Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, my name is Manthan Koolwal and I am the founder of Scrapingdog, just outside of Jaipur, India. Scrapingdog is a web scraping API that can help you extract data from any website in just a single GET request. That data can be used for price comparison, sentiment analysis, training data sets, lead generation, etc.
Along with Scrapingdog, we have two more products i.e. MakCorps and FlightAPI. Makcorps is a hotel rate shopping tool that compares more than 200 hotel OTAs like booking.com, Expedia, hotels.com, etc.
Using this API, you can track niche markets, generate discounts, and access competitors' data. Our current targets are independent travel agencies who are struggling to create space in the hotel booking business. We provide them with competitive pricing to beat big vendors. We help them to increase their overall revenue.
Similarly, FlightAPI is a flight API that provides flight pricing from multiple vendors.
Currently, our company is making around $22k per month.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I started working on this product back in 2016 when I was in my II year of B.tech degree. I completed my degree from Ganpat University, Gujarat. One thing the state of Gujarat is great at is its productivity. Every other person inside my class was from a very capitalist family and I was inspired by that.
The Indian state of Gujarat is famous for big investors Asia's first and second richest people are from Gujarat itself. That vibrant energy pushed me to start my journey as an entrepreneur. I seriously didn’t know what to do. So, I decided to learn to code, I bought some courses and then finally I met Manish.
Manish was working on a Railway API (this was sold to confirmtkt back in 2017 for $50k). Railway API provides information regarding PNR number status, railway seat booking probability, and other information related to Indian railways. He gave me a small task related to web scraping.
So, I did my research and submitted his task within a week. I loved the complete process of web scraping and gradually I realized that every business that needs data is using web scraping techniques to get their desired data. That was when I decided to build a web scraping tool.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
First, I prepared and launched an MVP. I was the only one working on this product earlier so it took around 5 months to launch an MVP. The tech stack I used to build this MVP was express, nodejs, MongoDB, and Nginx.
I released the product with a very small budget of $180 and parallelly I was working on marketing channels as well. At that time, my MVP had only two features, one was a normal HTTP call to scrape a website and the other one was to make a GET request from a particular country i.e. geolocation proxies. Back then, our solution was not the best one but today I can proudly say that our web scraper is the best in the market.
I have also done some courses on SEO so I knew to push the product in the market. I started building backlinks for the blog posts I had written on web scraping with python and selenium. I wrote this article as this keyword had a very large volume of google searches. I started posting them on Reddit, Medium, Product Hunt, Indie Hacker, etc. Initially, I was looking for feedback from industry experts and I was looking to make the first $1.
If your product is not under customer reach then it doesn’t matter how many features you have. SEO is the key to growing any business.
The first month's cost to run this MVP was around $180 (including marketing). Then in the second month, I got my first customer. That customer was reading one of my blogs and decided to upgrade his account to our PRO pack from a FREE pack. That was the happiest moment for me.
After this, I decided to focus more on blogs. I have written 30 quality blogs up till now and many of them were featured on platforms like freecodecamp and hackernoon. This gave me the push I was looking for.
Describe the process of launching the business.
We were planning to go with Scraperly instead of Scrapingdog. But concerning SEO, it is better to add an animal name at the end, it ranks easily compared to other domain names.
To be honest, the launch day was not pleasant as our server kept going down again and again due to heavy usage from free trial users. We got initial users after we posted about our product on Product Hunt and the early reviews I got helped me to quickly make the necessary changes.
People should talk about your product and they will only talk about your product if it reduces their pain.
I was looking for marketing funnels to get an initial push in the market, so I started posting my products on multiple startup directories. I used platforms like Indiehackers, Reddit, Hackernews, etc. I got my earlier reviews from the free users themselves. I was pushing my limits to make Scrapingdog the best tool for developers to create web scrapers. If someone is searching or asking for products similar to you on forums like Reddit then responding instantly will bring more customers.
Another option is cold emailing. I would be much more comfortable cold emailing people to sell my product. Remember, if you have a good product, you are doing a favor by getting it in front of people. I later hired some services to generate leads for me through cold emailing.
If you are building a product that solves a real problem for people, don’t be shy; they will be happy to hear from you. You can use snov to get the emails of your target companies. But remember cold emailing is a game of patience. Out of 100 emails, only 2 or 3 will respond. So, keep patience.
You can also use a chat widget to instantly connect with your user. You can use Drift, it can help you to directly engage with your customers. At least in the beginning you should use it. The other advantage is to get instant feedback directly from the users themselves.
Our product is completely bootstrapped, I was very inspired by the journey of Mailchimp. So, I never raised any money or took any loan. Our initial investment was around $180. I know it is quite low because I didn’t have that much money since I was completing my graduate degree.
For me, the biggest lesson was the way to attract customers. There are many products in the market which have a lot of features but their SEO is very poor. So, if your product is not under customer reach then it doesn’t matter how many features you have.
