Twitter user growth is to slow, the business model is an afterthought, investors are unhappy with market value and the international software communications platform is not planning on turning things around any time soon. These phrases listed above are just four of the most ridiculous headlines which have appeared on the world wide web in the month of June, 2014.
Realistically, the San Francisco, California based social media, messaging corporation, Twitter, is exactly where it should be. In the last fifty two weeks, Twitter, INC. has seen a low of $29.51, a high of $74.73 and the business presently holds a New York Stock Exchange value of $41.33. The company went public on November 7th, 2013 and has over one thousand operating staff members in their San Francisco office. Dick Costolo is the chief executive officer, Jack Dorsey is the executive chairman, Biz Stone is the Founder and Evan Williams is the Co-Founder of the all-inclusive technology computer program, Twitter.
Dick Costolo has had past product management, business operations and investor growth experience at FlowPlay, Google, FeedBurner, About.Me, TellApart and TubeMogul. Aside from Twitter, Jack Dorsey is the Chief Executive Officer of mobile payments company Square, has been acknowledged as a member of Time Magazines one hundred most powerful human beings and was named as an exceptional pioneer under thirty five years of age by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Review. Evan Williams is the chief executive officer at news blog Medium, a consultant at curated web messaging system Branch and Co-Founder of project management software Pyra Labs. Biz Stone has experience working with Medium, Jelly, Obvious, Google and Xanga.
Medium, Evan Williams’ clean and beautiful attempt at revamping the way people write and read online, is considering raising a venture round according to the rumor mill. We’re hearing that the company, which has been subsisting on angel money apparently, is thinking about finally taking money from VCs.
One number we’ve heard tossed out is a $20 million raise, and one venerable firm name that’s also been tossed around is Greylock Partners, though it’s unclear whether Williams, who became a billionaire in the Twitter IPO, needs to raise money to support his fledgling company.
Nothing is set in stone quite yet.
Newly anointed Greylock general partner Josh Elman was a Williams loyalist amid the executive tumult between Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey and current CEO Dick Costolo. So it wouldn’t be that surprising to see Elman reel in a deal like this. I have reached out to Elman, Williams and others at Greylock for comment, and have not heard back from anyone.
Like Blogger and Twitter, Medium has ambitious goals. And it might be Williams’ third home run in a row, aiming to be the place on the web where thought leadership and high quality content thrives. It’s getting there, despite quite a few ill-advised posts from a couple of tech founders.
Raising a venture round would make sense for the company, which has grand plans and may need to make even bolder acquisitions to succeed. The company acquired Matter in April, and continues to iterate on its product, with its latest redesign coming right before the holidays.
It would also mean a continuation of the fat-content movement, where innovative new media companies like Vox and Buzzfeed require hefty amounts of venture capital in order to support more in depth, curated content.
Yahoo’s Tumblr buy has made Medium a tempting bet for VCs — if Medium will have them.
GigaOm’s Roadmap Conference opened yesterday with a clear message from Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom — “some of the biggest services in the world started off with really simple problems.” The day’s themes were around focussing your product, going deep on user experience, empowering meaningful, high-quality content, and embracing design as a way of running your startup. It was an inspired roster of speakers and a promising outlook for the role of design in startups.
Kickstarter’sPerry Chen talked to their team’s desire to stay small and focussed saying, “We want to do great things, but we want to stay small. To stay committed to the one thing that we do well. To shape the experience around this one thing that we’re committed to.” Similarly, Evan Williams shared that the goal of Medium, a product aimed at re-inventing publishing, “isn’t to reach the entire world; it’s to create depth of value.” And the strict focus and product experience was echoed even further by Systrom. “Once products become really popular,” he said, “there’s a tendency to expand into additional verticals. But I decided really early that what we were going to do instead is take what we have and go really deep on the user experience. What can we do to make this experience superlative? What can we do to shave off load time? We believe that user experience is what makes people come back to the product again and again.”
The startup community has matured. “You’re going to have the smartest people in the world working as hard as they can, competing at every corner of the industry,” Williams said. So stay focused on your core mission and go deep.
Empower creators of high quality content.
Malik spoke to one of the major pain points of the internet — there’s simply too much information out there and not enough context. Twitter’s main API, for example, is called “The Firehose” — and it’s exactly that, a stream of new content with very little context and parsing.
But over the last few years, the shift has been towards the creator. For Instagram, it’s not about consumption, but about participation. During the past week’s hurricane, over 800K photos were tagged #Sandy — compared to the Super Bowl’s 85K. “You weren’t far away,” Systrom said, “You weren’t watching it on TV. You were participating in real time.” For Kickstarter, their bets are on creators. Chen said that “2% of the population is creators. 60K people have created projects on Kickstarter. And 3,000,000 people have backed a project.” For Medium, they’re betting on the fact that all creators are not created equal. “One of the things we’re trying to go contrary on at Medium is that it’s not always about new,” Williams said. Medium aims to improve quality on the web by empowering those influences who have better stories to tell and better insights to share.
Embrace design as a way of running your startup.
