The Long Road to Instant Success

Portfolio company Crocodoc made a huge release this week to great press coverage. The enterprise version of their product has popped out into the world fully-formed and seemingly perfectly-timed. An instant overnight success. Except that it wasn’t overnight. Success almost never is. These guys had to work and work and work and start over numerous times to get where they are now.

Just like Instagram’s long slow transition from predecessor Burbn to billion dollar Facebook buy-out, or OMGPop burning 14 million in funding on over 20 largely unsuccessful games before breakout hit DrawSomething and its 200M dollar Zynga buyout, Crocodoc started life with a different name and a totally different focus (a neat little web clipping and annotation product called WebNotes). They worked really hard over a long period of time to find a business model for WebNotes and get that concept funded. CEO Ryan Damico and I met and I became an investor during that period – it was a bleak time. They searched for the right use case. They tried to find the right vertical. They poured through customer usage data. Their convictions were tested. They ran out of money. I can remember one conversation with Ryan: I was standing in my kitchen when he said they were temped to give up.

But they didn’t. They kept plugging away. On a long-shot, because they had nothing to lose, they applied to Y Combinator. To their surprise, they were accepted. But in order to participate, they would have to drop everything and move across the country. They went for it. When they got there, they were convinced by advisors to completely give up on their idea, and try a totally different one (web-based collaboration and mark-up of all sorts of documents, including websites themselves). They experimented with the new idea, warmed to the concept, and decided to give it a shot. They scrambled to develop it enough to present by the end of their incubation period. The presentation was well-received. They raised about a million dollars and redoubled their efforts in going after that market hard. Success? Not yet. They met with some good traction, but were far short of really breaking out.

But they kept trying. They were willing to be tweakers. They listened to their customers. They listened to their partners. They studied their market carefully. They began to realize their opportunity lay in the enterprise, and they needed to focus on large business customers. They sensed an opportunity help companies serve documents like PDFs natively in HTML5, thereby eliminating the slow and painful process of downloading the file. But going after that opportunity meant charting a whole new path yet again, this time, erasing most of the last vestiges of their original concept. But they swallowed hard, bucked themselves up, and pivoted again.

And a funny thing happened. It suddenly started to work. Turned out a lot of people wanted this capability. Turned out that iPads and other tablets were suddenly a massive force in the market, and corporations wanted to support their tablet based workers. Turned out that Dropbox wanted to allow its users to look at their documents directly on a mobile device without a download. Same with SAP. Same with Yammer. LinkedIn. And suddenly, just like that, Crocodoc burst onto the scene as a new media darling and seeming overnight success. But like so many others before them, an overnight success preceded by a long and winding road.

Congrats to Ryan and the team. Here’s some of the recent press coverage:

  •  TechCrunch: Crocodoc Debuts HTML5 Document Embedding Technology; Partners With Dropbox, Yammer, SAP
  • PandoDaily: YC-Backed Crocodoc Shifts Focus To Enterprise, Finds Customers In Dropbox, LinkedIn, and Yammer
  • GigaOM: Crocodoc rethinks PDFs for the mobile web
  • AllThingsD: HTML5 Start-Up Crocodoc Signs Up Dropbox, LinkedIn and SAP as Paying Customers
  • VentureBeat: Crocodoc’s new cloud-based document service abolishes the need for desktop apps
  • BetaKit: Crocodoc Unveils New Document Embedding Service for Enterprise
  • VatorNews: Crocodoc arming companies to compete with Google Drive
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  1. Chris Selland says

    congratulations on the investment Christopher – great story although I never enjoy hearing that yet another company had to move 3000 miles to make it happen

    • Christopher says

      Not my favorite aspect of the story either, but they had turned over every stone and really needed a change of scene and to hit the reset button. It was really about the pivot, and the pivot was a result of the Y Combinator folks really getting in their face and making them consider a new approach. Here’s hoping TechStars demo day buzz will convince Y Combinator to come back to Boston.


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