Pixable, the life and death of a New York startup

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: lawrence@krubner.com, or follow me on Twitter.

I was reading “Is The Varick Street NYU Poly Incubator The Best In NYC?” by Jay Bhatti, written on Oct. 10, 2011. I stumbled across this mention of Pixable, which I had never heard of before (an interview with Micah Kotch):

In terms of highlights, we love the story of Pixable. The Varick Street Incubator’s first graduate company, Pixable, is a great group of immigrant entrepreneurs and MIT grads who create tools to share and categorize photography within social media. An extraordinary team, they recently closed $3.6 million in Series B funding led by Menlo Ventures, bringing their total funding to $6.6 million. This is one key metric for success that Varick Street and NYC ACRE stakeholders look to: capital raised. Collectively, portfolio companies have raised $26 million in early stage capital.

I worked at that incubator in 2015, so I’m surprised I had not heard of them. I looked them, and found out they died in 2015. I’ve three reactions:

1.) I think it is really sad they pivoted toward being a media company. Content is a very tough industry with too much supply and not enough paying demand, plus entry is inexpensive so it is impossible to build much of a barrier to competition. There will always be a lot of companies entering the field. If I’d been on the team I would have fought against the pivot. If I’d lost that debate, I would have quit, because I was aware how hopeless the fight was.

2.) As a goodbye post, I think this post is very well done. They are offer a summary of people’s contributions, and this is very respectful. This is what provenance looks like when a company dies (and provenance is my #1 ideal when building a business).

3.) If I have a complaint about this goodbye, it’s that they don’t offer a post-mortem of where they went wrong. Maybe they did that elsewhere. This post is written in an upbeat cheerful tone, which I wouldn’t mind but it is becoming a bit of a cliche for “The post that announces a startup is closing down.”

Anyway, worth a read:

Pixable Closing Up Shop After One Crazy, Awesome Ride

Written by Chris Anderson on Nov 30, 2015.

Since CEO Andy Volanakis brought me on in January 2014 we pivoted a company from an app-focused social photo aggregation tool that scraped APIs of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Youtube with a focus on an international demographic and turned it — in under two years — into a media product focused on a US demographic of 18–34 year old millennials.

In that time we hit 9,400,000 monthly active users, and 58,000,000 monthly original video views in October 2015 after continued month-over-month growth, a Facebook page with over 390,000 insanely engaged fans (lately gaining at a rate of thousands new fans a day), highlighted in the Apple App store as a featured app, a sky-high article read-through completion rate, an average time-on-page of 1:25 spread out over 8,000 articles, over 23,000,000 social actions and 91,000,000 social referrals, 137,000,000 article page views since April 2014 (it’s worth noting we do not, nor ever had slideshow galleries), reached a top 100 rank in Quantcast for mobile traffic, launched a proprietary contributor platform, with original reporting and an average of 25 stories per day with an in-house editorial staff of 13.

We established relationships with — and created sponsored content for — big brands such as Walmart, Sony, Etsy, Disney and others with more that were in the pipe for Q1 of 2016. We did this all while focusing on the importance of the engagement as a metric over that of banner ad impressions. Our sales team of Donna Bulford and Angela Rogerman teamed up with our Branded Content Manager Cristina Gutierrez who drove the efforts here.

During my Q&A session I asked everybody who’s clicked on or paid attention to a banner ad to raise their hands. Not one did. Not one. They were all in the 18–34 demographic. Ask yourself when was the last time you even noticed a banner ad.

We established syndication and social partnerships with major publications including Huffington Post, Daily Dot, People’s Choice Awards, MTV, Cambio, Bustle, Ozy, Playbuzz, Thrillist, Hollywood.com, Inc, The Dodo, Above Average and more.

We hosted panels and gave talks at Social Media Week, Big Boulder Conference and StreamCon.

Our audience development and social marketing team of Loren Appin, VP of Growth and Noah Keil got so ridiculously good at understanding how to reach a target audience at such a good cost per click that we grew our user base month over month without increasing our monthly budget.

And those 390,000 Facebook fans? Those were grown from zero without spending a dime on Like campaigns. The management of the page by our Head of Social Media Adam Gassman had much to do with it as well as the increased focus on video over the summer.

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