SEO is the key to growing any business. Focus on earned and relationship triggers. People should talk about your product and they will only talk about your product if it reduces their pain. Increasing the perceived utility of your product should be your highest priority.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Since launch, we are focused on SEO (Search Engine Optimization). We have hired blog writers to write quality tutorials on web scraping. We are currently using the Ahrefs tool to track our target keywords. We have written some great blog posts which went viral on Twitter.
- Web scraping with node js
- Web Scraping with php
- Web Scraping with python
- Web Scraping with Go
- Web Scraping with R
- Top 10 datacenter proxies
- Linkedin scraping API
- Web Scraping with Ruby
- Web Scraping with puppeteer
- Web scraping with java
These are some of our very well-written blogs and today they rank on the first page of Google.
Focus on creating more and more quality backlinks, this will help you rank better on Google. Other than that focus on feedback from current users, according to me, that is super useful. This will surely increase traffic on your website, not just affiliates but organic too. Organic traffic will bring paid customers. After some time you can focus on Google ads too but in my case, it was not helpful at all.
4-Step SEO Framework For Your Startup:
1) Research keywords & identify topics to write on - You should write blogs on your selected topics and post them on public forums like Reddit.
2) Minimum Viable Content → Write 10-15 posts.
3) Check for initial traction within 2-4 months.
4) Scale → If it works, creates processes & scale with automation, delegation, etc.
Offer discounts on festivals or any special occasion, this helps in bringing back old customers. Sometimes customers shift to your competitor just because of a little price difference, so offering them discounts will help.
Other than that we have used social media websites like Instagram, Facebook & Twitter to push our product. But this was too time-consuming plus we got very low traffic from these channels. We later shifted our focus entirely on Google ranking, and that paid well.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We are doing pretty great right now and we are increasing our paid customers by 15% to 18% every month. Our revenue is increasing 12% every month. For the last 3 months, we have stopped using Google ads as we were not getting the response we expected. We have also managed to achieve a 99% success rate when it comes to web scraping any URL.
This helped us in attracting more paid customers. Old customers are upgrading their accounts from LITE pack to PRO pack and that is the happiest moment for our team.
Currently, we spend our money on servers, proxy, and SEO. The monthly running cost is around $7k to $8k. We receive around 16k traffic from Google and other channels. The gross margin is around 68% and by the end of this year, our target is to reach 500k ARR.
Overall my team is working day and night to make Scrapingdog the only solution for web scraping. Good to Great is the only vision right now.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
When I started this company my first bad decision was to hire some people who were not fit for this job. Those guys were super lazy and did not dare to push their limits which are required in a startup. Since then I am following the principle of “First who then What”.
Earlier I lacked the courage to say no to any job seeker in my company. One has to understand while hiring that if you deny somebody for that particular job then you are doing them a favor. You will save your time and he/she can apply for some other job where they can work with their full potential.
My second mistake was to never ask questions to my team. I used to say “yes” to anything they propose, even when they had no reason behind that. Now, I follow a “5 Why” technique used by Toyota to reach the root cause of any problem. This helps me and my team to have a clear vision of anything we do. I keep asking questions until and unless I completely understand.
We also made some great decisions like shifting our marketing strategy. We were burning a lot of cash on Google ads and later started focusing on SEO for the organic growth of our product. Recently we modified our API to reach a 99% success rate, this helped us to increase our paid customer base. We also managed to decrease our monthly expenses and hence it helped us to increase our profit margins.
It’s really easy to get enamored by things like traffic, compliments, signups, etc. but the only real validation is having someone pay you money for your product, even if it’s just $1. Don’t lose sight of this!
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Our Tech Stack
- Node.js and express
- Digitalocean for servers
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Zero to One - This book talks about startups and you can build them. A startup is the largest group of people you can convince of a plan to build a different future.
Hooked - This book is from Nir Eyel where he talks about how you can build habit-forming products. He talks about External & internal triggers. How one should focus on increasing the perceived utility of the product.
Life 3.0 - This book is from Max Tegmark(famous TEDx speaker). This book is all about the future of AGI and AI. He talks about the advantages and disadvantages of achieving AI.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
If you are still in your developing phase then focus on releasing the product with minimum features and pick up a niche market that is big enough to survive. After succeeding in that market you can add other features to target other markets.
Also, try to follow a “First Who Then What” principle to create a team of winners. If somebody doesn't deserve to sit on that seat, remove him/her. People waste a lot of money on paid ads, I would personally not recommend paid ads until and unless you are familiar with running ads.
Creating a company and feeding it as you do to your kid is not that easy. It comes with a lot of sacrifices. You will lose contact with your close ones but that’s what is required to take your company from “Good to Great”.
Great companies have a different approach to everything. For example, Gillette was losing the shaving market until it started focusing on technology-driven products. Earlier they were focusing on multiple products at the same time just to counter their competition, that was a bad choice. So, pick up something that you are passionate about and find someone willing to pay for it. Do remember your customers are more forgiving than you think. Good Luck!
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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