Bootstrapping a Data/API company in Asia from 0-80M+ monthly requests in 2 years — lessons learnt

Overview of the company

My company (Loki.ai) provides data APIs, dashboards, and iframes to media companies. It scrapes unstructured, publicly available data, and converts it into data feeds and articles in close to real time.

An air-quality monitoring iframe that we provided to a media client in India
Usage of the Loki dashboard for video creation and election analysis by a large media company in India

The road to setting up the company

I’m a 27 year old self-taught programmer. I launched a t-shirt business (with ~$20k in annual revenue) in high school, and then launched a failed analytics product for manufacturing companies while in college.

Running Loki.ai

I quit my job in December 2015, and started freelancing for media companies again to understand the industry better. Worked for cheap and tried to spend as much time in newsrooms as possible.

An early iteration of the analytics dashboard developed for The Broadline
First 11 days of the pollution iframes — our first product
30 day analytics from Cloudflare. Note that “unique visitors” is misleading. It’s actually unique IPs served.
Example of our election dashboard — used by newsrooms and think-tanks for political analysis

Organizing principles for bootstrapping a venture

Principle 1. Search for natural economies of scale

Benefits of bootstrapping

  1. You get to have complete control of your company, its future direction, and get to choose the kinds of customers/markets you want to be engaged with
  2. You get to work on a much longer time horizon, and can indulge much more uncertainty. You can also have much stronger priors, and can stick with your gut when the data doesn’t immediately validate it (this can also be a bad thing if you are stubborn and your gut instinct is wrong)

Drawbacks of bootstrapping as a solo founder

  1. You can face “cold-start” problems, where you need smart people to create technology that drives additional revenue – but need additional revenue to hire those people
  2. It’s very hard to focus on new areas without jeopardising your existing business
  3. You’re fundamentally constrained in terms of resources, which can make it difficult to spend money on customer acquisition or marketing in the early days
  4. You don’t face the same level of scrutiny and pressure that venture-backed startups do — which can be a problem if you’re not intrinsically disciplined

Resources that have helped

While running the company and figuring out how other solo founders operate, the following resources have been absolutely invaluable:

  1. The Indie Hackers podcast: Features interviews with mostly bootstrapped and often solo founders, and goes into depth about how they started and how they scaled
  2. The Y-Combinator podcast: An eclectic podcast that frequently features conversations about technology and growth
  3. Zero to One by Peter Thiel: a book that would be more relevant for those conceptualizing a venture-funded startup, but also contains some fascinating insights that all founders should think through

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