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Meet Steve de Jong – Capturing pixel perfect screenshots to keep track of your online heritage

Today we have selected Steve de Jong to take his interviewHe is the CEO and co-founder of Stillio.

First of all, how are you and your team doing in these COVID-19 times?

Pretty good! As a remote-first SAAS company, you could say that we are fundamentally prepared to operate without lockdowns and travel restrictions, as long as the Internet keeps working. From the beginning of the pandemic, I did have regular conversations with employees to share personal experiences and perceptions in light of the COVID-19 crisis, which proved very informative and valuable. We mostly speak to each other on Slack via keyboard, and then it does strengthen the bond to hear how everyone is handling local measures. With a team spread across the Philippines, India, Namibia, Nigeria, Serbia, the Netherlands, and Argentina, you hear very different stories. At the same time, it’s the same everywhere. That connects us.

Tell us about you, your career, how you founded or joined this company?

Stillio started in 2011 as a side-project. We were three friends with our own internet agencies, and besides working for clients, we felt the need to do something for ourselves. We launched several concepts, one of which was a tool to automatically take screenshots of our own projects so that you can go back in time to see what, for example, the homepage looked like. So that you can answer questions like: What campaign did we have last summer? And what did we have on key landing pages that week when the stats went through the roof? We built Stillio primarily for ourselves but also made it suitable for others to create an account. For the first few years, we didn’t have many customers. We suspected that this form of web archiving might be a latent need that needed to grow slowly and perhaps become more popular as the Internet as a whole became more mature. And so it did! It wasn’t until 2017 that we saw the growth accelerate and had to make serious time to answer support requests. My two partners were plenty busy with their other businesses at that time, and I knew that this was the time to drop everything else and throw myself entirely into Stillio.

How does your company innovate?

First of all, one of our biggest challenges is to keep it as simple as possible for the customer. That means: simply adding web links, setting the desired capture frequency, and done. In reality, this is a bit more complex for our engineers because often sites have cookie alerts, age checks, pop-ups with offers, or dropdowns to choose your country before you see the actual page. And you don’t want those in your screenshot. We can automatically remove 95% of the unwanted elements, but the last 5% must be filtered out manually. The innovation by our team is therefore aimed at making the interface and tools as simple as possible, the screenshot engine (the software that takes the actual screenshots) as robust and scalable as needed, and also ensuring that we can offer multiple links to 3rd parties such as Dropbox and Google Drive, directly or via APIs and webhooks.

How the Coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?

Marketers often use our tool. Not only to take screenshots of their own site, but also of Google search results pages and, of course, of competitors. That gives you a wealth of information for any further analysis you want to do. At the onset of the crisis, we found that customers marketing budgets were frozen or even went to zero. One big client in the travel industry stopped immediately. Some others we gave a few months for free so that they would stay. But overall, growth has been pretty steady, and we grew from 4 to 8 employees last year.

Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?

Focus is the most important lesson for me. The Internet is an endless source of stimuli and temptations to build more and more tools, so keeping your course is sometimes challenging. And don’t let yourself be fooled by all the success stories with massive investments in the dot-com world. A steady business with satisfied customers is much more important than trying to win over investors with slick presentations and hoping for the jackpot. I’m not aiming for an ultimate peak in terms of success for my company; it’s really about the journey itself. It ensures that the road is challenging, educational, and fun with the employees around me, with the ups and downs that come naturally. And being nerds, we also secretly enjoy it when things sometimes go wrong because these are the technical puzzles we then have to solve. That keeps you sharp and the work challenging.

Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?

Our biggest competitor is The Wayback Machine, a free service from The Internet Archive. Which we are also big fans of, by the way. Like Wikipedia, it is a public resource of immense value to the entire world. We are often seen as the business alternative to the free Wayback Machine. While we only screenshot the pages that customers specifically choose to have archived, we offer unfeasible capabilities for free services: a global GEO-IP proxy network to capture the site from specific countries. And custom scheduling, like high-frequency screenshots that are captured up to every 5 minutes. For news sites that sometimes update every few minutes, this is a must-have. And the costs are friendly compared to what you would spend doing it manually, which would also be a terribly annoying job. In fact, you could say that we take the most tedious work out of your hands for a fraction of the cost.

Your Final Thoughts

Web archiving doesn’t sound very sexy. Yet, it is enormously satisfying work because it is so gratefully used. At this moment, you may not see the value of it at all, but that’s the point: when you can go back to your digital heritage for a few weeks, months, or even years, that’s priceless! Whether it’s for marketing, for the legal department, for research, or because of government regulation. We see the latter increasing more and more, so we are convinced that this is a growing market. One in which we are happy to continue to play an important role.

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