Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi there! I’m Oleg - the serial entrepreneur with a technical background, and along with my friend Andrii, I’m running a web scraping service - ScrapingAnt. The primary goal of this service is to provide an ability to forget about the handling of your data extraction infrastructure and get all the needed data from the web using our easy-to-integrate API.
Most of our customers use our API to get data from NFT marketplaces, Amazon, Walmart, Booking.com, etc., so our tool helps businesses make decisions based on data. Commonly, our service’s ideal customer is a company or a private entrepreneur who can integrate the data storing solution with our API (a company has a person with programming knowledge or a whole team of programmers). Still, we also provide custom solutions (implement and run the data gathering code on our servers, so a customer receives pure data as a result).
In December 2021, we made a 7.1k $ profit, but it wasn’t the average month, as we got a tremendous one-time data extraction job. A usual month is averagely twice less in money.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I’m constantly trying to create some business, and I suppose this annoying habit is a part of my personality, so I’m used to it. I’ve attempted different exciting areas, like blockchain, AI, IoT, and hardware, but I never tried to think big while building projects in those areas.
My first business venture was a slight seasonal stationery shop inside my mother’s shop when I was 12 years old. My father encouraged me to try my own self-funded business based on a seasonal demand of workbooks, pens, and pencils before at the start of a new school year, so I went through several big stationery stores in my town, compared prices, and fulfilled the supply for all my savings (made by pocket money, of course).
The end of my first season was pretty obvious - I’ve supplied myself for the whole study year with the leftovers because of poor market research. Still, it was the only first-year problem, as I’ve already learned how much of each particular stationery I have to prepare for my customers.
The main idea while doing your business is to find out the “thingy”. It’s a mythical entrepreneurship stack of niche, marketing, and positioning that brings you customers who like your product.
Right before the whole story with COVID lockdown started, I started several e-commerce projects that closed quickly due to supply problems, so I started looking at new areas. And my close friend Andrii told me that he is looking for a new job. I rapidly scheduled a call with him to talk about creating a new data provider for the gambling industry.
Still, Andrii was skeptical about the scope and proposed to start from a small piece of this data-providing journey - data scraping. My friend worked for several years on setting up highly scalable infrastructures for data gathering, so it took about 1 month to create a simple solution based on AWS Lambdas.
While the MVP implementation, we also found several startups that already proved this idea, so we directly went to the market.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Our main product is SaaS (Software as a Service), so the whole process of creating a product starts from the customers' feedback. All the input is gathered in a constantly refined pool and transformed into backlog tasks.
While we’re using Kanban as a software development methodology, we prioritize those issues depending on the frequency of asking by customers, our high-level vision for the product, and complexity. Then we’re just taking it one by one, implementing, deploying, notifying our users about the change, and moving forward.
After 2-3 months of the active development phase, we’re taking a break to look backward and evaluate the efficiency of made decisions and implemented features. Based on that information, we’re tuning our refinement process and starting the whole process again.
To launch the MVP, we spent a few weeks and around 100$ on website builder subscription and hosting. Since our team is consist of developers, we’ve created everything on our own and the first publicly available scraping solution was based on slow and unstable, but free proxies.
To avoid pre-paid servers we’ve used AWS Lambda, so we were able to scale as much as needed without buying servers. Needless to say that our MVP wasn’t a competitive and profitable solution at all, but we had to start our data industry journey!
Describe the process of launching the business.
Honestly speaking, we weren’t good enough at the launching phase. We only knew that our product would be an API at the start of this journey. We weren't sure about any process of SaaS business launch, so we were looking for a way to start it as much as possible with the minimum effort.
During some research, we found a fantastic API marketplace - RapidAPI. It allows you to monetize your API by proxying it to the customers using their billing platform, so you don’t need to create any additional software except the only one - your API with a business logic (web scraping API). We were looking for a way to bring some customers to it, so we created a landing page using WordPress and a codeless plugin for creating custom designs. Our current landing page is similar to the original one (we’re working on the redesign right now, so it will be obsolete):
Also, to attract initial customers using SEO, we created a page where we shared a list of free-to-use proxy servers. It is still available, and it uses the technology we have made to gather those proxy servers from the internet.
All the financing of this business is still from our pockets, as we’re both software developers with a cumulative experience of more than 20 years and the actual development of the technology is our most significant expense. We haven’t spent any money during the launch except buying a domain name and a subscription for the WordPress codeless design creator.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
We tried to launch social media ads and Google Ads, but we haven’t managed to work them properly, so advertisement was the first try to get initial customers (the only proven method at that moment I’ve learned from e-commerce).
e focused on creating open-source projects at Github and writing meaningful technical articles for technicians to show the advantages of our technology and how it could change the data gathering flow. Still, we’re both software developers and experts in the data domain, and we can share our experience with the World. Sometimes this strategy is called “Content marketing”, but I’m not 100% agree with this term. I’d insist on calling it “Giver marketing” as while trying to help and share, you can build more trust and strong relationships with clients. As a result, people organically found our service by open-source tools that use our API for free and Google.
