The time has come to shut down Quibb. If you don’t read any further, and used Quibb at any point — I’d like to simply say thank you, for trusting the product with your time and attention, and for contributing to what was imho one of the most helpful, forward-thinking, and generous groups of people on the internet.
How we got here
While engagement and retention were never the hurdles, top-of-funnel growth was always difficult. Why? The membership model which has been paramount to maintaining high-quality content and discussion restricts growth, by definition. An application-based member model is too weird for new users to fully grasp and value in the allotted ‘I’m signing up for a new product’ amount of time that most people entrust a new product with.
This was the one issue that I experimented with most last year, when trying to push Quibb toward a growth inflection point. However, no matter how many things were tried — like changes to copy or flows across various landing pages, iframes, emails, or notifications — new users simply didn’t want to actually sign up for Quibb, or didn’t want to dive deeper into the product beyond the ‘amazing email full of great links’ that magically arrived in their inbox everyday. While the content (according to my sources) was fantastic, the mental model that the vast majority of users have around ‘a list of links in a daily email’ is one that doesn’t lend itself to further investigation, i.e. questions like ‘Where did these links come from? Why is there a person’s face, name, and job title/company next to each one? Why should I care about some comment that is somehow affiliated with this link that I just want to open and skim?’. People assume that these types of email digests are editorially curated. This meant that the real strengths of Quibb — connecting you to professional peers, diving deeper into issues and news via critical commentary, sharing what you’re reading with your peers, and expanding who you receive content from — were never seen by the vast majority of people who received the Quibb email.
Also, ya know, building news products is just really, really hard.
Experimenting is worth it
All that said… I don’t regret sticking with the member-only model. I believe that some sort of validation from the external world of your experience or informed perspective (i.e. via your job title / company) is important when your content and comments are being taken in by people in relation to how they make their livelihood.
One of the other things that I personally really enjoyed with Quibb was doing some other non-standard experiments that did work. The most obvious example was the Quibb Supporter Program. Modeled after NPR’s Supporter model, Quibb members could pay a monthly subscription to support Quibb… and get nothing in return. The idea was ‘you like this service, you want it to exist, so why not pay a nominal monthly fee for it’. This may also have been a bit of a ‘gosh darn it, I’ll show you’ response when meeting with investors and getting asked the standard ‘how will you make money’ question. But it worked, and helped validate that people would be willing to pay for the service.
Special thanks goes out to the hundreds of members that were part of the Supporter Program.
Big personal thanks
Working on Quibb has been an amazing learning experience for me. I started it after 12mo of immersing myself in startup stuff in Palo Alto, re-starting my career after spending years working in the fields of geochemistry and climate change policy in Toronto. Early Quibb members took a chance on a weird product with a weird model, and helped craft what the product became. For me, building Quibb as I learned about building tech products was an extremely rewarding, bizarre-o meta startup experience.
From my perspective, Quibb members were a mini secret team of advisors. Turns out when building an early-stage tech product, and all of the people using it are tech professionals… basically any problem or question can be answered by someone who was using the product in the previous 24h. Thanks to everyone for answering my random questions. Also, thanks to the Quibb members who — unprompted — designed new features, launched their own products on Quibb, ran analyses, or shared ideas with members to help make the product better for everyone.
I tried to be very open in how I was building Quibb — asking how much I should pay myself, building out new features based off of member requests, and most memorable (for me, anyway) — asking members directly to invest in Quibb.
Special thanks is due to my super fantastic amazing investors for investing in this way, and their endless help and support over the past years.
I’ve been working on a new social product in the conversational UI & AI space for the past bit (all starting with this weekend experiment back while I was still working on Quibb). I’d love to chat with people who are excited about and want to work on what’s next wrt social products, messaging, and AI — Twitter DMs are open!