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Inside Pocket: how a startup beat its rivals to build the 'DVR for everything' | The Verge


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I had no idea Evernote tried to buy Pocket in 2011:

It was April 22nd, 2011. Weeks before, an executive at the remember-everything service Evernote had contacted him out of the blue with an offer to acquire Read It Later, now known as Pocket, which Weiner began building in 2007. What started as a Firefox extension designed to save articles he didn't have time to read had become, to Weiner's own surprise, an actual business: More than 3 million users at the time of the meeting, many of whom paid to download its apps for iOS and Android.

Now Evernote wanted to bring Read It Later into the fold. The companies were already close partners: Aside from email, Evernote was the top place Read It Later users stored the articles, videos, and webpages they saved. The volume of things Read It Later users saved was substantial and growing: 7.5 million items per month at the time of the meeting.

Ken Gullicksen, then Evernote's head of corporate development, made Weiner an offer "in the low millions." But Weiner thought it deserved more — "six times more," to be exact — and traveled to Evernote's old offices in Mountain View to make his case. Evernote's address on Evelyn Avenue, he noted, was 333. It happened to be his lucky number.

"Read It Later was for saving things temporarily; Evernote was for saving things forever. It felt like a match."

Pocket wants to own the verb "SAVE" and it considers Evernote and Dropbox to be sister organizations:

How much the company is eventually worth depends on whether time-shifting the internet becomes as popular as time-shifting television. Pocket belongs to the class of startups whose business model is essentially to create a new verb. Facebook brought us the like, Twitter the tweet, and Foursquare the check-in. Pocket aims to bring us the save, and to make money by working with publishers, retailers, and everyone else whose stuff the company is saving.

The Pocket team thinks of itself as a sister to companies like Evernote and Dropbox, services that allow you to save something in one place and access it later from anywhere. But those companies, founded around the same time, have grown much more quickly. Evernote has more than 60 million registered users; Dropbox has more than 100 million and says it is profitable. Meanwhile, Pocket has more than 9 million users and expects to hit 10 million this summer. After making its app free last year, the company has no revenues.

Weiner suspects that the problem that millions are using Pocket to solve will only grow more thorny. When he started, he wanted only to save articles within a browser. The original iPhone, which came out the month before Weiner's Firefox extension, helped turn mobile devices into a primary reading destination. Then came tablets, Google Glass, and other wearable computers. The world is transforming into screens, Weiner says, and Pocket will be the way we move things around them.

I did not realize that Google Ventures funded Pocket:

When Gullicken called, Weiner declined the acquisition offer. He had come to feel that Evernote saw Read It Later as a feature inside its product, as opposed to a full-fledged product of its own. Using a slightly modified version of his Evernote pitch deck, Weiner went out to raise venture capital. Jonathan Bruck, a startup adviser he had met online while working in Minnesota, made the necessary introductions. Two weeks later, they had a term sheet and the valuation they were seeking from Evernote. Pocket has now raised $7.5 million from investors including Foundation Capital, Baseline Ventures, Google Ventures, and Founder Collective.

For the first time, Weiner was able to hire a staff. The company now consists of 13 people — the same number Instagram had when it sold to Facebook — and includes Will as lead designer and Max Weiner as Android developer. Last year, after a bruising internal debate, the team re-branded Read It Later as Pocket — a warmer, friendlier name, they hoped, and something that reflected the fact that Pocket was designed for more than reading.

Setting up Pocket can be overwhelming:

The theme of their recent hackathon week was as simple as it was urgent: Make Pocket grow faster.

For many who use Pocket, it feels indispensable.

Users save 1.3 million items a day from more than 400 apps that connect to the service. But to the average person, setting up Pocket can still be overwhelming. Someone just buying a smartphone would have to install a bookmarklet, download Pocket, download partner apps, log in to Pocket on those apps, then figure out how to save to Pocket from each one.

During hack week, employees worked on reducing that friction. "As soon as you understand it and you start to use it — we get these comments all the time: 'I don't know how I lived without it,'" Max Weiner said. "But there's a learning curve in between finding out about Pocket and getting to that point."

I wonder what Pocket's numbers are, a year later.

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