Today, App.net passed its $500,000 funding goal. A few weeks ago when I signed up with my $50, I didn’t think they could do it. And Daniel and I were both pessimistic about their chances when we talked about it on Core Intuition 50.
In less than a month, they went from a mission statement video that seemed just a step away from vaporware, to following through on an API spec and then alpha version web site. They delivered. The momentum of shipping something real brought in new users and drove them to the finish.
What I love most about App.net is the transparency. Founder Dalton Caldwell is a blogger, like one of us. Where we only hear from Twitter’s CEO, Dick Costolo, through big news publications or at conference keynotes, for Dalton we hear it directly from his own blog posts, the way a small company should communicate. Being on the ground in posts and tweets is a perfect complement to his goal of treating users and developers as real customers.
App.net will never overtake Twitter. Look no further than hashtags all over the Olympics as proof of that. But App.net can put pressure on Twitter to respect third-party developers, and with thousands of paying customers, all with a vested interest in making App.net something worthwhile, App.net has already surpassed every other Twitter clone that has tried and failed to build a community.
From Paul Graham’s essay on ambitious startup ideas:
"The way to win here is to build the search engine all the hackers use. A search engine whose users consisted of the top 10,000 hackers and no one else would be in a very powerful position despite its small size, just as Google was when it was that search engine. […]
“Don’t worry if something you want to do will constrain you in the long term, because if you don’t get that initial core of users, there won’t be a long term. If you can just build something that you and your friends genuinely prefer to Google, you’re already about 10% of the way to an IPO, just as Facebook was (though they probably didn’t realize it) when they got all the Harvard undergrads.”
He’s talking about search engines, but it could be anything. Get those 10,000 passionate users and you have a chance to take on the giants in the industry. As of this writing, App.net has 8000 paying customers. And 25% of them signed up at the developer tier. I’m sure every developer with a popular Twitter app has already looked at the App.net API documentation.
As John Siracusa tweeted after App.net successfully funded: “Now comes the hard part.” Totally true, but just reaching this point was difficult — a perfect mix of great timing and even better execution. In the first 30 days, we saw a team that knows how to win. Let’s see what they can do next.