The Portainer Journey: Growing a DevTech Startup from the Ground Up

Portainer's founding team, Neil Cresswell and Geoff Olliff, hired Proxi in 2020 to help them kick-start the business before they went out and raised their first tranche of capital. “The goal was to find smart, like-minded people who could think on their feet, work out what needed to be done to achieve the business objectives and get it done. Proxi was – and remains – a great fit,” acknowledges Geoff.
Proxi Testimonial

I highly recommend Proxi to tech founders.

“Proxi bring a flexible, fast-moving and talented approach to marketing, plus a range of complementary skills. Our Proxi CMO adds real value every day. Proxi’s thinking is always sounds and analytical when engaging in robust debates. Proxi is playing an important role in our leadership team.”
Geodd Olliff,
Co-Founder and COO
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Building the marketing playbook

Initially, the focus was on growing their open-source community, which meant developing a community-centric strategy to support the growth of the free product. For Geoff, “the strategies put in place by Proxi moved the community needle and the business continues to win in the free/open source space today.”

Mid-way through 2020, Portainer launched support for Kubernetes, which necessitated a major marketing effort to re-position Portainer as a Universal Container Management System (as opposed to just being a Docker tool). This was a substantial undertaking involving content marketing, advertising, SEO, PR and global events and all during the pandemic.

Developing the path from free to paid

The next challenge was to work out how to commercialise the open source product – a challenge all open source companies wrestle with. Through research, Proxi helped Portainer understand the commercial value proposition and then develop a commercial proposition which they took to market. “As a business we continue to refine and develop not only the proposition, but also the Go To Market and Proxi has been instrumental in helping understand what works and what doesn’t. It’s a long slow hard road to hoe, but we’re making progress,” says Geoff.

Leveraging marketing leadership and horsepower

Through this time Portainer raised three rounds of capital (Seed, Series A1 and A2) which required significant marketing input into messaging, branding and positioning. The Proxi team provided vital inputs all the way through the process. With new money flowing into the business, Proxi helped Portainer develop the marketing function, hire great people and set up a sustainable long-term marketing platform.

Geoff comments: “The Proxi team is flexible and talented which is exactly what you need in a tech startup. They got under the covers of our business quickly and continue to add real value every day. We operate in a super-technical space (DevTech) but the team was not put off by the material or the content. They leaned right into it and learned enough about the context / tech to be genuinely valuable. I respect their opinion and experience.”

“Despite any particular challenges, our fractional CMO’s thinking is always sound. The robust debates that we regularly engage in are good for the business. Proxi has proven to be flexible, agile and able to keep up in a super-fast moving space. The relationship with our Proxi CMO works well on both personal and professional levels – they have become part of the team and are playing an important role in leading the business. If I was founding another tech startup I would re-engage Proxi.”