In a story that’s sadly common in the world of startups – especially web app startups, it seems – Twitter recently announced that they’re shutting down Posterous, little more than a year after they bought out Posterous. If you’ve been blogging on Posterous, it’s time to find a new place for your site before it’s shut down on April 30th.
One team is trying their best to make a great place for Posterous sites before they’re shut down for good: Posthaven. Started by two former cofounders of Posterous, Posthaven aims to let the blogging dream sparked by Posterous live on, only this time with a $5/month service that pledges to never shut down.
We caught up with Garry Tan, and were able to talk with him about Posterous, Posthaven, and their plans for the future. It’s quite the interesting interview!
Thanks for taking the time to do an interview with us. Could you tell us a bit about yourself and the team behind Posthaven?
Brett and I worked together on Posterous back when we started off, right after Y Combinator in 2008. Sachin Agarwal and I were the original cofounders, and Brett was a founder of another company in our YC Summer 2008 batch, Slinkset. We really liked him and acquired his company on board to help us build a ton of the software right when we were scaling, growing 40% month on month over the course of years. We worked together on a ton of features over the years. Due to disagreements with my cofounder Sachin over strategy, I ended up resigning in 2011 because I felt that was the best way he could execute against his vision for the company. It was a clean break for the company, but our relationship has been strained since. Cofounder breakups are never fun, and they are very common. Most people in the Valley don’t talk about them.
YC was an incredibly special experience,
so special that when I mentioned to PG and Jessica in 2011 that I was resigning from Posterous, I leapt when they gave me the chance to help out the startups as a designer-in-residence. I’ve since been promoted to Partner and work closely with the hundreds of YC startups who have come through the doors. YC has funded over 250 startups and 500 founders since I’ve been involved, and it’s been a very special gift to work with every single one of them to build tomorrow’s world-changing apps, services, and businesses.
Since Posterous, Brett has continued to create amazing software, most recently the iOS app Kaleidacam, which is very fun to use.
What was the inspiration behind Posthaven?
I used Posterous extensively even after I left. It was just my favorite way to post and blog. My wife and I used it for our wedding website. I used it with my family and friends and had private blogs to share photos. And I also blogged a lot publicly too. When it was acquired by Twitter, they made it clear the acquisition was for the very talented team. That was a thinly veiled code for the fact that they were going to shut it down sooner or later. We spent too many sleepless nights coding and building software and interacting with users to feel very happy that a shutdown was going to happen. I knew I needed something like this, and enlisted Brett’s help shortly thereafter. It was really just an idea at the start of the year, and we didn’t even know when Posterous was going to shut down, which was why keeping our servers online for our launch was more rocky than it should have been.
We’ve been working in all of our waking moments to deliver software since then. It’s a tough challenge to cram years of development into a few months.
There’s so many places to start a blog online, both paid (say, Squarespace) and freemium (like WordPress.com). How will Posthaven compete in this space? Do you see it as just a place for people leaving Posterous, or should someone considering starting a new blog consider using Posthaven?
Squarespace is awesome, and so is WordPress. I love what Matt Mullenweg is doing, and I consider him a role model. One thing I think we spent too much time doing with Posterous was bagging on all the other blog platforms. There isn’t only one restaurant in the entire world;
why should there be only one blogging service? Different services for different needs.
Initially, Posthaven will be most relevant for people who need a place to move to from Posterous. But I was the main designer for most of Posterous’s life until I left in 2011, and between Brett and I, we wrote many of the features that people loved about Posterous. So we’re going to try to get back to parity, and then just keep going. It’s always easier to write something the second time, thankfully. If we can execute against that
well, we’d be one of the best choices for new blogs, too.
One of the biggest challenges scaling Posterous was actually keeping the servers online while also trying to push forward on product. Much of the scaling difficulty came from an incredible spam problem, because when you’re creating an online blog publishing platform, you become the target of blackhat SEO spammers who merely want to game Google. It cost nothing for a spammer to create thousands of accounts, and these spammers ended up making thousands if not millions of dollars by gaming the search engines, all at our expense.
A lot of these problems we expect to fall away because we charge money, which means we can focus on great user experience, great customer experience, and a great place to work.
It’s not very fun to think about, but what’d happen to a Posthaven site if the owner died? Would you keep it running forever?
