In the world of startups, they call it a pivot: A change of course. An alteration of the business model.
For Tom Leung of Yabbly, it is much more of an “evolution.” The Seattle startup is moving away from its historic focus on product-oriented reviews and Q&As, focusing instead on what’s become known, thanks to Reddit, as Ask Me Anythings.
Those are a Q&A format in which individuals field a variety of questions online, dishing the inside scoop on a diverse set of topics.
Bill Gates, Sir Tim Berners Lee, Bill Nye the Science Guy and others have participated in Reddit AMAs in recent months.
Why the change at Yabbly?
Leung, a former Google, Marchex and Microsoft employee, said that Yabbly’s service was not 10 times better than the alternative, namely perusing Amazon.com reviews.
“In today’s world of unlimited new startups trying to get you to sign up for their new whizbang service, 2-3X better just won’t cut it,” said Leung in an email to GeekWire. “Furthermore, the content wasn’t as viral as we had hoped. While shopping decisions have a clear path to monetization, people didn’t tweet or (Facebook) post about them as much as we needed.”
So, enter the Ask Me Anything format. To date, Yabbly has orchestrated these Q&As with Seattle angel investor Rudy Gadre (a backer of Yabbly) as well as Seattle entrepreneur Dave Cotter.
Ben Romano at Xconomy first picked up on the change at Yabbly, noting that the young upstart faces a big challenge against Reddit and its worldwide audience of 112 million unique visitors per month.
But Leung thinks he can carve some ground with the Ask Me Anything format, noting in his own AMA last week that the new approach is “gonna be even more awesome” than the original business concept.
Here’s what Leung had to say in response to one question about the change:
Unfortunately, we just weren’t seeing the growth we needed to after almost 2 years so we had to make a pivot. We tried a few different ideas like search, tagging, real-time 1:1, private 1:1, white label q&a, and ultimately, AMA’s were the approach that we all wanted to build in 2014.
Ultimately, it wasn’t a question of whether Yabbly Classic was loved by people but whether we could see a path to it being loved by millions of people in a time horizon that was consistent with what investors need.
Maybe as we grow we can bring 1:1 questions back but for the time being, we’re laser focused on building the world’s best AMA platform .
Lastly, I should note that we’ve started with a lot of AMA hosts who were in business but our vision is that we’ll also enable consumer driven AMA’s (some that may be evergreen and never expire) so folks who want to help can host an AMA and others can find them and ask similar to the old days. In a way AMA’s are not all that different from 1:1 Q&A except for the fact that with AMA’s you know your question will be answered by someone who’s volunteered to help you out (before you’ve even asked).
Hope this makes sense. We really think the work we have planned for AMA’s is gonna be a game changer!
Yabbly plans to make money through promoted posts and contextual ads. In the promoted AMAs, the host can pay to get more exposure in the Yabbly feed. The second aspect falls right in line with traditional online advertising, a potentially tough road that Leung certainly recognizes.
“To be fair, this is a complete swing for the fences bet. For this to work, we need to eventually become the next Tumblr/Instagram/Whatsapp in terms of size and scope and value,” he said. “But isn’t Seattle due for one of those?”
Yabbly, which was previously featured as GeekWire’s App of the Week, has raised cash from former Qpass CEO Chase Franklin; Nike Vice president Dave Song; former Twango CEO Serena Glover; Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, BuddyTV CEO Andy Liu and others.