How I Did It
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How John Borthwick Tries to Reinvent Digg

Earlier this year, John Borthwick's Betaworks acquired the lagging social news website Digg. Here he talks about how Digg became a start-up again.
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Video Transcript


00:08 John Borthwick: There aren't many good examples out there of web startups that have flown high, crashed, and then been reinvented. And that's essentially what we're trying to do here.


Betaworks is a seed investment firm that also manages new business.


In 2012, CEO John Borthwick saw an opportunity to purchase Digg, a struggling social news website.


00:30 Borthwick: Digg as it stood, started off with a very, very narrow, very well-defined offering to its users, and it was very clear what it was. Over time, they started adding all these other features, and they started adding these things called Newsrooms and all these other segments to Digg, and it lost a lot of traction with the user base. Twitter, I think, had taken over much of what Digg used to do, and Hacker News and Reddit and other sites had sort of replaced Digg. And so, Digg was kind of running on empty. And so, what was left was almost, to me, the most important thing, which was the site, the community, the brand, Digg, right? But that was almost like the last thing that was left. And so, we jumped in at the last minute, and put an offer on the table to buy all of that.


In July 2012, Betaworks acquired the Digg brand, website, and technology for $500,000.


John gave the team six weeks to relaunch the site.


01:33 Borthwick: We had to turn Digg back into a startup, right? That was the essence of what we were trying to do. And startups are about constraints, you have limited cash, you have limited... And you wanna start with one good idea. Given the six-week deadline, we had to narrow down very aggressively what we actually wanted the new Digg to be. And we felt that there was a need for a single place where you could go to find wonderful stories that were circulating on the Internet that didn't require you to sign in, click a lot of things, didn't require a lot of stuff around it, right? And didn't have extra page use the site was trying to generate. It was just the stories, and then you'd get to the stories.


The version of Digg--along with a mobile app--launched on July 31, 2012.


And the front page is now edited by a small editorial team, which identifies the most popular web stories using several data feeds.


02:32 Borthwick: Most things in life, you think that time is your enemy, but I think that time can become your friend, if you view it as a constraint which lets you make decisions and forces you to make decisions fast. So within the case of Digg we had the six-week window. And it was a constraint that we placed on ourselves, because as you try to redesign something, as you try to rethink a product, if there's no deadline, if there's no concrete, anything to push against, what people do, is they will naturally sort of revert to what was because that's sort of what's on the whiteboard already, that's what exists already. And so, I didn't want us to rebuild Digg as it was, we needed to rebuild Digg for 2012 and make it relevant for today and I think that the time constraint actually forced us to make a lot of hard decisions very fast and that was actually a good thing, because Digg is our startup again.


In terms of traffic, Digg is still not where it once was, but in its first 14 weeks, 6.5 million people visited the new site.

Last updated: Nov 29, 2012