Daehee & Co.

Rise and Fall of Startups

April 26, 2016

Anchored in their humble beginnings, it’s interesting to observe how startups gain traction, celebrate their successes at the peak, and then frantically scramble to stay relevant as growth tapers off. From there, most companies either gradually fade away or rapidly spiral to their deaths.

I came across this case study of the startup lifecycle by /u/SuperConductiveRabbi, especially illuminating coming from a once-loyal user rather than an academic outsider.

== begin excerpt ==

Imgur has followed the lifecycle of every single online service:

  1. The early days: the website provides one service and provides it well
  2. Traction: people recognize that the website’s service is excellent, and flock to it
  3. Maturity: the website’s creators are elated at their newfound success, and, seeking to improve their service, begin to perform upgrades, updates, design changes, and create exploratory features
  4. Bloat: the website is either no longer growing at the rate it once was, leading the creators to start implementing predatory features that return greater revenue per visitor, OR it begins to morph into such a complicated and burdensome entity that it now offers n services instead of just one, where n is a number that increases until step five is reached
  5. The autumn years: people start to notice that the website no longer provides the one service they care about as well as it used to, and start looking for a competitor that will provide that one service and provide it well

Imgur hosted your images without requiring you to log in (unlike PhotoBucket, ImageShack, and whatever other services we used in the dark ages). Pages loaded super fast. You could click an image and get the raw image URL. That was it.

Now Imgur: is a social media platform; allows you to log in; has a proprietary (and fake) “gifv” file format that requires H.264 and doesn’t work on some browsers (Firefox on Linux, or any system that doesn’t have proprietary H.264 codecs—albums with GIFs in it are now useless on these systems); loads a million asynchronous Javascript files that all start doing shit as the page is loading; tracks you using an ever-increasing number of services; has (idiotic) comments that load and fill up the page; does some not-quite-original-image-size zooming when you click the image, rather than letting your browser deal with the the full size image; often has “oops! our servers are over capacity” when you view the non-direct URL; has lists of trending images; has a meme generator; has social media buttons that scroll as you scroll; has ads; etc., etc.

== end ==

Take into consideration this redditor’s perspective, because it is relevant and true. But true only for the customer segment he represents—the techie early adopter. Imgur is different now and not the same simple, pure image hosting service it once was. However, it still remains wildly popular on reddit itself, and is now even a mainstream social media platform for the masses.

So whether imgur is in its “autumn years” is debatable, and arguably not true. It depends on the lens you view it through and how you define success. For this reddit user and others like him, yes they are probably boycotting the service now and moving onto something else.

For the rest, imgur has grown up to become a widely used popular brand, and has figured out how to scale.

Daehee Park

Written by Daehee Park who lives and works in Phoenix, Arizona building useful things. Get in touch via Twitter.