Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The secret of StumbleUpon's success

Pete Cashmore wonders today how StumbleUpon had managed to gather 875,000 users. He comes up with some good answers, but the main one in my opinion can be found right at the end of the front page of the site:

© StumbleUpon 2001-2006

The company started five years ago. There's your answer. I believe that Web startups, which some are still classifying StumbleUpon as despite its relative age, can only really be successful if they are given time to develop.

The user base has to be given time to develop, because word-of-mouth traffic is the only kind of traffic that really sticks in the long term and you can't rush it. The code base and its attendant core functions also need time for users to explore, learn, provide feedback, and then for you to perfect.

Perhaps the most important part of a startup that needs time is the people, in particular if you haven't been in one before. I'm still making mistakes, and I'm sure the StumbleUpon boys and girls spent many a long month on wasted efforts and misdirected energy. Only after a period of learning how to do the job you've created for yourself out of thin air can you gain the confidence that you are actually competent to do it.

There are ways of speeding things up, of course, but each method has a concurrent risk. You can augment the user base through advertising, but only as an adjunct to word of mouth and if your traffic numbers race ahead of your development in other areas then you get growing pains which can turn off a lot of users permanently. It helps if you are (or become through being acquired) a smaller unit of a larger company with established traffic which they can divert your way - although it doesn't seem to be helping a lot of the Google projects which are patchy in quality. Though I couldn't vouch for this personally, I would guess that having some experience in a previous startup would mean that you might be able to avoid some of the rookie pitfalls that befall founders. I suspect that experience might not mean so much really, especially if you're in a new area... and my bet is that even the most hard-bitten experts find ever more wondrous new ways to screw up the longer they go.

My co-founder Tony (or his dad!) comes to me every now and then asking me about this or that idea for growing our traffic overnight. Each time I have to patiently explain that it doesn't work like that, or at least not for us. Maybe I'm being hidebound, but I think overnight successes like StumbleUpon take years to build.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been reading a lot about StumbleUpon lately, and I thought it was so interesting that they weren't really an "over night success." And there certainly isn't anything wrong with taking the time to get it right, and there also isn't anything wrong with being inspired by other's success.
There is a new search tool inspired by by StumbleUpon, and while it is very new in comparison it has its own uniqure twist. It is based on proprietary clustering technology from the Dumbfind search engine. You give it a site that you already like, and it takes you to sites that are different but similar--giving better odds that you'll hit something you'll actually be interested in.
It is very beta, but very cool. Give it a try...

4:11 am, May 25, 2006  
Blogger Sprinko said...

StumbleUpton is a great site , always interested in there Articles/Blogs. Check out our recent web portal. is a Fun way to search the web for news, images, articles, encyclopedia, dictionary and videos.

3:03 am, September 09, 2006  
Blogger nukemdomis said...

I have been using SU since I have been using FireFox.

SU is still a secret...a very well hidden secret.

Just go up and ask 10 random people in the RW (real world) what SU is.

Unless they are your friends or others that you know from past internet experiences, you'll be lucky to find 3 out of every 100 that say "of course I know what SU is!"

3:32 am, January 30, 2007  

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