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Launch HN: Freshpaint (YC S19) – an automated, retroactive Segment alternative
119 points by malisper 37 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 55 comments
Hello HN!

We’re Fitz & Malis, the founders of Freshpaint (YC S19) (https://www.freshpaint.io/). Our product is a more flexible way of setting up your analytics and marketing tools.

With our javascript snippet, Freshpaint automatically instruments your site by tracking every behavior for you, up front. From there, you can create events for behaviors like clicks, pageviews, etc either through a point-and-click interface or code (whichever you’re more comfortable with). In one click, Freshpaint sends data collected for that event – past or present – to 80+ analytics or marketing tools.

What does retroactive mean? Install Freshpaint’s snippet today. In 6 months start tracking something new, and you'll have the last 6 months worth of data that our product has already collected. We make it easy to backfill that historical data into your tools.

There’s two types of people that get the most value out of Freshpaint:

1. The developer that owns data infrastructure at their company, and wants to lighten the load through automation.

2. The non-technical marketer/customer success/PM (or founder!) that makes use of the tools that require customer data.

We both met while working at Heap (YC W13) – Malis led the database team and Fitz led product marketing. When starting Freshpaint, we were inspired by a phenomenon we saw while working with customers at Heap. Even though they used Heap for analytics, we kept seeing companies also writing tracking code for each behavior they wanted to use in other tools, either with a routing service like Segment and mParticle or building direct implementations and their own pipelines. Across analytics, product, and marketing it was common to see a dozen tools that required the same data including tools like Hubspot, Intercom, Fullstory, advertising platforms, data warehouses, and more.

Let’s say you want to see how many users clicked your signup button or played a song in your analytics tools. Or you want to take the users who added an item to their cart and engage them in an automated marketing campaign. First, you have to write code to collect and log each behavior that you want to track. Then you have to send it to your marketing and analytics tools.

This requires a massive engineering effort and it’s distracting to maintain (it’s not uncommon to delay shipping a new feature by 2-3 weeks because of this tax). If you didn’t track something or made a mistake, that data is lost forever.

Developers have to do a bunch of work that (1) is not core product development, and (2) they often aren’t the ones to get value from that work because they’re not the end users of this data. Flip this problem around and you have marketers and PMs that are slowed or blocked from their work, and have to distract developers to get unblocked.

This is painful for multiple teams. Fitz experienced this a few years back as part of the growth team at Quantcast, and he always had to work with engineering to instrument what he needed to trigger marketing flows and or get analytics telemetry on his experiments.

We built Freshpaint to lighten the load and streamline the workflow for both groups. How it works:

1. Install Freshpaint’s javascript snippet on your site. It takes 60 seconds, and from that point Freshpaint collects every behavior like clicks, pageviews, etc.

2. Connect destinations like Google Analytics, Amplitude, Hubspot, Fullstory, Intercom, and a data warehouse. This is done by copying and pasting an API key or account ID. Complete integrations list here: https://www.freshpaint.io/integrations. We plan to build more so let us know what you’d like to see.

3. Create events for clicks, pageviews, form submissions, and more from data in Freshpaint. Create events thru code or point-and-click in our UI. Data is retroactively available back to the day you installed Freshpaint, regardless of when the event is created. We also support manual tracking and server-side tracking.

4. Send data to the destinations we support in one click. You can even backfill past data that Freshpaint has collected.

We're eager to hear your feedback, since we know HN has a ton of members who are familiar with this space from all different perspectives!

From my experience working with both Segment and mParticle (and tons of tools they integrate with) this is definitely a need and a great idea!

My only advice would be to focus your primary messaging closer to that primary value prop. I can see how it probably took many iterations to get to “Codelessly connect your site to your stack.” But I’d guess that the concept of ‘codelessly’ won’t be as exciting to people with the problems you’re solving as something like “Capture all data for today’s needs AND tomorrows. It’s like time travel.” Or “A time traveling, no-code analytics tool for the future.”, “The world’s first time traveling analytics tool.”, “Future-proof your analytics with the world’s first time-traveling analytics tool.”

One other customer acquisition idea- many co’s will already have segment/mparticle and if they’re opening communication with you then that likely means they want something better but it takes a surprising amount of work to integrate segment/mparticle with many marketing tools so I’d offer some sort of onboarding assistance if you can otherwise they won’t want to take the risk of embarking on them migration.

