How Trip Adler Found His Idea For Scribd After Hanging Up On 1-800-ASKTRIP

Before Scribd became a multi-million-document storehouse, Trip Adler was a Harvard grad casting about for a business idea–here’s how he found it.

The official history for Scribd, a social publishing company, goes something like this: When Scribd’s baby-faced CEO Trip Adler was a student at Harvard, he wondered why there was no simple mechanism for publishing academic papers online. So in 2007 he started a website where anyone could upload documents and let others read, share and repost them. Today, with 100 million users and storing at least ten times as many words as Wikipedia, Scribd hosts millions upon millions of documents. More than 100 media companies use Scribd to embed source material into their articles and through its store more than 150 publishers publish ebooks through Scribd.


But before Scribd was Scribd, Adler had contemplated starting a ride-sharing service, then switched to a combination ride sharing service cum search engine. Following that he envisioned a Craigslist for colleges, which morphed into 1-800-ASKTRIP: a call center where a caller could ask just about anything, and then a “Rate-your-happiness,” which he described as “Almost Twitter.” Finally, after pivoting to and fro, Adler settled on Scribd, which at the beginning was a YouTube for academic publishing. (Click here to read Adler’s presentation on “How to Come Up With Good Ideas for Startups,” hosted on Scribd, of course.)

[Image: Flickr user Thomas Hawk]

About the author

Adam L. Penenberg is a journalism professor at New York University and author of several books.