Design’s role in startups has long been misunderstood. AirBnB’s co-founder Joe Gebbia shared that when AirBnB launched in 2008 their founding team of 2 designers and 1 engineer were introduced to 20 investors. And of that group, 10 replied, 3 met them for coffee, and zero invested. “We broke the mold of the traditional founding model for a startup,” Gebbia said. “People had a hard time understanding how a designer from art school could run a successful internet business.”
Zooming out even further, Systrom questioned the very role of design in a startup, asking if designers were even necessary in every company? “No,” he answered, referencing commodity businesses where simply shipping a product at a low cost might be all you need. “But,” he added, “if you decide that user experience is core to your company and if you believe that it can push the way forward, everything from the slides you put up at board meetings to the way you interview people matters.”
AirBnb baked design in from day one — taking the time to design the entire user experience from the maps to the review forms. Warby Parker? Same thing. CEO and co-founder Dave Gilboa thoughtfully discussed that they spent a year and a half designing a beautiful site, thick card stock printed elements in their packaging, and a really polished product. And Medium? They’re competing for designers because, as Williams stated, “they’re no longer a nice-to-have.”
If yesterday’s Roadmap conference is any indication of where the world’s most talented entrepreneurs are betting, it’s on design’s role as an essential element within the startup to create positive impact in the world. More design-savvy companies means more holistic, richer products. More high-quality content means a higher bar for the internet as a whole. And more understanding around the role of design in a startup means that design is no longer something you slap on at the end, but rather, as Williams said, “a part of everything that you do.”
Participants in our recent mediation challenge reported gains in their own effectiveness, too: 75% told us that meditation improved their focus at work and 90% learned skills that they could apply to other areas of their life. What kind of skills can you build while sitting in silence?
Meditation Trains Your Brain for the Big Game: Your Life
You’ll learn mindfulness techniques in meditation that will train your mental muscles how to pay attention. For instance, you’ll practice taking breaths, scanning your body, and concentrating on how things feel, taste or sound.
Meditating for a few minutes every day is like shooting freethrows at the end of basketball practice. Instead of training your arms for the perfect shot, you’re teaching your brain how to think with focus for maximum mental performance.
Since you use your brain all of the time, you’ll notice improvements in every task you do. For instance, Lift survey participants told us they:
Talked to their spouse without thinking about checking their phone messages
Stayed calm when a customer screamed at them by practicing their breathing techniques
Resolved a bout of insomnia by scanning their body to find the stress and let it go
It’s easy to get started with meditation, too. You have a 90% chance of continuing a meditation habit after 11 days according to our research.That’s as easy as taking your vitamins every day.
How to start building this habit:
Right Now: Go to calm.com and listen to their 2 minute guided meditationprogram. Now you’re a meditator.
The most frequently asked question I get when I talk to professional writers about contributing to Medium is, “What is Medium?”
Next up: “Do you pay?” and “How much?”
Ev has some great answers to question number one here, here, and here.
Sharp-eyed readers may have already noticed an answer to question number two in a November post from Ev. (A: Sometimes.)
In recent weeks, we’ve started to put this plan into action, so it’s a good time to explain more fully what we’ve been doing and why.
What we’ve been doing is paying some contributors at competitive freelance rates. As for why: Our goal is to make Medium the best platform possible for everyone to share great ideas or stories. This should certainly include those whose profession is doing so.
In other words, we need to build a sustainable business that provides writers a variety of rewards — from intellectual growth to influence to, at times, money. We’re not there yet, but we figure we should start experimenting sooner rather than later. This effort encompasses a tiny percentage of Medium content today, but, depending on what we discover, it may grow or change over time.
Until then, here’s where things stand:
Q: Why is Medium paying writers?
A: One of our long-term goals is to bring in readers to enjoy content of all kinds, whether commissioned or not; great commissioned writing will help attract those readers. One of our other long-term goals is to create sustainable models to support writers. Right now, as we are learning more about what works on Medium and what doesn’t, we are funding some content ourselves.
Q: Who is getting paid?
A: Our editorial team is contracting with a few people to contribute one-off articles and ongoing columns.
Q: How do I get paid?
A: We are accepting pitches from experienced professional magazine writers for reported features and investigative articles. To be considered, email us at email@example.com.
You probably don’t know I exist. Which is fine. There is a billion people in the world. One can’t simply be aware of everyone’s existence let alone know them. But I admire your work and you seem like a decent chap.
When I first got invited to the Medium beta, I was ecstatic. It truly seemed like something different than WordPress/Blogger (Yes one of yours no offence intended) and a dozen other blogs/platforms out there. It focused on quality. Quality of writing and quality of the community. I discovered interesting, thoughtful, soulful and beautiful pieces of writing. It brought back the joy of reading books and essays as a teenager. The time before publishing was democratized and there was not so much noise and vanity metrics.
But then I started finding some ‘disappointing’ posts on Medium. Posts that had a snappy title like ‘10 Ways To Increase Your SEO’. Worse still they have the horrid line at the end ‘ If You Like This Please Hit The Recommend Button Below <3’ — yes that’s right, some folks even make a tiny heart to emotionally blackmail people into recommending their posts. From there the algorithm(?) takes over and it displays all the ‘most recommended’ posts from collections I follow to the top despite the fact that these posts perhaps don’t belong on Medium, which in your own words is a place to share ideas, read and write better (not quoting you here). Now it feels like its driven by page views and recommendations. This reminds me alot of Quora and Reddit where up-votes don’t always bring out the best quality of content.
