This is a translation of our very first interview about WebCorrector. Originally, it was published in a popular Russian blog about tech startups. Link to the source. From the interview, you can learn more about Sergey Kurdin, the Founder/CTO of WebCorrector, about his work experience and future plans. Discover the story behind WebCorrector, where the idea came from, and why creating WebCorrector system will help the Web to be a better place with less mistakes and errors.
July 17, 2013
by Alex PeganoFF
Sergey Kurdin, former Russian resident, who now lives in the US told us about his startup WebCorrector that will help to improve content quality on websites, about how much money he earned on IPO, and, of course, a little bit about rap and cars.
Peganov: Hi Sergey. Before we start the interview about your startup, tell us a little bit about yourself. As I understood, now you live in the US? Do you work there?
Kurdin: I am 38, I am an interface designer, programmer, website and mobile application developer, with 20 years of experience. I live in the US near Washington DC and work in my own company AnotherVision.
Peganov: When did you leave Russia?
Kurdin: Here is my story in short. At the age of 18 I moved to Moscow from a small town Miass in Ural region. I worked as IT specialist in the bank, then in a small company called DataX/Florin. I designed graphic interfaces, created websites and was responsible for online version of magazine “Foreigner”.
During financial crisis of 1998 I moved to the US and was one of the first employees of famous biotech startup called InforMax. In that company, we went all the way from being a small team of developers to going public. After that, I worked for NIH, AT&T and Marriott International.
In 2000, I created the first Russian hip-hop website Hip-Hop.Ru. Now it has over 5 million unique visitors, and it is one of the biggest music forums in the Russian Internet.
Peganov: Since you’ve been one of the first employees, you earned a couple of million on InforMax IPO, right?
Kurdin: Yes, we all earned “a lot” back then. I had 10 thousand shares, and we went public with the price of $16 per share. Right after, dotcom crash happened, so InforMax shares went down very fast. Most of us were under lock-up period, and by the time we could sell our shares, they were worth less that a dollar. So only a couple of very high-ranked executives became rich. After some time, the decision was made to sell the company, and at the end, almost everyone left or got laid off. It was great time and experience that money could not buy. I am very lucky that my first US job was in a real startup. It was very cool.
Peganov: Ok, now let’s talk about WebCorrector. What stage is it on?
Kurdin: About 8 months ago, I had eCommerce client. His online store had more than 250 thousand items, but sale performance was bad. He thought it was because his website was slow, and he asked me to help him make it load and work faster. I eliminated that problem and created enhancement plugin, but it turned out that the real problem that client had was poor quality of the content. Information about many products was misleading or completely wrong with number of spelling errors. We found that many small eCommerce websites sell products with description in English, but people who own them don’t speak English very well. Right now, if you want to inform website owner about found problems, you have to take a screenshot or fill out a contact form, and usually it takes time and is quite annoying.
I have similar problems on my own website Hip-Hop.Ru. They are slightly different, but happen all the time. This happens when users have an opportunity to create content: write blogs, start discussions, post messages or make comments. When your website becomes popular and reaches certain amount of users, it is very hard to track everything that’s going on there. If you completely lose track of what is being published, your website will be flooded with spam very soon, cursing and propaganda of illegal things. As a result, your website won’t be attractive to most users who need high-quality content, and you can lose ad sales. On Hip-Hop.Ru we have moderators who keep an eye on what’s going on, but it is not enough. With 20 million pages it is impossible to look after everything. We think it would be great if our users could help us track and fix content problems.
Peganov: I have an idea about how this problem is resolved in Russia today – by Orphus with design of 1998. There are probably a lot of similar startups in the world?
Kurdin: Yes, Orphus allows users to highlight text on a page, write a comment and email it. Simple solution like this can be done by any skilled website owner in a couple of days. But this is very primitive approach to such a serious problem.
If you look deeply, system like this should allow to highlight not only a text, but any image, block of information or a paragraph. It should create an elegant online report with automatically generated screenshot, and have functionality to easily find, report and track content problems. Today, no such system exists. The truth is content problems on the Web are real. They range from simple spelling mistakes, grammar errors, broken links to wrong, illegal or misleading information. There is always a chance that any page may contain text or comments that are against the law, links to illegal materials or inappropriate images. Website’s success directly depends on the quality of its content. One of the biggest benefits of WebCorrector is that you can select a problem right on the web page where it was found, create and send report to the content owner.You don’t even need to know their email, our service will deliver the report for you.
Peganov: We always have misspells, and our readers tell us about them in comments. Thank them for doing it. Who will be your target clients? Online stores, news websites, forums, who else?
Kurdin: Our target clients are websites where content is constantly created and always changing, so chances for errors are greater. Those errors can be generated either by users or by editors and content managers. Our service will be used by websites where content quality is a top priority.
Peganov: OK. This is 100% of websites on the Internet. Investors like those things – TA (Target Audience): 7 billion people, market size: 500 billion dollars, etc. To whom and how will you sell your service first?
Kurdin: The desire to cover 100% of websites is very ambitious goal. We wanna go this direction by small steps and if 1% will pay for it, and other 99% will use it for free, I will be more than happy. I hope that many website owners will integrate our service just out of curiosity, to check how it works. I am sure, if they find it really helps, they will pay for it.
Peganov: Ok, let’s take us as an example. Our team releases about 5-6 articles a day of different size. Obviously, we almost never pay any attention to mistakes or misspells. Time to time, our readers point out errors we made, and sometimes we fix few biggest ones. But in general, and I will say for most of my colleagues, we don’t care about small, not critical problems or errors because everything is happening so fast that time used to correct one or two misspells could be used to write half of an article.
