Oh yeah, y’all, it’s the weekend and it’s a long one here in the United States as we have Monday off. As you read this I am – hopefully – napping on the couch with three dogs festooned around me, all four of us drooling while we snooze.
But! First! There’s much to do, so let’s dive into one startup’s pivot from earlier in the week and, yes, talk a little about money.
The esports world is a pretty fragmented place. Built atop different games, forums, tournament series, platforms, chat apps, and websites, it can be a legit effort to figure out what the hell is going on, even in your favorite game. So, Juked.gg set out to build a centralized news hub for all things esports back in 2020.
The company saw some early success, raising a seven-figure round that we covered back in early 2021. But according to co-founder Ben Goldhaber, the service had a period of rapid growth, what he described as “up and to the right” in graph form, before seeing its active user count plateau last year.
What happened? According to Goldhaber, who also goes by the gamertag “FishStix,” Juked wound up serving the top 1% of esports fans, but wasn’t reaching a larger audience. So, the nascent company did the smart thing of asking its users about its service and what they thought of it. From those conversations, Goldhaber said that users brought up issues endemic to esports like community toxicity, spam, and hot takes.
So, Juked decided to pivot slightly and build the social network that its users were effectively asking for – a less toxic place to be an esports fan.
The product launched Thursday after a period in a closed alpha after having tested it with around 750 users before making it more generally available.
According to information from AppAnnie (now Data.ai, apparently), the service did chart among iOS users in the United States this week, albeit only in the social networking category. We’ll check back with the company in a few months to see how downloads shake out.
Big questions remain, including how the service intends to combat toxicity at scale — I had to agree to a pretty strong set of terms to sign up. Juked intends to use human moderation with AI in the future, and requires users to sign up with a phone number. All good ideas, but untested for the company at mass scale.
I dig what Juked has been working on because I am an esports fan. But I am also not precisely in the market for a new social network. Let’s see how the startup’s in-market juke can help it score more points. (And probably raise money, since it’s been a year since its equity crowdfunding round, so we wouldn’t fall over in shock if the company worked to pick up more cash in the coming quarters.)
A tale of two earnings calls
This week brought with it another sheaf of earnings calls from tech companies. And as always, we’ve had our eyes tuned into the market for hints about what’s ahead for startups.
Most of our work is here, in our dive into just how important forward guidance is for tech companies today. Trailing results appear to be far less important to investors than what they see ahead. So when Amplitude got whacked by public-market investors, we took notes. There were other companies that took similar knocks, including Meta, so don’t think that we’re pointing a finger at the recently public Amplitude. (It direct-listed last year, recall.)
But there was another side to the coin, namely Appian’s earnings. The low-code automation company has been a quieter public-market story than most tech debuts. That’s not a diss, mind; its CEO Matt Calkins told me as much this week when discussing the company’s results.
How so? It boils down to Calkins’ definition of what innovation is, and it’s not just building something. Telling TechCrunch that his company has long been an engineering-led organization, he told us that it’s not enough to make something cool. If the company doesn’t market a new feature, sell it, and get it used, then it hasn’t actually innovated. Innovation, he said, is an experience, not a product. The final result of innovation, he added, is a customer testimonial of a new feature – when someone will go on record and say that a new thing really is good. Which requires people to, well, know that something exists so that they can give it a whirl.
I like his perspective. It helps explain why much of the so-called innovation in the blockchain world seems less like real innovation than the creation of a collection of hypotheses; yes, some of the more esoteric web3 products that are in the market today will have real impact, but most are more coding tricks than useful tools.
A little more before I let you go. The staffing crunch that companies are feeling in the United States is not merely driving up the cost of hiring, it’s helping companies like Appian. The company is seeing demand from customers to automate more of their work because employees don’t want to do it. And unhappy employees bounce.
Finally, Appian’s growth has been accelerating for a little while now. And it had an earnings report that led not to a share-price collapse, but a gain. Returning to our entry point for this conversation, that’s the bar that companies have to clear today to grind out a few hundred basis points of market cap extension. It’s a far harder market than a few quarters ago. Which is why, I think, the IPO window is kaput for some time yet.
Hugs, and I hope your weekend is restful!