Open Startup: Askablogr’s 1-Year Birthday

Longtime readers will remember Askablogr, a blog Q&A widget I created with my friend Craig as an experiment in late 2007. I just realized that Wednesday was the product’s 1-year birthday, so here’s a brief update for anyone who’s been wondering what happened since I stopped paying attention.

Members: 701
Questions: 1,220
PageRank: 4
Alexa Rank: 785,941
Visits: 12,382
Page Views: 37,914
Average Time On Site: 2:17
AdSense Revenue: $22.19

Long story short, despite some early wins the idea never generated enough organic momentum to sustain itself. As I got busier with Founders Co-op, my attention shifted and the product and community stagnated.

Here are a few lessons learned (or reinforced) from the experience:

  • Distribution is King: This is a recurring theme on this blog so it won’t come as a suprise to anyone. The Web is so vast that no offering stands a chance unless it comes with a unique insight about how to cost-effectively attract customers. Our best wins in this area were on the PR front, but PR isn’t a sustainable strategy for customer acquisition. The bet was that, as bloggers and blog readers encountered Askablogr in the wild, some would adopt the feature themselves, slowly building organic momentum around the offering. But the idea wasn’t good enough to garner a sufficient base of installs to sustain organic growth, and the weak economic fundamentals of the product forestalled an aggressive paid distribution strategy.
  • Constant Innovation is Table Stakes: At Founders Co-op, we don’t invest in companies where at least one of the founders (and preferably all of them) is a strong a versatile software engineer. But Craig built Askablogr as a side-project and both of us treated it more like an interesting experiment rather than a core activity. As a result, we were slow to turn around members’ feature requests and – as soon as we got busy – stopped making anything but critical updates. I’m not sure that the idea had enough merit to become a success, but our lack of responsiveness to customer feedback almost guaranteed the lackluster results.
  • Starting a Web Software Company is Staggeringly Cheap and Fast: Results aside, we built Askablogr in very little time and (despite paying Craig for some of his hours) comparatively little cost. The biggest investment required to start a Web company is the opportunity cost of the founders’ time. This is the precious resource that we bet on and work to leverage with our Founders Co-op investments, applying our capital and time to accelerate the raw power of our founding teams’ brains and enthusiasm. In this context, team and opportunity selection are the critical steps, because a good team can progress very quickly from idea to product, and choosing the right idea conserves their time and energy by focusing it on the right activities.

At this point I’m not sure what to do with Askablogr. I still think it’s a useful and well-executed feature for certain kinds of bloggers, but I’m not giving it the love it needs even to support that niche purpose. If you know of a Rails developer who’s looking for a project and wants to take it over, send them my way