TechStars graduate Distil is on a mission to help content producers stop theft, bots, and web scraping

By Editor February 4, 2013

Distil_logoA Q&A with Distil co-founder and CEO Rami Essaid. The Arlington, Virginia–based company was founded in 2011 and closed a $1.8 million Seed funding round in late January. Investors include ff Venture Capital, Correlation Ventures, Idea Fund Partners, CIT, Piedmont RIA, Cloud Power Fund and TechStars.

SUB: Please describe Distil and your value proposition.

Essaid: Distil is the first Content Protection Network that helps companies identify and block malicious bots responsible for content scraping, data theft and click fraud. Distil makes real-time decisions and seamlessly distinguishes human visitors from bad bots, with no false positives. Additionally, Distil accelerates content through 15 global nodes, improving page load times and reducing server load.

SUB: Who are your target markets and users?

Essaid: Based on a study conducted by the University of North Carolina, Distil has estimated the total addressable market from a bottom-up approach to be approximately $1.8 billion in the United States. There are over 30,000 companies that match our target customers within Digital Publications, User Generated Content, Social Media, Classifieds, Directories, and E-Tail verticals.

SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition and what differentiates Distil from them?

Essaid: There are currently two existing companies that claim to address content scraping—Siteblackbox and Sentor. They both utilize a hardware-based approach to tackle the problem. They are very difficult to integrate, do not block bots in real-time, slow down a company’s website, and are three-to-ten times Distil’s cost.

SUB: When was the company founded and what were the first steps you took in establishing it?

Essaid: The company was bootstrapped on an initial $50K from the founders in April of 2011. In 2012 we raised an additional $700K Seed-stage funds from Cloud Fund Partners, CIT GAP Fund, Idea Fund Partners and Techstars. Additionally, Distil was accepted out of 500-plus companies to join Techstars, the #1 technology accelerator program, and graduated in April 2012.

SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for Distil? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?

Essaid: We started after talking to online publishers about their security needs, and we quickly realized that digital publishers had no control over their content once they put it on the web. We started working to create the first platform aimed at helping them protect and control their information. After presenting our proof of concept to a couple digital publishers, the enthusiastic feedback we received made us instantly realize that this was a big idea.

SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story behind it?

Essaid: We struggled for weeks over the name. We ultimately decided on Distil because we liked the simplicity and the meaning behind the word—to purify.

SUB: What have the most significant obstacles been so far to building the company?

Essaid: One of the hardest obstacles that faced our company was parting ways with and one of the founders, who also was a friend. With a family to provide for, he was forced to be a lot more risk adverse than the rest of us and we ultimately decided it wasn’t a good fit anymore. Luckily, we still have a great relationship and we all are in a good place doing great things.

SUB: You just raised $1.8 million in Seed funding. What are your plans for the funds?

Essaid: We are expanding Distil. This means new data centers, lots of really neat features we can’t quite talk about yet, and even a new delivery mechanism for our solution.

SUB: Why was this a particularly good time to raise outside funding?

Essaid: We raised financing with goals that we wanted to accomplish. We knew without more outside funding, we would take four times as long to organically be able to attain these goals.

SUB: How does the company generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?

Essaid: Distil charges customers a monthly recurring cost based on the number of page views the site receives.

SUB: What are your goals for Distil over the next year or so?

Essaid: We have both revenue and technological goals we expect to meet over the next 12-to-15 months. We would prefer not to disclose our roadmap though. –