A software company is for adventure
How a simple idea — bring clarity to product development — sparked a company, a product suite, and a new approach to business.
The Aha! moment
Brian de Haaff and Dr. Chris Waters founded Aha! in the spring of 2013 in Menlo Park, California. We knew that people were struggling to set clear business strategy and connect it to the work of building products that customers love.
We related to the need — our own careers had been dedicated to trying to build great products at both emerging and well-established software companies. There was an opportunity to help people set goals and initiatives, connect them to the execution, and provide greater organizational clarity into who was working on what.
Back to basics
We wanted to do something different, something true. We did not want to build just another software company. We wanted to build exceptionally high-quality products and create a place where people would love to work. And we wanted to allow people to work from where they were happiest — we are still a 100 percent distributed company today.
We were well acquainted with the startup model that had been celebrated in Silicon Valley since the mid-1990s, and we knew there had to be a better way to fund our vision than chasing venture capital and trying to manufacture scale with no substance. We self-funded the business and aimed to be profitable fast.
Struck a chord
It was immediately obvious that others shared our vision. Product managers and company builders were looking for a better way to build what their customers want and enjoy their own work at the same time.
We crafted the first version of Aha! Roadmaps. During an early access beta program, we spoke with and demonstrated the software to more than 500 product development teams. We ended the beta program in the fall of 2014 and signed up 125 paying enterprise customers within four months. We were profitable and on our way.
As we defined a new category of roadmapping and Aha! rapidly became the obvious choice for product builders around the world, we wanted to share the philosophy behind our interactions with customers. In July 2014, we codified a framework for personal and business success named The Responsive Method (TRM). TRM is centered around the belief that interactions with urgency propel people and organizations forward. It is a simple way to have mutually beneficial exchanges.
In April 2017, we shared more details about our company philosophy when Brian published Lovability, a bestselling book about our people- and profit-first approach to business. Drawing from Brian's experience founding successful tech companies and creating award-winning products, this best-selling book reveals how to build a business that people love and be happy doing it.
After years of working with thousands of companies using our roadmapping software, we knew that every team needed a better way to plan ahead, link their activities to strategic goals, and provide greater visibility to the impact of their work. So in 2019 and 2020 we introduced purpose-built workspaces for marketing, IT, services, project, and business teams to set strategy and build visual roadmaps — all while staying connected within one company account. And we established Aha! Academy to provide learning paths for teams to develop roadmapping skills and increase product development knowledge.
Customers asked us to help them drive innovation, develop greater empathy, and engage their teams via a dedicated feedback product. In October 2020, we launched Aha! Ideas — a tool for teams to crowdsource ideas from customers, employees, and partners and then incorporate those ideas into plans for new features and functionality.
In May 2021, we addressed the needs of agile development teams and released Aha! Develop to empower engineering teams to work the way they want. We built a fully extendable development tool that puts the team in control of the tool — not the other way around. Of course, Aha! Develop tightly integrates with Aha! Roadmaps — so product management and development teams can seamlessly work together to do their best work.
This year we introduced Aha! Create — a digital notebook that gives people a convenient way to record daily thoughts, whiteboard concepts, and collaborate with their team. Dynamic teams can now go from raw concept to delivering software that customers love — within a unified product development platform.
We are proud of what we have created. And we are humbled when others recognize our accomplishments as well. In 2018, Aha! was #143 on the Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing private companies in the U.S and #13 of all software companies. Aha! ranked #50 on Deloitte’s 2018 Technology Fast 500 and in the top 100 on Forbes' 2021 list of best startups. And we have been included on many best workplaces lists, including LinkedIn, WeWorkRemotely, and Inc.
We have built a $100M+ recurring revenue company that was highly profitable from the start with no venture funding, no office, and no salespeople. We are committed to continuing to help teams innovate and inspire other emerging companies to think differently about how they too can build a people-first company.
As an entirely distributed team, we are in a unique position to make a global impact. We believe that we are responsible for sharing our success with those who are less fortunate. So in 2019, we formalized Aha! Cares — a unique approach to corporate philanthropy that includes local financial funding, community service, and discounts for nonprofits.
We are also champions of the Bootstrap Movement. We hope to inspire others to think differently and boldly about how to build their own exceptional software companies.