The Six Apart MistakeMarch 19, 2006
Six Apart just announced that they've secured another $12 million of financing, bringing the total raised to $23 million. They also announced the acquisition of a mobile blogging company.
I finally had the chance to see Mena Trott, the co-founder of Six Apart, in person at SXSW. I've always thought highly of Mena and her company, but I was disappointed. She was the only one on a diverse panel on the future of web apps who had nothing to show, which was somewhat foreboding. Then, as she discussed the funding, acquisition and plans for the future, she said that Six Apart was focused on the millions and millions of people who don't blog. The last thing these people want to do when they wake up in the morning is blog. How can we build the tools that they would want to use? How can we convince them to blog?
I believe that Six Apart is making a serious mistake.
The company is no longer passionate about users and blogging, they are passionate about markets and reach. Even when Mena talked about convincing people to blog, it was clearly motivated by what they could do for Six Apart, not what blogging could do for them. The company has thousands upon thousands of people paying $100 per year or more to use TypePad. Instead of serving, rewarding, and empowering the enthusiastic and the committed, they are pursuing the people who are specifically uninterested in what they offer.
As Jason Fried mentioned in his keynote, the more funding you receive, the more you will waste. The same goes for employees and time. The funding Six Apart has received has allowed it to grow through acquisitions and new hires. Now, the company is forced to pursue additional funding and market initiatives to support its ever-growing infrastructure.
Meanwhile, the company's core products are stagnate, despite the additional money and employees. I have used TypePad for over two years and the tool has remained essentially unchanged. Of course, there have been a number of very public outages and consistent, sometimes painful, slowness in the meantime. What I find interesting is that each time someone, including myself, posts frustrations or suggestions for Six Apart, the company responds promptly with "we feel your pain" and "we hope to address that soon", but the changes never come.
A simple example: to this day, there is no way in TypePad to see when your subscription will expire and when you will be charged next. Again, this is a subscription-based service that costs over $100 per year and I cannot see when I was charged last and when I will be charged next. Not even a simple "Your current subscription expires on June 1, 2006." And it has been this way for over 2 years! Why is a company with over 120 employees unable to roll out a steady stream of improvements?
Many loyal TypePad users are switching to Wordpress or other options. Most pro-level users incorporate stat trackers on their sites because TypePad's stats are so poor (and often down). The same users turn to FeedBurner for detailed stats on their RSS subscribers. Don't they see their core audience slipping away?
Six Apart is chasing the business market with Movable Type (high dollars) and the millions of people who have heard about blogs for two years and still aren't interested (high volume), rather than serving existing users who are passionate about blogging, and were once passionate about Six Apart.