Interview with Gary Brewer (BuiltWith)
BuiltWith is a web technology information profiler tool where you can freely find out what a site is built with.
I interviewed Gary Brewer, BuiltWith founder to find out more. This interview is the forty eighth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Gary for the interview!
How would you describe BuiltWith in under 50 words?
BuiltWith tells you what a website is built with. It allows developers, researchers, sales teams, marketers and designers to find out the technology behind websites.
What made you decide to start working on BuiltWith?
I went to a few tech meetups in Sydney, Australia in 2007 with some work friends and was inspired to start something myself.
I launched a few other websites at the same time but BuiltWith was the one that really took off. The idea for the site came when looking at other startups and wondering exactly what they were built with from a technology perspective. There was no service I could find doing the same thing at the time and so the idea was born.
The name describes exactly what you provide. Was it easy to come up with the name and was the domain available?
The name of the site was created out of the question that the site tries to answer “what is a website built with?”. I couldn’t believe builtwith.com was available and snapped it up, the only downside to the name is it gets mispronounced as “build with” particularly in non-English speaking countries.
BuiltWith has a number of impressive products with solid business models, but how did you fund the initial development before launching?
Everything is done by myself in time that I am not working on other client projects. If I wasn’t working on the site then I’d be doing something else with a computer.
However the products that BuiltWith has have all been developed over a period of years not days/weeks like other funded startups. This is the one downside of bootstrapping and not working on something full time.
When did BuiltWith begin to gain traction?
I wrote to ReadWriteWeb in 2007 who covered BuiltWith and it really gained traction quickly. Mashable covered the site not long after and then it was #1 on Digg for a while which really got it going. AboutUs.org really helped by linking to us in the beginning.
Fast forward to 2012 and the traffic is made up of both search referrals and the Chrome/Firefox widgets. I’m pleased to say most of the businesses I deal with hear about BuiltWith through word of mouth which is fantastic.
How long did it take to put together each of product?
The products on BuiltWith have been through at least 3/4 iterations since their inception. So it’s hard to put a figure on the time it takes, it definitely takes longer not working on them full time but being the only developer there’s no meetings or long decision making processes to go through. You might notice all of the products have a very similar look and feel. Employing code-reuse really cuts down development time and bugs.
What kind of resources are required to crawl such a vast numbers of websites and build a database of the technology used on those websites?
We use Amazon EC2 to do super-crawls, it’s not cheap but I imagine trying to do it 5 or more years ago would have cost tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, making it virtually impossible for a small business. We can scale to crawl what we consider to be the homepages of the entire web in 24 hours. We don’t keep the data on Amazon but bring it all back to Hetzner for processing and everything is backed up on Dropbox and brought back to a server at home.
You founded BuiltWith alone, what are the advantages and disadvantages of going it alone?
The advantages are you can just get on with it, the disadvantages are there’s no external motivation and anyone to bounce ideas off. I’ve got around this by bouncing ideas off my customers now which is hugely beneficial.
If you want to be a single founder you have to be hugely motivated to get things done and you need to be doing something you’re interested in. Being hugely competitive helps as well.
BuiltWith runs on 0% CO2 emission servers using 100% green electricity. How did you find your server provide Hetzner?
Hetzner are a fantastic hosting provider. BuiltWith needs lots and lots of RAM and Hetzner provides it at an affordable cost. Other hosters provide better spec machines and lower ping times but ask for an additional 32gig of RAM to be put in the machines and the price gets crazy.
Running on 100% Hydro energy is the icing on the cake with Hetzner.
What were you doing before BuiltWith launched in 2007?
I’d worked as a programmer at a startup in London which was acquired by a huge corporation. I worked in India for a bit and then moved to Australia and spent a year surfing which was incredibly good for the soul. I came back to Australia with my future wife after 8 months back in London and have been doing contract based work ever since.
Do you have any new products in the pipeline?
All new products on BuiltWith are driven by customer feedback. There’s plenty of feedback about current product features that need improving that I’m working on.
What do you wish you’d have know 5 years ago? Where do you see BuiltWith in 5 years time?
I wish Eric Ries had written “The Lean Startup” in 2007. The passage in the book about him spending 6 months writing an IM feature nobody wanted and his realisation the company would have been in the same position if he sat on the beach sipping umbrella drinks really struck a chord with me. I’ve built plenty of “features” nobody wanted and I now strive not to do that.
I want to expand BuiltWith’s coverage to be able to do the entire web every week rather than just a sub-set of it to get the 100% truth out of what the entire web is built with. I’d like every web company working with web technologies to be a customer in 5 years time and be as ubiquitous as Salesforce.
What is the biggest hurdle you have faced or are still facing?
The clock still only has 24 hours in the day which I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to change. Working smarter with the time I get to work on BuiltWith is the hardest thing to manage but it’s getting better with experience.
Becoming a sales person, marketer and CEO is also a learning curve, I love programming but that alone will not build a business.
Can you convince the reader to start using BuiltWith in under 50 words?
Are you a company that provides solutions to websites? BuiltWith lets you find out what technologies a website is using and allows your business to find new leads by providing reports on what websites are using particular web technologies.
Finished reading? Check out BuiltWith!