Paul Biggar is a compiler geek, with a slant towards scripting languages. He work on the Javascript team at Mozilla. Before that he did a PhD in compiler optimizations, static analysis and scripting languages.

NewsTilt was a YCombinator-backed startup which aimed to provide services to help journalists become entrepreneurs and earn a living off their work online.It closed down in July 2010, a total of 8 months after it was founded.

Paul Biggar, was the co-founder of NewsTilt. He shares lessons learned on the launch of NewsTilt and why it was shutdown 8 months after it was founded.

# The biggest of the challenges was the lack of traction from launch, that we had lost the faith of our journalists, and because there were communication issues between Nathan (my co-founder) and me.
# NewsLabs failed because of internal problems and problems with the NewsTilt product. NewsTilt failed because:

  • NewsTilt was definitely a good idea, just one that we hadn’t executed well on. The major flaw was that we couldn’t promote the stories well enough, and the journalists’ stories went into a black hole where no-one read them.
  • journalists stopped posting content.
  • we never had a large number of readers.
  • we were very slow to produce the features we had promised
  • we did not have the money to fix the issues with NewsTilt, and it would have been tough to raise more.
  • Nathan and I had major communication problems
  • we weren’t intrinsically motivated by news and journalism
  • making a new product required changes we could not make
  • our motivation to make a successful company got destroyed by all of the above
  • Journalists felt that they were writing for us, instead of writing for themselves, for their own brands.
  • We needed a young Perez Hilton or Michael Arrington, people who wrote for 18 hours a day in order to make their names
  • We got journalists who were already successful in their day jobs, and who already had families and other commitments
  • The fact that we didn’t know anything about our readers’ demographics underscores another problem: I don’t understand news readers. I certainly wasn’t one, and I didn’t know many people who really were.
  • In retrospect, it was foolish to offer to do promotion for the journalists. We should instead have built the tools to help them with promotion, and let them do it themselves.
  • We basically over promised what we were going to do for the journalists. We showed them a list of things we were going to build quickly, then built things very slowly.

Personal Lessons from NewsTilt

  • Deeply care about what you’re working on
  • Don’t be too ambitious
  • Communicate your idea (and manage it)
  • Make sure your minimal viable product is viable
  • Be careful about cool ideas
  • If you think you should build it, not buy it, you’re wrong
  • Build quickly, little company
  • Hire well
  • Distributed teams are hard
  • Work with co-founders before starting a company together
  • Transparency is tough
  • Don’t do too much at once
  • Be very careful how you are presented to the press
  • You can find the original article by Paul Biggar on his blog