At IPinfo, we take great pride in our reputation for top-tier customer service -- a reputation built on our commitment to two-way customer communication and desire to not just listen to our customers’ business needs, but to build their feedback into our product roadmap and deliver solutions.

So, you might be surprised to learn that the importance of customer communication was something that our founder Ben learned the value of the hard way early on in his journey as a founder.

Ben recently joined SaaS Club’s Omer Khan on the SaaS Podcast to talk about how he successfully bootstrapped IPinfo into a successful business and what he’s learned along the way. During their conversation, Ben reflected on his early desire to keep IPinfo as a self-serve product, and his reluctance to collect information from or communicate back to customers.

The Early Days: Self-Serve or Bust

IPinfo originated as a simple API that Ben built to make his own life as a dev easier when it came to having to repeatedly download IP address information. In those early days, he thought it might come in useful to some other hobbyist developers, but no more than that: anyone looking to use Ben’s API could get it, free, no strings attached, from his website. And that was the way he wanted it.

However, as it became evident to Ben that there was real demand for the product he’d built, he decided to test out tiered paid plans based on the number of monthly requests users needed. Another surprise: not only were users willing to pay, but some of those users were coming from quite large companies. They had real budgets, specific needs, and they were reaching out in increasing numbers to communicate with the IPinfo team (in those early days, still just Ben, answering their emails on his train commute to and from work) about those needs.

Omer Khan: Today, a big part of your business comes from enterprise companies. Why did you initially see that as a distraction?

Ben: I wanted IPinfo to be all self-serve at first. What I didn't appreciate until I actually took calls from some enterprise customers, was that I totally underestimated how important those conversations could be to land large customers that sometimes have completely custom requirements. A bunch of really interesting projects came out of those conversations, and features that have made it to products today. Those customers ended up being really important for growing the business and developing our product roadmap, and we’ve been able to add value to big enterprises that have budgets and real problems our products can help solve.

This was Ben’s first lesson as a founder in how valuable user feedback could be in growing his business and building customer loyalty. As he took more of those customer calls and collaborated with companies of all sizes to create custom solutions to help them with their business challenges, he began to notice something. IPinfo’s customers were talking, and referrals started coming in. Not only that, but even when up against some of the bigger, more established IP address data providers, IPinfo’s availability and collaborative ethos often set them apart, helping them win the business.

Help Us Help You

When it came to marketing and getting the word out about the new paid plans, particularly to free users who were running up against the maximum number of requests that plan allowed, Ben had another realization. The self-serve model that had been working so well until that point, had a major downside.

Omer Khan: Even though you'd introduced the paid plans and people were signing up, you'd made the free plan too easy because people didn't even have to sign up. There was no way for you to even communicate with these people to tell them about the paid plans. What kind of problems did that create for you?

Ben: The whole initial pitch of IPinfo was that it was so simple. You didn't need to sign up or get any developer tokens. You just hit this API endpoint and get all the data. But later on that caused a bunch of problems. One of the issues was as we launched paid plans, we had no way to reach out to all the free users. For marketing, we generated all this demand and we had lots of people that loved our API that would have been great potential candidates to be customers for other offerings that we had no way to reach out to.

It took us years to figure out a way to introduce a signup process for a free plan. Unless you were paying us, we had no way to capture an email address. Not only did we miss out on customers, but it also caused problems for users. So anybody that was on the free plan had no way to naturally transition over to a paid plan later. We had users that were on the free plan that would hit a limit and things would break for them. We wanted to reach out to those users and help them transition to a paid plan, but we had no one to contact. I spent a bunch of time trying to find contact details for those users and it wasn't a good use of my time. So having the email address capture not only helped us reach out to users about new features but also to let them know when they were approaching rate limits. We’re also able to educate them on our different offerings.

Once we established a way to reach out to users, we were able to provide an improved customer experience – not only were we able to notify them if they were approaching their request limit and suggest an upgraded option to better suit their needs, but they could reach out to us with any feedback or concerns.

A Valuable Lesson

Omer Khan: Is there anything else you wish you'd done differently?

Ben: I would have been more open-minded about speaking to customers sooner. That was tricky in retrospect. Talking to customers more, and making more time for that even when you’re busy with the other parts of running the business,  is always useful.  Just this year, there have been a bunch of problems our customers have brought to us that we realized we could help solve, where a solution that didn’t really exist yet – or at least not a good one.

Having email and other channels for two-way communication is just so critical. Not only can we reach out to them about new products or services, but they can open up a dialogue with us whenever they need to.

Our Guiding Philosophy: Communication is Key

Today, our customers know that IPinfo isn’t a faceless data provider. We encourage them to let us know how they are using our IP address data, what is working well, and what we could be doing better. Even as the business has grown and he’s hired a team of 15, Ben still works personally with as many customers as he can, because that communication has become a cornerstone of IPinfo’s business philosophy.

If you’d like to hear the rest of Ben’s conversation with Omer, check out the full episode of the SaaS Podcast here!

IPinfo is a comprehensive IP address data and API provider with flexible pricing plans to meet your business needs. We handle billions of API requests per month, serving data like IP geolocation, VPN detection, ASN, and more. Sign up for a free account or contact our team to learn more.