Daniel Ni on Founding, Scaling and Exiting a Successful SaaS Business

Daniel Ni graduated from Yale in 2012 and went on to work as a high-frequency trader on Wall Street. Due to some health issues, Ni left Wall Street and moved back in with his parents. In his newfound wealth of spare time, he taught himself how to code. Shortly thereafter,

Ni developed ScraperAPI, a web-scraping application programming interface. Launched just three years ago, ScraperAPI delivers a highly effective and easy-to-use data aggregation software for businesses looking to automate their data collection.  The business offers ease-of-use and extensive functionality, including custom request headers, CAPTCHA solving, and automating proxy rotation, which has helped the firm capitalize on the ever-growing demand for data collection tools and become a market leader in web aggregation software.

After completing his sale with FE International, we had the chance to interview Daniel and learn more about his startup journey and what drew him to selling his business.

How did you know you would have the right idea and that your new business would succeed?

Well, ScraperAPI is a web scraping API, so there’s a lot of competition with other proxy server providers and those sorts of things. So when I, probably when I got to 10 customers, it felt like it started to be a real business. That’s sort of the number that people online throw around. And I think that’s probably true.

What are some of the most important items for entrepreneurs to consider as they scale a business from six to seven figures revenue? And what were your biggest challenges when you scaled your business?

Scaling from six to seven figures is usually around when you start hiring people. And the really challenging part of that is that you no longer know everything that’s happening inside your own business. Sometimes you have to ask people what’s going on. That sort of thing is a bit hard to manage after you’ve been working as a solo founder for a while. But I think ultimately it was a really good thing. Every time I hired someone. Because it took so much off my plate, and ultimately the people that you hire for each individual job tend to be better at that job than you are.

When did you start thinking about selling your business?

I started thinking about selling my business towards the end of 2019 because I was thinking about going to culinary school and I knew that I could sell for a sort of life-changing amount of money. So, it seemed like the logical choice.

You were actually approached about selling ScraperAPI before coming to FE International. How did you find FE and why did you contact us?

I had a few points of data about FE International. One was the founder. Thomas was on the podcast Indie Hackers with Courtland Allen that I listen to. It’s a great podcast. He really seemed like he knew what he was doing. Then Patrick McKenzie, @Patio11 on the Internet, highly recommends FE. And also, Rob Walling, the host of the podcast Startups for the Rest of Us also recommended them. All three are people that I really respect. So, it seemed like the obvious choice at that point.

Did you have any expectations for the process? What were they?

I really had very few expectations going in. I had no idea what a sale at this level was like. I kind of expected it to be like Million Dollar Listing, but it was much less dramatic. Ultimately, we got the result that we wanted.

Was there any part of the sales process that surprised you?

I think it always felt surreal until people actually started making offers and for the amounts they did. In the beginning, FE International is really good at going over the valuations with you. Making sure you know what sorts of terms you can expect and what sorts of amounts you can expect. But until there’s a real offer on the table, it doesn’t really feel real.

Is there anything you would do differently if you decided to launch another business?

Yes – I think I would try to be much more organized around internal processes, in particular bookkeeping. I can imagine that in a lot of small businesses like ScraperAPI, the bookkeeping process and accounting is just kind of a mess. So, I would have hired a bookkeeper much earlier. And they’re also, not very expensive. It costs maybe fifty to a hundred dollars a month to get a good bookkeeper to log all your expenses. And the second thing is I would have used a CMS from the very beginning instead of coding my website from scratch. It’s much easier for someone else to jump into a WordPress site than to look through your hand-coded website and try to make changes.

Finally, what is next for you?

Currently, I run a newsletter for developers called TLDR at TLDRnewsletter.com. It’s sort of like Morning Brew or The Skim for tech. And then I am going to culinary school!

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