For Edouard Fiess, one awful week at sea was enough.
It was 2013, and Edouard was on a sailing vacation in Europe with his friend Benjamin Rousseau. The two were experienced travelers, and had gone sailing together before. Yet somehow they still managed to pick the wrong place to drop anchor three nights in a row: what seemed like a safe, sheltered area turned out to be plagued by rough waves and relentless wind.
“We spent six nights at anchor, and we had just terrible evenings, waking up at 2 or 3 a.m. with the sea in a terrible state,” Edouard recalled.
At the time, there were plenty of resources like Tripadvisor for finding a reliable place to stay on dry land. But there were seemingly no products offering user-generated reviews of marinas, beaches, and anchorages for those traveling by boat.
“[We were] like, ‘It’s 2013, how can there be no app to share your knowledge with others?’,” Edouard thought. “We searched around and didn’t find anything, and we decided, ‘What if we try to do it ourselves?’ And so, that’s how the adventure started.”
The following June, Edouard quit his job and, together with Benjamin, launched a beta of their new app, Navily, aiming to provide a solution for curious seafarers like themselves.
“Basically we wanted to be a mix between Tripadvisor and Waze for people with boats,” Edouard said.
When it launched in 2014, Navily was primarily a service for boaters to share reviews, photos, and comments about their experiences at different marinas and coastal sites. But as the company grew, Edouard and Benjamin recognized another potential use case.
“We added the ability to book berths in marinas in 2015,” he noted. “So we have a booking platform that marinas use—they receive the booking request, they can reply to your request and say ‘Yes we have a spot,’ ‘No we don’t have a spot,’ or extend offers. So this service was very basic in the beginning, but has evolved quite a lot in the last few years.”
As has Navily itself. Today, Navily is a company of 8 people, with 300,000 users and growing, according to Edouard.
“We have quite a lot of users in the Caribbean, but most of our users are in Europe. And we’re just growing a lot in comments, photos—we have 45,000 comments [in the app], and around 30,000 photos.”
With all that user-generated content, plus a growing booking marketplace, Navily is collecting lots of data points every day.
“We measure our success by the number of boaters that create an account, the number of boaters that use us on a daily basis, but also the number of photos they add, the number of comments they add. We have a chat system—we look at how many chats between users we have. We look at how many bookings we get, obviously. Stuff like that.”
But because of the unique nature of the business, understanding Navily’s health isn’t always easy.
“One of the issues we have is seasonality. When you’re a gaming app, people play [your app] all the time. Ours, we know we have a peak of usage between the first and fifteenth of August, and then it drops 50%. It’s not a slow drop.”
Because of this short peak season, metrics like daily active users may be insufficient indicators of Navily’s success.
“When investors ask, ‘What are your daily average users?’ I know it’s a stupid question,” Edouard said. “My daily average users in August is huge; my daily average users in December is super low.”
Instead, he cares more about year-to-year retention and growth—figures that are far harder to glean.
Charting a new course
Edouard’s focus at Navily is on marketing and product development. But as he increasingly needed to understand user behavior, his role evolved in a more technical direction. That meant getting access to Navily’s database, doing data dumps, and exploring the resulting log files as spreadsheets. Needless to say, the process was clunky.
“I would do an extract of all the log files of the database and start to work on it in Excel,” Edouard recalled. “And I would have a file that would take like five minutes to load, because there were I don’t know how many million lines… and it seemed too complicated. It was really not working.”
Instead, Edouard started looking for a solution that could let him easily explore Navily’s data and glean insights about metrics like year-to-year retention. Fortunately, he discovered a post about Chartio on Product Hunt, and decided to give it a try.
“I didn’t know SQL, I didn’t know how queries worked or anything like that. But [Chartio] became something that I would spend a lot of time on.”
Not being a SQL expert, Edouard appreciated Chartio’s user-friendly, drag-and-drop interface for building data queries. (This was a few years before Chartio released Visual SQL, which makes data exploration even easier and more intuitive for the non-SQL crowd.)
Soon, Edouard was using Chartio to find answers to investors’ questions, but also to understand the adoption of Navily’s various features to help inform his product roadmap.
That’s where Chartio became a daily tool for us, where it has really helped us better understand our business and shape the next features, and help inform what we should look at and what metrics we should follow to know if we are growing at the right pace.
Today, the Navily team uses Chartio to quickly access their data and make more informed decisions.
“I’m always exploring new things [in Chartio], always like, ‘But wait, is this really how people are using this? How is it evolving over time?’ So I tend to fire up Chartio pretty regularly, on a daily basis, to check new stats and try new things,” Edouard said.
They also use Chartio to provide ad-hoc stats to teammates, and to share weekly updates with the entire team about product usage and growth.
Along the way, Edouard has perhaps been most surprised by how much Chartio has helped him, a non-technical founder, better understand how the various pieces of Navily’s core application fit together.
“What I think is great about using Chartio for somebody who is not a database expert or is not a developer is that it allows you to understand how the product is built on the backend. You’re looking at how it works, the engine behind it… And then you understand how a database works, and what can be done in the app, how you could improve it… And I think that’s something pretty fantastic.”