Alex got lazy about using the inspector to download Instagram pics, so he searched on Google for a solution. The results were crappy but their traffic was high… So he purchased a domain and decided to build the tool himself. Since then, Ninja Copy has grown into a SaaS that’s making $12k per month and allows users to download a lot of data from social networks.
December 11, 2019
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Hi! My name is Alex and I am a computer engineer. I am 26, based in Ukraine. A couple of years ago I started to export data from Instagram and founded Ninja Copy, a pet project that has grown to a full-time job.
Today our service is the most performant tool to fetch any possible data and media from Instagram. We’ve grown from the single-page website to download a photo by a direct URL to a fully-featured multi-product platform with paid tools and recurring subscriptions. Our latest Pro Export Ninja tool for Emails and Phones export from Instagram is the most successful and now used by more than 200 marketing and SMM agencies to drive their advertising strategies.
There are 4 people on the project. We have a Front-End React Developer, who has built all the websites we have now. We have a Growth Manager, who is in charge of SEO and backlinks, guest post advertising and partnerships. We also have a Google Ads manager. As of now, I perform as a product manager and high-end customer support. Sometimes I draw designs; previously I’ve built the Instagram export logic itself and everything related to server-side and DevOps. We host everything on Digital Ocean
Building services and tools were always something that drove me. On my last full-time job (I’ve had 8 years of Android development experience) I built a ringtone mobile app that had 1 million monthly active users, ads and recurring subscriptions. Back then I’ve built a rock-solid understanding of incremental improvements, generating revenue, data, and customer-driven development.
After two years, I felt the need to build something on my own and did know that I have enough experience. I moved to a 3 day per week schedule and started investigating my own path. I started building small services one after another with my friends. We’ve built an eCommerce for selling car wheels (damn, that was a great experience), then we built an eCommerce for crypto-related equipment (didn’t hit the production), and then started building an auto-posting solution for social networks.
We invested our time there and gained huge product expertise. I personally don’t see any other way to learn how to build products than from building products and failing.
How did we get to the Instagram export? I was downloading photos from Instagram myself and as a developer, I did it with inspector. I got lazy and went to Google, looking for a solution. Bumped into a couple of first search results, those were absolutely amateurish websites and I went curios. I opened SimilarWeb and found out they were having 1.2M monthly visits. That day I bought ninja-copy.com domain and we began.
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I made designs in Sketch. They were really mockup-ish, but they were already better than what our competitors had. Then I wrote a simple backend that was able to just get an Instagram link and provide a URL to an image. My friend started building the React Js web app.
It took us 2 weeks to release the first version of our site. We inserted Google Analytics and Search Console’s codes and began waiting for the first customers.
It took us half a year to get the first 1000 monthly active users. We tried a lot of stuff and grew expertise in SEO and marketing. Quora and Reddit gave us most of the traffic. By that time, we weren’t making any revenue and so, we weren’t investing in paid advertising or other marketing forms. I wanted to first grow the audience to ~50,000 MAU before I’d start monetizing the app through ads.
I started writing blog posts and articles on my own, as well. It took me time to learn how to write stuff that wouldn’t be blocked by moderators when sharing it on Reddit and Quora.
I was answering questions on Quora when I found a guy asking for exporting comments from Instagram posts. During this time, we didn’t have a front end developer on board, so the only thing I could do was to write an API for him. Which I did and it solved his problem. Based on that API, I decided to build a Telegram bot. You would send it an Instagram post URL and the bot would reply a CSV file of all the comments on it.
By this time, I was already running a freelance agency, but I would spend all my free time on maintaining Ninja Copy’s website and extending the variety of things it could export. I ran it for free but were planning to launch a subscription.
However, by December 2018 things changed. I on-boarded a full time React developer to rebuild Ninja Copy from scratch on React Js, implement properly on-site blog and add payment systems. In 2 weeks, we launched all of that, as well as a Facebook messenger bot. And yeah, things changed a lot.
It was tough and stressful. The payment system started failing and lots of stuff had to be handled manually. It was yet very satisfying. Part of our free customers fall off, the other ones converted to paid customers. It was our first revenue, will never forget that feeling.
At this point, our objectives consisted of finding a market, fixing and improving payments, adding another payment system, improving the product and adding new features, generating leads with SEO and trying out ADs.
The biggest obstacles so far were:
Google Ads, SEO and guest posts were the main 3 strategies. I continued writing lots of posts, as well, especially on Medium. Quora and Reddit worked fine, other Q&A sites not really. On the side, we started spending up to $1,000 per month on Google Ads and other 1,000$ per month on guest blogging.
What didn’t work:
Three months ago we moved the most successful part of the product into a separate service called Pro Export Ninja, which immediately went through the roof. The bot revenue stayed on $2,000/month, the Pro service is now generating +$10,000.
I’m aiming to grow to $20,000/month by the end of the year
The model we have now let me not to hire anyone technical, as long as I do most of the stuff on my own, but I do plan and I’m already looking to extend the marketing team
We’re going to integrate email and phone validation to our platform to let our customers complete the cycle of export and validation of data in one place.
I plan to launch one more dedicated service for Instagram export based on the most complex export we’ll have. It will let you export all the influencers based on multiple locations and hashtags, get their contacts to establish direct communications and see extended stats like average likes per post, etc.
Also, I want to finally hire a designer 😅
After we’re done with Instagram related stuff, I want to move to other startups, I have lots of ideas waiting for their time!
The biggest challenge was finding the right people. Learning on mistakes and revisiting assumptions will always overcome any challenges and obstacles, anyway - and a bit of luck, of course!
I’m a developer first, so it took me so much time and effort to behave business first. I always bite more than I can chew, but I’m not gonna try to fix it 😅
Like any other startup, we’ve made a lot of mistakes, but those are pretty common and I don’t think they are worth mentioning or dive deep into them.
The only thing I would change would be launching paid features as fast as possible and start generating revenue. At the end of the day, it’s the only KPI that matters. I would also advise myself to spend less time on analytics dashboards.
I’ve read so much stuff on the internet and, today, the two only things that stand out most are job experience on the successful startup and experience gained during building my own. I would suggest growing your general and emotional intelligence - anything else will come by itself.
It’s a shame, but I still got no personal blog, nor I write anything about business in my social networks.
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