At the end of May, we received funding from the UVA i.Lab. I remember calculating that day that the money would last us until February. For the rest of the spring and summer that time table loomed over 10Thoughts. We had roughly nine months to figure out how to monetize or build a company attractive enough to gain investor interest (or both).
Every win made the deadline feel further away. Every loss made the deadline seem right around the corner. As August approached, the February deadline appeared closer than ever. The market was rejecting our key monetization hypothesis. Companies recruiting MBAs in bulk were not willing to pay to recommend content on 10Thoughts. In fact, companies were not even willing to recommend content for free. Our week over week user growth plateaued at ~4%. This is solid, but not nearly fast enough to garner serious investor interest (for reference, the Skimm probably grew their user base at ~10% week over week at a comparable point).
In August, we faced a difficult decision. Continue to spend our time and resources determining how to drastically accelerate the growth of our user base or attempt a pivot to a new business model. Personally, I lost faith over the summer in our ability to hit the ~8% growth metric by our looming deadline. We were stuck at 4% and nothing we tried produced any semblance of a breakthrough. We were struggling to figure out how to appeal, in bulk, to users outside the MBA world.
Our best hypothesis for a new business model was replicating the 10Thoughts offering inside companies, pointing to our current service as a proof of concept. We decided to go for it…a bet on selling this model felt more likely than a bet on altering our newsletter trajectory.
We quickly learned the challenges of a full blown B2B sales process. From the onset, it was unclear what role in a company actually makes the yes/no decision on our offering. When we determined viable decision makers, it took about 40 to 50 hours of cold calling and emailing for every one demo we secured. Companies were very hesitant to take a chance on a brand new startup with a limited track record. The nature of our offering (company-wide) meant that many departments across companies needed to approve.
Similar to most aspects of the entrepreneurial process, I underestimated the challenges of B2B sales. A couple months in, despite all the grinding, there we no tangible results. However, I knew we were on the right track, I could feel it. Little clues gave me confidence that we were close. People were responding to my emails at a greater frequency, meetings were scheduled faster. My network was more excited to pass along my messages to colleagues in their companies. I could tell by people’s body language and tone that the 10Thoughts message and value resonated.
I was right (finally!). We found companies that shared our vision for the product and began to close. Companies are excited about customized 10Thoughts platforms where employees can read article content recommended by their colleagues.
So what does all this mean for the current 10Thoughts platform that you all use and love (hopefully)? We are no longer in the “newsletter” business – we made a determination a couple months ago that we were ultimately not going to win in that space. However, the weekly, daily, bi-weekly article emails will still continue. We will still post recommended content on the 10Thought’s website.
The content we receive from you all and the ability to measure the engagement around that content is a critical component to our company offering. Companies are excited to receive content recommended by a high caliber reader base on the 10Thoughts platform – we will be feeding them content recommended by 10Thoughts users around their specific customizations. Similarly, content recommended by professionals on company platforms will be utilized to share on the main 10Thoughts platform. This content will be stripped of recommender names and specific company affiliation.
We are building 10Thoughts as a place where our users – both on company customized platforms and the main platform - can find the best articles recommended by vetted experts in different fields across the world of business.
There will be one key change on the main platform. Our key metric is no longer overall user growth. It is more important that we continue to build out a high caliber user base and increase the number of quality articles recommended. Anyone is welcome to sign up to for the 10Thoughts emails or view content on the website. But within the next couple of months, users will need to apply to recommend content on 10Thoughts. This will ensure a high caliber recommender base as we continue to grow. We are working with our top recommenders to determine proper reward systems for accepted applicants:
- Recommenders will have their own page on 10Thoughts (linked to their Linkedin profile) displaying all the articles they recommend and blogs they want to post – an excellent way to build their personal brand in a community of professionals
- We will share with companies information on who is influencing the 10Thought’s community across different topics
- We will pay recommenders based off the performance of their content
If you want to be part of the original group of 10Thoughts approved recommenders and help shape the system, please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
. Recommending is super easy with an account – one click from anywhere on the web.
One final thought…One of the key challenges of transitioning to a B2B model is the large tech requirements. Most companies building B2B platforms are big organizations with large tech teams. In our case, the tech challenges fell squarely on the shoulders of 10Thoughts co-founder/my brother, Jeffrey Mara. Jeffrey is a 21 year old college student and he met every challenge during the process. 10Thoughts is still a baby, there are many challenges ahead and many more levels we hope to climb. However, regardless of ultimate success or failure, I know I will always look back at this fall as a time my brother and I fought together through tremendous uncertainty to keep 10Thoughts alive, push us to the next level and clear a key milestone in the entrepreneurial process.
I’m fired up for our next phase!