How link shortening service Bitly expects to double its revenue to $20 million this year

Bitly BeginningBitlyBitly in 2011

Bitly wants the world to know that it’s more than just a link shortening service.

Historically, it was used by Twitter users to free up more room for words in the 140 character limit. By 2011, it was shortening millions of links a month. However, there was a problem with the free product: it was not making money. Since then it has expanded to become a subscription service for marketers and publishers to track data on their content as it is shared across the internet.

In 2012, revenue was sitting at about $3 million, before hitting $4.1 million in 2013, $7.2 million in 2014, and $12 million in 2015 — the first year the company reached profitability. Showing no signs of slowing, it has predicted itself a revenue run rate of $20 million in 2016.

So how did Bitly do it?

Business Insider spoke to Bitly CEO Mark Josephson about the New York company’s quick growth. It grew from having just two sales people, no marketing team and only one person working on the paid product in the fall of 2013, to its current 85-man strong link business.

Josephson said: “I just want to people to understand that we are a … massive software business. We have massive scale. We’ll do 20 billion clicks this month with 5 to 6 billion uniques, truly globally. And we’ve got the biggest and best marketers in the world using our platform every single day and they go for it because they see that value underneath the hood.”

Mark JosephsonBitlyBitly CEO Mark Josephson.

He added: “We have over 1,000 paying customers and we have 10 million who use the product every month. We work with marketers like Pepsi, and IBM, and General Electric, and Under Armour and Twitter — even Twitter uses us.”

However, there were several failures along the way, which Josephson admits “didn’t get traction.” Bitly TV, which hoped to provide a platform for the most popular videos shared online, and Bitly for Feelings, which allowed users to demonstrate their feelings when sharing a link, are two examples of interesting ideas that ultimately fizzled out.

But since 2013, the business has taken off. CEO Josephson joined Bitly in September 2013, replacing interim president Sam Mandel.

Josephson thinks Bitly does not get the praise it deserves: “Look, we’re a real, SaaS [software as a service] business that drives value from marketers and we’ve really started a revenue engine two years ago and we’re a $20 million return revenue business. [This] is hyper growth for a company and, frankly, I don’t think we get the credit for it.”

What does Bitly actually do?

Bitly generates 100% of its revenue from more than 1,000 users of its subscription service Bitly Enterprise.

Marketers and publishers use the many products in the service to shorten links, change the URLs to their brand names, create continuity between links across various devices, and to gather analytics on these links to measure their success.

Bitly OfficeBitlyInside the Bitly office.

“We’ll probably do 20 billion clicks worldwide from 5 or 6 billion devices. We know the page you were on and what that page is about. We know what page you went to [next] and what that page is about. We know what kind of device [you are using,] we know your location, we know a lot about how the world uses the internet,” Josephson said.

Asked when he expects Bitly’s revenue growth to slow, Josephson replied: “Never.”

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