Of course, it does’t apply to the big media websites like Lenta.ru or Commersant where they have special people to correct content and check information for accuracy. For us it seems there is no real need for system like WebCorrector. And do you have similar system on Hip-Hop.Ru?
Kurdin: If taking your website as an example, maybe few misspells and grammar errors are not that important, but can you agree that it would be better without them at all? Myself, I write not very grammatically correct in Russian, and always feel uncomfortable when there are mistakes in my published text. I think, if you had WebCorrector installed on your website and, let’s say, wrote a new article, and right away got an automatic report from our service saying there are some errors or mistakes, then, I am sure, you would fix them.
Yes, I am creating WebCorrector to use on Hip-Hop.Ru as well. Now I get about 20 emails every day from users reporting different problems. Of course, nobody cares much about small misspells, but there are many other problems. Today, there is no easy to report found problems from the websites. WebCorrector will help users to create reports, and I will review, assign them to managers and track correction process.
Peganov: And how does it work? Any website visitor can highlight text, press ctrl+enter or something similar, and I will get an email? Won’t we be flooded by emails then?
Peganov: It sounds useful, I bet there are many competitors out there with similar functionality and service?
Kurdin: There are only three major competitors out there. They mainly provide spell checking service for websites and web page structure scanning for errors. They only support English language and check websites for errors with different frequency, for instance, once a week. None of the competitors except Russian “Orphus” allows users to report problems. On the other hand, WebCorrector will support Russian and English languages from the beginning, and will include 3 main functional components:
- Automatic error detection, real time web page scanning for problems.
- Quick and efficient way to report content problems found by users. Creating and tracking reports right on the web page where errors were found.
- Website performance and structure analysis providing optimization tips.
Our competitors’ prices are quite high for the limited service they offer. Our price will be minimal for small websites. We plan to charge only if our service is really being used and helps website owners find and fix problems. Let’s say, our service finds only few errors on your website a month, then you don’t have to pay to use it.
Peganov: From your presentation deck, I know that your competitors’ prices range from $30 to $900 a month. And you said “none of the competitors except Russian Orphus allows users to report problems.”
Maybe they don’t have it because it’s not needed? Just imagine what will happen if your service will be installed on huffingtonpost. Managers will be flooded with error reports; if every 50th of their 50 million visitors reports a problem, it will be a disaster, don’t you think?
Kurdin: I am an owner of a pretty large website myself and I think that WebCorrector service is necessary for websites in general, and for big information resources, in particular. On HuffPo, like on many other websites, error correction problem is solved by “old school” methods using online contact forms. It’s a slow and complicated process for most users: first, you need to find this form, and, then, type different types of information describing found problem. It always takes time, and it’s quite inconvenient. I am sure this way to report content problems from the websites is too old, out-of-date and needs to be replaced with new more convenient process. Here is their form to report an error, so you can have a better idea what I am talking about.
Peganov: Have you thought that this complexity of reporting process was made on purpose? It was made this way to make sure errors are only reported by people who really want to help. This is absolutely logical. If you give users an easy way to report “problems” by clicking two buttons, websites will sink in emails. But okay. Let’s move forward. Do you seek money now or already found some? How much?
Kurdin: Maybe you are right, but Lenta.ru is using Orphus, and they quickly correct errors reported by users. I will make it very easy and convenient for website owners to receive and review reports. If different users submit same error over and over again, it will be added as a confirmation to already existing report. In cases like this, new reports will not be created.
I have been working on WebCorrector project for about 4 months investing my money and all my time. So far, we created short service video overview, released information website, developed concept and investor deck. We’ve just published our profile on AngelList, and now we are actively looking for seed money to develop our product. In a couple of days, we will have our first interview with a potential investor.
Peganov: Have you checked already if your product will be needed? Did you ask any website owners if they are interested in using your service and ready to pay for it. If yes, how much?
Kurdin: Of course, before we started working on the idea, I asked my friends and clients who own websites if they will be interested in this kind of service. It turned out that majority of owners said they would try it and would pay from $10 to $30 a month if the service really works and helps. The reality on the Web is everybody wants to improve their websites. Most of website owners think their websites could perform better, attract more visitors, customers or clients. They will always look for something new that might help them to improve website they have. And if this help is real, they will pay for it.
Peganov: Ok, let’s move to the last question.
Kurdin: I’d like to add something about our product development plans. For us, building WebCorrector service (SaaS) is the main goal in the near future. But there are many big corporations, government and military organizations out there that will never use outside service and install random code on their websites. We plan to develop standalone product and license it to those types of organizations. This is a big market for us that can’t be overlooked.
Peganov: Interesting, never thought about this. Ok. Last Question. What car do you drive?
Kurdin: Black Audi A5 coupe, manual. I completely changed suspension, wheels, and reprogrammed its computer settings. Now it’s more fun to drive.
Peganov: Wow. By the way, you probably like rap. Who is your favourite rapper, maybe you can give me a quote from the lyrics you like or show a video? Here is one of mine.
Kurdin: My favourite rap artist is Tupac Amaru Shakur. Here are a couple of good lines from R U Still Down? (Remember Me)
“My daddy left me alone, and so I’m angry
I never did nothin wrong, my mama told me, «Baby it’s on»
And now I’m hustlin and bustlin bones”
And here is one of my favourite classic songs I was raised along with:
Peganov: West side, yo. Thank you! Good luck with your startup!
Kurdin: Thank you!