April 07 0 238

Building a $1 000 000 ARR SaaS Without Traditional VC Funding

We are bringing you a case study from Kevin Sahin and Pierre de Wouf who have been able to bootstrap their SaaS company, Scraping Bee, from 0 to $1 000 000 in annual recurring revenue. Scraping Bee is a Web Scraping API SaaS tool that handles proxies and headless browsers for you, so you can focus on extracting the data you want.

It took Kevin and Pirre almost five years and multiple failed projects to grow and bootstrap this SaaS project sustainably. And in this article, the two co-founders are sharing their success story.


The Early Days

Kevin and Pierre met in September 2006 in high school in a small town located in the south of France. The two went to university together and studied Computer Science in 2010. During that time, they started to learn about YCombinator, IndieHackers, Rob Walling's startup book, the family, and the whole start-up bootstrapping ecosystem.

"We learned that you didn't need to raise $100m to build a successful business!", — Pierre says.

After graduating from university, they went on to find jobs. Kevin worked for a small startup doing invoicing and banking data aggregation while Pierre worked as a data engineer.

Kevin quit his job when the company was acquired by one of the top 4 big French banks and he started to write books about Java and web scraping.

First Product

In December 2017, Kevin and Pierre built ShopToList, a price monitoring extension. It could help users to save the products they want to buy online and notify them as soon as the prices drop.

They launched it on Product Hunt, but up to two years later, they couldn't find a way to monetize the product and a scalable way to acquire more users. They sold the product to a web agency and moved on to other projects.


Going Full-Time and Building the First SaaS

While building ShopToList Kevin noticed that many people use ShopToList to spy on their competitor's prices. So they decided to build a price monitoring tool instead. Pierre left his job as a data engineer to join Kevin in this project full time and build PricingBot in July 2018.

They targeted businesses (B2B) in a validated niche which made them confident that this project would work but they were wrong.

The project failed to get traction and after months of endless marketing experimentation, feature development, and optimizations, they had to face the fact that people didn't want to pay for the tool.

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Pivoting to a Web Scraping API

In April 2019, Kevin and Pierre came up with the idea to build a web scraping API. While building PricingBot, they used a lot of web scraping tools that shared common flaws like; being hard to use, slow, not reliable, not transparent about who operates the business, etc

Having a lot of experience in web scraping, they decided to develop a web scraping API.

Building the MVP

They built the MVP in June 2019 to validate the product quickly. They leveraged some friends from web scraping forums and growth marketing communities and got around 10 free beta-testers to try the MVP.

The Small Release

Kevin and Pierre didn’t want to make the same mistakes as before so they decided to ask for money as early as possible. In June, they closed the free beta version and asked people to take a paid subscription to continue using the product.

"To our biggest surprise, the first customer comes 50 minutes after sending the first email. We're delighted, but we knew that now the hard part begins.", — Kevin says.


Building a Sustainable SaaS

To build a sustainable SaaS business, the two co-founders needed to have and meet these two essential things:

  • A product that sticks (recurring revenue).
  • A scalable customer acquisition channel.

About the first point, they made the bet that most of their customers would have regular web scraping needs, and that they would stay if they make a good product.

Building a Scalable Customer Acquisition Channel

Kevin and Pierre took a bet on using content as their major source of customer acquisition. Kevin had been writing a lot about web-scraping in the past years, including a full book, and believed that he could attract potential customers by writing good content.

First Content, First Success

Kevin started to write the best possible content and immediately, people love it. Their first big blog post was the "Web scraping without getting blocked" guide. They shared it all over social media, and it quickly got 20 000 visitors. This was proof that people like good content, even if it is written on a company blog. This article has now been read by more than 70 000 people.

However, writing good content was working well, but it was very slow to produce big results and also slow to rank on Google.

So they started trying other acquisition channels to try to speed up the business. It was a mistake, which made them lose focus and waste money. Eventually, they went back to content and spent time writing other web scraping guides in several programming languages like:

  1. Python
  2. Ruby
  3. PHP
  4. C#
  5. NodeJS


The Road to $10 000 Monthly Recurring Revenue

In May 2020, Kevin and Pierre joined TinySeed, a start-up accelerator designed precisely to help people grow their business, but without any pressure to become a unicorn.

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"We applied and got lucky enough to get accepted. The money and the support we got from the program helped us grow ScrapingBee into what it is now.", — Kevin explains.

2020 was a grinding year and all they did was improve the product and release new content. They focused a lot on the customer experience and did everything possible to make the API as easy as possible to use.

"In November 2020, we finally reach $10 000 in Monthly Recurring Revenue. A very symbolic milestone for us, because for the first time, it allowed us to get paid (almost) the same as our previous job, and it also meant that we were profitable.

But this took a while. We started working on ScrapingBee almost 18 months before this moment. The last quarter of 2020 was a magical moment because, for the first time, we felt that growth was finally kicking in.", — Kevin says.


Growing the Business

And while them almost 18 months to get to $10 000 MRR, it took only 3 months to double that revenue to $20 000 MRR.

In 2021, they decided to focus on their core strengths by writing great content while trying to build the best web scraping API. It is also at that time that Kevin and Pierre decided to split their roles in the company. Kevin took full charge of the marketing, and Pierre took up the product and technical side of the business.

By March 2021, they reached a significant milestone of 1 000 000 pageviews on the website, most of it being organic. It seemed like betting on content was the right thing to do.

Reaching a Million Dollars

In November, 6 years after their first product and 2.5 years after launching ScrapingBee, Kevin and Pierre finally reached $1 000 000 in annual recurring revenue.

They also brought in their first hire who took up the business development side.

2022 and Beyond

In January 2022, they released a complete redesign of our website, with a brand new logo, visual identity, documentation, and blog. They are also looking to further improve the dashboard, by focusing mainly on the analytics part.


Conclusion

The success story of Scraping Bee reminds us of one thing. Content is King! Kevin and Pierre have been able to generate up to $1 000 000 in annual recurring revenue by simply focusing on writing content and monetizing it with their very own SaaS tool.

The fact that content helps to grow exponentially, they were able to move double, triple, and quadruple their income real quick regardless of the slow start.

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