Blottr: Adam Baker
Tell us what your business does
Blottr is a user generated news service that enables anyone to capture, report, collaborate and discover news happening around them.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
I first had the idea during 9/11 after being amazed that it took mainstream news services nearly seven minutes to cover the atrocity. Meanwhile, there were hundreds of people at the scene capturing footage, which was far more compelling and exciting, without an outlet to publish it. It was at this juncture I started to realise how powerful citizen journalism can be.
How did you know there was a market for it?
As mainstream news organisations streamline their editorial teams and increasingly buy-in content from news agencies, their ability to cover breaking news diminishes. By empowering anyone, anywhere to report stories as they witness them, we nearly always break stories first, often hours before the mainstream services cover it. We also uncover really hyper-local stories that would otherwise not gain exposure, making our news agenda timely, interesting and unique.
What were you doing before starting up?
This is my third start-up. Prior to starting this venture, I spent a year or so working on the senior management team for the digital arm of a large newspaper group.
Have you always wanted to run your own business?
I’m an entrepreneur. Any entrepreneur will tell you it’s frustrating working for someone else. I can’t ever see myself working for a company I haven’t founded again.
What planning did you do before you started up?
I did lots of research and market testing. But the best learning comes from getting a prototype out and understanding what your users think and how they behave/engage with the service.
Obviously, having a strong vision and conviction to execute your strategy is critical but in my experience, every start-up, at some point, will need to pivot, moving off its strategic path and testing new strategies.
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How did you raise the money?
We raised funds fairly quickly to be honest. Partly because we had a strong product and vision, and partly because I met the right investment partner.
I met five investors (three angels and two VCs) and had two term sheets in the space of about six weeks.
I also met with a very large technology fund – that I knew we were too early for – but making the contact and putting us firmly on their radar will hopefully prove useful in future.
How did you find suppliers?
We outsource very little, but when working with third parties I usually only engage people who have been recommended.
What challenges have you faced how have you overcome them?
I’ve made plenty of mistakes, not in this business (yet) but others. I’ve learnt to stay lean, negotiate everything and only spend money when you absolutely have to. If we spend £1 on marketing, I want to be sure we get value and ROI on it, or we won’t do it. So invariably, it means the only paid marketing we do is with Google and PPC.
How have you promoted your business?
99.9% of all our marketing is free. Social media plays a significant role in building traction, as does smart PR. I’m lucky to have found exceptionally talented people to drive these initiatives.
How much do you charge?
Our news service is free. We have recently launched a product called NewsPoint, which is essentially making technology available via API on license. There has been a huge appetite from publishers for the platform, supported by a long list of leads/enquiries just days after launching.
We decided on price points based on a number of factors including how proprietary our technology is, the significant value it has to partners and the investment we’ve made to engineering it.
What about staff – how many do you have?
Our team is currently at nine. We are very tech and marketing/social heavy. We’ve just made our first commercial hire and plan on bolstering resource in this area over the coming months.
What has your growth been like?
We are way ahead of plan, which is good. Our traffic has been growing at around 150% month-on-month since the turn of the year and shows no sign of slowing, which is really encouraging. By the end of our financial year we’ll be ahead of revenue projections too, so we’re certainly on track.
What would you say the greatest difficulty has been in starting up?
So far, we’ve been quite lucky as nothing jumps out as being massively difficult. We’ve been fortunate to find great people, a great investor and a rapidly growing, engaged audience. The difficulty will be to ensure we don’t just sustain growth but we aggressively build and improve upon it.
What was your first big breakthrough?
From a traction and credibility perspective, it happened fairly recently; at the beginning of May we broke a big story about a bomb scare in London really early.. Thousands of people were on Twitter and searching on Google saying they were in the area and asking what was going on. We were the only site that had the story, with people at the scene continuously editing it with updates and more photos. It was more than two hours before the BBC and Sky News covered it as their “breaking news”, by which time anyone looking for, or sharing information on the event, were linking to our story.
What would you do differently?
As a team, we have fostered a culture where we are not afraid to try new things, we are passionate about what we do and we’re not scared of making mistakes. We know we’ll get plenty of things wrong. The key is learning from it.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
1. You have to take risks; just try to make them calculated. 2. Have conviction in your idea or vision, and see it through. 3. Don’t procrastinate; get your product out there. You’ll learn more in a day from user feedback than you will in three months of testing and iterating before it’s even live.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
In five years, Blottr aims to be in every continent, facilitating and enabling citizens to report news events they’re witnessing. Our vision is to have more resource on the ground, generating and breaking more news stories, than any other news organisation in the world.