Great idea, good luck!

Curious. Since you both worked at Heap before, is there a potential conflict of interest or Non-compete that you may have/had to worry about ? I don't know the details of Heap or Segment but I am assuming this service is similar to them if not closer ?

We're a Segment competitor, not a Heap competitor (we actually support Heap as a destination). A significant number of Heap's users use both Segment and Heap. That's actually one of the big reasons we started Freshpaint. A lot of people would buy Heap for product analytics, but they would still setup manual event tracking for Segment for their other tools. We started Freshpaint so you won't need to setup event tracking at all.

Completely unaffiliated with any of the parties involved but recently familiar with both Heap and Segment:

Segment (and presumably this solution) is more like an event mux/demux. All your disparate event sources connect in, and you send the data to places like Heap to visualize it. Segment's value is acting as a central, common location for your event data.

Heap's primary value is visualization/analysis for things like retention/etc. You can collect data directly through Heap as well but I wouldn't say that's the primary value of it.

Enforcing a non-compete against non-founders in California is pretty much impossible.

I don't have any specific context on this company so won't comment on their offering compared to that of Segment, but I do find the "collect everything" approach to be generally bad and undesirable.

What I want, past any sort of reasonable business scale, is a constrained set of specific events that I have explicitly decided that I want to track. I then want those events to be well documented and well QA'd. The approach of "here we tracked everything for you, now just sort through it" is great if you only want to serve small companies who just don't want to do the work to be more intentional about their data, but at any sort of reasonable scale of people touching data this becomes a recipe for disaster.

Freshpaint works like:

> What I want, past any sort of reasonable business scale, is a constrained set of specific events that I have explicitly decided that I want to track.

and not like:

> here we tracked everything for you, now just sort through it

We collect everything for you behind the scenes, but we will only surface a piece of data if you explicitly ask for it.

This is similar to undo in a text document. While you're editing a document, the entire history is tracked behind the scenes. You don't ever need to pay attention to all of that data unless you explicitly use the undo feature.

This absolutely brilliant. Been using Segment for multiple project on over 1m MTUs and now at a B2B SaaS where we simply can’t invest in writing events for every interaction. You’ve perfectly captured our/my pain.

I remember seeing you guys sometime back on Show HN. Any change in your product positioning since then? Any learnings from customers?


Congrats on building this. This is awesome and much needed.

Sorry, I am not very old :), but I didn't follow up with the tools. I don't know anything other than Google Analytics. So could you please explain as you would explain to a child what those tools do more than GA?

Fitz wrote a blog post on the analytics and marketing tools we recommend startups use [0]. It goes through a number of the different tools and why or why not you would want to use them. You should check it out.

[0] https://www.freshpaint.io/blog/yc-stack-recommendations-for-...

Thanks <3

I always found it interesting that YC will fund competitors of existing portfolio companies, but I guess it might make sense from various angles as they increase the chance that one of their funded companies will make it big, and it will probably stimulate innovation.

I wonder though how they handle the potential conflict of interest as I imagine they get updates from both companies and might be asked for advice by both as well.

Regarding the product I think it’s interesting but if retroactive event streaming is the only USP I think that should be easy to reproduce for Segment. Also, I really like that Segment started taking privacy a bit more serious by introducing their privacy hub. Freshpaint is probably not compliant with GDPR as of now, I guess as they’re focused on the US market that might not matter much though.

We didn't apply to YC with the idea of Freshpaint. We were initially a Postgres performance optimization tool.

> but if retroactive event streaming is the only USP I think that should be easy to reproduce for Segment

Retroactivity has been the main differentiator between Heap and it's competitors for seven years now. None of them have been able to successfully copy it yet. Mixpanel launched an autotrack feature, but later shut it down.

> Freshpaint is probably not compliant with GDPR as of now

We are GDPR compliant. In fact, Fitz helped form an industry working group on GDPR with the IAB while working at Quantcast a year ahead of GDPR coming into effect.

Can you speak to the architecture at all? e.g. an event hits Freshpaint, and 3 months later is is qualified as a defined "event" to be forwarded to 3 destinations - how does it happen?

