Building A Company On The Back Of Facebook Is Like 'Opening A McDonald's On An Active Volcano'

Scott delong viral nova founderScott DelongScott DeLong, Viral Nova editor

It’s tempting to build a startup on the backbone of a larger company like Facebook, which can send generous traffic and ease monetary pain temporarily for founders. But when that source of traffic decides to cut you off, it can cause once-promising startups to struggle or fail.

Viddy, Branchout, Zynga and Path all gained a lot of initial users on Facebook. When Facebook cut them off, it wasn’t easy to bounce back. Now Facebook is causing a lot of web publishers to feel the same pain.

Last year, Facebook flooded content producers with traffic, possibly to prepare for the news reader it’s launching, Paper. But in December, Facebook said it’d be changing its algorithms to bury “fluff” content and highlight substantive content instead.

One startup that got particularly good at earning Facebook traffic was ViralNova. In just eight months, it soared from no traffic to 100 million monthly visitors. Its content closely resembles BuzzFeed’s and UpWorthy’s.

Now startups like ViralNova are starting to feel the pinch. It’s one reason ViralNova’s founder and sole employee, Scott DeLong, is considering selling his company.

He likens a startup dependent on Facebook to opening a “McDonald’s on an active volcano.”

DeLong wouldn’t be opposed to spending money to increase his content’s visibility on Facebook. In fact, he’s spent a good amount getting ViralNova’s traffic to where it is now.

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