Recently, OpsMatters marketing consultant & copywriter Lauren Detweiler sat down (virtually, of course!) with Lucian Daniliuc, founder & CEO of uptime monitoring service Monitive, to chat about the monitoring industry, the process of rewriting an application from scratch, and why customers matter to the process so much. Lucian has been a big supporter of the OpsMatters mission from the very beginning, and the path of his company — along with their steadfast dedication to simplicity and transparency — has been fascinating for us to watch as well.
You can read the full interview below, and learn more about becoming a Monitive beta tester here.
Can you give some background on your career pre-Monitive and what led you to start the company 9 years ago?
Before Monitive, I started out as a web developer. After being promoted to team leader, I got to be involved with all the departments of the company and learned a lot about how businesses worked — marketing, customer service, sales support, budgeting, and everything else. I started feeling a need to practice all of this in other ways. Around the same time, I realized that the market for monitoring services was pretty complicated, leaving an opportunity to build something simpler. So, I built Monitive in my free time, eventually quitting my job to embark fully on that adventure.
What did the monitoring industry look like at that time?
The industry was pretty new — there was really just one big player, which was Pingdom — then there were a few other smaller companies trying to get market share. The problem all these services had was that they seemed like they were built by engineers, for engineers. Anyone who wasn’t technical really couldn’t set up an uptime monitoring service. This was when I thought to myself, “Hey, there should be simpler uptime monitoring services out there. Not everyone needs all the complicated tools — they just need to know when their site is down.”
What was it that made you realize Monitive needed a rewrite?
The first version of Monitive was really just built in my free time. I didn’t take the time to do all the technical necessities required back then — like automated testing — and I didn’t worry as much about scaling the product. I just wanted to see proof that it was something people would desire and be willing to pay for.
Fast forward to about 2.5 years ago, and I started realizing that the system wouldn’t be able to handle a lot of new customers and sites. Adding features became harder because the system was fragile, and I didn’t want to touch it because customers were relying on us to let them know when their sites were down. Therefore, we decided to build a brand new system that scales, is fully automated, and has next-level reliability built in.
What new features are coming in the new version? Are there any features from the old version that became obsolete and were removed?
The new system is as basic as possible. You sign up, and that’s it — you don’t have to do anything else. You’ll get notified by email, SMS, and voice call if your site is down. To make this system so much simpler than the old one, we’re using something called feature switches. Most of our customers — maybe 90% — will just need the basics and that will be enough. For those who want more control, the system adapts to their needs and they can turn specific features on and off directly in the cross-platform interface.
We’re also utilizing a simple escalation feature that supports our promise to customers that if their site is down and it’s serious, they can count on us to let them know. First, we send an email. If the site is still down after 3 minutes, we send a SMS message. If 10 more minutes pass and the site is still down, customers will receive a fully automated phone call. We live in a world of notifications and smartphones, but a notification that your website is down — especially when it pertains to your business — is much more important than a comment on Instagram, so we make sure you see it.
All of this is customizable — it’s really up to the customer how they want Monitive to function with their site, and the design of the system itself is also highly dependent on feedback from our customers.
What difficulties have you faced with trying to bring a new product into the market? Does it feel more or less difficult than last time?
There are plenty of difficulties. The landscape for marketing this kind of product has changed a lot since back then. There are big players with huge marketing budgets who can push us out in areas like Pay Per Click advertising — something that was easier at the beginning of Monitive but has gotten much harder.
So, what we are aiming for is out-of-the-box thinking for our marketing: this means getting fully transparent on what we do and how we do it, which was the reason we started the Once Upon a Site blog.
We are also trying to be extremely specific in our targeting, as wide advertising just isn’t working anymore. There are big players in IT and DevOps so we have to be as slick as possible to get noticed. That’s going to be one of our biggest challenges after we complete our beta testing.
You talk a lot about simplicity with your product and the company as a whole. How do you decide which features to include and which to leave out?
That’s something that the customers decide. We have a public forum where people can suggest features, add comments, and vote for their favorites. Whatever is at the top of the list gets considered and potentially implemented.
Since Monitive is a product for the customers, it only makes sense to have that list be transparent to our users. It’s really a community that is building this product — not just our team in the office.
How do you approach explaining the new benefits to existing customers? How do you bring them with you?
Our existing customers were actually the first ones invited to our beta testing phase, so their ideas and needs are already in the feedback forum. They have the opportunity to tell us what they need before it’s built, so that’s a big privilege as well. Plus, like all of our beta testers, these users are receiving a free year of Monitive in exchange for their participation in the beta. It’s a win-win for all of us!
Have changes/innovation in the market prompted you to do things differently this time around?
It seems to me that these days there’s a new monitoring service every few months — which is great. The market is huge. There are a lot of sites out there that can use monitoring, so the growth of the industry is a positive.
In terms of marketing, like I mentioned before, we’re going to go pretty non-conventional. We’re trying to be as transparent as possible to attract like-minded people, specifically anyone who is interested in what we do and HOW we do it. It’s going to be a lot of trial and error — hopefully more trial than error.
That’s the main challenge for any uptime monitoring service these days. There’s an explosion of apps and services of all kinds, in all industries, and it’s getting harder to get through the noise and explain to the customer that what you are offering is a useful service. Convincing the customer to choose you is getting more and more difficult as more applications launch every single day — this just wasn’t the case 9 years ago.
How do you stay relevant in a time of great change in the industry?
Simplicity sets us apart. That’s number one. The newest services coming out — similarly to the ones that were around when we first created Monitive — look like they were built by engineers, for engineers.
Number two would be that we are building the service with our customers. They’re going to be the ones using it, so it makes sense to create that community effort. I know I would want to be involved in building a product I was going to use, so I want to give our users that opportunity as well.
How is your beta testing for the new product going? Are you still accepting more beta testers? When do you expect to release the final product to the public?
We are aiming to release the new Monitive to the public in the near future. We’re currently still onboarding beta testers and will set the release date once we can confirm the product is commercially viable. This is tricky to do, as our beta testers are all receiving a free year of Monitive and this may skew their opinions somewhat. So, we will most likely be trying to assess viability through old users who did not sign up to be beta testers or others who are not receiving the free year.
You’ve been a keen supporter of OpsMatters.com since the beginning. In your own words, why do you think ops matters today more than ever before?
Everything is moving quickly toward the internet. We’re doing more and more of our basic chores through online services, and services are becoming more and more complicated because they need to scale. All these systems need to work like clockwork because so many people are relying on them. Ops is the cog of the whole system that ensures people are happy and able to do what they need to do, both professionally and personally. Everyone connected online has the same needs, and ops is a key factor there.
As for OpsMatters, I’m surprised it didn’t exist before, because it’s a huge network of systems and products and services that often work together and overlap. It just makes sense to have a common place for knowledge regarding everything around Ops and the internet in general, so I’m very happy that OpsMatters has entered the field to take that on.
Thanks to Lucian for taking the time to share his insights with the OpsMatters community this week. We’re all very excited to see how the new product turns out, and to continue following Monitive’s journey in the coming years. You can learn more about Monitive by visiting their website at www.monitive.com.