Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
I'm Peter Szyszko, the CEO and founder of White Bullet, and we identify IP-infringing websites and apps and track the advertising that is funding them. Our core product is our IP Infringement (IPI) Analytics Platform, which analyses websites and apps that infringe the third-party intellectual property, such as movies, games, software, and so on, and the advertising that is placed next to (and monetizes) this content.
Our main customers are in three groups: IP owners that want to improve enforcement targeting against pirate publishers that are illegally distributing their content; brands that want to track where their advertising is going, and want to stop it funding these high-risk publishers; and ad companies that need to filter these publishers to keep brands and advertising transparent and safe.
We fall into the cyber-technology/AI space because most of what we do is driven through AI. We have been around for six years now, and the best measure of our success is probably our growth: we are taking on new clients monthly because companies see the value in what we do.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I'm an intellectual property lawyer and spent around 20 years protecting IP, several years of which protecting media content for Hollywood studios, the software industry, amongst others. I set up the company in order to provide data feeds to industries that needed help in understanding how to differentiate illegal and legal online content. That assessment can’t be made by lawyers sitting around a table as its too slow - it has to be done through efficient processes, and the most efficient way to do that at scale is by using AI/ machine learning.
Working with media clients in the UK and US was stimulating - many are now clients of ours - but I think what’s actually more exciting is working with companies and organizations - whether media studios or government - that are coming to you because your technology is good and they trust what you do. Having that legal background and that experience in media means that we come to this with credibility, personally and as a company, and I think that's important.
Like any start-up, there was little money. I recall taking meetings in London, getting around on an old moped, seeing eight to ten prospective clients a day, when looking to gauge demand and launch the business. To validate our product, we took an approach that was risky, but right. We worked with partners to help us demonstrate the need for the product. One of the first projects we did was with the police. We wanted to show how serious piracy was as a problem, and that there was potential to tackle piracy in a unique way - by demonetizing it.
We were making sales very early on - which in turn allowed us to demonstrate proof of concept, and need for the product in the market. That's something we still do today. For instance, we're moving into the social media antipiracy space now, and we're working with various partners in that area.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
We always design our products in conjunction with clients. As a data analytics platform, we are selling data, and a good way to do that is through subscription. But you have also got to make sure that data the data can be easily used.
So we sell our data in a couple of ways. We sell it through direct access via live feed APIs - access to the latest websites and apps that are risky. We also sell data tracking/ auditing data about brands placed on risky publishers, again directly through APIs or through reporting UIs.
But we also make sure, when we're providing information to clients, that we are getting their feedback. For example, where brands are seeking to involve law enforcement, we provide evidence packs that adhere to particular standards and we adapt to make sure that our data is packaged in the most useful way.
Get input from potential clients and see how you should shape your idea to what they actually want because knowing what the customer wants is key.
Describe the process of launching the business.
We are in a niche area but an exciting one. We were able to bring in key partner clients quickly. Probably within a year, we already had ten customers that were part of a group at the center of the response to the problem of ad-funded piracy. In the content industry, a lot of anti-piracy work is conducted through coalitions that involve law enforcement, government, and media owners. So we were able to bring in a number of partners from those spaces and swiftly gain traction.
When you start something, you've got a choice of getting something to market quickly - risking that customers don't like what you've created or that it doesn't work - or taking time to get it all working and risk over-engineering and missing the boat.
There are two ways you can launch a product like ours. The first is to build something first, with some understanding of what people need, and then reach out to various parties and hope you can sell it. The second is to tap into networks and work with the policy teams to figure out what range of solutions will help achieve a goal in the long run. The second takes longer. We tried to combine both - to get a product out to the market whilst drawing on the expertise of policy coalitions.
For early finance, like most entrepreneurs, I used credit cards, loans, savings, moved out of my house - all the usual things - just to make it work. We also successfully sought a small grant from the UK government Innovate programme for entrepreneurs - our work fell into a category of problems they saw as relevant. At the end of the day, I was happy to make personal sacrifices and investment, because if you are committed to it, and really want it to work, you'll do that.
I have learned various things in the process. But to any aspiring entrepreneur, I would say one thing: make sure you talk to potential customers and put a filter on what you hear. What you don't want is too many spin-off ideas that don't follow your strategic plan. The danger is that you come away changing your plan entirely just to satisfy one potential customer and may be losing out on many others as the plan then don’t suit the wider audience. Listen, but stay true to your business idea if you believe in it.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
We have retained customers from the very outset, and I think the reason we have been able to do that is that we offer something that is unique. Obviously we have competitors now, but we make sure that we are constantly engaged with our clients. That means listening to what they want, providing cost-effective solutions, building on our credibility, helping in areas where they need more support, and making sure that what we're doing is in their best interest.
