Q&A with ‘Curated’ Founder Dave Verwer

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Harbus Publishing Partner

Harbus Logo[stag_dropcap font_size=”50px” style=”normal”]D[/stag_dropcap]uring The Harbus’ search for a time-saving, modern, easy-to-use, and effective platform to adopt for the execution and delivery of our weekly digital newsletter, we found new friends in UK-based software developer, Dave Verwer, and his company, Curated. Like most, we were a bit overwhelmed by how many curated content publication companies are saturating the market today, and we feel lucky to have discovered Curated during our search.

Dave Verwer
Curated Founder Dave Verwer

Curated is a joint venture between Shiny Development, Verwer’s UK-based software development company, and Litmus.com, an email testing and tracking company based across the river in Cambridge, MA. It differentiates itself from competitors by capturing the entire process of putting this kind of publication together. From collection of potentially interesting links, through the curation process, all email and publishing functionality as well as analytics that span both the email and also the web version. It’s also a way to make your publication into its own revenue stream through sponsorship.

Curated’s founding story is particularly relevant and relatable to members of the business school community who are developing companies of their own, demonstrating that the best product to develop is, frequently, one that you need yourself.

The Harbus caught up with Dave to talk about how he got his start, how he made his vision happen, why Curated is different from its competitors, and where he hopes the the future of digital newsletters and curated content will go.

The Harbus: How did you come up with the idea for Curated?

Dave: The idea grew out of a need I had while producing iOS Dev Weekly [a weekly email subscription newsletter with my hand-picked articles from around the globe pertaining to iOS development] in 2007. Originally, I had been putting together the newsletter using a variety of different tools along with a lot of manual work. I had to create each issue both for the website and also for the email so it was ready to upload to MailChimp. It felt like much of the tedious technical work of producing each issue could be automated.

As iOS Dev Weekly was generating revenue through sponsorship, it was worth putting some development time into making my life a little easier by removing as much of the manual work from the process of publishing as possible. This would let me concentrate on what really matters, the content.

curatedWe developed a system which mirrored my workflow exactly. It also hosted the iOS Dev Weekly website, as well as creating the email from a template and publishing it to my subscribers. I switched over to publishing with this system in February 2015 and it immediately started saving me several hours every week.

I had also been keeping an eye on curated content digests in general and there was certainly a rising tide in terms of the format’s popularity and success. Given the fact that we now had a proof of concept of the system for iOS Dev Weekly, we started turning it into a product that anyone can use.

The Harbus: To what do you attribute Curated’s current success?

Dave: We’ve actually only fully launched as March 9, 2015. However, in August last year, we soft launched with something we called the unleash“Patron Program”.  We were happy that the software was stable and did what it needed to do, but we wanted to test out the concept and feature set with a small group of customers before launching to a wider audience.

The patron program was priced at $995 for one year’s worth of service, for up to 10,000 subscribers. Pricing it like this gave us two main benefits:

  1. By requiring a commitment of 12 months up front, we knew that our first customers were serious about running a successful curated content publication. It takes time to build an audience and become successful, especially with a new list.
  1. It also ensured that we were getting feedback from people who thought our service was worth money. I am sure we would have had an drastically different set of feedback from users who were using it for free.

The Harbus: What has been the greatest challenge in Curated’s journey?

Dave: Getting pricing right is always going to be challenging. There is an expectation that when products launch (especially in early access/beta) that they will be free at first and that the company will worry about monetisation later. As mentioned above, we actually went the opposite way in early access and charged a premium price with a 12 month commitment up front.

Now that we’re launching to a much wider audience, pricing is still a challenge! Our new pricing, which starts at $25 per month, is a sliding scale based on the customer’s success. We decided to base our pricing plans purely on the number of subscribers so that the service only increases in price as our user’s lists grow in popularity. All features are enabled at every price point.

The Harbus: How do you set yourself apart from competitors?

Dave: We cover the entire workflow of producing this kind of email. From collecting potentially interesting links that can then easily be curated and written about, through the publishing process including the delivery of email, along with the hosting of a fully searchable archives web site. Finally, we track and report on all analytics not only from the email but from the web version as well. Other companies have parts of this puzzle but we’re the only tool which includes everything you need for producing this kind of publication.

At first glance Curated may seem to be simply another email service but we see it as much more than that. To us, it’s all about getting quality content into the hands of subscribers in the most convenient way for them. Obviously the primary mechanism today is email, but we also support several other ways to let people have this information delivered to them and we’re working to expand these even further. If email isn’t convenient for a subscriber they can also read the content via the the web site that we automatically host for our publications. We also support subscriptions on the web with both RSS feeds and Safari Notifications.

In terms of the future we are close to shipping our next subscription mechanism, a native iPhone/iPad app which will be available for any publication. This not only gives subscribers a different way to subscribe but provides offline access to the content, and the linked articles. It also gives our publishers another platform to show what kind of content they are producing, the App Store.

Finally, by providing our own analytics and publishing platform we’re able to integrate all of those distribution mechanisms into one centralised place and publish everything with one click, as well as track analytics regardless of how the subscriber receives the content.

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The Harbus: Give us a sense of how other people are using Curated today.

Dave: We have all sorts of publications on the platform already, but there are two key ways that our customers are using Curated:

  1. For an individual, or group of people to share their expertise with their subscribers. There is an element of self promotion here as this kind of publication is a great way to increase your reputation and it can also turn into a source of revenue by allowing sponsored links. This is the model I followed with iOS Dev Weekly.
  1. For a company, Curated can be used to build an audience around their customers, and potential customers. Fundamentally the same principles apply and it’s about sharing great content related to the business (including some their own, if they have a blog). However, now you have an audience who trust your curation and are getting value from the email. You have a great platform to get the word out about your company when announcements need to be made.

We are also expecting this kind of email to be used inside larger companies for internal communications. Distribution of news inside large companies is a big problem and a curated digest is a great way to keep everyone up to date.

The Harbus: Where do you see the future of digital newsletters going?

Dave: Every year someone predicts the death of email, but it’s actually going through a renaissance at the moment. It’s all about the type of email that’s being sent though. People can become immune to email marketing if they don’t find something interesting every time they receive your email.

People love to read email which is going to save them time and give them something interesting to read and producing a curated email makes it easy to do both of these things. It works as well, I get tens of replies to my emails every week just from people saying thank you for the content. When was the last time you replied to a marketing email?

The Harbus: What plans do you have for Curated in the next year? Five years?

Dave: Right now, we’ve optimised the workflow to get this kind of publication out of the door containing quality content every week. But there are so many possibilities to help our publishers make the highest quality publications possible.

For us, it’s always been about two things:

  1. Letting publishers concentrate on finding, writing about and publishing high quality content for their readers. We’ll be trying to logo-XLhelp with that process as much as possible, automating all of the manual work and letting them concentrate on adding value to the content they’ve found.
  1. Giving subscribers the ability to receive that content in the way that they prefer and to highlight it in a clean, readable way. No matter whether it’s delivered by email, on the web, on a mobile device or by some other future means!

This is just the beginning for Curated, we’ll be pushing towards these goals to help people send amazing newsletter digests.

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Visit Curated’s website and learn more at http://curated.co/, and follow Dave on Twitter @daveverwer.

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Curated is a Harbus Publishing Partner. For opportunities, please email Megan at cco@harbus.org.