Like most other startups, Snip.it’s social content sharing platform was born as a solution to a problem. That’s where the similarities end. While Snip.it has been compared to just about every social sharing tool from Delicious to Pinterest, its founder Ramy Adeeb tells Fast Company that his is more than just a cursory clipping service.
“There are so many personalized news sites that we do suffer from over-personalization,” Adeeb says. What he doesn’t believe (besides the fact that there isn’t a way to have a more thoughtful means of curation) is that we are all victims of A.D.D., especially when it comes to content that speaks to our interests and passions. “People love to discover and read online, get and give feedback. Twitter is too short for that. Pinterest is good for part of the day, but not the whole day. Our hypothesis is that there is still a place on the web to have conversations with thoughtful individuals. We want to inspire.”
Adeeb hit on the concept while he was still a principal at Khosla Ventures, where he worked with Vinod Khosla and Pierre Lamond on a number of investments including Square, Groupme (acquired by Skype), and Ness Technologies. During the Arab Spring when denizens of Tunisia, Egypt, and other countries in the Middle East relied on social media platforms Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to organize protests and reveal what was happening on the ground, Adeeb, an Egyptian native, had a dilemma. Constantly asked for updates about the uprising, Adeeb took to offering updates on his Twitter and Facebook accounts. But because he built his Twitter following based on his work as a VC, those thoughts and links to articles were lost to those who were truly interested.
“This problem of finding content has been around since the beginning of the Internet,” Adeeb asserts. Though Google revolutionized search, Adeeb points out that it works best with very specific search terms and doesn’t categorize for you.
“Pinterest allows you to express your taste in fashion, home decor, and food,” but doesn’t really have room for what Adeeb calls “non-fleeting interests.” He says his vision for Snip.it evolved from asking the question, “How can we take the eye candy concept and make it brain candy, and be able to discover others who share same interests as well?”
Adeeb didn’t discount Pinterest’s much-lauded layout and absorbing category selections when he sat down at the drawing board to create Snip.It’s “innovative multi-column stream.” From there, Adeeb says, the goal was “to marry pictures and text,” but also to create context. “With content as opposed to images, there is need for context. Like a newspaper has sections on social issues and travel, they anchor your brain around these topics,” he explains. (Raise your hand if your RSS feed has become too unruly to read.) Bringing all shared content under select categories then facilitates discovery and encourages conversation. “Unless I have an audience, the site is incomplete,” he adds. It also becomes a digital journal of sorts, that captures all of your virtual ephemera into one easy-to-navigate page.
So far, it’s working. Adeeb says the number of registered users is now 20,000–that’s the number of people actually creating content. Browsers number around 100,000, he says, noting that what’s more impressive is that the average time someone (user or browser) spends on the site is an astounding 12 minutes. A report from Google Analytics found that the average user spent about 5.23 minutes on a website last year.
Part of the reason for Snip.It’s early traction is that its founder is no stranger to using technology to bring communities together. While a student at Harvard, he had an internship at Microsoft building games for the Dreamcast. Then, degree in hand, Adeeb took a job at Tellme Networks, a voice application startup where his pet project was to manage the first centralized ordering system for pizza delivery–all over DSL modems. Tellme was acquired by Microsoft for $800M in 2007. Adeeb stayed for a year then went on to earn his MBA from Stanford.
But Adeeb credits his savvy with a business lesson he learned outside the hallowed halls of higher education. At an age when most of us have nothing more pressing than acne and dating on our minds, 13-year old Adeeb busied himself building a database solution to manage employee records for a large organization in Egypt. It would be a crash course in achieving smart growth because the program couldn’t handle the volume when the number of records topped the tens of thousands.
“Scaling is everything,” says Adeeb, now a firm believer in organic growth as opposed to an “over-engineered” product. He’s wedded to Snip.It’s slow build of community and doesn’t seem too anxious to implement a revenue model yet, either. Adeeb confirms he’s got his eye on an advertising model but wants to be sure the content–and most important, the context–is so thoroughly baked in, that targeted ads can scale, too. He estimates it will take a couple of years to get there.
Likewise, he cautions against “hiring when you don’t know what you are going to build.” Now at the helm of a team of seven, Adeeb confesses it’s cliche to say it’s important to hire the best people. Still he insists, “If you have to choose between hiring someone [not exactly right for the job] now and postponing product and hiring someone better later,” choose the latter route.
Snip.It is very much a work in progress, Adeeb says. A revamp was revealed in June, just seven months after its debut. “It may take us a year, two three, or four to get the community developed and product solid, but then everything will fall into place.”
[Image: Flickr user Pollyalida]