A journey in ProcessOut's flight journal

Growth challenges for a CTO - with Martin Tapia, CTO @ Phantombuster

by Matthieu Couet on

Today we welcome Martin Tapia, CTO @ Phantombuster, a fast growing startup which offers ready-made APIs to build and boost your marketing strategy.

We will talk about Martin’s experience building a fast growing startup, about how Phantombuster used its own products to efficiently fuel the company growth and how they built a scalable and flexible payment infrastructure on ProcessOut.

Q: Hello Martin! It’s great to have you here. Let’s start with a short introduction on Phantombuster and on you.

Martin: “Phantombuster started as a fun little personal project of mine. I’m passionate about programming and the Web. I wanted to create a way to consume the Web’s content without having to “suffer through” different website designs, badly conceived navigation, auto-playing video, etc. (You can think of this initial idea as RSS feeds on steroids.)

Since then Phantombuster evolved from this very technical product to an API store for digital marketing. But our goal has always been the same: transform the Web into a database.

Phantombuster founders at station F

Q: Phantombuster went to The Refiners, a San Francisco-based Seed Fund Program. Can you share about your experience there?

Martin: “The 3 partners at The Refiners (Carlos, Pierre & Geraldine) are hard-working, talented people and it shows. They contacted us out of the blue at the right time to suggest we join their program. We had to say yes, it was a great opportunity for us. It completely demystified the valley and allowed us to meet our seed investor. Now we can go back at any time and have a place to stay there!”

Q: You’re the CTO of a fast-growing startup, meaning that you have to manage a huge roadmap with limited resources. Any tips to share on the position?

Martin: “At Phantombuster we use a unique management architecture split into 2 layers. The upper layer is the customer-facing team that develops, publishes and sells the different marketing APIs that create value for the client. This team is managed in a typical Scrum fashion.
The lower layer is the backend/platform/core product (which I manage) where a smaller dev-only team iterates according to feedback from the upper layer. Since this team is kept small, we have no need for sprints, we can release very often in an organic way.”

Phantombuster API store

Q: What were the main technical challenges you faced building Phantombuster? What does your tech stack look like?

Martin: “Unlike a lot of startups that mainly have client-side tech (like mobile apps), our stack faces a real challenge of compute and network intensive workloads because we do everything server-side for our customers.
So our main challenge is scaling the automation/scraping aspect of the business. We only use proven, state-of-the-art open-source technologies (like Postgresql, Redis, Rabbitmq, Node) which allows us to be cloud-agnostic. Thus, we can allocate our servers across different cloud providers according to our needs of the moment.
As a global, international SaaS, another challenge is handling payments in a smooth way.”

Q: Talking about payments, can you share with us some feedback on this topic? Why did you choose to use ProcessOut to build and scale your payment infrastructure?

Martin: “It’s in our DNA at Phantombuster to not be dependent on a single service. As for our servers which are cloud-agnostic, we wanted to be “payment service provider”-agnostic. ProcessOut allowed us to do that the easy way.
We see this as an important de-risking move which eliminates a single point of failure. It is reassuring for us and for our investors as we continue to scale fast. In addition to eliminating this SPOF, ProcessOut comes with a lot of bonuses: our payments now cost us less on average and we can accept more cards because we have 2 PSPs (Payment Service Provider) connected to it. (More to come!)”

Q: You’ve been in SF, your company is building an API based solution… I’m sure you have lots to say about APIs. Any feedback on ProcessOut’s API ?

Martin: “ProcessOut exposes a classic HTTPS JSON API which is well documented and easy to integrate. We can see Stripe heavily inspired this developer-centric mindset. And that’s a good thing ;)
The difference with integrating a single PSP API is that you know the code you’re writing creates more value in the end, because it will stay the same for another PSP. That is a great feeling to have when programming, believe me!”

Q: Thanks to its products, Phantombuster has been able to build a great marketing strategy and grow pretty fast. Can you share some tips it ?

Martin: “As developers ourselves of digital marketing techniques, I can assure you we are heavily dogfooding our own product for our growth.
But growth-hacking isn’t everything. Our strategy is also heavily based on content-marketing that adds real value for the reader. A good chunk of our leads are generated from the virality of our articles and word of mouth.”

Regarding payments, Phantombuster is using ProcessOut’s Smart Routing solution. Thanks to ProcessOut, Phantombuster can be connected to several PSPs and scale its payment infrastructure to support its growth. ProcessOut’s vault allow Phantombuster to store credit cards independently from any Payment Service Provider and thus avoid any dependency to a specific PSP.