I think, as a small company, we are able to give clients direct access to key staff, not only to pass on feedback, but also to help improve the product, and I think that is important for us and them.
In terms of recruitment, we have done a lot more networking than we have social and marketing, but as we've been growing we've been able to take on experts to help us grow the marketing capabilities of the business.
What has been working well for us has been word of mouth and direct networking. A lot of the growth we have seen - and also the way we've sustained and maintained customers - has come down to the fact that our clients have referred us to contacts or colleagues because we have done a great job for them. And that makes me most proud.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Times are tough and the economic outlook is now not ideal - pretty much every business out there will have been impacted this Spring. But we are growing still. With more people at home, more people are online, therefore streaming or buying counterfeit products.
Actually, piracy has been growing, and as a result, we've had opportunities. More people online, whether it's in-app or on websites or in social media, means more eyeballs, which usually means more advertising. Even if the advertising industry has been affected, there are a lot more eyeballs seeing ads. So in terms of piracy, brand protection, and improved targeting, right now, it is really exciting, an interesting place for us to be.
We are already looking at ways to expand, including into different ecosystems. Outside of websites and apps, we're now looking at the OTT app environment and connected TV and piracy as it affects that space, which is growing. We're also looking at tracking infringing promotions within social media, and increasing our analytics in pirate search results and search advertising.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
When you start something, you've got a choice of getting something to market quickly - risking that customers don't like what you've created or that it doesn't work - or taking time to get it all working and risk over-engineering and missing the boat. As a company, we have tried to take the best aspects of both approaches: we launched something into the market after careful planning and development, tested it with clients, and got traction - then perfected it. To get the balance between development speed and perfect functionality is always tricky. But the aim is to create something that people know is exceptionally strong and don't want to leave.
As far as forces out of our control are concerned, I think we're yet to see the real impact of the pandemic - on us as a company and the rest of the world. What we do know is that there's more piracy now than ever before. I think there was a sense a few years back that piracy was going away when the likes of Netflix and others offered great systems, but people still want content for free and they also don't want to have ten different subscriptions. So piracy is seeing a boom moment, because people are not comfortable spending a lot of money on several different services, whether it’s Netflix, and Apple TV and Disney+, etc. A lot of people are gravitating to pirate platforms that combine content, which is often very sophisticated and can run very smart interfaces.
I think we're also seeing some hits in the ad industry, not least because the industry is spending less on digital advertising at the moment to cut costs. But brand safety remains a pretty high priority, and brands don't want to be appearing wasting their limited ad spend but placing ads against illegal content. So I think the forces are going both ways.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Most of our technology is proprietary and built by us, but we do use SimilarWeb for market intelligence and Alexa for SEO and Notified for PR awareness. We do a lot of tracking around the world, so we use different proxy services as well. And Amazon Web Services has also been very helpful in providing some credit to run processing off their cloud service systems through the great Tech Nation Cyber development program for scale-ups, of which we have been part this year.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
The particular book that jumps out was From Vision To Exit by Guy Rigby. One of my co-founders, Charles Vivian, gave me that right at founding the business. ‘Read this front to back before you do anything else, and then come and talk to me,’ he said. I did, and it was incredibly helpful because it gave me a very good sense of all the things to think about when building a company. It talks about everything from finding a name for the company to selling the company and all the steps in between. It's very digestible.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Talk to people you can trust about how easy or difficult it is to do it. I think a lot of people will jump right in and launch something just to get it started. I think that's positive because you don't want to be procrastinating. But at the same time, you need to have someone close to you with whom you can talk - to say, ‘do you think I'm doing this right?’ Try to find that trusted confidant. In my case, my CTO was hugely helpful but I also relied on the other founders of the business who joined in this quest with equal passion and with great ideas. All of whom were ready to bounce ideas around whenever needed - even late at night.
As I said early, try also to make sure you are true to what you want to create. Get advice, get input from potential clients, and see how you should shape your idea to what they actually want because knowing what the customer wants is key. But don't get pulled off track but the one client that might need as a super bespoke product that only suits them - you could find you then can’t sell to other customers.
The third piece of advice is really just to take a deep breath and realize that nobody else is on the same planet as you. You're going to work incredibly hard to get your idea to fruition - you're going to work 24/7 - and even those really close to you, who love you a lot, will question your sanity. You will likely become obsessed with your new baby. And that can be tough for other people to understand or experience with you. As hard as launching a business is on the entrepreneur, don't forget other people suffer around you - they lose you for long periods of time as you focus on your new goal.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Based on growth, we're actually looking to hire - client deliverables managers to help with running client projects, and we're always looking for great data scientists and enthusiastic AI specialists.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
White Bullet has provided an update on their business!
About 2 months ago, we followed up with White Bullet to see how they've been doing since we published this article.
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