IAmA Seattle Startup Pivoting to Take On Reddit in AMAs

3/11/14Follow @bromano

Yabbly has an ambitious new goal: It wants to do “Ask me anything” (AMA) better than Reddit, the Internet giant where this unique, wildly popular form of crowd-sourced interviewing was popularized and thrives today.

The Seattle startup, headed by Tom Leung, is embarking on a new course after it failed to gain sufficient traction with a Web site and mobile app for product searching and recommendations that relied on people rather than algorithms.

“We made the hard choice after realizing that our shopping Q&A had a fiercely loyal following of early adopters (some of our members had been coming to Yabbly every day for over a year) but it just wasn’t crossing the chasm to mainstream usage at the rates we needed to see to justify further investment,” Leung says in an e-mail.

The small company began exploring alternatives in December, not long after former Decide.com CEO Mike Fridgen signed on as an adviser. Leung says an experiment in February with the AMA form—in which users submit questions to an interview subject that are voted up or down by others—struck a chord.

“AMA’s quickly bubbled to the top based on customer feedback on our prototypes, ability to leverage a lot of our core technology, potential market size, and interests of our team,” Leung says.

The Reddit AMA, in the course of about five years, “has gone from interesting curiosity to a juggernaut of a media brand,” wrote Alexis Madrigal in a comprehensive story on how it happened for The Atlantic in January. “There’s a reason for that. AMAs generate some of the most compelling stories on the Web, or in any medium.”

Leung

Leung

Leung is well aware of the challenge Yabbly faces in going up against Reddit, which had more than 112 million unique visitors last month, including nearly 5 million subscribers to the IAmA “subreddit”—as in, I am a UFC fighter, neurosurgeon, Cypress Hill frontman, author, actor, President of the United States—which is where the majority of the AMAs reside on the site.

“Our hypothesis is that if a company were built from the ground up to deliver an outstanding experience for AMA readers, hosts, and partners, it could take the entire AMA category to a whole new level,” Leung says. He offers more detail on the decision, which includes plans to shutter earlier Yabbly features, in an AMA posted last week on Yabbly, naturally.

It’s one of more than 30 AMAs on the site now. Others include Seattle angel investor Rudy Gadre (a Yabbly backer), the founding pastor of a new church, and the executive chef at El Gaucho.

Leung says Yabbly is still exploring potential business models. “One would be premium tools for AMA hosts to make it easier to promote, syndicate, manage, and analyze their AMA’s,” he says. “Another would be promoted posts.”

The company has raised $1.5 million. Leung says it has enough left to prove out its latest pivot before needing more capital.

Benjamin Romano is editor of Xconomy Seattle. Email him at bromano [at] xconomy.com. Follow @bromano

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  • Tom Leung

    Thx for the story Ben! Just wanted to emphasize that our team doesn’t see ourselves as competing with Reddit. We’re just trying to take the AMA format to different audiences and explore different approaches to how people host, promote, and engage. Feels like there should be room for a few companies supporting AMA’s in different ways and we’d like to be one of them!