I ask because I saw your previous comments and saw that 1) you're an expert at optimizing PostgreSQL, and 2) you said that Heap was harder to build because of the queries that users can define in the frontend.

So basically, are you able to leverage PostgreSQL to build something like Freshpaint? I would imagine it is prohibitively expensive to store your event data in PostgreSQL if it's sole purposed is to be categorized and forwarded to other destinations, vs. being queried like it was in Heap.

Amazing work and best of luck!

They probably store the XPath of each click, and when an event with the same XPath is created they browse through all the past click with this specific XPath

Of course. But my question pertains _how_ the event data is stored. Heap stored the event data in Citus, and OP worked to optimize their PostgreSQL for queries across the data. Freshpaint doesn't query the data (in the aggregate form that Heap does), it simply needs to find events that qualify as defined events and forward them to their destinations.

I'm just asking if PostgreSQL is still the right tool for that.

> None of them have been able to successfully copy it yet.

Not true, Contentsquare has been doing it before Heap and still doing it at least as well as Heap, actually they even offer retroactivity of website background

I've been using Freshpaint for a few months and really enjoyed it because it's an end-to-end solution. While i's not fully "code-less", it did speed up our analytics deployment process by weeks. I'd highly recommend it to people who are semi-technical (i.e. you know how to code but would rather someone else did it for you). Also support has been tremendous and their release pipeline looks very impressive.

How does the point and click UI generate event targets? At my work we use Pendo which sounds very similar to Freshpaint. Pendo’s UI generates CSS selectors. Problem is that we use CSS modules and our class names include a hash, so they change frequently. Also our classes aren’t designed to communicate the semantics the Product team is trying to capture, and there’s also no way for Pendo to know that the selector it generated uniquely captures whatever event the user wants - it’s entirely possible that the same selector could occur on a different screen.

We’ve been asked to “stabilize” our class names for the product team, so that Pendo doesn’t “break”, but we have resisted as fundamentally this is not what CSS is meant for. Nonetheless we now have an invisible, undocumented coupling between our application internals and Pendo.

IMO the only way this kind of event tracking can be done right is if developers and Product communicate and the devs, who understand the code, put the tracking in the right place.

I’d encourage you to bless a “data-freshpaint” attribute as the preferred way to link events to your system, if the way it currently works is CSS selectors.

> I’d encourage you to bless a “data-freshpaint” attribute as the preferred way to link events to your system.

If you want to go through with this, you can do this already with CSS classes. You can have classes like "freshpaint-login", "freshpaint-checkout", etc.

> IMO the only way this kind of event tracking can be done right is if developers and Product communicate and the devs, who understand the code, put the tracking in the right place.

If you have the resources to do this, I highly recommend you setup manual tracking. In Freshpaint, we give you the ability to fall back to manual event tracking if you want it. The thing is most teams don't have the resources to write tracking code for everything, so a lot of the time it just doesn't get done. We commonly hear it takes 3-6 months to get Segment fully setup, and even then you have to constantly write new tracking code as you launch new features.

True, you could dedicate CSS classes like that. I’m really talking about separation of concerns: CSS is for styling, not communicating user intentions to external systems. A data attribute is better, and you could program the selector-creator to prefer those attributes if it can find them.

That doesn’t help with after-the-fact attribution, though. That’s where using existing CSS classes really shines. With the huge proviso that you have to be sure the CSS selector you’re using really captures (and only captures) the action you’re trying to track. I suspect it’s easy to get this wrong and end up with skewed analytics.

Jesus, events tied to css-selectors sounds like a recipe for disaster

It's worked perfectly fine for Heap. Especially since Heap and Freshpaint capture every event out of the the box, if tracking ever breaks due to something like a site redesign, you can recover all the data you missed out on.

Congratulations on your launch!

I use Segment and can easily see the value in backfilling historical data when adding new data destinations. Also impressed with the respectable set of integrations [1] you have implemented already.

[1]: https://www.freshpaint.io/integrations

What would be your plan if Segment added “backfill” as a feature to their existing product? Does your “automation” also provide significant advantages over Segment?

> What would be your plan if Segment added “backfill” as a feature to their existing product? Does your “automation” also provide significant advantages over Segment?

