How Two College Students Found a Niche in Custom Web Analytics
The average student sees an internship as an opportunity to earn credits, gain experience and penetrate social circles that may lead to referrals or future entry-level positions. But Suhail Doshi, the 22-year-old co-founder of San Francisco analytics company Mixpanel, is far from average.
In 2008, following his sophomore year at Arizona State University, Doshi interned at Slide, a developer of social media apps. His stint there resulted in a business idea--and an investor.
As an intern, Doshi became increasingly aware that companies such as Slide, Facebook and social media game maker Zynga all shared a common burden: the need to build custom analytics in-house, because existing alternatives didn't meet their needs.
While services like Google Analytics worked fine for tracking traditional usage metrics, Doshi realized that the new crop of social media, online gaming and application development companies needed a way to measure user engagement and interaction, not just page views. This discovery turned a conventional internship into a commercial idea.
Back at school the following semester, Doshi met the person who would help bring his idea to fruition: Tim Trefren, his classmate in a discrete math course at the time and now Mixpanel's 23-year-old co-founder.
In the spring of 2009, Doshi and Trefren applied for funding through Y Combinator, a California-based seed funder of more than 250 startups, including Reddit, Loopt and Justin.tv. They were accepted into the program and given $15,000 in seed funding, which allowed them to spend the summer building Mixpanel into a viable business.
Upon completing the Y Combinator program, they took an official leave of absence from ASU and used the connections gained from the Slide internship and Y Combinator experience to secure additional investments of around $500,000 from Max Levchin, founder of Slide and co-founder of PayPal, and Michael Birch, co-founder of social networking site Bebo and reminder and e-card site BirthdayAlarm.
The result was Mixpanel, a third-party analytics platform that allows customers to track--in real time--how their users interact with websites, social games, applications and more. Instead of focusing solely on page views, Mixpanel shows insight into user-defined events, such as buying virtual goods in a Facebook game. Mixpanel's clients can capture and compare the data to explore a multitude of variables, such as browser type or retention patterns.
"A lot of companies said they would never use third-party analytics software," Doshi says. "But we continued to build a strong product, and eventually the people who said no started saying yes."