The Proof is in the People

Forecasting the next big thing on the web seems to be the sport of the season these days. Each quarter, new companies launch and put themselves at the mercy of the blogosphere and the press with the hopes of being the next media darling.

But is being a media darling a good indicator of how well a new business will do? Not necessarily. During a recent meeting at Newsvine, Nick Hanauer said something to the team which I believe deserves some further thought:

“Almost every time a great idea is first presented, people tend to reject it.”

It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s often times true. An entrepreneur who always thinks along the lines of everyone else will produce a product or service just like everyone else’s. That’s usually a bad thing.

So it is with raised brow that I watch the plucking of the feathers by seemingly every single tech pundit on the interweb. I had never really checked out Gather before two weeks ago when a couple of reporters asked me about the company, but this week seems to be the week to pass judgement on them. I think the site, just like all sites, has a mix of good and bad, but the only way to determine if it will be successful in the end is to see how fast they react to their users and how nimble they are at running their business. I think a lot of the press and blogosphere are just expressing doubt about whether having 46 people on staff helps or hurts this objective.

Even though Newsvine is not a competitor of Gather, I do admit that I feel very fortunate (and humbled) to have most of the press, the blogosphere, and the public writing so positively about us right now. I’d like to think it’s because we have the beginnings of a great new way to get your news, and that we’re all nice people over here, but you never know. I think the Gather team is probably a bunch of nice people as well, but for some reason, people aren’t taking too kindly to what they’re presenting. My advice to Gather is to not let the cynics get you too low and not let the praise get you too high. We are in a constant state of improvement over here, regardless of the weather, and I think that’s the only thing that matters for any company moving forward.

I also feel very fortunate to have a company of five right now. We may hire a couple/few more people over the next several months, but the small footprint lets us improve the site daily and operate with minimal overhead. We have so many plans for new features… it’s just that none of them require blowing the staff out to old media proportions.

Those are words I may very well eat (and eat happily), but as of now, it behooves us, and any pre-money company to stay as small as possible until there are necessary reasons to spend more capital. Now, Gather may have found those reasons and others just aren’t smart enough to see them yet, or they’re just aggressively developing their company and aiming really high. Both of those can turn out quite well.

As for us, we’re just going to keep learning from our users and admitting we only know half of what we think we know. The moment you think you understand everything about the market you’re entering is the moment you exit it.

I’d like to close with a quote from an e-mail we received just a few hours ago from a Newsvine user:

“What if we want to contribute our ad earnings back to the site once the ads start appearing?”

It’s this sort of customer sentiment and goodwill that keeps us going every day. We realize there will eventually be bumps in the road with media coverage of Newsvine, but the only measuring stick we’re paying attention to right now is user opinion. We think we’re on to something, and to us, the proof is in the people.

21 comments on “The Proof is in the People”. Leave your own?
  1. Chad Edge says:

    Mike, I seem to thank you often for your posts (and the links they contain), so let me do it once more: Thank you.

    I keep a Basecamp project for, and I’ve added several posts by you along with the links for my very small (we’re 3, and my fiancé is one of them) team. The news you reference, the future of the Interweb, etc. all prove to be valuable reading material for us.

    I’m not saying we’re specifically modeling ourselves after the structure of Newsvine, far from it – it’s just the steps you’ve discussed and the attitude you have greatly match how we feel.

    I hope that our venture is 1/10th the fun and 1/10th the excitement that Newsvine has been for you – as long as we’re 10x the profitability :)

  2. Nathan Smith says:

    I am surprised that I like Newsvine so much, since I tend to be a late adopter of technology trends. It’s very intuitive, makes categories readily accessible, etc. My only qualm is that when you go to the Seed Newsvine page via the JavaScript browser button, the page resizes itself. It took me awhile, but I finally figured out the URL scheme to pass along a “seeded” link to the regular Seed a Link page (via 1-click on my blog) without JS. To me, it makes sense that these two would be the same page, but I’m sure you guys know best.

  3. I wish there was a place to see all the seeds in any given category. I really want to see what people are posting at any given time in real time. Is there anyway to do this? Kinda like digg has a digg spy. Its the best way to find hidden stories.

  4. Elliot Swan says:

    Great post.

    If you want to succeed, stop solving the problems that are already solved and find new problems that nobody knows about. Then solve those.

    There’s always a better way to do things, so you can always start with the things you already take for granted. Because chances are, they aren’t good enough.

    Newsvine is a great example of this. I took news (something we used to take for granted), and took it to a whole new level–a level that nobody had really done before now.

  5. Even though Newsvine is not a competitor of Gather

    Um, yes it is. User-generated newsblog content with revenue sharing, plus tagging and rating of news sources? Both are in the social news category, competing for the same users as Digg and Slashdot, and to a lesser extent and Topix. You should be glad of such market validation.

  6. Mike D. says:

    Paul: Yes, I suppose we all are in the “web site” category as well, which really makes things look bleak considering the competition from eBay, Amazon, Google, and Hampster Dance.

