I launched Blottr 18 months ago and have spent most of my time since then putting in the donkey work to convince the world we’re a credible news service. All of our content is crowd-sourced, so we have to work hard to prove to people that it’s all factually correct. We’ve finally reached that point I think, mainly through breaking big stories again and again. But it’s taken a long time.
If you haven’t heard of Blottr – and plenty of people still haven’t (I keep reminding myself that Twitter was under the radar for three years before it got big) – it’s a place where anyone can send local news and pictures to document what’s happening where they are. We don't pay for it; people do it to establish an online profile, to raise awareness about things or places they care about. Or simply because they were there.
It’s a collaborative model. Take one example from this week, a fire in a police station in Croydon. Someone sent in the original story, then a passer-by submitted a video, showing all the officers running out of the building. Then an air ambulance arrived and we had a picture of that come in. That’s how a full, multimedia story is built.
We are a serious news service. We break news on serious issues and big topics. It’s mostly UK-focused but we also feature a lot of international content these days: daily updates on the situation in Homs, on Bahrain, pieces on the Occupy movement, Anonymous, the works. But our audience is young: 18-35. And what do young people want? They want fun stuff as well. That’s why, this week, we’ve launched a celebrity news element on the site. It’s already generating 20 more stories every day for us, and traffic is going through the roof.
Traffic is a big deal in this business. We refuse to follow the other media agencies into a paywall model. We get our content for free, so how could we morally ask people to pay to read it? But the advertising industry is volatile right now. What will happen to us in three years if it drops through the floor? As a start-up, that’s a big worry for me right now.
At least we’ve been incredibly lucky with timing, which has helped us to scale fast. In our first six months, there was the Breivik bomb in Norway, Gaddafi was killed, Bin Laden was assassinated, there were student protests, the list goes on. And we’re still in a high-octane news phase. There’s the Olympics this year, and the Diamond Jubilee. You don’t get that many 12-month periods with that much going on.
Still, traffic aside, having investors on board makes it that much more important to make money. I bootstrapped the business for the first 12 months, and then we took £1m in May last year. I’m in a lots of commercial meetings right now, talking about new revenue streams. Things like our white label Newspoint product, which basically lets other brands create their own micro-Blottrs on their own websites.
This definitely isn’t the easiest time to be running a business but I’m lucky, I’ve founded three businesses before so I have the benefit of hindsight. One thing I can feel in my gut is that Blottr is going to be big, revolutionary even. From a social perspective, we can fundamentally change an industry with this one. It’s already started. And if we can be the catalyst of that change, the rise of Citizen Journalism, in the UK and across the world, that is quite the legacy.