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Livingston: Were blogs as mainstream in 2003 as they are today Fletcher: Not at all. Nobody knew about blogs. I was kind of embarrassed
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about this little thing that I wanted to put out, because nobody knows what the hell a blog is.
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Livingston: Did you think that blogs would someday surpass the mainstream
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media as the source of information Did you know how popular they d become
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Fletcher: No, not with the speed that it happened. I mean, we were incredibly
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lucky in that we latched onto this trend which kind of developed at about the same time. But there was no planning. It was just me trying to solve my own problem.
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Livingston: Did you have a blog back then Fletcher: Yeah, wingedpig.com. I ve had that for a few years. It s more of a
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marketing thing for myself than anything.
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Livingston: You weren t trying to say, Blogs are going to take over let s get
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into that
Fletcher: I wish I could say I was that smart, but no. I was just some idiot who had a bookmark list 100 sites long and it was taking too much time to go through. I was addicted to reading these things. That s all. Livingston: What were some of the other big moments in Bloglines s life Fletcher: We were around for a year and a half before we were acquired, so it wasn t very long. Because I was funding it myself, there was no big funding event that would be a milestone. It was kind of a gradual buildup throughout the entire time in terms of interest from the press, interest from venture capitalists, interest from companies. So it got to the point where all the big companies were talking to us. But that s fairly typical of a lot of startups. Livingston: Did you ever contemplate taking VC money Fletcher: I d done that with ONElist, and I wanted to do it differently this time. It was kind of, Let s see what I can do. Because I fully believed in the thesis of these companies can be really cheap to run if you do it with even just a little bit of intelligence. I took money with ONElist because at that point we were growing so quickly that we were running out of money, and I couldn t fund it myself any longer. ONElist got to be the 150-person company. But you don t have to do that these days. Livingston: When you were developing Bloglines, were you following a purposeful plan or were you just like, Let s build this product and see what happens. Fletcher: My philosophy on these types of companies consumer-based
Internet companies is that you don t need to worry about the business model
Mark Fletcher 237
initially. If you get users, then everything else follows. Basically any technology can be copied, any concept can be copied. In my opinion, what makes one of these companies valuable is the users. That can t be copied.
Livingston: Did you think about the idea of democratization of the media when you were doing this Was there a social ambition Fletcher: No, I m not nearly that smart. Just friends and news sites that I wanted to follow on a regular basis. But I was latching onto trends, of course, which are [that] the number of websites on the Internet is just growing exponentially over time. So if I had this problem now and I knew that I was a very early adopter, other people would probably have the problem eventually. It was just a question of when. I thought I was just way too early. But I wasn t. Who knew Livingston: Why did you think you were way too early Fletcher: Because I talked to all my friends and nobody knew what a blog was. Nobody knows what a blog is and certainly nobody knows what aggregation is. Even these days, you say, Do you know what syndication is and they think, Seinfeld reruns. Which is one of the struggles we had with Bloglines trying to explain these concepts to normal people. Syndication, RSS, aggregation What are these goofy things But we didn t have to do the education as to what a blog is because the press was doing that for us. Livingston: Did you worry about competitors at all Fletcher: Always and never, I guess. I get very competitive, very paranoid. I
freak out about everybody. But, I also knew that nobody was doing a decent job when we started, so we had a head start. As long as we didn t screw that up, then it would be difficult for somebody else to come along, unless they were to grab a whole lot of money and go on an advertising blitz, for example. Yeah, I was worried, but what are you going to do
Livingston: Who was your biggest competitor Fletcher: When we started, there was only one service that was at even a close corollary and that was News is Free. When I was talking to reporters initially, they d ask the same question, What s your competition It was basically the desktop aggregators, the programs you could download. We had a fairly good story around why we were better than that. Most people don t want to install software on their computers. A lot of people can t install software on their computers at work. A lot of people use multiple machines. We had several clear-cut advantages that were fairly easy to describe. About 6 months after we launched, I think NewsGator came out with their web-based aggregator, and were the closest competitor. Livingston: Were there any lessons that you learned through your experience with ONElist that you said, I m not going to repeat that this time or I am going to repeat this time
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