Umami offers a new flavor of non-Google analytics

If you’re a site analytics tool and your name isn’t “Google” or “Adobe,” there hasn’t been much room to grow.

Most Fortune 500 companies use Adobe Analytics, and almost everyone with a website uses Google Analytics (GA), which is ubiquitous and free.

Launching a startup that could rival Google’s army of engineers was considered impossible and investors weren’t interested.

But that’s starting to change, partly because of an upcoming forced migration to GA4, a new version of Google Analytics, and also because of privacy pressures on GA in Europe.

A new venture launching in GA is Umami, an open-source analytics product hosted on GitHub in 2020 that became an official entity with funding after securing a $1.5 million seed round in May.

Mike Cao, founder and CEO of Umami, started working on the product in 2020 for his own personal site listed with GoDaddy while an engineer for Adobe’s digital marketing platform. With GDPR and other privacy laws making headlines, Cao said he started looking for alternatives to Google.


“When I couldn’t find one, I wanted to build something on my own,” he said, “so that’s what I did.”

It only took a few months to launch a minimum viable product for Cao’s own site. He then opened up the tech on GitHub and started picking up downloads after gaining an audience through Reddit. Today it has over 100 contributors and millions of downloads.

Even so, one of the reasons GA has never faced stiff competition in the past isn’t because the product is exceptional or difficult to build. (Cao did this in his spare time over the course of a few weeks). It’s the fact that Google offers GA for free, which essentially stops the competition from monetizing. Just like with Google’s search engine, because Google Analytics is free, people expect all basic site analytics to be free. Free has become the default.

Umami is “still working on” a way to make money, Cao said, that will take it from a popular free tool on GitHub to a viable business.

And there’s already a playbook for open-source monetization. WordPress, for example, is open-source, so anyone can download the code and use it to create their own blog – or they can go to Automattic, the parent company of WordPress, and pay a monthly fee to run the product and run the server. Cao said Umami’s revenue path would be similar, with cloud hosting and managed services in addition to open source technology.

But Cao was able to leave Adobe and dive into Umami full-time in May because, despite the monetization challenge, he began to see interest from venture capitalists. He struck a deal with Race Capital, which invested $1.5 million for an undisclosed stake earlier this year.

“Google Analytics was in the headlines back when it was banned pretty much all over Europe,” Cao said.

Several VCs have tried to invest in an alternative, especially a privacy-focused alternative, since Umami does not collect any personal data and does not use cookies or IP addresses. Cao said site operators need to understand the number of visitors to the site and where they come from, without the cookie to track users for advertising purposes.

Umami also uses local cloud and server providers in Europe, Cao said. Citing the GDPR, data protection authorities in several European countries recently banned Google Analytics for hosting the data of European citizens on servers owned by a US company. (The reasoning being that US-owned businesses are subject to US government surveillance and subpoenas.)

Although Umami is small, it has a few other advantages over GA.

Google Analytics is “moving very slowly on its product,” Cao said. GA is also becoming increasingly tied to the overall Google Ads product. Most of the features GA is now adding are aimed at advertisers rather than site operators who want a basic analytics service that works, he said.

Being nimble also helps capture audience from ad blockers. Ad blockers can easily avoid GA because its tag is everywhere, Cao said. Ad blockers simply target the “ga.js” code on a GA client’s sites. Umami uses umami.js as its base tag, which is also targeted by many ad blocker developers. But when customers install the product, they can simply rename the tag.

“If it’s random, ad blockers won’t target the script,” he said.

But Umami’s main selling point is that it’s not about Google, and not just because Google is huge and ad-supported and therefore in the crosshairs of all ad blockers.

According to Cao, people who run their own sites or blogs – the bread and butter of GA’s customer base – are beginning to reconsider the GA value accessory.

“Now that people are discovering that Google is using this data to track visitors all over the web,” he said, “site operators have started looking for other solutions.”

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