February 12, 2011

The Story of TweetDeck's Rise from Obscurity to a Rumored Sale for ~$30 Million In Less than 1,000 Days

The launch and resulting success of TweetDeck starting in the summer of 2008 surprised everyone, including the application's founder, Iain Dodsworth, who is reported tonight to be selling the product to Ubermedia for as much as $30 million - culminating a two and a half year journey from complete obscurity to a position where his product is recognized as one of the most innovative social and communication dashboards on the Web - the standard tool used from casual users to businesses and newsrooms alike. Time from the product reaching the public consciousness on July 4, 2008 and getting close to a sale on February 11, 2011 is 952 days - nearly 1,000 days of dedicated development, with practically one-fifth of the world's tweets flowing through his application, from the desktop to mobile devices to the Chrome Web browser.

Iain, in an interview with me back in 2009 referred to the first day, launch day, as "one of shock and extreme excitement," the result of his finding Twitter "a bit overwhelming" after following about 50 people. Unsatisfied with the current offerings, he set about making his own client.

As long-time blog readers know (and may remember), our paths crossed when Iain neared release of the first version, and the first product, something new the world had never seen, was covered here. I remember Iain's real fear that the first beta version would not be good enough, combined with a hope that initial press would make it visible. On July 3, 2008, he sent me an e-mail, saying:
"I am furiously coding away getting the next version out there (a real improvement on the current version). Since you are the highest profile person who has seen TweetDeck it would be great to capitalize on your visibility (if that's ok with you) so please DO blog on it with the URL possibly making the point that its very early beta and a new version is due very soon..." adding "Really appreciate any push you can give it."
The next day after trying to summarize this new product in a way that clearly described its potential, I put up a post covering it as a new AIR app with integrated search and groups. From there, the word spread like wildfire. By mid-day on July 4th, TweetDeck had managed the 6th highest Trending Topic on Summize (prior to Twitter's acquisition), behind Obama. I e-mailed Iain, and he responded quickly, "Oh cool! I've taken a screen grab :-)".

My Short e-mail to Iain with a Screenshot on 7/4/08

Seemingly innocent times. There's no question he probably didn't foresee what was to eventually happen, even after continued excitement around the app made it clear he'd hit a nerve just under two weeks later, when the spike in activity was highlighted by a since-defunct Tumblr site called Tweetip. Only a few weeks later, Iain wrote me to say he wanted to "make TweetDeck something quite spectacular," suggesting while looking for Angel investment, he was considering a "Pro" version of the app to sell for "a nominal amount." I am sure my answers weren't too helpful, but he forged forward.

TweetDeck's Jump As Noted by Tweetip on 7/14/08

Then came the hard work of adding more features, scaling to meet demand and finding a way to work within what at the time was a flaky service, Twitter, which struggled with API issues, downtime and frequent inconsistencies. Iain forged forward, responsible for about 4-6% of all tweets within 5 months and gaining funding in January of 2009 and becoming the desktop standard against Twitter's Web client.

I speak with Iain in December of 2009 at LeWeb

By February of 2009, TweetDeck went global, adding translations, tweets by e-mail and integrated StockTwits. As Iain's product was still relatively small, he was kind enough to offer an exclusive video demo featured in this post where he showed the new features to the blog's readers. I still remember sitting in an airport coming back from a trade show, sending him a note, and getting this video back, where he answered my questions personally in less than an hour. Even to a real-time geek like me, that was very cool. Later, TweetDeck expanded beyond Twitter, with support for Facebook and MySpace later in 2009, promising the addition of Twitter lists integration, and later expanding the vision to become the client for all streams from any source, which led to a B round of $3 million.

By this time, TweetDeck was clearly a big deal. Despite serious competition from Seesmic and others, and a parallel acquisition of Tweetie by Twitter, TweetDeck had become a serious company with big aspirations - beyond the scrappy individual who could lob e-mails to me overnight and work with my little eponymous blog to get coverage. This I welcome, of course. For all the fun of owning a story, I'd rather see the little guys graduate to be household names, and TweetDeck seemingly pulled it off. It's probable that an exit to UberMedia isn't something that kids dream about, but an 8 to 10x return on investment for VCs is a win, and Iain went from being a single guy staring excitedly at his laptop on a big first day to someone who has his finger on the pulse of the real-time Web, the move to a world of pages to a world of streams, and no doubt can afford some luxuries today that he couldn't yesterday.

For those entrepreneurs looking to get rich quick, you had better believe this is hard work. Iain once e-mailed me to say he was doing 16 hour days, 7 days a week, coding. And nearly three years is a long time to do that. It's not a 20-year career pushing papers in an anonymous cubicle, but it's attention to detail, differentiation and quality that made TweetDeck the best at what they do. I haven't asked Iain for a hint to the future, and didn't approach UberMedia for their plans either, but let's put TweetDeck next to SocialMedian and others who got their start here, and whose founders are now quite financially well off. Very exciting. Can't wait to see who is next.

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