Parting Thoughts

A Business Update

Posted 30 May 2008

It’s been a while since I’ve posted to this blog, so I thought it was time for an update.

Anyone who has been involved in a startup knows how all-consuming that can be. We also have a blog, and I’ve been writing a bit both for that blog and for the core of the site. But most of what has been consuming my time is crafting a business around the technology we’ve been developing.

Christopher Haupt and I founded Collective Knowledge Works, Inc. last fall, and our first venture was to launch BuildingWebApps, a resource site for Ruby on Rails developers. We also started the Learning Rails free online course, which began with podcasts and has evolved into a series of screencasts, in which we build a Rails application step by step. It’s been tremendously popular, with several thousand people following the course. It’s a lot of fun teaching this way, and seeing how much value people get from it.

We considered building a business around serving the web application developer community, but we’ve decided to keep this as a side project, rather than the core of our business, because we want to build something that we believe we can scale into a more significant company.

In thinking about the application we built to create the BuildingWebApps site, we realized that it has a much broader potential use: building a resource site on any topic. We think of it as the next generation beyond blogs and content management systems. We’ll offer this as a hosted service, enabling anyone to build a site like BuildingWebApps, on any topic.

The next question was which customers to focus on. We found that, as a horizontal technology platform, it was hard to explain to people, and hard to come up with a focused marketing strategy. Some customer groups we looked at include:

  • Infopreneurs: people building web-based information businesses
  • Passionates: individuals or organizations who are passionate about a topic and want a platform for communicating their knowledge and engaging the community
  • Businesses: businesses for which educating their customers and prospects is important

After lots of analysis, we’ve decided to focus our initial product on the last of these categories: in particular, on small businesses. There’s a lot of customer pain here that we can address, and a lot of value that we can provide. Most small business sites are awful, if the business has a site at all. The model of going to a local web developer and building a site from scratch is expensive and painful, and almost always results in a largely static site with no community features.

We’re going to provide a platform to make it easy for small businesses to create powerful sites that engage their customer community and become valued information resources that attract new customers. There’s lots of pieces of this that go beyond what we’ve done at BuildingWebApps, and which we’re not quite ready to talk about.

We may also have versions of the platform for the other two customer categories, and they may be the source of significant long-term growth, but they won’t be our initial focus.

We’ve raised a little more angel financing to take this to the next level, and we’ll be launching the product in the fall. There’s a teaser at the embryonic Collective Knowledge Works site. If you’d like to be notified when we have the private beta ready, please enter your email address there.

It’s been a fascinating process getting to this point. It’s been a year and a half since I left Adobe and gave myself the flexibility to pursue various interests and see what bubbles up. A lot of threads have come together now, and I’m really excited about where we’re heading.