“Innovation means continually providing the best possible service to our clients” – says Julius Černiauskas, CEO of Oxylabs, a proxy service company. We spoke to Julius to find out more about Oxylabs and the proxy industry
Tell us about Oxylabs
We began our foray into the proxy industry way back in 2015. Our first solution was datacenter proxies. It had been a fortunate choice for us as datacenter proxies had and still have incredible demand in the industry. Our growth was incredible and we did most of it with little marketing.
Most of our initial clients discovered Oxylabs through word of mouth. Our primary focus had been to combine the best possible product with exceptional customer service. Thus, we had little to spare for mass marketing.
Of course, over time we started adding more and more products. Residential proxies were our second product that was realized due to numerous inquiries by both potential and existing clients. Now, we have moved on to four primary solutions, one of which is a dedicated out-of-the-box web scraping solution.
However, over time our focus shifted. While providing the best possible service is still at the heart of Oxylabs, we realized that there’s a lot of room for innovation in the proxy industry. There’s plenty to be done in both technical and ethical innovation.
On the ethical side of things, we saw that the proxy industry is lacking widespread agreements and standards. We decided to take charge of these processes and developed ethics standards to which we hold ourselves up. We hope that more companies will adopt these or similar ethical standards for their proxy acquisition practices.
On the technical front, artificial intelligence and machine learning seemed like an opportunity too good to pass up. Many proxy use cases (e.g. web scraping) have a lot of tedious steps that could be made significantly easier with machine learning. We have already taken the first steps into AI & ML integration into proxies by creating Next-Gen Residential Proxies. However, we knew that to harness the true power of artificial intelligence, we would need outside help. Therefore, we brought together artificial intelligence and machine learning experts from both the business and academic world to guide Oxylabs in all things innovation.
Why web scraping and proxies?
We always knew the power of data. Data helps any business make better, more informed decisions that eventually lead to achievement of greater goals. Without it, we are left to perform guesswork.
Guesswork can still be effective if it’s based on experience. However, you never know whether what you’re doing is the most efficient path to achieving your business goals. There’s nothing to measure by.
There’s a lot of useful public data strewn about in random places on the internet. Customer sentiment, reviews, pricing data fluctuations, etc. are all insights that can easily be garnered through web scraping.
So, we knew that web scraping would eventually become something that is a necessity for any business. However, there’s basically no web scraping without the use of proxies. Therefore, we did something that we saw as reasonable – instead of joining in on the gold rush, we started selling shovels (or, in this case, proxies).
We did move on to providing an out-of-the-box web scraping solution a few years down the road. How we came about Real-Time Crawler is a rather long story but, in short, we were able to put our proxy industry expertise to the test by creating a simple tool that would help clients that are struggling with public data extraction. After our prototype was able to solve a particular problem, we moved on to making a more sustainable and scalable solution.
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How has the company evolved during the pandemic?
We were lucky to be working in an industry that mostly hasn’t been impacted negatively by the COVID-19 pandemic. Most technology and data businesses should be thankful in that regard.
However, I’m not saying that the period hasn’t been challenging. I would say that the two primary prongs of the pandemic have been the global move towards working from home and the massive shift of consumer interest. Of course, the latter has been primarily moved by the former.
Working from home has been challenging, especially since we had to create processes, systems, and support for our teams on a rather short notice. Yet, I am immensely proud of how our company has managed to deal with working from home. Everyone expected to experience a massive drop in productivity, especially in the early days of the pandemic.
Despite the new work-from-home-only conditions, our productivity didn’t even flinch. Every team worked just as they had before. We attribute the success to two things – inherent trust in our teams and daily standups. Our approach was simple – we minimize overhead and let teams manage themselves, only providing help when needed.
Yet, we did implement a simple company-wide policy that was adapted from the Agile philosophy – daily standups. Generally, they are mostly used by development teams but, clearly, the visibility and communication surrounding work and tasks will change. Therefore, implementing daily standups for all teams for as long as the work-from-home-only conditions last seemed like the logical thing to do.
Another challenge arose on the business end of things. We have numerous clients that were either in or dependent on the travel and tourism industries. While they had to suspend their activities, others experienced absurd growth. Thus, we had to manage a lot of quickly changing customer profiles in order to deliver the quality support and service we are known for.
What can we hope to see from Oxylabs in the future?
Technological innovation is at the forefront of Oxylabs. We are working closely with our advisory board to continue advancing the proxy industry through artificial intelligence and machine learning.
We have a strong vision for future proxy technology. Of course, most of it is optimization through AI and machine learning. We are already making strides with our Next-Gen Residential Proxies through the introduction of adaptive parsing. Put simply, adaptive parsing can help to deliver structured, humanly-understandable public data from any eCommerce product page automatically. Without adaptive parsing, a team of developers need to create and maintain a website-specific parser.
On the ethical front, we are going to push our ethical standards, put more stock into what other companies are doing, and educate the market. Web scraping and proxies have a shaky reputation as they can easily be misused. So, if the large proxy market players do not do everything in their power to uphold the highest ethical standards in all business steps, the reputation is going to remain shaky.
Web scraping and proxies have the power to do a lot of good in the world. However, we must first clear the name of the industry in the eyes of everyone. We can do that by establishing clear ethical standards for proxy acquisition and public data extraction.