    As human beings, our instinct is to constantly try and make sense of the world around us by placing new things alongside the old things we are already familiar with. When we see something new, we are quick to draw as many comparisons as possible so as to decrease our anxiety of the unknown.

    You are free to consider sites like Newsvine competitors of whatever other sites you’d like. If a person has X number of minutes to use the internet every day, every site is competing for that attention. We don’t, however, view Gather, Digg, Slashdot, or any of the other sites you mention as competitors. If anything, it’s more like the’s of the world we’re trying to improve upon.

  7. Mike, that CNN comparison sounds as good as any, since we’re all making it up as we go along. Of course, everyone’s a unique snowflake if they want to be. Nevertheless, it’s going to become increasingly hard to escape blogger characterisations of the “news aggregator” or “social news” sector, or “News 2.0” as Michael Arrington christened it. Like the content of the sites themselves, the power to bestow labels is in the hands of the users.

  8. Mike D. says:

    Totally Paul. I agree.

    I just wanted to make clear that our approach is neither to create a new category, nor join a “newish” category currently inhabited by early adopter and techie types. It’s to take a very old and enormously higher trafficked category (point and click mainstream news) and inject it with the new life that it so needs.

  9. Shel Israel says:

    But, can you name one company who achieved greatness without becoming a media darling? The press isn’t there when that great idea is first presented. They come in later, when companies go through the public scrutiny that filters out so many well-intended companies from that level of greatness.

  10. dave says:

    Just like to point out that Newsvine will indeed succed possibly though you need to stop aiming the product and changes based around the views been given to you. Yes to some extent but you have stated you want this site to be the masses and in no way is the membership of newsvine for the masses yet. The views and opnions given are justified and i indeed love the site but for and newsvine to get your overall aim at a site for the masses where they click the green button as well as the blue E then you need to start broadaning the user range and getting the masses into the site… If you manage this then yes newsvine will still be great but it will also achieve the aims of the company and no matter how successful a company is to the outside it will never have the same feeling as realising you have reached your own goals….

  11. Zeerus says:

    I totally agree with everything that’s been said. Though I’m only 15 years old I desperately want to create something thatw ill permanently leave my mark on the web, but negative criticism always bugs me. I realize I have to take it anyway, but I can’t help wondering if everyone feels the same way, no matter how much positive backup I receive.

    As web designers and developers we have to just keep on building, and improving on current technologies. There’s always going to be a new language to learn, program to master, site to build, it’s just a matter of having the drive to accomplish everything

  12. “Almost every time a great idea is first presented, people tend to reject it.”

    Well, if it makes you feel any better, the first time I tried Newsvine I didn’t think much of it either ;)

    I still don’t think it’s for me but I can see the general appeal of it.

  13. Marc Rullo says:

    Success is of secondary consequence.

    Survival is the name of the game at this point. If you put everything you have into the idea and execution and then release it into the market, it may have a fighting chance. You’ve done that.

    Now, having a bunch of people feed, shelter and protect it is the next step in the game, and as one of many anonymous surrogates, I can tell you that you’re well on your way.

    After that, arm and defend your baby, eat and sleep and enjoy the ride.

  14. Nine says:

    I am a big fan of newsvine but I don’t understand the whole money aspect of it. Why would I want to write a post on newsvine itself instead of writting it on my own blogs and then seeding that link. I would drop the whole ad share revenue aspect of the site and focus on what it is that makes newsvine so great. Just my two cents but from talking to other newsvine users…they tend to agree.

  15. Mike D. says:

    Nine: We think it’s great that most people don’t put the revenue-generating aspect at the tops of their list, because frankly, if you’re looking to make a million dollars by posting an article a week, you’re going to be disappointed. Newsvine is first and foremost a place to read, write, and interact with the news. The only reason we offer revenue-sharing is that where users add value to Newsvine, we’d like to give some of that value back in return.

    Also keep in mind that people who already maintain active blogs are but a small slice of who we expect to see on the site everyday. If you already maintain a blog, the utility in using the “writing” aspect of the Vine is obviously a bit lower, but not everyone fits into this category.

  16. James says:

    They [] has a lot of work to do in terms of design. The color scheme is difficult for my eyes to process.

  17. James says:

    They have*

  18. Jay says:

    Greetings Mike. I stumbled upon your website, thought I would point something out. I have never been to or prior to this. When I went to newsvine I did not see an “About” page that tells me what the company/service is about. Perhaps you don’t intend to put it until beta testing is finished but I think it would be a good idea for those who stumble upon it like myself. I signed up anyways just to see. :)

  19. Hrush says:


    Apple has *always* been a media darling.

    Gil Amelio, Apple’s one time CEO, once asked a reporter why the press was so infatuated with Apple. The reporter told him that every time they ran an Apple story, they sold more newspapers, simple.

    I would ask if it’s worth revisiting that old phrase – there’s no such as bad publicity?

    Media darling carries too much of a positive connotation and posits too narrow a relationship between the media and startups.

    If I had to try and rephrase Shel’s question, I would ask Can you name one company which achieved greatness without becoming the focus of media frenzy first?

  20. Arthur says:

    Just think Mike, if you were sitll working at Disney – Steve would be your new boss.

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