Behind Storify: Belgian founder who pivoted 4 times

“It takes time to become an overnight success.” Behind every success story, the founders usually spend years of work and go through many struggles and pivots. Same applies to the recent success story from Silicon Valley: Storify – a curation app to amplify voices that matter. Behind it there is a Belgian founder who pivoted 4 times and moved across the ocean to fulfill his dream.

Storify was launched in private beta at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco in 2010 and raised 2M funding. Since then it got quite a lot of media coverage and many users – being used for Obama’s campaign, Disney’s stories, TEDx events and many other organizations, brands and individuals.

What should not escape our attention is the entrepreneurial journey taken by its founder, Xavier Damman, and the many lessons he learned and is willing to share. Xavier visited Brussels recently, where I got the chance to meet him and hear his story, which you might find interesting as well.

ONE PASSION + A FEW PIVOTS = SUCCESS

Xavier followed his passion amplifying the not-enough-heard voices throughout all of his four pivots he made: from 2008 with europatweets.eu to tweetag.com to publitweet to listimonkey and finally to storify in 2010.

Tweetag got him the first media attention, but was not making money. Publitweet was making money from publishers and had many users, but they were not engaged and too many features cluttered the product. Listimonkey was made in 24h and helped him get noticed in Silicon Valley, where he moved recently. Then Storify came up by rethinking the product, by empowering the users to select content from more channels and by making it easy to use (for example, with drag and drop functionality).

Xavier‘s advice for entrepreneurs is to not underestimate distribution when designing the concept. “Get influencers. The best marketing is word of mouth.” And try to incorporate that in the way the product works (in his case, he was solving a problem for the media, hence he got lots of media attention). He also adds “Do something out of passion. Don’t just follow opportunities and money.”

EUROPE VS. SILICON VALLEY

Belgian by origin, Xavier developed Tweetag and Publitweet in his home country in 2008. He tried to raise funding from business angels in Brussels and Paris, but the only outcome he had was 25K investment (and nothing more) for 25% equity, which was not the best. European investors asked to prove the business model before investing, which Xavier considered a ckicken-egg problem since he needed money to prove it. On top of that, twitter back then was a niche product, and something build on top of it would make it niche of a niche.

This determined him to move to San Francisco and gave himself 6 months to reach good signs, otherwise he would return home. The move was not easy, he did not know the media there (his potential customers) and he was not known. The first business angel actually advised him to go back to Europe. But he struggled and came up with ListiMonkey which got him lots of media coverage and his name known in Silicon Valley. Then he started presenting Publitweet in meetups, got business angel investment and interested clients – the signs it is worth staying there. So settled in, found a co-founder and got office space in the same building with Twitter and Klout (who were not big back then as well).

Be in the capital city of your industry” says Xavier. Be where you have your network (for example, if you are in b2b and you know companies in your area, is better to stay there, if you have a global b2c product it might be better to use the talent and the business angels San Francisco has to offer). “Dream big. Countries are things from the past, now we are all connected, there are no more borders. You can work with people from wherever. Market are not limited by borders anymore.”

Regarding the business angels status, he mentions one factor of development (which is in Silicon Valley, but not yet in Europe): more exits. There are more founders that exited and more employees that became rich through their shares in SF, which enables them to invest now. But also companies there have as option to be bought, than just to become profitable or die, which encourages a lot business angels. “In SF business angels actually prefer that you are bought than becoming profitable, so they can cash out faster. In Europe we need more companies that buy startups to innovate themselves, this will lead to the existance of more business angels.”

Below the full presentation Xavier hold at BetaGroup Coworking in Brussels: