How can e-commerce platforms, media sites and other content publishers benefit from the Big Data revolution, instead of being subjected to it?
That’s the question Fabien Grenier and Benjamin Fabre set out to answer when they founded DataDome, a French startup specializing in bot traffic detection, bot protection and data monetization. With current angel funding from investors, including Justin Ziegler and Julien Culon, the company expects to raise additional funding in the coming year to fuel its international growth.
CEO Fabien Grenier explains why bots are a big deal in Big Data, how he turned from making them to taming them, and how DataDome aims to help regulate the currently rather chaotic Big Data bot landscape.
What’s your elevator pitch?
Glad you asked, we just rewrote it! So here you go: DataDome is a software-as-a-service offer, which protects editorial and e-commerce content from bots, so that publishers can monetize their content with interested Big Data companies.
What problem do you solve and how does it work?
Most people have no idea just how much bot traffic there is on the internet, nor of the risks — and opportunities! — this traffic represents.
It is estimated that around half of the world’s internet traffic is currently generated by bots. For every human hit on a web server, there is also a bot hit somewhere, and bot traffic is growing faster than its human counterpart.
It is estimated that around half of the world’s internet traffic is currently generated by bots.”
Some bots are beneficial, of course, like search engine crawlers. Others are potentially very harmful to online businesses, such as web scrapers, ad fraudsters and hacker bots. Our solution helps companies identify and analyze bot traffic to their site, allow access to good bots, and block the bad.
But bot traffic can also represent untapped revenue potential for our customers. A growing percentage of bot traffic comes from Big Data companies, which are capturing data and content for purposes such as SEO analysis, business intelligence and editorial content aggregation.
Their purpose isn’t malicious, but they’re harvesting and using data without permission or any kind of compensation to the content owners. Our technology gives publishers a tool to take back control over their content, and to monetize it by entering commercial agreements with the Big Data companies that are interested in it.
So how does it work?
The DataDome module is easily set up directly on our customers’ web servers, and analyses all incoming traffic in real time. Known good bots are allowed access, known bad bots are blocked. That’s the easy part. Where it gets interesting is when we try to identify and observe unknown bots, especially those that are attempting to fly under the radar by imitating human behaviour.
Our algorithm is using a large set of both technical and behavioural criteria to separate bot traffic from human traffic. Technical criteria can be, for instance, user agent, IP owner and geolocation data. Bot behaviour is detected by such things as unusual numbers of hits per IP address, crawling speed and frequency, etc.
Thanks to machine learning, we are now able to detect even the sneakiest bots, and we’ve achieved a better than 99% success rate.
Our algorithm is using a large set of both technical and behavioural criteria to separate bot traffic from human traffic.”
Finally, when we identify what we call monetisable bots coming from Big Data companies, our API provides an interface between the website owner and the Big Data company, opening up a potential new revenue channel for the publisher.
For non-technical audiences, I sometimes compare this feature to a payment terminal: The website owner maintains full control over the content, the DataDome API is just the interface which enables them to authorise the transaction – allow bot access – and collect payment.
Describe the journey from initial idea to product launch.
In fact, we are converts from the dark side. Before founding DataDome, my co-founder, Benjamin Fabre, and I founded and grew TrendyBuzz, a multimedia monitoring company. At TrendyBuzz, we were programming and using bots in order to capture consumer conversations about our customers’ brands. We were at the forefront to observe that the use of bots is growing exponentially, and that content publishers are subjected to this activity with little or no benefit to them and very little control over it.
When I say we were operating on the dark side, it doesn’t mean that we necessarily wanted to scrape and steal other people’s data. It’s just that there was no practical way to enter an agreement with publishers for accessing and using the data we needed. We thus founded DataDome in order to provide a solution which gives publishers back the control over their content.
Do you have direct competitors? If so, what do you offer that others don’t?
There are multiple companies that offer network-layer bot detection and protection solutions, against DDoS attacks, for instance. But their approach is solely focused on blocking bad bots from accessing web servers — not on creating opportunities for mutually beneficial agreements between content publishers and big data companies.
What was your most challenging moment so far?
It’s harder than you would think to convince e-commerce platforms and media sites that a huge share of their web traffic is invisible to them. Most of our customers are flabbergasted when they discover the crazy volume of invisible traffic they are getting to their site. It’s not unusual to find out that they have 35 to 50 percent more traffic to their web servers than they were aware of.
That’s why we are proposing a freemium model. The free version of our module is very easy to set up on any website. It enables our prospects to discover the total volume of bot traffic, without making any commitment, and to see a detailed breakdown of the types of bots that are visiting. Once they have access to that information, it’s a lot easier to demonstrate the value of our paid plans, which enable them to block the bots they don’t want and to identify and act on monetization opportunities.
And the most exciting?
I get a kick out of seeing our technology working — being able to measure bot traffic and identify bots down to a very detailed level, and to deal with them in an efficient way.
Of course, the business side of it is also very exciting. We’re having some excellent discussions with major publishers currently, and our technology is already working for solid companies like PriceMinister [among the top 10 most visited French e-commerce sites, Ed.].
Your No.1 advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs?
Surround yourself with the right people. You obviously need complementary skills and competencies, but it’s just as important to have a loyal team that will manage to survive tough times together – and to pick yourselves up and bounce back together!
What do you think DataDome will look like in a year?
Our main objectives for the coming year are to complete the validation of our concept with major French media sites and e-commerce platforms, and to expand commercially in other European countries with large concentrations of publishers.
In a year from now, we should have raised additional funding in order to accelerate our expansion globally. Our business model works anywhere and the product doesn’t need any significant customization, so it’s more a matter of funding a global sales and marketing effort.
What are your values in terms of work culture?
We strive to combine the typical startup values of innovation and agility with responsibility and excellence in execution, and last but not least: pleasure!
Is there an app you can’t live without?
One that I’ve been using a lot lately is Strava. I’ve enjoyed bicycling for many years, but tracking my rides with Strava is surprisingly stimulating. Biking is terrific for blowing off steam and de-stressing. A long bike ride is also a perfect setting for uninterrupted thinking and strategy-making.
Tell us something about yourself.
My main motivation for being an entrepreneur isn’t primarily money or business success, although those are certainly nice to have, too. Rather, I’m driven by a desire to constantly push myself out of my comfort zone, meet interesting people, and grow as a human being. Entrepreneurship is a way to create positive constraints for myself, to fight complacency, and to keep midlife crisis at bay!
To learn more about DataDome, visit datadome.co.
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