In this article, I will explain how to choose and work with a data scraping vendor (DSV) to increase your startup’s chance for success. After reading this article, you will be able to find a contractor that works for you and identify what to look for when working with one.
Having been in the market for five years, DataOx can confidently identify the business qualities that lead to a startup’s success or failure related to their software vendor
The Role of a Web Scraping Contractor in Your Project
Let’s start with the definition: a data scraping vendor is a software development company that specializes in software designed to scrape, process, and analyze data from the web as well as providing custom data collected from the web
Our first recommendation is to choose a company that specializes in data scraping, aggregation, and software, as there are many companies that provide software, but web scraping and data aggregation has its own nuances and pitfalls.
Areas of responsibility
One of the most common causes of startup failures is a misplaced expectation between the startup owner and the data vendor. Therefore, the first thing to do is to clearly define the roles for the project and your expectations for each other.
The chief technical officer (CTO) is a person who understands the startup’s business strategy and also has technical competence. This is usually a co-owner of a startup or its founder.
He or she determines the budgets and manages the project from the technical side, understands the possibilities and limitations of IT technologies, and works with external contractors.
The role of CTO should not be transferred to any vendor, since no one else knows your business goals better than you do.
If you do not have a CTO in your company, you should either find one or increase your technical competence and fill the CTO role yourself.
Your data scraping vendor must understand the strategic objectives of the business and must clearly define its role and areas of responsibility, which are the tasks that it will have to fulfill.
A representative of the startup (or the CTO) and vendor need to discuss these points at the start of collaboration, otherwise the business owner might expect the vendor to fulfill the CTO role, and the contractor, in turn, will only do the tasks assigned to his or her vendor company.
Basic Requirements for the Vendor
Relevant experience and testimonials
Of course, first and foremost, your contractor should have relevant experience and good feedback from its clients. If you work through freelance websites like Upwork, then everything is quite simple there—each artist has a reputation score and client feedback. If you find a provider using Google or from somewhere else, we recommend you contact his former customers and ask for a recommendation.
A data vendor should have deep competencies in the niche of web scraping and data processing. Here are the main questions that you should ask during the initial communication with a potential contractor.
How do you deal with website changes?
Since websites on the internet change frequently, it is necessary to determine how your vendor will manage those changes and how quickly they will update the software.
How will you bypass anti-scraping mechanisms?
Quite a lot of sites have anti-scraping protection. Ask your contractor what mechanism it uses to bypass such protections.
How do you handle customer support?
This is a very important point—project maintenance after launching. Ask if your vendor can provide it or if they can train your in-house team to do this.
How do you ensure data quality?
Ask your potential vendor how they control data quality. This is a very important parameter for the success of the entire startup.
How scalable are your services?
If you have a large project, ask how quickly the vendor can expand the team and allocate developers to your tasks. Scalability is key for the growth of your startup.
How transparent is your pricing structure?
Ask the vendor to tell you about their pricing models: will it be an hourly model or a fixed-price model? How do they quote additional features that you might want to implement down the road for your project? How much will the support of the project cost?
The Zero Vendor Lock-In Approach
You need to discuss with your vendor how easily the scraping software can be separated from the core of your project. This prevents your product from being entirely dependent on your data scraping vendor. We call this the zero vendor lock-in approach.
Your product should be built on a modular basis, where data scraping will be one of the independent modules. This will give you the opportunity to replace your contractor with another one relatively easily and without affecting the main part of the project.
Another crucial element is any proprietary technologies your data vendor uses. How can they be transferred to support your in-house team or another vendor?
Dependence on Third-Party Services and Libraries
Another very important factor is how much your contractor uses third-party services to accomplish web scraping tasks. If your vendor is dependent on these third-parties, using them might be risky, in case those services change their pricing plans or close their businesses entirely.
Surely in the modern world it is impossible to develop software solutions without using third-party services, but you should understand the risks, especially in the key areas of your business. One of possible solutions for your own startup project is taking note of alternative services that your contractor can use if something goes wrong.
Collaboration Models: Vendor or Partner?
A software vendor differs from a software partner in that the partner assumes much more risk associated with your startup. A vendor only does its part of the work and receives rewards regardless of the success of your company.
A partner, however, can go on a deferred payment, take some loss on himself, and so on. At the beginning of a professional relationship, data companies typically collaborate as vendors, and then some of them can become a partner.
Triangle of Limitations
It is important to understand the basic concepts of project management—the triangle of constraints. There are always three basic restrictions for any project: scope, cost, and schedule. Understand that your vendor or partner (like any other) will always work within this triangle.
Any restriction on one of the three elements (scope, cost, and schedule) will naturally restrict the other two. For example, you can define a budget and deadlines if you have limited funds and immovable deadlines, but then the scope of the project will also be limited according to the triangle. If you have an unlimited budget, however, then you have more flexibility to choose a fairly short period and a large scope.
No vendor can be a wizard and work outside this triangle, so be mindful of that as you establish the requirements of your project.
Support and Development
Discuss also with your contractor how they can provide support for the development of your project. At first, every startup should set a goal to launch a minimum viable product (MVP) to get an investment or just test a business idea. At the end of this initial stage, the project will require development and maintenance, and it is important that the vendor is able to implement it.
At DataOx, after the end of the main part of the project or MVP, we always discuss a plan for further support and development of the product using a project road map to determine how many developers are needed and what tasks should be completed in the near future.
Above, I outlined the main aspects that you should pay attention to when choosing a web scraping vendor. If you have any questions or you are in the process of choosing your vendor, DataOx can advise you on this issue.Schedule a short free consultation with our expert
Questions You Need to Ask Your Vendor
What happens if the vendor shuts down their company?
How can the vendor scale to meet your business’s needs?
How does the vendor manage legal risks and “gray areas” related to data scraping solutions?
What is the time zone overlap?
Will the vendor sign an NDA?
How does the vendor control data quality?
How transparent is the vendor’s pricing structure?
How does the vendor accept payments and guarantees?
What are the qualifications of the manager who will lead your product development?
How responsive is the vendor to your questions, emails, or calls?
What methods of communication do they offer? (e.g. phone calls, video calls, emails, texting)