my baby’s not ugly

I’ve written about startups that persist despite the failure of others, as well as about startup postmortems, so this may seem ironic: we’ve decided to stop active work on Bynamite. To make a long story short, my cofounder and I have both received compelling offers to work at large Internet companies, offers that we don’t think rational people would refuse. Unfortunately, the companies involved do not want to purchase Bynamite.

As a startup founder, whenever anyone tells you that your idea won’t work, that it won’t be popular, that no one will care, that no one wants it – you hear all of this as: “Your baby is ugly.” Founders invest time, money, emotion and the goodwill of their friends and family into the company; it really can feel like raising a baby. It saddens me that I haven’t been able to find a home for our pride and joy.

I couldn’t even get the company “acqhired” – that is, have our company acquired merely in order to hire Ian and me. That kind of “hacquisition” seems pretty common around Silicon Valley these days, but I failed to get it done. It hardly makes a difference though – a hire wrapped up in a sale is merely a mask. Our goal wasn’t to build a resume in the form of a company, we were aiming a lot higher than just getting hired. It’s important to own your failures, and this experience has certainly given me plenty to learn from.

But I’m proud of what we were able to do in the time we had. We put out a beautiful service that received nice launch coverage and some industry mindshare. Serious publications highlighted Bynamite as a useful tool and a company to watch. We took a little shot at the opportunity and had good enough results to seriously question why we won’t take it further. I’ll probably detail and try to answer those questions in a later post, but not for a while.

In the meantime, I still have a passion for the relationship between online advertisers and consumers. To the extent my new duties allow, I’ll keep Bynamite up as a hobby project outside of work. I’ll consider selling the assets to someone who cares about the product, or perhaps even turn it into an open source or otherwise community-supported effort. If you have any ideas about what to do with Bynamite, feel free to comment here or send me a note via LinkedIn.

launch PR: New York Times vs TechCrunch

This post is inspired by a similar post by Udemy – I’m trying to add useful information for all the folks who are working hard and trying to get their products noticed.

Bynamite | Internet By The PeopleWe launched our beta product at Bynamite about a month ago, and were lucky to get covered in the New York Times.  I wish this post could be about “How To Get Covered in The New York Times,” because that would be some really valuable information for the startup community.  But we were simply very lucky – a friend introduced us to a potential business partner who was really interested in our story, who introduced us to the Times reporter, who had been thinking and writing about related issues for a long time.  Everyone in the chain was very thoughtful and patiently dedicated to understanding what, if anything, is interesting about what we’re doing.  Sometimes the pieces just fall into place, and that’s what happened here.

Before that series of fortunate events, we had been preparing a more traditional scrappy startup PR strategy, which I learned from the interwebs.  Balsamiq‘s marketing advice and launch homework are invaluable; in particular I was focused on the 10 PR tips from Weebly.  We had identified about 45 blogs, big and small, that I intended to contact one by one, with the holy grail being coverage in one or more of the major tech blogs – TechCrunch, Mashable, ReadWriteWeb, GigaOM and VentureBeat.  Just as I was starting to reach out to the list, the Times reporter confirmed that his story was very likely to go forward in the Sunday business section.

At that point, we had a decision to make.  On the one hand, the TechCrunchosphere is the place to launch consumer tech products – the audience is intelligent, opinionated, and early adopting.  This is an audience that understands that startup companies launch “unfinished” product.  It’s not a good idea to get mainstream press before your company is really ready for it.  On the other hand, our product goes contrary to the tech orthodoxy that had largely proclaimed that no one cares about privacy.  Would TechCrunch readers be the wrong audience for our more mainstream message?

Although these are complicated concerns, we didn’t take long at all to decide, and we were swayed for one irresistible reason: it’s the New York freaking Times!  As much as I’m with the punditocracy that declares newspapers dead, I just couldn’t help myself – I grew up reading the Times, and I really wanted to see if we could get in the paper, the good ol’ physical, dead-tree paper.  So we saved the blog efforts for a later time – hopefully after we’ve learned our lessons from the beta and are ready to relaunch with a more complete product.  It’s sort of a topsy-turvy press strategy, and there’s probably a whole ‘nother post in whether or not it’s stupid, but that’s not the point here.  The cool thing today is that we get to compare results from different PR launch paths.

Here’s the Visits graph from Udemy’s launch:

Udemy Screen-shot-2010-05-24

Here’s a similar graph from Bynamite’s launch:

Bynamite Screenshot 2010-08-13

Here’s the referral chart from Udemy:

Udemy referral chart

And the corresponding chart from Bynamite:

Bynamite referral chart

Now, the point here is NOT to say that Bynamite PR is any better or worse than Udemy PR!  That kind of comparison would draw all sorts of wrong conclusions, not least because I’ve cheated here by including 30 days of data to Udemy’s 23 days.  Also, note that Bynamite is a browser extension that records a page view when the extension bar pops up (that’s why the Avg. Time on Site is absurdly high).  Different products are going to have lots and lots of reasons for different metrics.

But the conclusion I’m willing to draw is that getting covered in the Times is roughly equivalent to coverage in the major tech blogs.  Not an order of magnitude higher, and certainly not smaller.  So for anyone hoping to confirm the relevance of mainstream media, I suppose that’s a victory of sorts, though it’s just as accurate to be amazed that media sources that barely existed 5 years ago are now equivalent to the “paper of record” that’s been around for 150 years.

It’s also interesting to note that both Udemy and Bynamite got a secondary bump 5 or 6 days after the original coverage.  In Udemy’s case, that bump exceeded the initial coverage, and was almost entirely driven by a mention in one source, Thrillist.  Bynamite’s secondary bump was smaller than the first, and was a result in pickup by many smaller sites that focus on covering downloadable apps.  Also like Udemy, our traffic has settled down to a much quieter pace, though significantly higher than the near complete obscurity prior to the press coverage.

I’m still digging through the details – and by the way, could use some help, if anyone reading this wants to drive through Google Analytics with me, let me know!