Part 3: The Market Noise amp; Facebook

This is a series of 8 blog posts that will describe more about my experiences building Sampa, my mistakes and what would I have done differently. 

I already talked about on Part 2: Early Mistakes at Sampa about being 12-months late to market. The problem was when I was launching Alpha and Beta versions of Sampa the number of startups launching Web 2.0 products was nearly doubling every couple of months. In 2005 and early 2006 there was one or two new startups launching everyday and you could read about them on TechCrunch, ReadWriteWeb and GigaOm. By late 2006 and all of 2007 there were half-dozen to a dozen new startups launching each and every day!

Building Websites, either for consumers or business is a pretty broken industry dominated by 1&1, GoDaddy and the tens of thousands of consultants out there. So, I’m sure I wasn’t the first to think about fixing this industry and at one point I had a list of 100 (!!!) startups playing on that space. From vertical solutions (for Homeowners Associations, Dentists, Families, Baby, etc.) to very horizontal plays like substitutes for FrontPage and Geocities. To top it off, there was the rise of blogging and photo-sharing services like Flickr. That’s a hell lot of noise.

Seriously, no matter how good your solution was, with this many players every time we talked about Sampa people would say “you are just like X”. And we were nothing like X — on our minds. That didn’t matter. What matters is the consumer perception. And the press/blogosphere perception is just representative of the consumer perception.

We looked deep into our strength and weaknesses, in what we had and what others didn’t and we had a feature that we implemented in January/2007 (and we patented it as well) that allowed users to add friends and family to a private site and when new updates were sent to these users they would just click on the link on the email and be able to see the photo-album, or blog post, or whatever, without ever have to enter a password (over-simplifying for the sake of brevity). It was very powerful! Users loved it. We loved it.

Over 2007 we changed our brand to be around Privacy and Safe Sharing. Although that branding should have been with us from the get go, it wasn’t easy to explain and people would go “but I can have a private site on Blogger”, or “I can share privately on Flickr”. Argh!

Then, Facebook came. At first we didn’t perceived Facebook as an immediate threat. It was mostly college (or recently graduated 20-something) and the geeks that used it. But they started to grow, and grow and grow and mainstream was using it. Because Facebook has most of your friends and quite a few of your family members on it, and sharing was by default private, it kind make sense for you to upload the latest picture of little Jimmy playing on the beach and everyone could go “oh, cute”.

Facebook is awful at creating a family place or a baby place on the web because it doesn’t give you *any* customization (I’ll talk more about why this is important in another blog post) and it’s cumbersome to tell people about new content you want to share.

Next post: Things We Did Right

Marcelo Calbucci

Marcelo Calbucci

I'm a technologist, founder, geek, author, and a runner.