The Aha! moment
Brian de Haaff and Dr. Chris Waters founded Aha! in the spring of 2013 in Menlo Park, California. Together, we have founded or been early employees of six cloud-based technology companies and have a total of 16 issued patents. Our last two ventures were acquired by well-known public companies.
We knew that people were struggling to set clear business strategy and connect it to the work of building products that customers love. There was an opportunity to take everything we had learned and build a product that would help people set goals and initiatives and connect them to the execution. And it would help them better collaborate and provide greater organizational transparency 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 an exceptionally high-quality product 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 everywhere were looking for a better way to build what customers really wanted and enjoy their own work at the same time.
We thoughtfully crafted the first version of Aha! and started a closed, invitation-only Beta. During the early access program, we spoke with and demonstrated Aha! 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 Aha! rapidly became the obvious choice for product builders around the world, we wanted to share the philosophy behind our interactions with customers — the engine driving our success.
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 are what propel people and organizations forward. It is a simple way to have mutually beneficial interactions.
In October 2016, we were fortunate to be able to acquire the most important one-word domain for product managers. We wanted to provide product managers, entrepreneurs, and founders with a dedicated space to connect and learn from one another. So we launched and continue to sponsor Roadmap.com — the world’s fastest-growing online community for product and company builders.
In April 2017, we explained our philosophy in more detail when Brian published a bestselling book about our people-first approach to business. Drawing on his experience founding successful technology companies and creating award-winning products, Lovability reveals how to build a business that people love and be happy doing it.
In January 2019, we launched a purpose-built workspace in Aha! for marketing teams. And in January 2020, we developed purpose-built workspaces for IT, services, project, and business teams. After years of working with thousands of amazing companies, 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. It was clear that teams deserved a special space in Aha! that was customized just for them. So we created unique workspaces for specific functional groups to set strategy and build visual roadmaps. Each group can use Aha! independently or work better together in one account.
We are proud of what we have created. And we are humbled when others recognize our accomplishments as well. Aha! is #143 on the 2018 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. We received the distinction of Company of the Year in the Stevie Awards’ American Business Awards. And we were included on the Inc. Best Workplaces list.
These prestigious awards — along with many others — recognize our tremendous growth and human-centered approach to business. We built what we call a grandpa-inspired 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 company, we are in a unique position to make a global impact. And we believe that we are responsible for sharing our success with those who are less fortunate than we are. Our team spans six countries, over half of the states in the U.S., and almost 80 cities worldwide. So in 2019, we formalized Aha! Cares — a unique approach to corporate philanthropy that includes hyper-local financial funding, community service, onsite volunteering, and discounts for nonprofits.