CrossBrowserTesting started 11 years ago. The idea was born from a need. The incentive was born from a need also… my previous startup had hit rough water. Seeing no good options for a pivot, and having no great desire to “work for the man” again, it was time for a new plan. Fear of getting a “day job” is definitely a great motivator!
Mike Bowen, Tony Colston, and I had worked together in a corporate dev shop for several years in the ’90s. Mike and Tony went on to work at FedEx, while I moved to Oracle and started bootstrapping my first company. We had kept in touch and would get lunch at times, and the conversation would often migrate to thoughts of trying to start a business. With my first business taking a turn for the worse, it was time.
In September through December of 2007, we would meet and talk about ideas. Once we had an idea we felt had promise, we would quickly prototype an MVP over the next few weeks and evaluate its likelihood to be successful. The first couple of ideas and implementations were just horrible!
The one that stands out was an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) solution to read internet newsgroups to you as you commuted to work. You would be able to control the reading of the newsgroups totally by voice, bookmark areas you wanted to return to later when you had internet access, etc.
Upon using our working prototype, we realized that the quality was just horrible. Our target market was the tech industry, and the newsgroups were filled with jargon and abbreviated words. You could not make heads or tails out of what was being read to you. We cut bait and moved on.
During the Christmas holiday week of 2007, I had a customer of my first business call with a support issue. They were using Safari on a Mac, while we did all our development on a PC. Our app was built with jQuery, and in those days, cross-browser issues were rampant.
Several years before, I had purchased a Mac mini so I could reproduce and debug issues on that platform. I had literally used the Mac mini four times in as many years. As I dug it out to hook it up again, it struck me what a pain this was.
While there were services that allowed you to take screenshots to verify rendering, there were none that allowed you to actually use and debug with the remote browser. Perhaps this was the idea we were looking for! After all, if we had a need for it, we figured others probably did, too.
I had lost the SEO battle in the For Sale By Owner space to a company called “Forsalebyowner.com”, so I had little doubt what to call this second business. I purchased every domain name around “cross browser testing,” including CrossBrowserTesting.com.
On Jan 2nd; Mike, Tony, and I met to discuss ideas. I presented the concept — we would have banks of various configurations loaded with browsers that our users could VNC into and use. This would enable visual verification, testing functionality, and debugging. We were all excited about the idea. Well, Mike and I were excited. Tony rarely gets excited.
Nevertheless, we dove into coding and preparing the configurations. We divided and conquered the tasks, and released the beta version publicly on Feb 15th — only 6 weeks later! I can’t express how excited we were (except Tony) to have the first couple trial users sign up and try out the service. We worked the next week or so to add the ability for customers to pay and released it on Feb 27th. The next day, we had our first paying customer ($20!). We had the beginnings of a real business!
A month later, I saw a huge increase in trials. Checking the http_referer, I saw the traffic was from some site called “Hacker News.” Not being aware of what Hacker News was, I was totally horrified that a site dedicated to hackers was targeting our newly formed business.
I called Tony to discuss how to handle this problem. We joke that Tony reads the internet every night, so he knew exactly what Hacker News was and what it meant to be discussed on it. It was where all the cool devs hung out, and was the equivalent of a rock band getting on the cover of the Rolling Stone magazine… or so it felt. Even Tony was excited!
Fast forwarding through time… we changed our subscription model a few times, added screenshots for visual testing in 2010, added real, physical iOS and then Android devices starting in 2012, and implemented Selenium testing in 2014.
In 2016, we were approached by Smartbear, the global leader in Test and API, with an offer to acquire the company. We had bootstrapped this business and were profitable, so we were understandably nervous about putting our “baby” in others’ hands.
As it worked out, it was the best decision for the business we ever made. They took the parts for the business we were not experts at — finance, marketing, sales, HR — while leaving us alone to continue to do the development and engineering.
Our headcount has more than doubled since the acquisition, and the expertise of the wider Smartbear employees has helped us further improve and develop the business — there are some SmartBears working here globally! All three founders are still here, pushing the product and making it better and better for our customers. Turns out working for the man is not so bad!
As we celebrate the 11th birthday of CrossBrowserTesting, we’re looking back at how far we’ve come over the years, but we’re also looking forward to all that is still yet to come. Thanks to our customers, friends, and supporters for joining us in this journey!