Those of you that were around about two years ago, will probably recognize most of today’s post…it’s a copy of what I published to the knowabout.it blog when we finally decided to give up on it as a company.
I’m republishing it today to round out the details on why knowabout.it didn’t work out.
Since publishing this, Will is still at Stack Exchange and loving life. I went on to help PubGears automate and scale much of their business (for the past two years) before recently deciding to go all-in on building Coach Wizard into a real company and big success.
Also I have since put out a new, smaller and refocused, version of knowabout.it that is really just a service meant to solve a small personal problem (not a business).
Why are we giving up?
The short answer is a lack of money.
For Knowabout.it to work, it has to catch all the links being shared with you across all your social networks as well as all the content you yourself are generating across those networks, then it has to actually visit each of those links and index the content it finds there, finally a variety of algorithms are applied to every bit of content we’ve collected for you to determine which are most relevant to you.
While we’ve worked really hard to do as much as possible with as little as possible, the reality is that all that data collection and processing does adds up. Bootstrapping in this realm could only get us so far, and I think for a variety of reasons, we were never able to land the outside funding we desperately needed to take the system to the next level.
I believe we had a very unique and interesting approach that was working for our users on a personal level (the open rates on our daily emails were consistently in the 20-30% range and our unique user click rates were consistently in the 30-40% range every single day, even as our user numbers grew).
But we never cracked the ‘how to be viral’ puzzle, so gaining traction was proving to be a ‘long haul’ process (we continued to add a handful of new users ever day, but it was not a hockey stick by any means)…and we never came up with a revenue plan that worked prior to reaching critical mass (note to fellow entrepreneurs from captain obvious: ‘long haul growth’ with no immediate revenue plans is an express lane to guaranteed failure).
So we had what we believed to be a really good product with a massive amount of potential and a slowly growing and fairly engaged fan base, but we were slowly burning through our own bank accounts and had nothing on the horizon to signal this was going to change any time soon.
In the meantime, new competitors were coming out of the woodwork daily.
Some with better UI/UX and design. Some with better industry connections to help their product gain the general public’s attention. Some with deep pockets who could afford to hire more staff, take their time building out their product, and simply outlast the rest of us.
All of which really just segmented the potential user base and added to the confusion for all the users.
Ultimately you only need one recommendation engine (if you believe you need one at all — and many people don’t yet).
What were we to do?
To be honest, we’ve struggled with this reality for awhile now trying to figure out the best way to move forward.
We entertained a handful of acquisition opportunities, but in the end, none made enough sense on a personal level for Will and I to fully pursue. We also had some discussions around a pure assets and IP sale, but since we had no investors (other than ourselves) to satisfy, we ultimately decided that we would rather keep (and possibly repurpose) what we’ve built than have a fire sale.
By simply shutting down knowabout.it (and the current version of pu.ly by extension) we are free to reuse parts of our proprietary recommendation algorithms and processes in our other projects as we see fit.
So while we are sad to have failed to keep knowabout.it alive long enough to evolve into the world-changing service we knew it could be…we are proud of having played the game our way, relieved to be exiting on our own terms, and excited to be heading on to the next game.
Hopefully one of the other services that remain will eventually fill the hole we are leaving (personally I’ve got high hopes for both news.me and getprismatic.com)…and more importantly, I hope that those of you that took the time and interest to go on this journey with us will join us on the next trip as well.
I can’t guarantee that it will be any more successful the next time around, but I can promise we’ll continue to do our best and always try to make it as fun and personally useful to you as possible!
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Kevin also talks in more depth about many of the these things around twice a month via his drip campaign and has a day job as CTO of Veritonic. You can also check out some of his open source code on GitHub or connect with him on Twitter @falicon or via email at kevin at falicon.com.
If you have comments, thoughts, or want to respond to something you see here I would encourage you to respond via a post on your own blog (and then let me know about the link via one of the routes mentioned above).