We’ve been exploring legal options about turning Posthaven into a nonprofit entity. This would really put some teeth into wanting to keep it around forever. If you look at successful web hosting services in the space, like Weebly or Squarespace, paid services can actually be quite profitable. We’re talking millions of dollars in free cash flow. So what if we took those profits and pointed them at our mission? A foundation where operational profits were established and set up in a trust to support the organization is a dream of mine.
When we started to work on Posthaven, we didn’t set out to line our pockets. We’re here to make software for lots of people
we love to make software, it’s our calling. It’s not important for Posthaven to become the next Facebook, and perhaps it is specifically a non-goal.
But before all this big-talk of foundations and trusts can happen, we have to build software, and build it well, and get people to use it and loving it. Luckily, that’s what we love to do.
Could you tell us a bit about Posthaven’s features? How will users publish content to their blog?
All of the things we liked about Posterous will be in Posthaven, only better. We’re really focused on the web experience for now, but post by email is definitely in the plans, and mobile after that. There’s a lot of opportunity to make great software here.
Is Posthaven aiming at the full-featured blog/CMS market like WordPress, or is it competing with simpler services, like the flat-file CMSes that have gotten popular lately?
I don’t think we want to be full-featured to the level of where WordPress is. WordPress will always be the next level kind of thing;
when you need total customizability, that’s the right thing for you. One thing that Posterous got right initially was that it had to be simple, though to a certain extent the product lost its way on that front after a while. We don’t want to make that same mistake.
Flat file CMSes are great too, but they’ll never support rich media in the way I think is necessary for this medium to evolve. They’re great for hackers, but not great for the billions of normal human beings who don’t make computers their livelihoods.
How long has Posthaven been in the works right now, and when do you expect it to be open to the public?
Brett and I started working on it in earnest only recently, just this year. We’ve released it to about 15% of the first paying users so far. We expect to release to everyone who has signed up by next week, but since imports can involve multi-gigabyte data transfers, we have to be careful about how fast we roll it out. We’ve got a ticking time bomb since Posterous is shutting down April 30, and we are super aware of it.
What’s your thoughts on paid-versus-free web services, like the new paid bookmarking apps (like Pinboard) that have come out after Delicious nearly died, and social networks like App.net?
I was definitely inspired by App.net. Dalton is a friend and I am a big supporter of what he’s doing. I’d love to work more closely with the platform because I think fundamentally what we believe in is very similar. Right now we’re heads down coding, though, and building a great hosted blog experience is first priority.
With so many online services like Posterous shutting down, wouldn’t we be better to self-host our own web apps?
Self-hosting is great if you can do it, and I think it’s a fantastic option when you need total customizability and know how to do it. But if you’re not as tech savvy, or you don’t want to spend the time to do it, it can be a disaster. WordPress self-hosted installations, even for technically savvy people, are notorious for getting hacked. It’s not an easily solved problem, and every other day I hear about people waking up and finding viagra ads all over their site when Google indexes their blog. The other problem with self-hosting is that you can just forget to maintain or pay for it. I ran many websites over the years on many types of hosts, and it’s just too easy to fat-finger something and delete it, or just forget to pay the bill, or re-register the domain.
For those who can or must self-host, it’s definitely the right option. For the rest, we hope Posthaven is right.
What web apps do you use in your daily work building Posthaven?
If there’s one free web service that you could switch away from to a paid service, which one would it be?
Gmail, probably. I think the biggest single opportunity out there is to fix email. Email is so important that it’s somewhat unbelievable that we don’t really pay for it. It’s how all business is conducted, and every time I get a ten second pause searching for a piece of mail, I shake my head.
Google’s priorities are to build moats around its search monopoly, and there is some product manager in that organization who is willfully making a decision against better performance because economically it makes no sense for them. They allocate less of our email data to RAM and more to disk because its cheap and expedient, and as a result, it wastes the time of millions of people across the globe.
Money aligns people and pays for great products.
We’d like to extend a special Thank You! to Garry Tan for taking the time to do this interview with us, even though the Posthaven team is so busy gearing up for launch. If you’d like to see some Posthaven blogs that are already live and in action, check out Garry’s own blogs, as well as Y Combinator’s blog, which is also on Posthaven.
We’ll be reviewing Posthaven in full soon, but until then, if you’d like to make sure you can get the Posthaven account you want when it’s launched, you can reserve your blog for $5 today. That’ll pay for your first month of Posthaven when it’s ready for you to use it, so it’s not a bad price if you need a new home for your Posterous site, post-Posterous.