I don't think it's possible for them to provide the same kinds of backfills we provide. At least not without completely redesigning their infrastructure. In order to support retroactive backfills, we capture every user action up front. If Segment were to try to do that, they would suddenly find themselves processing an order of magnitude more data than they are today. If you want to support autotrack, you need to design your infrastruture from day 1 with that in mind.

From other comments by you & Fitz, the “define events in UI” feature is also very intriguing as a value prop.

Thanks! Look forward to trialing this soon.

Hey sounds brilliant, congrats on the launch.

As soon as I heard of Segment, I knew they were onto something valuable and can only welcome more competition.

Now that I've been nice, allow me to get the plastic pitchfork.

I see no mention of GDPR, I assume you are going to restrict your market to NA for now? What about CCPA?

In the same vein I don't think you have any integration with open-sources alternatives to commercial software that one could host on premise.

That's an odd choice given the shape of things to come wrt privacy.

Hey thanks for the feedback!

For customers that need it, we get necessary legal documents/procedures in place (DPA, etc) to be compliant with local regulations. We also share with customers our documentation that communicates our security measures and how we process customer data. You are correct - this stuff is not accessible on the marketing site, we'll get there :)

In terms of your integrations comment: beyond the integrations we have now, we prioritize new ones based on customer demand. So, yes, if the market trends in the direction you mentioned then we will as well. My personal take is that open source alternatives are currently a small subset and it's unclear to me where the future lies. I also think privacy and security get conflated here sometimes.

Without more integrations, it's a hard thing to sell. Salesforce? Dynamic Yield? BounceX? Emarsys?

Also, how does it work with native mobile apps? No catch-all collector?

Firstly, congrats on the launch.

Please let me know if I am wrong but it seems the major differentiator from Segment is (3) as you can do the 1,2 and 4 with Segment. And even with (3) the only difference is the way the events are collected (through code / point-and-click). So my question is whether this really needs to be an end-to-end solution / competitor to Segment rather than just an adapter/ wrapper on top of Segment.

You're missing out on the whole retroactive piece! When you install Freshpaint, Freshpaint starts tracking every click, pageview, etc. This means Freshpaint is tracking nearly every event you will ever care about from day 1. At any point in the future, you can send any data Freshpaint has collected to your different tools. In the same way that programmers try to achieve 100% test coverage, Freshpaint achieves nearly 100% "event tracking coverage" out of the box. That's not true at all with Segment and it can take several months to get even most of the events you care about.

I assumed that companies which used Segment would also integrate with solutions like Kissmetrics and get those analytics automatically through their Segment integration.

What am I missing here? Are you saying that Freshpaint replaces Segment + Kissmetrics?

Freshpaint is separate from Kissmetrics. Freshpaint and Segment are both data collection tools. Out of the box Segment collects nothing, while Freshpaint collects everything.

Let's say you want to send a purchase event to Kissmetrics to do analytics on. With Segment that would look something like:

  1) File a JIRA ticket for an engineer to instrument the purchase event.
  2) Wait a few weeks for the engineer to write and deploy the Segment tracking code.
  3) Wait a few weeks to collect enough data to do your analysis.
  4) Run your analysis in Kissmetrics.
With Freshpaint:

  1) Use our UI to create the purchase event.
  2) Send every purchase event that happened since you installed Freshpaint to Kissmetrics. This is possible because Freshpaint tracks every event out of the box.
  3) Run your analysis in Kissmetrics.
Does the difference make sense?

One point of clarification: what counts as a user?

We have a product that has both public- and private-facing components. If it's unique IP addresses then we'd be close to your enterprise plan which seems price prohibitive. If it's an authenticated user with a name, that seems much different.

Otherwise looks great and love the point-and-click. Even though creating events is easy, it saves the back-and-forth with development.

When a user visits your site, we give them a cookie with a unique user ID. We determine the number of users you have based on the number of distinct user IDs we've seen.

We're definitely conscious of user-based pricing, and we'll try to work with you to come up with a price that allows you to use Freshpaint across your entire site. We've done this with others that have funky business models where traffic is high in some spots. Otherwise, you can install Freshpaint just on the private component of your site and collect data where it's the most valuable.

What about bots?

Congrats on the launch!

Is there a way to track when a component comes into the viewport?

