Jan Čurn is an experienced software developer that has built different startups. Currently, he’s busy developing a platform to turn any website into an API. If you’d like to know his story and get to know about his project, check out this interview.
How do you define yourself? Who are you?
I’d like to think of myself as an engineer. My background is in computer science, I always loved technology and I spent the past almost 20 years building software. Unfortunately, in my current role, I’ve little time for this and spend more time trying to empower others to build software and products.
Tell us about the Apify project. What is it about? What’s the problem you are trying to solve?
Apify is a web scraping and automation platform that can help you turn any website into an API. We’re helping companies all around the world to extract data and automate workflows on the web, in order to help them make better products, better decisions and waste less money.
How did the project of Apify start? What inspired you to make it happen?
At college I was working on a team project whose aim was to create an aggregator of used cars from various websites, using web scraping and semantic text analysis. Ultimately the project failed but over the following years, many people kept asking about it. They wanted to use similar technology for example for aggregating real estate offers or product listings from online stores. We evaluated many existing tools in this area but couldn’t find any suitable. So together with Jakub Balada created a new tool that eventually led to what currently is known as Apify.
Is this your first startup project?
About 10 years ago I co-founded a company called VirtualRig Studio together with Jan Rambousek. We built and kept selling a desktop application for adding curved motion blur to automotive images. At the time there was no other software that could do this and the only alternative was to use expensive physical camera rigs. I’d have never imagined that there are so many people out there who are willing to pay a lot of money for this sort of software. The internet is amazing. Besides that, I also co-founded a company called Dev tank, which sold software consulting services. Actually, Apify is a spin-off from Dev tank.
How much impact do you consider the project has made until now and what’s your long-term vision?
Our mid-term vision is to become the world’s best web scraping and automation company, and I believe we’re pretty close to that. But in the process, we’re actually building an ecosystem where people will be able to find and run cloud software for their projects, build new software themselves or buy custom software from the developer community. Once we make this work in the niche of web scraping and automation, we believe we can scale this model into more general software development and become something like AirBnB for software development.
Based on your current experience, what would you recommend to aspiring entrepreneurs at the start of their projects?
Just go for it and don’t give up. There will be plenty of times when you think you’d rather just do something else, so just take a deep breath and keep going. Building a startup is like running a marathon for a couple of years, you’re bound to hit a wall, or two, or twenty. Oh, and never stop talking to your users.
Is there any podcast, book or reference you’ve been following during the process of building your project?
I’m listening and reading a lot of different stuff. I’d highly recommend essays, blog posts and videos from Y Combinator, there probably isn’t any better source of information in the world to help people build a startup. Then I like podcasts from Andreessen Horowitz, random reading on Hacker News, guides from Stripe Atlas etc. I’d also recommend the following books: The Lean Startup from Eric Ries, The Hard Thing About Hard Things from Ben Horowitz and High Output Management from Andy Grove.
Do you have any favorite founder story (story of an inspirational person or company) that you would like to share with us?
Actually, I find the founder stories of all great companies extremely interesting, whether it’s Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook, Tesla, … You see these founders all shared some common traits like extreme stubbornness, dedication, and passion.
Could you please mention some project failures, if you have any, and what caused them?
Oh, there were so many of them and there will be more. For example, bad hires, wrong product decisions, bad purchases, loads of time and money wasted. I think these are inevitable and every founder is doomed to repeat them. What’s important is to learn lessons from the mistakes and do not repeat them (too often).
On the contrary, could you tell us about your successes?
Startups are a shitshow and everything feels broken most of the time, but from time to time you have a chance to look back and think that something must have been done right. The most rewarding time for me is to see the team working together, owning the projects and then succeeding in delivering new features, product launches or closing new customers.
How can aspiring entrepreneurs reach you for more questions or pieces of advice?
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