Our special series about businesses founded in 2020 highlights tales of resilience, remote relationships and pivoting. No.1: Web Automation

Victor Bolu’s wife was expecting their third child when he gave up his £100,000 a year job in March to set up his own business.

He and co-founder Ozcan Yukaribas came up with the idea and created a pitch deck during 2019 before moving on to testing and reaching out to potential customers in January 2020. Feedback was positive.

Then came lockdown. “We were paying two lots of nursery fees and expecting another baby, and my wife said it probably wasn’t the best time to be starting a business – other people said maybe I should put it on hold and wait for the pandemic to go away,” he says.

“I’m a bit of a risk taker anyway but I had a strong conviction that if I didn’t do this now, I’d always be looking for excuses. It’s never going to be the perfect time so why not now?”

London-based Web Automation allows customers to extract data from websites without writing code. For example eCommerce businesses – which make up 70 per cent of the customer base – may need to compare competitors’ pricing with their own to ensure they price products and promotions competitively.

Usually, this would involve trawling websites to copy and paste the information, but Web Automation’s self-service tool cuts the web scraping process from hours to minutes.

Early customers were from the travel sector, an industry that disappeared overnight when the pandemic hit, yet there have been advantages to 2020’s unique set of circumstances. CEO Bolu believes many of the clients they targeted would not have done business with them during normal times.

“People want to buy from people they’ve met and it originally worried me that we couldn’t have physical meetings, but we’ve ended up with clients in the US, Germany and all over the world,” he says.

“People are now more receptive to having a phone call or Zoom, where they would have wanted you to go to see them before, which means things can move much faster.”

There have also been positives brought about by remote working. The original plan was to have everyone working from the same room.

“By the end of March we were conscious that wasn’t going to happen, but it ended up working out better because it opened up the pool of people we could hire globally,” says Bolu, adding that they have recruited from Turkey and Columbia – employees they have yet to meet in person.

“We’ve also had to adapt to using digital tools so much so that we’ve become experts in things like Zoom, Slack and Google Drive.”

Funding goals were put on hold by the pandemic, yet these will restart again in 2021, while the pair intend to experiment with new tech such as AI and machine learning to improve the product. Though the lack of funding has meant sales have grown organically, Bolu believes the experience has made the business better.

“We’ve become resourceful because we’ve had to find ways to do things without spending a lot of money and we’ve also learned to accept rejection when we’ve had customers that have had to stop trading,” he says.

“I made a promise to myself that I was never going to blame COVID because even if we lost a customer there would always be other people who would need our services.”