Earlier this week I had the opportunity to interview Beta List founder, Marc Köhlbrugge. I've have signed up for no end of startup beta's, for better or for worse, I'm not sure. I've certainly found some great tools as well as some that didn't live up too expectation. It's a great site and has a great story. So without further ado, check out my interview with Marc below:
[caption id="attachment_17103" align="alignnone" width="481"] Photo © 2013 Tommy Köhlbrugge[/caption]
Marc, how are you today?
Thanks, I’m doing quite well. Working on a big redesign for Beta List.
Can you give me a bit of background about yourself:
My name is Marc Köhlbrugge, 25 years old and based in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. After graduating in 2009 I co-founded two startups at the same time. One is called PressDoc where we re-imagined what a press release should look like in the digital age. The other one is called *openmargin which is an iPad app that turns any ebook into a community by enabling users to exchange notes within the book.
I’ve always been interested in the intersection of design and technology, so I do both. The last year or so I’ve also gained an interest in how to really grow a business versus just making cool products. (Marketing, business development, etc.)
So what is Beta List?
Beta List is a way to discover and get early access to tomorrow’s startups. While most technology blogs focus on news like funding announcements, acquisitions and product launches we’re speciﬁcally interested in the early stages of a startup which is why we only write about internet startups that have yet to launch. This sets us apart from all the other sites out there and means we’re often (one of) the ﬁrst to cover a new startup.
Our audience primarily consists of early adopters including investors, journalists, startup founders and technology enthusiasts. That’s the perspective from someone visiting the website to discover new startups. For the startups themselves it’s a great way to get free exposure which often leads to a lot of sign ups and additional press coverage.
What was the inspiration behind it?
In November 2010 we had set up our own ‘coming soon’ page for *openmargin in the hope to get some buzz going and build our mailing list of people interested to try out the upcoming beta.We set this goal to get 200 subscribers by the end of the month and as time went by it became clear we weren’t going to reach that goal. I ﬁgured if we could get featured on TechCrunch that would create a lot of buzz and would allow us to easily reach that goal. The question was however, how do we get featured on TechCrunch without a working product to show? That question got me thinking…
First, I LOVED signing up to these pre-launch startups. It meant being one of the ﬁrst to try out a product other entrepreneurs like me had passionately worked on for months, sometimes years. It meant helping them shape their product by providing feedback. It also meant having my ﬁrst name as my username and bragging rights to my fellow entrepreneurs. So if TechCrunch wasn't going to write about those startups, I ﬁgured I should do it myself.
Second, TechCrunch might not be interested in writing about individual pre-launch startups like *openmargin, but they may actually be open to writing about a site that writes about pre-launch startups. And when they would, I could place *openmargin at the top of the page basically forwarding all those TechCrunch visitors to *openmargin.
It was a long shot, but I ﬁgured it was worth the effort as even if TechCrunch would write about my new site (Beta List) I still think it would be an interesting idea by itself.
I created a simple Tumblr blog, added some startups and wrote TechCrunch an email and a few days later they wrote an article about Beta List and I quickly published the *openmargin post so a lot of TechCrunch visitors actually went ahead and checked out *openmargin as well. So I basically tricked TechCrunch in writing about my startup. :)
Although initially I didn't have big plans for Beta List people really seemed to like it and I appreciated helping all those startups gain publicity so I decided to keep developing it. Today I’m working full-time on Beta List and still really enjoying it.
How do you make money?
Beta List was never about making money, but for me to work on it full-time and continue growing it and expanding the team I’ll be providing paid products targeted at early-stage startups.
Right now though we got two revenue model that organically emerged. The ﬁrst is basic advertising. One ad on the site, one in the newsletter. It started by some companies approaching me if they could buy an ad on the site. That’s still the primary way I ﬁnd advertisers. They ﬁnd me. The other model is the ‘expedited review’. Submitting your startup to be published on Beta List is free of charge, but it can take a while before we review your submission due to the amount of submissions we get each month. A lot of startups asked if they could somehow expedite the process which I then started experimenting charging for it. Apparently lot of startups are willing to pay for that privilege, so that’s another way revenue source and I'm able to expedite the reviews of the startups that value it the most.
Have you raised funding or is it totally bootstrapped?
It’s bootstrapped. By choice. My goals for Beta List right now wouldn't be aligned with those of investors. A big ﬁnancial return is not my end goal. What challenges have you faced bootstrapping your business and how have you overcome them?
I haven’t faced too many challenges to be honest. I just go with the ﬂow. Having some additional money would be nice to speed up product development, but I'm not in a hurry and I still enjoy doing the design and development myself.
I can imagine if we had a bigger team lack of money would become a problem, but fortunately that’s not something I have had to deal with. Running a startup has its ups and downs but what gets you through the downs?
I get a lot of thank you emails from startups that are featured on the website. It’s often the ﬁrst time they get publicity for the product they have been building so they are really stoked about it. I've seen people being congratulated by their peers for being listed on our site which makes me think back of Beta List being listed on TechCrunch. Having people check out and give feedback on that product you've been working on day and night for the last couple of months is an awesome feeling.
Now we might not be as big as TechCrunch yet, but it’s really cool to see how excited people are getting listed on the site. Getting feedback from early adopters who “can’t stop browsing the website” is really nice as well.
Apart from feedback I also try to be conscious of why I'm doing whatever I'm doing. That question guides me in the right direction and reminds me of the purpose whatever I'm working on.
What advice would you give to any aspiring entrepreneurs?
If you haven’t already, ship something today. Anything. Once you've got something out there things magically start happening.
...and ﬁnally which startups are your favourite on Beta List?
I can’t possibly name them all, but some of the recent ones that I'm looking forward trying out are:
Growth Hacker TV: Internet television for growing startups.
BINORY: Makes everyone an artist.
SideProjectors: Showcase your side projects and discover what others are building.
In December we created a list of startups to look out for in 2013 which contains a lot of interesting startups as well. You view that list here: http://checkthis.com/startups2013
And of course, you can check out http://betali.st/ to ﬁnd all the startups we cover.
On Saturday 9th March we will be hosting, alongside Brightside, ‘Get Up Start Up‘ where you will be able to apply and be approved for a Startup loan of between £2,500 & £10,000 to help you get your business started!