A close-up look at one of SA's most exciting tech startups
Co-founder Tom Kennedy on how they plan to disrupt how everyone consumes content online
In a time when traffic is everything, 8Bit, a content discovery and analytics platform, wants to help online publishers gain insight into their audience and grow their all-important online audience through referrals.
"Our goal with 8Bit was to re-imagine the blogroll and allow independent publishers to share their audiences by exchange content recommendations. Although we're still in closed BETA, we currently redirect in the region of half a million monthly readers around our network," says co-founder, Tom Kennedy, who together with his partner, Richard Huth, launched the native advertising and content discovery platform in 2014.
"Our goal is always to drive traffic to partners and to help them build their audiences. A lot of our competitors hold their data close to their chests so they can better serve ads. We want our publishers to have access to it all, so they can learn from it and create better content for their readers."
Aimed at independent publishers, the Cape Town-based tech startup currently operates in 6 countries throughout Africa and Europe, with a focus on emerging market and processes over 200 million monthly content recommendations.
8Bit works to solve a challenge that Kennedy says he experienced trying to grow an audience for a blog he founded while still at college.
"I found that as existing networks like Twitter and Facebook became revenue focused, growing an organic following became increasingly difficult."
Last year 8Bit was included in the Forbes top ten list of the most promising technology companies in Cape Town. They were also chosen to represent Africa at the Dublin Web Summit, an annual technology conference featuring tech startups from across the globe.
We speak to Kennedy about their unique offering and why there needs to be less red tape so startups can focus on innovation and growth.
On building traction
We're focusing on launching our product publicly and implementing certain revenue models - the aim of which is to help smaller publishers generate revenue off our tech while still building their audiences further.
Our product has a pretty solid value proposition for publishers, so it hasn't been too hard securing sites. We've been in closed BETA for quite some time and have requests to join daily.
One of our biggest challenges has been scaling up our technology with such a small team. We're doing over 60/80 recommendations a second, and every action is tracked and reported on. Which means our servers see upwards of a 1000 read/writes per second. So scaling up and being able to handle that sort of scale volume has been our largest task. We're busy prepping to open up our platform to more publishers in the next few weeks and have begun trailing certain advertising models in Scandinavia which is our largest market.
"A lot of people seem to think everyone in a startup is about to become a billionaire, and that success is inevitable"
- On funding
We secured some funding and mentorship through 88Mph (a tech incubator). After leaving 88Mph we pitched at Spark Up in 2014 and secured further funding from some leading South African angel investors.
The biggest hurdle we have faced in starting a business has definitely been funding. We're working on an idea and developing technology that would have seen us raising millions if we were located in a major market. That’s not the case though, and we've been bootstrapping heavily, which has slowed things down dramatically. It was a major struggle for us in the beginning. We've been to countless international events or conferences where people have been dumbfounded by what we've built and the fact that for most of this journey we've been a two man team. That's been extremely tough on Richard and I.
- On the startup life
Tough, very tough. Startups are challenging. They take a toll on your personal life. There have been a lot of moments where we've wanted to just throw in the towel, but we believe in what we've built. That's what drives us at the end of the day.
The biggest surprise about being a startup founder was dealing with expectations - a lot of people seem to think everyone in a startup is about to become a billionaire, and that success is inevitable. This can lead to some awkward expectations or beliefs that I wasn't expecting.
I don't consider myself successful just yet. I'm happy with where 8Bit is, but we still have a lot of work to do. One thing I've learned over the years is not to count your chickens until they hatch.
- On filling gaps in the entrepreneurial ecosystem
[The ecosystem needs more] simplicity, everything is complicated. There is so much red-tape and bureaucracy that it pushes startups back months, if not years.
Startups need to be given relative freedom to focus on growing and innovating.
- On lessons learnt
Keep pushing - even when things seem hopeless.