Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Introducing PostPost and a New Way to Finance Startups

Yesterday we launched PostPost, a realtime Facebook newspaper that I created over the past few months. The launch was covered in Time, CNN, Mashable, and other news sources. PostPost lays out all of the interesting links, videos and photos that your friends have posted to their Facebook profiles, in the familiar format of modern news sites like the Huffington Post. Since it is the Post of posts, we called it PostPost.



Previous attempts at this type of solution relied on strangers choosing what is interesting like Digg, an algorithmic solution like Google News, and editorial solutions like the Huffington Post and Drudge Report. Facebook’s underlying platform lets PostPost display what your friends have found interesting, a truly personalized news experience.

Does this sound like a company or a feature? Can’t someone else create something like this in a couple months? In fact, we can ask this about a lot of the “startups” that we read about every day.

I wrote the first version of PostPost in the midst of selling Transpond, a social marketing platform company that I had founded, to Webtrends, a period of "merger stasis" when not much gets done since decisions are deferred. PostPost was an experiment in technology, in that it is a 100% clientside. I first wrote it in Python on Google App Engine, then in PHP since Google App Engine would be expensive if the app popped, and then chucked that and rewrote the whole thing in just JavaScript on the browser so that there would be no server and it would scale infinitely and in real time direct to Facebook.

Once I finished the first version of PostPost and showed it to a few friends, we were all pretty enamored with it. It is addictive. And then we realized that it was potentially valuable. It’s the next Digg! The next Huffington Post! The standard course of action here is to raise money, hire ad sales people, do deals, and create a company around it.

In the midst of writing PostPost, Flipboard and Paper.li launched with very different approaches. Both have servers that have choked and offer news that is significantly delayed. Flipboard is well funded by KP and targeting the iPad only, and provides an innovative user interface for pad-based browsing. Techrunch is raving that VC's were dying to invest in Paper.li, but I found it to be pretty lacking since its server based architecture updates your news once a day - to be frank, if I want to read 24 hour old news, I'll go buy the paper version of the New York Times.

I completely understand how Techcrunch, super angels, and feature startups are all highly invested in creating "companies" out of features. However, I did not want to participate. I had just been through this whole process, was now at Webtrends and committed to helping drive social and mobile there. From a technology perspective, PostPost was boring – we wrote the entire shipping version in less than 120 manhours, and that included the two server side versions that were tossed, and there isn’t even a big data server to scale and optimize. There are some more fun features to add, like sorting by Like velocity and mobile versions, but all in all the product was fully baked in short order, and was competitive with much larger organizations due to its unique technical architecture.

In the midst of this, I showed it to friends of mine at TigerLogic (Nasdaq:TIGR), where I serve on the advisory board. Among its products, TigerLogic has an innovative search product called Yolink that searches within a set of links for your search terms and surfaces the relevant paragraphs. And we had a joint epiphany: PostPost was the perfect use case for Yolink, since with Yolink search users could search within all of the posted links from all of the disparate data sources. A deal was quickly consummated for TigerLogic to pay to add design polish and finalize the product and for us to share downstream revenue, and PostPost is now being launched by TigerLogic.

I think that this type of outcome will become more and more common in Silicon Valley and elsewhere as more and more of these types of “feature companies” launch and search for alternative means of financing beyond seed financing. It is that rare situation where everybody wins: Entrepreneurs get a share of downstream revenue and don’t have to be attached to a project for four years. Corporations get access to innovative products that add new revenue streams and promote and cross-sell their existing products. Investors can focus on the bigger opportunities. And we can all stop pretending that features are companies.

2 comments:

Alek said...

Very bright idea! Do you have any development plans for this project? I think with offline_access granted and search query news block can be hosted in form of the blog or web site. For example, if I want to setup blog about my gaming activity, can limit search by "game" keyword and just post newsblock related to gaming experience as a separate blog ;-)

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