September 21, 2008

My FriendFeed presentation from MIT/Stanford Venture Lab

Last week, I gave a short presentation about FriendFeed before a panel at the MIT/Stanford Venture Lab. The panel, entitled "Lifestreaming: The Real-time Web," included me, Loic Le Meur (Seesmic), Leah Culver (Pownce), and Jeff Clavier (SoftTechVC), and it was moderated by Kara Swisher.

After Louis Gray's writeup of my presentation and Kara Swisher's video made the rounds on FriendFeed, I have gotten a number of requests for my slides. I uploaded my presentation to Scribd, and it is embedded below.

The slides that got the most attention were about FriendFeed's traffic. FriendFeed has stored over 100 million entries shared by FriendFeed users. Getting to that point was a bit rocky. This slide shows FriendFeed's traffic growth in its first four months:

FriendFeed launched in private beta a little less than a year ago with a great article in the New York Times, but, like most start-ups, that initial attention dropped quickly. By the end of our fourth month, our traffic levels had just creeped up to the levels we had at launch. Needless to say, it was a tough and emotional time for all of us at FriendFeed as we grappled with the product, marketing, and PR issues that may have been contributing to our stagnant growth.

That growth curve quickly changed over the rest of the year. Here is FriendFeed's traffic until August or so (I highlighted the time period from the previous graph):

Those first four months don't even register on the y-axis we have grown so much since. So what happened around March? Diagnosing success and failure is a favorite past time of many in Silicon Valley, and I expect this blog post will inspire an analysis or two. I included a few of our theories in the slides. Among the features that have contributed to our growth:

  • Public launch - We launched out of private beta in late February, opening sign-ups and getting a brief surge of press.
  • Timing - Life-streaming, open forms of social networking, and the "real-time web" became popular trends around that time period with the growing popularity of Twitter, FriendFeed, and others. FriendFeed certainly benefited (both in terms of PR and user adoption) from the increased attention on the space.
  • Developer API - We launched the FriendFeed API in that time period, which inspired a wide range of desktop and mobile applications. Some, like Twhirl, had established user-bases, and the addition of FriendFeed support made using FriendFeed seamless for a large number of new users.
  • Speed and reliability - We have focused quite a bit on making FriendFeed fast, responsive, and reliable. Many of our users started using the site because it is faster and more reliable than sites that serve similar functions.
  • The press uses FriendFeed - Since FriendFeed is about content discovery, it has been fairly widely adopted by content producers, from bloggers to professional journalists. We have tried to make the product work well for this unique (but important) subset of our users. As a consequence, I think FriendFeed has gotten more press than many other products of its size.
  • FriendFeed Rooms - We launched FriendFeed Rooms to make it easier for groups like classes, conference attendees, and companies to adopt FriendFeed. Since then, it has been adopted for an incredibly wide range of uses, from Life Science discussions to Live-blogging the Apple WWDC, and many of our users have joined to participate in a particular Room.

Whatever the specific reasons, this growth timeline is not atypical for new web services. Check out this interesting post about Weebly's growth from David Rusenko, for example. As David put it, "If you give up within a month or two, your product definitely won't be successful."

I also think growth comes in stages, and our company has significant challenges ahead of us as our product and user base evolves to become more mainstream. I know there are other great blog posts about this topic from entrepreneurs — if you know of any good articles, I'd love to see links in the comments.