Zoltan is the CTO at SaaS.Group, a portfolio company of SaaS businesses. They acquired Scraper API, which extracts data from websites at scale, such as CAPTCHAs and bot detection. This makes it easier for developers to get any HTML they seek. It currently makes $400k/mo and they are hoping to hire more employees this year.
Hi Zoltán! Who are you and what are you currently working on?
Hi! My name is Zoltán Bettenbuk and I am the CTO at Scraper API. I am based in Eger, Hungary, with my family. Our business is headquartered in the USA but our team lives in a few different countries. Scraper API handles common obstacles that developers face when trying to extract data from websites at scale, such as CAPTCHAs and bot detection. This makes it easier for them to get any HTML they seek with just a simple “call” to our system.
My role entails ensuring that everything on the technical side is in line with our customers and our product; this includes ensuring our customer relationships run smoothly, hiring new team members, and consistently working on the product. Our goal is to make life easier for developers to scrape data without the obstacles that significantly lengthen the process.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Before investing time into Scraper API, I co-founded Fishbole (I am currently still the CTO there too) which is a flipped classroom cloud app for students and educators. It’s exciting because I’ve gotten to manage and coach the engineering team, design the technology stack, and always work closely with the other co-founders to ensure that our mission to build a flipped classroom app with an intuitive layout is realized. Before Fishbole, I worked for multinational companies such as LogMeIn, Dynata, and T-Systems as a manager, leading engineering and product teams.
My team and I saw the potential that Scraper API has to do for web developers what Mailchimp does for email marketers, and that’s to streamline a process that can help them succeed in their industry.
How did you go from idea to product?
Dan Ni founded our business in 2018 but we acquired it last August. When he became a freelance developer after leaving Wall Street, he kept stumbling upon the same roadblocks in his web scraping jobs (such as setting up proxy servers and redistributing IP addresses). To overcome them, he created an API (application programming interface) that could write web scrapers with practically no setup.
We decided to invest in Scraper API because we could see how promising it is as a web scraper that offers what similar products in our competitive market do not. It also fits into our “low-touch” SaaS category of businesses, as it’s built for most customers to purchase it without sustained one-on-one interaction with someone else, and has a customer success component that provides educational resources.
Which were your marketing strategies to grow your business?
Dan took care of the marketing internally when he founded Scraper API. He and the early team would regularly contact developer blogs for tutorials, and sponsor developer blogs and Youtube channels to spread the word about the tool. They also started our affiliate program.
We had mostly relied on blog posts for new visitors and organic traffic. The early team had started to see traction with a blog post explaining the types of companies that use web scrapers. This continued with top-10 lists about different aspects of web scraping.
Now, we are prioritizing improving our marketing strategy - with help from outside contractors and further investment made in SEO, we hope that by reworking our website, we will create more unique pages that draw people in, and improve user experience.
How are you doing today and what are your goals for the future?
The team includes a marketing strategist, software engineers, other entrepreneurs, and investors. We’ve got Ian Kerins who has tons of industry knowledge and is in charge of marketing. We have Ian Williams, our senior engineer who was an original member of the Scraper API team before the acquisition, and who does the heavy lifting for our current team. And we have Tim, Tobias, and Ulrich who co-founded our parent company, SaaS.group. Tim and Ulrich are entrepreneurs and investors who’ve made a huge impact in Germany, and Tobias has had tons of startup experience in the country too. My teammates’ wealth of knowledge, interesting ideas, and kindness are unmatched and something I highly value.
I am happy to say that we are off to a great start with the changes we have been implementing! We are hoping to hire more employees this year, and hopefully, the Scraper API family will be able to continue to grow afterward. Most scraping companies and startups operate in the shadows because data scraping is still perceived negatively by many large sites (mainly the ones that are often being scraped). Scraper API is different. And especially since SaaS.group acquired it, we're focusing more and more on privacy-enabled scalable data retrieval. While we strongly believe that information publicly available on the Internet is free to scrape, we always try to ensure that people's private information is a no-go area. Our long-term plan is to transform into an enterprise-grade scraping service with all the required features and throughput that large companies depend on.
Since acquiring Scraper API, what have been your main lessons?
One of the biggest lessons I have learned from my time with Scraper API is that patience and a supportive team are vital to a successful acquisition and transition period. Even if you feel like you have all the information in the world about the business you’re acquiring, there are many unknowns and surprises to continuously work through. If you’re part of a great team everyone can help each other out, which helps everything come together faster.
Luckily we took over the team too during the acquisition, and we could rely on their vast knowledge of the domain. Since I've mainly worked with enterprises in the past (LogMeIn, T-Systems...etc), a lesson I have also learned is that startups that got momentum early on have a lot of skeletons in the closet, that you have to either learn to live with or dedicate time to work through them.
Scraping is a constant cat and mouse fight - it’s a bit similar to what advertisers and ad-blocker apps do. The technology we build is unbelievably advanced when it comes to staying on top of the newest blocking techniques; the cat-mouse fight was a manual thing in the past, but we are building newer, more autonomous ways to stay unblocked.
What were the biggest obstacles you overcame? What were your worst mistakes?
The main obstacle for us was having to get familiar with the technology. As Scraper API was a mature company during the acquisition, we wanted to ensure we understood what had already been set in stone, and how to make any changes when taking over. A scraping platform is not a highly scalable CURL (client URL) library. The source code virtually has years of experience hardcoded into it, with evidence of all the living past of what customers have asked for over the years. Looking at it is like looking at the age lines of a tree. While it was challenging to get accustomed to the product, we had a 6-month transition period in which Dan guided us.
As head of the engineering team, one always has to juggle between working on killing off technical debt, satisfying the daily needs of our customers, and delivering new features and improvements. That's a difficult task and I know we don't always manage to do it the right way.
An obstacle that the team faced before the acquisition was with accounting; Dan has mentioned it would have been ideal to have hired someone earlier on to take care of it. Cleaning up finances and migrating to a new charging system was key to starting 2021 with a stable product, and with big plans.
What tools & resources do you recommend?
We use the CanIRank tool to help us with our SEO and to utilize its suggestions for ways to improve our inbound marketing efforts. Snip.ly is awesome for shortening links, and Prerender is a useful resource for introducing coding to our page that enables it to show up higher on search engine pages.
Some books that are very important to me are Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager by Michael Lopp, Emotional Grit by Dr. Neeta F Bhushan, and Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug. Managing Humans is both hilarious and helpful for people who oversee teams, Emotional Grit helps me lead more compassionately, and Don’t Make Me Think is just a classic for developers that I enjoy going back to from time to time.