How Curalate learned from failure

Written by Riley on May 7, 2014


The story of a VC backed startup's pivot,

from failing fast to hyper growth

Storably raised $750K in seed funding by riding the sharing economy wave in the wake of Airbnb's success. They had a backable team and what seemed like a good idea. Who wouldn't like to make a few extra bucks off their unused storage or parking spaces?
image: circa 2011 circa 2011

After three months work and plenty of press coverage the site only grew to around 3,000 unique monthly visitors, with a mere two dozen monthly transactions. The numbers were not nearly where they needed to be, and there was no sign of rapid growth. Traffic actually started to decline a bit when they expanded to a second market. 


Learn from failure


Storably ended up being a huge failure. But their investors were happy the founders admitted this to themselves and the board so quickly. Only 20% of the seed funds had been spent, and the investors had faith in a pivot leading to success. They gave the team one month to come up with a new idea. 


Iterate, iterate, iterate...


That one month was a crazy marathon of brainstorming that lead to dozens of new ideas. Huge spreadsheets were created and all markets were probed for potential. They started quickly building MVPs to test real world viability for each promising idea. 


The team launched a whole bunch of products. One was called DrinkedIn. It was a way for professionals to connect online and meet up in small groups over drinks. It took just a couple hours to make the testable MVP.  It actually got a bunch of press and thousands of people signed up.  They had a powerful algorithm for matching their users together. His name is Brendan, and he was their first employee. He simply printed out each user's LinkedIn profile and manually sorted them into compatible piles of paper on his desk. 


Many of the MVPs they tested were successful. But being backed by venture capital meant they couldn't just go with a profitable product, it had to be scalable and have a large enough market. 


The epiphany


Their research lead to some interesting discoveries in social media. On the web 40% of content is images. On social media images make up over 70%. And most of these user submitted images lack quantifiable context and statistics. Would brands be interested in better metrics for their products on social networks? Their initial strategy was Tweeting at brands stuff like: "Hey, Gap did you know your products got 35 million impressions on Pinterest last month?".  And they set up a simple landing page stating they were looking to sign up ten brands for their beta. They quickly collected emails from interested social media managers, and had well over 10 major brands in no time.


Just do it


Curalate never asked for permission from Pinterest. They just worked to get a large number of major brands as paying customers by offering a valuable service. They now have over 400 brands, and are in a much better position for negotiating. And now their service has grown to cover multiple social networks, so there's no limit to their trajectory. 


What was the key to success?


During that one pivotal month of brainstorming the team came up with 70 different ideas. Curalate was idea number 63. They were able to successfully execute and iterate on Curalate because they learned so much building MVPs and failing.
Thank you to Curalate founders Apu Gupta and Nick Shiftan for sharing their story with the PSL Accelerator startups. Their journey offers lessons and inspiration to the entire community.