Describing itself as the "Instagram for news", social news reader Flud is the latest service attempting to target rising demand for personalised media content. The app lets users follow friends and see what they are reading with the aim of making it easier to discover and share new content. CEO Bobby Ghoshal claims Flud users are 600% more likely to share articles within the app rather than via other social media, indicating high levels of interaction just two years after launch. Here he talks about content discovery and the challenges of monetisation.
¤ What makes Flud different from other news apps such as Flipboard?<br/>Flipboard and Zite are more closely competitive to each other than they are to Flud. Flipboard says it's a social magazine. It is in that you connect with Facebook and Twitter, but it doesn't have its own inherent social network. It's still a blind experience when you use Flipboard, because you use it alone. You don't ever use Flud alone. The bottom line is that we want to increase not only the relationship between people and their content, but also people that share similar interests. Zite and Flipboard are built to connect people with content but not people with people.
¤ What is your business model?
We haven't hit a revenue stream yet, but we do have all sorts of commerce and advertising opportunities. For those to be meaningful I think you have to hit a critical mass. I'm talking tens of millions of users. We also have to be conscientious of the fact that we are monetising against other people's content. If we do serve ads in their content we have to give them fair notice. We have to give them the opportunity to share that revenue. We're really respectful of that. That's one of the reasons we haven't served ads or monetised the content yet, because we don't have the workforce in place in our company. The kind of data that applications like Flud, Flipboard and Zite collect on users, like location, taste and intent, is also very easy to monetise if you're really smart about how you do it.
¤ Who are your main competitors?
Anyone who decides that a newsreader isn't just a place to read content, but can be a place to start a dialogue. We allow people to influence each other. If you ‘Fludded' something right now and I clicked on it, you'd get an email saying you've influenced Bobby Ghoshal to read this story. It's a small pat on the back, kind of like getting a badge on Foursquare. These are the sorts of dynamics we built into our app. No one does that yet. In that sense, our competitors are few. But it's something I expect a lot of companies will copy and I think our competitors will start to become a really big list. Pulse and Kaptur, maybe even Flipboard will be a competitor at that point.
¤ What's the biggest challenge you currently face?
We've only taken USD1m in funding. When we look at some of our biggest competitors; Zite has USD25m in the bank and Flipboard has USD65m. These guys can move very quickly. I'm really happy with the speed at which we're moving and the quality of product we are able to put out, but that doesn't scale unless you raise more money and get more people on board. I'd like to move quicker; the only thing holding us back is the number of people working on the product at any one time. If the presentation layer is bad nobody is ever going to download your app.
¤ What do you think is the hottest trend in digital media?
The media space itself is very fragmented. Every publication is trying to build their own application. I think what you are going to start to see this year in the media space is a company like Flud coming in and building out a social layer that connects people to a lot of the content they like and a lot of the people they like. The best way to do that is not to follow 25 publications, but to follow 25 people, who follow 25 publications each. And then you open up your world to all these different possibilities. Last year it was all about getting content on mobile. I think this year it's a given that content will be on mobile, the question is how do you connect people around certain pieces of content and how do you get these people to start a dialogue.
Flud is the latest news reader to emerge into a very crowded space. Ghoshal says nobody else is doing exactly what Flud is doing, but consumers still face overwhelming choice in the shape of online news readers, from Facebook Timeline apps such as the Guardian's, to dedicated services. The fact that the firm does not break out user figures suggests that they are still small. No matter how strong the quality of the product is, Ghoshal admits that Flud will struggle to compete against bigger players such as Zite or Flipboard without a boost of fresh funding that will enable it to build up its employee base.
Like most startups Flud is currently focused on growing its users and fine-tuning its product, rather than revenues. Although advertising is the obvious option, Ghoshal admits that the company does not currently have the man power to negotiate deals with publishers before it can explore this revenue stream. After Zite's high-profile legal battle with major publishers over advertising last year, Flud cannot afford to make the same mistakes. As Ghoshal says, selling data on users to marketers is another lucrative option. Although he says the firm is aiming for profitability this year, this seems unlikely until the firm can invest in more man power.
Ghoshal says Flud's visual experience is "probably the most important thing" distinguishing itself from competitors. At a time when high-resolution displays on smartphones and tablets are upping the demand for high-quality app experiences, he is not wrong. While a string of design awards attest to the firm's success, this achievement will remain cosmetic unless Flud can start to monetise. The firm will need to start exploring revenues fast if it wants to prove that it has substance as well as style.
AT A GLANCE
CEO: Bobby Ghoshal
HQ: San Diego, USA
Funding to date: USD3m
Investors: Detroit Venture Partners
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