Dustin Curtis is a developer, designer, and blogger who has accomplished the rare feat of getting a blogging platform off the ground. Called Svbtle, it launched in early 2012 as a sort of application-required Tumblr — a few tech thought leaders using a uniform minimalist theme to publish long posts. But it’s grown to more than 200 writers and raised an undisclosed amount of money, Curtis announced today, from early-stage investors including SV Angel, CrunchFund, and Betaworks in what appears to be a second round of funding. It had previously also raised money from angels including Y Combinator, where Curtis was an alum.
What’s different about Svbtle from LiveJournal, Pownce, Vox, Posterous, if not WordPress.com or Myspace or even Twitter? Unlike the many other sites over the years that have tried to marry content management systems and social networking features, Svbtle is trying to serve professional-level writers. Instead of making money by selling ads around unlimited mixed-quality content (the Facebook model), it hopes to figure out the high-quality business, as I covered back in March.
The CMS gets out of your way so you can focus on your words. There’s a pane for writing down story ideas and a simple text editor that lets you easily preview and toggle to publish. Each author gets a unique logo (Curtis’ is a lightning bolt, MG’s is a lemon), and the Svbtle theme also comes with a Liking mechanism — hold your cursor over the “Kudos” circle to the right of each article and you’ll give the author a point. It doesn’t do more at this point, but maybe he’ll make a leaderboard out of it one day.
Also, there are free copy-editing and fact-checking services for all. And while the site is getting millions of pageviews in aggregate, Curtis believes the real innovation will be in monetizing high-quality content. “I just don’t know what it is yet,” he explains in the interview below.
Curtis launched the site by delivering a virtuoso performance as an independent blogger. After his previous startup didn’t work out, he began writing sharply argued posts on major tech topics, along with philosophical product reviews. His personal brand — perfectionism, minimalism, intellectual superiority — has helped advertise Svbtle and has attracted lead designers, developers, investors, and bloggers who would normally be on Tumblr, WordPress, or other networks. Besides MG, there’s Dom Leca of popular email client Sparrow, digital music executive Ethan Kaplan, and Alex MacCaw of Stripe to name a few.
With the growth and funding so far, count Svbtle as a serious contender (along with Medium and Instapaper’s The Magazine) in the struggle to monetize good writing.
TechCrunch: Are you sharing the amount of money?
Dustin Curtis: I don’t want to divulge the exact amount; in fact, I really don’t want to talk about funding at all. I simply want to make known the fact that the company is actually a business, that it has been validated by investors, and is doing well. The amount is not insignificant.
TC: What do you want the money for?
DC: Three reasons: first, to hire developers who can build out infrastructure and develop new reading experiences; second, to build tools that help writers write great stuff (this includes copyeditors and other expensive services); and third, to provide a cushion for experimentation. The last one is important, because I think we’re on the cusp of a transition in quality and delivery of opinion content on the web. While there are a lot of web outlets that provide raw news and headlines, like TechCrunch, there aren’t as many new media companies working on context around that information. Magazines like The New Yorker, The Economist, and even The New York Times have published quality long form opinion content in print for a long time, but their transitions to the web have been less successful. Svbtle is going to experiment a lot in this area. The money provides a cushion for that experimentation.
TC: What’s the business model?
DC: Monetizing content, especially written content, is extremely difficult. I think Svbtle’s biggest innovation will be in this area, but I don’t know what it is yet.