What's the best practice for tracking component impressions?

Congrats on the launch. I have been a segment user and I think they also have capabilities to backfill as well as they seem to be moving towards a CDP. I am struggling to see what is the difference here? Or your value proposition is different business/technical model ?

The big difference between us and Segment is we automatically instrument your entire site. As soon as you install Freshpaint, we are automatically capturing every click, pageview, etc, performed on your site. You can create a new event six months after installing Freshpaint, and you'll have access to every instance of that event since you installed Freshpaint. This means you:

1) Don't have to delay launches so you have time to setup event tracking.

2) Don't have to worry about forgetting to setup tracking. A common problem is a company will ship a new feature and realize two weeks down the road that they forgot to track a key event. They then have to setup tracking for that event and wait another two weeks for data to come up. That jus doesn't happen with Freshpaint. Freshpaint collects every action out of the box and gives you access to that data whenever you want it.

How does backfilling work? Do all destinations support it completely? Do things like the original IP address and date time get passed through?

Saw your comment on the Posthog post yesterday. Sounds like you felt the pain of scaling at Heap, which bodes well for FP.

Freshpaint looks super useful for two reasons:

1. Heap-style "collect it all" and "define events in the UI" features. Loved these on Heap and it should be the default collector for taking dev out of the "tracking usage metrics" equation

2. More Segment competition. Segment's great, but super expensive for business models where the # of your tracked users doesn't scale with pricing.

I could imagine using this with PostHog for a nice product usage stack.

> Saw your comment on the Posthog post yesterday. Sounds like you felt the pain of scaling at Heap, which bodes well for FP.

Yep! At Heap I had to build a system to ingest a ton of data and process queries over that data that returned in seconds in real-time. For Freshpaint, we need to ingest the same amount of data, but without the need to query it. I honestly think building Freshpaint has been several times easier than building Heap.

Early on, I had a conversation with Heap's CTO about Freshpaint. He said something funny along the lines of "I wish I could work on this because I would absolutely destroy this problem."

> Segment's great, but super expensive for business models where the # of your tracked users doesn't scale with pricing.

Definitely! This is one of the things Fitz and I noticed before starting Freshpaint. It seems like until now, Segment hasn't had any real competitors. Segment is kind of now known for being overpriced.

[0]: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22379373 "direct link to that PostHog comment"

Would this work for React Native?

Not right now, although we have plans to build a React Native integration in the future.

Could you compare your product to PostHog that has also launched on HN recently ?

They're pretty different tools. If anything, you would use Freshpaint to send data into PostHog.

PostHog is an analytics tool. Once you have data in PostHog, you can run queries against the data to produce various charts and graphs. Other analytics tool include Mixpanel, Amplitude, and Heap. The primary reason you would use an analytics tool is you want to ask questions about your users.

Freshpaint is a data collection tool. We automatically collect data from your site such as clicks, pageviews, etc. You can then use our UI to send that data to different tools. We integrate with the large analytics tools and also a ton of marketing tools like Intercom and HubSpot. There are two reasons you would want to use a tool like Freshpaint:

  1) It's easy to collect data. Freshpaint instruments your entire site, so you don't have to.
  2) It's easy to send the data to different tools. Once a piece of data is in Freshpaint, you can send it in one click to any of your analytics and marketing tools.
Does that make sense?

Fantastic idea - congrats on the launch!

Segment + a universal no-code events collector?

Because events collector can not make money and usually open source... so have to add one ETL backend.

I'm not affiliated with Freshpaint, but I'm curious what you mean by this.

Event collectors absolutely do make money (albeit none are probably profitable due to being in growth phases right now). Also, very few are open source (Mixpanel, Segment, Snowplow, and Amplitude's tracking libraries are open source, Heap's mobile library is open source, but the backends and visualization platforms are closed and the primary value of the product).

collectors, I mean analytics.js...

These js files collect the events from web app and sent them to the backend.

You can charge people on these files, but who is gonna pay?

But once the events are in your backend, customers have to pay for getting them out and for storage as well.

Who is going to pay for anlaytics.js? Segment, the maintainers of analytics.js, did $50MM in revenue last year.

That is because they have a backend service. The revenue is generated through the backend service, not the js client.

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