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The booming Irish Web analytics startup was launched by the top vote-getter in BusinessWeek's young entrepreneur contest when he was just 16
Aodhan Cullen got off to an early start. The top vote-getter in our annual contest to find Europe's most promising young entrepreneurs started his first business, a r?sum?-typing service, when he was just 12 years old. Then, as a teenager, he began designing Web pages for paying clients, who often wanted to know how many people were visiting their sites.
Lightbulb moment. In 1999, at the age of 16, Cullen launched Dublin-based StatCounter, an online service that lets clients measure the number of hits they get on their Web sites, plus the geographical location of visitors, the pages people view, and the keywords they use to find a site.
That turned out to be a smart move for the young Irishman, now 24. Web analytics, a field which grew rapidly doing the dot-com boom and then fell out of favor, is "exploding again," says Bill Gassman, a research director specializing in Web analytics at tech consultancy Gartner (IT). It's already a $400 million market, and analysts expect it to more than double in size by next year. Big players in the field, such as Omniture (OMTR), in Orem, Utah, are growing at more than 50% year over year.
The Votes Are In
Latching onto such a hot growth market may have been what gave Cullen the edge among voters in our second annual contest to identify the most promising young entrepreneurs in Europe. Out of a field of 16 companies run by 19 Europeans age 25 or younger, StatCounter rose to the top. But not far behind were equally promising startups such as communications firm JT International of Sofia, Bulgaria, and software social-networking site Wakoopa of Amsterdam.
These and other winners were likely helped by a strong show of support from friends and colleagues. But thanks to a new screening system, this year's poll was free of the manipulation that dominated the contest in 2006 (later eliminated by filtering). And not being ranked in the top five takes nothing away from the promise and achievement of startups such as BytePlay, Moneytrackin, and Friend Media Technology Systems. (For the original list of nominees, see BusinessWeek.com, 6/1/07, Slide Show: "They Set Their Minds on Success.")
Ahead of Household Names Like Dell
Still, Cullen's company stood out for its strong growth. StatCounter currently has more than 1.5 million users and tracks more than 9 billion page views per month across its network of 2.2 million Web sites. Cullen won't discuss revenues for the privately held company, but says he's signing up 1,500 new members per day.
That helps explains why Alexa Internet Web Search (AMZN), which ranks sites by traffic, currently lists StatCounter as the 34th-most-visited site in the U.S., ahead of household names like Adobe (ADBE), Dell (DELL), and Wal-Mart (WMT), as well as Internet fixtures such as CNET Networks (CNET), Ask.com (IACI), and Expedia (EXPE). To keep up, Cullen has opened an office in Dublin's Guinness Enterprise Center, hired six employees, and added 80 powerful servers.
StatCounter doesn't really compete with Omniture or other players such as WebTrends that target multinationals and big corporations. Rather, it's going after small and midsize firms that don't need highly sophisticated analytical tools??nd can't afford to spend $10,000 and up to buy them. The StatCounter service is mostly free, supported by ads, and works remotely over the Internet rather than by being installed on client PCs. (High-volume customers with more than 250,000 monthly pageloads pay anywhere from $9 to $29 a month for StatCounter.)
Google Has Taken Notice
Cullen does face one rather formidable competitor in the entry-level market: Search giant Google (GOOG), which bought a Web analytics company called Urchin Software in 2005 and now offers a free, advertising-supported traffic tracking tool called Google Analytics.
Cullen doesn't dismiss the competition, but argues there are key differences. Google Analytics, for instance, is tightly integrated with the company's AdWords advertising service, and users are limited to tracking 5 million hits per month unless they are AdWords customers. "Google Analytics' goal is to increase their advertising business," he says. "StatCounter's goal is to provide the best tracking possible."
Alan Boydell, Goodle Analytics associate for Google France, disputes Cullen's claim about Google's motivations and says its goal likewise is to provide "the best possible free tracking service." He acknowledges the 5-million-page-view limit for noncustomers, but notes that AdWords clients can track unlimited page views.
StatCounter, Cullen adds, also offers live tracking, which lets customers monitor and spot problems on their Websites as soon they happen?? feature Google Analytics lacks. And it displays live visitor path reports to show how each visitor is navigating a Web site and what paths are leading to customer conversions. Google's services are similar, but only display what happened about three or four hours ago. "There is room in this market for new players," says Gartner's Gassman. Though Google has far broader brand recognition, he says, StatCounter "appears to be very good at listening to users and it is growing very fast."
Saying No to VC, for Now
Among its paying customers is Mathaba, an international online news agency based in Hong Kong, London, and Washington, D.C., that gets 2 million page views a month. The company's Web master, Adam King, says Mathaba uses StatCounter several times a day to check for problems on its site, to see where visitors are coming from, and to measure the popularity of the site's toolbar. He also uses the StatCounter tool to verify which news items are doing well, how long people spend on the site, and how many come back regularly.
So what's next for Cullen? Venture capitalists have been beating a path to his door but so far the young entrepreneur says he isn't interested in being bought out. He says he wants to continue growing the company, which has been profitable from the start, on his own, by improving the services he can offer his customers. That's the spirit!