Last week, we launched Scoop.it publicly, which means our private beta was a success with strong traffic and continuous growth.
But as it’s been a difficult ride, I felt like sharing the story, our story, of how it all started. Though we’re still far from victory and there’s a million things than can go wrong, it may give a bit of hope to some entrepreneurs in need of faith.
In May last year, we were working on a mobile App we had launched 2 years before. It was a pre-AppStore project which had known some ups and downs. We knew we had to do something but, heads down in what we were doing, we were thinking evolutionary and not revolutionary. We had done a v1, then a v2 so we were designing… a v3. Before we developed it, I had a chance to pitch it to Jeff Clavier. He didn’t seem too excited: his high point of the meeting was a picture of his breakfast to try out then fund-raising Foodspotting. But he said something I remember: “you’re trying to do content curation on mobile”. Curation? In all the pitches that followed, curation came out as the main thing. It made us feel good: curation was going to be a big trend in social media, bringing quality after years of quantity. And we couldn’t fail as we had built curation capabilities in our App, right? Wrong! Because we had built much more than a Curation App. And we were trying to be too many things at the same time. All of us in the Scoop.it team are geeks. But when blogs became a big thing back in the early 2000′s, we were all working on something else.
So we weren’t part of the “blog wave” which saw the rise of many famous bloggers as an alternative media. Reid Hoffman told me “personally” I was among the first 100,000 LinkedIn users and I got to Facebook before many of my friends but what gives me away is my lack of early-on appetite for Twitter. Sure, we understood the value of social media for early-on bloggers, ready to invest long hours managing their social media presence or for celebrities. But if you were not any of those, this was really frustrating. How did you get people to follow you?
How could you publish something to an audience that would care? The urban legend with Social Media was that we could all express ourselves but the massive creation of content ironically brought us back to the situation where only a few were getting heard.
Social Media didn’t feel to be “for the rest of us”. So, as we started to realise our v3 wasn’t going to crack it, we decided to do something dramatically different. Marc and I and the team connected the dots and came out with a shared ambition: we were going to use the curation capabilities we had built in our platform to solve the frustration we had with social media.
An ambition we felt passionate about because it was about solving an issue we personally felt. It was about building a product we would all use every day. And we felt there were many people like us out there. We also changed drastically the development method: Marc decided we were going to build the product in 3 weeks. The minimum viable product, that we would launch in private beta under a new name. We made sacrifices: we dropped the focus on mobile to make it a Web platform, we decided to focus specifically on the curators needs (readers would naturally come if we did a good job), we cut out most of the features we had already built. The result was a very simple service, which main action fitted nicely with the domain name we just had a chance to buy: Scoop.it. Today, Scoop.it has grown to 2m visits a month at a steady 35% monthly growth rate.
Beyond the numbers, it’s been an immense satisfaction to see it being used every day by awesome people: among others, some well-respected curators who helped us understand very deeply their needs and saw some added value in Scoop.it over the tools they previously had; some new comers who started publishing a media for the very first time thanks to Scoop.it; some content creators who saw Scoop.it as an opportunity to enrich their blogs with curated pieces; some educators eager to explore new ways to share knowledge.
Last week, I was at a party hosted by a well-known iPad media reader, an App which reputation is built on surfacing quality content to their readers. I discovered all of their curators were using Scoop.it. To all of these enthusiastic early-users, Marc, the team and I are infinitely grateful.
I’m not mentioning that to brag or to conform with some tradition nal Oscar-style speech (we haven’t won anything, remember…): but behind every start-up, there’s usually a painful story like ours so users’ support really count double. And it’s also an essential act of entrepreneurship to actively but objectively assess product validation. Failing also helped on this front: our previous mobile App had supporters; fans even. It’s easy to think you’ve got traction, just based on qualitative positive feedback, ignoring hard quantitative data. This time, we went to much larger extent to measure stickiness, users’ fatigue, viral spread and a lot of other things: they all look great and I won’t bother you with them but the point is that you can be failing without realising it. Just by not looking hard enough. One of my VC’s told me one day: “the problem is not failing; the problem is losing 3-4 years of your life not working on a good problem”. We absolutely know the road ahead is still very long and that we have much to do and to prove. But the private beta we’re ending today taught us we focused on a good problem which is fantastic to work on: helping our users finding their voice.
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