I feel a certain nostalgia to the early days of Medium when I would login and see Editors Picks on the front page. Now I am bombarded with the collections I follow and I can’t seem to find Editors Pick exclusively on my front page, which would put me in the flow to discover more content with the help of the next recommended reading.
Without a second thought I knew the prose that made Editors Picks would enrich my day, teach me something new and make me reflect on life in general. When I first started reading Medium I was relieved to see a writing & reading platform that focused on quality. I was relieved to see stories and meaningful content. I think somewhere during that time Medium at-least for me is turning into another publishing platform and lost the focus on quality of writing & community.
I am by no means implying that I am one of those people who write thoughtful, reflective pieces but I distinctively remember when I decided to write my first post on Ramadan, I was intimidated and overwhelmed by the quality of writing on Medium and was not sure if I should even write something.
I know that Medium is at 1.0 now which is a big step in its life. I wish it the best years ahead and I am and will be a user (both writing and reading) but I feel like Medium lost a little something along the way and I would for one love to see it back.
P.S: If I am being irrational or ‘taking it the wrong way’ on any of the above, I would like nothing more then to be proven otherwise.
We’re now eight months into building Medium, having started in earnest in February of this year. In August, we launched what I call the “preview” version—which included viewing content publicly and creation for a small whitelist of folks. No real homepage, discovery, profiles, or many other important features.
We’re now in the process of rolling out several of those things, as well as changing other stuff. So, we’re still in the nascent stages. We haven’t opened up, tried to grow, or, certainly, proven we have product/market fit.
Still, it’s been educational. Here are some of my observations this time around:
Even if they’re awesome, having too big of a team will slow you down.
One of the luxuries we’ve had at Obvious is the ability to hire an amazingly high-caliber engineering and design team. In fact, I was so hard-wired from Twitter to hire every great engineer or designer I could find, we built a team of ten or so amazing folks before we knew exactly what we were going to do. Yes, that’s a tiny company—but a lot of people to be in “garage phase” with.
I always assumed, even if we had a few too many people to start, we’d quickly need all of them as the product began to take shape. This has proven to be true. We’re now about fifteen, everyone is extremely busy, and we’re looking to grow. But I underestimated the cost of having too many people around the table in the beginning.
Capable people need meaty challenges. There are no meaty challenges in the very beginning except defining what it is exactly (or approximately) you’re doing. That’s a job you can’t divide up too finely. And the communication costs of keeping everyone in sync with the daily changes is daunting.
Nothing clarifies focus like a date. (Or: If you don’t have a tough constraint, make one up.)
Historically, I’ve been constrained by engineering resources and money. These are good forcing functions to drive simplicity. It’s caused me no end of angst that I couldn’t make our products as great as I wanted to in the past.
With Medium, we have an engineering team that can build anything, matched with large ambitions, and plenty of capital. How do we ensure we don’t create something overly complex and/or fail to ship at all? By picking a date.
The reason we did our preview launch in August was simply to get something out the door. As soon as we picked the date and a minimal feature set, we got rid of loads of other features we were playing with (some of which we’ll bring back, some of which we won’t). We also identified and built a bunch of infrastructure we’d need to host real users. And we got more done in less time than I’d ever seen any team do. It was magical and fun. Before we had the date, frankly, we were drifting.
Getting something out the door was key also because it clarified our vision and focus more. We were making fewer guesses—not because of explicit user feedback and data analysis as much as just observing and experiencing real-world usage. As Matt Mullenweg put it,
Usage is like oxygen for ideas.
Designing a product from scratch is always hard.
This is my third or fourth publishing platform and fourth or fifth company (depending on which ones you count). It’s the culmination of ideas I’ve been thinking about as far back as 2000. And yet, it’s a struggle to figure out exactly what Medium should be.
Things that are hard
Boiling down over a dozen years of ideas and observations (and those are just mine, let alone the rest of the team).
Analyzing the current landscape and predicting where its all going.
Wanting to be extremely ambitious, but knowing the value of simplicity (and the pitfalls of trying to be too many things to too many people).
Having your sights on aspirational goals while taking into account the realities of how users react.
Wanting to move quickly to try stuff and yet embrace your team’s perfectionist tendencies.
Knowing that some “little” decisions you make today will have enormous consequences down the road—and some won’t really matter.
Designing a product is keeping five thousand things in your brain and fitting them all together in new and different ways to get what you want. And every day you discover something new that is a new problem or a new opportunity to fit these things together a little differently.
And it’s that process that is the magic.
I’m no Steve Jobs, but my confidence about product design has gotten much stronger over the years. At the same time, the bar I hold myself and the team to is higher, as well—so it hasn’t gotten easier. We sweat all the details, and we’re constantly unsatisfied with where we’re at. Welcome (again) to startup life.