YC-Backed Submittable Makes It Easy For Publishers To Manage Submissions

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If you’re a publisher looking for submissions (whether they’re stories, essays, videos, or whatever), what’s the best way to manage the process? It sounds relatively straightforward, but once those submissions start piling up, trying to track and sort them can turn into a headache. It’s a problem that Submittable, part of the latest class of startups incubated by Y Combinator, may have solved.

Co-founder Michael FitzGerald says there have been a few submission-management products designed for academia, but none for a broader customer base. In fact, he says Submittable’s biggest competitor is Gmail. That’s certainly the case at TechCrunch, where we manage guest column submissions through an unwieldy mix of email, Google Docs, spreadsheets, and Asana. (If you’ve submitted a guest column to TechCrunch and it seems to have disappeared into a black hole: I’m sorry, we’re working on it.)

FitzGerald adds that no one has taken Submittable’s approach — software-as-a-service, file agnostic, and with simple pricing. Another point of comparison might be form-building service Wufoo, except that Wufoo is more about collecting data than tracking content.

Submittable creates a form for publishers where people can submit documents, or other media formats including YouTube, Vimeo, and SoundCloud. (For some live submission pages, see The Colorado Review, The American Scholar, The Believer, and fashion blog Ben Trovato.) Then each submission gets placed in a dashboard that makes them much easier to manage, especially among teams of people — you can assign submissions to different team members, apply labels, vote, and more. Submitters also have an interface where they can track a submission’s progress.

It all sounds useful, but I did wonder whether there’s a big business here. Several of the customers that Submittable named were respected literary magazines — probably not the most lucrative market. However, FitzGerald counters:

“No, the market is any website that has a blog component or publishes new content regularly. It’s huge. Every corporation for example is now a publisher. Our platform gives them a way to easily and efficiently crowd-source content. (Imagine Ford putting out a call for customer stories or video about their love for Ford trucks.) But the platform isn’t just used for publishing. MIT uses it for its Clean Tech business plan competition. Literary agents use it for queries. We have dozen of SMB’s using it for accepting and curating applicants. (http://www.caffedolcemissoula.com/) Also, many places use it for running contests: http://www.hammertonail.com/contest/ (Contests are a powerful way to engage with readers and customers.)”

One positive sign: Submittable is already bringing in revenue, with $1 million in its first year, and it’s on-track to do $2.5 million this year.

Submittable also allows publishers to charge a small fee (usually $2 to $5) for each submission — it’s a new source of revenue, but also a way to reduce the amount of spam. FitzGerald (a writer himself) says there are now “hundreds” of customers using this feature, and he argues that without any friction, writers are tempted to submit everywhere, turning the process into “a numbers game, hurting both us and the publishers.”

The company has raised $450,000 from 77Ventures, Flywheel Ventures, and angels based in Montana (where Submittable was founded).