Our second goal is to provide the best possible customer support even for non-registered or free subscription plan users. We believe that a person we’ve helped once would be more loyal to us personally no matter how our competitors are cheaper (they are not, actually). As founders, we try to keep answering emails instantly after receiving them, so most of the responses to us started with “Thank you for a rapid response” or something similar. Such words make us feel that we’re doing the right things, even by being a two-person company.
Blind luck wouldn’t allow you to repeat all the learned lessons and start a new successful business again. It’s hard and demotivating sometimes, but it’s the only way to learn something and it’s the only way to do something big while starting from small.
Of course, some of our customers stop using ScrapingAnt after some time and we’re looking for a way to gather more feedback about reasons, but at first, we’re checking the quality of data provided to them while using our service to find out the problem without interaction and then only we communicate with them about further steps.
We haven’t done too much so far to aggressively sell our current service, as we’re targeting to re-imagine the whole data collection for big companies. Still, without talking with similar to us developers, it would be hard to understand the pain points and achieve trust.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Yeah, we’re profitable. All our profit is reinvested into the company again: new proxy pools, freelance writers, etc. We’re trying to invest in technology as much as we can today.
The main idea while doing your business is to find out the “thingy”. It’s a mythical entrepreneurship stack of niche, marketing, and positioning that brings you customers who like your product. We’re still in the progress of the “thingy” search, but each day we become closer to this target as we have more opportunities to talk with our customers and website visitors.
Recently we signed a collaboration contract with a software development company Codery. I’ve worked for several years with some of the employees from there and I can be 100% sure about the provided quality. Codery is a technology company focused on helping various-size companies across multiple industries create unique software products of any complexity with the assistance of cost-efficient remote staff augmentation. This partnership allows us to leverage capacity by involving high-performing professionals within a short time.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Oh. We spend a lot of time waiting for our first customers at RapidAPI instead of creating our platform. Also, solving legal stuff like company registration took a lot of our time due to COVID flights restrictions. I’ve learned several good mantras that help me every day. You shouldn’t think that someone would cover any particular part of your business and let you do your part - It may lead to a failure. Everyone should have full control over the situation.
Also, while starting this business I hoped to have no random luck while doing something. Blind luck wouldn’t allow you to repeat all the learned lessons and start a new successful business again. It’s hard and demotivating sometimes, but it’s the only way to learn something and it’s the only way to do something big while starting from small.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We’re both tech guys, so all our tech stack is a self-made highly-scalable infrastructure based on a Kubernetes cluster. The solution is currently hosted in AWS, as we have started with AWS Lambda, but our technical goal is to achieve a bare-metal deployment soon.
Experience can’t be bought, and the easiest way to earn money is to find a job, so only practice and dedication matter here.
Most of our infrastructure is based on open-source solutions, except the affiliate program, which is hosted at Tapfiliate, payment and a subscription/payment gateway used in ScrapingAnt is Paddle. All emails are sent using Sendgrid, but I have no strict preferences, so I can suggest any email sending system that would fit your pocket and business needs.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
During my whole business experience, I’ve always been inspired by my parents. They always tried to earn some additional money for our family and started businesses while doing their regular full-time job. I think that the motivation they gave me was the most influential experience in my life.
I’d like to mention the podcast Build Your SaaS by TransistorFM. I found them randomly while waiting for my flight when I visited Poland for the first time (our headquarters is located in Warsaw). The best thing I’ve found in this podcast is honesty, along with the easy talk about serious parts of growing your SaaS company.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
I’ve tried several different businesses, and all of them were inspired and targeted with different goals and purposes.
Generally, I’d say that if you want to start earning money first, then I’d suggest ending up with growing your business/startup if after 2 years you haven’t reached 10k MMR per founder (I guess I found this tip at “Build Your SaaS” podcast).
Otherwise - just do it and don’t give up until you find yourself confident enough to start a new business with a different idea that would be successful.
Experience can’t be bought, and the easiest way to earn money is to find a job, so only practice and dedication matter here.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are constantly looking for technical and non-technical content creators to write articles for our blog. It’s an excellent opportunity for anyone who would like to start their content career, switch from the software development routines or co-operate with the ScrapingAnt brand.
It’s a project-based opportunity, so we would be happy to hear you at [email protected]
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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