018, among the biggest players one can mention Microsoft, Oracle, ServiceNow, SAP, Autodesk, Unit4, Aconex, NetSuite, Deltek, Citrix Systems, Workfront, Atlassian, Zoho, Wrike, Inc., Basecamp,, Mavenlink, Asana, and hundreds of the smaller ones — author’s note).
But still there are some blue niche glimpses. We started with a tool for Gantt chart designing. This is a very narrow niche so it seemed like we could stay there, create our product and prosper. But with the passing time we found out that enlarging our cheque and retaining users with this one single instrument would be very hard.
Now we are gradually moving towards a project management niche for those types of organizations where the classical model is well adopted. We focus on the teamwork to be organized with the help of our project. We do our best to make the teams lead their projects using GanttPRO for as long as possible giving them the tools to perform as many tasks as they need: from simple planning to daily routine management and regular reporting.

As for now we have about half a million registered users (for comparison there were 350k last year — author’s note). The number of active users keeps growing as well. The key product metrics are also growing, these include: Lifetime, Churn, ARPU, Retention, annual and quarterly costs and profits. The dynamics isn’t as high as we would like it to be, but we are satisfied with the results. We cover our costs from month to month and even earn a bit. All the profits we invest in further growth, — Dmitry Dudin notes.

Screenshot of the GanttPRO’s interface


Project’s marketing

Competing with the giants without entering the niche would be impossible. What really helps us is a clear understanding of the way we differ from our competitors and the way our target audience is different from the target audience of the bigger market players. This helps us find out where to look for the new customers.

Our promotion is focused on SEO and content marketing. We create a lot of content for our own and for the guest blogs, besides we develop landing pages for each campaign, even for the low-frequency requests.

We also use featuring on the product platform like Capterra, Getapp, G2Crowd and so on. After having improved clients’ reviews and having got to the top in the ratings of the tools in some categories we also started launching CPC-campaigns.

Listicles also work very well for us. These are the articles with a list of the useful tools relevant for a specific topic. But you’d better get in the listings at the very beginning. As soon as it’s well promoted and appears in the top of the search results getting into it will be very difficult. The rights listicles can give you high-quality referral traffic.

Establishing close connection between development and marketing processes can influence the overall promotion positively. For instance, the marketing team starts making an accent on the promotion of the team plans - development team releases new features for the teams. Marketing priorities always go along with the development tasks.

Another thing that is very helpful for us is the feedback of the users. We keep in close contact with our clients so that to find out their real needs.

There are no channels that would quickly guarantee multiple growth of the audience. We are growing gradually due to the proper positioning, high-quality search optimization and (based on it) carefully designed client’s portrait with good understanding of the clients’ needs.

Moreover, the word of mouth brings us good results without having to make any special efforts from our side. Clients come on the recommendations and say that sometimes they even teach new teams how to work with GanttPRO in case they change their jobs.

Now you can find our project in the articles, listings and overviews, even in the methodologies and books dedicated to project management, in the programs for PM courses, market reports. Recently we even found out that one of the USA-based companies included the requirement of knowing how to use GanttPRO in the list of requirements for the potential candidates.

We didn’t concentrate on boosting the viral effect for our project yet, but who knows what will happen in the future. We keep looking for the new instruments and channels of customer acquisition. We conduct experiments a lot, this is an obligatory and permanent process in our company.


Key challenges

Last year we faced a challenge: we needed to provide our users with an opportunity for instant synchronization of the changes in the plans of all the team members and to resolve the conflicts that arose. Eventually we managed to find the optimal solution for productivity optimization. Though we had to change our approaches several times, always based on the feedback of the big teams.

There is another solution we are really proud of. We implemented a principle similar to the organization of the version control systems like Git, Subversion and others. We store information about differences in the project before and after the changes. This makes it possible to restore any version of the project.

Now we are facing a new technical challenge. Most of our users have to work with big amount of information (projects, tasks and so on) in a single browser window. This includes both managing several projects simultaneously, and leveling the load of the resources of these projects with the tasks. To solve this problem, one need to quickly synchronize a lot of data between users and calculate various types of connections in different data presentations. We will be actively working on this challenge in the fall.

Click the image to open GanttPRO's profile on the Rocket DAO platform


Nearest plans

We plan to release functionality for time-tracking and focus on calculating and optimizing resources load, integrations, reports and statistics. It is also possible that in the near future we will start the development of a mobile application. Everything depends on the pace of the product development, the growth of the number of active users and revenues. If growth is significant, we will be able to speed up both in development, and in marketing and sales.


What should the startups developing work optimization instruments know about it

It will be hard.
You can come up with a unique system for managing projects or organizing work with a cool feature that major competitors do not have, but in the end you will most likely find out that nobody needs this feature as it does not solve user problems, or the problem you are solving is not relevant at all. If there was a real problem, your competitors would have already been working on the solution for it (or would have already solved it). Never should you ever underestimate your competitors. This is a big mistake almost everyone makes.

You should also think in advance what keyword phrases you will use for promotion. Use Adwords, rating platforms like Capterra and analyze an average cost per click. Cost per click or position in the search results for our keywords is about 10$, but this is only the cost of the click. In a perfect world 30% of these users register on the platform, 3% of them purchase subscription (these are very good results actually). Following this logic you will cover the costs only if every user purchasing subscription brings you around 1000$. So that to start gaining profits and pay back the investments, ARPU should be around 3000$. This is not a small sum. That’s why you should decide how to attract your target user cheaper or find the way to provide users with a solution they will be ready to pay 3000$ (and more) for.
Such an analysis should be conducted prior you start the development of your product.


What are the peculiarities of the marketing on a competitive market

Find, take and develop your niche in all possible fronts: formulate your unique selling proposition, draw your client persona, choose the priority markets (including different countries). Overcome your competitors.
Carefully study the reviews of your competitors’ clients on the feature platforms. Find the weak points which you could potentially cover and consider how exactly you will do that. When all this work is done you will have a better understanding which channels can generate more income without significant investments. If possible, generate educative content.

SEO is not dead (it mutated), so it’s a good idea to have a SEO specialist from the very beginning.

Create good content for your blog. Choose only quality resources for the guest publishing. You will find your your best selling type of content over some time.
Do not hesitate to use question-and-answer services, such as Quora: it is another selling channel, and the questions asked by users will help you get ideas on how you can work with your target audience.
Do not divide the sales and marketing departments, let them work together. Collect feedback from users, constantly share it with both marketing and development departments.


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