March 13, 2012

Foursquare, Flickr and Pinterest Had a Baby – 6 Product Lessons Learned From Caterina’s New Startup: Pinwheel.

Meeting with founders, entrepreneurs, CEO’s and their products is part of my day job. Very few share the social technology wisdom of Caterina – one of my favorite entrepreneurs. Although I have yet to have the opportunity to meet her, yet I have heard that she’s as impressive in real life as she is on paper.







Caterina co-founded Flickr, sold it to Yahoo in 2005 for a reported $35 million and then went on to build Hunch, which was acquired by eBay in 2011 for a reported $80 million. Two weeks ago she revealed her latest startup called Pinwheel: a platform that lets you find and leave digital notes all over the globe. Says Caterina, “The notes can be public or private, shared with an individual, a group or everyone and you can follow people, places and sets.”

To get the ball rolling, Pinwheel has raised a $7.5 million Series A round led by Redpoint Ventures. That’s in addition to the $2 million in angel funding raised last year from investors such as True Ventures, Betaworks, Founder Collective, SV Angel and Obvious Corp.

Pinwheel is currently in private Beta and you can request an invite at Pinwheel. As users flock to join, Caterina shed light on the current state:

         We’re already seeing original and inventive types of notes. Ancestry, located poems, old   
         postcards, found objects. But the most wonderful thing is receiving (and writing!) private notes.  
         Here is a note I left for my friend Lauren:

Pinwheel

Private notes on Pinwheel



Lessons Learned:

If you are building a consumer (and to some extent enterprise grade) social platform then chew on these takeaways from Caterina’s Pinwheel:

1. Fusion of Social Trends: 

Caterina has fused leading social tech trends into one platform: mobile photo sharing, location-based storytelling, image pinning, and social image hosting. On one hand, building a niche platform architecture allows for market dominance – but on the other, baking a mix of the best ingredients creates a unique product.

2. Social Product Features:

To name a few – you can follow people, places and sets. There is targeted content sharing and of-course image and location-based story telling.

3. Consumer and Brand Strategy:

The startup was designed from the ground up to onboard both consumers and brands.

4. Monetization Strategy:

Before launch and built deep into the platform is a monetization strategy – Sponsored Notes. Says Caterina, “You, the people you love, and businesses of all shapes and sizes will all be able to drop notes around the world, highlighted for all to open and see.” For example a realtor can leave sponsored notes of his properties for sale, things coming on the market, notable things in neighborhoods his clients should notice, and general area knowledge to promote his real estate business. My assumption is that engaging with these notes is the equivalent on clicking on an advertisement and when that happens – Pinwheel earns dollars.

5. Open and Private Social Network:

Following in the footsteps of Path’s intuitive UX – users have full control over their content. Notes can be public or private, shared with an individual, a group or everyone.

6. Avoiding metastatic growth:

I love the following paragraph: “Growth should happen because users find value in a site, and then get their friends to join.” “And if users don’t come? Start-ups should try harder to make a better product,” says Caterina. That’s why Pinwheel plans to only slowly onboard users. And it’s why Pinwheel will ask users to write original notes, rather than filling the many empty places on its map with existing location-based content from around the Web. “We’re not going to suddenly metastasize by adding Wikipedia content,” Fake said.

I will be watching attentively at Pinwheel’s product roadmap rollout and (hopefully!) user growth. It has a couple of noteworthy competitors – Pin Drop, Repudo and Dropp so it will be interesting to see if Caterina and her team can make a dent in the space.

Michoel – @Twabbi

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